What Does Deferring Your Preferences Look Like?

u_rightContinued from here.

For me, the word “humility” was difficult to wrap my mind around. I had trouble understanding how to take this concept and put it into practice. C.S. Lewis got me pointed in the right direction with this quote:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

I used to believe I was a humble person because I had very low self-esteem, but I learned in Beth Moore’s Breaking Free: Discover the Victory of Total Surrender that having a low opinion of yourself is just as prideful as having too high of an opinion of yourself. Pride is simply having yourself on your mind (or being selfish, self-absorbed, or self-focused). I was constantly on my mind as I meditated upon all of the things that were “wrong” with me.

So, I understood that I needed to get myself off my mind, but I did not know how to actually DO that. This is when the Holy Spirit “whispered” that I needed to start deferring my preferences, which is replacing thoughts of myself with thoughts of others. For example, I’ll defer the nicer chair to someone else or defer my preference for where to eat dinner to the other person. While this is something I used to do to manipulate the other person’s approval as a people pleaser, my motivation is now completely different. I love God enough to want to obey Him, and he told me to defer my preferences, so I choose to let the other person have his or her way because I love God. A huge difference is that the other person’s response is irrelevant whereas it was all that mattered in my people-pleasing days. Whether or not the other person notices or cares that I deferred my preferences, God notices.

Interestingly, even though I no longer get my own way most of the time, I am much happier. More specifically, I experience joy and peace that eluded me when I was selfish. I used to believe that getting what I wanted would make me happy, but I have actually found more happiness by choosing not getting what I want as I defer my preferences to the people around me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking and saying, “U Right, U Right.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Deferring Your Preferences to Develop Humility

do_you_like_meContinued from here.

Now that we understand the problem, what is the solution? Just as I have found that having difficulty interacting with other people is a red flag for a pride problem, I have conversely found that easily getting along with other people is indicative of growth in humility. When I no longer expect everything to go my way and, instead, make a conscious effort to help things go someone else’s way, people are much easier to get along with.

Keep in mind, though, that I’m not talking about being a people pleaser, which was a problem for me for decades. I was the world’s biggest people pleaser, which from the outside might look like humility, but it was actually another form of pride. People pleasing is seeking to manipulate others to approve of you whereas humility is deferring your preferences out of love for God. The motivation is the key difference. People pleasing ultimately leads to a flare up in pride when the manipulations don’t get the results you want. With humility, you are simply seeking to please God, so the other person’s reaction does not matter.

When I was seeking to please others to gain their approval, I was the central focus of my thoughts. I knew that someone wanted X to be happy, so I twisted myself into a pretzel to make X happen for that person, hoping that by bringing X about, the person would approve of me and love me. Unfortunately, bringing about X was never enough. Once the person had X, s/he then needed Y to be happy … and then Z … Because I am not God, I could not make everything happen as that person wanted. My motivation was purely selfish, and people pleasing was exhausting. I ultimately could not fully please anyone, and I would feel sorry for myself that I was not receiving the love I sought, even after all the work I put into trying to manipulate the world for the other person.

Ironically, people tend to like me more since I developed humility and am no longer seeking their approval. Only God’s opinion of me matters, and this shift in perspective has radically changed my relationships and my view of myself. My self-esteem is no longer based upon what anyone else thinks of me. God loves me exactly as I am, so my needs are met, regardless of anyone else’s opinion of me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace asking, “Do you like me?” with check boxes for Yes, No, and Maybe. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

People’s Innate Selfishness

pay_attention_to_meContinued from here.

When I was driving through South Carolina, I heard a fabulous sermon on the radio, but I lost the signal before I could find out who was preaching. The pastor was talking about marriage and said, “If the person you married was bad enough that Jesus had to die for him, he’s going to annoy you from time to time.” I literally laughed out loud because this is so true! And this comment does not only apply to marriage – it applies to every interaction we have with any other person, whether it’s a family member, friend, or the sales clerk at a store. Every single person you encounter was “bad enough” that Jesus had to die for him or her, which means we can expect them to do things that annoy us from time to time. The things they do to annoy us, in most cases, stem from their pride, which is the Bible’s word for selfishness, self-centered, or self-absorbed.

I don’t remember where I heard this observation, but someone pointed out that pride is something we are blind to in our own lives but that we instantly recognize (negatively) in other people. All of us are naturally selfish. On her television show, Joyce Meyer advised that if you believe you are not a selfish person, pay attention to your own reaction the next time something doesn’t go your way. Unless you have worked with God to grow in humility in a particular area of your life, I can guarantee you are selfish because that is everyone’s default setting, mine included.

Now, if the other seven billion people on the planet would simply bend to my will, then my selfishness would not be a problem. The issue is that seven billion people are prideful, wanting things to go their own way, and that simply is not possible. So, as we interact with one another, our areas of pride bump into one another, and we react by viewing the other person as the problem, blind to the role our own pride is serving in the conflict. In fact, I have learned that when I find it difficult to be around other people, my own pride is likely the problem. I need to go before God in repentance, deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus as I make a conscious choice to defer to other people’s preferences.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding symbols and yelling, “Pay attention to me!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Being a Horizontal Christian by Loving Other People

lovedI finished reading Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader last week and feel like I now have a much better understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology. One notable difference from Protestantism that I have pondering is the heavy emphasis of the role of the universal Church as THE Body of Christ. While I know that Christians collectively make up the Body of Christ, I have been guilty of viewing Christianity as my relationship with God (vertical relationship) without much emphasis on my relationship with others (horizontal relationship). Tony Evans wrote an excellent book on the horizontal relationship of Christians with other people entitled Horizontal Jesus: How Our Relationships with Others Affect Our Experience with God, which taught me a lot about the “one anothers.”

