Tag Archives: avoidance

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?