Monthly Archives: June 2013

“What You Can Do About Mental Illness”


Sitting on my desk is one of those book club cards I’m supposed to return if I do NOT want this month’s selected book. Two books, actually. Book clubs like to bundle books together. A pernicious practice.

Anyway, one book they want me to buy this month evidently has to do with “What You Can Do About Mental Illness.” I’m not sure what they have in mind (no pun), but I’ve got a stack of books waiting on me. I doubt I’ll buy this one.

I do, though, have a reaction to the question regarding what we can do about mental illness: We can all do our best not to drive other people crazy. I don’t mean to be flippant about a truly heartbreaking problem; I just mean to be practical on a little less serious but real level.

Some folks make a habit of driving other people crazy. A few of them are so good at it that your first thought when you see them coming is to duck behind a bush. And I’m serious as a heart attack: I don’t want to be one of those folks. I want people who see me heading their way to be glad I’m coming!

So I’ve been thinking about this.

For this discussion, may I just label “folks who drive people crazy” as “difficult people”? And would it help to propose a defining category or two?

Surely, a significant percentage of difficult people don’t know they are difficult people—which is one reason they are. They don’t realize what a “pass” most folks habitually give them. I’m sure, if they weren’t presently driving you crazy, you’d do well to feel sorry for folks who really don’t know that people want to vanish when they see them coming.

Some real sympathy might also be due for some folks who are difficult, know they are difficult, and would really like NOT to be, but who honestly don’t know how to be less difficult and happier. (Again, it’s easier to show sympathy to folks who’ve not just gutted you.)

I’m afraid we must also be realistic enough to say that some difficult people know they are difficult, like being difficult, and fully intend to continue being difficult as a method of controlling the people around them. It’s an approach to life that is as hellish as it is tempting. And that is literally where it leads.

I’m tempted to say that we all are difficult sometimes. True. But it is not true to say that all of us are habitually difficult. That’s what we really want to avoid. But how?

I’m out of space, which makes me feel crotchety and difficult, but I’d offer a few suggestions.

Leave judging to God and let him BE God. He can handle it.

Don’t mistake your standards for God’s standards or vice versa.

Relax occasionally, and let folks around you breathe. Even if they don’t always breathe in ways you like, they’ll appreciate the fresh air.

Let molehills stay molehills.

Your nose is for helping your laugh resonate; it is not for looking down. Laugh often and deeply.

Try to change your mind’s default setting from “criticism” to mercy and grace. That is surprisingly difficult. But people who are serious about trying are rarely difficult. Folks like to see them coming.

I really don’t want to be a difficult person. Those slots are more than filled. But if I start turning into one, you folks will tell me, right? And not just start hiding behind bushes when you see me coming?

Thank you.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Being Critical of Others Is a Poisonous Pleasure

plank eye

In an old issue of Leadership Journal, Haddon Robinson retells the story of a talented young musician who was crestfallen as he sat reading the critics’ stinging reviews of his recent concert.

But an older and much more accomplished musician, the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, comforted the young man by patting him on the back, “Remember, son, there is no city in the world where they have erected a statue to a critic.”

That’s at least part of what Jesus was saying in these verses from the Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-3).

J. B. Phillips, in his paraphrase, puts it this way: “Don’t criticize people, and you will not be criticized.”

That’s both very hard and very freeing. And it’s something we very much need to hear.

We’re all familiar with Jesus’ words, but we easily push them to the backs of our minds when we take up the role of self-appointed judges, critics, of our neighbor next door, or our co-worker on the job, or the lady sitting on the other side of the pew. Criticism, you see, is the most common form of judging.

But Jesus makes fun of judges like us: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and fail to notice the 2 X 4 plank in your own?”

It’s one thing to offer kindly and wise advice, the sort bought only by long experience, to someone we’re charged to teach or train or mentor.

It’s another thing entirely to spend all of our time giving others the “stink eye” and appraising them from a jaundiced perspective. The eye, Jesus says, is “the window of the body.” If I’m looking at the world through dark glasses, I shouldn’t be surprised if the whole world takes on a dark hue.

It’s frighteningly easy for me to become the self-appointed judge of everything and everyone around me. I sit in the reviewing stand watching the world go by and mentally taking notes of the marks I award to each person who parades by for my inspection. Without the benefit of a court or presidential appointment, and certainly with no divine mandate, I ascend to the cardboard bench of my own making and judge while the world goes by.

And don’t do much else, of course. The most severe critics, the most harsh and unrelenting, are always those who actually do the least to foster improvement. When we’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope, we don’t want things to improve because, if they did, we’d have to be happy, and, when we’re in this mode, being happy is the last thing we want. We might have to stop criticizing.

Allowing myself to harbor a judgmental spirit is an amazingly effective way to chase away the happiness of myself and others. Jesus simply says, “Don’t do it.” For most of us, judging ourselves is task enough. And if I really care about receiving mercy, I’d better be very busy indeed giving it.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Some Father’s Day Reflections on Fathers

Shelburne Portrait

Well, here comes Father’s Day. Honestly, I don’t much need a calendar, a card company, and a proclamation or a few for me to wax reflective about fathers and fatherhood.

