- overcome the habits and history that are keeping you down—and take new, positive steps toward change;
- heal from the hurts, setbacks, and broken relationships that affect you every day;
- develop better boundaries with others in your life;
- stop overreacting and start responding appropriately to any situation or circumstance;
- break the cycle of behavior that harms you and your relationships;
- find the freedom you have longed for.
|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Stephen Arterburn is founder and chairman of New Life Clinics, host of the daily "New Life Live!" national radio program, a nationally known speaker, and the bestselling author of more than two dozen books.
Read an Excerpt
Take Your Life Back
How to Stop Letting the Past and Other People Control You
By Stephen Arterburn, David Stoop
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2016 Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop
All rights reserved.
THE PRODIGAL ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PALACE
We've heard the story of the prodigal son many times: the young man who insults and disgraces his father by demanding an early inheritance; who moves away from his father, lives it up, burns it up, comes crashing down, and eventually has to move in with some pigs — the ultimate symbol of unclean and destitute living. The term prodigal has come to characterize anyone who has ever acted out — through addiction, rebellion, recklessness, promiscuity, or any number of other destructive behaviors — and people who have surrendered ownership of their lives to an external controlling influence. For these prodigals — a group that includes both men and women, sons and daughters — the Bible says "their god is their appetite" and their focus is woefully shortsighted. That's why the appetites that carry them away are often the very same appetites that bring them home again.
In the parable, the wayward son wakes up cold and hungry one morning and realizes that the servants back home have it better than he does — at least they have a roof over their heads and food on the table. So it isn't repentance, or even regret, that draws him home as much as it is simple hunger and poverty. Still, he heads back, burdened with shame and rehearsing his appeal: "Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant." But when he arrives at his father's house — actually, before he even gets there — a remarkable thing happens. The father — whom the son has dishonored, insulted, and abandoned — comes running toward him, embraces and kisses him, and welcomes him home. There's no shaming, blaming, or even explaining to be done. The father simply enfolds him in his loving arms and calls for a celebration: "For this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found."
At the very center of taking your life back is a return to the Father who has been watching and waiting and hoping for you to come home. There is no shame or recrimination, only celebration.
Maybe, after all you've done, it's hard for you to believe that anyone — much less God — would come running to you if you turned back toward home. That's precisely how scandalous this parable was in the ears of the people who heard it firsthand from Jesus. A wealthy landowner in those days would never have run anywhere. That would have been far beneath his dignity. Not only that, but the son had already dishonored his father by squandering his inheritance and running away. And yet the point of the parable is that God is always moving toward us, always calling us home, always ready to enfold us in his loving arms.
We expect judgment. God offers grace.
We expect condemnation. God responds with mercy.
We expect rejection. Jesus says, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light."
If you've been acting out, we encourage you to address those issues in your life. Even if it's your appetites — not love, repentance, or desire for connection — that bring you home, it simply proves that God can use the destructive things in our lives to bring us to the point of surrender. But only when you're willing to face up to your destructive behaviors will you even be able to begin taking your life back. If you will wake up and recognize where your decisions have taken you, and if you will return home to your heavenly Father, you will find him waiting to take you back in, just as the father in the parable is waiting and willing to welcome his son home.
That was my (David's) experience. Like many teens, I acted out all through high school. Once I was old enough to drive and got a car, I did whatever I wanted. My parents were powerless to stop me, so they just ignored everything. I knew that what I was doing was wrong, but I didn't care. I once felt guilty enough about what I was doing that I refused to take Communion, but I didn't change my behavior.
One day, while I was in high school, a friend and I downed a bottle of whiskey, and I spent the school day pretty well wasted. I was out of control, but nobody intervened. Finally, after I graduated, I confronted myself and decided that I was on the wrong path and that it was time to get things right with God. When I turned back to God, there was no shame or condemnation — only the open arms of God the Father welcoming me back.
Maybe you can't identify with the prodigal son — you've done your best to live an upright life, and you've never acted out in self-destructive ways. In fact, you don't have a lot of patience for people who have lost control of their lives and have gone down the wrong path. If that's the case, we encourage you to read the rest of the parable, where we're introduced to another brother, whose story may be easier to identify with.
In Rembrandt's well-known masterpiece The Return of the Prodigal Son, the brooding image of the elder brother dominates the right-hand side of the painting. The rich crimson fabric and embroidered edges of his robes establish his position as an insider, yet he stands emotionally distant and removed from the redemptive reunion of his father and brother. His hands are clasped under his robes, in stark contrast to the open, forgiving hands of his father.
