The Reality Choice
Part of our human nature is to refuse change until our pain exceeds our fear -- fear of change, that is. We simply deny the pain until it gets so bad that we are crushed and fi nally realize we need some help. Why don't we save ourselves a bit of misery and admit now what we're inevitably going to have to admit later? We are not God, and we desperately need God because our lives are unmanageable without Him. We'll be forced to learn that lesson someday. We may as well admit it now.
If you answer yes to any of the questions below, you'll know without a doubt that you are a citizen of the human race.
- Do you ever stay up late when you know you need sleep?
- Do you ever eat or drink more calories than your body needs?
- Do you ever feel you ought to exercise but don't?
- Do you ever know the right thing to do but don't do it?
- Do you ever know something is wrong but do it anyway?
- Have you ever known you should be unselfish but were selfish instead?
- Have you ever tried to control somebody or something and found them or it uncontrollable?
As fellow members of the human race, we all deal with life's hurts, hang-ups, and habits. In the next pages, we'll look at the cause of these hurts, hang-ups, and habits, their consequences, and their cure.
As we look at the causes and consequences of our pain, our spiritual poverty will become obvious. How can we be happy about being spiritually poor, as the beatitude for this chapter tells us we will be? Admitting the truth that we are spiritually poor -- or powerless to control our tendency to do wrong -- leads us to this happiness and to the cure we so desperately need.
THE CAUSE OF OUR PROBLEMS
The cause of our problems is our nature! No, not the trees, rocks, and lakes kind of nature, but our human nature -- that is, our sin nature. The Bible tells us that this sin nature gets us into all kinds of problems. We choose to do things that aren't good for us, even when we know better. We respond in hurtful ways when we are hurt. We try to fix problems, and often in our attempts to fix them, we only make them worse. Th e Bible says it this way: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." This verse lets us know we can't trust our human nature to lead us out of our problems. Left on its own, our sin nature will tend to do wrong, desire to be God, and try to play God.
1. OUR TENDENCY TO DO WRONG
We will always have this sin nature -- this tendency to do the wrong thing. In fact, we will wrestle with it as long as we are on this earth. Even if you have already asked Christ into your life, even after you become a Christian, you still have desires that pull you in the wrong direction. We find in the Bible that Paul understood this, for he struggled with his sin nature just as we do: "I don't understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don't do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate. I know perfectly well that what I am doing is wrong.but I can't help myself, because it is sin inside me that makes me do these evil things."
Do Paul's words sound vaguely familiar to you? Sure they do. We end up doing what we don't want to do and not doing what we do want to do. For years I thought I could control my drinking. I believed the lie that I could stop whenever I wanted. It really wasn't that bad. My choices were not hurting anybody. I was deep into my denial. As the pain of my sin addiction got worse, I would try to stop on my own power. I was able to stop for a day, a week, or even a few months, but I would always start drinking again. I wanted to do what was right, but on my own I was powerless to change.
2. OUR DESIRE TO BE GOD
Why do we continue making poor choices? Why do we repeat the same mistakes? At the root of our human tendency to do wrong is our desire to be in control. We want to decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. We want to make our own choices, call our own shots, make our own rules. We don't want anybody telling us what to do. In essence, we want to be God. But this is nothing new. Trying to be God is humankind's oldest problem. In Genesis 3, even Adam and Eve tried to be in control. God put them in Paradise, and they tried to control Paradise. God told them, "You can do anything you want in Paradise except one thing: Don't eat from this one tree." What did they do? You got it; they made a beeline for the forbidden tree -- the only thing in Paradise God said was off-limits. Satan said, "If you eat this fruit, you will be like God." And they wanted to be God. Th at's been our problem from the very start of humanity. Today, we still want to be God.
3. OUR ATTEMPTS TO PLAY GOD
We play God by denying our humanity and by trying to control everything
for our own selfi sh reasons. We attempt to be the center of our own
universe. We play God by trying to control our image, other people, our
problems, and our pain.
