I’m a Terrible Husband, and other Overgeneralizations

At the recommendation of a friend, I have been doing some reading on some common thinking errors and the effects of faulty thinking on one’s mood and behavior. For those who know anything about the world of psychology, this is basic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy stuff.

It interests me because I am interested in people and how people think, including myself. And I have come to realize that I am “guilty” of many of these common thinking errors. (If you want to read more about this, just Google “Common Thinking Errors” and you’ll find a wealth of information on this. This is a link to a website I found helpful.)

If you’re a theologian and reading this and are immediately skeptical because it is talking about psychology, feel free to tune out. I’m interested in this topic because I am interested in being more productive, less discouraged about myself, and combating self-defeating thinking and behavior. That is all.

I have spent years telling myself that I am an idiot, that I am worthless, that I don’t have what it takes to achieve great things, etc. etc. etc. I have spent years listening to the negative and irrational thoughts that bombard my mind, and I am looking for ways to change this thinking.

Here is a classic example of thoughts that are not true to reality. I frequently have thoughts that sound something like this: “I’m a terrible husband.” This is what therapists would call “overgeneralization” or “Filtering out the positive/Focusing only on the negative.” It’s where you take one particular event and generalize it to the rest of your life. If I make a mistake, or do something not quite right, I am, in my mind, a “Terrible husband.” Really? Is that a realistic statement? Is that a balanced outlook?

Certainly I have done some not-so-good things in our 14 years of marriage. I have certainly sinned against my wife. But is it really true that I am a “terrible husband?” My wife doesn’t think so, at least, I don’t think she thinks so. I try hard to please her. I try to be helpful and not a lazy butt. I try to show love to our children, act in a way that is respectable and responsible, etc. If I make mistakes or do things that are hurtful, I do apologize for them and seek my wife’s forgiveness. Is that really what a “terrible husband” does? Am I a “sinful husband”? Yes. Do I cause my wife pain on occasion? Yes. But “Terrible?”

I’m also guilty of “Catastrophizing.” In my mind I think of the worst possible outcome of an action (like calling on someone who is living contrary to God’s will) and I often become paralyzed out of fear. This hinders my ministry because it causes me to hold back when I need to act. Or there is the all-too-common “All or nothing” thinking. It’s black or white. “This always happens!” Everything is either a success or a failure. Good or Bad. No “shades of gray” (No reference to the recent movie.)

What fascinates me about this whole thing is how sin is involved. How is it that sin has so damaged us that we can have such irrational and not-true-to-reality thoughts that enter our brains? This is not really about replacing negative thoughts with other untrue, but positive, thoughts. It’s not about being idealistic, but simply realistic.

Is it “self-help”? Yeah, I suppose so. I’ve always (there’s that word again) “poo-pooed” stuff like this as being beneath me or something that only fluffy, non-theological types need. And, I think that there is a lot of useless stuff out there in the market. But if I can be a happier person in general, and more productive, then I might be able to do my job better, and help more people because I’m not thinking about myself all the time (Personalization).

Maybe other people don’t suffer from most of these faulty thinking errors like I do. But believe me, I do! My inner thoughts on a daily basis can be so hateful and negative toward myself that I can’t even share most of them publicly. I don’t think this is what Jesus had in mind when he said, “Whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”

If anything, this only affirms what we know to be true about our emotions and thinking–they aren’t always based on reality, and, in fact, they can be false and misleading. And, if we believe some of these thoughts that we have about ourselves or about others or our lives in general, we may find that our mood and behavior are negatively affected by them. Even to the point of being detrimental to our health. Or dangerous.

I plan to read some more about this in the future. Let me know if you have thoughts regarding this topic, or would like to see more written about it in the future. The overlap between theology and psychology is interesting to me, at least for the moment. :)

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When Sorrow Over Sin Is Lacking

There are three little words that I believe are sorely lacking in the Church today: “I am sorry.” I’m sorry. Please forgive me for __________. I think we have lost the fine art of taking responsibility for our actions, owning them, and being genuinely sorry for them. Maybe we haven’t lost anything. Maybe we never possessed that art in the first place. But I was always taught that when you do something wrong, when you hurt someone else by your words or actions, you tell them you are sorry. You ask for their forgiveness. You seek reconciliation.

What a blessing it would be in the Church and in our families if this simple rule was followed. In thirteen years in the Ministry, I think I can count on my hands (maybe even one hand) the number of times I have actually heard anyone express genuine sorrow over their sins to someone, whether that is a wife towards her husband, a husband towards his wife, children towards their parents, congregation members toward their pastor, and church member to church member. I hear a lot of defensiveness. I don’t hear much in the way of contrition.

