Faith and Family: Dealing with disappointment — Adults (relating to each other/God) (Part 2 of 4)

Can we live peacefully again?

Jake and Kelly have lived next door to Matt and Mindy for years. They have shared summer picnics, holiday visits and friendly conversations. Lately the relationship between the neighbors has been strained.

Matt and Mindy’s children are teenagers. They regularly have friends over while their parents are at work. Matt usually works late and Mindy is often on the go with other activities so the boys are generally unsupervised. When they play basketball, the words coming from the backyard are not words Jake and Kelly want their younger kids to hear.

Kelly fears the boys may be making some other poor choices as well. She wants Jake to talk to Matt but he refuses. Kelly is afraid to bring up the subject to Mindy so she has just avoided the neighbors altogether. Still Kelly feels more anxious every day. She just wants peace with her neighbors again. Is that possible?

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‘Relationships must be given highest of values’

By Carrie Brown McWhorter
The Alabama Baptist

For many of us life is not overly challenging. We live in comfortable houses with family we love. Perhaps we have the blessing of going to a job that is fulfilling and rewarding; we have found a church that has become for us a family of faith and a community of great support; we have hobbies we enjoy and friendships we treasure. As the popular T-shirt says, “Life is good.”

But what about when we hit an obstacle? What if we are laid off from that job? Or if we find ourselves in conflict with our neighbors, church members or even our own family? What if we have put our lives and relationships on “auto pilot” but suddenly find that we are no longer “on track”? What do we do then?

“Even with the best of intentions, human relationships can corrode or become tangled and if we are honest we also know that we don’t always have the best of intentions,” writes Douglas Stone, author of “Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most.”

Rod Marshall, president and CEO of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH), added that healthy relationships are not effortless. They require us to be “relationally intentional,” he said.

An important first step in nurturing a relationship is to keep communication channels open. When a conflict arises, no matter how minor, it can be easy to avoid the other person or give them the silent treatment. However, such behaviors communicate a lack of respect for the other person and allow us to avoid responsibility for our own role in the strained relationship.

Neglecting conflict

In “An Essential Guide to Interpersonal Communication: Building Great Relationships with Faith, Skill and Virtue in the Age of Social Media,” authors Quentin J. Schultze and Diane M. Badzinski write, “When negative conflict brews we’re quick to indict others yet slow to admit our part in the mess.” Rather than blaming others, they suggest a self-assessment of motives: “What do we desire when we withhold communication from others or when we disparage them? What do we really want? Recognition? Respect? Love? Understanding? Our communication reflects our desires, especially what we seek from others and for ourselves.”

Taking necessary steps

Hiding doesn’t solve conflict. Intentionally engaging with the other person can be a good first step toward restoration of the relationship.
A second necessary step toward intentional relationship building is honesty.

Marriage and family therapist Larry Mark said, “A central theme throughout the Scriptures is the necessity of truth in our relationships — with both God and others. Paul affirms that when we speak the truth in love in spiritual community, then we grow up and together mature into the character of Jesus (Eph. 4:15). New life and new community in Jesus is known by putting off falsehood and speaking truthfully to one another (Eph. 4:25).”

Honesty is not always easy, however.

“Expressing yourself can be difficult and trying but it gives the relationship a chance to change and to become stronger,” writes Stone and his colleagues from the Harvard Negotiation Project.

A third intentional step toward a healthier relationship is providing encouragement to those who are struggling with disappointment.

Schultze and Badzinski write, “Encouraging words open opportunities for us. They inspire us to try something new, to excel at a talent, to offer and accept forgiveness, to love others and ourselves, to see ourselves in a new, more promising light.”

Encouragement moves the focus from self to others and fosters a sense of hope. Words of encouragement, even in small amounts, “hearten us and give us courage to move forward, even in dispiriting times,” they write.

Affirming words do not have to be complicated, just heartfelt. Genuine praise, giving credit for a job well done, a kind word in front of others and even a simple “thank you” can boost the confidence of another by affirming your confidence in them.

Prioritizing relationships

Intentionality in relationships may seem like hard work — that’s because it is.

Tom Holladay, author of “The Relationship Principles of Jesus,” writes, “If we had enough time to do everything, everything could be a priority. But we don’t have enough time to do everything.”

