Countering Frustration: The Right Tool for the Right Job

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When I was a kid I listened to my mother wishing the grocery budget stretched farther. I remember watching her grab a five dollar bill by each end and actually try to stretch it. When she was frustrated Mom said, “I’m so mad I could spit fuzzballs.” This was one of those fuzzball moments.

Alas, the blue paper rectangle did not stretch. It tore. Right in half. I expected to see flying fuzzballs next. That didn’t happen either. Instead, when she calmed down, I received instructions to go to the store and get the food on the list she gave me. I was to hand the money to the cashier, folded in such a way as to hide the last inch of cellophane tape in the house that held it together, and then run home – or stand there and cry if necessary. As I recall the method worked. I don’t remember if I waited for change though.

I understand frustration. I have never mastered the art of fuzzball spitting, but I developed other creative expressions.

Sometimes frustration expands at a rate far beyond the usual response to the annoying. Like many friends who faced injustice or betrayal, diagnoses of fatal illnesses, or financial ruin, or loss of reputation, or who are misunderstood, or caught in the mechanisms of heartless “policy,” I have found mere fuzzballs, even if I could spit them, insufficient. I have known the feeling of a mushroom cloud level reaction building up.  Sleeplessness, nausea and curling up in the fetal position are less violent, but equally ineffective alternatives.

I am learning to recognize that genuine frustration is giving in to the notion that I am stymied. There is no solution. I have run out of ideas and resources. It can’t be done. There is no try. There is no do. There is only fail.

Frustration is an emotional flailing about before going under the water for the last time.

Frustration is a declaration of the opposite of faith in the goodness of God.

Frustration’s recommendation: Abandon hope all ye who enter here.

But what if frustration is an indication that the tool you used last time “needs an upgrade” as Graham Cooke puts it:
If I focus on frustration,
the core of my attention
is the opposite of who God is for me.

Frustration is an emotional sign
That I need an upgrade.
It points to available increase,
Raising my awareness of God’s provision.
Therefore, frustration must turn to
Celebration of God’s intent.”*

To be honest, when I am on the verge of a damaging, but satisfying explosion, giving someone a piece of my mind I can ill afford to part with, or alternatively, collapsing in a heap of hopeless inertia in front of a speeding locomotive, the choice to pick a better response feels like reining in a team of runaway horses heading toward the cliff in an old western movie. Effort is required.

I need to stop. Then I need to take panting, snorting thoughts captive and turn them around.

My heavenly Father has promised to provide all I need. I memorized Philippians 4:19 when I was a kid. “And my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.

Sometimes he swoops down and rescues when I call. Sometimes he laughs and says, “You need to get another tool. You’re using a Phillips screwdriver. You need a Robertson.”baskets weave woven ch crop DSC_0095

“But I don’t have a flippin’ Robertson, whatever that is,” I protest. (Can I admit I’m not always reverent when it feels like I’m going down for the third time?)

“I know. That’s why you need to get one.”

“HOW?!”

“Look in the fruit basket.”

“What?”

“Remember the time you were fighting the mad clutches of a Chinese finger puzzle-type problem? The kind that gets tighter the harder you try to pull your fingers out? You were applying persistence in resistance when you needed to use gentle patience. You found it in time. Now go look in the collection of fruit of the Spirit I provided.”

I look. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control.

“Why don’t you try joy as your Robertson this time?”

“That’s counterintuitive,” I reply.

“Isn’t it though,” he laughs.

“I don’t have much joy right now.”

“I do. Use mine. It’s free.”

He smiles.

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My fellow believers, when it seems as though you are facing nothing but difficulties see it as an invaluable opportunity to experience the greatest joy that you can! For you know that when your faith is tested it stirs up power within you to endure all things. And then as your endurance grows even stronger it will release perfection into every part of your being until there is nothing missing and nothing lacking.
And if anyone longs to be wise, ask God for wisdom and he will give it! He won’t see your lack of wisdom as an opportunity to scold you over your failures but he will overwhelm your failures with his generous grace.
(James 1: 2-5 TPT)

I’m still here. I’m still learning. His grace never stops. His love never fails.

