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Judy Lair is a licensed counselor and owner of Counselorplace Christian Counseling. She is the author of “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.” Judy’s personal struggles with fear led her through the valley of hurt and sorrow. She now embraces a joy-filled life grounded in God’s truth and freedom in Christ. Judy uses her professional counseling expertise to tell stories that help people find healing and freedom. Her vulnerable, godly approach helps people find courage to move from Fear to Freedom. For more information or speaking requests, email JudyLair@counselorplace.com or sign up for blog posts at http://judylair.blogspot.com

 “Freedom is attainable. Trust me, I’ve been on the anxiety side, gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and now I’m praising God, eating at the banqueting table, and helping others make the same journey. Whether you find yourself stuck in anxiety, disappointment, grief, or confusion, your heart can be set free.” Judy Lair, “From the Other Side of the Couch.”

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Feel Better or Be Better?

Jesus used parables as a way to illustrate the differences between godly principles and immature human behaviors. The prodigal son, like Adam and Eve, decided he wanted to make his own choices about his life and have control over his own destiny. He brazenly asked his father for the inheritance he would receive when his father died. I wonder what the prodigal son missed in the relationships at home that he needed to go out into the world looking for something else. Did he feel put down by his older brother or ignored by his father? Most likely he had unprocessed disappointments that kept him from receiving all that his father provided for him. Otherwise, he never would have needed to try and fill such an emotional void with unhealthy people and activities.

The prodigal son focused solely on what he was missing, causing him to leave the people who loved him dearly. He gravitated towards those who only cared about using him for his money. When we’re unable to move towards people because of deep hurt, it leaves us vulnerable to those who prey on lost souls.
When the son had spent all he had, a famine came, putting him in a horrible situation. The “friends” he had surrounded himself with were gone. Selfishness shows its true colors when we no longer have anything of value to offer. These users either punish us for what we no longer bring to them or disappear, leaving us alone to our fate.

The prodigal son was now in desperate need and anxiously realized he had messed up big time. When we get that “oh no” feeling, most of us jump from the frying pan into the fire -- and the prodigal son did just that. He found a job feeding pigs, but his employer was as much a user as his friends. Hard hearted and unsympathetic, the employer would not even allow the prodigal son to eat the same pods he fed the pigs.

Luke 15:17 NIV says, “When he came to his senses….” How many of us have been in that same place! Sometimes it takes a long period of time under significant duress before we reach out. When we take our focus off ourselves and put it onto God, we can be overwhelmed by the huge hole we’ve dug for ourselves. It’s human nature to panic and want to be rescued. That’s why it’s so difficult to choose long term transformation over immediate relief. I often tell my clients my prayer is they choose to BE better rather than FEEL better. Had the prodigal son been rescued at that moment, he probably would’ve landed right back in similar circumstances a short time later. Transformation requires insight, confession, grieving, and vision -- all of which take time and work.

When the prodigal son finally pulled his head out of the sand and looked at his perilous situation, he jumped right into problem solving mode. Remembering how his father treated his servants well, the son decided he would ask his father for a job. The account doesn’t ever say the prodigal son had a change of heart at this point. Instead of searching his heart and character to see what he was lacking, the son focused on coming up with a good enough sounding speech that would convince his father to give him a job. It doesn’t record any soul searching by the son about how much his father showed love to him by giving him his inheritance early. There’s no account of this son grieving the sorrow he caused his father by his words and actions. It appears the prodigal son only focused on getting his own needs met. And that’s the problem with a non-relational approach to life, it’s selfish, unloving, and unfulfilling.

When we allow God to change our paradigm, it causes us to look at ourselves and our life in a completely different light. Most folks are overwhelmed with feelings of failure for not having seen the truth earlier. Our learned response to failure is self-condemnation. Feeling stupid, embarrassed, and disappointed causes us to push away from God and others. That’s because we’ve adopted the human Outcome-based view of learning rather than God’s Relational approach. When we view life as a process, we have an expectation that God will continually reveal things to us over time. God works with each one of us in our own individual timeframe. He doesn’t set one-size-fits-all standards.

I see some of this language in the prodigal son’s speech when he tells his father he’s no longer worthy to be his son. That statement is all about how the son negatively sees himself and has nothing to do with the son seeing what is true about the father. In a relational exchange, the son would share how his own issues blind him from seeing his father clearly and how grieved he is to now see the truth. King David shows us the healthy response to conviction is to take our feelings to God and ask him to change our heart. David’s approach to God is not one of martyrdom or abasing himself, but just agreeing with God about his immaturities.

Other unhealthy responses include negative comparisons, rationalizations, minimizing, and blame shifting. In an outcome-based society, showing weakness brings ridicule and hurt. Mankind has learned how to employ self-protective responses to shield themselves from non-relational consequences. A significant hurdle in the transformation process is our fear that God will reject us when we show immaturities. I continually pray for courage and strength for myself and my clients to seek God when we see our weaknesses. Choosing faith in God’s heart for us over and over empowers us to hurdle these barriers.

Fear of disappointment is the enemy of hope. How many times have you wanted to be excited about a potential new job or the outcome of a relationship, but didn’t want to set yourself up for disappointment? One way we put a lid on hope is believing we shouldn’t burden others. Mistakenly, we believe keeping our needs to a minimum and not imposing too much on others will keep us from being disappointed. We see an example of this belief when the prodigal son chose to only ask his father to become a servant rather than returning to sonship. He had a completely mistaken view of himself and his father.

His father had been waiting and watching for his son to come home. Rather than being angry and holding a grudge, the father felt loving compassion and ran to his son, kissing and hugging him. Yes, there were barriers they needed to address, but the father wanted his son to hope into a full restoration of the relationship rather than settling for something less.

I believe it was at that moment that the son was able to clearly see the truth about his father’s heart. David often speaks in the Psalms about how loving kindness brings us to repentance. True repentance only happens when our heart connects with the heart of God. As the son begins to recite his prepared speech, I believe he now speaks from a different place. Opening up to receive his father’s genuine loving welcome changed the son’s heart. It gave him the courage to see and confess his own brokenness, but also hope into change.

I can’t give you a list of “5 Easy Steps to Transformation” nor can I tell you exactly what it looks like when transformation takes place. What I can say is there’s a shift in your soul when you move from a place of needing self-protective, condemning life strategies that lock you into fear. You will feel the difference in living a life strategy that embraces the freedom to be vulnerable and passionate.

Transformation is not a one-time event, but a progressive revelation that will continue to unfold throughout our lifetime. Do you want to FEEL better or BE better?

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