“I’m Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry”: manipulation masquerading as humility and repentance
I’ve listened to many stories told by family members, friends and spouses experiencing hurt and exhaustion caused by the actions of a loved one. The hurt inflicted upon these people, in most cases, is intentional in nature and fueled by insecurity. The damage caused by the insecure party results in real, gaping wounds. Yet, because these friends and family members still desire to be in a relationship with the insecure, often volatile, person; they continue to open themselves up to more hurt in their attempt to set boundaries. Inevitably, the hurt family members experience more pain at the hands of the insecure, while the insecure family member spends the majority of their time focused on their behavioral changes. However, in most cases, the insecure entirely overlooks the needed heart change required for true repentance.
Unfortunately, this intense deed-focus inflicts yet more emotional damage on the already battered and bruised family and friends. The disconnect between behavioral modification and true gospel level heart change manifest in the insecure, is tantamount to an alcoholic who goes to inpatient for 90 days, and immediately upon release declares sobriety. Except, in reality, they thought about drinking every day of their treatment. In the field of psychology and addiction we refer to such individuals as a “dry drunk.” A dry drunk is an alcoholic who is unable to access alcohol, but spent every minute it was unavailable thinking about it. They spent their time focused on the taste of alcohol, and they planned for their next drink. So, while a “dry drunk” might legitimately claim they have been sober for 90 days because alcohol hasn’t physically been in their system for three months, they have missed the treatment’s deeper point. Treatment wasn’t intended to simply address their maladaptive behavior and forbid access to alcohol, it’s intended to address the origins of their alcoholism, their desire for drunkenness, and the insecurities that fuel the core issues in their heart.
The “dry drunk” is an example of manipulation masquerading as repentance and humility. Because the alcoholic was without alcohol for a prolonged period of time, they claim to have changed. Further, they require those that have been damaged by their excessive drinking to act as if this fiction is the truth. By behaving this way, the dry drunk is inflicting yet more damage on their loved ones because a core-level heart change has not actually transpired.
True heart change takes more than abstaining from a behavior or substance.
Saying sorry isn’t enough
People who damage their friend and familial relationships often refuse to examine their hearts on a deep, spiritual level. When insecurity is at the core of what drives the hurting of others, it’s almost impossible for sincere reflection, evaluation and introspection to happen. Insecurity tends to cloud the ability to assess one's own actions and blinds them to how their actions are affecting others. Saying, and meaning, “I’m sorry” must come by way of a Holy Spirit conviction. Conviction leads to humble prayer, followed by contrition, then confession, arriving at repentance, which means gospel-level heart change. Simply saying “I’m sorry” for doing relational damage in word and deed, yet remaining bitter and resentful on the heart level, causes more damage than doing no interpersonal work at all. This delays healing for all parties.
True heart change can only come from God and the Holy Spirit residing within us. We must daily come before the face of God (Corum Deo) and pray through Psalm 139:23-24
“Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
This prayer of humility and admission that we cannot know the full depth and depravity of our own hearts, is the first step in submitting to the authority of God over our lives. The psalmist recognized that even on his best day, he will still have a bitter, resentful, and malicious heart. Therefore, it is imperative that we seek God and ask Him to reveal our hearts. We cannot correct something to which we are blind.
God’s understanding leads us to a contrite heart
Contrition is a necessity for gospel-level heart change. Considering the concept of contrition, my 8-year-old daughter comes to mind. Many times she will not do what I have asked of her. In seriously willful episodes of disobedience, when confronted, her immediate response is, “I’m sorry.” Her face is downcast with expectation of the coming negative consequence and a firm conversation. At age 8, my daughter is often more sorry that she got caught in her disobedience, not that she disobeyed her parents.
Contrition is the knowledge that our behavior was sinful and hurtful. God convicts us and provides an understanding of our sin, what we did wrong and how we are hurting others. Therefore, we face the choice to either reject this conviction and continue functioning as god over our own lives, which further defies God’s truth, or we accept the reality of our sin and the pain we are causing others. By accepting the later, we glorify Christ and He continues to change our hearts.
Change requires constant submission to Christ. It requires a continual acknowledgement that only God is capable of changing our hearts. It requires constant prayer and immersion in God’s word. Change without any contrition or repentance is simply behavior modification.
