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Victimhood

Victimhood

During the apex of my physical suffering, I found myself in court, not in my usual role as a lawyer, but as a defendant in a $1 million malpractice lawsuit.  There was no merit to the lawsuit.  But there I was in court, listening to my lawyer argue why the case against me was baseless and should be dismissed.  There I was, barely holding on to life, and listening to the hum and whirl of my infusion pump push formula into my small bowel through my feeding tube, feeling quite angry and quite justified in my anger and self-pity.  The case was dismissed as meritless.  But the anger I felt towards the former client and friend who had betrayed me in my darkest hour lingered.

Victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.

The former client that betrayed me didn’t seem to care.  He was looking for an easy way to avoid a $1 million judgment against him (in a fraud lawsuit) that he couldn’t pay.  I didn’t lose his case.  I dropped his case after this client stopped paying me and owed me thousands of dollars in unpaid attorney’s fees.  Then, more than 18 months later, another lawyer, who didn’t have malpractice insurance, finished the case and lost.  So, my former client apparently told the lawyers that sued him to sue me for malpractice because he knew I had insurance.  A story of my alleged wrongdoing was fabricated, the body of my work was falsified and then it (and my large insurance policy) was cast into the waters for the sharks to attack.  Fortunately, the judge saw through the subterfuge and tossed the case out.  I won the case.  But would I lose my soul?

I always had two choices ….

No matter how I looked at it, I always had two choices.  I could hate or I could love.  I could forgive or I could hold a grudge.  I could move on or I could seek revenge (if only just reimbursement for the $15,000.00 deductible I had to pay the insurance company for my defense attorney which was a devastating financial blow in light of all my medical bills, not to mention the thousands of dollars this guy owed me).  What should I do?

I learned that there is no joy in victimhood.  In fact, the longer you cling to your status as victim, the more you will suffer.  Yet we see more and more victims every day.  They are all around us.  They are everywhere.  We all know one.  They are like crack addicts, just waiting to get their next fix of sympathy or pity.  But the narcotic effects of attention wear off quickly and soon the victim clamors for another round of condolences.  Complaining.  Crying.  Shouting.  Raging.  Whatever it takes to get that next hit.  But it’s never enough.

It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Perhaps that’s because victimhood, at its core, is a rejection of the Victim—Jesus Christ—supplanted by the trinity of victimhood: Attention, Admiration and Affirmation.  Victimhood is the polar opposite of everything Jesus offers you.  The victim wants to be thirsty and parched.  But Jesus says if you come to me you’ll never be thirsty again.  (John 4:14.)  The victim wants to be hungry and starving.  But Jesus says come to me and you’ll never be hungry.  (John 6:35.)  Jesus was wounded so we could be healed.  (Isaiah 53:5.)  The victim rejects healing so as to remain wounded.  Jesus was the great and final sacrifice.  (Hebrews 10:1-18.)  In contrast, the victim is the continual and insatiable martyr, egotistically substituting himself for the Savior.

The narcotic effect wears off quickly and soon we clamor for another round of condolences.

Why do we choose victimhood?  And, make no doubt about it, victimhood is a choice.  Like the choice to shoot up or choose any other false substitute for the atonement of Jesus Christ to ease your pain, it’s a very sinister and self-destructive choice that will take you to very dark places.  It’s a ravenous, insatiable beast.  It becomes an addiction.

Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44.)  Why?  Not because it is some grand requirement to get into heaven.  But because it will make you happy … now.  It’s actually very good therapy.  It’s wise living.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.

What was I going to do when I saw this friend and former client?  I would run in to him a lot.  In fact, I would see him at church every Sunday.  I decided to experiment upon God’s word.  I stopped praying that God would change him and I started praying that God would change me.  I prayed that God might fill my heart with empathy, compassion and charity and remove the hatred and anger I felt.  I prayed for the courage to hold my tongue.  I prayed for the strength to love.  And the next time I saw him, I hugged him.

I hugged him ….

What did that feel like?

It felt like I was in a holy place.  I felt love.  I felt the love of God come through me and empower me.  I felt his presence, telling me that everything would be okay.  I felt God tell me that I didn’t have to trust this person ever again.  I didn’t have to have a relationship with this person ever again.  I didn’t have to excuse what this person did to me or deny that it hurt me.  I didn’t even have to like this person.  I just had to love him.  And there’s a big difference.

