Pain’s Role in Shattering the Illusion of Self-Sufficiency

break_guitarContinued from here.

I hope and pray that nobody reading this blog entry will be as stubborn as I was in letting go of the illusion of self-sufficiency. I fought God with all that I had to my own detriment, and the process was exceedingly painful, both physically and emotionally. I repeatedly threw myself against His brick wall, but He never budged. I cannot put into words how painful the process of being sifted as wheat was, but I came out on the other side with a deep fear of the Lord. I will now do whatever God tells me to do because I’m too fearful not to – not that I am “afraid” of God – I simply fear disobeying Him. I trust Him completely and know that as long as I fear Him (trust & obey Him), I need never fear anything else. He holds me in the palm of His hand.

The truth is that God created us to be dependent upon Him. Each of us has a deep yearning to fill up with Him, but most of us seek to fill that place with anything other than God. For me, some of those idols were food, friendships, and television. For others, it might be sex (pornography), drugs, alcohol, compulsive busyness, and the like. Anything we overdo is really us trying to fill the space inside that only God can fill.

Lewis said,

The creature’s illusion of self-sufficiency must, for the creature’s sake, be shattered.”

For someone like me with lots of deep emotional pain, there was plenty to work with internally to break this illusion. For people who have been blessed to grow up in safe, loving environments, God might need to allow external forms of pain, such as misfortunes, into their lives, which often leads folks to ask why God would allow such terrible things to happen in the lives of good people. One way or another, God must lead each of us to realize that only He can satisfy us, and we learn that through experiencing pain.

I share Lewis’ sentiments in revealing these realities to you:

I am only trying to show that the old Christian doctrine of being made perfect through suffering is not incredible. To prove it palatable is beyond my design.”

When I find myself in a season of suffering, I try to remember that the question I need to ask is not whether a relationship with God is too difficult. The real question is whether it’s worth it … and it is.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace breaking a guitar. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

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Perseverance: Developed through the Moments

first_downContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared a five-step procedure that I developed through reading Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, which is helping me stay connected to the true vine. While I am certainly not perfect at facing trials, I am finding it easier to respond rather than react by taking 30 seconds to work through the five steps and redirect my focus to God, which keeps me attached to the vine instead of trying to slay the dragons of life myself.

I am finding that perseverance is developed through the moments, which is such a relief because I am much better able to handle one moment well than I am a rough week … or month … or year. If I knew that I needed to persevere through an entire year of trials, I would be likely to give up before I start because I know my inadequacy. However, I can make a right choice in this moment. As long as I keep making right choices moment by moment, those moments will add up to days … and then weeks … and then months … until I have persevered for a year.

I don’t think God expects us to persevere perfectly. Instead, He is looking for what Lysa TerKeurst calls “imperfect progress.” God is well aware that we are going to fail from time to time, and that’s OK. He’s more concerned about our overall progress over time than a failure in one moment. So, even when I blow it, I can pick myself back up, dust myself off, and resolve to progress in the next moment … and the one after that.

When I view developing perseverance as a series of moments rather than as one long “pass/fail” event, I have hope that I might actually be able to do this. I’ll never do it perfectly, so it’s a relief to know that’s not a requirement. I can extend myself grace as I learn, just as Paul learned, how to be content in every situation. And who knows? Perhaps one day, I’ll actually experience joy in the trials as I grow toward maturity and completeness.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing on a football field above the words, “First Down.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Getting through the Moments

Continued from here.

In my last blog entry, I asked why it’s so hard to stay connected to Jesus in every area of our lives when Jesus promises much fruit as long as we stay connected to him. I think one reason this is so difficult for me is that I don’t choose to stay connected in the moment of conflict. My natural inclination is to react immediately, and I think I need to press the pause button and remind myself not to detach from the vine.

Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, is really helping me with this. She stresses the importance of having a procedure in place for those “unglued” moments so you can pause before disconnecting from the vine. She explains the five steps and shares her personal plan. She then encourages you to develop your own plan.

