From the Head to the Heart is a blog series exploring common issues people may encounter that prevent them from experiencing God on a deeper level. We will then dig into strategies for helping make the connection between the head and the heart.
How do you relate to other people? Do you find that you seek to grow close to people and form deep intimate relationships? Are you ambivalent about being close to others, desiring to press into relationships one minute and then pushing people away from the next? Do you struggle with anxiety when it comes to intimate relationships which can lead to a state of regularly questioning the closeness? Our topic today is focused on people’s style of relating - i.e., why do you engage people the way you do?
IN THE BEGINNING
Your style of relating to people is directly connected to your attachment style. What is an attachment? Christian psychologists Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy state, “attachment is an overarching system that explains the principles, the rules, and the emotions of relationships.” Your attachment style is formulated during infancy with the most significant relationship you have at that time -- your primary caregivers. There are differing attachment styles that are known as either secure or insecure attachments. Dan Allender, a psychologist and author, states that a secure attachment is “based on the primary caregiver’s quality of attunement and delight, containment and honor, and the ability to repair ruptures of care through honest ownership of failure.” Attunement is being in tune with a child’s needs and attending to their needs with delight. Containment is a term used to define creating boundaries for children. In doing so, a caregiver honors the child. Caregivers will fail their children, doing so is a byproduct of living in a fallen world. When a caregiver fails their child, they can maintain a secure attachment through honestly owning up to their failures. Insecure attachments are often described as either avoidant, ambivalent, or disorganized. An avoidant attachment style comes from a failure to be attuned to a child’s needs. As a result, a child becomes emotionally distant and isolated. The process of a child becoming distant and isolated is due to the child turning internally to meet his or her needs. The child's emotional needs are not met by his or her caregiver therefore the child seeks to meet his or her own emotional needs by creating distance from the emotional needs. Emotional needs are not met so numbness to emotions is how the child copes. The ambivalent attachment style “involves a lack of attunement followed by a failure of containment through repeated violations of boundaries.” A caregiver fluctuates between being distant and intrusive with one’s child. Such inconsistent behavior by a caregiver leads a child to become “anxious, needy, and never fully satisfied” because the child cannot predict when he or she will receive loving support. Lastly, a disorganized attachment style “involves repeated failures of attunement and containment due to intense violations of anger, manipulation, abandonment, and violence.” A child often responds by becoming “aggressive, impulsive, manipulative, and difficult to manage.” A disorganized attachment style has remnants of both avoidant and ambivalent.
John Bowlby, an English psychiatrist in the 1900’s observed children that were dropped off at the hospital, and how they responded when their parents left them and then would come back to pick them up (during this time in history children were dropped off at the hospital and left when sick). Bowlby observed differing reactions from children when their parents would come and pick them up from the hospital. Some kids would cry and run toward their parent finding security in being back in their arms. Their anxiety drastically decreased, and they felt safe and secure. Other children would respond with ambivalence, meaning they’d cry and seek their parent but then yell and scream at how much they hated their parent once in their arms. The ambivalent child was confused. On the one hand, the child wanted to feel secure and safe. However, the child saw the parent as not meeting his/her need for feeling safe and secure. The avoidant child would appear calm, cool, and collected when his parent would come pick him up. However, after medically assessing the child findings revealed that there was considerable internal angst. This child suppressed his feelings of not feeling safe, secure, and comfortable. Lastly, the disorganized child was unpredictable when his parent came to pick him up. His response was never the same, and he appeared unstable. A disorganized child may seek comfort from a stranger rather than one’s parent. Further research has revealed that internally the disorganized child was questioning his sense of self-worth toward self and others.
You may be wondering, what on earth does this have to do with God? Attachment has a lot to do with feeling connected to God. As we’ll unpack further, if you grew up with an insecure attachment style of ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized then it’s likely you’ll struggle to feel a close connection to God. Why? Because if you cannot feel secure, safe, and comfortable around your primary caregivers than how are you going to feel safe, secure, and comfortable with God?
PARENTING THE IMAGE OF GOD THE FATHER
Many parents are completely unaware of how they are to reflect the “fatherly” relationship between a child and God, which is not to say that parents are to be “a god” to their children. Rather, parents are to point their children to a relationship with God and provide them with a relationship, on a smaller scale that is reflective of a relationship with God. God loves his children and desires them to know his love for him. He knows that the role of a parent is so important because they have the privilege and responsibility of reflecting his love to children while raising them to go into the world and reflect his love to others. Parents are to raise God fearing children who can transition to seeing God as their true Father. The first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs is an example of Solomon teaching his son to fear the Lord, meaning to grow in relationship to God. Solomon was seeking to fulfill his God ordained purpose by pointing his child to his true Father. Unfortunately, many parents do not acknowledge their God given role.
Instead, children are raised in homes where secure attachments are not formed. Parents withhold their affections or, choose to pay attention to something or someone else rather than their child. Attachment research shows that secure attachments are formed at birth. Insecure attachments impact children’s ability to formulate safe and loving relationships because at a young age they do not have that modeled for them. They are deprived of a secure and loving environment. How do you think this impacts children as they grow into adults? How do you suspect this affects one’s relationship with God?
Many Christians struggle to connect their heads to their heart as they relate to God because from an early age (although they have no memory of these insecure attachments) they never formed secure attachments. For those who never formed secure attachments, they do not know any better. All they know is a life of questioning the sincerity of other people’s affections toward them. Are you there for me? Can I count on you? Do you care about me? Am I worthy of your love? For these individuals, such questions are not only asked of those around them, but they can also be asked of God. God, are you there for me? God, can I trust you? God, do you care about me? God, am I worthy of your love?
God’s heart breaks for these individuals. He grieves as he watches their parents neglect their God ordained purpose and design as a parent. God desires nothing more than to pour his love upon us and he allows parents to play that role in our lives. God’s heart breaks for the fatherless. All throughout the Scriptures, God is speaking of the responsibility of caring for the fatherless, which allows the orphaned to experience his mighty love through those who care for them. Individuals who have not experienced a secure attachment with their parents are mourned by God just as he mourns for the fatherless. These people are essentially “parentless” due to their parents not raising them the way God instructs parents to raise their children.
SHELTER IN THE STORM
You may be asking yourself, “how do I know if I have a secure or insecure attachment?” In addition to the questions above, ask yourself who, or what, do you turn to when you are afraid, or feeling vulnerable, and exposed? Your style of relating will kick into gear in response to relational movements. Tim Clinton and Gary Sibcy, authors of Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do, write, “Attachment theory is not just a theory of relationship, it is also a theory of emotion.” Relational movements are movements toward, against, or away from another person, which are driven by your emotions.
Clinton and Sibcy state,
Persons with avoidant attachment tend to keep people at a distance, avoid true intimacy, and value success and power over relationships. Those with ambivalent attachment become entangled in relationships, with lots of ups and downs and excessive concerns about rejection and abandonment. They have difficulty setting boundaries with others… Likewise, they are often consumed with a whirlwind of emotions… allowing normal, healthy emotions to mutate to more intense, destructive, and self-defeating outbursts… Those with disorganized attachment bounce back and forth among the insecure styles. At times they might be like the avoidant person, keeping people at a distance and overregulating emotions. On other occasions, they might shift into an ambivalent style, becoming more clingy and entangled in relationships and underregulating emotions. Also, those with disorganized attachment might be overwhelmed with feelings from the past. Especially when trauma is part of the past, this person might be consumed with flashbacks and intrusive recollections about past losses and terrifying experiences, and not just remembering those times but reliving them.