The Bible says: “Confess your faults to one another.” If I have hurt someone by my words or actions, then the right thing to do is to confess. Apologize. Seek reconciliation. It’s true that today, people seem to be offended easily and by everything. And we need to evaluate our words and actions and see if we have truly wronged someone. It may sometimes be the case that someone is wrongly offended.

On the other side of that coin is the willingness to forgive, from the heart, someone who sins against us or offends us in some way. There have been times when I have expressed sorrow or remorse to someone over the fact that I had clearly wronged them, and received no word of forgiveness or compassion from them. In addition, I have witnessed numerous times in my Ministry this same thing happening between other people. These are supposed to be members of Christ’s Church!

Confession and forgiveness are at the heart of our relationship not only with God but with each other. Christ spoke very strongly to this in the holy Gospel, saying, “If you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” This is not optional in the Christian life. Refusal to forgive and strive to live at peace with your Christian brothers and sisters is grounds for suspension from the Lord’s Table. That is how serious this is.

To live as a Christian means that we confess our sins not only to God, but if we have wronged our neighbor, to him as well. And it also means forgiving from the heart those who have wronged us. We should be ready and willing to speak a word of forgiveness and peace to those who come to us confessing their sins against us. Where this happens on a regular basis, great blessings will be reaped. Where it does not happen, where people fail to take responsibility for sin and refuse to forgive those who sin against them, then anger, resentment, and hurt feelings will be the result.

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Sermon for Invocabit – 1 Samuel 17:40-51; Matthew 4:1-11

Still needs a bit of editing and condensing, but here’s the raw material for Sunday.

Beloved saints in Christ:

David must have looked pretty puny next to Goliath. How silly he must have looked with his five smooth stones and a sling. It reminds me of a scene in the Monty Python classic “The Search for the Holy Grail.” A guy has all his arms and legs cut off, and still he comes at the knight saying, “I’ll head-butt you to death.” It’s laughable.

David had all his arms and legs, but still. This was insanity. This was suicide. What kind of a fool would think that he could defeat a Philistine giant like Goliath with nothing more than a few stones? And then to say such crazy things like, “I will strike you down and cut off your head.” He must have been the laughing stock of his whole family. What was David thinking?

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Five things every congregation should know about their young, new pastor (and why they should be grateful to have him)

Five things you should know about your young, new pastor (And why you should be grateful to have him):

  1. He just spent the last four years sitting at the feet of learned theologians and receiving pastoral education. He is now eager to share what he has learned with others. You get to benefit from that eagerness to teach. It is to your advantage that you joyfully receive the instruction that he desires to give.
  1. He has taken a solemn oath at his ordination to be faithful in his teaching and in the carrying out of pastoral care. This means that he is ultimately responsible to Jesus for the souls that are entrusted to his care. He does not take this lightly, and you should expect him to act accordingly. So, for example, you should expect him to confront openly manifest sinners in the congregation with their sins to bring them to repentance. And, you should support him in this. You should expect your new pastor to address false belief in the congregation and/or poor practices. This is what he has been trained to do. This task is made the more difficult if his predecessor did not address these issues. You will be tempted to get angry at him for calling “foul” when he sees something that is amiss. You should resist this temptation and instead, ask him to instruct you in these matters so you will be stronger.
  1. He just spent the last four years sitting at the feet of learned theologians and receiving pastoral education. It will take time for him to learn about you, what makes you tick, to get to know the wool of his sheep. It will take time for him to grow comfortable in the shoes of being a pastor. Be patient with him as he learns to take what he has learned and communicate it to you in terms that you can understand. Be patient with him as he learns from mistakes. This is the most loving thing you can do for him is to be patient. As men are preparing for the holy ministry, they are constantly told, “Be patient with your congregations. Do not do everything at once that you wish to do.” But this can go both ways. St. Paul says that love is above all “patient and kind.”
  1. He likely misses his friends and family. You are surrounded by yours. He and his family (if he has one) have just left good friends and possibly family and moved to a completely new place with totally new people. It is easier in our day to connect with those friends and colleagues through social media and email, but this is no substitute for real, face to face interaction. It’s okay—he’s been preparing for this and so has his wife and family. He’s been taught to view his new parish as a paradise, even with all of its flaws and faults. But be understanding of his need to interact socially, to go to conferences and other events where he will be able to see classmates and acquaintances. Invite him and his family over for dinner or if not dinner then a beer. Take some time to get to know him and his background. This will show him that he does not need to be apprehensive or guarded around you. It will show him that you care about him, that you see him as a person and not just someone who baptizes, confirms, marries, and buries people for a living.
  1. He believes that you actually want to hear and learn the Word and that you care about doctrine. Try not to disappoint him! He’ll learn soon enough that this is not always the case. But you don’t want him to be jaded too soon or become burned out. That would be of no advantage to you. When a pastor is unable to conduct his ministry with joy because he constantly encounters resistance or lack of interest on the part of the people, it is the congregation that suffers. Let me repeat—it is the congregation that suffers. On the other hand, the congregation that encourages its pastor to do what he has been called to do and does not hinder his work will reap great rewards.