Priorities involve choices so if relationships are going to be a priority, we must make intentional choices to maintain and strengthen them, even in the face of conflict and disappointments. Fortunately Jesus showed us the way, Holladay writes. When questioned about the greatest commandment, Jesus answers with a response that tells us how to prioritize our relationships — love God, love others.

“When Jesus spoke about the priority of relationships, He could not have been clearer. He taught that relationships must be given the highest of values — and thankfully He also taught us how to give our relationships the highest value.”

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How should Christians deal with disappointment as children of God?

By Rod Campbell, MAMFT, LPC-S
Special to The Alabama Baptist

The whole of Psalm 31 relates to the obstacles, conflicts and disappointments life can bring.

Over the course of 24 verses, David takes us on an emotionally rich journey concerning his relationship with himself, his neighbors, his adversaries and God. The verses include phrases like “deliver me” and “rescue me,” along with descriptions of grief, despair and pain that affect the body, spirit and soul.

Jesus even quoted this psalm from the cross when He said, “Into Thy hands, I commit My spirit.”

Verses seven and eight are especially meaningful to followers of Jesus who are dealing with disappointment.

In these verses, the psalmist writes: “I will rejoice and be glad in Your steadfast love, because You have seen my affliction; You have known the distress of my soul and You have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a broad place.”

I love these verses and they have been a great source of encouragement to me over the last few months. There are five truths about dealing with disappointment in these verses.

  1. God takes notice of His children. The word used for “seen” here can mean to behold, to consider, to perceive. It is not a reactive noticing, as though God is responding to some surprising noise. It means God looks intently on our affliction. Imagine that we are in pain, suffering a wound of body or spirit and God is there. He sees us — really sees our affliction. He does not turn away, does not ignore, does not shut out the noise.
  2. God knows the distress of our souls. This word for “know” means intimate knowledge. This means that through the sufferings of Christ, God the Father knows suffering. When He sees us, He does not walk away but instead draws closer, actually sympathizing with us in our pain. He knows the pain and he knows us — intimately.
  3. God does not reject us. God sees us. God knows us. Yet God does not reject us. How beautiful. God’s Word assures us that our greatest fear — that if we are truly known, we will be found unworthy — will not come true with God. This verse assures us that God does not abandon His children.
  4. God grants us freedom. To be put in a “broad place” is a figure of speech that means we are given freedom from distress and anxiety. It also means we have the freedom to express our distress and give voice to our affliction. Scripture does not require us to ignore our feelings and rush through the process of grief. God certainly does not expect us to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” Neither is the concept “fake it ’til you make it” taught anywhere in the Bible.
  5. God’s love is steadfast. The opening phrase of verse seven reassures us of God’s steadfast love in the face of disappointment. People in our lives often disappoint us. We may even be disappointed in God because it seems He was not there for us in a difficult time. No matter the source of our disappointment, we must work to combat those thoughts and feelings with what we know to be true in Scripture — we can rejoice and be glad in His steadfast love in the face of disappointment.

Like many of David’s psalms, Psalm 31 begins with verses of lament, grief, pain, anguish and sorrow before returning to a place where David can again rejoice and offer praises to God.

However, we do a great disservice to others and to ourselves when we impose a limited time frame on that process. Just because we can read Psalm 31 in a matter of five minutes doesn’t mean it took David only five minutes to get from the lament of verses 1–13 to the praises of 19–24.

Coping with disappointment is a process that can take weeks, months and even years, but the Bible tells us God is always there for us and with us, even in the midst of disappointment and affliction.

Whatever the source of your suffering, however deep the distress of your soul, you can know that God will restore you and His mercies are new every morning. All of us can know with certainty that God ultimately restores His children to a place of freedom. And in this freedom, we can deal with our disappointments as a child of God who ultimately can depend on God for all of our needs.

Editor’s Note — Rod Campbell a licensed professional counselor for Pathways Professional Counseling, a family ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries. He currently serves in our Oxford, Ashville, Pell City and Birmingham offices.

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How to handle relationships when life takes unexpected twists, turns

By Rod Marshall, Ed.S., LPC-S
Special to The Alabama Baptist

Cruise control is a wonderful invention. If you set your cruise control on a long interstate trip, you will likely get better gas mileage and decrease your chances of getting a speeding ticket. However, if you are driving up a steep mountain, not only is cruise control unhelpful, it’s downright dangerous. The twists and turns of mountain driving require a higher level of intentionality than highway driving.

