Taking a spiritual selfie through an emotional reality check
An abstract of Inside Out by Dr. Larry Crabb (Part 2)
12 May 2018
“They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.”
When prophesying the siege of Jerusalem and the Babylonian exile, Jeremiah pointed out a clear sign of sin and distance from God: superficiality and pretense. This was when God’s people had a habit of covering their spiritual issues with superficial pretending that things were OK when they were not. Can you relate in the 21st century?
Digging our own well: addiction
Larry Crabb’s book remind us that our attempts to hide the pain of unmet longings never makes them go away. The pain simply goes underground and presses for relief with even more urgency. When we manage to deny pain behind a facade of togetherness, we become even more dangerously vulnerable to developing compulsively sinful habits.
These habits render us slaves to our addiction, forces that we are powerless to control because they grow out of our desire to relieve the unresolved ache of our deepest longings. Many men are hooked on pornography because the thrill of pleasure more real than any experience he had known. He cannot see his wrong strategies are blocking his own source of true pleasure: God.
Unless we are moving toward each other with the love with which God moved toward us, a broad range of harmful pleasures may become compulsively attractive. The power of pleasures in sex, delicious food, money or power is not simply in the good feelings they generate, but in the instant numbing of deep pain and disappointment in our soul better than anything else. The gratification makes us feel ‘alive’. They are marvelous counterfeits of life for what only God can provide.
When self-protection becomes self-harm
When such avoidance of pain becomes our priority, we leave the path toward pursuing God. That part of us that feels longings and hurt is the only part of us from which we can richly love others, including God. To cut this part off means we lose touch with the most significant part of who we are. The void is replaced by chronic grumpiness, self-absorbing depression, anxiety, bad self-images—all prevent us from giving ourselves confidently and warmly to our family and friends. These rob us of both the meaning and the penetrating love that God wants to give us.
The capacity to love others and God is the mark of maturity, and the essence of love is relating without fear or self-protection. Our our schemes of protection against pain blunts our capacity to love. Giving up self-protection would expose us to a level of vulnerability that could destroy us— unless God kept His word. Therefore relating with others without fear requires profound trust in Christ.
We’re left with the choice to wrap ourselves in self-protection to avoid pain, or embrace it and rest secure in our Lord’s promise. Self-protection or trust God— every behavior ultimately reflects one choice or the other.
Taking a spiritual selfie through an emotional reality check
God made it clear that in His salvation plan there is no place for pretense or avoidance. We must come to grips with what’s going on behind the whitewashed appearance of our life. Yet utter honesty is painful business. It requires us to take a painful inside look to face all we prefer to deny. It means uncovering deep, unsatisfied longings that bear testimony to our dignity as well as foolish coping strategies that reflect our depravity, sometimes reaching the level of soul-wrenching despair.
Larry Crabb calls each individual a 'glorious ruin'. Disappointment with ourselves and others is an opportunity to seize, not a problem to solve. Thirsty Christians are more likely to search for God. Christians whose thirst is satisfied by blessings depend on God to stay blessed and never get around to enjoying Him.
God’s intention is always to draw us deeply to Himself. We are designed to enjoy what only God can provide. A painful reality check compels us to pursue Christ with the passion of deep thirst and godly dependence.
So embrace confusion, disappointment and hurt. The route to facing our thirst involves three key steps:
1. Admit confusion:
Ask tough questions.
Don’t cover confusion with the blanket of dogmatism or easy answers.
Let confusion drive you to faith.
2. Acknowledge disappointment:
Reflect on how others have let you down or failed to come through as you deeply wanted them to.
Don’t numb your disappointment with the anesthetic of denial, forced love, or cheap forgiveness.
Let disappointment drive you to hope.
3. Accept conviction:
Look squarely at how you protect yourself from disappointments by keeping distance from people.
Don’t escape by always trying to do the right thing. Explore the motives beneath your good behavior.
Let conviction drive you to love. Change from the inside out begins with an awareness of our thirst.
The path to maturity requires a commitment to replace false certainty, pretended satisfaction, and smug spirituality with disturbing levels of confusion, disappointment, and conviction, which in turn create the opportunity to develop faith, hope, and love. And joy.
It’s tempting to treat our wounds superficially (Jeremiah 6:13-14). I’d rather a doctor tell me that my stomachache is the result of indigestion instead of stomach cancer. Our disease is deep. The solution must reach deep. We agree to a major risky surgery only when we accept the diagnosis and see the potential benefits.
All confusing emotions we experience in our lives are like flashing lights on a car’s dashboard telling us to pull over and look beneath the hood. Many Christians cope with life without ever having this emotional reality check of their soul. And sometimes those people who do take a serious look crumble under the weight of what they discover. If all it achieves is a greater awareness of sorrow, why bother? Isn’t it cruel to remind a desert traveler how parched his throat feels?
If an awareness of our thirst is the beginning of desperate pursuit of God (source of abundant pleasures), then it makes sense. It is worth whatever temporary pain is stirred up.
When the pain finally compels you to cry out, “Have mercy!” you learn to rest in God’s character and goodness, in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is when God begins His work.
So live the Christian life, not its counterfeit. Embrace hurt and disappointment deeply when you are failed by people you care about. Groan in the experience of emptiness, with the ache of wanting what is not yours to fully enjoy in this life.
You were created to enjoy nothing less.
By: Dr. Larry Crabb