This week’s lesson is difficult to grasp. For many of us, our natural default is to assign negative interpretations to situations. (See One Last Thought at the end of this week’s lesson.) This principle takes a lot of work to master.
Also in this lesson, we will discuss getting God’s interpretation of our circumstances.
Before you begin this week’s lesson, please read Lesson 3 in the book, Happy School, Where Women Learn the Secrets to Overcome Discouragement and Worry.
You Assign an Interpretation to Everything
As humans, we assign interpretations to everything. In today’s article, we will look at examples of different ways to interpret many circumstances. But let’s start with some examples of minor circumstances to see how one could negatively or positively interpret them.
There are a lot of steps here to climb. Do you interpret this to mean “Good, I’ll get some exercise” or “Oh dear, I hate to exert myself”?
I have to grocery shop today. Do you interpret this to mean, “Great, I love the opportunity to buy fresh food for my family” or “Oh no, another time-consuming job on my list of things to do”?
Let’s walk through a couple more examples and see how we can choose to apply more optimistic interpretations to circumstances.
When my children were teens and were supposed to be somewhere and I couldn’t get ahold of them, my immediate negative interpretation was that they had been in a car wreck. But the healthier or more optimistic interpretation would have been, They are young adults and they have lost track of time. There is no reason to get upset because I do not have all the needed information.
Another example of a circumstance that immediately drives many of us to negative interpretations is in the area of health. After a test a couple years ago, the doctor tried to call me, but I missed her call. Listen to this negative interpretation that I gave to the situation: If the doctor is trying to call me (instead of the nurse), it must be because the test results are very serious and very bad. Instead, the more positive interpretation of the doctor calling me would have been that this is a hands-on, personal, old-fashioned doctor who just wanted to assure me everything was fine. It is important to not always jump to negative interpretations from the beginning. We worry before we have all the facts.
In my 30’s, I sought out a woman whom I knew only casually but respected, hoping we could become friends. I called her and invited her to do something, but she said she was busy. So a month later, I called her again and invited her again to do something. Again she turned me down. My interpretation of this was that I was getting blown off because she didn’t like me and wasn’t interested in getting to know me. (Did you hear that negative interpretation?)
My husband (who interprets events much more optimistically than I do) persuaded me to try to get together with her one more time. I invited her to take a calligraphy course with me. This time she accepted my invitation and we’ve been good friends for thirty years, still making time to have coffee. Later she told me that when I called her the first two times, she was ultra-stressed and busy. But by jumping to conclusions I had negatively interpreted it to mean she did not want to be friends. Many women who struggle with heavy discouragement have a tendency to negatively interpret the actions and words of others.
Another example of a negative interpretation (which I hear all the time) is that women don’t think (interpret that) their husbands care about them because of the way their husbands celebrate their special days, such as birthdays and anniversaries. (Hear it? The negative interpretation is that their husband’s poor celebrating skills mean that he doesn’t really care about them.) But as I’ve taught many women over the years, husbands do not have radars for how to celebrate special days unless they’ve been well trained. (For more on this subject, click HERE to read How Husbands Feel about Holidays.) The correct, more positive, interpretation is that men don’t show their amount of love for you by how well they celebrate your special days. Instead, most men show their love by being faithful and bringing home their paycheck. Yes, you can teach your husband how important these days are to you, but husbands do not come with software about how women feel about their special days. Men who give crummy presents (or no presents at all) mainly do not understand the female psyche. Do you see that if you had more knowledge about men in this area, you could give your husband’s disappointing celebratory skills a more positive interpretation until you had a chance to teach him?
I remember an illustration that Dr. Adrian Rogers gave in a sermon 30 years ago. The gist of the story was this: There was a little boy and he was so optimistic that his family thought they would see if they could come up with something in which he would not be optimistic. So for Christmas, they gave him some horse manure. Upon opening the package, the little boy responded, “Horse manure? That means there’s a pony around here!” That, my friends, is a positive interpretation of circumstances.
It is important that you realize that you are giving an interpretation to everything in your life and that you have the power to Listen to Your Parade and to construe things more positively. You are currently assigning a value and an interpretation to every situation in your life, and you can learn to challenge negative interpretations and replace them with more positive ones.
The above examples are all relatively minor situations. But what about more important circumstances, such as…
I’m having trouble dealing with getting older.
My husband lost his job.
My mother-in-law (or daughter-in-law) is very difficult.
For the rest of the week, I will write about these specific areas in which many women default to negative interpretations.
Don’t Have a Negative Interpretation about Aging
In your 20’s, you barely thought about aging. But not too long after that, all humans face the inevitable battle with a declining body.
And as much as women have progressed in the last century with more equal rights, there is still an (unspoken) belief in many cultures that once women lose their youth and reproductive ability, they are not as valuable as they originally were. This is highly, grossly untrue!
