How My Life was Changed by a Small Act of Kindness

bible_coverContinued from here.

In his song, Dream Small, Josh Wilson says that “these simple moments change the world.” Here’s my own testimony of the truth of that statement…

While I had been a Christian for decades, I was emotionally-wounded, spiritually immature, and self-absorbed in my pain. One Sunday morning, I had a pity party in which I cried out to God, “Can you show me evidence that even one person on this planet gives a #$%& about me?” (I had a potty-mouth back then.) I then left for Sunday School. When I arrived, a woman from my class handed me the Bible cover in the photograph, said she saw it in a Christian bookstore, and thought I might like it. She had no idea that this one simple action would change the world, beginning by changing me.

Receiving that Bible cover shortly after my prayer opened my eyes that I was loved and valued, not only by this woman but also by God. This prepared my heart to accept God’s invitation to seek Him with my whole heart during the first hour of each day in quiet time. After filling me to overflowing with His love for months, God led me to forgive my childhood abusers, which forever changed my heart toward “the guilty,” who I now see as “the wounded” in need of God’s healing. That change was needed to prepare my heart for becoming the executive director of a statewide prison ministry – an area of ministry I had repeatedly said I would never do.

This ministry has been active in prisons for years, and the vision has always been to expand this ministry outside the prisons to those returning to society upon release. However, the leaders were unsure what that model should look like. God placed a vision on my heart to take the same meeting format used in the prisons and offer it in a church building, and the Board of Directors approved launching a pilot of this vision. That pilot will launch next week with 16 volunteers from multiple denominations with different colored skin and will be open to anyone with a criminal record – no exceptions. (Some post-incarceration ministries exclude people convicted of murder, sex offenses, or gang-related crimes.) Each attendee who comes to know Christ through this ministry will not only be changed individually, but that change will impact his or her family, friends, and community, including people who might otherwise have been victimized by future crimes. God brought all of this about through one simple act of buying a Bible cover.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Photograph of Grace’s Bible cover. Courtesy Grace Daniels.]

 

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Dream Small

Lately, I have been meditating on Josh Wilson’s song, Dream Small.

He packs a lot of punch into this short song, and it’s a lesson the Church needs to learn: our small acts of kindness matter. Some Christians err on the side of dismissing the value of small acts because they are chasing the bigger ones. They want to be the next Billy Graham or Beth Moore, but they don’t appreciate that God likely started both out doing small things that added up to big things. In his book Detours: The Unpredictable Path to Your Destiny, Tony Evans says that when people fresh out of seminary ask him what they need to do to pastor a megachurch like his, he tells them to go minister in a prison, which surprises them. Ministering in a prison is not going to get someone the name recognition to be invited to pastor a megachurch. However, it’s exactly where God can teach a new pastor through small things how to prepare for bigger things.

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum, where I languished for decades: I was too focused on what I wanted God and other people to do FOR ME to think about what small acts of kindness I could be doing for them. That’s a sign of spiritual immaturity because the heart of Christianity is humility – focusing on God and other people while removing the focus from yourself. I was such an emotionally-wounded Christian that I couldn’t remove my focus from myself long enough to see the many needs of the people around me, many of which were small needs that I could have easily met had I not been so self-focused.

This week, we are going to focus on the value of “dreaming small,” as Josh Wilson puts it, which is what Jesus did. As an example, his small act of publicly acknowledging the Samaritan woman led the many Samaritans to become believers (John 1:1-42). Simply speaking publicly to this woman was a small act on Jesus’ part, but it had a profound effect on her – a woman who was publicly disgraced and shunned by her community. A small act of kindness by Jesus led to the salvation of many in the same community that shunned the woman. As Josh Wilson says, “five loaves and two fish can feed them all, so dream small.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Link to Josh Wilson’s video, Dream Small. Courtesy YouTube.]

 

Remembering God’s Faithfulness amidst the Pity Party

cry_me_a_riverContinued from here.

