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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Sleepless in Ponyville”

This episode was the first Scootaloo-themed one in the series, and it was a pretty good one; partially because it also included Princess Luna. It had a rather poignant moment in it too. Scootaloo finds herself tormented by nightmares inspired by her idol’s, Rainbow Dash’s, scary stories. At one point, Luna pops into her dreams and saves her from one, but she cautions her that the nightmares will continue so long as the true source of her fear remains in real life. When Scootaloo asks if the real fear, namely the monster in her nightmare, is what’s waiting for her when she wakes up, Luna asks her rather bluntly if what she really fears is the monster. As it turns out at the end, it wasn’t the scary stories that frightened Scootaloo nearly as much as acting afraid in front of her idol and having her think less of her.

People in our society may not always have to go through all the physical toils and troubles that many parts of the world do, but we still have a lot of problems. Depression, alcoholism, anger management, drug addictions, sex addictions, overeating, insomnia, chronic aches and pains, a need to be controlling, a need to let others walk all over us, self-mutilation, binging, purging, anorexia… Many of these are harmful to others and all of them are harmful to ourselves. The effects can be physical, but more often than not they erode our well-being, impair our ability to hold a job, frustrate our ability to function normally in social settings, or even threaten to ruin our relationships with our family and loved ones.

There are some churches out there that either directly state or strongly imply that the only reason for any evil in the entire world is Satan. Basically, any illness, infirmity, impairment, disorder, or disfunction is all a result of evil at work in the world and, therefore, the cure for absolutely everything is more prayer and devotion. Just confess that sin or problem to God, keep praying, keep reading the Bible, and, poof, you’ll be healed. What, you didn’t get healed right away? Oh, your faith must be weak. Keep confessing and praying and it’ll happen.

I see a couple of problems with this approach. One, it gives entirely too much credit to demonic forces at the expense of minimizing the power of God. While there may be evil at work in the world, at some point I start to wonder if that becomes an excuse. “I’m an alcoholic because the devil is tempting me. I just need to pray and I’ll be sober today.” Temptation might be in the world, but people can “do bad” all on their own in my opinion. And if it is coming from me, then I’m the one who needs to deal with it rather than hanging it on someone or some thing else.

But the second and more important point is to realize if we find ourselves continuously committing the same sin, self-destructive behavior, or have the same pain or torment, often this is the fruit of a deeper root. By trying to say merely the “symptom” is the be-all, end-all of the matter and attribute it to demonic origin, we’re both ignoring and neglecting the true cause and letting it remain and continue to fester and corrupt.

Here’s a good example. Anorexia is a true problem and very difficult to treat. People with no familiarity with the disease might simply say it’s an insane obsession to be thin and think the solution is just to encourage the person by helping them realize they’re attractive the way they are. Anyone familiar with the disease, however, will know that’s ludicrous. The heart of anorexia is the same as many other nervous disorders: control. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa feel they have absolutely no control over their lives; that they’re at the mercy of forces around them and being pressured beyond their ability to cope. They discover the only thing they can control is their weight, and they begin to do so to an obsessive degree.

I mentioned before that back in college I began to develop traits of OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I couldn’t touch anything in public, and if I did I had to wash my hands in scalding water for 30 full seconds every time. I also had to pick up every piece of litter I saw and, since it was dirty, I had to wash my hands again each time. I was to the part where the skin on my hands was peeling from this repeated behavior, yet ironically I hated taking a shower because those were public rooms and I feared I’d get even dirtier from them. It sounds pretty nuts, I know. One would likely assume I was a germophobe and that I needed to read some stats about the likelihood of actually getting sick from one of these places, or at least simply learn to let minor things such as door handles and faucet taps slide.

But that wasn’t it. Do you know what was the root cause? Misinterpreting the Bible.

Around that time of my life I started reading the Bible for the first time, and with my selective perception I focused on all the parts about damnation, condemnation, the need to “be perfect”, and how easy it was to be susceptible to judgment. Coupled with the fact I was already a perfectionist, this was a recipe for disaster. I suddenly became obsessed with being perfect and I tried to force myself to automatically be that way against my will. As a result, I started hating myself when I saw other people who I viewed were “better” than me, both as people and as Christians. This led to continuous self-loathing and hatred as I tried to force myself to be like them only to always see someone better. An attempt to always live perfectly without one mistake, only to hate myself anyway because I’d always see more I could do.