David reveals to the readers of the Psalms a relational movement toward God as his shelter, fortress, and rock (Psalm 18, 27, 28, 31, 46, 59, 61, 71, 91). What was he turning to God for? David was turning to God as his place of safety, security, and comfort. He was looking to God when he felt vulnerable, exposed, and afraid. Many Christians will read this and say to themselves, “Okay then, I’ll just look to God more as my place of safety.” Such a thought process will ultimately lead to failure and discouragement because the heart of the matter is not “trying harder.” Rather, the core of the issue is David knew God intimately. David knew God to be faithful, loving, and protective of him, much like a child looks to a parent. During David’s most difficult times his secure attachment with God kicked into gear.
David provides us with a model of a secure attachment with God, however, what does an insecure attachment look like with God? For the avoidant style, you may find yourself reacting in anger toward God. Anger is our self-righteous judgment against God. Clinton and Sibcy state, “God’s purpose is seen as merely making sure nothing goes wrong in their lives. So when things do go wrong in their lives, they blame God.” For the ambivalent style, there will be a constant state of wondering if God loves you. The ambivalent person is always working hard to “earn God’s love” and fears to lose His love. They are not secure in knowing if God loves them which leads to an anxiousness regarding God. The disorganized style may result in seeing God as unpredictable and wrathful. The person with this attachment style may tend to focus on God’s perceived inconsistencies as it relates to His wrath, love, and judgment. In essence, a disorganized style can be seen as a combination of the other two styles. Sadly, trauma and abuse are often associated with a disorganized attachment which can lead to angry and painful views of God.
The question you may be asking yourself is how does a person with an insecure attachment style learn to do as David did with God? The answer differs depending on the attachment style. Regardless of the insecure attachment style, there is a needed level of increased self-awareness. Self-awareness is necessary to know how emotions influence your relational movements. As awareness grows, you can choose to stumble forward toward God acknowledging to him what he already knows about your attachment style and your emotional state. Look to King David and the other psalmists as examples of how to go before God. All throughout the Psalms David and the psalmists are crying out to God. David wrestles with God; he engages God, he fights to move toward God rather than flee toward other sources of comfort, safety, and security. He pleads with God and asks the Lord to reveal Himself as a mighty fortress, rock, and a shelter during the storms of life. God desires to restore you. He seeks to draw you in so that you can experience true secure attachment in Him by experiencing his steadfast love for you. We have to choose to believe in God’s steadfast love for us even when you have had caregivers who did not reflect such love. You were created for more; you were created for a Creator who desperately desires to delight in you. We know this because God did not withhold His love from us, but rather made the ultimate sacrifice for every one of us so that we can know His love without the barrier of our sins.
A few good Christian resources for learning more about attachment are Clinton and Sibcy’s book Attachments: Why You Love, Feel, and Act the Way You Do and Clinton and Straub’s God Attachment: Why You Believe, Act, and Feel the Way You Do About God. For parents who want to better understand why they parent the way they do then Siegel and Hartzell’s book Parenting from the Inside Out is worth reading.
A prayer for you: Holy God, if this blog entry hit a nerve for some of your children reading it then I ask that your Spirit minister to them. Give them the courage to engage their story and grow in understanding that their story is interwoven with the greater redemptive story you are telling throughout history. You are the God of restoration and redemption so fuel their faith to have hope that you are capable of redeeming and restoring them. May your children who resonate with today’s post not ignore the nerve that has been hit but rather, will you please fill them with courage and strength to press forward and press into you. The journey may be bumpy and hard, equip them with your Spirit’s power to have the courage and be brave. For the parents who are reading this, I ask that you stir within their hearts a reminder of the great responsibility you’ve given them in caring for your children you’ve given them to raise. May they seek to honor you and point their children to you as the one true Father who loves them perfectly. In Jesus’ glorious name I ask of these things from you. Amen.
Allender, D. Healing the Wounded Heart online course.
Clinton, T. & Sibcy, G. (2002). Attachments: Why You Love, Feel and Act the Way You Do.
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Dr. Ruel Tyer is the Director of Care and Counseling for OneDay Counseling at Portico church. To learn more about OneDay Counseling visit the website - www.onedaycville.org. Dr. Tyer provides counseling services for individuals, couples, and families. If you are interested in learning more about counseling services please contact Dr. Tyer at email@example.com.
From the Head to the Heart is a blog series exploring common issues people may encounter that prevent them from experiencing God on a deeper level. The blogs will then dig into strategies for helping make the connection between the head and the heart.
The 80’s classic film, Back to the Future, is a movie about the past, present, and future. As the film unfolds, viewers learn how the past has had a significant impact on the future and present. Marty McFly travels through time to his parent’s past, where he learns how his parents came to be the people they are in the present. In the film, only by revisiting the past is the future, and present, capable of being changed. I am sure many of us would love to travel back in time, as Marty McFly did, to change how we live in the present and future. The concept of Back to the Future is wishful thinking. However, there is one concept the movie captures which is true -- if we re-engage our past we can alter future, and present, outcomes.
When the past is brought up in counseling sessions, people often respond by saying something along the lines of, “I don’t see what that has to do with my current struggles?” or “I don’t see how focusing on the past helps me with my current problems?” Why are we so quick to dismiss the impact our past has had on us in the present and will have on us in our future? People struggle with reliving their past, particular the past that has caused hurt, pain, and sadness. Philosophically speaking, we live in the past and future, i.e., we live impacted by the past, which then affects our future. The present is what we experience in the here and now, which quickly becomes the past in a matter of seconds. The present is here, and now, however, it is also in the future. For instance, in five minutes from now --, i.e., the future -- you will be living in the present, at which point that time will become the past. The present is fleeting, it is lived in the here and now and then gone. Because the present is so fleeting, our lives are continually impacted by our past, which has a direct influence on our future and how we live in the present. Our past has molded and shaped the way we engage the world around us. The past also shapes what decisions we make about our future. If this is true, then our past experiences with God often mold our current view of God. We experience God in the present. However, our past can warp our experiences with God now. We’ll explore how our past experiences may impact our current struggles to feel intimately connected with God.
MANCHESTER BY THE SEA
The movie Manchester by the Sea, starring Casey Affleck, is a story of how one’s past has impacted one’s future and how one lives in the present. Spoiler Alert! The following reveals parts of the movie. Lee, played by Casey Affleck, is introduced at the start of the film as a janitor for an apartment complex doing everyday mundane tasks. Lee gives the impression of someone who simply doesn’t care. The way the audience experiences Lee in the present leads you to ponder why Lee comes across as aloof and not caring. His interactions with various tenants show a man who appears to be drifting through life with no real direction. He seems emotionless and timid. He shows some bursts of anger that reveal he may have something deep within him that he’s seeking to keep hidden and suppressed. The audience is left pondering, “What is wrong with this guy?” As the story unfolds, the audience is shown flashbacks of Lee’s life. In these flashbacks, Lee is expressive, jovial, and engaging with those around him. He’s an entirely different person. The question begs, “What happened to Lee?” As the movie progresses, we see how Lee engages people around him, particularly those from his past. As the film unfolds, the audience discovers that Lee faced a great tragedy in his life, which would forever alter his future, and how he lives in the present. At no point in the movie does Lee address or acknowledge his past, what is known of his past is through the flashbacks. People all around him know about his past, and yet he never once speaks of it. However, the other characters he engages can see the impact Lee’s past has had, is having, and continues to have on him. The only acknowledgment of his past is toward the end of the movie when Lee tells a relative, “I can’t beat it.” “It” refers to the traumatic past event. He acknowledges that his past has beaten him down and left him defeated and helpless. The movie is a powerfully moving film because many of us can relate so closely to the character of Lee. Lee was not even able to name “it” due to the pain and heartache he felt from the past tragedy which had impacted him in the present and the future.
