Tag Archives: avoidance

The second week of Advent: The joy of being forgiven

New Yorker, 9/28/2009

I think I am good at forgiveness as a conviction — mainly because I just don’t want the bad feelings that come with not forgiving people. One time a church I led had the slogan “life’s too short not to love somebody.” I’m on that wavelength.

There’s another reason, too. I never got over my first training as  Jesus follower. I would not say I was well trained, but I was introduced to Jesus giving his “Sermon on the Mount” and his teaching about forgiveness is pretty clear in Matthew 6.

 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.

For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I never got over the conditional nature of those lines. If I am not forgiving, I’m not on the team. It is a forgive-the-world and restore-humanity team; it is a peacemaking, undo-evil-even-if-it-hurts team; it is a love-is-#1 team. If I don’t want to forgive, but I do want to be forgiven, I’m just trying to get Jesus on my team, as if my vengeance rules should rule. But that is exactly what he is upending and he assumes I will be praying and acting with him.

Forgiveness is a fundamental force for good. I think I should forgive debts, relational and material, even if I am a victim. I think that is why, right after we forgive our debtors, we pray “Don’t leave me alone, Lord, lest I fall again into evil.” There is no way I can keep developing and behaving in a way worthy of the Spirit in me unless I stick with Jesus and forgive.

We have reasons not to forgive

If I am honest (and maybe you are, too), I have some good reasons not to stick with Jesus. So I am not surprised but still fascinated by how I keep running into lack of forgiveness in the broken relationships my therapy clients endure.

Sometimes they have been cut off or have to cut someone off without being reconciled and need to forgive at a distance if they can, because the hate or the danger is just too strong. Jesus is not in the mix or maybe just on one side, so the miracle is not going to happen.

Other times, people just agree not to forgive without rancor. Forgiveness is so difficult they make an agreement not to forgive and write their story without it.  We’re discovering more and more that the increasingly avoidant way we relate is hard to overcome. Some people agree on relationships that incorporate avoidant behavior as normal. I think many more people just go it mostly alone without much thought.

This example of unforgiveness is a composite of different people I have known. Lets say a married couple grew up managing their dysfunctional parents. The woman apologizes easily because she needed to to protect herself from the wrath of an abusive mother’s control system. But she admits her apologies have no content. Her husband won’t apologize at all since his mother was consistently drugged by painkillers and his father was absent so there was no place to take his injuries. He despairs that there is anything to forgiveness at all and doesn’t do it.

So in their relationship they have a deal: You don’t need to change if you don’t make me change. You don’t need to say you are sorry if you don’t make me say it — that is, as long as you keep your behavior on a spectrum that is not too damaging. She likes that because she doesn’t need to figure out how to forgive with her heart. He likes that because forgiveness is generally fruitless. But when they talk about it, they realize that forgiveness is really on a higher plane than they are operating, not lower. If they don’t forgive, there is no unconditional love in their relationship, no grace,  just the same managed distance with which they were raised, never a closeness. She says, “Oh yes. Love would be nice.”

A client was mortified when they thought our appointment was an hour later than it was. When we got together, they said they were sorry and I said, “I forgive you. Let it go and lets move on together.” They were a bit stunned. No one had ever said something like that to them before. Maybe they got “It’s OK.” or “No problem/o” or “No worries” but never, “I forgive you.”

Do we not like to say “I forgive you” because it seems too formal, too ceremonial? Is it too authoritiative? Maybe it is too committed, too publicly caring. Maybe it is too, “I have to mean it if I say it, and people need to think I can mean it, and I need think it is OK if I presume I mean something.” Maybe we aren’t sure.

The incarnation is about forgiveness

Maybe we don’t forgive others because we won’t, or think we can’t, forgive ourselves. Maybe I don’t readily forgive myself because I don’t practically receive forgiveness from God. Even if Jesus spoke, “Father forgive him” over me at the cross as I was nailing him up,  maybe I still don’t get it and don’t receive it. I’m  still in charge of making the world run right and ashamed I keep failing.

Want to pause an say, “I receive your forgiveness God?’

