Salvation ... comes from the Lord ... because they take refuge in him. (Psalm 37:39-40)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Unoffendable Heart

I explained in the previous article how self-honesty and humility are keys to building our mental and emotional health.  I discussed unrecognized offense as a barrier to experiencing the true benefits of forgiveness.  Since forgiveness is at the core of the Christian faith, I will explore this further specifically for the Christ-followers.  
I hear Christians use the expression “unoffendable heart,” but often what is being communicated is not healthy and not Christ-centered. I think the unoffendable heart is a myth.  I can say “yes” to refusing to allow offense to take root and wreck relationships.  I can say “yes” to not allowing offense to steal inner peace.  But denying the existence of offense can destroy inner peace and authenticity in relationships.
First, let’s explore the definition of offense.  The word offense has multiple meanings in the English language making it sometimes difficult to communicate about the topic.  The Webster’s 1828 dictionary list six definitions using the following words and phrases; displeasure, anger, scandal, cause of stumbling, transgression of law, crime, sin, act of wickedness or omission of duty, injury, attack, assault, or impediment.  The same word “offense” can be used to describe both the offending behavior, and the inner response on the part of the person offended.  The offense may be real or just perceived by an offended person.  It may be genuine or imagined.  It may be intentional or unintentional on the part of the offender.  The word, by itself, does not make these distinctions.  
Because of the broken world we live in, offense is part of life.  Sometimes we are on the offended side of the coin, but sometimes we are an offender.  We crave justice when we are the one offended, and we crave mercy when we are the offender.  Taking offense in our heart  is sometimes unavoidable.  Accidents happen.   Losses occur. Changes, criticisms, conflicts etc. are part of common human experience.  Feelings are hurt.  The greater the loss caused by offense, generally the deeper it effects our heart condition.  To deny or minimize the emotional impact of loss created by offense can be very destructive to our physical and mental condition.   While we cannot control many of the things (and certainly not the people) around us,  we CAN control our responses to them.  Though our heart can not always be shielded from offense, we can choose to respond in an unoffendable manner. Inner heart condition must be distinguished from outward actions and reactions, however, the inner life determines these actions.      
Jesus himself teaches about a requirement for heart transformation as part of discipleship.  He says, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him or her.  For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,  adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  All these evils come from inside and defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23).  In the book of Matthew Jesus also taught that actions (offenses) like murder and adultery have bitter root offenses at their origin. The outward action is not the only offense, but also the inner life that created these actions.    “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’  But I say, if you are even angry with someone,  you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot,  you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone,  you are in danger of the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:21-23; NLT).  Thinking of a person with condemnation is both an offense, and the origin of offensive actions. As a person who has been offended, you become an offender yourself when you cross the line from judging their actions as wrong, to critically judging them for who they are as a person (calling them an idiot as Jesus is quoted above).   
Condemning judgments are also addressed in other parts of the Bible.  A strong warning says, “See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).  
Inner bitterness and resentment are created by critical judgments which end in  “defiling” a person’s actions and relationships.  The anger we feel when we are offended contains the roots for bitterness and resentment to form.    It says in Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26).  It is not a sin to feel anger, but it is wrong to allow anger to create an inner condition of things like bitterness, resentment, and condemnation.   
So, as I see it, to claim an “unoffendable” heart is to ignore feelings God gives us as warnings of danger.  The enemy of our soul uses bitter roots to steal our peace and joy as well as causing the defilement mentioned above.  The truth is, without Jesus, our heart is “offensive” to God.  Being born into a broken world means we are born with a broken heart.  Our broken condition is not correctable without Christ Jesus.  We can try in our own strength to forgive an offense, or avoid being an offender on the other side of the coin, but those efforts are limited by our frail human condition.  It is the offended heart that points us to Jesus.  As a disciple of Jesus, the solution to offense is forgiveness (see John 20:21-23).   
Forgiveness is a Gift given by God.  The work of forgiveness has been accomplished by God’s Son Jesus.  We esteem Jesus (and the work he did in dying on the cross), by allowing Him to be the guilty one for our offenses (see Isaiah 53:3).  If we claim not to be offendable, we bypass what Jesus did, and take on the work that was done for us, through Jesus.  Decisions made solely based on our own human strength and will power amount to self-righteousness.  Our righteousness comes through faith is Christ alone (see Philippians 3:7-11).  Our faith is demonstrated by surrendering our offended heart to Jesus.  If we claim an unoffendable status of heart, we nullify any need for faith in Jesus.  
Too often the "unoffendable heart" becomes an excuse for not being willing to confront a critiical judgments.  Our default human nature prefers to deny offenses and pretend they don't exist.  So the “unoffendable heart” becomes a code word for saying, "I'm not going to let myself consider the possibility that I might be bitter, holding a grudge, casting blame, or feeling hurt in my heart.   That is not a good place to be!   