If how we live in the present and future is so drastically influenced by the past then why can’t many of us change? The answer is fear. Fear of re-experiencing pain and hurt causes many people to avoid the source of fear at all cost. Fear derives from the brain over a matter of seconds. An illustration may be helpful. Imagine you are hiking one spring afternoon, and out of the corner of your eye, you see a long slender black object on the ground. Your brain is processing at lightning fast speed through sensory input through a part of the brain called the thalamus. The thalamus quickly processes the experience through sensory input, such as sight, smell, sound, kinesthetics, etc. The information is sent to the amygdala where emotional significance takes place. At this point, your experience is fear due to the object looking a lot like a snake. The hippocampus secretes stress hormones to help you defend against the perceived threat. You may find yourself jumping back or running from the black object. The perceived threat will then pass to the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain where conscious interpretation takes place. The prefrontal cortex discovers that the perceived threat was, in fact, a stick, not a snake. The threat level decreases and stress hormones are no longer needed. All of this happens in a matter of seconds, and we have no control over how the thalamus, amygdala, or hippocampus respond. What does this have to do with feeling distant from God with past, present, and future? Bear with me as I unpack this further.
We just got a quick glimpse into how the brain responds to perceived threats. Our natural, God-given, functions of the brain kick into gear regardless of our ability to control them, and we are reacting toward a perceived, or actual, threat. The brain, through the processing and interpretation of the prefrontal cortex, stores information, and memory in various parts of the brain to remember threats. Pain is recognized and avoided as a function of the brain.
Now, let’s say you have a deep purple bruise on your thigh. Because we are wired to avoid pain and hurt, you seek to position your body, when sitting, to not feel the pain from the bruise. What happens if someone accidentally bumps into the bruise on your thigh? How will you respond? Think about your response for just a moment. You will likely instinctively pull back and avoid further pain. Your brain is already processing the information rapidly before you consciously have time to process what happened. You might even lash out at the person who accidentally bumped into you, which is an act of attacking the perceived threat. Once you have time to process the incident, you may realize the person did not mean to bump into your bruise. Regardless, your brain will store this experience away, and you will seek to protect your wound from any further bumps. Why? We try to avoid pain and hurt. The brain’s response to physical threats that cause pain is no different from emotional threats that have caused us great heartache. Reminders of painful events in your life (the past) have a direct impact on how you respond in the here and now (the present) when you seek to position yourself not to feel any pain. The positioning of avoiding emotional pain is referred to as hypervigilance, which is essentially a state of being on constant alert. Such experiences will set the tone for how you respond in the future to perceived threats.
Why is the past avoided by so many people? Because for many of us the past is full of pain, heartache, and hurt. What do people do when they are reminded of suffering, a perceived or real threat? They seek to avoid the source of the pain. Can you start to see how our past impacts how we live in the present and the future? For many, the past is being avoided at all costs. How does the brain respond to this? Remember that the prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain we’re consciously aware of how we are interpreting life events. If a life event is traumatic or threatening, then it is not uncommon for many people to not want to think about the pain associated with the experience. The brain, however, is seeking to process and make sense of the events that took place. In essence, we override the brain and do not allow ourselves to think about the painful past experience. In overriding the brain we do not let new meaning, understanding, and interpretation to be made. Therefore, you remain in a state of hypervigilance when anything that resembles the threat comes into the picture. Your system is on alert at all times, which continues the overriding of the system to avoid thinking about the source of pain, hurt, and heartache. Why do people avoid talking about their past? Fear of the pain associated with one’s past.
GOD SHAPED BRAIN
Dr. Tim Jennings, a psychiatrist who specializes in neurobiology, speaks of the profound impact life experiences have on the brain. He says, “we have power over what we believe, however, what we believe has power over us.” Dr. Jennings is a Christian psychiatrist who focuses on how the interpretation part of the brain, the prefrontal cortex, is a key player in reprocessing life events that highjack one’s brain. You can watch some of his lectures by clicking here.
The brain is rewired by experiences which mold and shape the way we engage and interpret, the world around us. The more traumatic and tragic the experience the greater the impact on the brain. Dr. Dan Siegel coined the term interpersonal neurobiology, which is the study of how the brain grows and is influenced by relationships. Such research focuses on how relationships have a profound impact on how we see, encounter, and engage the world around us.
If human relationships have the capacity to influence our present and future, then how much more of an impact does a relationship with God have? Wrestling with God through pain, hurt, and suffering is a difficult task. It is even more challenging when you seek to avoid the past events that lead to your pain and suffering. Remember, fight or flight is a standard response triggered by various parts of the brain. It is not uncommon for people to react toward God one of two ways: Anger (fight) or avoidance (flight). When you associate God with your past pains and hurts, then you will likely respond one of these two ways. God wants the chance to speak into the aching wounds of our past. He wants us to trust him as we wrestle with very real and painful questions as they relate to his presence in the midst of painful experiences in our past.
AVOIDING THE WRESTLE
When we wrestle with God, we are likely to be impacted by the encounter. Look at Jacob, who wrestled with God and walked away with a permanent limp. Given pain and hurt is being avoided, or expressed in anger toward God, why would we seek to willingly walk into an encounter with God that might leave us feeling more hurt? Interestingly, we never read about Jacob’s limp post his wrestling match with God. Any time Jacob is mentioned his injury is never the focus. In fact, despite the permanent limp Jacob walks away rejoicing and joyful due to the blessing he received from God. There was a cost to his blessing. However, Jacob did not appear to pay much attention to the cost because the blessing was far greater than the hurt.
God invites us to bring our pain and hurt to him, to wrestle with him. Wrestling with God doesn’t mean you will walk away with a permanent limp. However, it does mean you will likely face some pain. Often pain is felt to experience healing. For example, if a person’s shoulder pops out of joint the shoulder has to be put back into place. The process of doing so is very painful. However, healing cannot take place without experiencing the pain. The same goes for a broken bone that has to be reset. The process of resetting the bone is painful. However, it is through the painful process that healing takes place. To wrestle with God can be a painful process because the ultimate Healer is going to peer into the hurt you feel and reset your heart to set you on a path of healing. The hurt that is felt and faced is the pain and heartache of past hurts. To avoid such past hurts is to avoid the healing path.
When you avoid your past hurts and turn inward to find solace and security, then you are not going to experience an intimate relationship with God fully. Why? Because you are turning to something other than God to find solace and security. You do not see God as safe to turn toward. David says numerous time in the Psalms that God is his fortress, his shelter, and the place of security he turns to in times of trouble. David faced much pain, hurt, and suffering in his life. David provides us with an excellent example of someone crying out to God in the midst of pain and hurt from his past impacting his present and future. David saw God as his shelter, his fortress, his haven. The question begs to be asked of us all, where do you turn to for safety and security when faced with the hurt and pain of your past?
A prayer for you: Abba Father, I pray for my brothers and sisters reading this blog entry, and I ask that you stir within the hearts of those who resonate with what was discussed in this blog. Lord, I know many hurt and suffer due to their past. May these individuals be aware that you, their Heavenly Father weep over their pain and suffering, that You burn with anger toward the sin that has left such a mark on His children. May my brothers and sisters see you as a shelter, fortress, and haven. And may they dare to wrestle with you, the Great Physician, who heals the brokenhearted and sets the captives free. Amen.
