Archive for the ‘The Truth Is…’ Category

Saying I need to care for myself sounds so self-centered.  Many of us who follow Jesus Christ might even feel a little nauseated at the idea, because it feels like letting our flesh, our sin, have its way.  Entire sermons are preached and books written against living this way, but we must be careful and specific, because words matter and self-loathing or condemnation can stealthily slip in wearing godly clothes.

Self-care and self-indulgence are not the same; in fact, they couldn’t be more separate and distinct.  I believe the confusion arises from the term “self”, which frequently invokes an image of self-centered living and selfishness, which are, almost universally, considered detrimental to human health, relationship and a functioning society.  In fact, love, compassion, service in integrity, putting others needs before one’s own all run counter to, and are essentially incompatible with, living with self as my focus, because my immediate feelings and desires for me will without exception out-prioritize needs of others.  This is not to say a self-centered person can never serve others; rather, it means they are only capable of doing so either once their own perceived needs are met or perhaps under a guise of integrity crafted in fear.

Motivations behind our will are often obscured to the eye, quietly churning and hardening like stony gravel concealed in our hearts and flesh.  For those known by Jesus Christ and who trust his offer, God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:26-27 is fulfilled and the heart of stone has been supplanted by our loving creator with a refreshed heart of flesh as the catalytic initiation of new life in God, deliverance from the desperate and dark hopelessness of sin’s prison.  This deliverance has been presented by some as requiring a complete despising of one’s self, even one’s identity, typically referring to the word of Jesus in Matthew 16:24, “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.'”  But let’s take a broader look to include the context of this event.  Jesus said these words immediately after correcting Peter for his self-centered protest of Jesus when he warned the disciples of his approaching death: “Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ But [Jesus] turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.'” (v. 22-23, my emphasis) Now reread v. 24. So, did Jesus intend for Peter to wholly neglect his personhood, his identity as a man?  Or was Jesus instead pointing to the sin lurking in Peter’s flesh?  Was he calling out the fear rising in his mind from hearing of his Lord being murdered and prompting him to refuse the possibility?  After all, Jesus created Peter; not with sin, but with all his gifts and character in an original, unique design, as he has each human being.  Surely that design is what God is working to restore, not reject, and even enhance along with the rest of his creation (Revelation 21:1-5).

So, then, how do I care for my self in a healthy way?  Self-care manifests as differently as the varied life experiences of each person yet dwells within the same existence and touches the same places in our hearts, like diverse mini-currents and eddies all maneuvering within the larger flow of the same stream.  Self-care is quietness of mind, heart and soul.  It is being willing – more fundamentally, agreeing with the need – to separate from routine engagements with other people and things and choosing to absorb, rather than expend.  A temporary closing of the valve, if you will, of the outflow of our energy and life.  Self-care acknowledges the incontrovertible physical, emotional, mental and spiritual necessity for equilibrium and that the elements of our human design always seek it out, despite potential frustration from our will pushing to stay the course.  Yet, there is much more to it than just “taking a break”.    

For many of us, the startling disorientation Peter experienced from contemplating such a horrific loss can cause our flesh to similarly lurch into denial as a means of survival, to escape and refuse reality to protect what we have secretly defined as “life”.  It exposes a crucial truth:  our hope rests on an outcome rather than on Jesus himself.  This is central, not only to our growth in him and his daily work to restore us, but also to how we care for ourselves.  Self-care is not immersion in or protection of idols we’ve grasped, motivated by fear, but the recognition of those idols as idols, releasing them as powerless and transferring the hope we had previously placed in them to Jesus and his supreme affection for us.  Self-care is a reorientation to truth and light; a consolidation of trust and following, decoupling from the myriad facades of hope and life to select and pursue the one voice that credibly and compassionately promises eternal fulfillment of our original intricate being.