I hear people say, “I don’t get offended easily.”  That is a another myth.  All people become offended easily.  When a person believes they do not offend easily, they must spend a huge amount of energy to tightly control (sometimes unknowingly) situations and people around them.  I know because I used to be one of those people who thought I did not offend easily.  I learned that the ability to control eventually runs out.  Reality also tells us that very little (outside of our inner life) is in our control.  
Our broken, offendable heart offends easily and often.  Offenses are like weeds in a garden.  New weeds keep coming back even after the weeds are pulled from the garden.  Old weeds will return as well if they are not pulled by the roots. If left go, weeds will overtake the good plants growing in the garden.  Keeping the garden soil of our heart free of offense (weeds) requires surrendering our heart to God.   Pulling the weeds allows us to produce the good fruit of accomplishing our divinely created purpose for being.  
If there is an unoffendable heart in our universe, it is the heart of God.  The ancient King David wrote,
You, Lord, are forgiving and good,
    abounding in love to all who call to you.
Hear my prayer, Lord;
    listen to my cry for mercy.
When I am in distress, I call to you,
    because you answer me.
Among the gods there is none like you, Lord;
    no deeds can compare with yours.
All the nations you have made
    will come and worship before you, Lord;
    they will bring glory to your name.
For you are great and do marvelous deeds;
    you alone are God.
Teach me your way, Lord,
    that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart,
    that I may fear your name.”  (Psalm 86:5-11)
God’s forgiveness takes care of ALL offenses (those of our own and others).  God’s solution (Son Jesus dying as a substitute) satisfies both mercy and justice at the same time.   We can come to God (offenses and all) and receive His Gift of forgiveness.  We then have the status of son or daughter (Ephesians 1:3-5), and can be taught to rely on His Father faithfulness.  We can join David in asking for an “undivided heart” (fully devoted) that comes through the transformational process of turning more and more of our offended heart over to Jesus.  What offenses might be in your heart to turn over today?   Let me encourage you to take the next step toward God today.  God’s heart is for you to know Him, and for Him to be known by you.  

Note:   A book I authored Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart discusses truth for dealing with disappointments, offense and finding freedom through forgiveness (from a Christian perspective).  See more about the book by going to this site: .

by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Emotion Quotient

Emotion Quotient (EQ) is the measurement for identifying EC. In the previous two articles we examined how emotional capacity (EC) is directly linked to perceived worth and value as a human being. We discussed how shame destroys emotional health and how vulnerability is necessary to chase away the shame.  
Two core elements of vulnerability are discussed next;  honesty and humility.  
I researched  the topic of forgiveness for three years as part of a seminary doctorate degree I completed in 2010.  I learned many amazing things about forgiveness that changed my life forever.  I authored a book Escaping the Pain of Offense: Empowered to Forgive from the Heart to help people find the freedom that true forgiveness provides.  The book is written from a Christian perspective, but principles apply  universally.  I continue to learn more, but the ironic thing about learning to forgive is that, at any given moment,  I am only one offense away from my next lesson in forgiveness.   The necessity to forgive is always preceded by an offense.  Forgiving an offense is not merely a mental decision.  Forgiving involves the emotional capacity (vulnerability) to recognize offense and take the necessary action to surrender ultimate judgment to a higher power.  I discovered that most people do not truly understand and practice forgiveness because they do not understand the nature of offense and its negative impact on their emotional and mental health.  Everyone needs to grow in forgiveness because everyone both offends and gets offended.  Offense is the core issue.
A person’s reaction to offense is a primary indicator of EQ.  Recognizing an offense, wrestling with the reality of loss, and facing the painful emotions takes hard work, but there are no short cuts to building EC.   When our heart is offended, our mind will usually try to cover it up as a self-protection mechanism. The first step to uncovering our mind’s scheme is to be willing to admit our heart’s offense.  When negative thoughts and feelings produce anger and undue fear towards someone who has done us wrong, we must be willing to drill down inside our heart and discover roots of offense. It’s not about the other person’s actions, it’s about your response to them.   Some people believe a myth that they are harder to offend than others.  The truth is, we all offend easily and that’s where honesty comes in.  
Self-honesty begins with awareness.  Am I acting on truth or falsehood?  Am I deceiving myself about the real, for real, motive behind my reactions?  Am I merely numbing pain with some of the actions discussed in the previous article (over eating, over medicating, using pornography, over stimulating with technology etc.)?  These questions should be asked of self when you feel disappointed, discomforted, displeased, frustrated, etc to uncover the stronger feelings of rejection, shame, unworthiness, and the like.  
I think failure to handle offense adequately is the greatest block to building emotional capacity.  It estounds me how frequently people declare, “I’m not really angry,” but then constantly blame and condemn other people, justify their own bad behavior, and show obvious gestures of frustration and discontent about the situation for which they deny the anger.  People claim not to be offended, but show obvious emotions of pain and discomfort and even lash out in slander and gossip of the person they feel wounded by.  The anger usually points to a deeper root of bitter judgment linked to offense.  These judgments are often so common they are difficult to recognize as offense.