The challenge for the elder brother is that he has done everything right, at least in his own eyes, and yet the abundant life that he believed was promised to him — and it was — has eluded him. All of his disappointment and frustration has turned inward, manifesting itself as anger, bitterness, hatred, judgment, jealousy, spite, envy, dissension, division, resentment, isolation, rejection, and abandonment. Having that much territory in the soul taken over by so many complicated, negative emotions doesn't leave much room for love or gratitude. Far from having ownership of his own life, he lives in bondage to disillusionment and to his own sense of entitlement. Any of us who have walked that emotionally destructive path have handed over our lives to the obsession of what feels wrong, unfair, disrespectful, or unresolved. The elder brother needs to take his life back every bit as much as the younger brother does. And it may be that the elder brother has the more difficult journey back to wholeness because so much of his pain has been stuffed down beneath the surface of his life.
It's interesting that this story has been popularized as the parable of the prodigal son because Jesus didn't identify it that way. That title was added by someone along the way who was creating subheadings in the Bible text. If we were to name this story, it might just as easily be called the parable of the father's love or the parable of the angry brother.
We might also say that the elder brother is a prodigal in his own way. We've so often heard the term used to describe a rebellious child who has left the fold that it's easy to overlook the fact that the inward attitudes of the heart are what lead to the outward behaviors. The essence of being a "prodigal" is wastefulness. That includes wasting opportunities for good deeds and leaving valuable resources unused on the shelf.
The elder brother had so much at his disposal — "Everything I have is yours," his father said — and yet, in his resentment toward his younger brother's wild living, he hadn't availed himself of so much as a barbecued goat to celebrate with his friends. What a sad and shriveled life he chose for himself. But that isn't an uncommon way to live, especially when, as Christians, we're so busy keeping all the rules that we overlook the fact that God has given us the keys to his Kingdom. We're afraid that if we celebrate the return of wayward sons and daughters, we somehow condone their bad behavior: that forgiveness somehow equates with license. In the words of André Gide, we wonder, "Why more honor to a repentant sinner than to him ... who has never sinned?" In our self-righteous anger, we become people who look down on other people — or people who look down on people who look down on other people. As author and singer Sheila Walsh said recently, "Self-righteousness is a paper-thin disguise. All it takes is for one messed-up 'loser' to come wandering home and our claws come out."
The wayward prodigal reacted to his pain and woundedness by looking for life outside the walls of his father's house. And though the elder brother stayed home, even he thought the key to a happy life was somewhere else.
Here's a vital truth: The life we desire is not "out there" somewhere. We have full access to everything belonging to God — right here, right now, right where we are. To live that abundant life, we must simply open our arms and unclench our grip on everything we've been so desperately trying to hold on to, and we must recognize, receive, and accept all that our heavenly Father has for us. That's the life for which we were saved. That's the life we need to take back.
What becomes apparent as we read this story is that neither son really knew his father. If either one had, he would not have felt the need to act in or act out in negative and destructive ways. Both sons would have been able to accept the father's generosity and would have been thankful for all that was available to them. But clearly, some kind of wounding had driven a wedge between the members of this family.
Most teachings you'll hear on the story of the prodigal son portray the father as a picture of God, and thus we assume there can be no failure on his part in these broken relationships because he is perfect. But if we keep our focus on the human scale, as Jesus does in his telling of the story, we gain a different perspective. As we'll see in the next chapter, every generation has been wounded in some way by the generations that came before it, and every generation passes that wounding on to succeeding generations. So from that standpoint, the father in this story also represents countless generations of the wounded, stretching all the way back to the original breach with our Creator and ultimate Father. Woundedness is a consequence of the Fall, and we all wear it in some fashion.
If we picked up the latest issue of Reactive Living (if such a magazine existed), we might find a picture of the prodigal son's elder brother on the front cover. The caption might read, "What about me?" That's what the reactive life is all about. No matter what happens, we react in our own self-interest. If we feel threatened, diminished, or overlooked, we react. We want what's fair for us, and we don't really care about anyone else. We're in pain, and when anything touches our woundedness, we react. We're on high alert for both insult and injury, and whenever the internal siren goes off, we react. Just like the elder brother, we react when we don't get what we want, when we don't get what someone else gets, or when we're not recognized for how awesome and amazing we are. It's an ingrained reflex. Whether we've experienced a perceived slight or a direct insult, we're not able to respond because we don't have enough internal self-control to keep ourselves from reacting.