Saint Paul reminded Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). All too often, congregations do just that—despise their pastor because of his youth. They don’t think they are doing that. They think it is their job to teach him, to make him a better pastor. And pastors do learn a lot from their members. But remember that no matter what age your pastor is, he has a Divine Call. With that Call comes authority to preach God’s Word publicly and to exercise the Office of the Keys. He will learn many things by sheer experience. Like you in your jobs, he will learn many things by trial and error. This is normal and this is natural. All will benefit, pastor and congregation, when just a little bit of understanding, patience, forgiveness, and long-suffering is shown toward the new pastor. You expect no less from him.

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Beware of Loving Human Peace Too Much

“Peace, therefore, as we now have it, is to be treated as something that ought to be both loved and contemned; otherwise, if it is loved immoderately, the soul of him who loves it may be caught in sin. Consequently, the peaceable are also to be admonished not to desire human peace too much and so fail entirely to reprove the evil conduct of men.”

I came across this as I was reading St. Gregory the Great’s “Pastoral Care” this morning. It is a very good reminder, both to pastors as well as members of the congregation. No one likes to be a “disturber of the peace.” As a pastor I can say that nothing gives me more angst than to have to speak up when something is amiss. We love our peace–our earthly peace. We love concord, and that’s not a bad thing. Gregory says we should love it. But he also says we should hate it too. We should not get so comfortable with this world’s peace that we dare not risk it by opening our mouths in reproof or by pointing out an error in doctrine. The temptation is strong to maintain earthly concord, but to do this immoderately, says Gregory, we run the risk of jeopardizing our eternal peace.

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The Harder I Try, the Worse I Do


I don’t know if other people can relate to this, but it seems like the harder I try to live a God-pleasing life, the harder I try to avoid sin, the more of a sinner I become. The more I strive to curb my thoughts and actions, the more unholy my thoughts and actions seem to become.

This seems to be the case especially during the Season of Lent. It is the season of fasting, and yet I hunger more for food and drink than ever before. It is the season of increased devotion to Christ, and yet at no other time of the year do I feel less motivated to pray. It is the season of repentance and casting off dead works of the flesh, and yet it almost seems as though my fleshly desires become more active than they do at any other time of the year. Which leads me to conclude that perhaps, Lent is really bad for me. Or really good, depending on which way you look at it.

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Be Careful What You Wish For…


We’ve all heard the expression, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it.” I think the same rule can be applied to prayer.

Many years ago, before I was a pastor, before I was married with children, I prayed that the Lord would teach me the Theology of the Cross. It was during my later college years and into my first couple years of seminary that I frequently found myself uttering this prayer. I knew that it was something I needed to learn. I knew it was something that was important. I had read much in books and journal articles about Luther’s Theologia Crucis, and I wanted to know it. To learn it. So I truly and honestly prayed that God would teach it to me.

Sometimes I wish that I had not been so fervent in this prayer. Because what I didn’t realize at the time was that one cannot learn the Theology of the Cross from books alone. It was not merely his reading of books that taught Luther to look at life through suffering and the cross, but his own experience of the cross in his life. His own suffering, terrors, and trials, his internal struggles and battles–these, finally, are what taught Luther the theology of the cross.

Suffice to say that God has answered my prayer, over and over again. In many and various ways, He has schooled me in the theology of the cross, but it has not been a free education. The tuition has been costly. I confess that I have not always borne well the crosses that God has laid on me. And for this I repent. But there is only one way to get the juice out of a fruit and that is to squeeze the hell out of it. So, I suppose the fruit that God has squeezed out of me is that my fervent prayer has now become, “Come, Lord, quickly.”

What makes the trials and afflictions of life bearable is the fact one day they will come to an end. One day, God will deliver us all from this vale of tears and sorrow, and take us to himself in heaven. And the pain and misery that was endured in this life will not be remembered any more. The thoughts that daily plague my mind will finally cease, and there will be unending joy. This is what gives me comfort in difficult times. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Christ suffered, and then He rose. Sorrow gave way to joy. Come, Lord, quickly.

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