Blondin (Francois Gravelet) pushes a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagra Falls

Operational Belief vs. Intellectual Ascent (part 1 of 2)

In my experience it seems there are two kinds of “belief”:

  1. Intellectual Ascent
  2. Operational Belief

If I witnessed a stunt man comfortably pushing a wheelbarrow across a high wire with more than 200 pounds of sand in it, I could easily believe that he could do it with a normal-sized person in the wheelbarrow. This doesn’t mean that I’m ready and willing to jump in and give it a go.

In my life I also find similar gaps in what I believe intellectually vs. how I actually respond under the daily stresses and pain of life. You see, in order to make sense of life and protect myself from pain at a very early age, I arranged a self-protective survival system. Mostly, this system works at a subconscious level. It’s instinctual. I think just about everyone does this to some degree.

The irony is that the same instincts that serve to protect us from evil or harsh circumstances can also prevent us from relational connection and healing with God and others. Allow me to provide a couple examples:

  • A good father intellectually knows he needs to exhibit patience and unconditional love while training and discipling his kids. However, when the kids repeatedly show disrespect, self-centeredness, and anger toward the father, he resorts to raising his voice, shaming the kids for their actions, and using a general tone of anger towards them. How can this be?
  • A good mother intellectually knows she is never alone and God is always watching out for her. However, when she experiences loneliness due to an emotionally unavailable spouse and a schedule that doesn’t permit meaningful connection with other adults, a deep despair sets in; an operational belief that she is truly alone and must be emotionally tough and shoulder the load by herself. How can this be?

In each case, the operational beliefs do not line up with the stated (intellectual / scriptural) beliefs. It can be difficult to even recognize these inconsistencies because they happen at an instinctual level. Often they have been with us for decades and seem normal and necessary for our everyday coping and survival. But they are not. These inconsistencies threaten our ability to connect with God and others.

As you might imagine, our unhealthy operational / instinctual beliefs die hard. What can be done? Check out Part 2 of this post to find some steps to consider taking with a God who can’t wait to lovingly help you “close the gap”.

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