I Believe in You

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was the way they believed in me.  From their vantage point, there was nothing I couldn’t do if I only worked hard enough.  Their confidence often gave me the courage to keep going when I wanted to give up.  Whether it was making the Varsity soccer team or doing well on a math test, I knew my parents believed in me and that spurred me on to success.

Sometimes all we need in life is someone to believe in us.  Someone to say, “You’ve got this.  Keep going!”  A friend or family member to call us out to be the best version of ourselves and keep believing in us when we’ve stopped believing in ourselves.

You are exactly who God intended you to be.  He who makes no mistakes gave you precisely the right mix of natural abilities, personality, and spiritual gifts.  You are His workmanship, and He has created you perfectly and particularly to accomplish specific tasks in this world (Eph. 2:10).

Over and over again in the Bible, God calls out the screw-ups and least of these and says He is trusting them to carry out His mission in the world.

“Gideon, I know you’re from the weakest tribe of Israel, but I’m going to use you to free my people from oppression.” (Judges 6)

Ruth, I know you’re an outsider, but I’m going to use you to save your family and be a part of the lineage of the Messiah.”

“Peter, I know you’re a hot-headed fisherman, but I’m going to use you to build my church.”  (Matthew 16:18)

I struggle with believing in myself.  Every day I seem to find a new insecurity or a new reason to doubt myself.  It helps me tremendously to read these stories in the Bible and be reminded of how God uses imperfect people to perfectly accomplish His mission in the world.  On good days I can move past my insecurities and believe that God is bigger than my mistakes.  On good days I trust that He will use me and all my flaws to help push back the darkness in this world.  After all, the greatness of the gospel shines the brightest through the cracks in my life (2 Corinthians 4:7).

But on some days, I need more than that.  On some days, my insecurities are crippling.  I need a friend to tell me they believe in me, and remind me that God believes in me too.  I need someone who will call out the good in me, and remind me of who God made me to be.

One of the greatest gifts you can offer someone is to speak the truth of who God has made them to be.  Offer the gift of believing in them, and remind them that God believes in them too.  Is there someone in your life you can encourage today by telling them you believe in who God made them to be?  Be specific, and call out their strengths.  Tell them because you see this specific character trait in them, you know they have what it takes.  Remind them that they are not alone, and that God will provide the strength that they need.

And if you’re on the other end of the equation and need someone to believe in you, then know that I believe in you.  I believe in the potential God has given you, and that you can and will do even greater things than you could ever imagine if you will just keep trusting God.  And, more importantly, know that God believes in you too.

I believe in you

 

 

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4 Helpful Responses When a Friend Shares Something Vulnerable (And What Not To Do)

[Originally written for the Small Group Network, and can be found at http://blog.smallgroupnetwork.com/it-would-be-a-shame-not-to-deal-with-the-issue-of-shame-by-laura-copeland/]

If we want to talk about community, we have to talk about authenticity and vulnerability.  If we want to talk about authenticity and vulnerability, we have to talk about shame.

Shame is the greatest barrier to community. If we can’t learn how to address shame properly, our churches and our small groups will struggle to grow into authentic and transparent communities that experience transformation at anything deeper than a surface level.

New York Times bestselling author Brene Brown has researched shame and its effects on relationships for more than a decade. According to Brown, guilt says I did something bad, while shame says I am bad.

She further describes shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.”[i]

Guilt correlates to our actions as bad. Shame correlates to our worth and identity as bad.

To put this in a biblical perspective, we know that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), our value, worth, and identity are all secured by the precious blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:18-19) and our sin, selfishness, and stupidity are completely forgiven and we are in right standing before God (2 Cor. 6:21).

If shame is “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging,” then it has no part in the life of the believer, and no part in our small groups or our churches.

What, then, are we to do in response to the weight of shame that is crushing many in our churches, and that hinders our small groups from experiencing transparency?

  1. Refuse to use shame as a weapon.

    Leveraging shame can be a powerful motivator, and has been wrongly used by religious authorities to coerce behavior for centuries. It’s tempting to use because it’s effective in the short term, but in the long run it destroys community.