I invite you to change, by thinking about who’s in charge of your change.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
Pastor, you can’t help everyone
I know the title of this piece seems a bit jarring, but I titled it this way not because of a pastors inability to care for his flock; but because of the dangers that come with the literally trying to help everyone. Those dangers being increases in relational stress and idolatry that inevitably lead to increased rates of isolation, temptation, anxiety and depression.
My hope is to point out that you can’t help everyone as a pastor. The demands of your congregation do not take precedent over the worship of Christ.
Jesus is first
Many pastors who are called into vocational ministry, go in with the hope and desire that they will be able to love and care for the church through the teaching and preaching of God’s word. They envision proclaiming God’s word to people of a local church body where they receive hope, grace and a new joy. They want to put Jesus first. What they don’t anticipate are the relationships and the people in their church that will require their time and how some of these congregant demands move Jesus into second or even third place. In this type of church culture ministry gradually becomes more about making sure certain people are happy within the church body. This transformation is often covert and subtle. Pastors rarely get an individual or group of individuals in a church that will directly demand him to meet all of their needs right up front. This transformation happens over years of ministerial work through meetings to discuss how leaders and or congregants are unhappy with the pastor for something he did or didn’t do. Pastors are worn down by the demand to meet the needs of vocal toxic congregants, who’s purpose in church is more about them than worshipping Jesus as King.
It is through this type of church culture Jesus is moved into a tertiary position and the demands of the church become the primary variable that is appeased or even worshipped.
People Pleasing is Idolatry and leads to Anxiety and Depression.
We know and understand that anytime someone or something is put in the place of Christ as a functional savior, we are engaging in idolatry. Back in the book of Deuteronomy, the Israelites had a prayer called “The Shema”. This was a prayer they would say corporately that would rightly orient themselves to God and correctly position Him as supreme in their lives. But we know the Israelites struggled mightily with trusting God and His character. We see many instances of God’s people taking matters into their own hands and creating emotional, relational and physical damage. The Israelites didn’t have a problem with a Good and gracious God, they had a problem with an idolatrous heart that desired to be god.
Fast forward to today, while we may be more technologically advanced than the Israelites we really aren’t that different than them. We would prefer to be god, then to let God be God. When a pastor is stuck in a cycle of focusing on putting the needs of vocal toxic congregants first and base the church health on if they are happy, this is people pleasing and idolatry. This is putting Christ second, like the behavior of the Israelites. This behavior, unfortunately leads to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. The anxiety shows up in the form of worry that you as pastor will not be liked or well thought of if you don’t respond to the demands of the few. The depression shows up in the form of low self-esteem in that you are not worth anything unless you are focusing on making sure your congregants are happy. This type of anxiety and depression will rob a pastor of their primary identity and their joy in Jesus.
You cannot help everyone
This leads me to wrap up this piece by saying again, “pastor you cannot help everyone”. I say this to cause you to evaluate how you are engaging in relationships within your church. I say this to cause you to evaluate why are you doing what you are doing. I say this to cause you to evaluate where Jesus ranks within your church.
I say and ask all these things not so you will take a strong stance and say you won’t help anyone or that you will continue to help everyone. Pride exists in both of those responses. I am focusing on these things because as a pastor you are called to be under shepherds of God’s flock and you cannot do that if you have significant anxiety and depression stemming from people pleasing. As a pastor you will always be called to walk a balance filled with tension, but to know and remember that Christ is where all your needs are met. This isn’t to say you won’t have moments or worry or low self-esteem in your ministry, but your ministry won’t be marked by chronic anxiety and depression.
Jesus gives you tremendous hope in the sermon on the mount Matt 6:26-34. Jesus acknowledges and addresses your anxiety. He reminds you of who is in charge. He illustrates your worth to God. He treats your anxiety and promises to be God in your life. Toxic church members certainly need the love of Jesus, but they are not where your identity is found..
“You cannot help everyone” should be a phrase that gives you freedom to focus on those that God has genuinely placed in your path to help (through wisdom and discernment from the Holy Spirit) as well as being able to function in your primary identity, which is worshipper and child of God.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33)
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
The lock downs amid a global pandemic have been hard for virtually everyone There is zero sense of normal. Most everyone is holding on to the figurative steering wheel and white knuckling it. Amidst all this turmoil, people are attempting to thrive. They are trying to connect with one another and taking their mental health more seriously than they ever have. In some ways, this moment in time is giving people an opportunity to pause and reflect.