You may have found that little sentence humiliating, like you had to admit you were wrong for not receiving forgiveness well enough. Isn’t that why people say, “No need to ask” after I say I am sorry? It is sweet that they meant, “Of course I forgive you. I would never make you ask me.” But I DO need to ask and receive an answer. I don’t get forgiven easily. I need the act so I know it happened, so it is recorded in history, and so I know myself as the forgiven one. Being forgiven speaks me into being. It is a creative  and re-creative act. Don’t let me miss it!

Massacre of the Onnocent — Leon Cogniet (1824)

The incarnation of God in Jesus this month is, in itself, an an act of forgiveness. Before Jesus is born it is  predictable that Herod will try to kill him. We are so about power, not love, about creating debtors, about do all we can to deliver ourselves from more trauma. That’s the kind of sin being forgiven. Jesus is rightly seen as the new Adam, wrestling sin into exhaustion and defeat, that’s what it takes to forgive someone. He is also seen as the new Noah gathering people into a new ark that will make it through the trials of this stormy journey into the age to come. Forgiveness is right in the middle of the turbulence and Jesus is right there with as as we endure the waves.

People did not like it when Jesus saw his incarnation as, primarily an act of forgiveness. You may feel the same. But just one more story.

In chapter 2, right at the beginning of Mark’s gospel, he tells a story about a man paralyzed from birth. His friends believe Jesus can heal him and lower him through the roof of the place he is teaching. The gatekeepers of orthodoxy question his authority and Jesus knows what they are thinking.

Now some of the scribes were sitting there questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves, and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat, and go to your home.”

We may be paralyzed and cannot use our bodies. Our hearts may be stone and we can’t love. Our spirits may be undeveloped so we can’t forgive. But the advent of Jesus is God coming to our homeplace to forgive each of us and to spread grace throughout the world through all of us. One of the joys every year during Advent is hearing Jesus say again, “Stand up. You are forgiven. Whatever is easiest for you to hear, I am here to say it. Now stand up. Learn to walk with me.”

Shall we pause to feel the joy of hearing him? “Stand up. You are forgiven.”

Do you think someone will feel joy when they  hear that same forgiveness from you today?

Phillies lost, Fetterman won: What do we do after all that?

It has been such a bad few years for many of us! I think we will finally get a decent interpretation of what came over us before too long. But, right now, I think most of us are still a bit shell-shocked — I know 2020 started a series of traumas for me! Nevertheless, it seems like we’re finally perking up a bit — like how you feel when you’ve been sick for a week and you take a shower and wash the bed. I, for one, was recently taken up in the tornado of Bryce Harper and Dr. Oz — the former’s quirks and latter’s quack. And I am glad all that is over. What now?

The suggestions I am about to offer for “What now?” are hardly new ideas. But they are tried and true contrariness. It is true, isn’t it, that Americans think steaming on and making progress is reality and anything less than constant growth and achievement is mentally ill. If you don’t keep up with the madness of all that, you’re contrary.

I’m suggesting being contrary to madness like this: Goop’s “mind architect,” Peter Crone, counsels the folks at Muscle Intelligence to “create your reality to express your greatness.” Crone is also on Netflix’s Heal show, which says he “redesigns the subconscious mind that drives behavior to inspire a new way of living, from limitation and stress to freedom and joy.” And it is not just us looking for the shortest road to our personal perfection; in the Times of India, the headline reads: “Rewire your brain in just 21 days!”

I deeply appreciate how much we know about neuroplasticity these days and how we can change what feels unchangeable in us. Nevertheless, I regularly suggest to my avoidant, individualistic, wounded clients that taking charge (a la Peter Crone) and improving their “zone of control” in a new way is a positive rendition of the godlike project they’ve been failing at for years. Their “immanent frame” is the proverbial bubble (or tomb) they live in and feel obligated to gain power over. No amount of rewiring can permanently change that misperception. Let’s get out of the zone.

So my suggestions for what to do after the TV does not traumatize you every day lean toward being released (for a while, at least) from your preoccupation with imminent things beyond your control — like Swarber hitting a home run every time he gets up to bat, or like global warming and democracy being your personal responsibility. My suggestions lean toward being released to do something other than what you think you can control and relating to something immanent — being given over to something beyond you, something deeper, something communal, something that is more about love than calculation, something more mutual than contractual, something more at home in the present environment than faithfully making the factory run for future rewards. You get the idea. So here are my suggestions.


