STUCK IN THE MIDDLE
BY Chip Carter, MA, LPC
Last October, my wife and I were on a hike in the Shenandoah Valley. It was cool. All the fall colors that people hope and wait to see were on full display. We were trekking up a sharp incline, and the higher we climbed the views just got better and better. Each step taken had more to see, more beauty to be in awe of, and more to be grateful for.
But I wasn’t feeling any of those emotions. I wasn’t in awe. I sure wasn’t in a grateful mood. The best word to describe that mood at the time was ticked.
Leave it to me to have some of my most frustrating moments at ten thousand feet with God’s majesty in all directions. To the North – annoyance. To the South – anger. East – outrage. And west – righteous indignation.
I started sharing with Amanda (that’s my wife) about what was on my heart, including a good bit of anger towards someone who I felt had both hurt me and left a void since. This wasn’t the first time she had listened to my frustrations regarding this same person. Nor the second. Nor the third.
Amanda’s words that came next are something I hope I don’t ever forget. She compassionately and directly said – “You’ve got to stop doing this to yourself - torturing yourself. You can either go and tell them what they did that has you so upset, or you can (with God’s help) make peace with them in your heart, forgive them and move on. But what you’re doing to yourself right now isn’t good…”
That wasn’t the mountain top experience I thought I would have that day, but time and time again I have thought about her words and their implications. Here’s how I’ve summarized it in my head:
The middle is often a comfortable place to be. If you’re the middle child, you have someone older to protect you and someone younger to look out for. If you’re middle class, you typically have a roof over your head and enough food to eat. Middle America is a desired place to live for a lot of folks who want a simple and less hassled way of life.
But this ‘middle’ was different, and definitely not comfortable. It was more akin to being in the middle seat of a cross county plane ride and on both sides of you are two WWE wrestlers who take up all the air and hog the armrests. Cozy and comfortable – uh, no. Claustrophobic and miserable – yes and amen.
We can’t avoid or navigate around pain and hurt in our lives. We’re all prone to hurt others and be hurt as well. But I believe God has given us a clear plan on how to reconcile our hurts and frustrations with each other. It can be hard and take a lot of sacrifice…
But it sure beats being stuck in the middle seat…
The Prayer of Prayers
By: Chip Carter, MA, LPC
A question for each of you – How many times do you think you’ve prayed ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ (1) in your life?
A dozen? A few hundred? Close to a thousand or more?
Those sixty-eight words Jesus spoke are some of His most famous, and are meant to guide us in our prayer lives. Often, when I’ve had no words to utter to God because of grief, sadness or weariness, I will pray that prayer because I know it by heart and because I know that it is good.
But on the flip side, I can also speak those same sixty-eight words with little meaning in my voice or movement in my heart. Things that I tend to lean on when I’m down can also be the same things I go to when I feel indifferent or, honestly, would rather be doing anything besides praying. It can, and has become at times, the prayer I pray when I want to check ‘prayer’ off my to-do list for the day.
When I get to that point, I need to do something to shake things up and look at what Jesus was trying to teach me. Here is how I’ve broken down the Lord’s Prayer to help me get back on track and get my heart in alignment with His.
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed be Your Name
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven
Give us this day, our daily bread
And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory forever.
And so be it, good readers. I hope this has helped remind you that God is for you, that He knows what He is doing, and that He desires to bring Heaven to Earth.
Let’s go after that…
Thankful…in Thankless Times
By: Chip Carter, LPC, Co-Director Legacy Strategy
I believe most, if not everyone reading this, can agree on one thing – 2020 has been one of the most challenging years ever. And Isn’t it nice that we’re all agreeing on something for a change?
Not much more needs to be written about the year 2020 and the difficulties it has brought. We could all most likely recite a litany of challenges, frustrations and losses. It has been draining. It has been exhausting. It has been, just simply, hard.
Many of us are counting down the days to January 1st, 2021. People so badly want this year to be a distant memory and just want to stop saying ‘2020’ like it’s both a diagnosis and a punchline. I imagine firework sales for New Year’s Eve this year will be record breaking if only for a symbolic ‘see ya’ to many of ours ‘worst year ever’.
But here’s the thing…once we cross into the new year, the pandemic, political polarization and racial unrest…they aren’t leaving. They will be here with us on New Year’s Day whether we like it or not.
So if the countdown to ‘end the misery of 2020’ isn’t going to provide some long-lasting relief, what will? What does? Can anything help redirect our thoughts and our prayers to point towards some semblance of hope? In my life, I have found two things that, when done consistently, put hope back front and center where it belongs – reflection and gratitude.