I am pleased to report that I am making progress using my plan. Here are the five steps that work for me:

  1. “Help me do this right” – This reminds me that my natural inclination is to react wrongly. I need to depend upon God to stay connected to the vine.
  2. Four fundamental beliefs — I remind myself that God loves me, is good, is with me, and is in control. I typically “forget” at least one of these whenever I start to come unglued.
  3. “It doesn’t matter what I see. It matters who You are.” – This helps me remember that God is bigger than whatever I am facing.
  4. “I know my God is able. He was faithful before, and He will be faithful again.” — This reassures me that God really is going to work this situation for good, no matter how impossible it seems in the moment.
  5. “Help me do this right” – Repeating this phrase reminds me that how I behave in a trial affects more than just myself. Other people are watching my reaction, so I need God to help me set a good example for others.

Since I have started applying this procedure in my life, I have been more successful in staying attached to the vine at the moment of decision. Rather than simply reacting and detaching from the vine, I am choosing to stay attached. It only takes me about 30 seconds to run through the steps, and then I am better to think through my response rather than simply react.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Courtesy Amazon.com.]

Perseverance: Jesus is the Vine

tumbleweedContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, accepting my complete dependence upon God does not come easily to me. My natural inclination is to do as much as I can by myself, but God wants me dependent upon Him in every aspect of my life. Once I fully accept that reality, then I will learn contentment as Paul learned it. Even though I know this in my head, I still have not fully digested this reality … to my own detriment.

Jesus used the metaphor of the true vine and branches to explain our dependency upon him. Jesus is the true vine, and we are the branches. If we will stay connected to him (by doing what he tells us to do), then we will bear much fruit.

Think about the importance of a vine to the branches that bear fruit. The nourishment that the branches need to bear fruit comes from the vine. If the branch separates itself from the vine, then it will wither and die. As long as the branches stay connected to the vine, they effortlessly produce fruit. However, all the effort in the world won’t make fruit grow on a branch that is disconnected from the vine because the needed nourishment isn’t available.

Why is our natural inclination to try to live a fruitful life apart from God? When you think about this logically through Jesus’ metaphor, it makes no sense, and yet that’s exactly what I try to do with the molehills in my life. I recognize that I cannot be fruitful with the mountains of life when I detach from the vine, but I continue to pull away from the vine when I encounter molehills. I see the folly of this in my head, but I’m still working on digesting this truth so it becomes a part of my character.

I have a choice, just as you do. We can stay connected to Jesus in every aspect of our lives and bear much fruit in both the big and small areas. Or we can detach parts of our lives from Jesus, put forth much effort, and fail to bear fruit. The choice seems obvious, so why is this so hard to do? I guess that’s why we need many trials to learn this difficult lesson.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing near a tumbleweed. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Dependency upon God in the Smaller Challenges

up_to_hereContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared that I actually find it easier to be dependent upon God – and thus remain more content – when I face HUGE life challenges than when I face smaller ones. To quote a friend, “I can valiantly fight off a shark but then get nibbled to death by guppies.” Why is that?

I have learned that I can remain content in HUGE life challenges while continuing to experience extreme discontent in smaller challenges because of my refusal to depend upon God for them. Let’s see if you can relate to the mindset that I struggle with:

Let’s say I am juggling several annoying life challenges at once, such as being overcharged for my cell phone, having to keep rescheduling my son’s orthodontist appointment to accommodate makeup basketball games, and training a new dog who starts whining at 5:00 a.m. (even on Saturdays!!). None of these life annoyances is outside of what I believe I should be able to handle on my own. I think I don’t need God to deal with them … not that this is a conscious thought. I simply omit God from these areas of my life.

Then, more gets piled on – I get poison ivy, so I’m itchy … and then my son’s carpool buddy has to go out of town for a week, so I’m on double-duty … which means I have to make up the missed time from work … which takes two hours out of the time I have to do chores around the house that week … and so on … Suddenly, the same person who valiantly faced down her son’s major back surgery is curled up in a ball on the floor sobbing because I can’t handle all of this!!!!!

