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The Pain and the Promise
The basic choice we face in life is deciding if our own experience and understanding are more trustworthy than the Word of God.

"Hey, Ozzy, where’s Harriet?”

The taunting chorus was flung in my face. “Oh no,” I groaned inwardly, “not again!” Desperately I tried to ignore my older cousins, but they pressed on, encouraged by past success. “Hey, Ozzzyyy…” Their smiling, eager faces crowded me, goading me. Though I knew no one named Harriet, my juvenile mind conjured up pictures of a disagreeable little girl, red-haired and freckle-faced, with whom I was loath to be associated. My begging for them to stop turned to anger and tears, which delighted my tormentors all the more. Finally, my rage was spent and they relented—until next time.

… why would an adult continue to accept the wisdom of a seven-year-old…

I am not sure how often this incident repeated itself that summer at the home of my aunt, but I do remember the abiding resolve it left within me: “Never allow yourself to show emotion or weakness; people will only take advantage of you!”

Looking back on that painful time, it’s easy for me to see why a tormented child would come to such a conclusion. But the truly puzzling thing is this: why would an adult continue to accept the wisdom of a seven-year-old and choose to live in the shadows of decisions made at such an early age?

Long after that summer, my determination to avoid potential risk by masking my emotion remained a guiding principle. Life seemed to confirm the wisdom of my resolve. And in justifying my choice again over the years, I felt sure I was no longer listening to the seven-year-old, but to the “wise” adult I had become. The problem with this line of thinking is that it overlooks an important fact: we can create our own reality. Pointing to the life experiences that validated my decision to avoid vulnerability merely shows that I consider emotional risk to be unacceptable.

The fact that life confirms our fears says more about us than it does about the real world. It does not demonstrate that my fears are legitimate, or that safety is the greatest value. It simply shows me that I am fearful!

As Bob George puts it so well in Classic Christianity, our emotional response is always a logical result of our beginning point!

If I believe that most risks are not worth taking, then I will inevitably find that my experience confirms these beliefs. And I become caught up in a self-reinforcing cycle, one that ensures further pain and disappointment and also affirms a strategy for staying safe.

This seems to be the best a human being can do: figure out what hurts, and then find ways to avoid it. This is not, however, the best a Christian can do. Instead, in Christ we are called to “be transformed by the renewing of our mind” (Romans 12:2). How sad that believers often fail to recognize God’s offer to correct the reality in which we live. With tragic short-sightedness we continue to prove the hurts and disappointments of the past correct, continuing to cling to them as “reality.”

If we want to change where we end up, we must change where we begin. If an unhealthy emotional response is a result of the “truth” I live by, then I must alter my perceptions! Not allowing my life to demonstrate the truth of God in Christ clearly shows that I have failed to base my intellectual and emotional decisions on what God in His love declares to be true.

This is a complex process, for life often really does hurt and there are some legitimate safety concerns, even for the redeemed. I am convinced, however, that continuing to affirm our self-imposed limitations and accepting the crippling effects of sin is to make God a liar and stands in direct opposition to His Word. The basic choice we face in life is deciding if our own experience and understanding are more trustworthy than the Word of God.

Putting the matter in these terms does two things for us. First, it affirms that God has in fact saved us, and in so doing, is, as He promised, reversing the effects of sin in our lives. This means that He has restored to us the dignity of choosing our response to Him and to others. Second, it eliminates the discouraging and often paralyzing effect of claiming that we can’t do otherwise—“That’s just the way I am.”

I finally caught a rerun of the old “Ozzy and Harriet” show. I don’t suppose having that information earlier would have changed much, since the issue was not entirely the point of the teasing. It was, however, a good reminder that my impressions of something may not represent the full truth of the matter. As much as it goes against my desire to be perceived as wise and knowledgeable, I must be willing to be proved a liar, while God is shown to be faithful. In this lies the promise for continued transformation.

Originally published in Servant Magazine, Issue 78, 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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