Reflection – if you’re like me, sometimes all you have left in you at the end of the day is enough energy to crawl in the bed and maybe turn off your bedside lamp. But on my better days, here’s what I do. I get out an old-school day planner and write the highlights of my day. It’s short, it’s typically in bullet form and, to be honest, some days have fewer entries. But the act of recalling and reflecting on my day challenges me to find moments that are worth remembering. These can be conversations that mattered, a complement you received, or even unexpected time to binge a show on Netflix. These small acts of recalling and naming the best parts of our day puts our hearts into a more open place for…
Gratitude – You didn’t think you’d read a blog post during this time of the year and not have that word discussed, did you? But…it’s 2020…and it’s never been more important. Here’s how I start my heart and mind into a time of gratefulness. I grab my phone and find a worship song in my music library. I then put the phone on top of my chest (I’m laying down) over my heart and hit play. For four or five minutes, I let the song play and I give thanks for the people, the opportunities and the wonder in my life. I also pray into things that are going on my own life and the lives of those I know and love. I can honestly say when I start my day this way, it makes a difference. And to be a difference-maker, to not let this problem or that problem, this year or that year get you down, that’s what I’m shooting for.
My encouragement to each of you it to bookend your days with gratitude and reflection and put 2020…or any other year that may come…in it’s place. There is still much to be thankful for; we just have to make the time to remember.
Chip Carter, MA, LPC
I wish I had the boldness of Jesus in so many ways. Here are just a few…
-How He called a spade a spade, or more accurately, a Pharisee a Pharisee when He observed their legalism time and time again.
-How He knew when to rest, even amidst the storms
-How He met people where they were - ravaged, hurting, embarrassed, desperate - and sent them off with a completely different perspective and belief system
-How He asked others to come along on His journey, even though He had all the power in the world and could commune with God whenever He wanted
Jesus knew people, knew how they operated inside and out, and still – STILL – asked twelve to join Him on His mission. Surely, He did this to teach and model what God wants and desires for His children. Absolutely, He knew what was coming three years down the road and needed to have them in place to carry out his mission long after He was gone. But, I believe, He did this also because He was a human being, He didn’t want to be alone while His mission unfolded, and knew that having community in his life would bless Him in ways that spoke to His soul.
Jesus sought community. Thus, community must be a good thing.
Not so fast you might say. In Jesus’s gang of twelve, one betrayed Him in such a huge way it was a crucial step that led to his death. Knowing this, what did Jesus do?
He washed his feet.
Another publicly professed he would never deny Jesus, that he was His most ardent follower and then denied Jesus not once or twice, but three separate times. In turn, what did Jesus do?
He called him a ‘rock’ and stated this future thing He labeled ‘the church’ would be built on him.
Have you ever been at your doctor’s office and they bring out that instrument that looks like a hammer to test your reflexes? And then the doctor bangs your knee and it automatically springs up. That’s what they're looking for – that your reflexes are sharp; that they’re working; that they’re doing what they were made to do.
Jesus had the best ‘reflexes’; always sharp, always working, always moving towards God’s redemptive plan. He served where I would have been really angry and scared. He encouraged and empowered where I would have scolded and brooded.
Isaiah 55, verses 8 and 9 are familiar verses to many of us – ‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways…for as the heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my ways higher than your ways. And my thoughts than your thoughts.’
And, if you’ll allow me a little room here… ’For my reflexes are not your reflexes.’
But here’s the ticket: He wants us to be more like Him. He wants our ways, our thoughts, our reflexes to be like more like His. He wants us to serve when instead we want to say ‘Get out!’ He wants us to encourage and validate when we would rather point fingers and be hurt. What blows my mind and heart though is He did these things within His community, a community of his choosing. He would not have had these examples if He had not brought others on his journey.
The truth is this: people are going to hurt us, especially those we know well. The truth is also this, many of us (hand raised here for sure) have shied away from community because the hurts have hit us hard. But now, when I look back at times when I’ve been hesitant about allowing people in, I look at it from the lens of whether my reflexes were sharp or dull. The hammer is going to hit us eventually; let our reflexes be more like His.
The other day I was sitting at a red light. I wasn't in a particular hurry. I wasn't running late. Both nice changes of pace for me. But what I noticed was that my immediate reaction once I had stopped was to reach of my phone and see what I had missed, or better yet, if anyone had missed me and reached out. It's like I'm afraid to be alone with my own thoughts sometimes, so I just start flexing my thumbs for their workout.
Later that day, I was at the gym. I was pretty proud of myself - I was running hard, sweating...you know, doing things I pay a gym for...and I was in the moment. I was not running while staring at my phone. I was not lifting dumbbells while replying to texts in between reps. I was just in the moment. It was awesome. Better yet, it was freeing.
I had this thought - "I'm here training and conditioning my muscles, but it's my actual thumbs (Are there muscles in there? There has to be, right?) that need the most help. It's my thumbs that reach for the apps (Hello, Facebook!), for the notification of new emails, and for the keyboard letters to respond to a text. It's those dang thumbs fault I'm so addicted to my phone.
But it's actually not their fault; it's mine and no one else's. I'm the culprit who manipulates my thumbs to respond to the slightest break in my schedule to see what the world has been up to since I had last checked (no more than 12 minutes ago, I'm sure). It's my fault, and mine only. So me and my thumbs have got some work to do. Actually, I've got some work to do. My thumbs...they actually need a break.
Legacy Strategy Blog
Legacy Strategy, Inc. is a private counseling practice in Kennesaw, Georgia.