They don’t think like I do!

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‘Everyone’ has discovered the Enneagram!  So it seems these days.  This lens into how each of us classifies life at an early age, whether accurately or not, points to the self-defense strategies we have cobbled together.  These tools or personality coping strategies appear to be set by age 5 and then we unconsciously hone them as we grow up.  They are NOT the real us, for they are just protective layers or a persona that we craft and wear to cover up our vulnerable self.  Finding out which type each one of us is, requires that we look at our heart motives, not our behaviors.

And that requires inward work.  No one can typecast us by evaluating how we act. Knowing oneself requires courage.  It takes ruthless honesty to pull back the layers of past shame and fear, guided by the gentle Holy Spirit. For as God says through His prophet in Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? Well, with God’s help, we can know some things about our heart.

My journey with the Enneagram began in April.  I met my friend Mandy for one of our infrequent coffees.  She and I share a love for books and thinking, but she lives in Nashville and I live in western North Carolina.  As we were catching up, Mandy told me about a book whose wisdom and insights had NAILED her good!  Instantly mesmerized, I asked her about it.  The title of the paradigm she began to unfold sounded a bit new-age-ish – the Enneagram.  So instead of buying the book she was studying, I asked our library to order The Road Back to You.

When it arrived and I opened to page one, I knew I had to get my OWN copy so I could write in it.  And then the ‘binge’ began – 3 more books and all the podcasts that the authors Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile had recorded etc.

What appeals to me about this system of 9 (‘ennea’ is Greek for 9) different ways of looking at life are several key benefits that accrue to the one who decides to glean and use the useful bits:

  •  it confronts me with the incontrovertible fact that MY way is not the only way to view life and react to others and circumstances
  • there’s a reason I am weird (or maybe I’m not weird, but normal!)
  • there are ways I can grow up and discard some of my coping mechanisms that might have worked in the past. I’m learning that they are not healthy NOR are they what God is calling me to be as His beloved child and servant. Awareness, however, precedes change.

The ways each of the 9 personality types differ have to do in part with wounds we interpreted as young children.  As I understand it, Mom might have been scowling at us and as a 2 or 3-year-old, we drew the conclusion that we were to blame.  That could have been the case, or more likely, she was preoccupied with something else.  Nonetheless, very early on, from our environment, we crafted a way to protect ourselves and get our needs met.

How have this knowledge and understanding concretely helped Mike and me?   When one of us is ‘having one of those moments!’ we are beginning to offer grace more quickly and NOT take the emotional reaction personally.  “Oh, that is Maria’s 5-ness or Mike’s 1-ness acting out.”

Being an ‘Observer’, the 5 who conserves her physical, emotional and rational energy out of fear of depletion, I live in my thoughts.  I honestly believed that everyone else did as well.  So for all the 37 years before April 2017, I trumpeted to Mike: “If you would JUST change your thinking, you could automatically change your emotions.”  He never seemed to ‘get it’, or so I concluded.  But then after April,  I learned that he and others don’t view life like I do.

Call me naïve!  Or a slow learner.

So what is Mike as a 1 on the Enneagram circle like?  He is a ‘Perfectionist’ who operates out of his ‘gut’ or body.  He’d call it instinct.  Visceral feelings lead and color his thoughts.  I’m less likely these days to SAY out loud: “You don’t have to think like that!”  (code for:  Your thinking is wrong!)  I’ve realized not only how unloving that response has been, but also how ineffective it is. So these days I practice stopping myself from correcting his thinking and focus my energy toward understanding just what he is feeling.

Do I have feelings?  Yes, but they trail an event by at least 24 hours.  Often when I have hurt Mike by an action or a tone or a look, I can apologize and I do so, but I don’t FEEL sorry.  I THINK sorry.  And later, the feelings hit me. It’s then that I taste shame and sorrow and it rocks me when I FEEL how I’ve hurt him.

But as a rule, I’d much rather talk to you about your thoughts and my thoughts and what we’ve been learning Questions fascinate me because they lead to more inquiry, which gives new understanding.

