Some Thoughts On Self-Improvement

How do we grow in character? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been doing a lot of personal work on myself lately and I wanted to share some of that with you all. I don’t want to go into reasons, but I have a firm determination to live my life and enjoy it despite circumstances. Lately, I have noticed a strong struggle I have with anxiety. I have been recommended to read Telling Yourself The Truth which I have read before, but I am going through it again on Kindle and this time highlighting. I personally find it easier to highlight on Kindle instead of in a print book.

When I finish a chapter a day of that, I have also been reading some Albert Ellis. While he was an atheist, Ellis came up with a remarkable theory in psychology and self-help that I do think is thoroughly Biblical. We often think that we are angry or depressed or what-have-you because of the circumstancecs in our lives. There is no doubt that these do play a part in our moods in our day to day living. However, they are not the main causes of our emotions.

Many people will have many different reactions to the same event. Consider on one extreme, for example, my friend David Wood, if he is told that a loved one has died. His reaction? Most likely, something along the lines of “That sucks” and goes on with his day. He’s a sociopath after all and has no emotions. Then there are some people who are heavily emotional and will depending on the person be practically suicidal. Most people will not go to either of those extremes and will be found in the middle.

So you say “People will have different responses because they are different” and that is Ellis’s insight here. What happens to you can be awful and undesirable by you, but what is really the worst about it is what you tell yourself about it. If you have a loved one die, that is a tragedy and you will naturally feel sad and grieve. If you tell yourself that it’s the end of the world and there’s no point in living, then don’t be surprised when you arrive in a suicidal tailspin.

There have been times I’m sure many of us have been in a suicidal state over a powerful loss. If you have to get help, which I do recommend, do so. There is no shame in seeking a therapist out. I have one that I talk to in addition to my own work and many therapists themselves go to see therapists since they can be blind to their own bad thinking. Ultimately though, if you make any person indispensable to your life, you are making that person into a god, and only one is worthy of that kind of attention.

I have also been working on something else for myself and this is something extremely difficult on the spectrum. I suspect many neurotypicals do this naturally, but I don’t for sure. That has been eye contact. At the most, this should be no more than three seconds. Still, at least one second. Smiling is also recommended and then just learning to make polite conversation. I still hate small talk, but I will talk about something of substance.

Why bring this up? Because I wrote yesterday about self-control in areas that we are lacking. These are some of mine. I recognize I am prone to anxious thinking, have difficulty with social interactions, and that I need to work on these. There are other areas to be sure, but these are some I’m trying to conquer first.

Now as a Christian, of course, I advocate prayer and leaning on God, but remember the saying that not even God can drive a parked car. All the prayer in the world will not matter if we are not willing to bend ourselves. You can pray all you want to for God to help you lose that extra weight, but if you refuse to diet and exercise, it’s not going to happen. You can pray that God will help you learn another language, but if you never pick up the book and study, it just won’t happen.

In the same way, if you pray and that is all you do, then you are essentially asking God to do the work for you, which He will not. You are told to die to yourself. No one else can do that for you.

This is also good news though. It means the power to change your own life and how you live is fully possible. If you are a Christian, you should realize this. Philippians is one of the best books on the nature of joy in the New Testament, or even the whole Bible. Where was it written from? A prison cell. No. This was not a prison where Paul was served three square meals a day and had cable TV and a workout room. This was a prison no one would want to be in.

Yet Paul had joy.

Honestly, in light of all that we can complain about, we’re pretty pathetic. Paul is dealing with an actual prison cell and many of us get upset if someone cuts us off in traffic or says something negative about us on Facebook. This is not to discount that we can have some real problems, but let us put it in perspective. Most of what we stress about won’t be bothering us a year from now. Naturally, some things will. Just today, I posted in a group I’m in about one of our own who committed suicide last year and from time to time, I still think about him and ask “If I had stayed in his life, with what I do in ministry, could I have helped him?” It’s really futile thinking, but it’s something we have a tendency to do. Events like that will stick with us, but the good news is they don’t have to hurt as much as they do initially or control our lives. That’s up to us.

It’s also good to do this with other Christians and to have a thorough knowledge of Scripture to remind you of the promises you hold to. Again, if you need a therapist also, there’s no shame in getting one. If your case is severe, I don’t even rule out medication. For some people, it can practically be a necessity, but I would advise that if you seek medication, seek therapy also.