If you are not careful however, these interpretations that the culture tries to lay on older women will creep into your mindset. Hey, I’m for every anti-aging cream there is, but this is a battle (being young) that you will eventually lose. (If you don’t believe me, you should visit my 91-year-old mother’s retirement community.)
Do what you can to stay young: Exercise a lot (take at least 8000 steps a day.) Eat right (for heaven’s sake, learn how to ditch excess sugar and bad carbs!) Be sure to get enough vitamin D (sunlight). Do everything you can do to stay young and vibrant. (Just FYI, some of the cosmetic procedures have harmful effects so carefully research everything before you start injecting anything.)
At some point, you have to reject the culture’s definition of the value of older women. Instead, women should be viewed by their character and by what they contribute, not by their youthful sexuality. Find your identity in being a child of God and how He loves and serves others through you. (Even a bed-ridden person can pray!)
Do not let the culture’s interpretation of older women become yours. An older woman’s wisdom, love, and service are extremely valuable. Look at the Proverbs 31 woman and her life of contribution and character. At the end of her life, her husband adored her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all” (verse 29). Also, her children loved her: “Her children arise and call her blessed” (verse 28). Even her community recognized her contributions and character: “…let her works bring her praise at the city gate” (verse 31).
It’s hard not to somewhat absorb the culture’s underlying message that older women are somewhat disposable and unwanted. That interpretation is a dead-out lie. Do not let this subtle scheme of the Enemy give you a false, negative interpretation of older women. Older women can be the pillars of virtue, love, and service. What on earth is more important than being a role model to the young people of today—showing them how to love, give, sacrifice, serve, and have a happy heart?
If you’re struggling with aging, write down all the benefits you can still provide to others. (Again, even wheelchair-bound seniors can be a source of encouragement, prayer, and a listening ear.) Do not let your inevitable aging gain a negative interpretation in your mind. Age with acceptance, grace, and courage.
Even when seniors become senile, or fall prey to various immobilizing diseases, they are still of extreme value, as they were created by God. He has stamped His image on them and this gives them infinite value.
In the 1930’s, my grandmother wanted to get braces for my mother’s and her sister’s teeth. This was a rural farming area, and the surrounding neighbors thought it was highly vain and unnecessary to get braces. Compare that with today’s thinking that it is sad if children are too poor to get braces. I give you this example to demonstrate that I am not being legalistic about anti-aging procedures. If you feel like you need to improve your looks, then by all means, do so.
But don’t believe the culture’s lie about the worth of older women.
A More Positive Interpretation of Losing Your Job
A 50-year-old man had been working for the same company for over 20 years. The owner died, and then his widow sold the business. The employee absolutely fell apart. He thought he would eventually buy the business from the owners, but now he felt like the business was sold out from under him. Feeling massively betrayed, he reacted by staying home, watching soap operas, and spiraling into depression. He did not even try to find another job. In fact, he started doing strange things, like driving around town, redeeming coupons worth 35 cents. This man died in his 60s but not before letting this situation make him into an angry, belligerent person.
How could things have gone differently if this man had assigned a more positive interpretation to his circumstance (losing his job and the potential business opportunity)? What if he had told himself, “I’m very disappointed that I didn’t get to buy that business. But I know I could help a lot of businesses with my talents. I will try to find another job. Maybe I’ll find something that I like even better. And maybe I’ll find another business to buy.”
This is the thought pattern of a very mature person. Think positively about circumstances and give them the best interpretation possible.
I know a couple who moved to my city for a job but when they got here, the husband’s job was highly undesirable, so he quit. At first, the woman and her husband were discouraged. But they prayed and felt a peace about the job situation. The couple believed (here’s the new interpretation:) that God was in control and had told them He was going to take care of them.
After a few months of intense job searching with nothing to show for it, the couple’s savings ran out. Guess what happened next? The husband’s great-aunt died and left them a large inheritance. (This sounds like a fairy tale, right?) The couple used this money to start a business which has now prospered for over 15 years. God had told them in prayer to wait on Him about their job situation (a new and positive interpretation). In His time, God provided a new opportunity.
I think of Joseph in the Old Testament, being sold into slavery by his brothers, being falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and then being thrown into prison in Egypt. Talk about difficult circumstances! But what if Joseph knew then that by interpreting a dream for the Pharoah, he would rise to become second in command in all of Egypt. Ultimately, he would save his family and the nation of Israel from famine. Do you see how we often misinterpret something great that God is doing through our trials? We can’t see God’s plan. But since He is using all things for our good, we can choose to interpret our hard trials more optimistically, knowing we are not operating in a vacuum, but in a scenario where the hairs on our head are numbered.
Maybe your hardship has a purpose. Maybe you are to accomplish something important through it. Pray. Search the Scriptures. Get counsel from godly mentors who are well-versed in the ways of God.