This past summer, however, I actually experienced an immediate feeling of anger at someone close to me.  (Can you actually count the feelings you have had in the past year? – that would be like asking me to count the thoughts I have had.) The other intense feeling that hit me happened in early April.  So that’s TWO immediate feelings this year…..but who’s keeping track?

On this rare occasion, there was an event, triggered by another person, followed by an instant intense feeling.  In tandem with that feeling, my thoughts raced.  I stood outside the scenario and evaluated this rare occurrence.  I actually felt GOOD that a strong feeling had barged in, even if uninvited, for to me it represented growth!  I CAN feel and identify an emotion!  In between marveling over the presence of this stranger, I also rationally thought through the consequences were I to choose to welcome him fully and allow him freedom of expression.  I knew I dared not, at the risk of ruining an evening among family members.  But the cost of NOT sharing the feeling was that I withdrew and projected ‘Ice Princess’.  My protective stance.  Yes, and a bit passive-aggressive.

Back to the present.  It’s been 8 months since Mandy introduced me to this personality index.  ‘Everyone’ else as well seems to be discovering this ancient ‘spiritual’ tool toward wholeness and integrity. Or I’m finding that since it’s been in the marketplace of ideas of America since the ’80s, some of my friends have known about it for a while.  But no one I have personally encountered, other than Mandy, actually uses it.

One thing DOES annoy me.  There’s a Facebook group of Enneagram devotées.  Some of them seem to have adopted the stance that their type is the correct way to look at things.  One practitioner invited group members to offer suggestions on how to ‘help’ a 5 in her small study circle to “go deeper and learn to share feelings”.   I suggested that ‘feelings’ might be the tool and term that everyone else feels skilled at employing, but the 5 turns to thoughts as his/her tool of choice for expressing what is meaningful. And that the leader should allow this person to communicate in that way.  The advice-seeker lightly chastised me for offering the suggestion that what some call feelings, 5s might call thoughts.  No such beast allowed, apparently.

Dear Friends, one of the beauties of the Enneagram is how it shows us that we are all different. The wisest way to help a 5 or any number let go of his/her preferred, but stunted coping strategy is to model healthier ways of living in a winsome, uncritical manner.   Being around non-judgmental broken fellow sojourners who are walking with God both gentles me and encourages me.  Chastisement does not.

How about you?  Are you an Enneagram practitioner?  If so, I’d be interested in learning how the Enneagram is helping you grow more integrated, more like Jesus.  Please leave a comment!  And if you are a Five like me, please let me know.

 

What are you attached to?

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Did your attachment tendancies start with a pacifier or your favorite ‘blankey’?

linus Or were routines, like story-time right before bed your go-to comfort? Whatever it was for you as a child, you probably have some items or practices or even a person in your life that make you feel more secure.

Reading 2 Chronicles 26 about King Uzziah of Juda this morning raised the matter of attachment. Here’s how verse 5 reads:

He set himself to seek God in the days of Zechariah, who instructed him in the fear of God, and as long as he sought the Lord, God made him prosper.

The French translation of this verse adds a richer understanding.  The verbal phrase reads:  “Il s’attacha à Dieu…” (He attached himself to God…)

This amplification feels like a quartz vein shot through with gold, worth the effort to mine it.  Here are 2 questions to kick off our digging:

  • Why do we attach?
  • and, how do we attach?

First, why do we attach?

I think humans and animals are wired by God to crave certainty and security.  But He has designed us to look to Him to meet that need, not to anything He has created.  Given that the Fall fractured both us and all of creation, we are misguided. We look for substitutions for God that FEEL real.  For even though God is as real as anything we can see or touch, He is spirit, thereby immaterial and invisible to us at present.

On to the second question –  how is it that we attach?

Primarily by thinking about, talking about, keeping near, and treasuring.  A small child keeps his blanket close by.  A crying baby calms down with his trusted pacifier. When I was bulimic, I grabbed cookies or M&Ms to tame the stress.