The main takeaway from this is developing Christian character is within our grasp, if we develop the needed self-discipline and lean on God working in us. We have to be willing. I heard the saying once from Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft that, and he quoting someone else, that if you are not a saint right now, it is because you do not want to be one. No matter what branch of Christianity you hold to, saint is a title none of us should hesitate to seek. Do you want to be one? Then aim for it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Feeling vs. Being

Where is our focus in society today? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I have been pondering lately and this is still open-ended, as all our ponderings should be, about where the focus is in our society and many of the connections come across various lines of thought. For example, this past Saturday I had Mormons come and visit me. If you have ever dialogued with them, you know where they point to every time. It is an experience. It is the burning in the bosom.

I am also going through a book called Irreparable Damage written from a secular perspective on teenage girls coming out as transgender. Part of the work today is affirmation therapy where it looks like if a patient claims to be transgender, well, they are, and it’s best to affirm their attitude and if the parents don’t the child could kill themselves. It is not about why they feel this way or if they should. The inner attitude is given precedence.

While driving, I am also going through Peggy Orenstein’s book on CD, Girls and Sex. Last night, I heard her talk about how girls are having operations done on their genitals while they are teenagers merely for the sake of appearance. These operations do not improve sexual pleasure or function and can actually impede it. Still, these girls are doing this just to make sure they don’t gross a boy out in a possible sexual encounter. As an aside, if you are a parent of girls, either teenage or on their way, you really need to read this book and see what’s coming.

All of these have a common theme and it runs throughout our society. We live in a world where we talk so much about how we feel and talk very little about how we are. Not only that, we are responsible for how everyone else outside of us feels. This does not mean we cause unnecessary pain, but the only person we are in control of us is ourselves. If you feel offended and hurt by what I say or do, it could be I’m a jerk, but it could also be that you need to work on how you receive information and process it.

We don’t often ask what kind of character we are producing. Do we feel good about ourselves, as per the self-esteem movement? That is what is most important to people today. What should be of utmost importance is what kind of character we are producing. Are we becoming good and virtuous people?

After all, there are many times where we should not feel good. I think of my friend David Wood. When his mother died, he was able to go out to a diner and hang out with his friends like normal. Why? Not because he’s heartless, but because he is actually a sociopath and feels no sadness when someone dies.

Sometimes, we may think that is a good position to be in, but would we really want that always? If your loved one died, would you not want to be able to feel the sorrow and mourn it. Sometimes, we want to treat the sorrow as if it is the problem when sorrow can be healthy at times. If you are a normal person and you feel nothing when a loved one dies, that is a cause of concern.

Suppose you are an alcoholic. One of the most loving things someone can do is to not affirm you in your alcoholism. You might need someone to get in your face and tell you you have a problem and are destroying your life unless you get some help. If that’s what it takes to wake you up, that’s what it takes.

This is also true in evangelism. I know some people who didn’t become Christians until someone had the guts to get in their face and tell them they were a sinner. If you want to find gentle Jesus, meek and mild, do not go to the New Testament. He’s not there. This is the Jesus who referred to His own chief apostle as Satan at one point and who called the Pharisees sons of Hell. He was gentle on those who recognized their lack, but on others, He was highly confrontational.

Let’s also talk about the girls having operations done. Too often we are discussing how girls feel about their bodies. Boys can think this way too, but it is largely girls. Very ltitle time is discussed asking what they do with their bodies. Are they using their bodies in a way that is proper to the nature of the body?

For those of us who are Christians, we would contend that the modern sexual ethic is a war against reality. It is our prediction that the further we go down this road, the more chaos will break apart in society. One can only bump against reality for so long before reality will bump back and reality won’t care if it hurts us or not.

Instead of starting with how we feel per se, we should start with how we are. What are we being? What are we doing? A negative feeling could be a bad way of thinking we need to drop, or it could be an indication that we are doing something that is wrong.

If we hold to objective morality in any sense and to objective goodness, there is a right and a wrong to be done. There is a real good to be sought and real evil to be avoided. (Note that I singularized the good and generalized the evil. There’s a reason for that.) If none of those are true, then let’s eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die. If they are true, then we could feel great about ourselves and be on the path to destruction.

