Ain’t It All Just Awful

two puffins playing "ain't it all just awful"

A person overtly expresses distress, but it is covertly gratified at the prospect of the satisfaction they can wring from their misfortune.”
– Dr. Eric Berne,
Games People Play

I’ve always been fascinated by the games we play.

I was ten years old when the Eric Berne classic Games People Play was published. The title intrigued me, and since I helped myself regularly to my parents’ reading material, I dove in.

The gist of his book is that certain patterns of behavior – games, as he calls them – can be spotted wherever there are human relations.

Some of these games are pretty unproductive, so if the people playing them have the integrity to examine what they’re getting out of the game, then both they and their relationships will improve.

Some of the games Berne lists will ring a bell with you, I’m sure. “If It Weren’t For You I Could” and “Let’s You and Him Fight” are two obvious examples. But I think the most popular one is called “Ain’t It Awful?”

Who’s Up For It?

“Ain’t It Awful?” requires two or more players. Their goal is to discuss how awful certain things or people are. (You get more points for discussing people.)

The rules are simple and user friendly. Focus on someone’s weakness, failure, or error (someone not present; penalty points for face to face directness) and milk the subject until all players have achieved sufficient levels of superiority. Extra points are added if the conversation passes for “concern”; bonus points if the gossip passes for a prayer meeting.

Full disclosure: I’ve found pleasure in this, probably because it feels so good focusing on someone else’s sins while minimizing mine.

Don’t Try This At Home

For example, my wife and I talk almost daily about issues, many of them political or social; many of them having to do with the state of the Body of Christ. Sometimes, during these talks, I’ve played the game without her even knowing.

So we might be discussing trends in the Church that we lament, like the lack of disciplined Bible study, or the “endangered species” status of hymns. Other times we’ll discuss things we disagree with, or what we wish people would do more of, or less of.

Then, just when I’m starting to get drunk on how wrong They are and how right I am, Renee blows the whole thing by saying, “OK, so we really need to pray about this.”

Game over. No one plays “Ain’t It Awful” while coming before the throne. The end goal of the game is, after all, to be able to not only say “Ain’t It Awful” but also, having thoroughly dissected someone else’s faults, to look at the soul I’ve just thrashed and say, by comparison, “Ain’t I Great?”

A Tale of Two Extremes

I guess this is on my mind because I’m more and more torn between two huge concerns.

One is the epidemic lack of Biblical discernment we’re seeing today, evidenced in horrendous decisions some denominations and leaders are making, and gross errors promoted by some teachers and pastors who should know better.

The other concern is with the self-righteous obsession some folks seem to have with railing against, publicizing, then harping on, the errs of others.

Now, public admonishment and respectful disagreement is not only valid but, these days, called for. But needless, ongoing chatter about how wrong a brother, group, or church is, without fair recognition of that same brother or group’s virtues (much less prayerful petition to God and loving discussion with the person in error, as Renee likes to remind me) seems more to me like games than godliness.

Thine Own Log, Thine Own Eye

So I’m trying to stop myself before discussing what someone else is doing or saying that bothers me. I’m trying, instead, to first ask myself if it’s something I’ve talked directly to the person about (if possible), something I’m not guilty of myself, and something I can discuss without needlessly damaging the person being discussed, or the person I’m in discussion with.

And, it should go without saying, I cannot express my grief over someone else’s wrong without then praying for the person in question.

Those are rules I’ll try to follow, anyway. Because you and I know there are problems everywhere, big ones warranting lots of concern and, hopefully, lots of corrective action.

But playing “Ain’t It Awful” by endlessly talking (or posting, or commenting) about how bad it is accomplishes nothing. I’d like to try my hand at some new, more challenging games:

Ain’t it Hopeful:

“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Ain’t it Human:

“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1)

Ain’t it Heavenly:

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4)

These we can play and, thank God, even the most unathletic among us can win.

This article was written by Joe Dallas and originally published on 07.21.2020 at https://joedallas.com/2020/07/21/aint-it-all-just-awful/  See his homepage for more insightful blog posts and to learn more about his ministry.

Voices Q & A: Leaving and Grieving

leaving and grieving

Q: What does the mourning process of leaving a gay lifestyle/identity look like? How can the Body of Christ help someone going through this process?

A: The process looks different for everyone because we all have our own stories. I personally had to mourn the loss of my friends and past boyfriends. My relationships were not healthy—destructive, even. But they were still driven by a desire to get my very real needs met—my needs for love, for affirmation as a man, for healthy relationships with other men, my need for community.