For some, a variation of attachment might be an acted-out routine that has brought peace. I know friends who routinely undertake remodeling projects as a diversion from anxiety or for stop-gap immediate relief some go shopping or clean out a closet (me!)  More dangerous measures include gambling, porn indulgence, use of drugs or even some extreme sports.

(If you are curious to learn about some non-biblical, psychological reasons for attachment, here is a link to various views.)

Beyond inherent and obvious dangers, what’s wrong with the above attachment items or practices?

The only reason that counts is simply this: these stress-relievers are just as uncertain as the uncontrollable circumstances that bring suffering.  When LIFE happens, pressuring us, what if we are circumstantially kept from our go-to stress reliever?  Maybe that’s the origin of the expression ‘going postal’! Our God knows there are times we humans explode in anger or act otherwise irrationally.

God offers a different way of handling life’s uncertainties and stress, one that the apostle Paul learned.  This morning, while reading a bit of Puritan pastor William Gurnall’s teaching on holding on to faith in the Triune God, I glimpsed a connection to Paul’s teaching on contentment.

You are familiar with this early Christian boasting in having acquired the ability to be content in all circumstances.  ‘All’ included the gamut of experiences ranging from physical comfort and ease all the way to the many times he suffered beatings, imprisonment or calumny from his fellow Jews. (Phil 4:12)

I think Gurnall provides the method for Paul’s method of ‘learning’. Gurnall writes that in times of blessings, plenty and the absence of suffering, we should practice  “Keep(ing)…(our)..minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” Col 3:2

Then when the times of suffering and deprivation come, we should be more equipped to continue to feed ourselves on the rich truths of heaven, the expectations of one day enjoying our inheritance presently kept for us by Jesus.  Directing our imaginings Godward takes practice. You’re probably like me.  My thoughts DO NOT automatically tend toward meditating on the ‘diverse excellencies in Jesus Christ’ (Jonathan Edwards). It takes effort to dig and work a groove in my mind, through much exercise.

I mention Edwards’ line above about what to think about when meditating on Jesus. Because when I first considered devoting time to building a habit of thinking about ‘things above’, my first reaction was:

  • just what should my mind focus on?

John Piper gave me a clue when he quoted Jonathan Edwards in a sermon I recently heard. An example of these very different but astonishing qualities of Jesus would be how He is both the Lion and the Lamb.  Powerfully fierce and humbly submissive, all at the same time.

There ARE multitudes of rich treasures to be mined in the Bible.  And I think this is what is meant by God’s teaching us to ‘attach ourselves’ to Him.  We attach primarily by what we think about and talk about.  If I’m attached to my children, then I will pull out pictures and extol all the cute things they do.  Likewise, if I’m attached to God, I will boast in how great He is.

Contrary to what a material naturalist might argue, we are NOT deterministic beings.  We have been given the gift of imagination, of choosing what to think about.  Paul knew that. Therefore, I think his secret of learned contentment was harnessing and directing his thoughts God-ward.

That encourages me.  I know that I have plenty of time when my mind can float.  I do have the power to direct and focus those thoughts.  I CAN practice a new and different way of thinking.   I want to build up these mental and spiritual muscles of my mind during those periods when I’m not struck down by suffering.  Then when pain does come, I will know how to flee to my true refuge.

I’ll leave you with the French exhortation:

Attache-toi à Dieu!

Coming out of the Productivity Closet

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Bench  Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.

Must we always be doing, producing?  Why are thinking and meditation given short shrift in America? 

Convicted!  when my friend questioned out loud a commentator’s mild rant about time ‘wasted’ waiting for a cashier or doctor.  What have I missed from God by NOT sitting still, pondering and KNOWING Him?

 

Which governs your walk with Christ – knowledge or feelings?

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Patrick’s definition of Biblical wisdom in today’s sermon stopped me cold.  Our pastor has begun preaching through the book of James in view of the many trials to befall our church family in recent months.  He has sensed, rightly so, a need for us to know HOW to think properly about what God has sent.