Joe Biden probably said it, I don’t know. But while he was crowing about not being as defeated as expected, he must have said “There is still a lot of work to do.” All politicians say that because it is a truism everyone believes around here. And it is true, work will always be there if work is all there is. Contrary to that bondage is sabbath, which is central to Christians and most other religious people – but, what do you think? Do about 10% of us actually practice such deliberate resting?  Even if you are super lazy, you probably feel guilty for resting; it is reputedly so unproductive! What would it mean for you to rest?

Get out of the media

I got to the point where I didn’t even like watching the Phillies – all that tension! I would not even follow the Eagles to Prime; I’d had enough. And I was so glad to not see Matt Cartwright commercials on YouTube! Poor Georgia! They are going to get a bonus month!

How about a semi media fast of some kind? Not just abstaining, necessarily, but doing better things. Try leafless forest bathing. Take a sick day – a sick of it day and get into the fall light and wind. Enjoy wearing a sweater. Call all your friends – leave cheery messages if they don’t answer; talk about them, not Trump, if they do answer. Make something: art, food, love. Read something fun.

Do something spiritual

There is only so much godlessness a person can take. Americans (and maybe everyone) think their government should save them. There is another way. I admit that most of my faith expression right now is personal or one on one. But why not go to a church meeting? I went to a meeting I might not return to last week. I found plenty of goodness and redemption in it. And I did something.

Write or sing a prayer song – or listen to one if that is the best you can do. Read that serious book that’s been laying there – here are my Goodreads suggestions. Talk to someone about where your heart is post-pandemic. This is so important! If you are married, have you even brought this up as a topic yet? Will a friend listen to you?

Face something personal, not just existential

I am not talking about perfecting your avoidance with any of these suggestions. But I do think we are so eager to control our environments (or so overwhelmed by not being able to do so), we are in a general state of anxiety which generally feels terrible. Given how little I like Mr. Crone, I might avoid an internet-mediated processes for facing something personal. Instead, try sitting quietly for an hour and taking an inventory of what feels good and what does not. You don’t have to take a test to do this. Let the thoughts and feelings rise from what you already know or what God will show you. Gently examine what you think and feel. Take one thing that needs some help and do something. Forgive someone. Clean up your desk. Consider how you use porn. Have that conversation. Make a connective gesture.

Prep for the holidays

Have the holidays at the level you choose, but choose. Holidays should be holy, but even if they are not, they certainly should take days. I know it is irritating when Mariah Carey starts again (another thing I can’t wait to be over every year). But how about not looking at all the bad stuff, not gritting your teeth and getting through the holiday season? This would be a great year to make a plan for what you want to do with the season and doing what you want to do, rather than having “one more thing” you have to deal with. We’re needy this year.

Get a head start on 2023

What do you really want to be and do next year? I don’t mean what should you be and do, but what do you desire? What’s more, what can you really do? Americans generally respond to new years by making plans and having resolve. I have one acquaintance who makes a plan to get drunk and usually succeeds! But most of us make a plan to get paid somehow and proceed accordingly.

Am I being too hard on us? Don’t we think that doing something for free is a waste of time? Aren’t we’re generally a very contractual bunch? A partner in a couple I counseled realized, “I don’t want to forgive, so I decided no one needs to forgive me” — give up on reconciliation and all sorts of problems get solved! Some people don’t want to feel guilty, so they go with Peter Crone’s advice to “name yourself perfect as you are.” So, in looking toward the new year, you may have already said, “I don’t want to be disappointed in myself or in 2023, so I will not have any expectations.”

When I say “Get a head start on 2023” I’m not talking about revving up for a productive year. I’m talking about being content, happy, joyful – somewhere on that spectrum, and getting started on that. Get ready for a year of heartfelt goodness and love, and a glimpse of the truth. What can I loosen up? What step can I take? What long-term reformation can I begin? What stirs me, just thinking about what might come after all this?


Avoidant attachment style: Why you might be developing one

Is avoidant attachment style more prevalent than it used to be? It seems so. Many people I meet and counsel have an “ avoidant streak” rippling through their character. I wouldn’t expect a lot of those people to be in therapy at all, since  they don’t usually trust in the good will of intimates (like therapists get intimate), and they generally maintain independence, self-reliance and emotional distance. But there they are.