*Manifesting Your Spirit p.66

Multiple Choice: The Joy of Self-control

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Ideas have consequences. What we truly believe plays out in action when our guard is down. Finding out we have some shifting sand foundations is an unsettling feeling, but I have discovered that when the Lord points out areas of wonky thinking he makes provisions ahead of my questions — and he has something to do with the circumstances that make me frustrated enough to ask questions.

The recent frustration that has pushed me to examine my thinking is my lack of self-discipline, or self-control. I call myself a divergent thinker. I’m usually reading a dozen books and working on a dozen projects simultaneously. I like collecting clues and making connections, but I have a hard time getting things done. If I was organized enough to run a business I could call it Rabbit Trails Are Us.

IMG_1978 grapes 2 ch rsI’ve been learning about the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. One of the big clues that these are virtues that characterize the Holy Spirit’s interactions with us and come from God is Jesus’ statement that the peace he gives is different from the peace we try to make ourselves.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” (John 14:27)

I came to the horrible realization years ago that, on my own, I am incapable of loving some people. Tried. Tried hard. Can’t do it. Years of depression taught me that I cannot pull myself up by my bootstraps and fake joy for more than a few hours. And peace? I could talk about peace, but many 3:30 a.m. wide-eyed ruminating sessions proved I didn’t have a grasp on that either. The same for the rest of the list.

That’s depressing. I went into a major funk. What kind of Christian was I if I couldn’t be a great witness to people with my superior behaviour as a major selling point? (Being just a bit sarcastic here.) I was sure God needed to fire me from his P.R. team. Then I was afraid he would, so I scraped up some willpower and self control and got up to do the stuff again.

Willpower works – until I’m tired, or hungry, or in pain, or angry, or bored, or feeling guilty, then willpower is not sufficient.

I was raised in an evangelical tradition where the will seemed to be the only aspect of the soul that escaped being tainted by the fall. Will-oriented verbs featured largely in every sermon application: decide, determine, choose, act, achieve, purpose, volunteer, engage, carry out, serve, and do. Do, do, do. “Faith without works is dead,” I heard over and over. (Somehow the fact that works without faith is as winsome as last week’s leftover potluck casserole was overlooked.)

The other side of the discussion came in the form of don’t, don’t, don’t. The don’ts, spoken and unspoken, loomed as large as a dirty snow avalanche bearing down on people who are constantly reminded they are sinners. We placed fences around fences in an effort to avoid that which we thought we were powerless, as sinners, to consistently resist. We apologized a lot, then flagellated ourselves emotionally in the self-punishing  guise of self-discipline.

DSC_0007 daisies pick me ch rsThe Lord has been teaching me that it is possible to love others because He loved us first. When we know we are the recipients of his love, and that there is plenty more where that came from, we can start to give out of the abundance the Holy Spirit pours into us.

This has been a huge revelation to me. The fruit of the Spirit is His joy, His peace, His faithfulness, His kindness etc. We cannot give what we have not received. But we do need to open our hearts to all He has for us.

So far, so good. Then I got to the fruit at the end of the list: self-control. Everything came to a screeching halt. Suddenly I felt responsible for producing this fruit in my life via willpower and following rules again.

This doesn’t make sense. It’s frustrating! And frustration forces me to ask questions.

I searched for articles on self-control. Most of them talk about saying no to lust for sex or lust for sleep or lust for brownies. Seriously. Brownies – especially fudge brownies– seem to be the greatest temptation North American evangelicals are willing to admit they face.

A recent article in a popular publication talked about the science of saying no and the means to work with willpower weakened by excessive demand. The author suggested techniques to develop better habits, thus lowering stress on the willpower muscle. That’s useful information if the problem is failure to exercise or resist the urge to eat too many – you guessed it – brownies.