I love this quote by Charles Swindoll: “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.”
Whatever your problem is, God could send 12 legions of angels right now to fix things but for some higher purpose, He hasn’t. That’s because there’s a reason and a benefit, although you can’t see it. God fills us with the peace that passes understanding when we get His interpretation of our circumstances.
A More Optimistic Interpretation about Difficult In-law Situations
Today we will discuss a relationship that is difficult for many to navigate, the mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationship. Sometimes these relationships are a rich blessing. But for many of the women in my past groups, the in-law situation has been a disheartening trial.
After the new couple’s wedding, often, the mother-in-law’s perspective is that a new (difficult) young woman was suddenly thrust into her inner family circle, and she, the m-in-law, was not consulted! And as for the daughter-in-law’s perspective, she is now forced into a “close” relationship with this older (difficult) woman whom she did not get to select.
There’s no end to the possibilities for tension. After the wedding, the m-in-law and the d-in-law now celebrate holidays together, share a MIP (Most Important Person, the husband or son) connection, and are connected through the children/grandchildren.
Here are 3 pieces of advice that have helped in many difficult in-law situations. It’s not the end-all advice for all circumstances—and it’s certainly not easy to live out—but it’s powerful medicine to soften and win the hard hearts of difficult in-laws.
Here’s the first piece of advice: Go the Second Mile in your relationship with your difficult in-law. I know, I know, this in-law bugs the stew out of you, and you don’t even like going the First Mile. But when you repeatedly go the Second Mile, the other person softens.
The second piece of advice that softens your difficult in-law is to give her some A’s, such as the A of Admiration, Appreciation, Attention, Acceptance, and Acts of Service. (These are discussed thoroughly in Wife School and in Wife School Advanced.)
The third piece of advice is to give your difficult in-law SUGs, Surprise and Unexpected Gifts (discussed in Husband School). Going the Second Mile, giving A’s, and giving SUGs break down shields that cover stone hearts.
Try to think hard about what the other (difficult) person would truly like. One young girl told me her mother-in-law brought her, as a gift, coupons for eggs. Really? Another mother-in-law invited the new young wife to many social events, trying to promote quality time together. But this was not the young woman’s idea of a gift. How much smarter the older woman would have been to discover the girl’s desires and then give her what the girl wanted (maybe new clothes or some help to organize her kitchen)!
You’ve got to uncover what your in-law wants. Sure, it’s easier just to complain and gossip about your difficult in-law. But drawing up a plan to pull her heart to you (in her love language, not yours) is the wise thing to do. Make it a game to win your in-law, to see if you can tame the lion by uncovering what she wants and what pleases her. If she roars and is unpleasant, then try again.
I have found that almost everybody, when treated this way, softens. I mean everybody. The problem is that very few people are willing to look exclusively at how they give and love their in-law versus how they are given to and loved by the in-law. Another problem is that all of us tend to give what we want, instead of deeply thinking about what another person might want.
This is a new (although tough) strategy to solve the tension between the two of you. When you adopt this plan, you can look at your in-law’s rudeness, advice, coldness, sharpness, distance, etc. with a new interpretation and it is this: “Maybe she is difficult now, but I have the skills to melt the ice off her heart. I will look at what I’m giving, not at what I’m getting. I will learn to overlook and not be offended.” (Lesson on being offended coming up.)
A few years ago, I knew a set of parents that did not particularly like their new daughter-in-law. But the d-in-law, being very mature, decided to win them. She helped her mother-in-law put up Christmas decorations and she took the mother-in-law dinner when the m-in-law had the flu. She asked her m-in-law for her opinion about some areas. How mature it is to try to win the difficult in-law instead of just tolerating and resenting them. This solution sounds so unpleasant to many of you, as you don’t even like the in-law. But just know that winning the in-law is a gigantic gift you give to your husband/son.
When your difficult in-law pulls her stuff (which you can predict she will), tell yourself (positive interpretation to negative event) that although she is a tiger right now, with years of going the Second Mile, giving A’s and SUG’s, you can tame her into a kitty cat. Water dripping repeatedly on a rock will eventually break it down and this is what repeated kindness can do to a hard heart.
Love is patient, love is kind…it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love …always perseveres.
We are even to love our enemies. Those few phrases from 1 Cor. 13 have always thrown me up against the wall when I’d rather resent someone than love (tolerate?) them. As a Christian, that is not a choice we get to make.
The negative interpretation we often give to difficult in-laws is that they will always be difficult. But God has a strategy for influencing others to change. Knowing that this strategy melts steel, you can give a more positive interpretation to your current difficult in-law situation. This strategy gives beauty for ashes.
Just a reminder for those of you with truly toxic in-laws: Go the Second Mile, but not the Third. This principle will be your boundary and will keep you from getting sucked into the dark side of a truly toxic in-law.