  2. Leverage empathy as the antidote to shame.

    The power of shame lies in darkness and the fear of what will happen when hidden things are brought to the light. Empathy is the skill of connecting with someone in their hurt, pain, and brokenness in a way that says, “I’ve been there too, and you’re not alone.”

When people share something vulnerable, especially something that potentially has some shame attached to it, here’s what we need to communicate:

  1. Thanks for trusting us enough to share that.

  2. We love you, and this doesn’t change how we see you.

  3. God loves you, and this doesn’t change how He sees you.

  4. It sounds like this is something really painful in your life, and we want you to know that you’re not alone.

Real community is messy, and real transformation is hard. Shame is the greatest barrier to authentic community, but the body of Christ can provide an incarnational expression of the gospel of grace as we learn to respond with empathy and love to the struggles of others.

4

If you want to learn more, start with this TED talk by Brene Brown on the power of vulnerability: https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

[i] http://brenebrown.com/2013/01/14/2013114shame-v-guilt-html/

We > Me

I’ve found that when I ask “What can I possibly do?”, the answer is usually very small and discouraging. But when I start thinking about what WE can do, I can’t think of any problem that can’t be tackled.

The USA Women’s soccer team just won their 3rd World Cup ending a 16 year drought since their last time as World Cup champions in 1999, and becoming the first women’s team in history to win that many titles.

As I watched the trophy presentation, the commentators remarked on the amazing teamwork that led these women to victory.  When Abby Wambach came on as a sub late in the second half, Carli Lloyd handed off her captain’s armband to the former star and team captain in a show of respect to Wambach as she played her last match on the World Cup stage.  When it came time to accept the trophy, Wambach and Christine Rampone both accepted the trophy and then counted to three before hoisting it up together.  Rampone was the oldest member on the team at 40, and also came on as a late sub to play in her last match ever in the World Cup.  She was the only member of the 2015 team who had also played for the 1999 team, the last US women’s team to win the World Cup.

These small acts of deference were a small symbol of just how well these women worked together as a team, always looking out for the good of each other and eager to share the glory.  The victory accomplished was done as a team.

The first goal of the game came from Carli Lloyd—her first of 3 goals that would lead her team to victory—was off of a cornerkick from Megan Rapinoe.  That cornerkick was earned by Morgan Brian, the youngest member of the team.  Without Brian earning the corner, and Rapinoe setting it up perfectly, Lloyd doesn’t get her goal.  The point?  It was all about the team.


2 weeks ago, I was in the midst of my whirlwind tour through Thailand and Cambodia learning about the incredible work that Destiny Rescue is doing to rescue and restore children out of sex trafficking.  Confronted with an issue as big and evil as sex trafficking, I frequently feel overwhelmed and find myself asking, “What can I possibly do?”

What can I possibly do?

I’ve asked this question many times, and maybe you have too.  Maybe it’s about the same issue, or maybe there is another issue that you are passionate about.  You want to do something to help, but don’t know how you, one small tiny individual, could possibly make a difference.

But something shifted for me while I was on this trip.  I realized that maybe I was asking the wrong question.  When I ask “What can I do?”, I frequently feel small and overwhelmed.  But I started to change just one little word in that question, and I realized it made all the difference in the world.

What if, instead of asking “What can I do?”, we started asking “What can WE do?”

What can WE do?

I am only one person with limited time, ideas, and resources.  WE are a group with unlimited time, ideas, and resources.

I am only one small voice.  WE can raise a shout that will be heard around the world.

I am only one perspective and one piece of a puzzle.  WE are all perspectives and backgrounds and together can see the whole picture.

I am only two hands and two feet.  WE are a family with hands to reach out to all in need, and feet to go to every corner of our world.

I am only one part.  WE are a body with every part working together in harmony to accomplish great things.

I’ve found that when I ask “What can I possibly do?”, the answer is usually very small and discouraging.  But when I start thinking about what WE can do, I can’t think of any problem that can’t be tackled.

I have some good news to share with you, friends.

The needs in the world are great, but the power of God is greater (Genesis 18:14; Job 42:2; Jeremiah 32:17; Matthew 19:26).

Christ has built his church, and the gates of hell shall not overcome it (Matthew 16:18).

