Impending Disaster

Have you ever felt like you knew something was going to happen before it actually did? I don’t mean having “second sight” or something like that. I’m talking about when you see the pieces of something coming together in such a way that you can almost predict the outcome before it actually happens.

Before the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004, I felt like this every time they played a game that counted, especially against the Yankees. It was as if the script had been written, that it had been maximized for heartbreak, and that there was simply nothing that could be done to stop it before the train finally went off the tracks.

Through the years, I’ve seen the same sort of things play out within my family, among my friends, and even among people in my church or community. It’s as if there is an imaginary script that’s being written behind the scenes, and although you aren’t the one writing the script, you might as well have because you know all of the plot twists and significant happenings before they take place.

It’s kind of painful if you have any emotional investment in the situation whatsoever. In fact, the more emotionally vested you are in the situation, the people, and the outcome, the more painful it seems to be. And regardless of the emotional investment, there just doesn’t seem to be a thing that can be done to change the outcome.

It’s hard to describe the heartbreak that I’ve felt as I have watched these situations play out. It’s heartbreaking to see scenarios on a path of disaster and destruction that’s inevitable. It’s even more heartbreaking, at least to me, when you feel like you might have been able to stop it if you had had more information along the way, if the person had opened up about their struggles, or there were more people engaged in the situation earlier.

The thing is, it seems to happen more and more and the heartbreak just doesn’t stop. When you’ve watched multiple people walk down the same path of destruction, it gets tiresome and it gets to a point where you just want to grab them, shake them, point to the wreckage of others who you’ve seen and say, “Can you open your eyes? Can you see what you’re doing?”

But what can be done? How can it be stopped? Is it possible to keep the train on the tracks, to keep the impending and imminent disaster from happening? Is there a way to intervene, to step in and direct people towards a solution?

I think that it’s possible. I think that, given the right circumstances, these situations can be halted before they go too far. There are five observations that I have made that seem to contribute to contribute to the inevitability of the situations and make it that much harder to actually find a healthy and helpful resolution. If we look for the signs and are aware of the potential for disaster, we may be able to stop it before it goes too far.

So, here are my five observations:

1. We don’t ask for help until it’s too late

We are proud people who hate to admit weakness. When we are in the midst of struggles, one of the last things that we want to do is to admit that we don’t have the answers and can’t resolve our issues on our own. I’ve seen this in people who I have worked for and with, people within my family or among my friends. When we think that we can resolve situations on our own, we usually try and fail and then brush everything under the rug in hopes that it will go away. When it doesn’t (and it most certainly doesn’t), we may finally come to the place where we ask for help.

By the time that we finally muster enough courage and swallow enough pride to admit that we can’t solve the issue, things have escalated to such a frenzied state that it’s seemingly impossible to bring resolution to the situation. I’m not saying that it is impossible, after all, everything is possible with God, but if we haven’t felt like we could involve other people in the situation, will we really involve God?

When we become aware of an unsolvable situation, we need to admit it much sooner than we do. We need to come to that place of humility far sooner than we do if we really want resolution, otherwise, the disaster will look more imminent the further along we progress.

2. We don’t build deep relationships

We live in a society where we feign connectedness. Social media gives us the illusion that we are connected to many people, but that illusion can easily lead us astray into thinking that the depth of those relationships is greater than it really is. Staying connected in a deep and meaningful way takes more than simply writing some comments on a social media thread and thinking that everyone is being honest, including yourself.

Deep relationships are like anything else that grows, they take time and nourishment to thrive. We can’t expect to build deep relationships if we aren’t willing to spend the time and commit the energy. We can’t throw our relationships into a microwave and have them fully formed in 30 seconds or less.

We also can’t expect depth in our relationships unless we’re really willing to be open and honest. If we are always holding back and never really revealing ourselves to those with whom we are in relationship, how do we expect them to open up to us and how do we expect that some of the deeper issues with which we struggle can be resolved?

We need to do our best to avoid the social media trap that “everything is awesome” when it’s really not.

3. We don’t go to the right place for help

As a pastor, I can point a big finger to pastors in this area. Hear this from me very clearly, if you don’t hold a counseling, psychology, or mental health degree, know your own limitations, pastors. You can only get so far with people and with certain issues before you’re way above your pay grade and need to make referrals.

There’s no shame in it and there is so much more to gain from this. There are certain situations and circumstances that a Bible verse and some prayer just aren’t enough to help. I’m not diminishing the importance of Scripture and prayer, but I am saying that there are often things that we need to do besides simply read the Bible and pray.

We need to be able to humble ourselves enough to realize that we don’t have all of the answers nor do we all have adequate training to move people towards resolution.

Speaking of humility, when we have issues, we need to not just slough them off but confront them in real and effective ways. We can’t simply will ourselves to get better or take the “just try harder” approach, it doesn’t work.

As one who has sought out good counselors, I can say that there is a lack of them, at least where I live. But it’s important to find good people who can be effective and helpful if you want to find resolution. I’m working on building up a list of people to whom I can refer or use myself, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.

4. We give up too easily

We don’t show near the loyalty that previous generations have shown. When we our dissatisfied with an experience or product, we don’t try to see what options there are for changing the situation, we simply discard it and move on to the next thing.

Unfortunately, we do this with things other than disposable brands and products. We do it with relationships all the time. You hurt me, I’m defriending you. You betrayed me, I’m leaving you. You’ve lost my trust, I’m never talking to you again.

