Pastor to Pastor: 5 Thoughts to Dealing with Disappointment

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23

I’m a “question-asker.” As a person who has an insatiable desire to grow, to me, it’s one of the best ways to learn. It gives me “selah moments” (selah means stop, pause, wait, and be ready to respond). And each opportunity I have to ask my question, I feel it positions me so that I can ponder areas where the Lord may want to stretch and develop me.

For example, if you’ve been married in the last couple years, I’ll typically ask the question, “What do you know now that you didn’t know before you got married?” The answer varies from “I didn’t realize my partner snores” to “I didn’t realize how different we really were till marriage.” Honestly, it’s been a great learning experience for me as a premarital counselor. My question helps me know whether my premarital preparations are on point. It keeps me sharp to the needs of young couples.

When I meet other pastors, I love asking them questions. And, I’ll admit, my favorite questions are for pastors who are older than myself and have more experience than I do.  I feel it’s important for pastors from diverse backgrounds and generations to connect. It’s from this heart that, a few weeks ago, I posted a blog about the generational differences in pastors. To me, why shouldn’t I glean from someone who is not only ON a similar journey as me but has BEEN through experiences on that journey that I can glean from.

And my first question is always the same:

If you can go back to 41 years old in ministry, what is one thing you would tell yourself?

Obviously, every year the age in the question changes as I get a year older. But I thirst for that vintage of perspective. I want an “iron sharpening iron” moment. And Sunday night was another moment for me.

After an evening prayer service at Kfirst, I met the father of one of our attendees. He’s a pastor from a town about 30-ish miles away. And when Madeline introduced her father to me and said that he was a pastor, the question came out of my mouth. He pondered for just a few seconds, and then he said three words:

“Beware of disappointments.”

These three words consumed my mind for 48 hours. I’ve talked with my wife about them. The following Monday at Northpoint Bible College, I brought it up to a bunch of pastors I ran into.  What a simple yet extremely deep thought to a very open question.

I want you to note: He didn’t say keep yourself from disappointments; just have an awareness of them.

There’s a big difference.

I don’t think it’s humanly possible to live, let alone pastor, without disappointments.  People disappoint me. My wife disappoints me. The Detroit Lions disappoint me. I disappoint me. If I were really honest with you, I’ve been disappointed in God (usually happens when God hasn’t done what I think he should do).

Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I were wrapping up a marriage seminar with some Q&A from the crowd and the question came up: How do I avoid disappointments? My answer was simple: It’s impossible. Why? You cannot guard yourself from experiencing disappointment but you can guard your heart during disappointment.

Disappointments are not the necessarily results of sin but a natural experience in our human journey. I’m not trying to develop a pessimistic perspective but a hopeful attitude and fruitful viewpoint of navigating through them.  And it begins with what our opening scripture talks about: “guard your heart” (Proverbs 4:23). The heart, in Hebrew writings wasn’t the place of emotions but the seat of the mind and will. In today’s vernacular, we’d say, “guard and protect your thoughts.” So the question really is: How do we pastors protect our thoughts through this very normal human experience?

Disappointments ≠ failure
First off, failure IS disappointing. I can’t say I enjoy failure and look forward to the next. BUT, not all disappointments equate to a failure on your part. I meet far too many pastors who immediately connect a disappointment to a personal failure (I’m one of those pastors). Sometimes our unrealistic expectations set us up for the fall. Other times, our definition of “success” needed to be redefined so that we can see the “win” in what we accomplished instead of being blinded by the disappointment we just experienced.

Disappointment can be a VERY good thing.
One of the best ways to guard our hearts during disappointment is to learn a perspective of disappointment. Instead of looking to beat yourself up with self-hate and/or self-loathing thoughts due to a “less than” experience, step into a place of looking to learn. Every disappointment I engage in is an invitation to growth. Whether it’s personal or pastoral, having a healthy approach of “how can I grow” isn’t shrugging off the issue, or making light of it, but looking to process and engage it appropriately.