NOTE: If you have faced some traumatic life experiences in the past that have caused you a lot of heartache and pain, then I highly recommend you seek support and help. The healing path is not a path we were intended to walk alone.
Exercise: Read Psalm 18 and 23. Make a note of what emotions are being expressed. Be mindful of how the Psalm is being written (i.e., what is in the past, present, and future).
Jennings, T. Come and Reason Ministry (www.comeandreason.com)
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Dr. Ruel Tyer is the Director of Care and Counseling for OneDay Counseling at Portico church. To learn more about OneDay Counseling visit the website - www.onedaycville.org. Dr. Tyer provides counseling services for individuals, couples, and families. If you are interested in learning more about counseling services please contact Dr. Tyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What does amnesia have to do with feeling distant from God? If you Google the word amnesia the definition that comes up is “a partial or total loss of memory.” According to the Bible, we are prone to forget about God’s goodness and mighty works. You may even say we have a partial or total loss of memory of God’s steadfast love and goodness. Episodes of “amnesia” can be present in your day-to-day life, however, they become most prevalent during trials we will face over the course of our lifetime. Not only are we prone to forget God’s steadfast love and goodness but we also overlook our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God the Father. We will unpack how “amnesia,” for Christians, leads to forgetting who God is and who we are to him.
FORGETTING WHO GOD IS
Dan Allender, a Christian author, and psychologist writes that “faith in God’s character grows to the degree I remember God. Faith is trust in the goodness of God. I grow as I recall and recollect the stories of God in the Bible, in the lives of others, and in my own life.” Allender goes on to state, “the dilemma is that as I remember the moments where God has redeemed me, I am also left with the many moments he has chosen, apparently, to abandon me or -- even more painful to admit -- betray me.” Allender states, “Betrayal is the breaking of an implied or stated commitment of care.” There is an intricate link between feeling betrayed and faith. Dr. Allender points out that faith is tied to our past whereas hope is related to our future. We hope for things to come however our faith is impacted by the events of our past. Many people feel betrayed by God because they cried out to him in a time of need, believing with faith, that their cries would be heard. When silence returns from one’s cries, a seed of distrust toward God can be planted. This seed can then be nurtured when we turn from God. Allender writes, “when we turn from God, we inevitably demand of others the very things we miss in our relationship with God. If we do not know his genuine care and protection, then we will insist another human being provide what we lack.” The struggle to have faith in God and then to feel betrayed by him is an age old battle. We only need to look to the book of Exodus to see God’s own people he delivered from slavery in Egypt continuously struggle to forget God’s faithfulness to them in the midst of their cries for help.
The theme of the Israelites forgetting God’s faithfulness to deliver them from bondage continues throughout the book of Exodus and all of Scripture. The Israelites likely felt betrayed by God so therefore they sought to look to the Egyptians to fulfill their needs. All they had known was captivity and slavery under the Egyptian rule. Slavery and captivity were safer and more familiar to them than God. They wrestled with feeling betrayed by God to be led into the wilderness to die. Their faith was rocky and their memory lost toward God’s faithfulness. It is easy to look at the Israelites and judge them for not having faith. After all, they witnessed so many mighty works by God, how could they forget? How could they ever lack trust in God? However, unfortunately, many of us are more like the Israelites than we would dare to admit. We tend to have amnesia when it comes to trusting in God, particularly when we have felt the sting of feeling betrayed after crying out to the Lord. We too forget all the ways God has been faithful to us in our lives. We tend to turn back toward slavery and captivity in our brokenness than to dare to hope in and have faith that God will rescue us. We tend to be self-reliant, independent, free thinking people who trust our broken nature over a holy God. The good news is God’s Word points us to remember, to recall and reflect on his faithfulness.
God’s book of prayers, the Psalms, points us to remember his faithfulness. For instance, Psalms 104 and 105 are petitions to remember God’s faithfulness. God calls his creation to remember his faithfulness during seasons of waiting on him. He gives us the gift of remembering so that we can recall his mighty works, which fuels our faith to hope in him. As Allender stated, “faith in God’s character grows to the degree I remember God. Faith is trust in the goodness of God. I grow as I recall and recollect the stories of God in the Bible, in the lives of others, and in my own life.” One reason many Christians feel distant from God is that they have amnesia. They do not recall what Allender points out, which is to look to God’s faithfulness in his Word, the lives of others, and our own lives. Remember. Recall. In the midst of waiting on God, in the midst of your cries toward the heavens, seek to remember and recall God’s mighty works. He is faithful. He will not betray you or abandon you. How do I know? Those who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior are adopted sons and daughters of the living God.
FORGETTING WHO YOU ARE
Paul Tripp, a pastor, and author writes the following about forgetting who you are:
Who in the world do you think you are? I am serious. Who do you think you are? You and I are always assigning to ourselves some kind of identity. And the things that you and I do are shaped by the identity that we have given ourselves. So it’s important to acknowledge that God has not only forgiven you (and that is a wonderful thing), but he has also given you a brand-new identity. If you’re God’s child, you are now a son or daughter of the King of kings and the Lord of lords. You are in the family of the Savior, who is your friend and brother. You are the temple where the Spirit of God now lives. Yes, it really is true -- you’ve been given a radically new identity.
The problem, sadly, is that many of us live in a constant, or at least a rather regular, state of identity amnesia. We forget who we are, and when we do, we begin to give way to doubt, fear, and timidity. Identity amnesia makes you feel poor when in fact you are rich. It makes you feel foolish when in fact you are in a personal relationship with the One who is wisdom. It makes you feel unable when in fact you have been blessed with strength. It makes you feel alone when in fact, since the Spirit lives inside of you, it is impossible for you to be alone. You feel unloved when in fact, as a child of the heavenly Father, you have been graced with eternal love. You feel like you don’t measure up when in fact the Savior measured up on your behalf. Identity amnesia sucks the life out of your Christianity in the right here, right now moment in which all of us live.
If you’ve forgotten who you are in Christ, what are you left with? You’re left with Christless Christianity, which is little more than a system of theology and rules. Moreover, you know that if all you needed were theology and rules, Jesus wouldn’t have had to come. All God would have needed to do was drop the Bible down on you and walk away. But he didn’t walk away; he invaded your life as Father, Savior, and Helper. By grace, he made you part of his family… So if you’re his child, ward off the fear that knocks on your door by remembering who God is and who you’ve become as his chosen child. And don’t just celebrate his grace; let it shape the way you live today and the tomorrows that follow.
CHOOSING TO REMEMBER
What does amnesia have to do with feeling distant from God? We are forgetful beings. It is who we are. Some of us remember better than others. However, as a whole, we are prone to amnesia, which applies in particular when it comes to remembering who God is and who we are in a relationship with him. Despite what we may tell ourselves we are not that much different from the Israelites. We quickly forget about God’s steadfast love and goodness. Having faith in God requires us to pause, reflect, and recall God’s goodness in what we read from the Bible, in what we hear from others, and in what we experience for ourselves. Sadly, we are not just prone to amnesia when it comes to God’s goodness and steadfast love but also when it comes to who we are in a relationship with God. Jesus referred to God as a Father. Paul tells us that we’re adopted sons and daughters of God the Father (Romans 8:12-23; Ephesians 1:3-14). Why is it that many of us, as Paul Tripp points out, believe in God and put our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior and yet we cannot live as though we are sons and daughters of the living God? Many Christians feel distant from God because they have identity amnesia. They do not recall, or believe, that they are dearly loved by their heavenly Father. What will it take to accept your place as a child of God’s? What are the barriers and obstacles in your way that prevent you from accepting your true identity? Can you dream and imagine how life would be different for you if you fully accepted your identity as a child of God’s?