Until the last few years, I believed I could live as an effective Christian alone in a cabin off the beaten path – just God and me. However, I have grown to realize that I cannot be an effective Christian if I am not interacting with other people. After all, the cross is both vertical AND horizontal. If all that mattered was God’s relationship with each individual with no connectivity among one another, then Jesus could have stayed in heaven and not have bothered to come to earth. After all, his relationship with God was just fine. He inconvenienced himself (to put it mildly) to connect horizontally with people, and Christians are supposed to follow his example, so Christianity involves interacting with other people … and that’s a big part of what makes the faith so challenging!

I have heard Joyce Meyer share the same story multiple times, and it never fails to elicit a chuckle out of me because I so deeply relate. She shared that she would be doing such a great job at being a Christian when she woke up – loving, thankful, etc. – until she had her first interaction with another person. Then, it all went downhill. The people are the hard part!

In this blog series, I will be focusing on some of the lessons I have learned – and continue to learn – about applying the Christian faith as we interact with the flawed people around us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with a heart on her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Eastern Orthodox Church: Final Words

wordContinued from here.

I hope you have enjoyed my perspectives on some of what I have learned about Eastern Orthodox theology from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. I want to reiterate that all I have written in this blog series is based on my understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology based upon this book. I have no personal knowledge outside of reading this book. My goal was not to try to convince anyone of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of Eastern Orthodox theology. Rather, I was seeking to explore some perspectives on the Christian faith that, as a United Methodist, I had not previously considered.

I find it fascinating to learn about the perspectives of a segment of Christianity that went a completely different direction from the Roman Catholic Church and, by extension, Protestantism, over a thousand years ago. Eastern Orthodoxy comes from the same root and even shared the same stem for half of its existence, but it went its own direction. Even though I do not, personally, agree with all of the positions I have read about in the book thus far, I have learned a lot, which has helped me consider my own faith from a different perspective. I suspect some aspects of Orthodoxy are not “either/or” but, instead, “both/and.” Some of what I am learning about that aspect of Christianity may help me deepen my own faith without my having to convert to Orthodoxy to do so.

While I am only a quarter of the way through the book, my impression thus far is that Eastern Orthodoxy appears to agree with Catholicism and Protestantism in the most important elements – man was created good; man fell from God; Jesus restored man to God; and man can now be reconciled to God through Jesus. The rest is details. While I find some of those details interesting, what matters is the big picture. I feel blessed to have this opportunity to consider my faith from a different perspective, allowing that perspective to challenge some of my assumptions while never losing sight of the fact that it’s all about God.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace rapping and wearing a necklace that says, “Word.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Eastern Orthodox Church: How to Transform into God’s Likeness

beautifulContinued from here.

Everything I write about the Eastern Orthodox Church in this blog series comes from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. The transfiguration plays a huge role in Eastern Orthodox belief. Jesus showed the disciples what to work toward when he revealed to them who he actually was, enabling them to see the divinity in Jesus that most people did not see. Transfiguration is the goal not only of the individual but for all of creation!

Sin is something external that interferes with the transfiguration process, resulting in interference with attaining fullness of life. Through Jesus, God’s gift of grace enables immortality to unite with a fallen world, bringing the fallen world into union with God, which results in divine beauty … hence the emphasis on divine beauty in the Eastern Orthodox worship services. As Jesus was both fully God and fully human, he was/is the perfect union of humanity and divinity. Through Jesus, mankind can experience the same transfiguration as we transform into God’s likeness by degrees.

Interestingly, I have found a couple of verses–2 Cor. 3:18 and Gen. 5:1— in which the New International version appears to use the terms likeness and image interchangeably whereas the Eastern Orthodox translation (I have no idea what version of the Bible they use) does not. From the Eastern Orthodox perspective, image = God’s part (creating man with the capacity to choose harmony with God) and likeness = man’s part (choosing to enter into union with God).

The Eastern Orthodox church believes that transforming into God’s likeness requires choice. God gave man the capacity to transform into His image by creating him in His image. Man has the freedom to choose to do so or not. When man chooses to do so, he reverses the effects of the Fall, which not only delivers himself but also the universe from the disorder that resulted from the Fall.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling under the word, “Beautiful.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Eastern Orthodox Church: Man’s Responsibility toward God’s Likeness

mirrorContinued from here.

Everything I write about the Eastern Orthodox Church in this blog series comes from Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader. I was particularly intrigued by this observation in Genesis, which I had always overlooked. Before God created man, he said,

Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” ~ Gen. 1:26

However, when He created man, He did so only in His image, not in His likeness:

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” ~ Gen. 1:27

The Eastern Orthodox position, as I understand it, is that making man in God’s image was God’s part, but making man in God’s likeness is man’s part. By creating man in His image, God provided man with the possibility of developing into His likeness. However, to grow into the likeness of God, man must take proactive steps to grow into unity and harmony with God.

I see this as the Old Testament explanation of and complement to Paul’s admonition to work out our salvation. Receiving Jesus as Savior is not the end – it’s the beginning. My job is not simply to receive Jesus as Savior so I can avoid hell and go to heaven: I am to “work out my salvation,” which takes effort as I transform day by day into the image of Christ.

So, how do we do that? The Eastern Orthodox perspective is that man unites himself with God, which not only affects his own soul but also everything around him. After all, man was created to rule over the earth, so as man grows in harmony with God, this not only affects his own soul but also his sphere of the world, bringing about not only the transfiguration of the person but also the transfiguration of everything under that person’s influence.

I’ll share more about the Eastern Orthodox perspective of how this works in my next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking at herself in a mirror above the words, “Why am I the way that I am?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]