Greater is he who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 2:23, 4:4).

Christ has already won the victory over sin and death (John 16:33; Romans 8:37; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57).

We are the body of Christ, HIS hands and HIS feet, empowered by HIS Spirit (Romans 12:4-5; 1 Corinthians 12:12-26).

We ALL have a role to play (Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 2:10, 4:7).

Sometimes I think we miss the point of verses like this, or we jump on the wrong bandwagon and then wonder why God isn’t doing anything.  Let me be clear:  I am convinced that there is no injustice in the world today that can stand against the power of the people of God who are being led by and dependent upon His Spirit.  I am convinced that if all the followers of Jesus decided to work together to end something like child sex trafficking, all of our resources and efforts combined could end this awful injustice within a few short years.  Or apply the same idea to orphan care, clean drinking water, or people dying of preventable diseases.  I’m not talking about political agendas and passing legislation; I’m talking about you and me being the hands and feet of Jesus to love people in practical and tangible ways.  No one is going to argue against us if we want to feed the poor, and we might even win some people over to seeing Jesus a little bit more clearly if we started doing things like this a little bit better.

So let’s learn how to play together as a team.

Let’s build one another up, and encourage one another.

Let’s learn each other’s strengths, and celebrate each other’s gifts.

Let’s get on our knees and pray together and seek how God is moving and how we can play a part.

It’s time to ask, “What can WE do together as the people of God?”.  And I think the answer is going to be pretty exciting.

It’s not just up to you.  So grab your closest friends, choose a cause you care about, and see how much greater of an impact you can have when you work together than you ever could on your own.

And leave a comment below with your thoughts, or your cause that you want to make a difference in!

WE > ME

celebrate or compare

It’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m scrolling through my Facebook news feed.

Another buzzfeed article.

More funny youtube videos.

Happy birthday wishes to a friend.

Some political thing going on that everyone has an opinion on.

Yep, another engagement.  That’s 4 so far this month.

Oh…. looks like my friends went hiking yesterday.  Wow, looks like they had fun.  Weird…I wasn’t included…

I wasn’t included.

Sometimes through social media.  Sometimes because you hear the stories a few days later.  But always that nagging thought, “I wasn’t included”

I remember a season of my life a few years ago when that “I wasn’t included” feeling was particularly acute.

left-out_0

Life was in transition.  I had just celebrated the marriages of a few close friends, and a few more close friends had graduated and moved away.  In the span of a summer, it felt like my social circle completely dissipated.  There were a few people I had met recently, and was hoping to get to know them better.  And while we would spend time together occasionally, I remember feeling like I kept seeing pictures on Facebook or hearing about the fun things they were doing that I hadn’t been included in.

Over time, new friendships solidified.  And rather than feeling left out, I decided to get ideas from the fun things I saw people doing on Facebook and start planning my own fun adventures.

I wish I could say I never get that feeling of being left out when I scroll through Facebook.  But the truth is, I see people who I think are really great all having fun without me and there’s always that initial realization that I wasn’t included.  However, what I CAN say is that while there might be that momentary twinge of jealousy, I’ve learned that I have a choice in how I respond.

leftout

When I hear about things I wasn’t included in, I have a choice.  I can compare, and start feeling lesser-than.  Left out.  Excluded.  I can wallow in self-pity and insecurity.

Or I can celebrate.  I can celebrate that people I care about are having fun.  I can be excited for the ways I see community forming.  I can be inspired by fun new ideas I hope to try myself someday.  I can be happy for my friends because I know they had a great time.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of the difference between comparison and celebration for a while.  One of the verses that came to mind was the phrase “Rejoice with those who rejoice.”  I’ll be honest….I’m much better at remembering phrases than where things are actually found.  So I had to look it up, and I wasn’t surprised at all when I found myself in Romans 12.

Romans 12 is one of the great passages in the Bible about what it looks like to live as a unified community.  In the midst of encouraging the community of followers of Jesus in Rome to use their gifts to serve as a unified body, love one another, live in harmony, contribute towards the needs of others, and not seek vengeance, Paul instructs them to also “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).

