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For the longest time, my prayer journal has had pride on the page under "spiritual life/growth."
The danger is that though we may recognize that we need to deal with these major sins, we neglect to to do more than simply identify the overall threat they represent--without getting specific to how exactly they are manifested in our lives. Which means not actually dealing with them at all. We admit our failure, but besides praying about it and feeling bad about it, "trying a little harder," we don't actually make any truly concrete changes.
So for the longest time I have been praying about pride, and yet only hazily had any idea about how I could deal with this problem.
I didn't realize that--for also the longest time--I have had a (parallel) problem with impatience. Stemming from my task-oriented and achiever personality. When something needs to be done, I value efficiency and speed, not because it comes naturally, but because it makes me feel good about myself, it gives me a sense of achievement and reassurance if I get many things done, quickly. That probably tells you all you need to know. I tend to dismiss or get impatient with people whose methods of getting things done are different from mine, who want to explore the details, or double check everything. And when my workflow gets disrupted--or criticized--it becomes something personal, something which reflects directly upon my sense of self-worth. I get impatient, tense, and resent any interruptions or criticisms as personal attacks. And I show it, unfortunately.
When I prioritize the task at hand before the person I'm working with--
When I get impatient and dismiss other opinions and working methods because they are different from mine--
When I respond badly to criticism, even when it's constructive and gently conveyed, because I see it as a personal attack on myself and the perfectionist identity I want to maintain--
When I defend my behaviour by claiming that my way is better, anyway--
--the very pride I was praying about flourished.
After an incident where my behaviour was particularly disappointing, I was challenged to see these situations as specific demonstrations of my pride, and deal with them as such. Humility, in my case, could be simply not prioritizing my agenda or way of doing things, to the extent that I behave unlovingly towards others. Humility could be having a heart of peace--amid criticism, or agitation, or tension; when it seems like the job is taking forever, or someone won't stop talking, or my mistakes are being pointed out ("I-told-you-so" situations are probably some of the most mortifying experiences possible for the human soul.) Humility could be the freedom to accept criticism without being crushed or offended.
Humility could be a restful spirit that isn't fixated on getting things done, but prioritizes people and God's timing/plan. Perhaps the main purpose of this incident is teaching me to control my temper, to deal graciously with differences or difficult people, to be loving--not the actual task at hand.
How different from our task-oriented human ideas of 'living for God', 'serving' Him.
I remember flopping back and staring up at the impassive blankness of the ceiling, baffled.
Why is this so hard?
It had been a long while since I fell back into this particular habitual sin--so long, in fact, that I'd congratulated myself, felt that I'd successfully conquered it. And then, just when I was least expecting it, I fell.
Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:12.
Clenching my fists, an instinctive response, made me realize that I had done this too many times. This feeling--guilt, shame, self-reproach, and most of all a sense of confusion at my own foolishness--was too familiar. Every time I would knuckle my fingers under and tell myself, I'll try harder next time. I will be strong. I will be more prepared. I will--I will--
What completely baffled me was waking up to the realization that willpower was not the answer.
And that left me lost because, for so many things in life--so many challenges that I've faced, and overcome, in more or less messy ways--willpower and reason were the weapons I clung to.
We are so used to clenching our fists. Facing the chinup bar, cringing at the premonition of burning muscles, but willing myself to do it this time, I clench my fists. The moment before I walk into an exam, or on stage, I breathe deeper and knot my fingers over sweaty palms. Facing uncertainty in the future, hoping desperately for success, my fingers dig into my palms once again as I reason with myself.
I try. I try, hard.
In so many things in life, we push ourselves forward clutching reason and willpower tightly, propelling ourselves forward on our faith in our ability to try, try. And that is not a bad thing.
But when it comes to dealing with habitual sin we need something more than just reason and willpower.
We have to realize first of all that habitual sin is more than just one isolated act. It is a lifestyle. A state of being.
Which is why the Bible uses the metaphor of slavery to talk about our ongoing struggle with sin, the gory process of sanctification. You are born a slave, and identify yourself/are identified as a slave--not because of one or several acts of obedience, but because that is how you live your whole life, how you see yourself.
Sin is an enslaving power rather than an isolated action,
And that's why when dealing with habitual sin it's not enough to simply think I'll have more will-power next time, I'll try harder next time, the way that works with dieting or acing an exam. It is not enough.
Our lapses into sin, which are really our lapses in love, stem from our existing relationship with God, our current ongoing spiritual state. Each fall is more than one incident--it is another link in the existing chain of our slavery to sin. And when we look back, all those one-off decisions (oh, I lapsed this once; this will be the last time; I wasn't trying as hard as I could have) form a definite and damning pattern of repeated sin.
To confront habitual sin in our lives we have to re-examine our relationship with God. See the link between the state of our current spiritual life and our inability to keep away from that one besetting sin.
We need to relearn what grace means. To accept the harsh truth of our limitations, our inability to handle ourselves even with the help of reason and willpower--the two tools that enable us to accomplish so much elsewhere.
We need to pray for the Holy Spirit's help. Acknowledge our weakness, not just after we sin, but before--and ask for a strength that we can barely imagine right now, in our state of frailty.
Search me, O God, and know my heart
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the path everlasting.
Psalm 139: 23-24
The first thing that came to my mind when I read this verse a few days ago was a shocked Wow how did David dare to say this??