The world operates under natural laws that shape reality.  Breaking these laws (realities) produce consequences.  For example, the law of gravity demonstrates disastrous results for jumping out a building on the 10th floor without a landing device. I believe God created these laws for mankind’s benefit.  Truth can be defined as God’s view of reality.  Each person has their own perspective of reality. When the perspective lines up with truth (God’s reality), things go well.  When things are not going well, it usually means that our perception(s) of realtiy are out of whack somewhere.  Being honest with ourselves about our true condition, makes all the difference.  For example, the law of sowing and reeping says that when a person does good deeds, good results will follow.  When a person does bad deeds, bad will follow.  When a person drinks too much alcohol and drives a car, they endanger themselves and others around them.  If a person is charged with DUI, they are failing to be honest about the effects of alcohol and their ability to drive.  When we are unable or unwilling to be honest about our true condition, this is an indicator of low self-worth and low EQ.  When we have a poor image of self as evidenced by feelings of rejection, shame, and unworthiness, our perceptions of reality will cause self-defeat and self-destruction.   
Accepting this truth also takes humility.  Just behind honesty, humility becomes the second major demonstration of healthy vulnerability.  Being humble is not a show of weakness, but it is strength.  Being humble knows the difference between self-confidence and pride. Being humble puts other people’s interests ahead of self.  Life’s true meaning and purpose is found in adding value to other people’s  lives.   Maybe the most telling aspect of humility (and the most crucial to EQ), is the degree to which a person is teachable.  Teachableness is not merely measured by receiving raw knowledge, but also the willingness to apply that knowledge appropriately.  The writer of the ancient Proverbs called this wisdom.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).  The “fear” of the Lord is speaking of respect and honor of God as the source of truth and natural laws (realities of the way the world operates).  A person shows humility when they receive and practice input from other people.  Seeking and relying on truth from God’s higher authority is the most solid foundation for building EQ.  
Most people follow one of two remedies to deal with hurt from life circumstances or relationships. People try their best to pretend things are better than they really are  (denial), or they live to relieve it at all cost (addictive behaviors).  Whether people deny or over-gratify, at some point, they become more painfully aware of their desperate state of human weakness and inability to effect lasting change without higher power resources.  For people to let go of denial or false refuge to face the truth about themselves is sometimes a fearful step. The tension in the inner person between God pushing truth up and a fearful mind pushing the truth down is a form of anxiety.   Part of a person is wise and wants to know the truth. Part of the person is foolish and fears the truth.  For the God-follower, as I write in my book mentioned above, God’s Spirit “reveals the difference, and will bring healing to those who humble themselves and are willing to be cooperative. As people give up their fear of the truth and trust God to forgive them just as they are, then they can begin to surrender themselves and learn to rest in the salvation of God’s grace.
Truth (God’s view of reality) is the best “measuring stick” for emotional capacity.  Only God knows the degree to which a person makes their heart vulnerable to truth.  A truly honest and humble heart receives truth even when it hurts.  The Psalmist says, “Behold, You desire truth in the innost be ing“ (Psalm 51:6; NASB). Receiving (believing) the truth always involves giving up falsehood.  For example, for a long time I’ve believed that God loves me.  However, my thoughts about God’s love towards me are much different now than five, ten, even one year ago.  Why?  Because intentional vulnerability has allowed me to root out a huge amount of falsehood from my heart.  “God loves me,”My life has meaning,“ “I know who I am” have deeper meaning because there is less falsehood. The following falsehoods have less grip on my thinking: “I’m not good enough for God to love me,”  “I’m nobody,” “I’m not worthy,” “I’ll never be good enough,” and the like.
  Sometimes pondering the answers to questions can help reveal our true beliefs.  Some of the questions below may be tougher for you than others.  
What do I think about vulnerability?  
Do I allow myself to feel?  
Am I afraid to be honest with myself?  What do I fear?
Am I honest with myself about my mental and  emotional condition?  
What positive expressions would I like to see more of in my life (eg. Love, joy, peace …)?
How could being more honest with myself about my emotional condition produce better results?
Are any of my activities/ behaviors numbing pain?  
If so, what kind of help do I need to address the problem?
Am I truly willing to make the adjustments necessary for lasting transformation?  
What is the next step for improvement?   
Can I do it now?  What is the date/ time the step will be taken by?
My hope is that self-honesty and humility will guide you to some answers so you can find vulnerability for growth. Take action, and come back to questions like these in a week or month and repeat for building emotional quotient. Growing as a person, parent, or leader requires more than intelligence, skill, and experience.  Emotion cannot be measured in quantity, but in quality of expression.  True meaning and purpose await a response.
 by Ed Hersh, Blue Rock BnB Healing Ministry