There they are, more and more, describing their struggles to connect and their overwhelming sense of being put upon and unacceptable. They got me thinking that their troubles, though probably rooted in their childhood reaction to their parents, were being exacerbated or even created by the cruel time in which we live. The leaders and leadership structures of the world right now do not invite trust. Everyone, down to the counter server and the communion server, seems to be playing by a ruthless, negative playbook.  Flip to the macro and Putin is threatening nuclear war while climate change rolls over Puerto Rico. You probably feel at least a little insecure, yourself.

What is attachment style?

I was doing some research on what I was experiencing and came upon a scholarly paper by Mario Mikulincer (Israel) and Philip Shaver (California) which summarizes the outworking of attachment styles  and hints at why I might see adults getting caught in their childhood avoidance or developing levels of avoidance they never had (Title:  An attachment perspective on psychopathology).

Paula Pietromonaco, Nancy Collins, Phil Shaver, Mario Mikulincer, Sue Johnson, Roger Kobak at an adult attachment conference in 2002

You may be quite familiar with attachment theory, by now, since John Bowlby started teaching about it in the 1970’s and 80’s. I appreciated the authors’ succinct way to recount how our attachment experiences result in attachment styles – how we see ourselves and habitually behave in the world.

Interactions with attachment figures who are available in times of need, and who are sensitive and responsive to bids for proximity and support, promote a stable sense of attachment security and build positive mental representations of self and others. But when a person’s attachment figures are not reliably available and supportive, proximity seeking fails to relieve distress, felt security is undermined, negative models of self and others are formed, and the likelihood of later emotional problems and maladjustment increases.

When testing this theory in studies of adults, most researchers have focused on the systematic pattern of relational expectations, emotions, and behavior that results from one’s attachment history – what Hazan and Shaver called attachment style. Research clearly indicates that attachment styles can be measured in terms of two independent dimensions, attachment-related anxiety and avoidance. A person’s position on the anxiety dimension indicates the degree to which he or she worries that a partner will not be available and responsive in times of need. A person’s position on the avoidance dimension indicates the extent to which he or she distrusts relationship partners’ good will and strives to maintain behavioral independence, self-reliance, and emotional distance.

I found it enlightening to see myself plotted on a four-quadrant chart created by anxiety and avoidance axes when it came to my attachment style. The way you can see if you are more or less one way or another is to see what you do when you are threatened or distressed.  People who score low on anxiety or avoidance are generally secure and tend to employ constructive and effective emotion-regulation strategies when life gets hard. Those who score high on either the attachment anxiety or the avoidance dimension (or both) suffer from insecurity and tend to rely on “secondary attachment strategies,” either deactivating or hyperactivating according to their childhood attachment system or the one they’ve recently developed to cope with threats.

Click for Anxiety Canada


I am mainly interested in the avoidance axis today, since I suspect when the CIA reports how many more assets are being killed than usual and Donald Trump had top-secret papers in Mar-a-Lago for a year it makes you want to avoid something! People who should be trustworthy aren’t. A great many people are so avoidant they trust no one. This is not new to the planet, but it is seismic right now.

According to Mikulincer and Shaver, people scoring high on avoidant attachment tend to rely on deactivating strategies – not seeking “proximity, denying attachment needs, and avoiding closeness and interdependence in relationships.” These strategies originally developed in relationships with attachment figures who disapproved of or undermined closeness and expressions of need or vulnerability.

Attachment style may be mostly about baby you, but not completely. It is too limited to think it is  something an individual carries inside and needs to deal with personally. One’s style arose in a relational setting, in a system, first off, with parents, and our habits can develop in new contexts. A marriage or workplace could change us. Donald Trump lying and calling people losers could change us.

Bowlby claimed that “meaningful relational interactions during adolescence and adulthood can move a person from one region to another of the two-dimensional conceptual space defined by attachment anxiety and avoidance.” Recent research keeps showing how our attachment style can develop, subtly or dramatically, depending on our current context, recent experiences, and recent relationships. There are studies that focus on highly stressful events, such as exposure to missile attacks, living in a dangerous neighborhood, or giving birth to a physically challenged infant which indicate avoidance is related to our present distress and the poor long-term adjustment that contributed to it. Our environment may deteriorate or we may create a dysfunctional environment which develops more avoidance.

