What’s The Worst That Can Happen?

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Years ago, a friend helped me through a tough time in my life. There are many things that she said, and I value much of the advice she gave during our talks.

But there was one phrase she came back to repeatedly – and it always seemed to make me stop and say ‘hmm’:

“What’s the worst that can happen?”

Used properly, this ranks among the greatest questions of all time (in my humble opinion).

Here’s the deal – the things that we dread thrive in the darkness. When ideas are half-formed and fears are nebulous, they seem very overwhelming.

But when we start to take a closer look and actually think through them, we realize that they are not nearly so disastrous.

It’s the nature of the unknown. Unknowns often seem larger than they are.

Have you ever noticed that when you travel somewhere new, the trip there seems to take much longer than the return trip? Or if you go back again to the same place it doesn’t take nearly as long as you remembered it taking the first time?

That’s the nature of the unknown.

So, the key to conquering fear, dread, and anxiety is to tackle and expose the unknown element(s). When you start to feel these emotions forming, step back and consciously think through whatever is causing the angst.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen.”

And then slowly, calmly and purposefully – with lots of deep breathing, if necessary – answer the question.

If circumstances permit, take the time to sit down and write out all the things that could happen.  Map out the possible paths and consequences. Think through all the alternatives. Literally find the worst possible scenario.

Then think about the probabilities of each path coming to reality. Realistic probabilities. If it helps, use a numbering or a high-medium-low scale to grade the likeliness of each one happening.

When you go through this exercise, the monsters that panicked you will usually prove to be toothless and ineffective in the light of clear thought.

I’m not saying that there will never be scary possibilities. There may be things that are terrifying! But I can almost guarantee they won’t be as terrifying as they were before you put them into words.

They may be hard, but they are things you are perfectly capable of handling – especially when you have a God who said “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5).

The Perils of Time Travel

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Who doesn’t have some point in the past they wish to go back to?

To make a different decision, right some wrong, take a different path, avoid a situation where you were hurt, or avoid hurting someone else. The reasons to want to change the event can seem as numerous as the moments that have passed since the event took place.

We all have at least one moment in time like that.  I personally have a whole laundry list.

But God, in His divine wisdom, doesn’t allow us to have do-overs, or even a momentary time-jump to make minor adjustments.

Why?

Here are my thoughts:

He knows that we are likely to just screw up all over again.  Maybe when we got there we would decide that we didn’t want to change things after all. Or we might get caught up in the moment and make the same choice – or a worse one.

How many times have we said “I’ll never do that again” and then when the opportunity came to “do that” we fell right into it? What makes us think that “I wouldn’t do that again” would hold up if we went back in time?

Yes, you can say you’ve seen years of consequences. You’d know better than to make the same mistake again. But often when we make a repeat mistake in real time, we’ve seen the consequences it brought last time we did it. Yet in the moment we think that doing it again will yield a different result…or, we just don’t think, period.

Real-time repeat-mistake-maker, meet time-traveling repeat-mistake-maker.

I am convinced that even with perfect knowledge – knowing what we know today while being in the moment yesterday – we would still be vulnerable to making the same mistakes.

He knows we would try to fix it in our way. We are human, with human reasoning, and human emotions.  How do we know that the way we would change that one moment would make everything better?  Even assuming we can know for sure the exact moment to change to make things different (a big assumption), how do we know that righting one wrong wouldn’t lead to wronging three rights in the process?

Or how do we know that instead of doing the right thing, we wouldn’t just do the wrong thing differently to try to avoid the aftereffects? In our humanness, we are just as likely to try to do the wrong thing again, but in such a way so as to outmaneuver the consequences. Which, of course, would just lead to different consequences.

—–

None of this is profound, is it? We’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to know that when you time travel, you don’t interfere with history. Yet we still would like to try. We think, “Oh no, it would be different if *I* could go back in time. I’d be able to make all the right changes and the result would be a much better life for all.”  Guess what – you wouldn’t, and it wouldn’t.

So where does that leave us? I’m out of time and space (no pun intended) to go any further right now. So I’ll leave that for next time. Until then, leave some comments with your own thoughts below.

The Labelmaker

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Loser. Bad Parent. Addict. Cheater. Drunk. Pervert. Stupid. Incapable. Poser.

We are good at labels. We can generate a vast array of them. From mundane to outright cruel (how cruel? Ponder this: some of the labels we create for ourselves are labels we would never think of attaching to others…am I right?).

And we wear these labels everywhere we go.