What God wants is for me accept that I am dependent upon Him in every area of my life and seek His involvement in the molehills just as much as I do in the mountains … but I don’t (although I’m learning) because that’s not what I want from God. I want to stay in control, and to accept that I am 100% dependent upon God means I must give up that control … and that’s very difficult for me to do.

You see, what I want is for God to tame the beast. I believe I can probably handle three of the molehills on my own, so I want God to reduce the size of the collective fire, and then I’ve got it from there. I can handle this on my own – I don’t need God’s involvement if He will just keep the molehills below a certain level. THAT is the mindset that God wants to break in me, and He uses trials to do it.

How might my life and outlook be different if I accepted that I am 100% dependent upon God in EVERY area of my life, big or small? More on that in my next blog entry.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking angry and holding up her hand next to the words, “I’ve had it up to here!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Learned Dependency upon God

no_thanksContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I talked about how God wants to break our self-sufficiency so we learn to depend upon him. Note the use of the word learn. This is a lesson that must be learned over time, and perseverance through trials is how we learn it. Once we do, we develop the ability to remain content no matter what happens in our lives.

Learning to be dependent upon God has been a particularly challenging lesson for me because of my history. As a severely abused child, I loathed dependency because that was what I perceived as being responsible for my trauma. I could not wait to become an adult so I would NEVER have to depend upon ANYONE EVER AGAIN.

Note that I said I struggled with being “dependent upon” God. I did not struggle as much with learning to “depend upon” God, but I had absolutely no interest in “being dependent” on Him or anyone else.

Let me explain the difference: I want to be able to depend upon my friend to show up as promised to give me a ride to the airport, but I don’t want to be dependent upon her or anyone else to give me a ride anywhere. I can take care of myself, thank you very much! I’ll call a cab, walk, or hitchhike before I’ll allow myself to “become dependent upon” that friend or anyone else giving me a ride anywhere. See the difference?

My natural inclination is that I want to be completely self-sufficient, not having to depend upon anyone for anything. So, God allowed trials into my life, such as infertility and an eating disorder, that were too big for my limited resources. I had to become dependent upon God because they broke me. My options were to stay broken or to depend upon God to intervene. There was no third option.

Interestingly, because of God’s excellent track record with intervening in my massive life challenges, I am actually more content when facing HUGE issues than I am when I face smaller ones. More on that in my next blog entry.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her hand, saying, “No thanks.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Breaking Self-Sufficiency

helpContinued from here.

A friend who is under heavy spiritual attack for doing the right thing asked why God allows spiritual attack when doing His will. After all, if God wants this done, then why not remove all of the obstacles and make it easier?

The short answer is that God has more in mind than the end goal, and He is a multi-tasker. While God is interested in the “job” He assigned us to do, He is even more interested in changing our character. As our character changes to become more like Christ, then the spiritual attacks lose the power to bother us so much. Put another way, the tests leads to perseverance, which leads to maturity and completeness. If God removed the obstacles, we would never become mature and complete.

One aspect of our character that must be broken is self-sufficiency. The only way to do this is to allow situations to come into our lives that we don’t have the resources to navigate. For example, when my then-15-year-old son had back surgery, I did not have the physical or emotional resources to take care of him. I am not a nurturer by nature, and his level of need after coming home from the hospital far surpassed the limited resources I had to take care of him. Nevertheless, I did it because God was my sufficiency.

Paul tells us that…

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~ Phil. 4:11-13

As Ann Voskamp pointed out in her book One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are, note the repetition of the phrase “I have learned.” Contentment wasn’t some gift that God magically dropped out of the sky onto Paul. Paul had to learn contentment. And how did he do that? By letting go of self-sufficiency in trials and finding his sufficiency in God:

I can do all this through him who gives me strength. ~ Phil. 4:13

In my next blog entry, I’ll talk about what letting go of self-sufficiency looks like in my life.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sinking in quicksand below the word, “Help!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]