The elder brother had done everything right, as far as he could tell. He had been obedient; he hadn't run away; he hadn't embarrassed or humiliated his father. He had done what a dutiful child does, and he expected to be recognized and rewarded accordingly. In our most selfish moments, we are all just like him — jealous of anyone who gets a bigger dose of grace and feeling entitled to a celebration just for being alive. We've all been there, focused on what's happening on the other side of the palace rather than enjoying and being thankful for all the blessings we've been given.
When we're constantly looking at what's happening with other people and measuring our satisfaction based on how fairly we feel we've been treated, we are forever at the mercy of whatever is going on over there. We've wired ourselves to react to whatever scale of comparison we've established. If our dependency invites criticism, we react defensively to justify, minimize, and project our problems onto someone or something else. We may react with anger to drive someone away, or we may withdraw with a whimper to elicit sympathy.
These reactions are not always extreme, and they may not even be noticeable to other people. Our reactions are nuanced and variable, and we're able to adapt to the painful reality of our inner world and deflect attention away from ourselves and the source of our pain. After years of reactive living, we've carved a deep rut in which to run, and we're more afraid of what lies outside the rut than we are of staying stuck. When pressured or threatened, we react. And we stay stuck.
To be fair, our reactiveness is often rooted in pain that accrued when we were very young. Whether we were neglected, misunderstood, abandoned, used, abused, or tortured — or whether we experienced something equally horrific — we were truly victims. We learned to react negatively to others and to loathe ourselves. All of these attacks were undeserved, and at such an early age all we could do was survive. We weren't able to change anything. Even today, as adults, we have something within ourselves that resists the notion that meaningful change — much less complete transformation — is possible. We step back into the shadows because we don't have any proof that transformation can actually happen. So we continue to react to protect ourselves and whatever it is we think we have to lose.
The entire purpose for Take Your Life Back is to show you that real and lasting change is possible. Not only possible, but also achievable. At some point, we all must stop reacting and learn how to respond appropriately instead. If your life has been hijacked, it's up to you to take it back, with God's help — and the sooner the better.
Stepping Out of the Shadows
In Rembrandt's famous painting, the elder brother hovers on the edge of decision. Will he recede into the shadows of his inward obsession, remaining captive to his anger and resentment; or will he step forward into the light and find healing even as he joins in his father's embrace of the one who has come home?
At any time, the elder brother could step out of the shadows and join the celebration. But he is stuck in his point of view, unable to see the situation from a different perspective. That's often what keeps people in bondage to acting in. If only he could reframe the picture and see it all through the eyes of his father, or feel it all through the heart of his prodigal brother, he might reawaken and take his life back free and clear.
For us, if we would see things from God's perspective (who sees the end from the beginning) or feel things with the heart of Jesus (who sacrificed everything to set us free), we could move from the dire picture painted in Philippians 3:19 — headed for destruction, owned by our appetites, invested in our shame, and thinking only about life here on earth — to the promise of Philippians 3:20, which reminds us of our citizenship in heaven and our eager anticipation of Christ's return.
The elder brother's first step is to become aware of how he is feeling and how it affects his behavior. Change may begin with the realization that nothing he has been feeling is going to change anything. In fact, the more negative and angry he becomes, the less able he is to have a positive impact. Stewing in the residue of his bitterness changes nothing for the good. By accepting his own powerlessness, he might come to accept the frailties of his father and his brother as well.
He could try to understand what God is up to here. He could reframe the story from God's point of view and discover that he is merely a part of the story and not the whole story. He might feel some gratitude that he's alive and full of potential. And he might even find a way to feel some gratitude that his brother has survived and is safe at home. He could count his blessings and express his thankfulness to God. But for now we must leave him as Rembrandt has him: a proud and prominent figure standing paralyzed on the perimeter by the bitterness that clutches his heart.
Excerpted from Take Your Life Back by Stephen Arterburn, David Stoop. Copyright © 2016 Stephen Arterburn and David Stoop. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part I The Reactive Life
1 The Prodigal on the Other Side of the Palace 5
2 Understanding Your Woundedness 15
3 Where Does It Hurt? 31
4 Reacting to Pain 45
5 The Origins of Reactive Living 59
6 Surviving Broken Attachments 75
7 Shame on Me 89
8 The Impact of Trauma 99
9 The Loss of Your Real Self 107
10 Losing Touch with Your Soul 117
Part II The Responsive Life
11 Taking Your Life Back 131
12 Becoming a Decider, a Defender, and a Developer 145
13 Expanding Your Recovery Plan 165
14 A Life Taken Back 177
About the Authors 205
What People are Saying About This
Any book by Steve Arterburn is a welcome event. But this book is especially timely. Read it and be instructed, inspired, and encouraged.