We Try to Control Our Image
We care so much about what other people think of us. We don't want them to know what we're really like. We play games; we wear masks; we pretend; we fake it. We want people to see certain sides of us while we hide others. We deny our weaknesses, and we deny our feelings. "I'm not angry." "I'm not upset." "I'm not worried." "I'm not afraid." We don't want people to see the real us. Why are we afraid to tell people who we are? The answer is, "If I tell you who I really am and you don't like me, I'm in trouble -- because then I'm all I've got."
We Try to Control Other People
Parents try to control kids; kids try to control parents. Wives try to control husbands; husbands try to control wives. Coworkers vie for office control. People try to control other people. And along the way we develop a lot of tools to manipulate each other. Everyone has his or her preferred methods: Some use guilt and shame; some use praise and affirmation. Others use anger, fear, or an old favorite -- the silent treatment. All in efforts to gain control.
We Try to Control Our Problems
"I can handle it," we say. "It's not really a problem." "I'm okay, really. I'm fine." Th ose are the words of somebody trying to play God. When we try to control our problems, we say, "I don't need any help, and I certainly don't need counseling or recovery." "I can quit anytime. I'll work it out on my own power." When a TV repairman was asked about the worst kind of damage he'd ever seen to a television set, he said, "The kind that results from people trying to fix their TVs on their own." The more we try to fix our problems by ourselves, the worse our problems get.
We Try to Control Our Pain
Have you ever thought about how much time and eff ort you spend running from pain? Trying to avoid it, deny it, escape it, reduce it, or postpone it? Some of us try to avoid pain by eating or not eating. Others try to postpone it by getting drunk, smoking, taking drugs, or abusing prescription medications. Some try to escape through sports, traveling, or jumping in and out of relationships. Others withdraw into a hole and build a protective wall of depression around themselves. Still others become angry, abusive, critical, and judgmental. We'll try almost anything to control our pain.
But the real pain comes when we realize, in our quieter moments, that no matter how hard we try, we're not in control. Th at realization can be very scary.
You may remember on Saturday Night Live when Chevy Chase would come on and say, "Hi, I'm Chevy Chase, and you're not." Can you imagine God saying, "Hi, I'm God, and you're not"? Agreeing with God that He's God and we're not leads us into our fi rst healing choice:
The first step is always the hardest, and this first choice is no exception. Until you are willing to admit your need and recognize that you are not God, you will continue to suff er the consequences of your poor choices. As the beatitude says, "Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor." Admitting your need is what being "spiritually poor" is all about.
THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR PROBLEMS
If the cause of most of our problems is our efforts to control everything, then what are the consequences of playing God? There are four:
When we try to control everything, we become afraid. Adam said, "I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid." We are afraid somebody will find out who we really are -- that we're fakes and phonies, that we really don't have it all together, that we're not perfect. We don't let anybody get close to us because they'll find out that we're scared inside, and so we fake it. We live in fear, afraid someone will reject us, not love us, or not like us when they know what we are really like. We believe they will only like the image we work to present. So we are afraid.
Trying to be the general manager of the universe is frustrating. Have you ever been to Chuck E. Cheese's? Th ey have this game called Wacka Wacka. You use a big mallet to beat down these little moles that keep popping up. But when you whack one, three more pop up. You whack those, and five more pop up. Th at machine is a parable of life. We whack down one relational conflict and another pops up. We whack down one addiction or compulsion and another one pops up. It's frustrating because we can't get them all knocked down at the same time. We walk around pretending we're God: "I'm powerful; I can handle it." But if we're really in control, why don't we just unplug the machine?
The apostle Paul felt this same frustration: "It seems to be a fact of life that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong There is something else deep within me.that is at war with my mind and wins the fight and makes me a slave to the sin." David felt it too: "My dishonesty made me miserable and filled my days with frustration." Frustration is a symptom of a much deeper issue: a failure to acknowledge that we are not God.
Playing God makes us tired. Pretending we've got it all together is hard work. David experienced the fatigue of pretending: "My strength evaporated like water on a sunny day until I finally admitted all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide them." Denial requires enormous amounts of emotional energy -- energy that could be used in problem solving is actually diverted into problem denying, problem hiding, and problem avoiding.
