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The-Sacred-Romance(pp_w820_h485)

The Message Of The Arrows

Reading this excerpt from John Eldredge’s book, “The Sacred Romance” got me thinking…is Eldredge overstating the impact of our negative experiences? Do we really carry wounds from our pasts that impact our current lives? It’s easy to for many like me to think about all the many wonderful blessings that have been bestowed upon us and sweep the rest under the rug. However, I have concluded that ignoring our wounds from the past, whatever they are, limits our ability to connect with each other and even limits our experience of connecting with God. Take a moment to read this excerpt and share your thoughts.

At some point we all face the same decision—what will we do with the Arrows we’ve known? Maybe a better way to say it is, what have they tempted us to do? However they come to us, whether through a loss we experience as abandonment or some deep violation we feel as abuse, their message is always the same: Kill your heart. Divorce it, neglect it, run from it, or indulge it with some anesthetic (our various addictions). Think of how you’ve handled the affliction that has pierced your own heart. How did the Arrows come to you? Where did they land? Are they still there? What have you done as a result?

To say we all face a decision when we’re pierced by an Arrow is misleading. It makes the process sound so rational, as though we have the option of coolly assessing the situation and choosing a logical response. Life isn’t like that—the heart cannot be managed in a detached sort of way (certainly not when we are young, when some of the most defining Arrows strike). It feels more like an ambush, and our response is at a gut level. We may never put words to it. Our deepest convictions are formed without conscious effort, but the effect is a shift deep in our soul. Commitments form never to be in that position again, never to know that sort of pain again. The result is an approach to life that we often call our personality. If you’ll listen carefully to your life, you may begin to see how it has been shaped by the unique Arrows you’ve known and the particular convictions you’ve embraced as a result. The Arrows also taint and partially direct even our spiritual life.

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Can We Trust Our Emotions Or Are They Wild Horses?

I have often heard it said in Christian circles that emotions can’t be trusted. I don’t like things that can’t be trusted. Imagine a fuel gauge in your car that is giving accurate feedback 50% of the time, but you have no idea when it’s right and when it’s wrong. Basically, it becomes 100% useless.

For most of us, our emotions don’t always line up with our core values and beliefs. We sincerely desire to experience and display emotions that are consistent with the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), but frequently we find ourselves inwardly (and outwardly) experiencing and displaying the opposite (Romans 7:15).

What the heck?

As a result, many of us have concluded and have even been taught that we should work hard to suppress negative emotions. And if we are going to have any emotions at all, we need to work on conjuring up the positive ones. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked for me or those closest to me.

If you study emotions in the Bible, it is apparent that God has emotions and that the key characters in his story experienced them too: sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes not. So, if God made them, they must be good for something, even though they seem to behave like wild horses at times.

How useful would it be if God gave us a gentile pin prick every time we began to take action or think in a direction that was based on a lie that we unknowingly adopted as truth? How about a whisper of encouragement in our ear when we are taking action or thinking in a direction that aligns with his truth? I believe God uses emotions to give us helpful cues. If we pay attention, these cues are incredibly useful. They are still very complex and challenging to manage, but these “wild horses” can be bridled and ridden. They can take us to an often mysterious destination: a place where we see what we actually believe at an instinctual level. We can then focus on challenging our false beliefs and affirming the beliefs that are true.

Example: My three-year-old son begins to defy me. After several attempts to reason and negotiate, my emotions begin to “rise” (read: unhealthy anger). My attempts to gain compliance and control only seem to drive my son further into rebellion. I know that I should not be disciplining in my anger and that yelling, threatening, and even physically restraining my son are not recommended strategies listed in any respectable parenting book; however, I am compelled by my deep emotion of anger. In retrospect, I discovered that the intense emotion was not the problem, but an indicator of a false belief. I believed that my dignity depended on my three-year-old’s respect and compliance. That’s a ridiculous belief, but keeping my dignity is not. Time to reject the lie that ties my dignity to a three-year-old’s behavior.

I would propose emotions are not something to be ignored or shut off. They have important purposes, including uncovering what we actually believe about ourselves and God. The process of bridling and riding these “wild horses” to their destination (our hidden beliefs) takes some humility and introspection with the Lord, but it’s a ride well worth taking. Remember, our negative emotions are not the problem; it’s our instinctual beliefs that drive them. It’s been said that emotions do not validate truth, BUT they do validate what we believe the truth to be.

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”.

spelunking

Soul Spelunking

“Spiritual growth is not about climbing a mountain, getting better, and therefore needing Christ less and less. Spiritual growth is about discovering more and bigger caverns of need into which more and more of Christ’s grace can flow.” Tullian Tchividjian, from blog post titled: Christ Is Deeper Still

Who wants to explore their own depravity, spelunking into the depths, looking for “bigger caverns” where Christ’s grace is desperately needed? Personally, I’d like to seal off those caverns permanently with a truck load of C4. They are dark, scary, dangerous and ugly … which is exactly why God wants to go there with us. He wants to expose the deepest, scariest places within us to his love, his grace, and his mercy. He wants to begin the healing journey now, on this side of eternity. If we are truly honest, most of us can think of some places deep down where fear, self-doubt, and shame reside. Honestly, there are things I often desire more than God. I frequently doubt that God alone can truly satisfy my deepest desires (FYI: this is not surprising to God; he recognized it before I did).

It is easy for me to create an illusion that these hidden caverns don’t really affect me or others all that much. But it’s a lie. First of all, no one can possibly hide all of their cavernous, fleshy garbage from anyone in a close relationship. Just ask your spouse or your best friend. But, more importantly, when I attempt to hide my gaping caverns from others, I isolate myself relationally. Relational isolation is a dirty rotten scoundrel and a thief. It whispers in my ear, “If you come clean, you will be rejected, so keep the juicy stuff to yourself and I will keep you safe.” And in so doing, it thoughtlessly robs me of deep, powerful, healing connections with God and others. Not only that, isolation is a greedy, heartless beast. Feeding it only increases its appetite. Look out!

God has designed us to live in close relationships. It’s called community. While community can be messy and inherently risky, this is the space where ministry happens between us and others. He has gone to incredible lengths to create this canvas where we join in with others in painting the artwork which is our relationships. Without visiting the deeper places alongside our trustworthy guide (God), our color palette becomes very limited. We don’t have much to offer, nor can we receive much. God designed us to live in full color. He especially enjoys all the colors and he wants to enjoy them with you and me. He desires that we enjoy them with each other.

With God as your guide, grab your helmet, rope and a trustworthy friend. Take that spelunking adventure to which he is calling you!