Gandalf’s Scream, Love, and Why We Need More Anger {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

Anger is a wonderful, powerful, amazing, informative, life-giving, protective resource. Or at least it can be. Anger can be a redemptive sword, when it’s wielded by love.

 “Anger is a surgical weapon, designed to destroy ugliness and restore beauty. In the hands of one who is trained in love and who can envision beauty, the knife of righteous anger is a weapon for restoration.” – Allender & Longman

We’ve too often seen anger as the enemy, while all along it was begging to be our teacher. We’ve loved to pray and sing emotional ballads like, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” but have we dared to sing, “Enrage my heart for what enrages yours”?

That sounds crazy, right? And scary.

As Christians, as cross-cultural workers, we’re way more comfortable with holy sadness than holy anger. And that’s not without cause; sadness is safer. More tame. Anger can destroy. Anger can harm deeply. Anger is like electricity — or fire. Both have tremendous potential to destroy, and even kill. But they also reveal, energize (literally), and make magic.

Have you flown on the fire of a jet engine, propelled through the night sky like a populated comet? Have you ever activated a dozen tiny suns with the flip of a switch? These miracles are astounding, and possible due to the power of white-hot fire and lightning fast electrons flowing on demand.

To be sure, arsons exist, but so do steel magnates. They both harness fire for their own purposes; one to destroy, the other to build. I’ve seen the burns and tissue damage wreaked by a lightning strike, but I don’t scream and run away every time I see an outlet.

Again, anger is just energy. It’s an emotion, neither good nor bad, neither healthy nor dysfunctional.

“Feelings are information, not conclusions.” – Greenberg

“Feeling angry or annoyed is as human as feeling sad or afraid.” – Greenberg

We have to be careful, at the start, that we don’t moralize some emotions as good, others as bad, some as holy, others as sinful. That’s not accurate, spiritually or scientifically. [See The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions.]

It’s also important to distinguish between the feeling of anger and the actions of aggression. The two are not the same thing. Greenberg offers this helpful reminder:

“Anger should not be confused with aggression, which comprises attacking or assaultive behavior. Feeling angry does not mean behaving aggressively, and people can be aggressive without feeling any anger at all.” – Greenberg

Chances are you’ve been hurt by someone who acted aggressively. Perhaps their anger/aggression left wounds you’re still recovering from. Chances are you’ve hurt someone in similar ways. So I understand if all this talk about the goodness of anger feels like bile in the brain.

Read the full post here

page01 (3)

The Books I Recommend Over and Over. And Over.

by Jonathan

I like books. I also like giving my pastoral counseling clients the option of accessing resources outside of the counseling room. Here’s a list of the books I recommend the most…

Dating/Relationships
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love

 

Marriage
Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples  (Read my review and how I use this in marriage counseling here.)

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert

 

Parenting 
Families Where Grace Is in Place: Building a Home Free of Manipulation, Legalism, and Shame

Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More

 

Anxiety/OCD
Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians

Loving Someone with Anxiety: Understanding and Helping Your Partner

Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

 

Sex
Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship

For more recommendations on point, visit On Making Love

 

Emotions (in general)
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God

 

The Love of God/Perfectionism/Grace
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life

 

Cross-cultural Missions
Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker

Misunderstood: The impact of growing up overseas in the 21st century

Third Culture Kids: Growing up among worlds

 

Trauma
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

 

Miscellaneous 
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

john-mark-smith-P6uqpNyXcI4-unsplash

*Amazon affiliate links

 

On Living in Terrible Times

by Jonathan

The sword hangs by a thread, suspended above the throne, pointing down. Threatening.

One strand of horsehair, fastened to the pommel, is strong enough. Barely. One breeze, one bit of weakening fiber, and death is certain.

And so, no matter how powerful the king becomes, no matter how many successes he has, the sword remains above him, ominous, looming, damning.

What’s the sword hanging over your head, threatening to snap loose and cleave? What’s the thing that’s unresolved and maybe even unresolvable? What’s the impending doom that’s imploding joy?

Is it the politics of your passport country or your host country? Visa issues or money problems? Social unrest and violence where you live or where you’re from?

Is it the well-being of your church or your children? Your health or your marriage? Is it an imminent deconstruction?

Do you drown in a deep awareness that one tiny thing could shift and it would all come crashing down?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

We live in an ever-more connected age, which seems to be resulting in an ever-more frightened age. Things seem to get scarier and scarier, more and more unstable. Darker. A U.S. news site just ran this headline: It’s Hard To Not Be Anxious When Nowhere Feels Safe Anymore.

Governments fall, global alliances splinter, trusted institutions falter and misstep. Racism blooms like a mushroom cloud and injustice rains down unchecked.

It’s exhausting and terrifying and oftentimes paralyzing.

 

How should we then live? How should we then minister and love across cultures?
C.S. Lewis speaks to us, cautioning against a common (and paralyzing) error. Lewis writes, “[D]o not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation.”

He continues, speaking of his very atomic circumstances, the sword his generation lived under:

“Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.”

OK. Depressing.

But somehow, it’s not depressing for Lewis; it doesn’t lead to numbness or retreat or despair. Instead, for Lewis, this awareness leads to LIVING. He goes on to encourage the fearful of his time, and us too:

“If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts – not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”

So may I encourage you, my dear reader: don’t forget to live. Plant yourself where you’re at, scratch your name into the land, and connect heart and sinew with the people of God and the people God loves. Live!