Most of us try to run from the pain by keeping busy. We think, "I don't like the way I feel when I slow down. I don't like the sounds that go through my mind when I lay my head back on the pillow. If I just keep busy, maybe I can block out those feelings and drown out the sounds." We run from pain by constantly being on the go. We work ourselves to death, or we get involved in some hobby or sport until it becomes a compulsion. We're on the golf course or tennis court or somewhere all the time. Even over involvement in religious activities can be an attempt to hide our pain. We say, "Look at me, look at all the ways I'm serving God." God does want you to serve Him out of love and purpose. He does not want you to use serving Him or the church to escape your pain.
If you're in a constant state of fatigue, always worn out, ask yourself, "What pain am I running from? What problem am I afraid to face? What motivates and drives me to work and work so that I'm in a constant state of fatigue?"
Playing God is one job where failure is guaranteed. You're not big enough. The wisdom of Proverbs tells us, "You will never succeed in life if you try to hide your sins. Confess them and give them up; then God will show mercy to you." We need to be honest and open about our weaknesses, faults, and failures.
THE CURE FOR OUR PROBLEMS
The cure for our problems comes in a strange form: it comes through admitting weakness and through a humble heart.
The Bible says that in admitting my weakness, I actually find strength. "I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." This is not a popular idea in our self-sufficient American culture that says, "Raise yourself up by your own bootstraps; don't depend on anybody else; do the Lone Ranger thing, be the strong, silent type." The Bible also says that knowing we are "spiritually poor" will make us happy. This is the first step to getting your act together. You must admit that you're powerless to do it on your own -- that you are spiritually poor -- that you need other people, and you need God.
Making the first choice to healing means acknowledging that you are not God. Doing so means recognizing and admitting three important facts of life:
1. "I admit that I am powerless to change my past."
"It hurt. I still remember the pain, but all the resentment and shame in the world isn't going to change what happened. I'm powerless to change my past."
2. "I admit that I am powerless to control other people."
"I try to control others. I actually like manipulating them. I use all kinds of little gimmicks, but it doesn't work. I am responsible for my actions, not theirs. I can't control other people."
3. "I admit that I am powerless to cope with my harmful habits, behaviors,
"Good intentions don't cut it. Willpower is not enough. I need something more. I need a source of power beyond myself. I need God, because He made me to need Him."
A HUMBLE HEART
A second portion of our cure is having a humble heart. God cannot work His change if our hearts are filled with pride. The Bible tells us that "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." God's grace has the power to heal us, enabling us to change. Even after all we've talked about in this chapter, it's still difficult for us to admit our need. Our pride continues to insist that we can go it alone. Some of us may still be thinking, "I can do this on my own. I can solve my own problems." No. You can't. If you could, you would have already done so, but since you can't, you won't.
What needs changing in your life? What hurt or hang-up or habit have you been trying to ignore? Choosing to admit that you can't do it alone and that you need God is the fi rst and hardest choice. It's hard to admit, "I have a problem, and I need help." Admitting we have a problem and giving it a name is humbling. Doing it says, "I'm not God, and I don't have it as together as I'd like everybody to think." If you admit that truth to someone else, he or she will not be surprised. Others know it, God knows it, and you know it. You just need to admit it. Stop right now and name the hurt, hang-up, or habit you've been trying to ignore. Then admit to God that you are powerless to manage your life on your own.
Congratulations! You've made the first choice on the road to healing!
Admitting that you have a hurt, hang-up, or habit is just the beginning. To implement this first choice, as well as the seven choices to come, you need to take three actions: (1) pray about it, (2) write about it, and (3) share about it. Working through these action steps is where the real work gets done. This is where the change happens. Some of you may be tempted to skip this part and just move on to the next chapter. Don't do it! These three interactive steps, found at the end of every chapter, are your pathway to healing. Make the choice.
Life's Healing Choices © 2007 by Richard D. Warren and John E. Baker