Oh, we certainly don’t wear them on the outside. Truth is, we often don’t even recognize them on the inside. Most of us have layers upon layers of labels, constructed in such a way as to hide them from even ourselves. Our clever inner voices create one label, and then create another one to throw ourselves off of the scent of the first one. Then we need another label to cover for the second. And a fourth to compensate for the third, which is covering for the second, which you’ll recall is a red herring defense mechanism against the first.

Wow, that is exhausting just writing it down. But that’s how our psyche’s work. So we find ourselves carrying labels nested so deeply we can’t even see the bottom. Some of them we recognize, and maybe do something about, but more likely dismiss as commonplace or unchangeable. Some of them we don’t see at all. But all of them affect how we relate, interact, and live our lives.

And all the while, we are carefully covering the whole lot of them so no one on the outside can see what we think about ourselves on the inside. Because if they saw that, it would be game over.

Serious business, these things called labels. Label-making is the Enemy’s favorite endeavor, I think. It’s the most effective one, because he can get us at the very core of our being and undermine everything we do.

But the labels we carry are often exaggerations, if not outright lies. They are our views of self, and often deep down we are much harder on ourselves than we should be. We should expect a lot of ourselves, but there is a difference between expecting much of ourselves and being overly harsh on ourselves.

  • We should expect to present ourselves well in a meeting, but that doesn’t mean we should kick ourselves for every verbal slip-up we make.
  • We should always put our best foot forward in everything we do, but that doesn’t mean we dismiss ourselves as failures when we realize we could have done or said something differently.
  • We should expect a life of purity from ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we should condemn ourselves for every errant thought that slips in (remember temptation does not equal transgression).

The other danger of labels is they are self-fulfilling prophecies. Remember the Temptation Does Not Equal Transgression blog post? When you allow the thing that tempts you to become that which defines you, you’re on the road to living a life of enslavement and defeat.

So, be careful of labels. Take the time to stop and identify them when they bubble up. And don’t allow them to get – or keep – a foothold. Freedom from labels is within your grasp.

Dealing with Ugly, Part 1

Sin and temptation are ugly things.  Sometimes we try to dismiss or discount them.  For example:

  •      We shrug off lust by saying ‘it’s just the way I am’ or ‘doesn’t everybody struggle with some form of that?’
  •      We reclassify anger issues as justifiable or the other person’s fault.
  •      We excuse an addiction with ‘it helps me cope’ and ‘I can quit anytime I want.’
  •      We write off a proclivity toward gossip as ‘sharing a need’ or ‘something people have to know about.’

But in the end there is no valid way to ‘pretty up’ the temptation or dismiss the sin.  If it doesn’t honor God, it’s ugly – plain and simple.

I speak from experience.  I wouldn’t assume anything I write would be worth paying attention to otherwise.  My issues will not be the same as yours.  My perspective on certain issues will not be the same as yours.  We all travel different paths.  But rest assured my path has been littered with its share of mistakes and hurt.

I will not go into detail on what my sin is, any more than I would care to know the specifics of yours.  Details are often not productive to the general discussion.  Suffice it to say that my faults and failures are ugly and have left deep stains.  Where they began I do not know – and honestly that is irrelevant on today’s battlefield.  With so many things there are large debates of nurture vs. nature.  I don’t discount any side of those discussions, but one thing I do know is that when you’re in the heat of battle, you often don’t really care how the war began.  You are in survival mode.  If your struggle is with alcohol or drugs and you recognize their destructive power, how it got a hold on you is really not relevant – you want to defeat it.  If you deal with unwanted homosexual attractions, it doesn’t matter whether there is a ‘gay gene’ or your desires developed through environment or experiences – you just want victory.  And to different degrees the same can be said of countless other things – addictions, compulsive behavior, domestic violence, and on and on.  Granted, some of these have more proven theories regarding causation than do others.  Regardless, today’s battlefield is where the fight is fought.

So, where does that leave us?  It leaves us in the midst of a fierce battle for freedom, and in need of a battle strategy.  I propose a three-part strategy: (1) realizing the inherent ugliness of our struggles, (2) realizing that we need to deal with that ugliness appropriately, and (3) how to deal with it.

This post has intended to deal with (1).  The next two posts will delve into (2) and (3).  Together, this will hopefully form a solid groundwork for recognizing, acknowledging, and dealing with whatever ugliness haunts you.

Whether it is something in your past that you carry deep-seated guilt about, something recent that has left an open gaping wound, or an ongoing struggle…that ugly thing is being leveraged by the Enemy to hold you down.  It’s time to get the upper hand.