In my relationships, I was co-dependent, hurtful, and self-centered. It was a process for me to learn what healthy relationships look like. Over time, I chose to let go of those friendships and boyfriends. I went through a time of great sadness, knowing I wasn’t going to be hanging out with them anymore.

Additionally, I needed to create new memories and build new friendships. I also needed the space and freedom to just be sad. I needed to have safe opportunities when I was ready to talk about my sadness and how Jesus was meeting me.

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Waving the Flag of Surrender

surrenderAs Christians, we sing and talk about surrender all the time. We often forget that surrender is a battle term. It means giving up all rights to the conqueror. When an army surrenders, the victors take complete control over their lives. When we surrender to God, we are declaring that He has won, we have been defeated and subdued, and we give ourselves over to God’s plan for our lives.

I’m a proud person. I’ve always worked hard, and I have always gotten what I’ve wanted. I studied hard and got a good degree and a well-paying job. I work out and eat well so that I have a strong body. I practice so that I can become a better worship leader.

But when it came to my sexual struggles, it was a completely different story. Growing up, I had a perceived lack of masculine affirmation, affection and acknowledgement in my life. When I discovered homosexual pornography, it was the perfect drug. These were men willing and ready to share intimacy and vulnerability with me. I could control these relationships, and there was no risk on my end. What I didn’t realize was that I was training my heart and my head to receive male love through this avenue only.

It took six years of silent struggle and mental torture before I could write these words in my prayer journal, “I am struggling with homosexuality. God, I’m not asking for You to magically make it disappear, but I do want You to help me change my life. I know You have the power to intervene and change me like nothing else can.” That was my first step in surrender.

After that journal entry, it took another three years before I could take the next step of surrender and confess this struggle to another person. Each time I brought it out into the open, it weakened the pull of my addiction and strengthened my bond with another man in a healthy and legitimate way. There was freedom in admitting that I was powerless, that I struggled with same-sex attractions. But just surrendering to the reality that I was powerless over sin and lust and acting out wasn’t enough. I needed help; I needed to surrender to something or someone outside of myself and my own patterns of thinking.

It was terrifying to come to Outpost for the first time. But eventually, this became a safe place for me and a refuge for my soul. There was also great promise and hope here. I saw men fighting in strength, walking in the fullness of their masculinity, and I saw restoration. I liked what I saw, and I wanted it. So I gave myself to this process of recovery. I came every week. I shared during our small groups. I said yes to whatever the leaders challenged us to do.

From that point, this journey has been a series of cliffs for me to jump off. Each time, it has felt like I would drop into oblivion. Each time, I had to surrender another part of my heart that I had been holding on to in defiance. I had to allow that part of my heart to become reconciled to God.

When we were required to have an hour of listening prayer each day, it meant waking up earlier. And if that meant waking up at 4:30am, then I had to surrender my sleep. When I was still struggling with pornography and isolation, I had to surrender my independence and find a roommate. When I started to develop an emotionally dependent relationship with my best friend, I had to surrender that relationship.

When I pursued relationship with a woman, and she broke my heart, I had to surrender my singleness and my loneliness to God. When I moved into my own place again, I knew I couldn’t have internet. I had to surrender my convenience and only use the internet at work

Each step is another terrifying adventure where God asks, “Are you going to trust Me in this?” I have had to come to the end of myself and finally let God have a personal place in my life. And just when I think I’ve already given my all to God, He reveals another part of my heart I’m holding on to with a death grip. He asks me, “How can you receive more from Me when your hands are clenched tightly around this?”

I need to constantly remind myself to trust in God. If I believe that God knows the deepest parts of my heart better than I know myself, then I can trust Him. If I believe that God knows what will truly make me come alive, then I can trust Him.

I had to surrender my sleep for listening prayer, but this discipline has taught me how to hear God and how have intimacy with Him. I had to surrender my independence and live with roommates I couldn’t stand, but with them, I learned about patience. I had to surrender one of my best friends, but it was only in letting go that we could learn to love one another in a healthy way and have God bring a new depth to our friendship.

I had to surrender my singleness and loneliness to God, but after that I began to appreciate being alone, and being alone with God. I had to surrender convenience by not having internet, but I haven’t struggled with pornography or masturbation since moving to my new apartment.

There’s an illustration that has helped me understand surrender: Imagine life as a rollercoaster. There’s going to be a big drop and bunch of twists and turns. I can try to hold onto the handle bars and clench my teeth, or I can raise my hands and feel the rush. Either way, I’m still going to drop, and I’m still going to be held in. So why not just enjoy the ride?

There can be so much death in surrendering and letting go. But there can also be so much peace and life when we finally give God space in our hearts.

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