As I begin the process of walking away from the pity party, I expand my thanks beyond my own personal comforts by remembering God’s past faithfulness. In the process, I remind myself that God was enough before, and He is enough now. It goes something like this:

  • If you had only provided me salvation so I could avoid hell and go to heaven, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed the eating disorder, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only stopped the nightmares, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only stopped the self-injury, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed the panic attacks, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only brought me my son after years of infertility, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed my son after major back surgery, it would have been enough.
  • If you had only healed my marriage, it would have been enough.

As I go through this process, I gradually remove myself as the center of my focus and return it back where it belongs – onto God. He is more than enough. He is faithful. He is good. Nothing good comes from engaging in a pity party, but much good comes from remembering the God who has always been faithful.

The final step is to go be a blessing to someone else. I know I am vulnerable to the siren song of self-pity, so I need to get my mind off my own pain. An effective way to do this is to stop thinking about myself at all and, instead, replace those thoughts with how I can bless someone else. I can invite a lonely friend/acquaintance to lunch, donate items to a charity, send a card to someone who is in physical or emotional pain, look up a Bible verse that meets someone else’s needs, or choose from a myriad of other ways to be a blessing to someone else. As I shift my focus to being a blessing to others, I am empowered to walk away from the lure to participate in a pity party, which brings glory to God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying as her tears reach nose-level. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

How to Avoid Pity Parties

cryContinued from here.

I remain vulnerable to engaging in pity parties, particularly when I don’t feel well physically, and thus must intentionally choose to take steps to avoid their lure. One step I take is choosing forgiveness at the moment that someone wounds me. I have already decided that I will forgive anyone for anything they do to harm me, and I waste no time in beginning to pray for them, even as I am reeling from what they have done. As an example, on the morning that I had to drive my son to a children’s hospital an hour away for major back surgery, we discovered that someone had vandalized my husband’s truck by breaking the windshield with a baseball bat. I was already vulnerable because of my son’s pending surgery, so I could have easily spent that hour’s drive feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I chose to spend that hour in prayer – both praying for my son’s surgery and praying for the vandals. While I did not feel like praying for the vandals, I chose to do so ensure bitterness would not take root in my heart.

Another step I take is to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes. 5:16-18). No matter how uncomfortable I am (such as when I have the flu or a stomach virus), I am always, always, ALWAYS thankful for my bathroom. I am thankful that I can use a toilet instead of having to walk out into the heat, cold, rain, or snow to use a smelly outhouse. I am thankful for running water, hot showers, and toilet paper. No matter how miserable, unfair, or uncomfortable my circumstances are, I can always sincerely give thanks for my bathroom, which is a great starting point.

Once I begin the process of thanking God for my bathroom, I have greased the wheels toward other things I am thankful for: my house, my cozy bed, that I can afford a house, that I have the ability to walk myself over to the bathroom, etc. Note how everything I have mentioned thus far centers around my own comfort. When I am feeling lured into a pity party, I am gradually being lured into self-absorption, so I find that things I can be thankful for that revolve around myself are the most effective in beginning the redirection process.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying next to a crying emoticon. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Why Pity Parties are So Destructive

pity_party_catContinued from here.

God created us to worship Him, so if anything other than God is the primary focus of our lives, we are going to be miserable. By nature, pity parties place ourselves at the center of our lives, which the Bible calls pride.

I had a difficult time applying the label of “pride” to myself because I had such low self-esteem. I saw prideful people as those who were overly proud of themselves – as in believing they were better than everyone else whereas I saw myself as more pathetic than everyone else. I was shocked to learn that these extremes were two sides of the same coin. Just as someone who is beautiful can be prideful by always thinking of ways she is better than everyone else, I was prideful in thinking of ways that I was worse off than everyone else. In both cases, the self is the center of one’s focus rather than God, which is pride.

An even more difficult label for me to accept was “idolatry.” I believed that idolatry was one of the Ten Commandments that I did not need to worry about. After all, I never bowed down to a golden or wooden image of Baal or other “god.” However, idolatry is anything that we bow down to instead of God, and I repeatedly “bowed down” to my emotional pain, which I saw as bigger than God. When the Bible said that God would give me “beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” (Is. 61:3), I didn’t believe it because I had not experienced it.