Victimhood is the conscious decision to turn your back on the cross and move far enough away from it that the only mournful voice of pain you hear is your own.  Not only that but this self-imposed distancing also requires aiders and abettors to feed the hungry, self-centered werewolf that hatred and anger make of us all, thus drawing others away, too.  In contrast, the decision to let go of your victimhood and love is unitive, filling and fulfilling.  It is transformative, ennobling and uplifting as you experience the incredible love of God flowing through you and lifting you to higher ground.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ.

Embracing the sinner is embracing the bloody and wounded Christ who suffered, bled and died for him and said, “[i]nasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”  (Matthew 25:40.)  As difficult as it is, I would much rather hold on to the Victim than the dark and endless abyss of victimhood.

For more ideas and discussion on this and other related issues, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.

What Dying Taught Me About Living

What Dying Taught Me About Living

Dying reveals your true self.  When you are dying, you want more than anything to let those around you know how much you love them.  Your greatest fear is that you will leave this world, leaving those you love questioning, for the rest of their lives, how much you loved them.  You find that words are clumsy and inadequate.  You are overwhelmed with memories and emotions of having loved those you love.  Your deepest yearning is to convey love.  You are overcome by an instinct to show and express love.  It eclipses everything else.  Trust me.  Nothing else matters.  Dying reveals who and what you truly are—that you were built to love.

Being a healer matters so much more than being a heeder.

Dying teaches us how to live.  Jesus, more than any other mortal, understood this.  The one who was born to die, and who knew his expiration date, tried so very hard to teach us this.  For him, relationships mattered more than rites:

“Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”

(Matthew 5:23-24.)

All the temple attendance in the world won’t heal a broken relationship.  The counsel to leave your gift before offering it at the temple altar suggests that the rituals, themselves, lack power to heal broken relationships.  Piousness is not some magical talisman.  And, by all means, participation in the rituals is not synonymous with righteousness.  Relationships matter so much more than rituals.  Relationships also matter more than rules.  That’s why Jesus healed on the Sabbath.  (See Matthew 12:10-14.)  Being a healer matters so much more than being a heeder.  How could we have missed this!

Jesus invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

Having faith centered in Jesus Christ means that we accept his priorities and have the courage to live them.  It is so much more than having faith in Christ.  It is so much more than merely believing him.  It is having the faith of Christ—the faith to join in his atonement and be “crucified with Christ” so that “the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”  (Galatians 2:20.)  Notice the prepositional distinction—not “in” but “of.”  This invites you to participate with him—to follow him (Matthew 4:19)—in a life devoted to the same priorities.  Those priorities are always grounded in love, healing and reconciliation.

The knowledge that death is looming has a way of prioritizing things.

Death invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

Jesus invites us into a prioritized life, not a pious life.

If God is love (1 John 4:8), and if we were created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), then we were built to love.  This is what I realized when I realized that I was dying.  Now that I continue to be among the living, loving is my priority.

Don’t let a day go by without letting those you love know that you love them.  Live your life in a manner that leaves no doubt about who or what your priorities are.  Death can come at any time.  (Luke 12:20.)  Life and love are lived moment to moment.

Have You Ever Felt Empty and Disconnected?

Have You Ever Felt Empty and Disconnected?

Have you ever been in one of those funks where you just feel empty?  You feel so empty inside that you don’t really feel anything at all?  You’re numb and disconnected. Very recently, I had been in one of those ruts for several weeks and, try as I might, I just couldn’t get out.  I had no desire to do good or get outside of myself.  I had nothing in the tank.  The thought of getting out and visiting someone to cheer them up or making food for someone–my usual means of de-funking my life and getting out of that rut–overwhelmed me.  The very thought of it was exhausting.  I had nothing.  I was stuck.  The only thing I could do was to pray and ask God for help.  I asked God to help me find a way out.

I had no desire to do good or get outside of myself.  I had nothing in the tank.