A prayer for you: Abba Father, I pray for my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus whom you adore and bought with the precious unblemished blood of your Son. Help them recall your mighty works and remember your faithfulness. Whatever their current struggles, please stir your Spirit within them to remember your acts of faithfulness in your Word, in the lives of others, and in their own lives. May their faith be fueled by remembering and may their hope be fueled by their faith for things yet to come. Lead my brothers and sisters to meditate and ponder your great love for them through Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
Exercise: Make a list of the ways God has been faithful to you, and others you know, over the course of your lifetime. Take time to recall his faithfulness, mercy, grace, and love. Take some time to reflect on identity. Where is your identity rooted? If you struggle to accept your identity as a child of God’s, then take some time to reflect, ponder, and think about what are the barriers and obstacles that prevent you from believing this to be true? Prayerfully ask God to remove the barriers and obstacles in your way. Use Matthew 7:7-11 as an example of praying to your Heavenly Father.
Allender, D. (2000). The Healing Path: How the Hurts in Your Past Can Lead You to a More Abundant Life.
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Tripp, P. (2014). New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional.
Dr. Ruel Tyer is the Director of Care and Counseling for OneDay Counseling at Portico church. To learn more about OneDay Counseling visit the website - www.onedaycville.org. Dr. Tyer provides counseling services for individuals, couples, and families. If you are interested in learning more about counseling services please contact Dr. Tyer at email@example.com.
What do you think about feelings? How do you feel about your feelings (e.g., “I get frustrated when I feel anxious”)? Are you comfortable allowing yourself to feel and express your emotions, or do you tend to ignore them? I’ve worked with numerous men who have come into counseling and said, “I don’t see why counselors always want to talk about feelings.” Such a statement reveals how many men see emotions and feelings as irrelevant. How we develop our beliefs and views on emotions is heavily influenced by the culture of the home we have been raised in.
What we believe about emotions also derives from the people, culture, and time in history we live. For instance, many men, and women, who are a part of the Silent Generation (i.e., born between 1925 and 1945) were raised to not talk about their feelings. Men from this generation are often viewed as stoic. Whereas Millennials, (those born no later than 1980) have faced a drastically different American culture from that of the Silent Generation. Emotions are expressed more freely with Millennials in comparison to the Silent Generation. This is an example of how people, culture, and time in history can have a major impact on how emotions are viewed and expressed.
Many Christians can view emotions in ways that do not align with a proper Biblical view. Rather, their emotions are more influenced by the culture than by God’s Word. Christian psychologists Kim-Van Daalen and Johnson provide some common beliefs Christians can have related to emotions:
Many Christians react negatively toward a self-oriented and subjectively driven culture, particularly one that focuses on following one’s feelings. For these Christians knowing that God is the center of the universe and not the individual, has a major influence on one’s subjective feelings.
For others, the ability to regulate their emotions is seen as evidence of being spiritually mature. For instance, children can be viewed as lacking emotional regulation, which can be a sign of lacking maturity and wisdom. The same can be said for adults who are impulsive and express their emotions inappropriately. Therefore emotions expressed can be viewed as a sign of immaturity or weakness.
Many Christians believe that emotions are intrinsically sinful such as some of the negative emotions (i.e., anxiety, envy, sadness, bitterness).
The Christian perspectives of emotions that Kim-Van Daalen and Johnson provide are also often combined with common cultural views of emotions. Examples are: negative emotions are bad, not being able to regulate your emotions is a sign of weakness (particularly for men), you should learn to cope with your feelings on your own, a tactic to ignore unpleasant emotions is to distract yourself, and the only socially acceptable feelings to express are emotions such as happiness and joy. When I was in graduate school I became fascinated with studying the masculine culture in the US. Many of the studies I reviewed pointed out how many men are raised to be self-reliant, independent, and emotionally restrictive. My counseling experiences with men backed up the findings of these studies I reviewed (these findings aren’t restricted solely to males.) Regardless of gender, our culture often discourages expressions of negative emotions.
You may have grown up in a home where you were encouraged to be emotionally expressive and open, a home where emotions were nurtured properly and you learned that being emotional is a part of being an image bearer of God. If that was your experience you are in the minority. Be encouraged you were raised this way. For the rest of you, negative emotions may have been taught to be ignored, stuffed, or denied. You may have experienced an atmosphere where positive emotions were expressed openly while negative emotions may not have been dealt with appropriately. Sadly, there are numerous people who grew up in homes where there was not a safe space to process or engage negative emotions. After all, who wants to experience sadness, shame, guilt, or worry? These emotions cause us to feel bad and given most of us are pursuing joy and happiness we seek to dull the flames of negative emotions. Unfortunately, those flames don’t fully die and they occasionally leap to life invoking a quick desire to cover them up or dull them again. At times, the emotions become too overwhelming and we give into them. This can result in intense emotional outbursts. For instance, I have often seen this with men who present with anger problems. There’s an inability to regulate one’s emotions so therefore feelings erupt when they become too difficult to be kept bottled up. And so the cycle goes.
What does any of this have to do with feeling distant from God? For many of us, we are too busy muffling the loud powerful words we’ve abided in which invoke emotional reactions. When the emotional reaction we experience is painful or unpleasant our natural tendency is to quickly numb the pain and discomfort. After all, who enjoys feeling pain, hurt, and discomfort? When you have a bruise or cut what do you do when someone brushes up against it? You pull back and reposition yourself in order to protect yourself and minimize pain. Most of us seek to readjust our posture if we find that our bruises or cuts are causing us discomfort. We instinctively draw back when we feel pain or discomfort. The same is true for emotional pain and discomfort.
If we get into a pattern of only desiring to experience positive emotions (e.g., happiness, joy, excitement) and stuffing the negative emotions (e.g., sadness, guilt, shame, worry) then we find ourselves only seeking to experience God through the positive emotions. But what if we are able to experience God through the negative emotions? What if He’s to be found in the midst of the very emotions we seek to ignore and dull? C.S. Lewis famously stated, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.”
In the book of Isaiah, the 53rd chapter, we are introduced to the suffering servant. Jesus is said to be the suffering servant who suffered to the point of death. When you think of Jesus do you picture him as a happy-go-lucky guy full of joy? Do you see him as a man who was always joyful and happy because of his relationship to God? Or, do you see a suffering servant as we see in Isaiah 53? If you don’t see Jesus’ suffering then you are missing out on knowing God at a deeper level. Jesus came to this world and what do you think he saw? He saw brokenness and depravity all around him. He saw God’s creation wasting away due to the cancer of sin spreading throughout human history. He saw the dead walking, thinking that they were alive. He saw the world residing in darkness, not recognizing light despite it shining brightly before their eyes. Not only did Jesus suffer greatly for our sins however he also suffered immensely by seeing the state of the world in decay. In Jesus, we see the image of the living God and we see a vast array of emotions expressed, ranging from grief, to anger, to sorrow.
What we believe about our emotions, how we think about them, how we express them and view them can be the difference between knowing about God and knowing God intimately. All of our emotions communicate something important. They can help us to relate to God on a more personal and intimate level. For instance, anger toward injustice is something we see God express throughout the Old Testament. God’s anger flared when he saw injustice occur. Sadness over sickness, pain and suffering helps us relate to God because he expresses sadness over the world he created decaying due to the impact of sin. In the garden of Gethsemane, we see Jesus plead with God to take away the cup of suffering he’s to endure. Jesus knows what it is like to plead with God to not have to experience great pain. We can draw closer to God through such emotions.