That being said, there is a group of individuals that are not fairing well and that is pastors. With pastors having to make the tough decisions to move to online church, the demand for soul care of their congregants has increased significantly. In some states, pastors were not given a choice about closing their church indefinitely and faced the backlash from it. Pastors work an incredibly hard job. There is no sermon they will preach that will be good enough. No counseling session they give that will be restoring enough. No amount of time they dedicate to the church and the body that will be enough. This is the landscape that many church planters face and current pastors know. This reality for most pastors has intensified during these lock downs.
Many pastors go into ministry because they sincerely love Jesus Christ and the church. But as time goes on and they go longer in ministry, the wear of the job becomes more than one pastor can handle. Between leadership meetings and demands of congregations, when and where does a pastor have time to get his emotional and mental health needs met? The answer unfortunately is they don’t. The role of pastor has a reputation of almost being an individual without sin who has endless energy. The pastor is seen as someone who has their life together and in biblical terms is above reproach. Tragically, this reputation plagues many pastors; to the point that they feel they have to fulfill these expectations 24/7 and there is no room for rest or any grace if they make a mistake.
This leads to suffering in silence and to a lack of trust. This leads to a belief that their internal suffering must be from a lack of faith. In short, they become anxious and depressed.
Pastor suicide is on the rise and while not every pastor who suffers from depression, contemplates suicide they are indeed in emotional turmoil. Many pastors who deal with anxiety and depression in silence do so because they may lose their jobs if they are found out; others remain silent because their church does not acknowledge, minimizes or dismisses all together the existence of mental health issues.
If you are reading this and you have a church you call home, know this…your pastor is human and sinful and absolutely needs your support, prayer, and grace.
Pastor if you are reading this and it resonates, know this…you are seen, Christ loves you, your people love you and the sacrifices you have made and the work you have done during these lock downs are greatly appreciated. Do not isolate but go to Christ and accept grace.
-Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
When to Report Child Abuse
Reporting child abuse of any kind is certainly a difficult topic. Identifying what passes for abuse can be an even harder one. I have heard stories in the past where a care giver was unsure if what they were seeing constituted “abuse”, so the abuse went unreported. Another reason why abuse may go unreported, is because a family may be trying to protect the perpetrator who happens to be another family member.
Understanding why its important to advocate for children, especially in abuse situations will be helpful in reframing your views on reporting child abuse and child advocacy. Children often lack the ability to advocate for themselves due to emotional and psychological development. When abuse happens in a child’s life it interrupts their emotional and cognitive development. Children are often placed in situations and scenarios they don’t understand, because a parent or caregiver forced them there and by forced, I mean did not factor in their opinion on the matter. Abuse in a child’s life leads to a higher probability that they will have anxiety, depression and possibly other psychiatric symptoms. So understanding that children are unable to advocate for themselves in ways that adults are, should help in changing your perspective on early reporting.
Secondly, understand that when you report you are being protective and preemptive. You are saying, “No” I will not allow this child to be abused anymore” and you then are stepping between the child and perpetrator and helping to prevent future abuse. I understand that many think and believe that if you report abuse to CPS, they will come and take the children away. CPS looks at every case individually. They examine the severity of the abuse, the duration, the type of abuse, the age of those involved, how long people knew the abuse was occurring, etc. CPS wants to make sure that the child is being protected from those who seek to use and abuse them to meet their needs. That is why they exist.
Third, it’s important to understand the different types of abuse that are looked at. According to the U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services there are 6 major areas of child abuse and neglect:
You and your kid may not have experienced the above situations, but there are situations that cause parents to ask, “Is this abuse?” and “Should I report it?” I understand your hesitation, especially when the behavior that may be considered abuse is not black and white and doesn’t fit the above definitions. Ask a mental health professional. Take a course in understanding abuse and the signs of abuse. Call CPS and report what you know or suspect. By reporting early, you are ensuring that the child will no longer undergo further abuse, you are advocating for the child’s development emotionally and cognitively and you are helping to potentially decrease the possibility of the child having severe mental health issues later in life.