I’m a fellow who thinks that perhaps the most poignant verse in all of Scripture is the heart-rending cry of the great king who was also a father and would have cast aside a thousand crowns to save his son: “O Absalom! My son, my son!”

For that matter, I’ll even admit to leaking a quiet tear or two toward the end of more than a few episodes of my favorite TV show Blue Bloods. Why? Because this “police show” actually centers on family, is bold enough to portray a family’s Christian faith respectfully, and, most of all, focuses on a father’s relationship with his kids. That’ll get me every time. Besides that, Tom Selleck and I are obviously peas in a pod.

The special day for fathers is fine, but I rarely take a breath on any day without realizing that way up high on the short list of the best blessings the Father put into my life is my father. That I would be the son of the finest man I have ever known is a gift of pure grace. I had nothing to do with it. I didn’t, and don’t, and couldn’t, deserve it in the least.

If you’ve had that same kind of blessing, and I hope you have, then you know the proper response for that kind of father is humility and eternal gratitude to the Father of us all. You had a giant step forward from the moment of your birth in experiencing and learning about the love of your heavenly Father. No small blessing, that.

But I hope you know that you DO have the best Father of all, no matter the quality of your earthly one. And, if you’re part of Christ’s Body, the church, the blessing is multiplied as he has promised “fathers and mothers and brothers and sisters” far beyond our merely human allotment! What an amazing family! All because of our amazing Father.

Fathers, and all of us, hear a lot these days about teaching kids to believe in themselves. I know what folks mean, and, yes, low self-esteem can cause a wad of problems. But I wonder if we’re not coming at this, as usual, from the wrong way around.

G. K. Chesterton was right when he said that if you want to find someone who completely and absolutely believes in himself, all you have to do is find the craziest inmate in the asylum. Truly sane people believe in Someone much bigger than themselves.

My father took care of my “self-esteem” issues by getting the focus right himself. It would never have occurred to Dad to waste time navel-gazing, agonizing about whether or not he believed in himself. My father was far too busy helping his family, and many others, believe in the Father of us all, the One who absolutely loves, values, and counts each child as precious. “Self” esteem is pretty thin stuff compared to knowing for sure that your Father esteems and delights in you.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

Dry Dead Spirits Are Sadder Even Than Bone-dry Ground

drought 001

It’s hard to believe that we’ve just blown past another Memorial Day! Tempus fugit! Time flies! But since the past decade’s years clicked by like stripes on a runway, I shouldn’t be surprised at the rate time fugits.

My wife and I set out plants on Memorial Day. We figure that even though it was just a few days ago that we had a freeze at night followed by 94 degrees the next day, the hot temps will likely now win the battle and Jack Frost will be burned into surrender for a few months.

But around here, at least for the last few years, the wind with its drought-charged dust never surrenders and only on brief occasions favors us with a short cease-fire. As I write, we’ve been blasted for two straight days with unrelenting (even at night) wind and dust. It might have made more sense just to load our pot plants straight into the kitchen oven and crank up the heat, so as to burn ’em up slightly more efficiently.

Sometimes on such days, I get frustrated past the boiling point, and I hear myself wondering why anybody with any sense at all would choose to live in such a land. Then, right after two days of seemingly endless perdition, we have a beautiful morning (before the afternoon wind and dust). And, of course, even as we wonder, we know the primary answer: the people. But we’d be nuts after lengthy runs of dirt and dust and months and months of drought not to wonder why we don’t all migrate to someplace where water falls from the sky and they have green grass. We just get fed up with being blown around and sandblasted.

I’ve heard old folks say that, though conservation practices have kept more of the soil out of the air, the drought we’re enduring is at least as bad as the drought they endured during the Dustbowl when, I’m told, the wind and flying dirt drove more than a few folks crazy. I’m not surprised. It may have been the only sensible way to try to get some relief.

Oh, what I’d give to see Jesus do for us on the high plains what he did for the disciples so many years ago in that boat on the Sea of Galilee. They were about to drown in water, as opposed to being up to their necks in blowing dirt. But I’d love to see the Lord stand up, look straight at the raging elements, and say, perhaps with a little fire in his voice, “That’s enough! Be still!”

I shouldn’t complain. It could be far worse. This abominable weather has left some folks not so far away homeless and grieving. Just a few nights ago, just a hundred or so miles away, a lesser plague had folks heading for storm shelters and shoveling hail like snow. I’m tempted to say, we seem to be very safe here. Tornadoes and hail are usually accompanied by rain, and it never rains here anymore.

But whenever we catch ourselves slipping into complaint mode, we’re in worse danger than even a seemingly endless drought can bring. I’ve known a few complainers, once human and alive with some occasional joy, who morphed into walking Grumbles as they indulged in the poisonous luxury of continual grumbling. Dry dead spirits are sadder even than bone dry ground.

We serve a Lord who can end droughts of any sort. But making it through takes some faith. And having real faith is never easy.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

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