The only way I could function was if I started acting out specific plans or routines that my mind accepted was “the best I could do for being human”. It went out of control and spilled over to my entire life. If everything didn’t fit into one of these routines, it was a failure, it was a sin, it was something that made God furious at me, etc., etc. And eventually it got to the point of even things like touching items in public.

I prayed to God continuously to make me a better person; more selfless and self-sacrificing and willing to accept this lifestyle so I could be a better Christian and feel better about myself. This prayer wasn’t granted…at least, not in the way I thought I wanted. It wasn’t granted because so long as I continued my current behavior I would never be genuinely selfless, never be self-sacrificing, never be like the other Christians I saw as authentic and better than me, and, most of all, I would never feel better about myself because the standard would never be met.

How God did answer me, and which I blatantly ignored for over a year, was sending people in my life who tried to get me to accept myself as being imperfect. For the longest time I neither listened to them nor even thought they had anything worthwhile to say. I knew what my problem was, knew how I needed to get right with God, and all of them were talking about things they didn’t understand. As a result, that was a miserable, painful time of my life that I can’t get back…and I could have if I had stopped trying to atone for a symptom and gone for the cause.

There’s something key to note about both of those examples. Both in the case of anorexia nervosa and what I was going through, in order to truly be well one thing would have been crucial: admitting being out of control. Therein lies the heart. For the person suffering from anorexia, they believe this self-destroying disorder is the only control they have. The same thing for me and my obsessive behaviors; the only way I could guarantee I was a good person. And yet, we’d both rather cling to this madness than acknowledge that we have no grasp at all on the situation. And, in my case, I kept telling God to make be better and capable of enduring this misery rather than admit to myself I couldn’t be perfect because that was too scary and horrifying. And so, God refused to grant my prayer because it was the wrong prayer for the wrong sin.

It’s the same thing with addiction. Why did the addict feel the need to start abusing the substance in the first place, and if they got over their addiction would it still be there? If so, then confessing the addiction and praying for God to magically make the individual “not an addict” isn’t going to help even if it worked. Or anger management. Why does this individual feel they have to get angry at everything all the time? What’s the point of asking God to take control of the individual’s anger when the source will make them embrace some new destructive behavior instead? Or being a codependent. Why does that individual feel they need to be responsible for everyone around them?  Is something from their past telling them they have to or else everything will fall apart?

These aren’t things that God can just wave a magic wand over and say “evil be gone”. Moreover, I don’t feel they’re things that God wants to. They’re things we have to face for ourselves.

Psalm 51 was the song David wrote when he confessed his own sin to God. The sixth verse reads: “Behold, you delight in (also translated as “desire”) truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” Not just external truth and righteousness. It has to be within, right at the heart of a person.

In John 8:32, Jesus infamously said: “and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Jesus wasn’t an individual who bothered Himself too much with the “symptom sins”, as the Pharisees and Sadducees of His day did. They constantly busied themselves about keeping ritual laws, not working on Sabbaths, and washing when they should have worried more about caring for people physically, spiritually, and emotionally. Jesus, on the other hand, wanted to treat people directly right at the core of their being and heal the reason for why they committed the sins they did. That’s why He readily went to the tax collectors and prostitutes who openly acknowledged their wrongdoing and spoke against the people who only “kept up appearances”.

May God reveal to us all the true root of our own sins, and grant us the bravery and (perhaps, as in my case) the wisdom to see it and confront it.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you that you provide boundless mercy and never-ending love and forgiveness to all those who truly repent and turn to you. Thank you also for being merciful enough to send us ‘symptoms’ of our deeper sins and pains to acknowledge their presence. If we find ourselves guilty of chronic sin, please confront us with the root cause of this behavior, and grant us the bravery and wisdom to acknowledge them and bring them to you for ‘true’ healing. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”

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