Of course, we need to learn the benefits of delayed gratification, healthy habits and consideration of others. This is the kind of self-control we dearly hope our kids have picked up by the time they leave home. It’s the kind of self-control we demand other drivers display. This is also the kind of self-discipline that can be natural to some personality types (often first manifesting as stubbornness or even OCD). But still, I wonder. The fruit of the Spirit has got to be more than something available to anyone determined to put in effort.

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I looked up the Greek word in Galatians 5:23. Enkrateia. The root, krat, is found in demokratia (democracy) meaning “government by the people.” Akrasia means chaos, a disorganized leaderless mess. Kratos means power or strength or dominion and in the scripture nearly always refers to a characteristic of God.

Be strong in the Lord and in the power (kratos) of His great might. (Ephesians 6:10)

Enkrateia means self-governance. Governing is about being in the position to make wise choices in the best interests of the governor’s charge, in this case, oneself.

Greek philosophers used the word in the context of having authority or power to choose well. That’s when I began to see it differently. What if the self-control of the fruit of the Spirit is not about the obligation to say no to all the things we have been told are bad or could be the first step on a slippery slope that will dump our sorry backsides in perdition? What if self-control, enkrateia, is supernatural empowerment to choose well, beyond the natural ability one might expect?

yellow flowers alley IMG_0056 ch rsThe Bible says we were formerly slaves to sin. (Romans 6) When Christ lives in us he empowers us with His enkrateia – his authority, power, and strength to govern ourselves well, to make good choices based on love. It’s a manifestation of freedom!

What if self-control is not about concentrating on saying no to sin?

What if self-control is about shifting our concentration from what we do not want to do to realizing we are now empowered to see better alternative choices?

What if self-control is about having our eyes opened to possibilities and opportunities to express his goodness, his kindness, his gentleness, his faithfulness, or his love by saying yes?

What if self-control is all about saying no to both depressing slavery to sin and oppressive rule-keeping by saying yes to delight in the majesty of God?

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Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:12-14 NAS)

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Compared to all his delights, last week’s mouldy hamburger and macaroni casserole looks like a woefully sad choice.

I’m including photos that remind me of the abundance of God’s goodness today. I am choosing, with the authority he has given me to choose, to see self-control in the context of an abundance of beauty symbolizing his grace upon grace upon grace.

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Where Are the Blacksmiths?

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Dull Christianity is Not Normal

This surprised me when I noticed it one day.

Now no blacksmith could be found in all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears.” So all Israel went down to the Philistines, each to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, and his hoe. The charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares, the mattocks, the forks, and the axes, and to fix the hoes. So it came about on the day of battle that neither sword nor spear was found in the hands of any of the people who were with Saul and Jonathan, but they were found with Saul and his son Jonathan. (1 Samuel 13:19-22)

Seriously? The people could not sharpen their own tools? Only Saul and Jonathan had swords? How long had they been putting up with this nonsense?

“This is just the way things are done.”

I thought about the resignation in voices around me this week. How often have we accepted a form of powerless religion as we try to make a difference in our communities?
This is the way business is done.
This is the way politics operates.
This is the way healthcare works.
This is way religious institutions are run.
This is the way we have to educate our kids.
This is the way the rich act and this is the way the poor act.

Occasionally some people bust out of the defeatist attitude and take their tools out to be sharpened – by dragging them down to systems and rulers they don’t trust and paying for the privilege.

Many people don’t even know what their tools are. Even more can’t remember what a spiritual weapon looks like – and they don’t look like the enemies’ weapons.

Did you know that gentleness is a weapon? Did you know you can fight despair with goodness? How sharp and effective is your peace? Can your patience lay siege to a lie a whole society has fortified? Can your joy slaughter cynicism or your love cut racial hatred off at the knees?

Can your gift of prophecy bring the light of truth? Can your gift of healing do an end run on profit-minded hospitals and insurance companies or insufferable waiting lists? Can the knowledge and wisdom the Holy Spirit reveals to you feed the hungry or create jobs? Can your God-given faith move bureaucratic mountains or your ability to discern the kind of spirits motivating propaganda join with those who pray with words beyond their own comprehension to change the course of history?