Becoming less avoidant

Insecure attachment sets us up for other issues with both mental and physical health and strains all those relationships we hunger to have. Creating, maintaining, or restoring a sense of attachment security should increase resilience and improve mental health. Mikulincer and Shaver say,

According to attachment theory, interactions with available and supportive attachment figures impart a sense of safety, trigger positive emotions (e.g., relief, satisfaction, gratitude, love), and provide psychological resources for dealing with problems and adversities. Secure individuals remain relatively unperturbed during times of stress, recover faster from episodes of distress, and experience longer periods of positive affectivity, which contributes to their overall emotional well-being and mental health.

Whether an avoidant person moves toward security depends on how they travel three significant pathways.

View of self. The lack of sensitivity and responsiveness in your parents may have destabilized your self-esteem, or made you over-dependent on the approval of others. Insecure people are likely to be overly critical, self-doubting and likely to defend themselves by committing to perfection to counter how unworthy and hopeless they feel. Avoidant people praise themselves before someone doesn’t. Or they might deny weaknesses or needs because no one will care. The zeitgeist contributes to their view. Criticism is rampant right now. Perfection is a national obsession.

Emotional regulation. Hopefully, available attachment figures taught you to share your feelings and learn how to regulate them in relationship to others. Relatively insecure, avoidant people tend to cordon off their emotions from what they think and do. They may look secure and composed but they leave suppressed distress bubbling inside, which may erupt when crisis unleashes it. Then they need the coping skills and relational support system they didn’t imagine they needed.

Problems with relationships. It is no surprise that problems with our first relationships lead to learning a relationship style that has or creates problems. The avoidant person’s “deactivation” strategy for self-preservation creates issues. They generally have problems with nurture since that is a basic instinct formed with mom and dad. They may seem cold, may be unreasonably introverted, or may be overly competitive for what they see as the scarce resources of affection.

The neuroscience of attachment processes describes how the human brain evolved in a highly social environment. Our basic functions rely on social co-regulation of emotions and physiological states. So, like I said before, we should not see each other as separate entities whose interactions need to be interrogated and reconfigured according to theory. We should accept our fascinating interrelatedness as our normal starting point. When we do that, it helps us to see why separation, isolation, rejection, abuse, and neglect are so painful, and why insecurity-provoking relationships often cause or amplify our mental disorders. The pandemic left many avoidant people hesitant to ever leave their homes.  Teletherapy is a good option for them, but it may also deepen their avoidance.

Our attachment styles develop. We can change for the better. Great thinkers and practitioners are providing us a lot of help to do that. For instance, I discovered the Attachment Project website a few weeks ago. I probably sent its link to everyone I thought might be leaning toward an avoidant attachment style  (here it is). I would not put TOO much stock in this unattested and anonymous site, but it does some nice work to summarize different attachment styles and explain how people who could be characterized as “avoidant,” for instance, tend to behave and relate – and suffer. Please don’t use it to label yourself, we are in a dynamic process, here, getting worse off and better off all the time. But no matter your style, the site might help you get an inner dialogue going — and mentalizing is fertile soil for God to plant something whole and joyful.

Back to the workplace and back to church meetings: Thoughts on re-entry

Everyone is talking about going back to work. For a lot of us, “going to work” during the pandemic has meant going to a newly-repurposed room in the house or to a card table in the living room. For many others, like nurses and delivery people, nothing changed except to become harder.

Now things are beginning to change. One of our friends suggested we give a workshop on returning to relationships, now that they are vaccinated. Connecting feels awkward. And we feel awkward about feeling awkward. So here is a first attempt to add to the conversation about re-entry.


The social anxiety many of us are experiencing, even when we see grandma again, has to do with overcoming the avoidance we installed during the shut down. We avoided getting sick for a long time. We were told to avoid people, so we arranged our lives to do so. We hid ourselves behind literal masks — normally we just use psychological masks to stay safe. But we adopted a further barrier between us and what could hurt us. That deliberate avoidance is not going away instantly.

