Friday, October 12, 2012

Is There Always Meaning?

My preferred theoretical orientation in psychotherapy is existential, especially in line with Viktor Frankl's logotherapy (meaning through therapy or therapy through meaning). I find meaning very important in my personal life, as well. I don't see a reason to keep going and live without meaning. In one of my classes, we discussed different creation explanations (from young earth to secular evolution). One of my issues with the randomness principle in evolution is that if everything really is random, then what purpose is there in life? Why would I want to continue living?

Ultimately, I have faith that there is meaning. I assume there is a reason, a purpose, behind everything, even if I cannot ever figure it out. That is not the same as saying that God is responsible for everything that happens. I'm not an uber-Calvinist, like Piper (see some of my other posts on that :) ). But I do firmly believe that God works good through all things (as in Romans 8:28). This is a way of finding meaning.

However, I've had some struggles with that lately. From our first failed adoption, we lost some money (a good chunk more now that we had to hire a second lawyer for our current match). At the same time, we soothed ourselves by recognizing the failed match could have been far worse (and it's definitely true). Yet I still struggle finding the meaning in that. What good came of it?

I'm associating meaning with good coming out of the situation. Is that always the case? Perhaps it's an incorrect connection. Although I find meaning good.

The only thing I can come up with is that the mom hopefully experienced some love and grace from us. It was really complete loss for us, but if she needed that incarnational love, then there was meaning and good.

Another situation that has had me thinking along these terms is getting scammed with a home repair. Very long story short, we had our air ducts replaced (I do think that was needed). But now the company is failing to honor its warranty. It looks like they're a complete scam, lying about licensure, etc. Actually, the state contractors license board is going after them.

So human legal justice may be done (although I doubt we'll get our large amount paid to them back). But is there meaning? Legal justice doesn't provide meaning. And it doesn't promise "good." What good can come of this situation?

One thing that hit me in the last few days was that perhaps these people really needed the money more than us. While we're not rolling in the dough, most Americans are in the top 1% of the world's income, as our pastor noted this Sunday. We can pay the bills, which I am thankful for. While it was not the right way to get money, some people are desperate. Perhaps this was a way of feeding a child. Although I don't want this "company" taking advantage of others in the future.

I think in both of these cases, God is also teaching me to rely on him more to have faith that we will be financially taken care of. Money has been tight, especially with our adoption. Yet I keep getting adjunct teaching jobs (I've had to turn some down). We haven't had to skip a mortgage payment or even be late. Yet I'm still worried we won't be able to pay for everything. I think there's validity in the concern, but frequently worrying about finances is no way to live. Perhaps the meaning and good is God helping take that pressure off of me (it's not gone yet :) ).

Or perhaps some things are just random, crappy, and due to a fallen world. Maybe there isn't "good" meaning in everything.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Bored Wreck @christianaudio @caReviewers

One of my biggest personal and professional interests is in finding and encouraging meaning and purpose. Jeff Goins' new book, Wrecked, about finding fulfillment in life sounded interesting. Unfortunately, I really didn't experience this text as providing anything new to the current Christian publishing industry.

The subtitle, When a Broken World Slams into your Comfortable Life, really summarizes the book: Recognizing the need for healing and social justice and the lack of justice makes us "wrecked" and want to change the way we live. First of all, I just don't agree with this application of the term, wrecked. But ultimately, there is a plethora of books and blogs on exactly this topic. I can't say I really heard anything new in this book. Goins is a fine writer, and his tales are compelling, but no more so than any of the other things I've read on this topic.

In fact, this book seemed so redundant, I kept tuning out. I got bored enough that I just didn't finish the book. It's only the second time I didn't finish a book. The other time was because the content disgusted me so much. That was not the case here. There wasn't really anything I would disagree with (except the definition of wrecked). I just didn't experience it providing anything new.

In many ways, I'm glad the evangelical Christian publishing industry is encouraging people to look at and challenge their comfortable lives. But preaching the same message ad naseum isn't helpful.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Emotion of Grace @MaxLucado #MaxOnLife @LucadoTeam @christianaudio @caReviewers

Grace seems to be a theme in my life lately. It's been a topic at my church, at a Rob Bell event I went to, and has been on my mind a lot dealing with unethical behavior from a home repair company and an adoption lawyer (we've lost about $8000 on the two in the last few months). So when I had the chance to review Max Lucado's latest book, Grace, I was eager to do so, especially since I'm a Lucado fan anyway.

Lucado's book is short, which is actually nice. Rather than engaging in a deep theological treatise on grace, Lucado does what he does best: He tells stories. He makes the concept of grace come alive in a real human way that is not abstract or theoretical. Much of what I see written on grace is really more of the latter, which is ultimately grace-less. Without the dirt and grit and hard-core reality, grace is useless and worthless.

Despite my profession as a psychologist, I can have a strong tendency to be very rational and cognitive, dissociated from my emotion. This can be especially true in theological and intellectual contexts, and particularly true when I'm extra busy. But the emotion is important. As I teach my adolescents and parents in group, without emotion, it's really hard to build a relationship. Faith without emotion loses the relational element with God. And grace without emotion is just theory.

Lucado's book helped me emotionally experience the power of grace again. There were several times I got teary listening to some of the stories (despite riding my bicycle on my commute). It made me think several times, "That's right, this is what it's all about." Lucado provided what in psychology we call a corrective emotional experience, emotionally experiencing something different than we have before.

Yet in Lucado's traditional style, it is not heavy-handed or preachy or even prescriptive. It describes what a grace-filled life is like and lets you figure out how it fits in your life, which is very appropriate for grace.

I remind my clients frequently to have grace for themselves, reminding them when appropriate, that this is what God does for us. Showing grace to others is one way, I believe, that God incarnationally gives grace to his creation.

Yet it is a struggle. Is grace always appropriate? Grace and forgiveness often go together, although they are not the same. We are often told to forgive everyone. But I'm not sure that's correct. Does God really give grace to everyone, or just the people who ask for it? He wasn't terribly gracious to the Pharisees. And where does restitution fit in? Can you give grace and still demand repayment? Are they paradoxical? These are questions I would love to see someone tackle...

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).