Jul
09
2013

As you get older, you find that often the wheat, disentangling itself from the chaff, comes out to meet you. Gwendolyn Brooks

Man may well change himself; otherwise, he would not be man. Vicktor Frankl

The fundamental human problem is that people are afraid of change. Rei Kawakubo 

An important pursuit that is vital to undertake for those who wish to move into friendship with Jesus is a two step process that goes hand in hand: 1) looking at the real areas of struggle in your life, and 2) pursuing genuine forgiveness toward yourself and for others. A person has to get real with themselves and move beyond the excuse of “this is just who I am.” We have to face head on the shattered parts of our lives and look where we need to make changes. We each have our problems and secrets in our lives; each of us have the places where we struggle on a day-to-day basis, but if we continue to bury or disguise them, they will create even bigger problems in our lives.  We eventually need to come clean about who we are and where we’ve been and the poor choices we have made in our lives.  This is one of the first steps we must make if we want to learn how to move into friendship with Jesus.

The first step in this process has to first begin with self-examination. You can never forgive yourself unless you genuinely know how you have failed. The purpose of this self-examination is to evaluate truthfully what is contributing to the problems in your life, be that personal struggles or in your relationships. Here might be a few questions that you need to ask yourself to begin that journey:

  • Why am I always so angry? Or depressed? Or anxious?
  • Why has my career stagnated? Or why am I seemingly always in and out of jobs?
  • Why do I never finish what I start?
  • Why do I care very little about nurturing my relationship with God?
  • Why do I have no real friends, those who will be there for me through thick and thin?
  • Why has my kid estranged himself from me?
  • Why do I always feel like I need a drink? Or to eat? Or to look at porn? Or to shop?
  • Why does my spouse always put up a wall to me? Or why do I not want to get close to my spouse emotionally and sexually?
  • Why do I always want to stay at work and not go home to my family?

Through honest self-assessment, you can begin to change your thinking and behavior. In terms of how people handle their brokenness in a dysfunctional and unhealthy way, they usually fall into two different camps:

  1. They let their brokenness incapacitate their lives, because of the unceasing guilt they feel when they fail. They often respond to this type of guilt in self-harming ways such as through emotional problems, addictions, broken relationships, etc.
  2.  They deny, ignore or rationalize their brokenness and typically do not experience guilt when they sin. When they do feel guilt, this is usually a momentary response and then it is quickly forgotten.

One of the first psychologists who integrated psychology and spirituality, Roberto Assagioli wrote, “Without forgiveness, life is governed by an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation.” These are the two types of people that we just discussed above: the first person is dragged down by the lack of self-forgiveness and the other person continues to hurt others, because they never face their brokenness and their automatic response to sin. For that second person, the one who typically does not experience a guilty conscience, self-forgiveness is not possible, because this person is unwilling to face the fact that they hurt themselves and that they often hurt others. Throughout my life, sadly, I have known many Christians who fall in this camp.

For the first person, the person who “resents” themselves and let’s their sin drag them down to depression or a whole other slew of problems, there is hope. For individuals like these, they have a behavior pattern in which they use guilt in a self-perpetuating cycle. For this person, here is how that pattern typically works in an unhealthy way:

  1. They do something wrong
  2. They feel guilty about what they did
  3. They punish themselves in some way (e.g., emotional problems, addictions, broken relationships, etc.).
  4. They forget what they did and perhaps hide their failings (i.e., they move to denial).
  5. Inevitably, they end up repeating what they did wrong or a variation of it.

This cycle continues because of two important mechanisms. First, it is because we do not take full responsibility for our actions and make real changes in our lives. We do not do the hard things to change. If you ask a lot of people about the areas where they struggle, they want to change in multiple areas of their lives. However, this is where the rubber meets the road—we each know that real change requires sacrifice, purpose, and courage. These aspects are what many fail to do—make honest and real change in their lives by taking practical steps.

THE FIRST STEPS IN MAKING LONG-LASTING CHANGE

So how do we start the process of taking responsibility and create change in our lives? First, by considering with complete honesty the part we play in any situation and accepting our role in creating troubles in our lives. Remember those questions I mentioned above—these are the types of questions we need to evaluate in how we have become the problem. Here are a few examples:

  • Why don’t I ever seem to finish what I start? Is it because I have a major problem with procrastinating and that I need to practically work on being more disciplined and self-controlled?
  • Why do I have no real friends who will be there for me through thick and thin? Is it because, to be honest, I am rarely a good friend—a person who can be counted on, who protects confidential conversations, and sacrifices in tangible ways for the other person?
  • Why has my kid estranged himself from me? Is it because I have a major problem with anger, manipulation and control, and have never sought to repair that relationship with my son by acknowledging how I have broken the relationship?

There have been and are many different areas of my own life when I have not dealt with my struggles in this way. Often, it is difficult to look at my life and see what damage I am doing, and what needs mending and change. One major point in my life when this began to happen was when I got married, when Julie entered into my life, and as a mirror, I began to see my brokenness like never before through her eyes. I think in some marriages this initially begins to happen, but then that aspect of accountability is left by the way side for various reasons. Often because of the motivations of fear, laziness or compliance, we relinquish our responsibility to hold our spouse (or friend) accountable for their bad behavior. We begin to overlook their faults and problems—how our spouse is verbally abusive, seemingly lies all the time, cheats on their taxes each year, is inappropriate with those of the opposite sex or are always involved in gossip in some way or other. Some, in these cases, remain silent. However, the truth is that there is no better accountability then when one is married as it is the most intimate of relationships.

As an example, Julie knows better than anyone the great guy I am. But also, Julie knows better than anyone the awful man that I am. If she does not gently, but firmly challenge me, I will never become the man that I was created to be. In most cases, she knows me better than I know myself, because I have so many blind spots and I can so quickly go to rationalizing how I struggle and sin. I am glad she enters my life in this manner even though it isn’t always enjoyable or pretty. Is she always right when she challenges me or does this process come without conflict? Absolutely not. But in these tensions and arguments, we are living out the Proverb “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (27:17) This also is what the Scriptures refer to as a “help-mate.” This quality also makes me think of a quote by Joseph Barth: “Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up.” Marriage can become the catalyst for us to look deeply at our misgivings, misfortunes and sin, but only if both parties are open to being honest, gentle and vocal about helping each other make real and specific change.

To get the ball rolling in looking at your life, below are some things to mull over and then to act on—you should probably take your time and journal out your answers:

  • What are the top five places you struggle and be specific. For example, this is how you could write this out if you struggle with anger: I have outbursts of anger and simply feel angry most of the time. This has led to me harming my children and spouse. Because of my anger, this most likely ties to my struggle with overspending. Attempt to do an exhaustive list and journal out these areas where you need to seek help from someone. After you have this completed, write out three different things you are going to do to try to heal and mature in these areas. Make sure you add these to a calendar or to-do list so that you pursue them.
  • Who are the three people you have trusted the most? What did they do or who were they that you trusted them so much? Name three circumstances in which you had trust broken? Detail these situations above in a journal. Find at least one person to whom you can share these stories.

In: Friend to Jesus
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