Closed doors help direct our focus and vision.
I don’t know about you, but “closed doors” in my life have been hugely disappointing.  Whether it’s something I wanted to do or a ministry I wanted to launch, I get very head-strong about what I want to do. But I’ve learned over the past few years that every closed-door I experience fine-tunes my vision. It helps me to see and hear how God is directing me. Early in ministry, I spent so much time beating on doors that God had closed that I didn’t see the ones he was opening up. I can get so tunnel-visioned on directions that, at times, it takes a “closed-door” to get me to stop pursuing something that isn’t the best or healthiest way to go.

Close the gap.
It’s said that the gap between expectation and experience is disappointment. Though I believe disappointment is an inevitable experience, I find that it is possible to lessen the depths of it by effective communication. Communication both articulates what is on your heart while guarding against the frustration that can stem from ignorance.   So the best way to close the gap is to both effectively communicate expectation as well as develop realistic experiences. It may sound overly obvious, but clearly communicated expectations help pave the way for great experiences with little to no disappointment. And the place that we need to evaluate is the clarity of our communication. As I say so often to young couples, “Just because you talk a lot doesn’t mean you clearly communicate.”

Use the right measuring tape. 
It is so easy for me to measure my own success by a little something called “comparison.” I’ve spent so much time seeding disappointment in my own spirit because, no matter how much the church has grown, I am still looking to other pastors and other ministries much more “successful” and constantly seeding disappointment in my spirit. I have to constantly remind myself: Comparison is the thief of joy. It will seed envy/jealousy in my spirit and birth discouragement through my life. I believe in evaluating yourself and ministry. I believe in personal and ministerial growth. I want mentors to speak into me. But if my measure of success is comparing to others, I’m not looking to grow the Kingdom but to feed my own pride.

Pastor Dan’s 3 simple words stirred me. Why? Because the fear of disappointment ruled my mind for the first, I’d say 7-8 years of ministry. I didn’t want to disappoint my wife, my parents, my church, and, most importantly God. Fear of disappointment strangled the breath I needed to inhale the faith, hope, and joy the Holy Spirit desired for me to experience. It’s for that reason Paul wrote to a young pastor these words,

For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. 2 Timothy 1:7

Beware of disappointment. Disappointments are learning experiences that are just that, experiences to learn from not anchors to sink you.

Love you all. Praying for you today.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: Check out my new book. Click on the link below!!

“Godly Venting?” : 5 Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Vent

I can be quite silly with venting.  Social media has been my therapeutic outlet for my continual disappointment with my sports teams (I apologize to the twitterverse and Facebook world).  But I think both you and I know what I’m talking about when I use the word “venting.” Some of your venting is quite obvious because you use the words “just sayin” at the end of your rant (as if the phrase is a new form punctuation in the english language). Others, you start off with “I apologize for the length of this” as if to say, “gird your loins, I’m about to unload.”

I can hear some of your thoughts right now. “Dave, you’re blowing this out of proportion. Let people do what they want. For some, that’s their only outlet.”

But that’s just the thing.  It is an outlet.  Your best friend is an outlet.  Your coworker is an outlet. But just because you have an “outlet” doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest one and, two, your venting may not be actually getting you help.  

PLEASE NOTE: Momentary relief is no substitution for deep lasting health.

This blog isn’t here to beat you up.  It’s here to encourage you to get help…the right help. Much of the venting I’ve been privy to has been an excuse to “unload” displeasure about other people instead of going to the person.  In the name of “venting,” proper healthy conflict is avoided and a septic inner attitude or mindset is facilitated. It’s time to take a stand. It’s time to get healthy.

Here’s some questions to ask yourself before you go “venting” to someone…

1 – Am I wanting Godly PERSPECTIVE or just an opportunity to PERPETUATE the issue?

This is why I love how the entire book of Psalms starts out, Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.” – Psalm 1:1-2

Do you avail yourself with what God’s Word may say to the situation?  I’m convinced that, if people who came to me to “vent” started with the Word, conservatively speaking, ¾ of my appointments would cancel on me. I have learned that a majority of Christians won’t check the scriptures because either, first, they already know what it’s gonna say, and second, you don’t want to do it. The other portion doesn’t know and/or needs direction on how to practically do it.  And for that, I’m glad to help.

