This post is from a larger series under the category Friend to Jesus. It is a detailed exploration of the three stages of faith: the believer, the servant and the friend of God. If you want to start at the beginning, it begins with the post How Looking at a Caravaggio Painting Can Change Your Life and then continues chronologically.
Spiritual growth requires the acknowledgment of one’s own need to grow. If we cannot make that acknowledgment, we have no option except to attempt to eradicate the evidence of our imperfection. M. Scott Peck
When you work with people through counseling, you get this unique gift and responsibility in that you get to know people at a deep level. It’s what I love about my job. That’s exactly what I did 24–7 and in a way, I have been able to learn a lot about a lot of different people. Through these experiences, I have learned one thing very clearly, we are sinners; we all are tremendously fallen creations. You see, through counseling I have had the privilege to see all of a person’s quirks, their misgivings, their disordered personalities. I get to hear it all and on the one hand, that is a benefit of being a counselor, but on the other, if you aren’t careful in my work, it can make you a bit jaded. It’s like being a police officer, doctor or nurse; you get to see the harsh and hard side of life. You know that part of you that slows to see a car collision; I would essentially slow down every day and get to see these emotional, spiritual and relational accidents every day. I have especially seen this dynamic of being open and vulnerable when I meet with couples whose marriages are falling apart. The wife or husband feels slighted and so they come in and lay it all on the line. In some cases, they totally let out all the darkness about the other person and you just kind of sit there and go, Wow, now that’s more information then I needed. Often, when a person gets into counseling its no holds barred and they will share anything and everything with you.
So with that, let’s ask that important question again—are you broken? And if so, how do you observe this? How do you deal with that truth? I usually find this at work—people either view themselves as completely without any fault or the worst person in the world without much of any hope. With a lot of us, there is no middle ground. I am either a saint. Or I am a sinner. For myself, genuinely in my heart, I sometimes don’t see my sin so well and my brokenness is not always evident in my own eyes. In some ways, it is easier for me to see my goodness than my sin. In my business, we call that a blind-spot. However, with other people I meet, they only see themselves as destructive, mean and a wreck. Sometimes, it can be difficult to stay in that middle ground that I am both a saint and a sinner.
Again, going back to when I have done marriage counseling, this is the great danger. One partner is trying to change the other, because they genuinely believe the entire problem in the marriage lies in their partner’s court. The problems and the failing marriage has little to do with them personally. Whenever I have counseled a couple like this, essentially each person is saying, Kelly, if you can get this jerk to change, our marriage will finally be moving in the right direction.
Yet sometimes when I am in this situation, if I were to challenge this person and ask them where they need to personally change, they most likely will just look back at me with a blank face. Me?! You have to be kidding. I’m not the problem! She is! People have a hard time realizing they are broken; that they are the problem. And when they do fail in real-time—meaning they were caught lying or threw the plate across the room or cheated the waitress out of her tip—they either beat themselves up beyond belief or simply rationalize the facts at hand that they have not done something wrong. How do I know about this dynamic? Because, I do it all the time. Why? Because just like you, I am broken as well and actually have gained a great degree of expertise at failing in my life. Again, as I said earlier, just like Paul, you and I are the worst of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15–16).
WHEN SOMEONE POINTS OUT YOUR WORST
Some years ago I went through this denial stuff and it was pointed out to me in a rather honest manner. Every Wednesday night, I would play badminton with a bunch of people. I love the game, because it’s fast and yet at the same time almost anyone can pick up the game quickly. When I play anything, whether its badminton or a board game, I can become competitive. Sometimes, I almost don’t know I’m being aggressive. Sometimes, I don’t take other people’s feelings into account, especially if I am playing a team sport. I can get grumpy; I can be challenging; I can be too authoritarian. One night, I was playing with a friend of a friend. We were getting beat pretty badly, primarily because we were not playing very well as a team. Playing doubles in tennis or badminton can be a challenge if you don’t know exactly what the other person is doing. During the game, I was trying to tell this person who was new to the game where he needed to be on the court and where he needed to position himself. If we missed the point, I immediately turned to him and mentioned what went wrong. But midway through the game, we lost another point and I mentioned that he needed to go to the net on the play. He barked at me that he knew how to play and I didn’t need to give him advice. At first I thought he was joking, but then he went on and basically said that I was being a jerk. He was harsh, man! I tried to apologize in a roundabout way, which really wasn’t an apology at all and for the rest of the night we basically stayed to our own corners. As I drove home that night, I was wrestling with the incident. I was playing around with it in my mind, going over what I had done and what he had said. Basically, I just felt he was the jerk and taking the situation way too seriously. The whole incident in my mind was that it was his fault—that jerk!