I wanted God to do all the work of healing my emotional pain without my having to do my part of forgiving my abusers, and that’s not the way it works. I cannot pray a pumpkin patch into existence without first planting pumpkin seeds. While God can do anything, he requires the farmer to plant the pumpkin seeds first. Then, He does His part to grow those seeds into pumpkins. The same concept applies to experiencing healing from your emotional pain. Until you plant the seeds of forgiveness and gratitude, the healing God promises in the Bible will elude you – not because God is not capable of healing you but because God is waiting for you to do your part before He will do His.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying with a cat. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Appeal of Pity Parties

pity_party_ice_creamContinued from here.

I used to love a good pity party. I could wallow in my pain and the unfairness of my life for weeks at a time. I would relive all of the ways that people wronged me and nurse my hatred and bitterness toward them. To God, I probably looked like Pigpen from the Peanuts comic strip with self-pity surrounding me like a cloud.

Wallowing in self-pity makes us miserable, so we do we do it? The best lies contain much truth, which is what enables others to be deceived so easily. It was true that I was severely abused as a child, that I suffered greatly in the aftermath of that abuse, and that I was in no way responsible for having been abused as a child. Because I believed these truths, I took the next step to believe the lie that I would never be freed from the pain of the aftermath of the abuse.

I believed that my pain was bigger than God’s ability to heal me. Because I believed this, it became my “reality.” No matter how many times I prayed for emotional healing, I stayed mired in pain. Despite numerous Christians praying for my emotional healing over a period of years, very little progress took place. I did not experience freedom from my emotional pain until I obeyed God by replacing my pity parties with prayers for my enemies and deciding to forgive my childhood abusers, no matter how long the process took. I had to choose this again and again – day after day and month after month for over a year before it became a reality.

While I have met people who were able to forgive quickly, that was not my experience. I had marinated in my bitterness for decades, so it took a long time for me to learn how to live differently. I enjoyed hating my childhood abusers, and I wallowed in bitterness and self-pity whenever anyone did anything that hurt my feelings in my present-day life. My thoughts were filled with a checklist of all the ways other people had wronged me. I was constantly at the center of my thoughts. The enemy was happy to encourage me to keep myself as the center of my universe, knowing that I would never experience God’s healing power as long as my pain, and not my God, was the object of my worship.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying while eating a gallon of ice cream. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Temptation of Pity Parties

pity_partyLast week on her television show, Enjoying Everyday Life, Joyce Meyers preached on the keys to getting the breakthrough you have been praying for. One of those keys is resisting the temptation to indulge in a pity party, which is such a vulnerability for me. Meyers made the astute observation that even though we might have good reasons for engaging in pity parties, they are harmful to us and can interfere with the process of experiencing the breakthrough that we are seeking.

Like Meyers, I have many legitimate reasons to feel drawn toward a pity party. Both of us were sexually abused as children, and we grew into emotionally-wounded adults as a direct result of the child abuse. Both of us had to work very hard to heal from the pain, and neither of us was responsible for the damage that was inflicted upon us as children. The child abuse was unfair, and having to suffer through serious aftereffects from the abuse was also unfair. If I wanted to, I could build a strong case for my “right” to indulge in a pity party.

Meyers stated that when she complained to God about her abuser being responsible for her brokenness, God’s response was that this was true. However, not being responsible for the damage did not give her (or us) the “right” to treat other people – even our abusers – wrongly. Instead, we need to go for God healing and learn how to behave in a godly manner, even when our circumstances are unfair. That was a difficult lesson for me to learn, but it was also profoundly healing.

This week, we are going to explore the appeal of pity parties, why they are so destructive, and how to avoid them. As Joyce Meyers pointed out in other sermons, God promises to give us beauty for ashes (Is. 61: 3), but we don’t get to keep the ashes. If we want the beauty of emotional healing from our pain, we must part with the ashes of our self-pity. I loved my ashes and did not want to give them up: I enjoyed stewing in my bitterness toward my child abusers. However, I did want emotional healing, and to receive it, I had to give up the pity parties. The ashes are not worth the pain. The beauty is so much better.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace crying while holding balloons that are crying. Courtesy Bitmoji.]