2 – Am I willing move into healthy ACTIONS or sit in ASSUMPTION?

So much of venting results from stewing over something and coming upon conclusions that may or may not be reality. Thus, venting can be constant spillover of issues that are being ignited by assumption with little to no healthy actions.

Why does the Hebrew writer tell us to, “Fix your mind on Jesus…” (Hebrews 12:2)?  Because of the example of Christ.  He didn’t sit in assumption over our sinful condition as to wonder why we are doing what we are doing and/or what the heck we are thinking when we do what we do. He joyfully stepped forward in action. Joy isn’t found in the situation (can’t say the cross was a fun thing to endure). Joy is found in the presence of God. And His presence and His example propels us to fixate upon Him and the health he wants to bring.  He gives us a perspective of what needs to be done as opposed to what might be going on.

3 – Is my goal to END the story or RETELL it?

Do you want to see resolution or are you just wanting to rehash it? What is your goal? Refusing to take appropriate steps forward by unhealthy venting is like scratching a rash thinking it’s going to solve something when, in reality, it’s spreading it.

So many people are used to venting a story that has, in essence, become the identity they live by. They’re a constant victim. It’s time to lay down the story and begin one new in Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old has gone and a new ‘story’ has begun.” Continuing a story can continue an identity.  Start a new identity in Christ and, thus, a new story.

4 – Do I want to RESOURCE healing or am I looking to REPRODUCE I’m experiencing?

There’s an old saying. “Misery loves company.” Very similar to 3, this has a bit of a twist. Instead of just finding people to retell it to, some people vent to rally people to their cause. One of the best ways to resource healing is to go to the person for whom you have offense with. As you do:

  • Go with a humble heart. Be open to the fact that you could be wrong about the person and/or the entire situation.
  • Check your tones and mannerisms.
  • Be ready to be the first to apologize and ask for forgiveness.
  • Go into it go get a HEALTHY result and not necessarily your DESIRED result.
    • Resolving conflict biblically doesn’t always mean you get your way OR that you win.

5 – Am I looking to PROCESS or am I looking to UNLOAD?

This is where the real help comes in. Unloading feels good for a moment. I’ll admit, getting something off my chest has the sensation of relief. But stopping right there leaves you feeling lighter, but also empty. On top of that, most people are ready to fill the newly discovered relief/ emptiness with the same substance they had been carrying before. Having Godly counsel and wisdom spoken into your frustration properly processes the issues of the heart to become a foundation of health and vitality.

Do more than look for someone to help unload what you are carrying? Those people are easy to find (and sometimes eager to be involved in your business).

Find someone:

  • Who loves Jesus.
  • Who knows the Word.
  • Who cares for people.
  • Who will approach the situation objectively and confidentially.
  • Who loves you enough to say the tough things (even what you don’t want to hear).

If you are needing to “vent,” chances are, there are deeper issues than the need to “get something out in the open.” Don’t deal with it is isolation.  I don’t want you to deal with this on your own. As I’ve said so many times,

The enemy works in isolation; God works in community.

Get some help. And HELP is as simple as:

1 – Turn to Christ.  “What does Jesus think about me?” (BTW: He loves you immensely and don’t let anyone tell you different!!!!)

2 – Turn to His Word. “What does the Bible say about what I’m dealing with?”

3 – Get Godly counsel.  “Who can help me process this instead of helping me unload?

Love ya. Rein back your “venting” and step into a healthy mindset of how to approach the inner frustration you are experiencing.  I believe if we’ll turn to Him first, if we put Him first in our offenses and hurts, he’ll do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine according to His power at work within us.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

Say No to Venting: 6 Ways to Appropriately Deal with Marital Frustrations.

I’m a pro social media guy.  If you follow me, you know I post just about everything.  I try to keep most of my tweets/posts about things that are edifying or of comedic value.  But as you well know, social media is a breeding ground for venting. One my personal pet peeves on social media is a venting post with zero ability to be constructive and ends with, “just sayin’.”