When we want to overcome anxiety, it helps to “sneak up on” the thing we are avoiding. We can gently approach the situation or thought that scares us and undo the fear step by step. When we feel anxious about seeing someone we can take a deep breath, remember what we want, and note what we fear. Then we can do that behavior we decided ahead of time we would like to do, like hug someone, or shake their hand, or tell them we are still fist bumping, or wave to them and tell them we will call them later to catch up.

Robin Ware will tell you all you need to know — for a price.

What about church meetings?

Pretty soon, we will be asked to meet in person, again. All our congregations have tried it at some level. Being asked to attend a meeting will call on each of us to have an opinion, make a decision, and enact a behavior we have been avoiding. Religious gatherings were one thing the government could easily point to as exactly what should not be happening if we wanted to avoid spreading the coronavirus. I think the following understandings will help us all make it back into face-to-face community.

Leaders need to get some buy-in. Sorry for the capitalist metaphor (we’re deeper than that). It describes the emotional and time resources we need to commit to “re-open” the church (as if you could close it). The leaders need to demonstrate their  understanding that while all of us have experienced this crisis, we have not all experienced it the same way. Some of us have conditions that increase our risk of serious COVID-19 infection and will still be reluctant to return to the meeting. Others may be eager to leave online church meetings, but have caregiving responsibilities that make it difficult or impossible for them to do so. Sensitivity to this reality is a must. Quite a few people are reluctant to get the vaccine and their reasons are not all political. While we can’t expect our leaders to come up with a uniform agreement or a set of behaviors for us, we can expect them to consider all of us who need to come together in love as we are. We’ll need to help them.

We need time to adapt. Our buildings have changed while we were gone from them. Our habits have changed. Our outlooks have changed. The pandemic year may seem relatively brief, but it had a traumatizing impact. Responses to trauma embed themselves deep in our brain. It takes time to re-order mental habits [a favorite video about that]. We were forced to adjust one way, now we will be invited to adjust again. I did not say “adjust back” since that is not going to happen. Faith, hope and love survived the pandemic, but the ways we express those traits will never feel the same as they did. It will take time to figure out how to express them now. We will need to rebuild. Rebuilding will be advanced after we get back into our buildings. We can help the church adapt by participating in our dialogue with faith, hope and love and not with further fear and avoidance. The church cannot really be responsible for how fearful we are. We will need to walk with Jesus ourselves to overcome that.

Re-acclimating is not just a job for the leaders. We’ve been away from one another for a long time and a lot has happened. The people in my cell experienced a ton of change. The cell itself changed to one that included people from three states! Is it even possible for that cell to start meeting face to face? The leaders are going to come up with a communications strategy that allows us to share a common page for re-entry and considering who we have become. But they can’t think of everything. We are all going to have to do our best to speak up and to speak up for others. Just imagining how we retain the remote connections we have made online and organize public meetings is quite a task! We don’t want to wear out our pastors as we demand they “wait on our table,” even though we put it in Oregon! Jesus will maintain our love, but we will all need to exercise it.

We’ve always been about what is next. I hope we have a leg-up on people who might be tempted to restore what the pandemic stole from them. Personally, I am working on starting from here. Like any other year, I have losses and I have gains. I am messed up and I am a lot wiser. I had some failures and had successes. Unlike people who have no hope, we Jesus followers don’t just inventory our years as if they were investments. We tend to bloom where we are planted. Circle of Hope quite consciously accepts that we are the presence of the future, not a retread or an improvement on the past. I think I have learned a thing or two about myself and the world during the pandemic and will probably learn some more from it. I believe Jesus will use it all for his glory. Another round of resurrection is imminent.

Avoidance: Six ways to find comfort in your suffering

One of my enduring impressions of last Saturday’s Comfort Retreat actually came after it was over. Ellen told me of an article she read about going to a party and texting to tell the host goodbye. I admit I have done this a few times, but I did not know it was a topic (as if every social thing a millennial does would not be a topic – it is a big blogosphere!). So, of course, I Googled it and found out that lots of people have been talking about  ghosting like this for the last five years. Here is one random sample:

[I ghost the exit] because people should only remember you as the life of the party, never the death. We live in 2015, where the text messages travel faster than comets through space and communication isn’t a choice, it is a function of existence. So you text, or call, or Kik, or whatever after the fact and say sorry, but when push comes to ghost, what’s so bad about leaving when you want to leave without the annoying bells and whistles?

