If you watch “Living Right With Dr. Ray [Guarendi]” on EWTN, you know that this psychologist and father of 10 likes to be provocative! So he began our interview about his new book, “Thinking Like Jesus: The Psychology of a Faith Disciple,” saying: “Jesus says forgive 70 times 7. In my book, I disagree with that. I probably don’t even have to forgive half the time.”
Dr. Ray pauses to gauge his listener’s reaction – puzzlement, disbelief – before chiming in with an explanation.
“The reason is that, much of the time, when I feel magnanimous about forgiving, there was nothing to forgive! It was my sensitivity, my prickliness, my misinterpretation of a person’s motives. The majority of the time, the offense was in my head. It didn’t exist.”
Dr. Ray says that, too often, we personalize what people say. We think: “’They’re deliberately offending ME. They’re disrespecting ME. They’re attacking ME.’ As soon as we personalize, we immediately become offended. We think: ‘My husband doesn’t pick up his underwear; that means he doesn’t love me.’” But Dr. Ray says: “It has nothing to do with you!”
If that doesn’t cause you and me to do some self-examination, what will? (You can watch Dr. Ray talk about his new book as well as “Being a Grandparent” with Doug Keck on “EWTN Bookmark,” http://bit.ly/GuarendionBookmark.)
Of course, a little self-examination (maybe a lot of self-examination) is exactly the reaction Dr. Ray is hoping his new book will elicit. In examining our own conduct, he hopes we find that we become more like Jesus and, in the process, our lives may be filled with a little more joy.
“The last thing I want to be is critical, hyper-vigilant at offense,” says Dr. Ray. “Christians of all people should, probably by far, be the least offended.”
Dr. Ray devotes much of his book to helping us see that it will benefit us to be more loving and less offended. In fact, Dr. Ray says the majority of things that offend us are caused by relatively few people who commit repeat offenses — yet we get hurt or upset every time.
“We say, ‘My mother-in-law is a snotty woman.’ When are you going to decide that’s who she is and you’re going to live with it? We say, ‘Christmas Eves around here are no fun.’ But they haven’t been fun for 34 years. When are you going to realize that’s the way she is? People say, “That may be how she is, but I don’t have to like it.’”
Dr. Ray says you’ve got to settle your thoughts to get some peace. However, he does NOT say the answer your problem is to cut the repeat offender out of your life. Why not?
“Christians really cannot have comfort zones,” he says. “You say you don’t want to visit your mother in a nursing home because nursing homes make you nervous. You’re a Christian, you don’t have a comfort zone. But you say, ‘I’m ill at ease there.’ [I say,] ‘But that’s your mother.’ You say, ‘But I’m not comfortable.’ So what? That’s not an excuse for a Christian.”
Dr. Ray says that while there are some toxic people, in his opinion psychologists are too quick to label someone as such. He says for Christians, there should be very few toxic people. He says: Are they physically abusive? A threat to your children?
“The vast majority of time we label people toxic who are just difficult. People say: ‘He’s so opinionated; he’s always looking for an argument. I feel better when I’m not around him.’ I say, ‘He’s your dad’s brother.’ They say, ‘He’s there at Christmas. We’ll stay away and find out when he leaves.’ I say, Did he ever punch you in the face? Set your car on fire? No, you just don’t like him!”
“You’re not allowed to NOT talk to a person unless that person is seriously dangerous. I even get nervous about the term emotional abuse. How much of it is her and how much is you? I know very few people in life who are emotionally abusive. You have to be screaming in my face. I’m not going to write you off, especially if you’re family. If it’s the mail carrier, okay, you can write them off.”
The following two examples demonstrate that the good doctor endeavors to practice what he’s preaches.
In the first example, Dr. Ray says he had a neighbor who took dog poop and threw it in his driveway, who called the dog warden on him, and who would take his children’s balls and keep them. Yet one winter, his family shoveled her driveway and they always tried to say hi to her when they saw her outside.
“We said, ‘Yes, she’s obnoxious, poor thing. How’d you like to be her?’ She died a couple years ago, but we could live in peace knowing that we didn’t make her toxic. I think Christians should be at peace. You’re not going to be at peace if you’re vigilant for all kinds of offenses.”
In a second example, Dr. Ray talks about his family’s frequent interactions with a curmudgeonly alcoholic. “I started calling her Grandma Carol. She loved my first child, a son. She didn’t like my second child, a girl. We continued to call her Grandma Carol. Eventually, we won her over. In the end, we visited her in the nursing home when she was dying.”
Most of us will feel a bit uncomfortable with at least one of the many examples above. So why should we buy a book that makes us feel uncomfortable?
Says Dr. Ray: “Because it will make you live in a way much more like Christ, which is people to people. I always say this, “It’s much easier for me to pray a decade of the rosary than it is to forgive my difficult brother-in-law.” Of course, Dr. Ray can’t resist a joke: “I can make myself look pretty holy by going to Mass every day while saying the Aramaic rosary while I levitate, but it’s going pretty far to forgive my brother-in-law!”
But then he gets serious: ““When you get feedback you don’t want to hear, you need to ask: Is it true? Don’t give a superficial answer! Am I arrogant? Do I come across opinionated? No? Elaborate.”
In the end, says Dr. Ray: “We only have ourselves to give to other people. Most people don’t need food or shelter. They need me to be a Christian.”
Note: You can purchase Dr. Ray’s provocative book here: http://bit.ly/ThinkingLikeJesusBook. Readers, if you put some of Dr. Ray’s suggestions into practice, we’d love to hear from you! And, if you don’t already, please tune into “Living Right With Dr. Ray,” which airs 9 a.m. ET, Tuesdays; 5 a.m. ET, Fridays; and 10 p.m. ET, Saturdays on EWTN! (Find EWTN at www.ewtn.com/channelfinder.)