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2 CORINTHIANS 1:18-22
Mary, a financially destitute divorcee, has enduring peace of mind; Pamela, a multimillionaire divorcee, is miserable. Judge Michael Hider, a Superior Court Judge in Merced County (I had the honor of working with him developing a new ministry), describes the two women in his new book, which I read last week, Spiritual Healing: Making Peace With Your Past*.
Mary was married to a farm worker who beat her. She put up with the beatings until she discovered he was having an affair with Mary's best friend. They divorced and Mary was granted custody of the four children. The ex-husband left town, giving her no financial or moral support. Mary supported the family by doing farm work, taking the children with her to the fields at 4:00 A.M. What is amazing about Mary is her "never-ending, positive attitude and her enduring peace of mind." She does not complain about her ex-husband, but is grateful that he gave her four beautiful children who love her so much. "Since she carries no bad thoughts about her former husband, she has no bad feelings toward him. There is no hate in Mary's heart."
In contrast, Pamela is consumed by bitterness. Even though her husband had no extra-marital affairs, did not beat her, is an excellent father loved by his daughters, paid their college expenses; and even though Pamela received the house with its beautiful furnishings, a lot of commercial real estate, her luxury automobile, a million dollars in cash, and a monthly income that exceeds what most people in Merced earn in a year, she is bitter, filled with anger, hate and discontent. She cannot let it go, and get on with her life.
Paraphrasing the Scripture lesson read this morning, Mary says "Yes, yes" to her life, and Pamela says, "No!" God says "yes" to us, and our response is to say "yes" to God. 2 Corinthians 1:20, "For in Christ every one of God's promises is a "Yes."
John 10:10, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." That's God's promise. Mary says, "Yes, yes!" Pamela says, "No way. I prefer bitterness and spiritual poverty."
John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you." That's God's promise. Mary says, "Yes, yes!" Pamela says, "No way. I prefer anger and discontent."
Matthew 11:28, "Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." That's God's promise. Mary says, "Yes, yes!" Pamela says, "No. I prefer turmoil and self-pity."
Philippians 4:13, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." That's God's promise. Mary says, "Yes, yes!" Pamela says, "No, I prefer to suffer and feel sorry for myself."
Mary sings, "Be thou my vision." Pamela sings, "Poor little old me."
The result is that Mary gets on with her life; Pamela is paralyzed by the feelings she has about her past. Judge Hider calls it, "sitting under the cherry tree." Picture yourself sitting in a luxury car parked under a cherry tree. The motor is running, but your foot is on the brake. The cherry tree is filled with birds gorging themselves on the cherries, and then doing what comes naturally all over your car. Plop! Plop! Plop! You say, how ridiculous. I'll remove my foot from the brake, place it on the accelerator and move out from under the cherry tree. Perhaps you can, but some people can't. They are paralyzed by their memories of what happened to them'sexual molestation, physical abuse, mental abuse, unfaithful spouse, horrible divorce, alcoholism, drugs, the really stupid thing they did for which they cannot forgive themselves, how fate has hurt them by fire, flood, failing health, or the death of a loved one. They are trapped by past trauma. Plop! Plop! Plop! Not only are they trapped, but their windshield smears and obscures their perceptions of reality.
It doesn't have to be this way. You can drive out from under the plops. Our God is a God of incredible love and power. God does not want preoccupation with thoughts of past events to destroy the peace of our present moment. God wants us to be at peace with ourselves, and with God. That's God's promise.
But, you cannot have peace of mind until you make peace with your past. You cannot say "Yes, yes" to God's promises when the past is "plopping" on you!
How do you make peace with your past? Listen to what Judge Hider calls Good Life Truths.
"Past events, in and of themselves, cannot cause me to feel unhappy in the present moment. Once an event is over, it can no longer hurt me.
It is negative thinking about past events that hurts me.
The type of thought I choose to dwell upon determines how I feel."
What he is saying is that we do not have to be victims of our feelings. Thoughts cause feelings.
"Therefore, I alone am responsible for how I feel every conscious moment of my life. I have absolutely no control over past events. They cannot be changed. They are dead and gone forever. However, I have absolute control over how long I dwell upon negative thoughts about past events and the negative feelings that flow therefrom."
A key question, then, is how do you take control of your thoughts? Judge Hider has developed a unique, creative approach. Use SOAP, he says. SOAP is an acronym that stands for Stop, Obliterate, Alter and Praise.
S stands for STOP! Whenever you become aware that you are entertaining a negative, self-defeating thought, yell, "Stop!" Realize that you are being attacked by Satan when you dwell upon the sexual molestation, the bitter divorce, the shame to which you were put, your spouse's extramarital affair, your own indiscretions, alcoholism, substance abuse, you own stupid blunders, on and on'Plop! Plop! You are being attacked. Wage a counter attack. Yell, "Stop, get out of here. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
O stands for OBLITERATE. Obliterate the negative thought. Viciously draw upon the power of the Holy Spirit. Stab, stab, stab, until the thought is dead. Or, stomp, trample it to shreds. Or, kick it out of the field like a football. Or, hit it with a baseball bat. Obliterating the negative thought with real zest and imagination produces a most exhilarating feeling, exquisitely empowering!
A stands for ALTER. Replace the negative thought with pleasing thoughts: wonderful holidays and vacations with the family, hikes in the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains, lying on the beach, eating chocolate! It is very important to replace negative thoughts immediately with positive thoughts. Jesus warned in Luke 11:24-26,
"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it wanders through waterless regions looking for a resting place, but not finding any, it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' When it comes, it finds it swept and put in order. Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and live there; and the last state of that person is worse than the first."
After obliterating, fill the void with pleasant thoughts.
P stands for PRAISE! Negative thoughts are self-defeating. They make you feel worthless, ashamed, embarrassed, humiliated, discouraged, disgusted, disgraced. It is imperative that after Stopping, Obliterating, and Altering, you take a big dose of healthy self-praise. Say to yourself, "I am a good person. I have much self-worth. I am loved. It is good to be alive. I am a precious child of God." Then, praise God. "Blessed be the Lord. Blessed be your Holy Name! Thank you, Lord. Thank you for giving me SOAP so I can have peace of mind. Thank you, Lord, for making me me!"
I read another new book this past week. A college friend of ours has written an autobiography of her father, Born To Be a Winner**, by Muriel Sherman Jensen. Whenever you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself, whenever you sit under the cherry tree'plop! plop! plop!'think of Walter Sherman who said, "Yes, yes!" When Walter was born in Donnybrook, North Dakota, the doctor frowned, the nurse gasped, and Grandpa whispered, "I hope God doesn't let him live." Tears streaked down the father's face because his son had no left arm, no thumb on his tiny right hand, his face was flat on the left side of his twisted head, his body was lopsided with an enlarged right shoulder, an underdeveloped left shoulder and a curved spine. The baby's mother cried, "Oh, God, why was he born?"
The answer to her question was, "He was born to be a winner." What Walter lacked in his upper body, God compensated with lower body strength and balance. He was short, but his legs were powerful and he was very light on his feet. His personality was buoyant, his attitude positive, and his spirit indomitable.
Without a thumb on his only hand, he learned to write, build with an erector set by using his mouth and knees, play marbles, mumblety-peg with a jackknife, basketball, football and baseball'without a thumb! He played outfield, catching the ball with his glove hand, tossing it into the air while dropping the glove, catching the ball and tossing it into the infield. He became very adept at playing tennis and, as a teenager, Walter was North Dakota junior division tennis champion! He learned to ride a horse and a bicycle, and he learned to play cards, with no thumb! Notice the excellent parenting! His parents did not overprotect him. They let him try, they let him fail. Never do for children what they can do for themselves. Let them develop self-confidence, initiative, a sense of adventure and accomplishment.
The Great Depression made it very difficult for Walter. He taught in one-room country schools, married, earned a college degree, but was never able to earn enough money in education. Walter began to drink and gamble. He finally found a job visiting schools selling class rings, diplomas, etc. He became a very successful and respected salesman.
Through several spiritual experiences, God saved him from alcoholism and gambling. Walter moved Jesus 18 inches'from his head to his heart, and he was filled with joy! God used Walter mightily to do God's work. After retirement, Walter developed a prison ministry, before Chuck Colson or Friends Outside. He was very active in Lay Witness Missions, and became a leader in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He helped organize the first Christian radio station in North Dakota. He received countless awards, but the most important to him were the people he helped lead to faith in Jesus Christ.
Walter said, "Yes, yes!" Yes to his handicaps, Yes to his life, Yes to God, Yes to God's promises. Can you say "Yes, yes!"
When you are tempted to feel sorry for yourself; when you find yourself paralyzed under a cherry tree (plop! plop! plop!), remember Walter, use SOAP (Stop, Obliterate, Alter and Praise), and say "Yes, yes!"
*Spiritual Healing: Making Peace With Your Past, by Michael Sage Hider, Winepress Publishing, PO Box 428, Enumclaw, WA 98022, 1999
**Born To Be a Winner, by Muriel Sherman Jensen, Cross Training Publishing, 317 West Second Street, Grand Island, NE 68801, 1999
© 2000 Douglas I. Norris