I’ve always joked about being a member of the ‘pure joy club’ as in:

  • Consider/Count it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds...James 1:2

But when you are suffering, it’s nothing to laugh about. No matter the flavor or extent of pain and difficulty, we all require good teaching and counsel in how to deal with the trials. James’ instruction, therefore, directing his listeners to ask God for wisdom in the suffering makes sense.

But here’s the new wrinkle:  I had always thought that praying for wisdom meant asking for guidance in what TO DO!  Today, Patrick took a different angle.  He explained that the kind of wisdom we need is help in thinking correctly/truthfully about the trial.  If we can’t imagine how to view this current suffering as falling into the category of ‘complete joy,’ then we are to pray for the ability to take what we know about God and his Word and apply both to our circumstances.

In essence we are begging God:

  • Father, help me to understand and trust that you are working in this awful circumstance!  Help me TO THINK correctly!

From THAT new definition of Biblical wisdom, it occurred to me that Knowing WHAT TO THINK is more important than knowing WHAT TO DO. And since our actions or lack of actions affect our emotional state, right knowledge must rule our feelings.  

So here’s a question?  In your life is your  knowledge more important than your feelings?

God, speaking through the prophet Hosea, says: My people perish for lack of knowledge -Hosea 4:6

and in Isaiah 5:13, God warns: Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched with thirst.

And in this teaching from Philippians 2:5, Paul counsels – Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.

What he means is THINK, or DIRECT YOUR MIND…about a certain topic.

A recent conversation with a close friend provides an appropriate illustration of the importance of correct thinking.  This dear gal has been suffering from what I call:

ADHD – Anxiety, Despair, Hopelessness and Depression

Like all of us, she is pulled in many directions as a mom of 2 under the age of five as well as being pregnant with her third child.  Her self-chosen priorities feel like burdens because of some INCORRECT thinking.

Here is one example of the unintended consequences of false ideas. Her life presupposition has been:

  • I am what I do.  Therefore, if I’m not doing, then I don’t exist.

In her case she has chosen to define herself as the kind of mom who:

  • cooks healthy meals for her kids
  • spends time reading to them and homeschooling the eldest
  • exercises every day
  • keeps an organized house

So when circumstances (aka God’s providence) interfere and block her ‘doing’, then she has felt herself coming undone, like she doesn’t exist.

She has been living off of, feeding on her emotions with NO input from God’s word.  She truly is perishing for lack of true knowledge.

Truth will set you free

The only solution is to throw herself onto God’s mercy and ask Him for wisdom in how to think correctly, that is Biblically about her circumstances, given accurate knowledge of God’s character, ways, past rescues and promises of future grace.  The right kind of knowledge trumps feelings.

Here’s one final bit of evidence that our God considers true knowledge vital.

The apostle John comforts us in the most important knowledge or reality that any Christian wants – assurance of one’s salvation.  The good news is that our feelings do not enter into the facts.  Listen to his words in 1 John 5:13

  • These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life.

We all know the source of this life-giving knowledge – God’s written Word.  Don’t starve! “Mangia! Mangia!” as all good Italian moms exhort!   Let us taste and see that the Lord IS good.  Why do you think I named this blog, “Feed on Him”?

 

 

Lost in thought – musings about abiding in the Vine

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Lost in thought

 

 

 

John 15:5

 I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

I came across my friend, lost in thought. He didn’t hear me approach. Reaching out gently, I touched his shoulder so he wouldn’t jump. “Where ARE you? You look deep in thought!”

Don’t we sometimes refer to the content of our thoughts as a place?

At the very least, this illustration from ordinary life helps me to understand and apply what it means to abide in Christ.

Pondering again the whole viticulture analogy Jesus uses to differentiate HIS role from ours yielded some clarity.

If Jesus is the vine (think: TRUNK) and you and I are branches growing out of the vine, we are dependent on nourishment from the trunk. We need to stay connected, no matter how forceful the storms of everyday life blow. Our ‘soul’ survival and our spiritual vitality while inhabiting this current Earth depend on our on-going union with Jesus.