After several more days of this empty disconnectedness, I decided to take my 12-year-old daughter, Sophie, for a drive up the canyon to scout out my favorite fishing holes to see if the violence of winter, followed by the aggressive spring runoff, had damaged my favorite spots.  As we were driving, we noticed a young couple–two teenagers–stopped on the side of the road.  I drove right past them.  Then that “something” inside of me–that voice that whispers to  your soul–told me to turn around and go see if that young couple needed help.  They did.

I jacked up their car, removed the blown tire, and replaced it with the spare.

Turns out a jagged rock in the road had blown their tire and they had no clue as to how to remove it and replace it with the spare tire in their trunk.  They didn’t know how to use the tire jack.  They didn’t know how to remove the lug nuts.  So I jacked up their car, removed the blown tire, and replaced it with the spare.  They happily went on their way.  And I happily went on my way, as well.  But I wasn’t empty any more.  I was filled with love.

Helping this young couple reminded me of one of the teachings in my book, Built to Love:  “Yes, God’s love feels fleeting at times.  But I think this is because we were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.  The miracle of God’s plan is that the best way we can keep God’s love is by giving it away. It seems that if you want to feel God’s love, you have to share it.”

We were created as conduits, not reservoirs, of God’s love.

Serving this young couple in this very small way made me feel connected to God once again, which was a good thing because I was scheduled to speak to a youth group at a local university the very next day.  I was terrified of speaking to them about becoming built to love when I was overwhelmed with disconnectedness and felt no love inside of me at all. Fortunately, God heard my little prayer and put someone in my path to help me break the cycle.

When we perform acts of love and service we invoke the presence of God, for God IS love.  “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.  (1 John 4:16.)   Where love is, there God is also.  So if you long for God’s presence, then stop thinking of yourself, stop brooding, and put yourself in the presence of others.  Choose to love them and you will soon find yourself happy and in the presence of God.  In the immortal words of Jean Val Jean from the beloved Les Miserables, to love another person is to see the face of God.

I am reminded, once again, of my “Proxy Triangle”:

Since Jesus taught “inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … ye have done it unto me,” others stand as proxies for Him.  That means there is a triangular relationship between me, God and others–an at-one-ment that brings us together through love and compassion.  One of my favorite authors and teachers, Richard Rohr, recently explained it this way:

The Spirit of God, poured into our hearts as love (Romans 5:5), gathers us together in the body of Christ, transforming us so that “we become by grace what God is by nature,” namely, persons in full communion with God and with every creature.

It’s a beautiful thing to feel connected again.  I know that darkness will return one day.  I know that I will find myself lost in a cave of emptiness once more.  This is because I am mortal, weak and still learning.  This oneness or at-one-ment with everyone and everything waxes and wanes.  But, through pursuing a path of discipleship, I am learning how to cope better.  I am learning how to live.

As I look back on it, the things that caused the darkness to settle in were rather mundane and routine.  I had spent too much time at work.  I hadn’t been getting enough sleep.  This rendered me self-centered instead of other-centered, and derailed me for a time on my journey to becoming built to love.  As Jesus put it, “He that findeth his life shall lose it.”  (Matthew 10:39.)  Thankfully, however, a flat tire on the side of the road has me back on track.

Amazed by Grace

Amazed by Grace

What has three years without food and living on a feeding tube taught me?  Many things.  But today I want to talk about grace. Grace is not a one-time act of rescue.  It is not a one-night-only show.  It is a lifestyle.  It is a partnership with God.  It is the means by which we mortals access the enabling power of God.  Grace is not just an act of mercy or salvation.  It is a process of transformation.  Grace works.  It works on us.  It works with us.

To say that we are saved by grace is true but vastly understated and oversimplified. It’s like saying we are “saved” by oxygen. Grace makes spiritual respiration possible. It feeds the marrow of our souls. It sustains and transforms immortal metabolisms. We are saved by grace, changed by grace, sustained by grace and, consequently, amazed by grace.

Grace is even more than the enabling power of God.  It is the enabling presence of God.  It is the presence of God manifested not only through his Holy Spirit, but also through the kind and helping hands of others. It is the power that has sustained me for the past three years and allowed me to survive. Please watch this seven-minute video to learn more about my journey with grace:

For more ideas and discussion on suffering and utilizing love as a powerful coping mechanism for suffering, please read my books Gethsemamnesia and Built to Love, available now in paperback.