Categories: RECENT RESEARCH
Laura McPherson, M.S.
Ephesians 4 is full of hope, excitement, and anticipation of experiencing a new spiritual life. Paul explains the freedom we have in Christ in putting away our old self to make way for our new self and our new ways of thinking, living, and being.
As humans, we have obstacles to becoming “new.” There are four obstacles that can hinder our personal and spiritual growth. These four may answer why many Christians feel unexplainably lukewarm in their faith. In Living REAL, my book in progress, I address these four obstacles. REAL is an acronym for: Releasing Resentments; Evaluating Expectations; Acquiring Acceptance; and Learning to Let Go.
Resentments can destroy relationships both vertically (God) and horizontally (family, friends, co-workers). Sometimes resentments are hard to identify because we word them more acceptably like: I’ve been praying a lot for her. I’ve learned to tolerate them. It’s my cross to bear. I wonder if God is hearing me.
Resentments can harm our health and our spiritual life. We often believe someone created our resentment but we create our resentments. They belong to us. Some of us would rather harbor resentment than confront someone or speak up. Sometimes we say “yes” just to avoid conflict; we take things personally or we have unrealistic expectations. The good news is since we create our resentments we have the power to release them and then start living in the newness that Christ is offering to us.
Unrealistic expectations can lead to resentments. The problem with some expectations is that our happiness, peace, or sense of well-being can be attached to the expectation. If the expectation is dependent on someone else instead of ourselves or God, we set our own trap for disappointment. The most precarious expectations are those we create and expect others to abide by even though we have never communicated our expectation to them. We reason that they should know, a risky assumption, a secret contract.
When expectations are not met or are partially met, we can move into a demand or control state to secure that our expectation is met. When this happens, we have actually lost control. Will we ever feel upset and disappointed because of unmet expectations of ourselves and others? Absolutely, and that is normal! But we can think, we feel, we can pray, we can solve our problems, we can take care of ourselves. It may mean reevaluating parts of our life and relationships. Whatever it means, we can do it. God has our back.
Acquiring acceptance empowers the positive and tells God we have surrendered to His plan. We are accepting people, ourselves, and events as they are. Acceptance doesn’t mean we approve, condone or like something. It is not overlooking or excusing. We can be disappointed, hurt or afraid but still accept the reality of the situation or of others. When we accept what reality really is, it gives us options in how we react to the situation, person or thing. It is what it is, they are who they are. When we accept, we have more choices! We are able to problem solve more easily.
Acceptance is the gift that makes our circumstances good. It brings clarity, peace, joy, contentment, gratitude and opens the door to growth, change and moving forward. If we are not living in acceptance we are living in resistance. Resistance allows the spirit of discontent to make its way into our lives and it brings resentments, discord and negativity. When we live in acceptance, we open the door to living in contentment and living in the “new.” Releasing resentments, evaluating our expectations, acquiring acceptance and learning to let go moves us into action, into problem solving, into gratitude, into REAL freedom.
Letting go doesn’t mean we don’t care about someone or something anymore; it is a form of healthy detaching. In letting go, acceptance and forgiveness are key to living in the “new” and living REAL. We may think forgiveness is letting someone or something off the hook. Actually, unforgiveness keeps us hooked. Often we don’t understand that forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetting or that we have to remain in relationship with someone. What it does mean is that we have cancelled their debt.
Many of us have been wounded. Grieve our loss, take appropriate and necessary action, set boundaries, and release our offender by cancelling their debt. It can be hard to release our offender all at once. Letting go may have to be done in stages. Prayerfully and cognitively we can say we are forgiving and that is a good place to start. Continue to forgive, even in parts, and eventually our hearts will allow full forgiveness and make room for the new freedom we have in Christ.
Laura McPherson, MS, LPC-S, LMFT-S, has a private practice in Kingwood, TX. She speaks at conferences, retreats and individual events at churches and in the community. Laura has presented at state and local levels on topics that address improving relationships with families, friends and in the workplace. Laura is currently finishing a book entitled Living REAL. She is passionate about helping clients and others improve their relationships and become healthier both emotional and spiritually. Often, when relationships are improved anxiety and depression are reduced. Laura is active in her church and community. She is involved in the Young Mom’s Bible Study and Journey Groups. She volunteers at a home for female ex-offenders. Laura and her husband, Ben, enjoy the outdoors and being with their children and grandchildren.