The bottom line is child abuse is destructive. Children can’t advocate for themselves. Reporting is important. Do not be the person that protects the abuser at the cost of the child.
Early reporting helps the abused and it helps the abuser.
If you would like to read further, check out the link:
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
What can I say about rest?
Well it's something I've never been great at. Even after ten years I'm still learning to rest. Probably even more of a lesson that I'm learning is being content. Somehow those two are inextricably linked. Rest and contentment.
Over the course of the last ten years there has been lots of accomplishment, lots of pain and growth. All of which were and still are blessings by the grace of God. Probably the hardest thing to do is sit be quiet and be content. My mind is constantly moving thinking about the next step or five. But nevertheless this is where God has called me. Being content means I get to actually enjoy what I've accomplished. I get to enjoy what I've bought. I get to enjoy what I've been given.
This concept of contentment has been tremendously helpful for my anxiety and depression. By taking an inventory of my life on what's positive and what God has given me, I'm able to slow down and enjoy the day. This has become an invaluable lesson. My wife has commented that I'm a better husband when I practice contentment. My daughters benefit more from their dad when he is focused on them and not accomplishing or acquiring something all the time.
Rest has been another critical component to my mental health, really overall health. This has been a hard fought lesson. Rest has not been something I do very easily. I've always thought if I wasn't doing something, I was being lazy. This thinking has led to me being more tired, getting sick more often, being angry, having no energy to do anything.
So, here I sit writing this piece while celebrating my 10th wedding anniversary. I can officially say that I rest better and practice contentment more often, but certainly have more to learn. Rest and contentment is a choice and not something to be approached from an obligatory place. You get to rest, not you have to rest. You get to be content, not you have to be content.
Is it possible that when you shift your thinking to choose to rest and be content you impact your anxiety and depression in a positive way? Possibly? Maybe there's not a one-size-fits all answer to this, but should be an on-going dialogue.
Well, that's all for now. Till next time
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
The Poison of Comparison
Maybe it's worth noting that all of us are guilty of trying to keep up with the Joneses. Maybe you've convinced yourself that you don't care what others think of you or that you are individualistic.
For many of us we spend an inordinate amount of our thought life comparing ourselves to others. We measure ourselves in terms of money, accomplishments and wealth. We delude ourselves into thinking we are Type A personalities and we are just being "goal oriented"
But that's not really what's going on. We are slowly poisoning ourselves through comparison. We must have what is popular and in. We must be liked. We must accomplish. We must be powerful. We must be loved and admired.
How many of us are responsible for creating anxiety because we are trying to create an image that we believe others will like? How insane is that thought?! We create the very cognitive audience to which we bow down and say, "yes masters", I will change my actions, behaviors and even physical image to make you happy.
Who among us is left with depression because the cognitive distortions of what others expect of us are relentless. They are never satiated, because they are often fragments and insecurities that have been given too much power in our lives....by us.
It is not advantageous for you to compare!your life to someone else's. To look upon someone else's existence and believe they have it better simply because they seem to have a more favorable outward appearance. Solomon, credited as the wisest man in history was famous for saying in the book of Ecclesiastes that there is nothing new under the sun. Comparison is nothing new. Yet we are surprised at when it causes clinical anxiety, depression or a variety of mental health issues.
Our desire to please is a core issue that simply isn't being addressed. Be real with yourself and ask tough questions. Am I poisoning myself my constantly comparing myself to others? Am I creating the perfect environment for anxiety and depression to grow?
Not being a people pleaser and being content with what you have and who Christ made you to be is a life long journey. But at some point you have to make the first step and begin that journey.
Stop drinking poison. Look to Christ
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
One of the hardest things about depression is being able to step outside of yourself.
All too often depression creates a cycle of morbid self-introspection that causes……more depression. As the depressed person, is the answer to learn more cognitive tools to combat the depression? Is the answer to take medication in hopes that it’ll change the way you think? Maybe the answer is to go back to a time when you were most happy and replicate that…maybe?
Depression treatment requires a willingness. It demands an ability to fight. I often tell people to get angry at their depression. Get angry that certain moments in time, specific interactions with people, trauma or medical conditions would seek to dictate how they live out their present. Depression would like nothing more than to see you defeated. It would very much like to be that wet blanket on the campfire. Depression wants you to be completely ineffective.