When I hear that good things are happening in the lives of others, I want to be the kind of person who celebrates, not compares!  And on the flip side of that, when I hear that hard things are happening in the lives of others, I want to be the kind of person who enters into their pain and is present with them so they know they are not alone.

I definitely get that there is a basic human need to be loved and feel included.  I’m not trying to invalidate that need.  I’ve struggled myself with being hurt in this area.  What I’m trying to get at is that there are some healthy, life-giving ways to go about trying to get that need met, and there are some really unhelpful if not destructive ways to engage with this need.  Seeing other people having fun brings that need to the surface and makes us aware of it.  And once you are aware of it, you always have a choice about how you will respond.

I have a few scattered thoughts about this struggle, and things that have been helpful in my own journey as I work towards learning to celebrate the good things in the lives of others instead of comparing.

START AT THE BOTTOM

In any conversation about our needs, we have to start at the bottom and work our way up.  Underneath all of this, we find the basic human need to be loved.  And much in the same way that thousands of counselors and psychologists have counselled millions of married couples that no spouse will ever meet all your needs, I would add that no friend or group of friends can fill your need to be loved.  There’s one person who can do that for you, and He is always going to be there for you.  There’s one person who can give you value, worth, and identity, and He has already bestowed these richly.  There’s one person who has invited you to be a part of His family, and always has open arms for you.  There’s one person who is always ready and willing to listen to what is going on in your life, and eager to spend time with you.

Ask yourself this question:  “Am I looking to people to give me something that only God can give me?”

I know this is hard.  I know that sometimes God feels really far away, and people are flesh and blood right in front of you and sometimes all you want is that physical presence of being with people who care for you.  Some days, no matter how deeply rooted you are in the love of Christ, this will still be hard.  Until we’re on the other side of death, we live in a world marked by unfulfilled desires.

And so I’m not trying to be harsh when I say this, but sometimes we need to be reminded of some truths.  Like your life is not simply about getting your needs met.  As followers of Jesus, we’re called to die to ourselves.  I’m pretty sure this includes dying to my needs.

Jesus exhorts us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).  And the amazing thing that happens as we orient our lives around God and his kingdom, and not around ourselves, is that we find our needs getting met in deeper and more profound ways than we ever could have by trying to meet them on our own.

We have to build our lives on the foundation of who God is, what Jesus Christ has done for us, and how the Holy Spirit is actively at work in our lives today.  Yes, there will still be days when we feel lonely or left out.  Yes, it still sucks sometimes.  But the more deeply I have understood the love that God has for me, how God is present with me in all things, and how God has granted me worth and identity far beyond anything I could have ever achieved on my own, I find myself needing less and less from people.

IT’S NOT ALWAYS PERSONAL

About a year ago, I had the privilege of hearing Larry Osborne, pastor of North Coast Church down in San Diego and author of several books, speak at a conference.  He gave one illustration that I have continually referred back to.  In fact, it helped me move past some of the hurt from my past when it felt like people weren’t making room for me in their lives.

He instructed us to think about the base plate of Legos that you used to play with when you were a kid.

Legos

Let’s say that for the typical person, there are 64 available connectors.  That’s actually pretty high, but go with it for the sake of the illustration.  As people go through life, Legos, or relationships, start getting stacked on these connectors.  At some point, people reach maximum capacity.  There is simply no more room to keep adding Legos.

Sometimes you’ll meet someone and want to be friends with them.  But the problem is, their Lego base is full.  No more available connectors.  It’s not personal.  They probably even think that you’re a fabulous person and they wish they had a place for you to put your Lego.  So rather than walking away with hurt feelings, we need to understand that some people simply are already at relational capacity.

This freed me up in so many ways to stop feeling hurt or left out by people who didn’t include me.  It didn’t have to be that I wasn’t fun enough, or smart enough, or pretty enough.  So instead of trying to figure out what was wrong with me, I simply started looking to invest relationally with people who seemed to have the space and capacity for new relationships.  Rather than getting frustrated by trying to connect with people who were unavailable, I looked for other people like myself:  people who had room in their lives, their schedules, and their hearts to build new friendships.