I don't know about you, but there is something frightening in such complete honesty and humility. Search me and know my heart! Here are all my anxieties, all my insecurities, everything about my limits and fears and weaknesses!
Here are my failures.
Here are the things I don't want anyone to know about. That I wish I didn't know about myself.
Here are the things that are killing me.
Here are the darkest and most destructive things inside my soul.
(cue Imagine Dragon's Demons)
And by the way, you're not saying all this to a human you could possibly control. Of course, it's one thing to say that we couldn't hide any of this from Him anyway. But David is willingly accepting, even inviting this. Not being able to stop someone from reading your diary is one thing; telling them, "Here, read. Don't skip pages 356 and 127--they're especially enlightening" is something else.
I wondered--as in the past tense verb of the word wonder, and not the synonym for pondered. Such fearless honesty was something I shrinked from. How on earth could David declare this so confidently? Remember, this was the Old Testament, before the New Covenant, before grace as we know it in Jesus Christ. David saw Uzzah struck dead for touching the Ark, he had the guilt of Uriah's death on his past, and yet he could say this, knowing how holy God was, and how sinful he was.
David could say all this because he was willing to give up all the pet sins, all the bad habits or weaknesses, all the idols in his heart when he surrendered it to God. Because he knew and acknowledged honestly and humbly--ah, humbly!--his own unworthiness, and God's holiness. Because when he asked God to lead him in the way everlasting, he was going to follow--to actively, purposefully, and wholeheartedly follow.
He could say that.
He could say that because of this.
When I was young, I fought with my brother tooth and nail (too often literally) seemingly all day, every day. Today, my siblings are my best friends, a blessing I don't even care has been negatively stereotyped for homeschoolers. Seriously. Sour grapes, I say.
One reason why this epic gruelling battle went on for so many years (I think it was responsible for most of my mom's white hairs) was that I wouldn't and couldn't see how I was to blame. Obviously my brother was the main culprit--because if he hadn't been so hyper active/noisy/interfering I would have happily stayed at my desk writing my stories and drawing my endless pictures of anthropomorphic cats and dogs in medieval dress (I don't know what this scores on your WeirdoMeter, but that's precisely how I spent the bulk of my free time for many years.) I was what they call a 'diem' child--or as one personality test diagnosed, an introvert (albeit a high-functioning one.) Happy to be by myself, doing my own stuff. Of course, it was my brother's fault for poking me first--annoying me--being noisy--causing me to lash out.
''It's HIS fault!" I wailed every time my mother had to separate us. "He started it first! He's irritating me!"
I see this same mentality when I work with kids. Fingers point. Defiant glares. Tears. "He keeps bothering me!" "She pushed me so I pinched her!"
We all have certain people in our lives who annoy us.
Maddeningly slow, reminiscent of the sloths in Zootopia. (loved that movie, by the way.What a fun and witty satire on human nature and the chemistry between different personalities...)
Nit-picky and hard to please, always criticizing so that you cringe whenever they volunteer their opinion.
Ungracious in the way they talk. Perhaps their humour makes you wince inside behind a strained smile.
Maybe stuff they've borrowed has a bad habit of never coming back.
Or perhaps they simply have bad breath, or a habit of standing intimidatingly close when they talk--
Maybe they simply have really different opinions, backgrounds, and priorities from us. Just deciding on a place to eat makes you see how different your budgets and expectations on food are...'so you think you're too good for Mac's?' 'what, vegetables? Seriously? Are you a health freak or what?' 'How on earth can you eat so little/so much??'
It's easy to get annoyed, even when other people don't mean to be annoying. When I was small I often got impatient and was rude to a young friend who kept calling. Like every day. Just wanting to talk about unimportant stuff. Unfortunately I had lots of IMPORTANT STUFF (and I even saw them in my mind capitalized) and the last thing I wanted to do was to be forced to listen to a long, unending phone call about virtually nothing at all. I'm afraid without being downright rude (thank God my parents would never have let me get away with that) I managed to be pretty unkind--curt, impatient, and brilliant at finding excuses for not being able to take a call.
I look back and realize the same entitled mentality lay behind my hasty 'bye got to go tell me next time' and my 'He started it!' defensive wail when my mom had to act as mediator and judge between my brother and I. Just because someone was annoying--whether unintentionally, or even purposefully--didn't justify my being mean to them. This was something my mom kept trying to impress on me all those cat-and-dog years, in her attempt to balance the invariably one-sided punishment.
I only realized and accepted this later when I was seeking salvation and, knowing I needed to truly see my own sin in order to repent and be saved, prayed for God to show me. He answered, in a very direct and real and personal way, when it felt near impossible, first by showing me this.
Just because I was annoyed, just because someone had done something which prickled me, didn't automatically give me the license to retaliate, to punish them for disturbing my peace or my happiness. It's harder to realize this when it is a legitimate wrong done to you, because indeed, wrong has been done and every conscience with its God-given ability to tell right from wrong knows that punishment must be meted, deserves to be meted.
But--a standard takeaway concept from many superhero and action movies, where it becomes what separates the good guys from the bad guys; their refusal to replicate the evil in the name of revenge.
Jesus, after all, suffered much more than mere annoyance, though I'm sure the dense disciples often got on His nerves with their inability to understand so many things.
He loved us selflessly when we hurt Him most.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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