 

Chase the Light & Notice the Life
We need to know and remember, deep in our gut, that we can face this darkness and not die. It’s a hard sell, I know, but notice how Paul juxtapositions death AND life in the same verses. They’re both there, and they’re both weighty:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the DEATH of Jesus so that the LIFE of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies. Yes, we LIVE under constant danger of DEATH because we serve Jesus, so that the LIFE of Jesus will be evident in our DYING bodies. So we LIVE in the face of DEATH, but this has resulted in eternal LIFE for you.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-12, NLT)

My best friend recently pondered this collision of life and death, musing about our desperate need to chase the light, especially when it’s dark. She wrote:

So what can we do when we’re confronted with all the darkness within, and all the darkness without? I mean, we know the end is good. We know the Bridegroom is coming back for us. But our eternal hope doesn’t always translate easily into our everyday moments and hours.

I think we need to chase the light. To DO something to help scatter the darkness. These days this is how you’ll find me chasing the light. . .

Singing a worship song.
Kissing my husband.
Chopping vegetables and preparing a meal for my family.
Reading a book to my kids.
Laughing at my husband’s jokes.
Going for a walk.
Drinking coffee with a friend.

These are the things that are saving my life right now. The small, menial acts that remind me that I’m still alive, that I’m not dead yet, and that the world hasn’t actually blown itself up yet.

No matter how sad I feel about everything on my first list, I can’t change any of them. But I can live my tiny little life with light and joy. With passion and hope. I can chase the light.

I chase the light, and I remember that this life is actually worth living, even with all the sadness in it. I chase the light, and I remember the Giver of these little joys, and I give thanks in return.

I refuse to let the griefs and evils of this world pull me all the way down into the pit. I will revolt against this despair. I will chase the light. I will grasp hold of the ephemeral joys of my itty bitty domestic life. And I will remember — always — the Source of this light. 

~ Elizabeth Trotter

Conclusion
Living under the sword of Damocles is draining and terrifying. But even there, Christ is.

And because Christ is, we can dance in the light as much as we fight in the dark; we can laugh as much as we mourn. Our lips can crack into smiles as often as our hearts crack into pieces.

As long as this age endures, the sword will remain. And yet.

The lone strand of a horse’s hair, weakly holding back death, has been replaced by the strong mane of a Lion’s love. And we are saved.

So live, dear one.

Chase the light and remember the King.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

*More on the Sword of Damocles

This article first appeared on A Life Overseas

Created for Connection — a roadmap for your marriage

It’s the best marriage book I’ve ever read.

I’d love to show you why; I’d also love to show you how I use it in my daily practice as a pastoral counselor.

photo-1508839370228-5ae14793c2f5 (2)

Created for Connection, by Johnson and Sanderfer, is my go-to book for marriage counseling. I use Gottman’s tools and research extensively too, but Created for Connection feels deeper, more hearty. While Gottman focuses on the what and the how-to, Created for Connection focuses on the why.

I love this book so much that I turned the chapter headings into a roadmap of sorts, adding in other tools and resources.

If you were meeting with me for marriage counseling, I would give you a copy of this sheet to (hopefully) help you see where we’re at as we walk through the various parts of marriage counseling. Disclaimer: I’m a pastoral counselor, not a licensed therapist. I don’t hold myself out as a therapist, but shoot, just because I’m a pastoral counselor doesn’t mean I’m afraid to use the latest evidence-based research when it comes to helping clients love each other well (and happily)!

OK, here’s what I would give you:

created for connection

Now, here it is again, with links to the resources in brackets. In addition to the material in the book, we would bring in some of these other tools/resources:

1. Recognizing the Demon Dialogues [The Vortex of Terror]

  1. Find the Bad Guy
  2. Protest Polka
  3. Freeze and Flee
  4. [The Four Horsemen]

 

Finding the Raw Spots

  1. [The Shapes Diagram]
  2. [Pain Words worksheet and Feelings Wheel]

 

Revisiting a Rocky Moment

  1. [Reflecting Back. I teach three parts to this: 1. Reflect back. 2. Validate. 3. Care.]
  2. [Turning Towards, and here and here]

 

Hold Me Tight – Engaging and Connecting [Caring for the Heart]

  1. What Am I Most Afraid Of?
  2. What Do I Need Most from You?

 

Forgiving Injuries

  1. [Repair checklist]

 

Bonding Through Sex and Touch

  1. [On Making Love, a resource post about sex]

 

Keeping Your Love Alive

  1. [Six magic hours, here and here]

 

If you’re looking for some marriage help, here’s a map! I didn’t create most of this; I’m just putting some of what’s helped me and others into one place. I hope that’s helpful for you. Get the books, watch the videos, talk with your spouse, and have a great day!

— Jonathan M. Trotter

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Created for Connection, by Johnson and Sanderfer

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, by Gottman

17 years of marriage and this is all we’ve got, by Jonathan and Elizabeth (and now it’s 19!)

*Amazon affiliate links.

The cure for my contempt (and yours too) {A Life Overseas}

Jonathan is at A Life Overseas today. . . .

There’s so much contempt in the world.

Do you sense it? I hear it crashing through our walls in Cambodia as our neighbors fight and scream at each other. I see it in the taxi driver in Prague as he grips the steering wheel hard, honking and yelling at those who’ve deeply offended him. I smell its stench on Twitter.

And I sense it in me.

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

mercy

We must remember the mercy of God. Our families, churches, and ministries all need us to remember the overwhelming and beautiful mercy of God. Mercy is a mysterious thing, softening us to others and their stories, while also hardening us to the unavoidable and incontrovertible troubles of cross-cultural life and ministry.

Finish reading here.