For many of us, our lives are like highway driving. We have navigated relationships with co-workers or family members for so long that all we have to do is what we have always done. It has worked in the past and we can expect it to work in the future.

But what about when we encounter unexpected twists and turns? When the way we have done relationships no longer seems to lead to the same outcomes? How do we react when we find ourselves disappointed in the day-to-day interactions with those closest to us?

Relating to others

Beginning in childhood and extending into adulthood, most of us have 1 of 4 ways of relating to others, ways that are commonly referred to as “relational attachment.” Our style of relating is connected to and influenced by our style of relational attachment. Most of us will have 1 of these 4 attachment styles that is most characteristic of how we relate to others most of the time.

Secure attachment

Typically possessing good self-esteem (a generally positive view of self) and good sociability (a generally positive view of others), securely attached individuals would generally agree that most people can be trusted and they generally find it relatively easy to become emotionally close to others.

Anxious or preoccupied attachment

In anxious attachment style we find people with lower self-esteem (a sometimes negative view of self) and good sociability (a generally positive view of others). Anxious style attachment may result in an individual thinking they would very much like to be close to others but feeling reluctant to allow as much emotional closeness as they seek.

Dismissive-avoidant attachment

In dismissive-avoidant attachment style we find people with good self-esteem (a generally positive view of self) and lower sociability (a sometimes negative view of others). These individuals are often comfortable with their lack of close emotional relationships and may highly value independence and self-sufficiency.

Fearful-avoidant

Typically possessing low self-esteem (a sometimes negative view of self) and low sociability (a sometimes negative view of others). This style of attachment is most common in individuals who have experienced trauma or loss in their formative years of development. They frequently deal with a strong desire to be emotionally close to others but a fear that this closeness will result in them being hurt. It also is common for this attachment style to have difficulty expressing their emotions.

Most people have a secure attachment style most of the time in most of their relationships. However, it is possible for an individual to operate out of one of the attachment positions only some of the time or only in some specific relationships.

When you are securely attached and you are dealing with someone who also is securely attached, that is like highway driving — set the cruise control and relax. However, when you realize your relationship strategies have stopped working, it is possible that either you or those with whom you are interacting are operating from one of the insecure attachment positions.

When that happens there is hope for change. With the help of loving, caring individuals or a trusted therapist, we can learn to interact in healthy ways and move into a fifth category of relating called “learned security.” We do this through examining our histories, raising awareness of our current unhealthy relating styles and practicing healthy relationship strategies.

Relating to God

Our adult attachment style is greatly influenced by our childhood experiences. The way we were parented, the safety and comfort of our childhood environment and the early relationships we had with key adults will influence our adult style of attachment.

Recent research indicates our attachment style also can influence our relationship with God.

  • Securely attached individuals seek secure attachment with a Heavenly Father who they believe to be trustworthy.
  • Individuals with an anxious attachment style may believe that God is looking for an opportunity to punish or reject them yet they may be deeply drawn to pursue a relationship with God.
  • Individuals with a dismissive attachment style may not value their relationship with their Heavenly Father and may be reluctant to seek God’s face through Bible study and community within a Christian fellowship.
  • Individuals with a fearful-avoidant attachment style may believe God is seeking to punish them and they are not likely to believe that pursuit of a relationship with God is a high priority.

The good news is that whether we are thinking in terms of our relationships with others or our relationship with God, we can have a secure attachment style. At the very least we can develop learned security. By being intentional and taking positive steps to improve our relationships, we can relationally interact from a position of good self-esteem and good sociability even in cases where that does not seem to come naturally to us.

Editor’s Note — Rod Marshall is president and CEO of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries (ABCH). Before this role, he led ABCH’s counseling ministry, Pathways Professional Counseling, for nearly two decades.

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Books to read

  • “Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do” by Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy
  • “Take Your Life Back: How to Stop Letting the Past and Other People Control You” by Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop
  • “As Silver Refined: Learning to Embrace Life’s Disappointments” by Kay Arthur
  • “Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out and Lonely” by Lysa TerKeurst
  • “You’ll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times” by Max Lucado

(Compiled by Carrie Brown McWhorter)