About a mile from home, a still small voice spoke to me and it simply said this, Kelly, you were the jerk… and often when you play badminton you are way too hard on people and way too competitive. Finally, someone called you out. You were the one at fault. And you didn’t like that, did you? The words were the voice of God or what some call our conscience. You know what, I didn’t want to hear that. It was his fault—he was the one who spoke with vehemence. But guess what, God was calling out for me to look at my own sin. He wanted me to take ownership of myself. But I wanted to deny it, and when that didn’t work, I tried to rationalize why I was the way I was. On the way home I came up with some pretty sound reasons:
- You should always do things with excellence.
- Even though winning isn’t the most important thing, you should always try to play your best and as a team.
- I was the one who has been playing badminton longer; this guy should have been open to learning from me and learn to take a little criticism.
But God had something else in store; he wanted to confront me about my sin. I had to own my stuff and let that guy own what he had to own. And this is why he had to deal with this brokenness in me; this sin of control and pride didn’t just come up on Wednesday night’s playing badminton. These behaviors were a fairly common occurrence for me and happen all the time: with Julie, with my sons, at work, etc. On that drive home, God was seeing if I would admit what was obvious—that I needed to change in these areas of my life. It took awhile, but by time I reached for the garage door opener when I drove into our drive, I finally came clean and slowly began to look in the mirror.
It is very painful admitting that we are messed up, because someone else usually points these kinds of things out to us (e.g., your spouse, your kids, a co-worker, etc.). You should never be surprised that you make poor judgments and fail. I sometimes see this when I am counseling parents of young toddlers or children. Sometimes they are surprised that their kid is doing awful things like hitting another kid at school or talking back to them. Once the child gets older and is moving into adolescence, the parents begin to blame themselves. What did we do wrong? What could we have done differently? Why is she acting like this? I never raised him to be like this? All of this spells out how much free will we have as individuals. For example, no, your parents probably never sat down with you and taught you how to lie. Okay now, son, if you want to learn how to lie, here are some pointers. First, always tell a lie with a straight face. It works better that way. Second, make sure you remember your lie or otherwise you might actually tell the truth and mess the whole thing up. And finally, son, if you are going to become a really good liar, you have to learn how to not feel bad that you are deceiving and manipulating people.
This whole concept is very difficult for those stuck in the servant stage of faith to understand. On principle and on paper, they will acknowledge that they are broken. That is a given, but in the end, this becomes simply theological correctness: Jesus died for me, a sinner. Again, this sort of person knows it in their head, but not their heart. And this boils down to one truth. There is one very dramatic way you can tell if perhaps you or someone else has been a “servant” too long as it relates to all of this:
- You never say you are sorry.
- You rarely say that you are wrong.
- You are rarely, if ever, the one at fault.
This is especially true in our most intimate of relationships, with our wives or husbands, with our children, with those closest to us. Ask yourself that one question, how often do you find yourself saying you are sorry and really meaning it? If you as a person are uncomfortable with those words, there’s a pretty good chance you are stuck in your faith as well. Those who have genuine friendship with Jesus are okay at being wrong, they are okay with stepping up and saying they are sorry. The person stuck in the servant stage of faith is not. They never say they are sorry; they are rarely in the wrong and if they are it is because of minor infractions. If a person is never apologizing in their life, they are living as if the cross meant nothing to them. One way to think about this is that it’s easy saying you are sorry to God; how easy is it for you speak those words to those who are closest to you? Do you ever? Is it a once a year occurrence and even then the conversation ends by you blaming the other person for the wrong? I’m sorry for calling you that name, BUT you shouldn’t have made me mad! That is no apology—that is you just blaming someone for your own sin patterns. Here is an exercise, when was the last time you said you were sorry to your husband or wife? Your son or daughter? Your good friend? If you can’t remember, something isn’t quite right.