I’m not sure what happened to the old “stick it out” mentality, but it seems that we move on too quickly to the next thing without giving sufficient time and energy to what’s right before us. Chances are, if we don’t stick around to seek resolution in what’s in front of us, we’ll eventually find ourselves in a situation where we’ll do it again, or someone will do it to us and simply walk away.

I could tell stories about the times that I have spoken with someone who was in the process of walking away because they had “tried” to work things out. When I start probing them about what that they had tried and done, they usually didn’t give me affirmative answers to the suggestions that I have made. In other words, their efforts and “trying” was not nearly as exhaustive as they might have convinced themselves that it was.

There might come a time when you have seriously exhausted your opportunities, but until that time, keep on trying.

5. We aren’t honest with ourselves and with one another

This was mentioned indirectly in some of the previous points, but redundancy is a good thing. When we fail to divulge all of the information about a situation, especially to the people who can most help us out, we will fail to find resolution. When we continue to tell people that “everything’s fine” when it’s much worse than they see, we’re heading for disaster. We need to be honest with ourselves and with one another. We need to be able to admit our faults and admit when we have made mistakes.

I have seen situations come to a head when people have not been willing to admit that the situation was far worse than it really was, and then the whole thing blows up in their face. Even though I’ve sensed things along the way and had even asked about the gravity of the situation, I always received the “everything’s fine” response.

Unless we can come to the place where we are bitterly honest about what’s going on in a situation, we won’t find resolution. It may be really difficult to lay it all out on the table, but if we are really seeking resolution, we need to.

Sometimes this means that we need to probe people more than feels comfortable to us. If we have friends that seem to be in dire straits, than we might need to ask tough questions and dig deep to get to the heart of the issue.

As trite as it might seem, we have to remember that the first step is often admitting that there’s a problem. That admission is the first step towards honesty.

 

Following these observations isn’t a foolproof guarantee of avoiding the impending disaster, but I think it can go a long way, especially if we start to change a few things here and there. If you’ve experienced it before, you know how heartbreaking it is to see it all play out exactly like you thought it would. And, no matter how much you hoped against it, it usually plays out just like you thought that it would.

We can start to see change when it starts with us, not waiting until it’s too late, building deeper relationships, going to the right places for help, not giving up too easily, and being honest with ourselves and with others. I’d hate for it to me that someone was looking at and seeing the impending disaster play out. I think you probably feel the same way.

Drinking From the Firehose

drinking-from-firehoseI had the privilege this week to spend time down in Orlando with my wife and the other pastors and their wives at a church planting conference. We and 5000+ other people spent time drinking in from the experiences and insights of others who have gone before us. The problem is, that drinking felt a little like drinking from a firehose, if you understand the analogy. In other words, it’s a lot of information in a short period of time with little process time in between.

A guy by the name of Matt Chandler was one of the speakers at the conference and he had a lot of very valuable things to say. Among the valuable things that he said was that conferences, in some ways, weren’t fair. People come to a conference and hear people whose experiences are non-normal describe all that they have been through. There are enough of them that have had these non-normal experiences so that their non-normal experiences seem like they are normal. After listening to them for a few days, it could easily be assumed that this is the new normal. Then everyone goes back home to their version of normal, only to find that what seemed normal was really non-normal and it can easily lead to discouragement.

Out of everyone who was there, Chandler was probably the one that I appreciated the most because of his humility and the fact that he just put out there the fact that things are different between everyone’s circumstances. For too often within the Christian subculture, we’ve taken something that worked somewhere and tried to duplicate it exactly in our own context without changing things at all. When it fails, we wonder what we did wrong. How come it didn’t work?

The problem with that approach is that it doesn’t seek to do the hard work of building relationships with people in your own context. It doesn’t seek to do the hard work of spending time understanding who you are trying to reach and what makes them tick. Duplicating a “successful” strategy can easily become a copout, a shortcut to “success” which actually leads to failure and hurt.

I’ll never forget a conversation that I had with a friend of mine in Asheville when my wife and I were trying to discern what to do. We had sensed that our time in Asheville was ending but we had grown attached to the people with whom we were friends. We were torn about the idea of leaving and considered what it might look like to start a church. Through prayer and discernment, we decided that was not what God was calling us to (which is a good thing since it seems that everybody else in the Christian world decided to start a church in Asheville).

I sat down with my friend and he started asking me questions about where God was leading me. I told him that we thought about starting a church but we just weren’t sure where. He asked me where we would go or where we would like to be. I mentioned a location and started my own strategizing, how I might go about doing it. He stopped me and just asked, “what would it look like for you to go there and just build relationships?”

But how would I make money, how would my family live? He told me that wasn’t really the point. He said that I couldn’t go somewhere to start a church because then that would be the driving factor behind everything that I did. What if I went somewhere and just began to build relationships with people, began to see what made people tick, began to understand what it was that resonated within their souls?

I’ve never forgotten that conversation. I am so grateful to my friend for that advice. If he hadn’t given it and if I hadn’t listened, who knows where my family and I might have ended up.

As I contemplate all the things that I’ve heard over the last few days, there are so many nuggets, just like the one that my friend gave me, that speak to me deep down inside. Over the next few weeks, I will have to spend time processing over my notes, chewing them over, drinking from a glass instead of a firehose. I’ll ask myself hard questions and will also be able to process with the people who were with me at the conference.

Drinking from a firehose can be good, but if you do it all the time, you get oversaturated. At some point, you’ve got to step away from the firehose and begin to work off the water that you’ve ingested. If all you do is drink and you never move away from the firehose, it’s not going to do much good. I’ve tasted and I’ve seen, now it’s time to go and do. There will be time to drink from the firehose again, but I’ve got to get to work and work up a thirst again. Here we go!