However, we can also abide in words that do not derive from God and such words carry the power to impact us negatively. The sources of these words we believe are lies we’ve taken for truth. In the midst of sadness, I can easily find myself believing lies to be true, which only serve to fuel my sadness. For instance, how do you think about your feelings? When you experience sadness or other negative emotions, how do you think about how you are feeling? Do you tell yourself to suck it up? Do you ridicule yourself for feeling the way you do? Do you think negatively of yourself for being sad when so many people have it worse off than you? Often, people's internal dialogue can be a form of self-contempt toward their feelings. For example, internal dialogue and an emotional reaction toward being anxious such as,“What’s wrong with me?! Why am I always anxious? I’m so weak!” This is an example of having a negative emotional reaction toward your feelings. Such reactions will likely cause you to feel even worse about your anxiety. Does this internal dialogue and emotional reaction reflect God’s view of you in that moment? In sticking with the example above, does God’s Word align with our words and reaction toward how we’re feeling? Sadly, many do not hear God’s voice because it is drowned out by their own self-contemptuous internal dialogue. This leads to efforts to protect oneself from experiencing any emotional discomfort. The act of self-protection is a form of taking control. This quickly spirals as lies are believed to be truth, at which point we seek to be like God by taking control in order to protect ourselves rather than leaning into God’s protection. Self-protection calls into question God’s trustworthiness and steadfast love for his children. As this downward spiral is occurring are you able to pause and listen to God’s tender voice and what He has to say in the midst of the lies that cause you to plummet?
How you manage your emotions, both positive and negative, will have an impact on how you experience God. As an image bearer of God’s do you draw closer to him through your emotions as a means to know him more intimately? If you are interested in learning more about how God is an emotional being and has given us emotions to reflect Him then consider reading the book The Cry of the Soul.
A prayer for you: Holy God, you have created us as image bearers of yours, which means you’ve created us as emotional beings. Help my brothers and sisters in Christ have wisdom through your Spirit to discern how, if at all, their emotions impact their relationship with you. May you fill them with courage to think about and feel things that may be unpleasant and uncomfortable. Fill them with courage, wisdom, and discernment to know who they can talk to if a listening ear is their need. Abba Father, we thank you for your suffering servant. We thank you that we have a great high priest who has walked this earth and knows the challenges we face in the process and dealing with our emotions. May my brothers and sisters seek Jesus’ face in the midst of their emotions and may your Son seek to draw them closer to himself.
Exercise: Take some time to reflect on and think about how you view emotions.
- Where did your beliefs about emotions derive from?
- Which emotions do you tend to struggle with most? Why?
- What is your internal dialogue and emotional reaction toward unpleasant feelings you experience? Is it more reflective of a loving Father or is it self-contemptuous?
- How do your emotions either draw you closer to God or distance you from him?
- How do you tend to respond toward other people's emotions? Is your response more reflective of a loving Father or do your responses tend to be contemptuous (which can fuel self-contempt in the one you are speaking to)?
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Kim-Van Daalen, L. & Johnson, E. (2013). Transformation in Christian Emotion-Focused Therapy. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.
Lewis, C.S. (1940). The Problem of Pain.
Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me. Did you ever hear this saying when you were young? I recall children saying this when I was in elementary school. I’m pretty sure our teachers taught this saying in order to help us not take seriously the harsh words other kids would speak. No matter how many times I may have recited such a saying, it never seemed to take away the sting and power of someone else’s words.
How is it that some words carry greater power than others? Why is it that one person can say something and the words spoken carry great power to impact you, whereas someone else can say something, and their words float in one ear and out the other? How do we go about attributing power to some words and not others?
The power of the words you abide in can be directly linked to the amount of value given to the source of the words. For example, I played sports growing up, and after every game each team would shake hands and say “good game.” When players from the other team told me “good game” I did not take those words seriously. They simply floated in one ear and out the other. I did not value the source of the words from the other players. What the other team thought about my team’s performance was irrelevant to me. However, once we returned to the sideline, our coach would have some words for us regarding our performance. What the coach thought had greater meaning to me because I attached a greater value to what he thought. His words had the power to either build me up or tear me down.
Family members words tend to hold even greater power. A parent’s words spoken toward a child have tremendous power to influence that child for years because of the intimate nature of the parent/child relationship. Children attach great value to their parent’s attitude, perception, and thoughts about them. The greater the amount of influence and value a person has in our lives the greater the power of their words.
The things we look to as having the greatest value in our lives tend to be what we find our worth in. For instance, if I find my worth in being a successful businessman then I will assign great value to those who can speak of my success. Such individuals will be given the power to greatly influence me. Or, say you find your worth in being a good parent. You’ll likely look to find your value in your children and what others say about you as a parent. Maybe you find your value and worth in how good a Christian you are. If anyone were to speak against how good a Christian you are then those very words may crush your spirit. The power words have over us is determined by the value and worth we find in relation to the source of the words. We can identify the words that carry the most weight and power in our hearts and minds by reflecting on what we think about most throughout the day.
An illustration from Scripture may be of some help (I italicized the parts of the Scripture I’d like to highlight). Psalm 1 states:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”
In this case, the law of the Lord is his word (i.e., Scripture). The law and God’s word is one and the same, they are one. Notice how the psalmist makes the connection between what one delights in and what one meditates on. “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” We don’t use the language of delighting and meditating in our day to day lives but Scripture would say what we think about throughout the day is what we are meditating and delighting in. Let us first look at the concept of delighting in words, and then shift to meditating on words. In doing so we will seek to uncover the power certain words have in our lives. The Psalmist uses an illustration of people being like a tree and the stream being God’s word. The roots of the tree are impacted by God’s word, which is seen by the strength of the tree weathering different seasons of life. The question we’re to wrestle with is where are our roots seeking nourishment (i.e., our value and worth)?
What do you delight in? What brings you joy? What makes you happy? Your answers to these questions may very well reveal what you delight in. Delighting in something is not inherently bad, however, if what we delight in influences our value and worth, then it begins to exert great power over us. An illustration may be of help. Many of us delight in posting pictures on social media. The more “likes” we get the more joy and happiness can often times follow. To some degree we are finding our value and worth through social media. The more “likes” on a picture can invoke a greater sense of pride and joy. In order to truly discern the power social media can have reflect on your experience when you receive no likes or critical or negative comments are posted. What if a person were to comment on a picture being bad? What if people were to be critical of your posts? What if you receive no likes? For some, this can lead to feeling exposed, vulnerable, devalued and worthless. The things we delight in will bring us joy and happiness. They also have the power to knock us down, resulting in feelings of worthlessness, despair, and anxiousness. The Psalmist reveals that to truly know the power of what we delight in we must look to what we meditate upon day and night -- i.e., what occupies our thoughts throughout the day.
Before proceeding, let us take a look at the word meditate. Psalm 1 states, “on his law he meditates day and night.” Strong’s Dictionary defines meditation as “ to murmur; to ponder, imagine, speak, study, talk, utter.” It is easy to read this Scripture and assume to meditate on his law day and night means to read God’s word day and night. However, by definition meditation is a process of taking words and pondering them, thinking them over, studying, and imagining the implications of those words. Whether you realize it or not, you meditate on words day and night. The source of your meditation may very well be what you find your delight in. This is due to how much time you spend thinking, pondering, and imagining about what you delight in. Whatever you think about most is going to directly correlate to where you find your value and worth in life.
We all delight in something. The source of our delight is likely something that will consume our mind throughout our day — e.g., doing better, being more successful, being liked, etc. We likely attach our worth to the very thing we delight in and think about day and night. We learn to delight in these words because they hold power to speak to our value and worth. The words we delight in can fill us with much joy, happiness, and hope; however, words that attack and challenge our value and worth have the power to shake our very foundation. They can bring us to a place of despair. Such words carry great power to either build us up or tear us down.