The truth is, ultimate self-care is immersion in, union with, God.  My energy, my love, my healing, my fullness of life come from him alone.  Without self-care, even as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have little to offer anyone in my life because my efforts will, at best, produce a thin residue of love scraped from the remnant of my last encounter with him.  I have gone weeks before without spending more than a few minutes with him (“arrow prayers”), and it takes a toll.  Suddenly, I discover I’m less able to respond in a healthy, productive way to those who depend on me. Life just gets harder, and I start to despair.  Many people I’ve met carry the faint awareness of this in their eyes, flickers of hope losing ground to shadow.  They know deep in their being we were not intended for such an inconsequential, futile existence, but that fading hope is daily met with reinforcement of pain from the world and false helpers, often others who are equally terrified yet also refusing to risk full pursuit of union with God.  Instead, eyes shut tight, they cling to a fraying but familiar rope over a bottomless chasm.  That was me, too; it feels safe, but really caring for myself is opening my eyes and considering that what feels true may be incomplete.  Self-care is moving my gaze off the weakening strands of that rope long enough to discover Jesus reaching out just above my head as he gently encourages me to trust him all the way and instead grab his strong, immovable hand.

Scripture and scripture references taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

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False hope is ubiquitous and alluring.  Disappointment, loss, betrayal and assaults have persuaded many of us that trust can only, must only be placed in ourselves because vulnerability to others equals more of the same pain.  Cynicism, bitterness and resentment eat away at our hope like a powerful acid.  As if that weren’t enough, the evil one attacks by amplifying shame which suffuses our thinking, convincing many to remain seated in the chair of resignation until even hope itself feels like cruelty.  For some who do manage to reach one last time for help at a church, the unspoken discomfort often found there can feel like the final dead end because of foolishly promoted moralism.  The people there are just like them, fighting hidden sin with their own will and losing; their chair of resignation just happens to be located at church.  All of this is the deep, tangible, frighteningly real nature of evil and sin, and without real hope, it’s where every one of us will remain.

So what is real hope?  I believe every human being knows the answer, has perceived the truth in some part of their hearts.  Many could even articulate it quite well if asked.  Real hope is trustworthy and pure.  Real hope rescues and always comes through.  Real hope knows what to do, targets the real problem – the cause of the pain, not the effects.  Real hope doesn’t shrug and say, “I tried,” but stays and continues to grow in strength.  And real hope requires real power; not necessarily impressive or shocking or even satisfying power, but power that is somehow beyond the daily wounds and thorns of human life and yet thoroughly intimate with them.

The Bible mentions hope a great deal; 180 times give or take, depending on the translation.  That alone doesn’t make it real, but it does demonstrate that hope is important to God.  We all know that already, right?  So then, why is real hope so hard to find?  And why are so many of us failing to grasp it?  See the first paragraph – each of us is cut by some of these broken shards of life every day.  We don’t miss real hope because it doesn’t exist or because it’s hiding, but because we have an enemy who doesn’t want us to find it, and because our flesh falls for shiny packages and grand marketing.  The truth is, many of us want hope in a wrapper, something we can grab onto whenever we feel down, a handy pick-me-up.  And that’s usually what we settle for.  Quick carbs, quick rush, no power, no lasting help.  In the end, dances with these false, weak hope-posers only deepen and intensify our grief and bitterness, and we sit back down in the chair, even more ashamed.

Jesus does not call us to be ashamed of ourselves, but rather to take on his perspective of us:  his exquisite creations, unique and intricate.  Picture his passionate heart crafting one original masterpiece after another with love, his laughter and joy as he works in infinite colors and textures, blending and shading them into complex works never before seen and impossible to replicate.  In our current state, deceived and distorted, immersed in foolishness and evil, yes; but never without worth or value to him.  What were his first words to his disciples – those lost men, living day to day, just as confused and heartbroken as many of us, striving for peace, for hope – whom he had long before chosen?  Follow me.  Those are his words to each of us as well, penetrating the grimy layers of disillusionment and hopelessness.  He calls us to follow him out into the light and take our place with him, dying to sin and mistrust of God, to arrogance and pride, to the world of endless medication and fantasy and to Satan and his kingdom, and entering a new life alive to God and filled with his life and spirit.  Are the problems still going to be there?  Of course.  So then why bother?  Because the problems are still there.  No matter who we are or what choices we make, we still have to deal with them.  Each day for each person on this earth is filled with blessings and beauty, if we can see them, but will also involve grappling with confusion, suffering and loss and struggling with difficult situations and relationships, whether we walk in the cloudy, polluted and slippery muck of self-sufficiency or the daylight, oxygen and dry ground of grace and trust in Jesus.  Honestly, which one sounds better?

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