Sometimes there’s only 5 seats in the car, so only 5 people can go.  Or 4 tickets left.  Or a max of 8 people to keep a dinner party as a small and intimate gathering.  There’s only so many connectors, and so much room for Legos to fit.  It’s not always personal.

COMPARISON KILLS COMMUNITY

You’ve heard it said that comparison is the thief of joy, and you’ve probably experienced just how true this saying is.  But I would add that comparison is the killer of community.

When we constantly compare ourselves to others, we put the focus all on ourselves and how we are feeling.  We only consider our own apparent needs, and not those of the others in the community.  We compare, and we try to put our needs above the needs of others.

Comparing is all about me.  Celebrating is all about seeing the good in others and rejoicing on their behalf.

Comparing demands that anything that is done for one be done for all.  Celebrating sees that community is happening and that’s something to be excited about.

Comparing can lead to others hiding the good things going on in their life because they don’t want to provoke jealousy or hurt.  Celebrating puts the good things on display and encourages more of the same to keep spreading.

I learned a valuable lesson from my dad in this area.  My dad loves to give good gifts to his children, and there have been years when I’ve been incredibly blessed by what my dad gave me for Christmas, or my birthday.  But there were other years when one of my siblings got the “best gift.”  I learned that it was no good comparing because it was up to my dad who he wanted to bless, and I learned to be excited for my family member.  And if I did complain that it was unfair, I was reminded that my dad didn’t have to give us anything at all!

When someone chooses to do something nice for someone else, or bless them with a great gift, or plan a special time with them, it has no bearing whatsoever on you!  It’s not about you!

GIVING IS BETTER THAN RECEIVING

Instead of asking who will include you, start asking yourself who you can include.  Instead of demanding others be a better friend to you, start being a better friend to others.  And don’t just reach out to the people who already look like they have a lot of friends.

We all want someone to reach out and include us.  But who are we reaching out to and including?  If we all sit around waiting for someone to initiate, nothing ever happens.  Rather than seek out the people who are already connected and try to make them include you next time, look around and ask who you could possibly invest in and spend time with.

You saw people having a fun weekend in LA?  Great!  Find someone who didn’t go either, and invite them to plan a trip with you.  Ask your friends who did go what their favorite spot was, and be sure stop by and check it out.

CONNECT TO INDIVIDUALS, NOT  A GROUP

So there’s a fun group of people that you want to be included in.  You know how to be connected to a group?  By being connected to individuals.

This is a hard question, and I’m sorry if I’m being harsh.  But too often I myself, or I see in others, a desire to be included in a group.  But why?  Do we even know the people in the group well?  I don’t want to just be included in a group for the sake of being in a group.  I want to be with people I care about, and who care about me.

It’s easy to want to attach to a group.  It can provide a false sense of security and belonging.  But at the end of the day, a group doesn’t care for you.  A group doesn’t include you.  A group doesn’t call you.  People do that.

Start trying to connect more and invest relationally with individuals.  Build healthy relationships with individuals.  Call people individually and ask how their week is going.  It’s not about the group.  It’s about the people.  Invest in the people, and see what starts to happen.

BE CAREFUL OF SOCIAL MEDIA

There’s studies and statistics out there enough to justify another 5 posts, and this is already getting way too long.  But social media fuels comparison, and it’s making people miserable.  So if you struggle with comparing yourself to others, it might be good to take a break from social media.  Delete it from your phone.  Take a week off from checking it.  Do what you need to do to get to a better place, and then re-evaluate what place it should have in your life.

 

I struggle with this.  So much.  Please believe me when I say that these are all things I am still learning, and the process is slow and painful.  But more and more, I know I have a choice.  When I realize I was left out of something, when I feel excluded, I can choose one of two ways to respond.

I can compare, wallow, and feel sorry for myself.

Or I can celebrate, and reach out and ask who I need to include as well.

This has only been about the individual response.  The role of community and our responsibility to reach out and include others is an entirely different topic.  But you and I don’t have control over what other people choose to do or not.  We do have control over how we will respond when we feel left out.  We can have it push us closer to God and talk to him about these feelings that are surfacing, drive us to him more to look to get our needs met in Him, and celebrate on behalf of our friends.  Or we can compare and drive a wedge right into the heart of community.

You always have a choice.