As you explore whose words you have abided in, you may discover that you have abided in the words of a parent or caregiver, a relative, a teacher, or peers. As a child, you may have found your value and worth in what these people said about you. Their words had the power to either build you up or tear you down. When their words built you up, you likely found yourself delighting in their words, desiring to hear such words spoken over you, time and time again. Sadly, the very source of your worth and value had the power to destroy you. To be seen as not valuable or worthless can invoke powerful feelings of fear, insecurity, sadness, anxiety, and despair. The source of the words we abide in hold a powerful place in our lives. God desperately desires his words to be the sole source of power in our lives. He desires to take the place as the Source of the words you find your value and worth in.
A prayer for you: Abba Father, you know the power of the words we abide in. You know how they have shaped our life and impacted our relationship with you. Such powerfully rooted words can bring about discouragement, hopelessness, and despair. However, you also know the great power your words have. Your words are capable of uprooting other words we may find ourselves abiding in, which do not reflect your truth. Teach my brothers and sisters to turn to you, and plead with you to root their delight in your word. Teach them to meditate upon your word day and night. May they experience the great power that comes with delighting in your word and pondering and thinking about your word day and night. I ask that your words reveal their mighty power to those who feel distant from you. We ask of this in your Son, Jesus’ name. Amen.
1) Invite God to guide you during a time of self-exploration. Ask him where you find your value and worth in life? Ask God to help you identify what you delight in day and night? Whatever God reveals to you, ask him to fill you with finding your value and worth in him. Plead with God to teach you how to find your delight in his word. This is not a one time exercise, but an ongoing prayer and plea before the Lord. God created you for a specific purpose, which is to glorify him with your life. This is where you will find your true value, meaning, and worth. “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-11).
2) Tim Keller has an excellent resource for digging deeper into Psalm 1 and better understanding the importance of meditating upon God’s Word. Click here for the link to Keller’s resource. Page 12 is a detailed explanation of Psalm 1 verse by verse. Page 161 provides questions for reflection.
Have you ever taken the time to contemplate whose words have shaped and molded you into the person you are today? In the hustle and bustle of life most people don’t find the time to contemplate such thoughts as “whose words am I abiding in?” We live in a fast paced society that has children being shuffled from one activity to another and work consuming more than 40 hours a week. When you do have time to stop and think it’s likely spent unwinding, not contemplating whose words have most shaped and molded you.
Today we will explore the first of some common issues people experience which can prevent them from experiencing God on a deeper level. By no means are these the only issues. However, they are the most consistent ones I have observed. The issue of whose words we abide in may be one that potentially has the greatest impact on Christians who suffer from not knowing God deep within their hearts.
Most people are not consciously aware that words impact them on a day to day basis. Not only do words impact us, but we often abide in words deep within the recesses of our subconscious. Before I unpack the sources of the words in which we abide, let me first provide a definition for the word “abide”. To abide is “to accept or act in accordance with, to obey or follow.” Therefore, when I refer to “abiding in” I’m referring to the source of words we accept, obey, follow, or act in accordance with. The four sources of words that Scripture speaks of are the world (1 John 2:15-17), the flesh (Galatians 5:16-17; 1 John 2:16), the devil (Matthew 4:1-11), and God (Psalm 1:1-2; John 15:1-11).
Stick with me for a moment as I use an example from developmental research to show how individuals at a very young age learn to abide in the words of the world, the flesh, and the devil. A man named Uri Bronfenbrenner created the Ecological Theory of Development. This theory surmises that individuals have a number of systems that directly and indirectly impact their development. One of these systems is the microsystem that has direct impact on the individual. It is made up of one’s family, neighborhood, school, and peers. The mesosystem comprises the interactions between the different microsystems. For instance, the mesosystem is one’s peers interacting with one’s family. These are the two primary systems of development that speak directly into an individual’s life. What one learns often comes from the mouths of those who are a part of this system in one’s life. What does the Ecological Theory of Development have to do with the words we abide in? Everything! If you are interested in learning more about the theory, please follow the video link here.
From an early age a child hears messages which are either positive or negative. Positive messages may be, “great job!”, “good work”, or “I love you”. Examples of negative messages are, “you are worthless”, “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”, or “you’re fat”. The messages we receive come directly from our microsystem, and they have a major impact on our development into adulthood. These microsystem messages are examples of words we abide in that are from the world. Following the mesosystem, the interaction of microsystems, is the exosystem. The exosystem are settings that have an indirect impact on you. An example of the exosystem is a parents workplace, which can have an indirect impact on a child. My wife and I were recently watching The Wonder Years on Netflix. The episode showed the indirect impact of the father’s workplace on his children, particularly Kevin, the main character. Kevin’s father often had a poor attitude when he got home from work which had a direct impact on Kevin. Next, there’s the macrosystem, which are the social and cultural values one is raised in and around. Illustrations of this can be found in what generation one was raised (e.g., Generation X, Millenials, the Lost Generation). Lastly, there’s the chronosystem which fluctuates over time. It is made up of the changes of the other systems. All of these systems represent the world around us. “The world seeks to determine what is right and wrong, choosing to ignore God’s righteous rule and Judge over his creation.”
The flesh is directly impacted by the world. The flesh can be defined as “our sinful inner desires that seek to rob God of the glory he so deserves. The flesh seeks it’s own way, not God’s way.” The flesh seeks it’s own way according to the desires of the world. “For all that is in the world -- the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life -- is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 John 2:15-17).
A.W. Tozer, a Christian author and preacher, said this about the flesh:
The natural man is a sinner because and only because he challenges God's selfhood in relation to his own. In all else he may willingly accept the sovereignty of God; in his own life he rejects it. For him, God's dominion ends where his begins... Yet so subtle is self that scarcely anyone is conscious of its presence. Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself. No matter how far down the scale of social acceptance he may slide, he is still in his own eyes a king on a throne, and no one, not even God, can take that throne from him... Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, "I AM."
The devil seeks to keep individuals abiding in anything that is not exalting the one true God. The devil often works behind the scenes in people’s lives. In the book of Job (Job 1:6-12) we’re told that Satan puts Job to the test without Job’s awareness. In the movie The Usual Suspects Kevin Spacey’s last line of the movie states, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.” The world is the devil’s kingdom, therefore he works behind the scenes as the great OZ of our world. C.S. Lewis’ classic fictional work The Screwtape Letters portrays correspondence between two demons, Screwtape and his nephew, Wormtail. Wormtail seeks to distract and discourage a young man from fully giving his life over to God. In the book, Wormtail is working at the request of the enemy. And just like in the book, in real life the enemy seeks to tempt us to turn from God (Matthew 4:1-10). Two of the tactics he uses to tempt us most often are through accusations and doubt. For instance, we may seek to accuse others for our sinful actions or feel accused -- e.g. feeling guilty. Doubt is utilized to make us question our position with God. For example, thinking, “There’s no way God can forgive me”, or, “Does God really love me?”
Lastly, there are God’s words which we are told numerous times throughout the Bible to abide in (Psalm 1; John 15, all the books of the prophets). God’s Word is so powerful that he spoke creation into existence out of nothing (Genesis 1:3; 6; 9; 11; 14; 20; 24). That is truly powerful.
We’ve discussed the sources of the words we abide in; however, a question you may be asking is, “what are the sources of the words I, myself, am abiding in?” It is important to pay attention to your internal dialogue to point you to the sources of words you abide in. Here are a couple of examples which may be helpful.
