Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Tough Questions

Last fall I started a book that I ended up putting down and have now restarted. Having read a few other books between that time and now, I can say that God intervened on my behalf because there were several things I needed to experience and understand before this book was going to make more sense.

Peter Scazzero first wrote The Emotionally Healthy Church in 2003 and wrote Emotionally Healthy Spirituality in 2006 as a follow up for individuals. He discovered through his own life that emotional health and spiritual maturity are inseparable. Having found out about this book in 2016 through a blog post and realizing that I was setting off flares in hopes that it would show me where I was going wrong, I can say now, beginning it again, I not only understand it better, but have a greater clarity on what it's really all about.

Peter states, 'I experienced the growing tension of a double life - preaching love and forgiveness on Sundays and cursing alone in my car on Mondays. The gap between my beliefs and my experience now revealed itself with terrifying clarity."

We know that in Romans Paul explains this tension in that we don't do what we know we should and that we do what we know we shouldn't. What Paul doesn't say with any amount of clarity is why. Of course we know that our hearts inherently gravitate towards self-centeredness because of our sin nature. However, the root cause of that, idolatry, is left unstated. I didn't realize that until I read J D Greear's book Gospel. Any sin we commit, at its root, will always be idolatry. We just need to ask ourselves enough questions to work our way backwards to find it.

While the knowledge in Greear's book gave me great insight to a huge problem in the difference between what I 'know' to be true and the way I act (sharp tongue, short sightedness, fear, etc.) I still didn't know what to do with that information. Knowing the problem is one thing, understanding how to begin working on it is another. Enter Scazzero's book.

By understanding that there is a deep connection between emotional health and spiritual maturity, we have the starting point. Ready? Prayer. I know that sounds simple, and it is, but we can't just pray for God to change our feelings and behaviors because that still won't deal with the idolatrous root digging deeper into the soil of our divided hearts.

If we were to take a look at our reactions and behaviors in a moment of reflection and both ask ourselves and honestly answer why we just did or said what we did or said, with God's help we can find the root cause. Once we find the cause, the shape of our idol, we can then effectively pray about getting it removed.

So let's just make this practical.

I explode at a child whom I love because they did not do what I told them to do when I told them to do it. Granted you could easily label this disobedience, and it is. But if I were to be honest, to berate them for their lack of response to my directions makes me a pretty big hypocrite because I often don't immediately respond to other's requests or God's. (I know that hurt, it hurt me, too.) So, if I ask myself why the lack of response set me off I can see the following:

I asked him/her to do this and they didn't. Why do they not listen to me?
Now we are going to be late because that took too long to finish. This is going to make me look bad.
I hate it when people think poorly about me because my child was behind.
I should have started teaching them to do things the first time when they were two.
This is all my fault because having fun when they were little was a bigger priority and now I'm going to pay for this for the rest of my life.


Unless I get to the root cause of the problem, I can't effectively respond to what is setting me off by first starting in prayer. Something along the lines of: Father, it's not fair for me to be angry and short tempered with them when they don't follow my directions when I so often don't follow Yours. And the reality is, I am angry because of how this is going to make me look, which is selfish and prideful. I know that You still love me despite the things I see as mistakes in parenting but I know You are going to use this awareness as an opportunity to move us all forward. Help me to see all of this through the grace You are giving us to take a step back and examine what's in our hearts. Give me Your words to teach myself and them why this matters. And above all, flood my heart with Your peace in this moment of self-righteous anger which is out of place considering all You have forgiven me. Amen.

We could deal with our problems more effectively if we admitted how we are feeling and took it all to God, not the phone, not the fridge, not Amazon. This is going to require intentional work on our behalf but it is also the only way we can unite our spiritual maturity is going to flourish. We can't grow deeper in Christ if we aren't willing to be honest about how we feel to get His perspective as He removes the plank from our own eyes.

I told my husband yesterday that the books I've read so far this year have overlapped in so many ways. There has been a considerable amount of groundwork laid to get me to this point. But that's just how God works.....everything in its proper time. And that is truly the Good News. I could sit here and make myself miserable over the mistakes or I can accept the truth that He loves me despite them.  I could focus on how others see me because of them or I can acknowledge that it's only His affirmation that I need. I can hypocritically judge others of their behavior or forgive them as much as He's forgiven me. And I can choose to see through my own eyes or as He does, someone He died for and wants to spend eternity with.

The narrow road that leads to life is not going to be an easy one, but the yoke that Jesus asks us to wear to get us there is not ill-fitting. It's custom made for the way He's called us to live specifically as He leads us gently to and through it. And while we can't anticipate that this kind of reflective introspection is going to come naturally at first, we are given His strength to persevere until abiding in Him becomes our first nature not our second. The work that He's started He is going to complete and do immeasurably more than all we could ever think to ask or imagine. Because that's the way He loves us and amazes us with His increasing  grace.

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