Day 5, Part A
Not Assigning a Negative Interpretation to Extremely Difficult Events
Let’s take the heaviest and most serious of all circumstances, death. Don’t get me wrong on this topic, I don’t want to die (I study longevity) and I don’t want anybody else to die either. However, death happens to all of us. We are all on death row. You are. I am. It’s just a matter of when.
So let’s think about if there are any different interpretations one could give to the circumstance of death. Let’s look at Paul’s interpretation of death.
In Philippians 1:23-25, Paul writes, “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Paul could think like this because he was familiar with the thinking of 1 Corinthians 2:9 (NKJV): “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard…the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
I’m not where Paul was spiritually (I want to stay around as long as possible) but the example shows us that everything is an interpretation, even death. The disciples got whipped (the worst!) and they left, rejoicing, thinking they were counted worthy of persecution (Acts 5:41). I don’t know about you, but it blows my mind that the disciples rejoiced over such suffering. Again, I am not recommending any kind of pain, or taking cruelty lightly. But I am trying to take the most intense examples of circumstances and show you that even these are an interpretation.
I give you these extreme examples as a teaching tool, knowing that the huge majority of the issues in your life are not as severe as these. Even with the very hardest issues of life, we can turn our hearts to the Lord and get His interpretation on our circumstances.
Day 5, Part B
An Example of the Right Interpretation on One Appealing Opportunity
A godly woman I know has two children and works part-time. She was offered a very appealing and extremely attractive opportunity to grow her part-time business. At first, her adrenaline soared at the idea.
However, when she prayed about it, she felt God tell her in her spirit, You have enough money right now for what you need. That new opportunity will take much of your time and your priority right now is your family and rearing your children. There will be time in the future for you to grow your business.
Even though it initially looked highly appealing and exciting, this woman said no to the opportunity. This wise woman lets God give her the correct interpretation to her circumstances. “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the LORD.” (Is. 55:8)
She told me she had peace about the situation. This, my friends, is the way to live, being led by the Spirit, letting Him give you His interpretation to your circumstances.
As you know, I have several unwanted circumstances in my life and You know that I have attached negative interpretations to many of them. You are trying to get me to think more optimistically and to seek Your interpretation to my circumstances.
Help me see that these trials You have allowed are for a purpose and that the hairs on my head are numbered. Give me eyes to see what You are doing.
Please give me more optimistic interpretations about my difficult relationships. I am going to have a hard time following those three pieces of advice from Day 3 to go the Second Mile, to give A’s, and to give SUGS to “You-know-who” (my difficult person). But in Your Word, we are to love our enemies so help me become a person who even gives to and loves difficult people.
I’m not ready to die yet, Lord, but when it is my time, may I remember that eye has not seen nor ear heard…the things which You have prepared for me.
Please give me Your interpretation on my circumstances and then give me the peace that passes understanding. I know Your thoughts are not my thoughts and Your ways are not my ways.
In Jesus precious Name,
Questions for Group Discussion
- Pick a situation in your life and discuss with the group how you are giving it a negative interpretation. Try to figure out a more optimistic interpretation, maybe with the help of the group. Iron sharpens iron.
- Can you think of any other situations or circumstances in your life in which it would be helpful to construe things more positively, i.e., assign a more optimistic value or interpretation?
- It is normal that we view aging as our mothers did. If your mother did not view aging through a biblical mindset, you can change that and give your daughters a healthier biblical view. What is your current view of aging? And where did it come from?
- Are you able to give positive interpretations to situations about work, jobs, and money? Are you able to interpret that God is maybe doing something great through your trials?
- Discuss Chuck Swindoll’s quote, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” What does this sentence make you think about?
- God fills us with the peace that passes understanding when we get His interpretation of our circumstances. Share with the group a new perspective you might have, of God’s interpretation of one of your difficult circumstances.
- If you experience difficulty with an in-law situation, can you see how the three pieces of advice (go the Second Mile, give A’s, and give SUG’s) could soften your in-law? God has given us a strategy to break hearts of stone in 1 Corinthians 13. Read the chapter and then explain how you feel about this strategy.
One Last Thought
I just got back from a bike ride where I saw my neighbor hedging his yard. I turned to wave, but he didn’t look up. Oh, he doesn’t like me, I heard my Parade say. (Seriously? How long have I been studying and teaching this material?) Don’t expect all of your deep negative neural grooves to be healed after this course. But, take heart, you are learning how to give a better interpretation to your circumstances.
Here’s my better, more optimistic interpretation to my neighbor ignoring me: “My neighbor is probably concentrating very hard because he wants to get through before the rain comes in, and therefore, didn’t notice me.” I laugh to myself when I make up these better interpretations. But, hey, they work! Then I Moved into Another Room in my Brain, and was just fine. Don’t expect your initial negative interpretations to immediately go away. But do expect to no longer tolerate them.