Can worship set a city on its ear?

Where are the Blacksmiths?

Do you know how to sharpen the tools and weapons Jesus Christ has provided for you? Where are the blacksmiths in our land who can equip the saints to take every thought captive to come in alignment with Christ? (The real Jesus Christ – not the fictitious, inoffensive, mild, straw-man Jesus held up by those who have sort of read about him but have never met the revolutionary who came to change everything by setting us free from the law of sin and death.)

We can trudge on and resign ourselves to feeling like victims of disappointment and subject ourselves to the limited possibilities that the world’s systems offer those who live in gated pockets of temporary personal peace and prosperity. We can guard against the threats coming into our homes with spiritual weapons on the level of blunt sticks and gravel-sized stones. We can shrug as we shuffle off to vote for people we hope will not disappoint us yet again by putting their own interests and philosophies at the top of their list of priorities.

We can complain that this is just the way things are done as we try to cut through walls of thorns with dull knives.

Or we can rise like King David and say “Our hope is in God, our glory and the lifter of our heads! By Him we shall do valiantly!”

 

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Corinthians 10:3-5 )

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. To one there is given through the Spirit a message of wisdom, to another a message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he distributes them to each one, just as he determines. (1 Corinthians 12: 7-11 )

Showers of Blessing, Seasons of Refreshing

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All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 NLT)

The main character on the old TV show “Maude” had an expression: “God is going to get you for that.”

It was funny in the way death and taxes and old age jokes are funny, because behind a lot of humour there is a vault of anger and feelings of helplessness. Some people who want to be in the business of speaking for God must be taking Maude more seriously than she took herself, because there are a lot of God-is-gonna-get-you-for-that doom and gloom prophecies abounding on the internet lately. Lots of shoulds with no hows. Given the dire predictions that God is fed up with our behaviour (and voting patterns apparently) and is going to switch from showering us with blessings to dumping nasty judgments on us, I have to stop and ask, Is that God? What does the voice of God actually sound like?

Lately I was totally rattled when I heard the voice of condemnation saying, “You are not good enough… you are a disappointment… you have failed… who do you think you are…”

All those things were factual. I have failed and disappointed people.  I had not lived up to even my own standards. I felt shame (more than “I did something wrong,” but I am something wrong”) and I didn’t know how to fix it. I spiraled down rapidly. I stood on the precipice of depression again.

Then, in His kindness, the Lord brought words of correction into my life through a random podcast and when a page fell out of my journal He reminded me that this part of the journey is about learning to better discern His voice for myself.

“The fruit of the Spirit,” said the speaker, “characterizes the way the Holy Spirit speaks.” I understand that to mean that it’s His fruit, not something I have to conjure up on my own. It is His character. He is love. He is peace. When He speaks He speaks with the voice of love, of kindness, of the reassurance of His faithfulness in seeing me through and does not reject or condemn me. His tone is gentle, kind, patient and peaceful because that’s who He is.

A question: Even if it was firm, was the voice that told you that you are a failure gentle, patient, kind, joyful, inviting you to a deeper relationship? If not, it was not Him. Wrong voice. If God is asking you to change the way you think so that it shows up in your choices He gives you access to His patience and self-control. With every challenge that will help you grow there is a provision set aside – a spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms – that will enable you to change. You need to keep your eyes on Him to access it.

Of course we reap what we sow. That’s a universal principle so obvious that even toddlers get it. Pull the cat’s tail and there is a natural consequence. Act in a self-centered manner and there is a consequence. But the voice of God doesn’t condemn and leave us there. It goes beyond should to how – and the how is all about relationship and drawing closer to Him. His voice shows us how to hit the refresh button, to agree that we have been wrong and want to change the way we think, and to feel the joy of knowing we are forgiven and starting fresh.

Instead of “I am going to get you,”  He says, “Don’t worry. I’ve still got you – and I love you very, very much. I will strengthen you and help you. I began this work in you and I will complete it.”