Think about Brave New World. In this society, everyone was feeling good about themselves and it was a pleasure-oriented society, but it was a nightmare as well. The people didn’t know it and were slaves to their passions and their science both. This is not to say passions and science are bad things, but they are not meant to control us either.

There is no easy solution to this as our society is very far gone in this measure. For those of us who are Christians, it is a return to character and virtue that will most help us out here, working on ourselves and on our children especially. It will also be an open pursuit of virtue as well. We will need to seek to be holy, especially since our own book tells us in Hebrews 12 that without holiness no one will see the Lord. If we want to see Him, we have to be holy.

Again, this is open-ended and with all my posts, I hope this leads to discussion all the more. I look forward to your thoughts.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Are People Inherently Good?

Are we inherently good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to say at the outset that much of my thinking on this is influenced by Clay Jones’s book¬†Why Does God Allow Evil? I would like to say the thinking was all mine, but it was not. I am near the end of Jones’s book and I do hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday while I was out driving I heard the end of a radio talk show asking if people are good or evil inherently. I tried to call in and answer, but they never got around to me. Since I didn’t get to say what I think on the air, why not say it here?

After the flood, we are told that humans have their every inclination to evil. We all know that a child has to be trained to be good. Being evil is something that seems to come naturally to us. Why do we not often notice this? It is because we live in a culture that has been so Christianized that we no longer consider how radical the Christian ethic was at its time. Today, we look at slavery as something that is just obviously wrong. Go back to the first century Roman Empire and try to convince your average citizen of that. Good luck.

One point Jones brings out is about genocide. Who are the people who do genocide? We would normally think of these people, probably from watching movies and TV shows, as the classical villains who do nothing but think about evil all day long and delight in death and destruction. Not really. Many of the people who ran the concentration camps of the holocaust would be people who would go home and be excellent parents and spouses and be really kind to their neighbors. So what kind of people were they ultimately?

People like you and me.

Really. There is not a great gap separating people capable of genocide. This was found out even further by the Milgram experiment. At the instruction of an authority figure, ordinary people would do actions that could have in other circumstances led to the killing of an innocent human being. You can read about that here.

If you at this point in fact start to think that you are better than the person committing genocide or the person who gives the lethal voltage in the Milgram experiment, congratulations. You have already taken the first step in becoming that person who is committing genocide and capable of giving lethal voltage. You have already assumed that you are incapable of falling like that.

Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We look at it and see the problem of the Pharisee saying that he is not like the tax collector. What’s the problem then? We go and say “God. I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.” Oh, we might not explicitly say that, but that is a thought that can come into our minds. Most of us, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are more like the Pharisee than the tax collector.

In the video game¬†Earthbound, at one point the party of heroes goes through a cave and the main character realizes his thoughts are being broadcast on a wall in written form for all to see. Most of us would want to flee out of such a cave as quickly as possible. Most of us I suspect know about the evil inside of us and the thoughts that come through our heads where we wonder “Where did that come from?”

In fact, our society seems to have lost the idea of virtue. I have been considering lately how so many books and such deal with feelings people have, and in a sense, that needs to be dealt with, but very rarely do we deal with the character of a person that can lead to those feelings. The problem we often have is not fixing ourselves, as in our character flaws and such, but fixing how we feel about ourselves.

So where do I come down? People can do good, but the example given on the show was would you pick up a $20 bill for someone if you saw them drop it and they didn’t notice? The sad reality is someone like Hitler might just do that and then go back and gas thousands of Jews and see no wrong in it.

When you see someone doing evil, realize that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could be that person. This is what makes forgiveness such a key issue. We forgive because God has forgiven us and that could just as easily be us. We need to show mercy because were it not for grace, we could be that person. We need to be desiring that that person grow in character and virtue instead of being where they are.

This should result in humility in all of us. We are all capable of great evil and we must all watch ourselves and be building ourselves up to be the persons that we need to be so we don’t become those people who do evil. Never once do we need to say that we are above a certain sin. If we think that, we are far more prone to fall into it.

And of course then, we must all rely on Christ more and more. The cross is the demonstration of His love for us and to that we must return. At the foot of the cross, we all realize we’re fallen and evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters