EHR 2 Stop Mind Reading and Clarify Expectations
10/15/2017 2:37:31 PM
“EHR 2 Stop Mind Reading and Clarify Expectations”
October 15, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Colossians 3:1-10
A guy named Roger is driving his girlfriend, Gloria, home from dinner one night, when Gloria says, "Do you realize that, as of tonight, we've been seeing each other for exactly six months?" There is silence in the car. To Gloria, it seems like a very loud silence.
Gloria (thinking): Geez, I wonder if it bothers him that I said that. Maybe he's been feeling confined by our relationship; maybe he thinks I'm trying to push him into some kind of obligation that he doesn't want, or isn't sure of.
Roger (thinking): Gosh. Six months.
Gloria (thinking): But, hey, I'm not so sure I want this kind of relationship, either. Sometimes I wish I had a little more space, so I'd have time to think about whether I really want us to keep going the way we are...I mean, where are we going? Are we just going to keep seeing each other at this level of intimacy? Are we heading toward marriage? Toward children? Toward a lifetime together? Am I ready for that level of commitment? Do I really even know this person?
Roger (thinking): So that means it was...let's see...February when we started going out, which was right after I had the car at the dealer's, which means...lemme check the odometer...Whoa, I am way overdue for an oil change here. And I don’t care what they said about the transmission, it still isn’t shifting right!
Gloria (thinking): He's upset. I can see it on his face. Maybe I'm reading this completely wrong. Maybe he wants more from our relationship, more intimacy, more commitment; maybe he has sensed, even before I sensed it, that I was feeling some reservations. Yes, I bet that's it. That's why he's so reluctant to say anything about his own feelings. He's afraid of being rejected.
Gloria (thinking): Maybe I'm just too idealistic, waiting for a knight to come riding up on his white horse, when I'm sitting right next to a perfectly good person, a person I truly do care about, a person who is in pain because of my self-centered schoolgirl romantic fantasy.
Gloria (aloud): Roger?
Roger (startled): What?
Gloria (her eyes filling with tears): Please don't torture yourself like this. Maybe I should never have...Oh, I feel so...
Gloria (sobbing): I'm such a fool. I mean, I know there's no knight. I really know that. It's silly. There's no knight, and there's no horse.
Roger: There's no horse?
Gloria: You think I'm a fool, don't you?
Roger (relieved finally to know the right answer): No.
Gloria: It's just that...It's that I...I need some time.
Roger (after a 15-second pause during which he is thinking as fast as he can, trying to come up with a safe response. Finally he comes up with one that he thinks might work.): Yes.
Gloria (deeply moved, touching his hand): Oh, Roger, do you really feel that way?
Roger: What way?
Gloria: That way about time.
Roger: Oh. Yes.
Gloria (gazing deeply into Roger's eyes, causing him to become very nervous about what she might say next. At last she speaks.): Thank you, Roger.
Roger: Thank you.
Then he takes her home, and she lies on her bed and cries until dawn. Roger goes back to his place, opens
a bag of Doritos, turns on the TV. A tiny voice in the far recesses of his mind tells him that something major was going on back there in the car, but he is pretty sure there is no way he could ever understand what. He figures it's better if he doesn't think about it.
The next day Gloria calls all her best friends and talks about this situation for six straight hours. In painstaking detail they analyze everything she said and everything he said, considering every possible ramification. They continue to discuss this subject off and on, for weeks, maybe months, never reaching any definite conclusions.
Meanwhile, Roger, while playing racquetball one day with a mutual friend of his and Gloria's, pauses just before serving, frowns, and says, "Norm, did Gloria ever own a horse?" [Adapted from Dave Barry, Dave Barry’s Complete Guide to Guys, 1995]
And that’s the difference between guys and girls and the way we think. Designed to be funny, this example is a bit extreme, but it is based on something many of us actually do, both men and women. We interpret people’s silence, filling in what we think they may be thinking. However, we rarely stop to confirm that this is actually what they are thinking! Then, we move on in the conversation in our head, responding to their “thoughts” that we put into their head. And the conversation goes on, we pile up more and more things we think they are thinking on top of what is actually said. While body language and facial expression can add to or nuance the words they say, we should never allow them to replace the words said or stand in for words unsaid.
Have you ever experienced this? Have you ever had somebody begin a conversation with you and realize they’re already well into the conversation? Have you ever done that to somebody else? We should never fill in words for another person, nor should we expect others to fill in words for us. Regardless of the content of the conversation, it is incredibly emotionally unhealthy to do this to other people.
Nor should we expect others to read our minds. We may not think we do this, but how often have you thought, “If he loved me he would know….” Or “If she loved me she wouldn’t….”
The Emotionally Healthy Relationship skill we are examining today is called “Stop mind reading and clarify expectations.” A few years ago, Bill and Sharon Chapman did a workshop with us here at Priory. One thing I remember from that workshop is that “expectations are, by nature, unspoken. When they are spoken they become requests!” There are all sorts of ways we can fail to meet unspoken expectations! But when they become spoken, when they become requests, we can respond clearly, saying, “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe” or “Yes but not now.”
While we will explore this skill in detail in a few minutes, I want to first build a Biblical foundation for why we should learn it and use it. Anybody, Christian or not, can benefit from this skill, but if we are going to use this skill to become more like Jesus, then we need to know why we use it and not just how to use it.
So, to build a foundation for why we should use this skill, turn with me to our text.
What It Says
What does this text say? There is a lot of wonderful theology in this passage. We could spend a long time delving into it. But for today, we have a specific goal. We have a specific target of developing a theological foundation for our EHR skill. So we are not going to cover everything we could in the text, but hit some highlights with our goal in mind.
Notice the foundation for all that follows, “since you have been raised with Christ….” Notice that Paul refers to our resurrection in the past tense! He speaks of it as a “done deal” even though we haven’t experienced it yet!
As always, the resurrection of Jesus and our future resurrection forms the foundation for Christian living. We are to live now in light of the resurrection of Jesus in the past and our resurrection in the future. This keeps our Christian living in its proper place- a response to what God has done in us and saving us, not an attempt to get God to do something in us or save us. It’s an act of worship, a response to God, instead of an attempt to get God to love us, save us etc.
And, because of our relationship with Jesus, because we have been redeemed, adopted, changed and are being renewed, we should yearn to cooperate with the Spirit in making the changes Paul is talking about.
So, in light of having been saved, we are to seek the things above and set our minds on things above.
Another way to put this is, “Now that you are part of the New Family of Jesus, focus your thoughts and goals on things above where Christ is in charge and being glorified.” Given the reality of what has happened to you in Christ, get your mind and will in gear with what your body must do. [NT Wright, Colossians and Philemon, p. 131]
This is very different than what many church goers have experienced as “Christians don’t x, y, z.” It’s not about a set of rules we must follow. That is actually what Paul was addressing in the previous chapter. Rather, Paul is saying that our salvation should be so transformative to our mind and will that our very desires change. We no longer want to do those things that run contrary to our life in Jesus. The chief characteristics of the life of heaven, the “things above” we are to seek and set our minds on, are precisely the qualities of self-giving love, agape love. [Wright, p. 131] When we “aspire to things above” it means we are meditating and dwelling on Christ’s sort of life and on the fact that he is now enthroned as the Lord of the world.” [Wright, p. 132]
As an aside, when we develop the habit of doing the daily office, as described in the EHR course and EHS course, the daily office becomes one tool to meditate and dwell on Christ’s sort of life and his reign in heaven!
When this has taken over our hearts and minds, even our desires are changed. It’s not about controlling our outward behaviour, but reshaping our inner life so the outward behaviour isn’t even a desire we have.
Paul then gets specific. He says, “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature.” This is an active work of execution. In Galatians, Paul speaks of crucifying our sinful nature. This is a repeated theme in the NT! We must actively participate in killing the sin that dwells in our hearts.
The first example Paul uses is a list beginning with sexual immorality, moving through evil desires and ending at idolatry. At first glance, this looks like a list of similar examples of sin. However, it is actually a progression of sinful manifestations. [Wright, p. 134] Sexual immorality is the end result, which comes from impurity. Impurity comes from lust, which means a disproportionate desire. Disproportionate sexual desire is one example of greed. Greed is wanting more than you have or need. When you want more physical or sexual pleasure than you have or need, it can quickly become lust, which leads to impure thoughts and fantasies, which eventually get lived out in sexual immorality. Greed, in all its forms, is a form of idolatry. It means putting something in God’s place at the centre of our lives.
Work it backwards: when we put something other than God on the throne of our heart, that is idolatry. Greed, self-centred desire for more than we need and have, is a form or manifestation of idolatry. One form greed takes is desire for physical, sexual pleasure. Greed for sexual pleasure is lust. When we let lust dwell in our hearts, it leads to impurity in our thoughts, desires and imagination. Left alive, these desires lead to action, which is sexual immorality. Paul says this is what we must kill! [pic] We must kill it not just in the flower of sexual immorality, but the stalk of impurity, the root of greed and the seed of idolatry. We must put it to death, rip it out, execute it, kill it and stomp it dead!
What is the Christian to do? Setting our hearts and minds on things above, setting them on Christ, his glory at the right hand of God, helps us put him back on the throne of our heart. It helps remove the idolatry. It pushes aside the greedy lust.
Paul goes on to use another example. Christians have been pretty good at acknowledging that sexual immorality is wrong. But one sin we tend to let slide is anger. Paul says we must not only rid ourselves us sexual sin, but also anger! In this case, the chain goes in the other direction. Anger is a continuous smouldering or seething hatred. [Wright, p. 137] This is not necessarily visible on the outside, but it rules what is going on inside! When anger breaks out into words or action, that becomes rage. Sometimes it turns into evil intended to cause harm, which is malice. Other times it turns into slander, literally in Greek the word for “blasphemy.” Slander is directing malice against a person created in God’s image. That makes it blasphemy, words spoken against God himself! Filthy language is speech that contaminates both the speaker and hearer. This is another manifestation of seething hatred, anger in one’s heart. [Wright, p. 137]
Like idolatry, anger must be rooted out. Its life snuffed out. We must cut off its line of supply. We have to kill it. Otherwise, it spills out of is in rage, slander and malice.
Paul says this is because we have “put off the old self and put on the new self.” This is “the action of leaving one family, or household, and moving lock, stock and barrel, into another, where a different rule of life obtains.” [Wright, p. 138] That is, we have left our old family, our old lifestyle, and joined the New Family of
Our new self is literally being remade in the image of its creator, Jesus. Our new self is being shaped to be like Jesus. This is what humanity was meant to be. We were originally created in God’s image. We were to be just like God in character. Remember, since Jesus is God, being made in God’s image means being made in Jesus’ image. We were originally made in God’s image, but that image, that character, was lost and corrupted by sin. So, in our renewal through the Spirit, in the New Family of Jesus, our new self, our new identity, is being remade to be like God again, to be like Jesus, our creator. The old self is broken and contaminated. The new self is our true self, being conformed to the pattern or mould of its creator Jesus.
It’s funny, in our culture we are so absorbed in “finding ourselves.” We are told to “look within ourselves” to find our true selves. But that’s exactly our problem! We look inside, where we are sinful, trying to find what we were supposed to be like. By contrast, Jesus came to tell me exactly who I am- a creature fallen in sin, but he didn’t just tell me who I am, he came to change who I am. He came to change me to be who I am supposed to be. I don’t find myself by looking within. I find myself by looking to Jesus who I am supposed to be like! [NT Wright, The Case For Christ, small group DVD] The “self” we are all trying to find is found in our creator Jesus and we find that self when we allow him back into our hearts to be redeemed, adopted, changed and renewed! “Paul urges his readers to copy God himself in glad, outgoing love, and so to discover in Christ what it means to be truly human.” [Wright, p. 130]
And when we find ourselves, when we find ourselves in Christ Jesus, we cooperate with the Spirit to put to death the part of us that don’t have a place with him in Heaven. We kill idolatry, greed and lust. We put to death anger, with its rage, malice and slander. “When a tide of passion or a surge of anger is felt, it must be dealt with as the alien intruder it really is, and turned out of the house as having no right to be there at all, let alone to be giving orders.” [Wright, p. 137]
Making the Connection
This is the great big “why” of our whole approach for all of EHR. It is because, in Christ, we are being remade and renewed, that we need to unlearn the old ways of relating to God and to one another and learn the new, Christ-like, ways of relating to God and one another. It is because “true humanity” is found in Jesus and, as members of his new family, we get to participate with the Spirit in reshaping our character to be like Jesus. And that is played out in how we relate to one another as family members in the New Family of Jesus. In fact, “God intends Christian behaviour to be reinforced and upheld by the friendship, company, teaching, counselling and loving criticism of other Christians.” [Wright, p. 130] This is why it is important to be part of a church! It is in community that God intends us to grow in the horizontal aspects of our new life in Christ.
This is the great big “why.” But what is the “what”? What are we to do? It’s one thing to say “kill idolatry in your heart, kill anger in your heart.” It’s another to actually go about doing it. So what are we to do?
Our greatest idolatry is the idolatry of self. Our greatest idolatry, especially today, but even stretching back to Adam and Eve, is to put ourselves in the place of God. That was the temptation in the garden, “to be like God!” One step to killing idolatry, to killing self-centredness, is to become other centred. That’s part of agape love- becoming other centred. Many of the skills we will learn in EHR are about becoming other centred. They are skills we learn which help us focus on the other person instead of ourselves. Today’s skill is an example of putting the other person first, of killing self-centredness.
When we fill in what another person is thinking, without taking the time to ask them, we are literally filling the role of God. Only God knows a person’s heart! Who are we to judge a person’s heart? But that is what we are doing when we read their minds, when we fill in their thoughts for them, when we have conversations with them in our heads without clarifying with them what they actually think!
The second facet of our skill is that it helps diffuse anger. Some of the root causes of anger (not the only causes, but some of them) are unfulfilled expectations and disappointment. Think about it. How often have you been angry with somebody and it’s because you’re disappointed by something they did, or something they failed to do that you expected them to do? How often are you bitter towards somebody for not living up to what was expected? How often do you feel let down by somebody? Doesn’t that affect how you perceive them in your heart?
So a second dynamic in our skill today is to diffuse anger by clarifying expectations. When we are
clear and fair with our expectations, they are more likely to be fulfilled, and when they are not fulfilled, we have a firmer foundation for addressing how and why they were not fulfilled.
What, then, is the actual skill? First, stop mind reading. If you think you know what another person is thinking, but you have not clarified it, clarify it with them! Mind reading is a form of bearing false testimony against someone. Instead, check with them. Ask them, “May I clarify something with you?” Or, ask permission to read their mind, “I think you think…. Is that correct?”
These simple questions clear up a lot of issues! They take you off the throne of being the all-knowing one. They put the other person within your sphere of concern. They kill idolatry. They develop other-centredness.
Learning to employ these little questions, taking the time to stop mind reading, will really cut down on the sin in your hearts. You will stop being angry at people for things you think they think instead of what they actually think!
Second, clarify expectations. We often hold many expectations without realizing it until they are unmet. So clarifying expectations needs to begin with clarifying them to ourselves. If we don’t know our expectations until we are disappointed, we are setting traps for the people around us. They have to luck into meeting them! Far more likely, they will fail to meet them and disappoint us. That can lead to us being offended, being angry with them, holding a grudge against them, etc. Our expectations need to be conscious.
Not all the expectations we put on ourselves and others are realistic. Just think of the expectations put on us by the people around us, by TV, by our culture! They’re not realistic! But we often hold them without evaluating them. Our expectations need to be realistic.
Once you’ve clarified your expectations with yourself, you need to articulate them with the people around you. Our expectations need to be spoken. That is, they need to be turned into requests. Unspoken expectations are not fair to the people around us. It’s not fair to say to yourself, “If he really loved me, he would know….” Or “If she loved me, she wouldn’t….” We have to speak them out loud.
Sometimes that’s scary. When we turn our expectations into requests, we run the risk of rejection. Somebody may actually say “no” to our request, to our expectation! That can be scary, and sometimes that’s why we don’t articulate our expectations. But then we still run the risk of a person not meeting our expectations. In fact, they are more likely to fail to meet them by accident than meet them by accident. So our expectations need to be agreed upon.
Sometimes people won’t agree with us. That’s a risk we take when we clarify expectations! But, remember, we are trying to learn how to be other-centred. Remember, Jesus didn’t always get what he wanted from other people! He was mistreated, disobeyed and abused. And yet he is enthroned now at the right hand of God the Father! And we are trying to learn to be like him, self-giving and other-centred.
One caveat does apply to the 4th characteristic of expectations. In a parent/child relationship, or an employer/employee relationship you may not always agree upon the expectations, but that’s too bad. A person in authority, given that the expectation is conscious, realistic and spoken, may enforce this expectation on the people over whom they have authority. My daughter does have to eat her vegetables. She does have to go to bed on time. Employees do have to arrive at work on time and fulfil their duties. Although, you could say that the employee agrees to the expectations by continuing to work there!
Back to Why
So, stop mind reading by asking people what they think. Ask them if you can “read their mind” for a moment, and say, “I think you think…. Is that correct?” Examine your expectations. Bring them into your conscious thought. Evaluate if they are realistic. Then voice them with the people they apply to. If those people agree, then you are within your rights to hold them to those expectations! If not, then you need to let go of the expectations. You need to not be angry if they don’t meet them. You need to stop arguing with them in your head, bearing false witness against them.
Why? Why do we need to follow these guidelines? Because we are part of the New Family of Jesus. We have been raised with Christ and our life is now hidden in him. This is true humanity! We find ourselves when we look to Jesus for our identity. Part of learning to be like him involves killing the sinful, self-centred
habits that dwell in our hearts. When we put these skills into practice, we learn to be other-centred. We learn to be a community of agape love. We kill anger in our hearts, we kill idolatry of being like God.
This is the kind of community we want to be at Priory. This is the kind of people we want to be at home, at work and at church. With practice, mutual support and accountability, we can spur one another onward in agape love! Amen.
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