What role does the Father play? God the Father is the farmer, the vinedresser whose job it is to (superin)tend HIS garden. That means He sometimes cuts away new growth if it isn’t headed in the direction He deems best. His pruning sheers clip away the dead stuff as well. And He occasionally transplants us somewhere we didn’t choose, sometimes in soil that doesn’t seem to suit! But apparently, in His wisdom, He knows this particular dirt is rich and will cause us to produce more. I don’t always like the TASTE of His nourishing compost piles. There’s other plant food I would prefer, (namely, my COMFORT)!

Not only does the Master Gardner govern our physical setting, His Son as the vital vine, instructs us in how to be a ‘good branch’. Seems the only job He assigns us is to ‘abide’ in His Son, the vine.  But what does THAT mean? And how are we to do that?

Remember my lost-in-thought friend? We actually abide wherever our thoughts go. If we want to stay connected to Jesus, then we need to think often and hard on what He says in His word. Applying a quote from my favorite puritan, William Gurnall, we must ‘suck hard at the breast of the Covenant’. I think the idea is to be like a dog, working over a bone, aiming to get every last drop of tasty meat and residual flavor that he can.

In the same manner, I want to make it my chief daily activity to turn over Jesus’ promises, His deeds, His words, in order to gain as much nourishment and joy as I can.

What about the Holy Spirit? What role does He play? Ah, this is what is cool and encouraging. God’s Spirit is the One who actually produces the grapes, that is the fruit, through us.

Until recently I thought that ‘bearing fruit’ meant PRODUCING fruit. It doesn’t! It means to be the living stalk attached to the trunk from which the 3rd member of the Godhead grows the fruit. Our branch mission or job, therefore, is to focus on Jesus and His living Word.

This is actually work? Just pondering and thinking?   I know, I know, it’s pretty humbling, isn’t it! We think we’re to do GREAT things for Christ. But remember how Jesus actually addressed our labor?

John 6:28-29 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?”  Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.

That’s all! Think on and believe what Jesus says.

If it is we who produce the fruit, then we could claim credit and look for glory. The way God has set it up, He alone gets the credit. Well, what about us? At least we get the fruit, right?

Yes and no. The fruit isn’t primarily meant for the branch that holds it up, that bears it; it’s for others. Nonetheless, we get the privilege of being part of God’s provision to the Church and the confused world. And when God’s fruit grown in us nourishes others, we ourselves are replenished! What a good deal!

Proverbs 11:25b ….those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

Bottom Line? What we think about matters!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re going to dwell on something….

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If you’re anything like me, you might get caught up in ‘do-loops’ from time to time.  That’s when you can’t stop thinking about a problem or difficult situation and you go ’round and ’round, without getting anywhere.

Fast Merry Go Rounds on a playground

 

 

 

I have let myself get mired down in a situation like that – even though I have a teaching contract for next year, I keep thinking about other job possibilities.  The problem is – no doors have opened and few suitable situations loom – at least THAT I CAN SEE!

But what happens when you think about a problem?  You FEEL weighted down and depressed.  Joyce Meyer, a popular Christian speaker, has some advice:

Stop Thinking about a problem

 

 

 

 

 

But does that go far enough?  No!  If we don’t replace the now-forbidden topic with something else to think about, we’ll just go back to worrying about the same old problem!

The solution is to fix our gaze (our mind’s eye) on something else beside the problem.  This is what the Hebrew people experienced early in their desert wanderings with Moses.  In Numbers 21 the Jews complained about the food and water situation.  That was their problem.  And in their bitter recriminations –  a blatant slap in the face to God who had sprung them from Egyptian slavery, they looked at their lacks.

So God sent a worse problem – lethal biting snakes and many died.  But along with this punishment, God provided a way out for those who would alter the direction of their gaze.  Moses was instructed to cast a snake replica and fix it on top of a pole and hold it up.  Those who TRUSTED God’s instructions did what they were bidden, looked up at something other than their circumstances and were healed.