All day at the retreat, some of us came to grips with the fact that it is very difficult to show up. We can ghost our life! The best defense mechanism of this generation might be avoidance, even stonewalling. A few of us could describe how hard it was to even feel when we had the chance. The other night when I was watching Nashville (Yes, it is still on, and yes, Scarlett still can’t get with Gunner effectively), Deacon asked Scarlett if she wanted a hug and she said, “I don’t want anyone to touch me or I will start crying and not stop.”She eventually folded into her uncle, but she was as conscious as a soap opera person can be about her avoidance habits.

Scarlett & Deacon - I love the relationship between these two. So sweet and genuine.

Avoidance wrecks things: self-awareness and growth, relationships, and the big one, knowing God.

God promises comfort. But it is hard to receive comfort when we are used to avoiding the potential suffering of not receiving the comfort we crave. We have reasons to ghost the Holy Ghost. Maybe God is seen as the great corporation in the sky who is perpetually beaming religious advertising at you which you masterfully avoid. Maybe God is seen as your helicopter parents who did so much for you, you have no idea how to do anything and you can’t stand more helicoptering. Maybe God is seen as just another obligation, like soccer practice, and you are just too tired of all that to lift a finger of attention. I got all these ideas from eavesdropping on blogs about ghosting parties.

The key to following Jesus might be summed up in one line from our theme scripture for the Comfort Retreat, 1 Corinthians 1:5: For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. (NASV). That verse is very not-avoidant. So you might have checked out as soon as you started reading it. It has a point that is hard to hear if you can’t even tolerate awkward good-byes:

We suffer. Jesus suffers with us, even bearing our sins, and we suffer with Jesus, even receiving his victory. Suffering is either deadly or transforming for us.

Likewise, we are comforted. Jesus comforts us in our present situation, and we are having a foretaste of his present situation. We  can try to get comfortable in this world, but it is hard to settle for that when eternity is opened up to us.

But what if you are really good at avoidance?

Yes, you might have perfected avoidance. Chances are, however, that if you are reading this, you are more irritated by the stonewallers you love rather than irritating yourself. But if you are good at avoidance, what follows is a list of things that make you suffer and will cause you more suffering if you move through them rather than around them.  But just as the suffering threatens to overflow, the comfort promises to overflow even more. Step by step we get to the end of the journey, unless we avoid starting every day.

Here are six book-length suggestions in a few sentences each for finding a way to stop avoiding. I adapted them from a Huffington Post article:

Give up on denial as a means to stay safe.

 You might start with considering what your mind and heart are really telling you when you take the time to reflect — about you, about your relationships and about God. More important, go with your soul, where God not only challenges you to open your mind and heart, he gives you the motivation and hope to trust him instead of just aspiring to trust yourself and others. Not seeing things clearly will not keep you safe.

 Have healthy conflict

When people who are conflict-avoidant sense a possible confrontation, they become anxious and do whatever they can to avoid the situation and reduce their own discomfort. They may “walk on eggshells” to avoid discussing their needs or “protect” themselves or their partner from experiencing difficult feelings. It’s all too easy to stay in this comfort zone, maintaining the illusion that a relationship is functional when it’s not.

Admit you are needy

Since we have somehow been taught that self-reliance is the height of health, we fear being “too needy.” Some people want to please and care-take, pushing their own needs aside (often telling themselves, “I want to be there for him/her”). They fear becoming burdensome, difficult, or demanding. They have no respect for the mutuality Jesus thinks is normative, at least they don’t respect it with their behavior. They believe that being a “good girl/boy/friend” or being a good team mate means not asking much of their partners and, as such, they often ignore their own needs. You may have tried to get out of that box and been shoved back in, so go back to the part above about suffering and being consoled by God. You can’t solve your neediness without Jesus – except to avoid it.

Let God be in charge of transforming others

You are not the “special someone” who will cure your partner’s inability to commit by being patient, accommodating, loving, and emotionally available. Acting out all those good traits should be giving love because you are loving, not loving because you think you are Jesus. We comfort because we are comforted by God, not merely because we think someone will follow our example or should reciprocate. Perpetuating the drama of feeling good when you are loving but destroyed when you are judged for not being loving enough or good enough to love is like being addicted to something.