As a Christian, getting angry and fighting back against depression looks like having faith and trust in Christ and a humility that says you’re your circumstances are outside of your control.
Seems counter-intuitive addressing depression treatment this way. But as a Christian it is imperative to understand where true power comes from, that it doesn’t come from within you, but that it comes from the one who saved you. There is no amount of power, in your depression, that you can muster up and pull yourself out of the gloomy depths. I have seen people try and try again, only to find that they never really climbed out.
The bible speaks extensively on the topic of humility. The old testament talks of humility well over 900 times and the new testament speaks of it over 300 times. What can we say if the bible brings up this issue so much….it might be worth paying attention to.
The question then becomes, “Is it loving and merciful to speak of humility to someone wrestling with chronic depression?”
This is tough to answer. It is tempting when walking with someone dealing with depression to excuse them from the responsibility to respond to Christ in their suffering. Our suffering, internal and external does not make us exempt from humbly responding to God. This may be a harsh outlook, but one I believe to be true.
James 4:10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
This verse is plain and simple, but hard to execute. This verse isn’t saying, once you’ve got your life under control and your circumstances are less chaotic, then humble yourself before the Lord.
Humility in your present circumstances.
The reality for many Christians is a life of depression and inner turmoil and assault. Learning the value in humility for treating depression is priceless. Understanding the character of God is necessary for moving forward in your depression. Knowing the promises of Christ anchors you on solid ground, when depression seeks to blow you away like a leaf in a violent storm.
Be honest with yourself, how much do you know about the character of God? Do you understand the promises of him? How transparent are you with those around you about your depression? do you let others in to walk with you? Do you isolate yourself because the people around you, who love you don’t simply let you sit in your misery?
These are questions that I feel important for you as the individual with depression to be asking yourself. Forcing yourself outside the bounds of depression is uncomfortable and uncertain, but you can begin to see a bigger world. Finally, please don’t give up. Seek to understand how you can be humble in your circumstances. Fight hard. Always remember that you have a choice in your depression.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
My goal is to always write from the heart and to incorporate professional knowledge and personal conviction. I have been very passionate and determined to write as much as I can on anxiety when it comes to the Christian faith. This picture of someone having a theology like a vending machine has been something that I have been thinking on for sometime. It hasn't been until now that I have been able to make a connection with that illustration and the very real issue of anxiety.
What do we know of vending machines? They're big metal boxes located in convenient places with a variety of snacks that are a quick fix and will temporarily fill you up. Provided you have the money, you usually have at least 10 different options to choose from. The commitment and price is low enough for many people to not think twice about purchasing a candy bar or bag of chips. After all, it's like what....a $1.25-$1.50 for chips. Nothing that's going to break the bank or cost you lots of time.
What do we know about anxiety? Anxiety can happen for many reasons which include divorce, drug use, abuse, chemical imbalances, improper body functioning, death of a loved one, loss of a job, etc. Anxiety can create feelings of despair, worry, hopelessness, thoughts of suicide. Anxiety can push people into isolation and loneliness. Often times good professional counseling and medication are required for stabilization.
So how does a vending machine and anxiety connect? Helping someone with anxiety, chronic anxiety is tough and there are no easy answers. It takes commitment and sacrifice. Unfortunately, many Christians adopt a "vending machine" approach to helping the person with anxiety. It is easy to give a verse out, pat yourself on the back and say,
"I did my Christian duty. If they don't change it's because they don't want to and aren't trusting Jesus enough."
Vending machine theology doesn't require heavy commitment. It requires minimal understanding of who Christ is, doesn't cost a lot in time and won't be all that sacrificial. This theological approach is not dissimilar from believing in magic tricks. Just say the magic words and you'll get the desired outcome and if no change happens, blame it on the individual you are carelessly throwing verses at. This approach is lazy, unkind, lacks grace and any understanding of what anxiety is and what the person with anxiety is going through.
As a believer in Christ, our duty is to love those who suffer all afflictions and walk with them for as long as we can. Don't just throw verses at someone with anxiety, be in their life, walk with them through their emotions, show them Christ in your actions and words. Be a student of God's word. Understand his character and promises. by doing this you'll be an incredible testament to God's power and grace and a blessing to those with anxiety.
Christian Bringolf MA LMHC
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