Moses and serpent on a pole

  •  The people came to Moses and said, “We sinned when we spoke against the Lord and against you. Pray that the Lord will take the snakes away from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. The Lord said to Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.”  So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, they lived.  Numbers 21: 7 to 9

 

So, too, with us – if we want healing, we have to think about something else.

This account in Numbers is actually a picture of the Gospel in the Old Testament.  Just like those ‘wandering Jews’, we 21st century men and women are also practiced complainers against God.  And because of this inexcusable disobedience against our Maker, we are headed toward everlasting death.  But God has sent a remedy.  If we look up at Jesus and forsake our own attempts to save ourselves,  we can be healed.  The Son of God took the punishment we deserved by submitting to death on a cross.  His murder and resurrection produced 2 gifts for us:

One……

  • His death is both proof that the Father deemed the payment for OUR sins sufficient
  • Our trust in that ‘fait accompli’ means the payment applies to us

Two….

  • His resurrection to new life is proof that we too will also be raised
  • Our first-step trust** means we are now included IN Christ and are guaranteed to be raised to the New Heavens as well

(**Jesus’ death in our place only counts for us if we TRUST what God says about our dire condition and His Son’s work FOR us and if we STOP trying to save ourselves through what WE do)

Given all that (and that’s a lot), Paul tells us how to live in this sorrow-filled world:

  1. Rejoice in what the triune God (Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit) has done for you
  2. Give God all your problems
  3. Don’t think any more about those problems but INSTEAD about what is…true, noble, right and just, pure, lovely, acceptable, excellent and praiseworthy

The bottom line is this:  We become what we behold.

Become what you behold

Who wants to look like one of his or her problems!!!!

 

The Power of Good Thinking

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Matthew 11:26…..it seemed good in Your sight  – eudokia, meaning ‘good- thinking’

 

Tim Keller explains that if we want to change our behavior, we have to dig down to the level of feelings that prompt the ‘act’.  But we can’t stop there, because beneath our feelings is the bedrock of our thoughts.  In other words, our meditations are …….seeds which grow into ……..feelings that eventually sprout……. deeds.  Painting blue an already growing daffodil won’t produce a blue daffodil next time.  To get a true blue flower, we have to plant and cultivate the correct seed.    And where do our thoughts and feelings reside? – in our heart.

God-pleasing behavior does not just happen, it takes planning.  A farmer who envisions a harvest of corn intentionally plants the proper seed.   We, too, are farming.  Our first field is our own life: to grow a God-pleasing life, we have to start with first things.  We acknowledge that it’s only through God’s mercy that we have been born again and brought into God’s ‘ambassador corps’.  As ambassadors and messengers of the good news, our focus is on pleasing God as we go about on this God-mission.  Our daily fitness in this new role depends on a new way of thinking.  Only by planting and consistently nurturing truth seeds from the Bible (our Ambassadors’ handbook), will our minds be renovated, our feelings changed and our actions conform to our new position in the Kingdom.

Paul’s claim of peace, despite horrid circumstances such as shipwreck and near death and pagan prison cells, startles us.  His contentment, another Greek word that has to do with good thinking is ‘autarkeira’.  It has to do with self boundaries, framing one’s circumstances in a way to be satisfied and free of anxiety.  How could Paul do that?  How can WE? – Only by thinking correctly.  If we absorb the truth that 1) yes, we can pray for what we need & desire and along side of that request 2) trust God that He will work out the circumstances for our greater good should He not answer the prayer according to what we ask.

I remember reading in the diary of George Mueller that he prayed for his wife to recover but at the same time affirmed in his prayer to God that if she were to die, he would still be at peace.  Yes, he would mourn, but he would choose to be at peace, because God promises that He will withhold NO GOOD THING from him who is righteous.  If she were to die, then Mueller reckoned it was for his good.

These kinds of responses are possible NOT because Paul or George Mueller were supermen.  Their way of thinking is the result of years of taking in and meditating on God’s truth.  May we be encouraged to follow their example in the power of Christ, through His word.    1 Tim 6:6   But godliness with contentment is great gain.

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