Suffer the fact that people will let you down

We will do just about anything to not be left alone. Many of us end up in a series of relationships that all end up with abandonment. So we avoid relationships, even with God. Instead, we should stop avoiding the self-awareness that could tell us why we keep replicating unhealthy relationships. Avoiding abandonment makes us focus on how bad or flawed we must be — even before someone leaves us, we are acting as if they will, which often causes them to do so. No one knows better than Jesus what it is like to be abandoned by those who loved him and by those who should love him and don’t. Those sufferings are flowing back and forth between us and the Lord. But so is the comfort.

Stop playing your part in the “drama”

Healthy relationships seem boring to a lot of us. If something is godly, we might sabotage it to get a thrill or just to perpetuate the illusion that we are “true to ourselves.” We might long for the passion and excitement of our youth and keep trying to get the drama back. But as the troubled thirtysomething marriages around us demonstrate (some of which are dissolving as we speak), long loves are not built on emotional drama. If you were a child raised by parents who could not suffer together and be consoled by God, you really need the replacement parenting Jesus is opening up to you.

I may have just caught up with “ghosting” (I heard the word but did not adopt it). But I have certainly experienced the behavior. An author in Elle even did a survey to validate her experience, which is similar to mine, so my experience has empirical data behind it! People ghost my cell, the church, our appointment all the time and sometimes they even get out of my party before I can make them say good-bye to me. (Best solution to that awkwardness: avoid the party, which has surely been done). I guess Jesus is the only Holy Ghost who doesn’t ghost us. It is a good thing he doesn’t need an invitation to our parties, and it is especially wonderful that he even stays to help clean up.

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Participation: invitation or imposition?

So why am I writing my weekly blog post on December 29? For one thing, I should be out jogging off the extra five pounds I put on during the holiday. But for another thing, who in the world is going to sit down and read this post? It is December 29!

This is the bane of the info age, isn’t it? People are pumping out info from all the programs they use and then using their increasingly high-tech analytics to see if anyone is listening. The whole info machine is designed for people who want to participate. But does anyone want to participate?

Avoidance as a survival skill

I am not so sure people have the participation time or interest necessary for all the participatory things being pumped out. If I am any indication, a lot of us are not that interested in being wired up and analyzed all day. (That would make me “apathetic” on the analyst’s chart, I think). I think a lot of us are already on to the game and resist most of what is trying to get us to stop resisting and participate!

Pretty soon, I suppose we will all be required to participate just to get paid. And I don’t mean just do a job and get paid, I mean serve the ends of the product like you LOVE it. For instance, the newest business technique is to get all the corporation’s employees to be boosters online so advertising is organic and culture-creating. For instance, a consultant says: “a highly engaged workforce is also your most potent marketing tool to help build, promote, and evangelize your brand.” Tweet the product, pin it, post it, Instagram it. Capitalism meets social media. You”ll wake up in the morning and type up some cute thing your boss at Halliburton said so people will see the human side of Deepwater Horizon.

When a lot of us get wind of all that requirement our response already is, “Whoever, meet my blank screen. I’m out.” One of my friends says that the major psychological trait of the present generation (unlike the narcissism of the Boomers) is avoidance. Is the main communication skill required these days managing to avoid all that communication?

info overload

Can Jesus hope for participation?

I am especially interested in this because I am a communicator (I am typing this on Dec. 29, after all), and we, as Circle of Hope, have come up with a very participatory kind of church and a map for 2015 that requires a lot of participation which will mean a lot of communicating. Did we just get organized for a generation that is not interested in listening for more than 140 characters? — or, even more, who don’t listen at all, just consume images?

I think we might be that weird.

The corporations are actually going to try to steal our word “evangelism” and apply it to consumer offerings, as if what they produce will save people. So that’s one thing. But the other thing is that everyone with a smartphone (almost 60% of the population and escalating) already has skills in blocking out unwanted material, which is most of what’s coming at them. Yet here we are asking inundated people to believe we are not just branding Jesus and believe they should participate in his mission like the valued people they are.

How do you think that is going to work out?