Body image. What is your internal dialogue about your body image? Did you hear messages from your family or peers about your body image? Every culture has a standard by which they define beauty. In the US, one can turn on the TV and see beauty defined by the women and men on TV shows or in movies. Look at the magazines next to the checkout line in a grocery store, and you see images of beauty and the message of the importance of being thin or of weight loss. We cannot escape the bombardment from our media; it’s everywhere. Our flesh desires to be desired and beautiful, so the messages of the surrounding world are believed. The enemy is able to sneak in and bring about accusations such as “you’re fat and worthless!” in order to prevent you from fully seeing yourself as a child of God who is dearly loved. Where is God’s voice in the midst of all of this? How does he see your body and what does he think about your body image? Sadly, His voice is often choked out by the other competing voices.
Guilt. Do you struggle with guilt? What do you feel guilty about? Often times the inception of guilt is never explored. Guilt is a learned thought process. If you were to think back to your childhood, do you recall any messages communicated to you through your family, school, or peers that may have been where the seed of guilt was planted in your life? Maybe you had a mother who used guilt to meet her own needs. Or, maybe you knew you were not the son or daughter your father desired. Maybe you grew up in a dogmatic church that spoke more about your flaws as a sinner than God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Somewhere, along the way, you started to feel like you were not able to live up to other’s expectations of you. The enemy is crafty, he strikes quickly and tempts one to doubt one’s relationship with God. Accusations of guilt ring loudly within your mind, and the rest of the world around you may have no idea what you are experiencing within your internal dialogue. The seed of guilt is buried so far within the recesses of your mind and soul that God’s words sound fleeting and powerless.
These are just two examples of how our internal dialogue point to the sources of the words we abide in. This type of internal dialogue is not always constant, sometimes it only needs a triggering event to activate the dialogue. For body image it may be a comment or media image. For guilt it may be a familiar message from our childhood that rings true to us even now (e.g., “I expected more from you”). Become mindful and aware of your internal dialogue and you’ll start to identify the source of the words you are abiding in. We are all influenced by words. The question is “Whose words are you abiding in?”
A prayer for you: Abba Father, I ask that you minister to the individuals reading. For some this issue may hit home on a very personal note. I pray for those individuals, and I ask that you minister to them through your Word. Send them brothers and sisters in Christ to love on them, and allow them to surrender to you the words they’ve been abiding in. In surrendering these words which have been present with them for so long, I ask that your Spirit fill the void of those words and that your truth fill their heart, soul, and mind. Help them be disciplined in filling their hearts with your Word and surrendering the false words spoken of them in their past. Although past words carry great power to impact us your Word’s carry even greater power. Your Word spoke creation in existence (Genesis 1). Your Word raised a man from the grave who lay dead for days (John 11:1-16). It was the good news of the gospel that many of us heard spoken that led to us to accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. Your Word is more powerful than any other words one has abided in. Teach my brothers and sisters who read this to abide in your Word, which became flesh (John 1).
Exercise: Contemplate the source of the words you abide in as it relates to areas of your life where you feel distant from God. Then, take some time to reflect on the following Scriptures and answer the questions below.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
“He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.”
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
What does God’s word say about me and his view of me?
If I believed and held to God’s view of me, how would that change things?
How would God’s view of me change my internal dialogue?
How would this change my life if I took it seriously - if this truth were fully alive and effective in my inward being?
What are the barriers (i.e., whose words am I abiding in) in my way of living this truth out?
Take some time in prayer by asking that the Lord help you believe his truth about you in the areas of your life where you struggle to abide in his words. Ask God that his Holy Spirit minister to you in these areas.
Lewis, C.S. (1942). Screwtape Letters
The Holy Bible (ESV)
Tozer, A.W. (1961). Knowledge of the Holy.
Welch, E. (1997). When People are Big and God is Small.
Do you feel distant from God? Do you struggle to connect with God on a deeper level? Are you discouraged by the state of your relationship with God? Whether or not you relate to feeling distant at this current point in your life, many people will experience seasons of feeling distant from God over the course of their life time. This blog post is meant to be one in a series of biweekly posts addressing the struggle of feeling distant from God. Let me briefly provide some background for what will unravel over the course of the next several months.
Early on in my Christian faith I recall being baffled that Christians would sometimes report feeling "distant from God." I was initially taken aback by this revelation. I wrongly believed that individuals who state they are Christians automatically have a close relationship with God. I have since had my own struggles feeling distant from God. The vastness of this struggle to feel close to God became even more clear to me as I started to engage in counseling with Christians. People who sat across from me struggled to make the connection between their heads (what they know to be true about God), and their hearts (experiencing the peace and joy that comes from knowing God intimately).
I have found that many Christians I have counseled are not completely transparent and open about their struggles with connecting with God. Hence, this issue is not talked about as much as it should be. Two major contributing factors for this appear to be shame (i.e., hiding from one another out of fear of being exposed and known) and pride (i.e., we don’t need other people, we can be self-sufficient beings). I am left wondering, if I am seeing many Christians in counseling sessions report feeling distant from God, then is it possible that other Christians are struggling with the same thing? Is feeling distant from God only unique to those I see in counseling? Or, is it more universal and the people I see are a small sample size of a greater struggle?
The blog series will explore common issues people may experience that prevent them from experiencing God on a deeper level. We'll then dig into strategies for helping make the connection between the head and the heart. If you choose to embark on this journey, then please know it is not for the faint of heart. You will likely face things that you will have to make decisions about - do you continue on in hopes of connecting your head to your heart, or do you jump ship when the waters start to get rough? When it comes to reflecting on your relationship with God, you may find it difficult or uncomfortable due to past or present relational issues with others or God. Embarking on this journey may lead you to think and process thoughts and emotions that are discomforting. Seeking to engage God in a meaningful and personal way can be a joyful experience while also being painful and frightening.
When it comes to engaging God I am reminded of C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Lucy, the youngest of four siblings, finds herself in Narnia talking to the Beavers about Aslan.
“Is he a man?” asked Lucy. “Aslan a man!” said Mr Beaver sternly. “Certainly not. I tell you he is King of the wood and the son of the great emperor-beyond-the-sea. Don’t you know who is the King of the Beasts? Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great lion.” “Ooh!” said Lucy, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.” “That you will, dearie, and no mistake” said Mrs Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.” “Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy. “Safe?” said Mr Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Seeking to encounter God in a deep personal way can be a scary and frightening experience. He’s not predictable or controllable. Encountering a powerful wild animal, such as a lion, will cause the bravest person’s knees to shake and be unsteady. To stand in the presence of something more powerful than ourselves stirs within us a holy reverence. How much more so when we seek to know God? The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 6 found himself in the presence of God, and he stated, ”Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Isaiah cursed himself (i.e., “Woe is me!”) and then felt himself come undone psychologically to the point of seeing himself exposed and naked -- a man of unclean lips and intentions. As you seek to make the connection between your head and your heart, and seek to encounter God more intimately, it’s likely you’ll get glimpses of yourself kneeling before the King fully exposed and vulnerable. It’s both frightening and liberating at the same time; fully exposed and known and yet also fully accepted and loved. Are you ready?
A prayer for you: Abba Father, I pray for the readers who choose to embark on this journey toward growing deeper with you. I also pray for those who are ambivalent about embarking on this journey. You know each and every one of the readers of this blog (Psalm 139) and I know you desire to relate to us intimately and personally. Holy Spirit, help these readers discern your voice within them. I ask these things in Jesus’ glorious name, who stands as our mediator and advocate before God the Father.