It’s always the quandary I find myself in as a pastor.  I’ve drawn certain boundaries in my posting when it comes to my opinions about issues.  My choice in those boundaries help me to not walk with reactionary posting but to carefully chose what represents me. 

In the name of free speech we blast people, political parties, sports teams, and churches.  We harness the right to post what we want without wondering if it’s really right to do it.  I understand the need to talk things through (my afternoon and evenings are filled with appointments like that). But I’m afraid in the name of “venting,” we’ve done more damage to our marriages than helping them. 

A great rule of marriage communication is this: Never talk badly about your spouse to other people or vent about them online. Protect your spouse at all times and in all places.  Your marriage is (should be) the closest human relationship you have.  If it’s not there (yet), then being a “protector” instead of a “vent-or” (not really a word) is a great place to start building health back into your marriage.  Don’t run from conflict.  Face it in a healthy way and watch God bless your marriage.

Instead of venting about your spouse, here’s some help on appropriately dealing with your spouse.

1 – Go to the source of the offense before you go to sources of venting.  Matthew 18 gives us a great start to dealing with people who have offended us (especially our spouse).  If your spouse is the source, go to him/her first.  

2 – Keep your communication open and clear. The words “open and clear” make us keep in mind that communication is more than verbiage.  Like good plumbing, keep blockages from the flow of communication by removing what will clog up what you are trying to convey. For example: 
– Attitudes have to be adjusted.  
– Timing must be appropriate.
– Mannerisms and countenance must give a disposition of healthy confrontation instead of attack. 
– Keep others and their opinions out. 
– Clothe yourself in humility. 

3 – Don’t build up support. It’s easy to find people to rally to your side AND you know who they are. They’re getting your side of the story and that’s not okay.  You’re presenting a one-sided argument to them and they’re biting the hook. Protect your spouse by making sure that he/she isn’t going to feel ganged up on.  When you back someone into a corner, they come out swinging and end up doing more damage out of pure survival instincts.  Keep your biz between you and your spouse.  (Don’t forget that rallying family to your side is just as, if not more, damaging.)

4 – Protect your spouse. People like to offer their opinions (especially family members).  Opinions get offered but they don’t need to be accepted. You may be hurting in your marriage, but protect your spouse.  The entertaining of negative rants, bad attitudes, and ignorant rants are toxic to your heart. Don’t tolerate it.  Why? What you don’t deflect, you will reflect.  What you reflect, you will ultimately embrace. Step away from the toxic stuff and protect your spouse. 

5 – Seek appropriate counsel.  Appropriate counsel is someone who…
– …will objectively look at your situation without letting friendship/relationship dictate direction. 
– …will NOT just tell you what you want to hear. He/she must be willing to have the tough convo with you.  
– …will lean upon Biblical principles and not emotional decisions.
– …will recognize there is another side to the story.  (Your perspective isn’t the only perspective in the situation.)
– …will depend upon the Holy Spirit for direction.
– …will breathe hope and not distress into your life.
– …will have the guts to call out unhealthy behaviors. 

My final thoughts go to an amazing narrative in scripture found in 1 Samuel 14.  Jonathan is looking to move forward into conflict.  Traveling with him is his armor-bearer.  The armor-bearer could have asked to stay behind and refused to go with him. But his reply is priceless, 

“Do all that you have in mind,” his armor-bearer said. “Go ahead; I am with you heart and soul.” 1 Samuel 14:7

We need spouses who are willing to approach battles/conflict “heart and soul” with each other.  It’s a decision that is done as individuals as well as a couple.  But to you reading this…let it start with you first.  Be the first one to step up and proclaim, “I am with you heart and soul.” 

Conflict is inevitable.  We are a broken people living in a broken world which means that life can take us through some sucky situations.  But we have a Savior who is an overcomer.  He is with us “heart and soul.” And if “God is for us, who can be against us?”  If our overcoming God is with us, there isn’t an insurmountable situation he cannot help us walk through…heart and soul. 

I believe the best is yet to come for your marriage.  Keep trusting in Christ.  Keep walking in healthy marital habits. 

Thanks for letting me ramble…