Ephesians 3: 14-18 says:
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, 16 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God.
Speaking on the topic of love, I think I see a common identity message in people that they are somehow unlovable. Maybe it was a message they received growing up from parents, friends or that first breakup. They then carry that ID into everything they do. It creates a fear that people will abandon them, find them out, and then once again prove their fear that they are in fact unlovable.
This passage in Ephesians is huge for people who believe themselves to be unlovable at any level. At the root of any behavior there is a belief or Identity message that is driving it. If someone acts out in anger there is usually a root to that. If someone is depressed or anxious there is a root to that. It is much like a fruit tree. We know the tree by its fruit. But what makes the fruit is the root. If there is a root of being unlovable, my anger is the fruit of that root. And in turn I push every one away with my anger and prove my fear. Most therapist try to cut the limb off of anger. The problem I find in pruning is that usually where I cut of one limb, two more sprout. So we get rid of the anger but drinking and depression soon fill its spot. The best way to get rid of the fruit is to dig up the tree and replant.
That's why this picture is so important. The verse is written in the present tense that means it is true now. You have a new root in Christ and that is you are loved!! I might not feel like it, but the problem with lying emotions is that they take a long time to catch up with truth. The reality is that you are loved!! The Christian walk is not trying to become something you're not (holy, spiritual, righteous), it discovering who you already are in Christ!!! As Christ dwells in my heart I begin to comprehend the full extent of God's love for me! And like I said, the fruit reveals the root! The root of being loved means the fruit is loving myself and others. Love then frees me to be myself and enjoy my creator in the relationship He has with me!
There is something that every human avoids like the plague and that is taking responsibility. I have had clients get up and walk out of my office when we get to the point of taking responsibility. (granted we were dealing with anger!) I believe I am the expert of blaming some one else for my decisions or lack of decisions. This gets us into all kinds of trouble in our relationships, jobs, community; you name it. There are many elements of responsibility but what I'm finding is that when I know that I'm loved and will be loved after epic screw ups, I am then free to own what I've done.
At a very young age we innately know how to blame others. My 2 year old before her sister was born colored on the wall and said that Kate had done it. I couldn't help but laugh, yet in the same sense she started very young at what we all eventually become very good at; blaming people who are not to blame or can't be blamed. I am the only one in control of my actions, thoughts and feelings. Now every behavior I do has some sort of benefit to it or else I'll stop doing that behavior. There is a lot of benefit in not taking responsibility. It justifies my anger, guilt, fears, choices, thoughts, feelings the list goes on and on. Responsibility takes owning what I've done and dealing well with the ramifications of my actions. It also takes listening to the people I've hurt and making a choice to change course of action.
Now I think that the before mentioned has be stated a lot and can be generally accepted. The difference I'm finding is that when love is involved, it frees me not only to take full responsibility but also reason to work through the consequences of my actions. 1 Corinthians 13 is a good description of love.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
In 1 John 4:15- 18 the author says that "God is love".
15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. 17 By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. 18 There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.
I often have my clients do and exercise where they insert "God" into the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 every where it says "love" and really get a new emotional concept of God. When we know how loved we are and who it is that is loving us, we are free to take responsibility for whatever we've done, said or thought. The good news is that when I take responsibility I don't have to keep beating myself up for it. I confess it (agree that its not who I really am, as a child of God) and move forward in love.
I've seen this reality work itself out in so many relationships and they are great opportunities for us to express this. As I invite Christ (love) into my marriage, my parenting, my work environment, my church, to live in me, through me, as me, then I am free to take responsibility for how I treat those other people. This reality is true in all areas of my mental health as well. As I invite Christ (love) into my anger, addictions, depression, anxiety, worry, fear, doubt, then I begin to recognize the root of the things that brought me to that place and the freedom to own it and allow Christ to heal it.
This is only the preface on this topic, but the challenge is then to receive love, take responsibility, then give love so that others can become free as they begin to own their choices, actions, thoughts and feelings.
Often people wonder why they are uncomfortable with certain behaviors, thoughts, emotions and choices that in essence are "wrong/bad". In the same sense something may appear to be "good" but the motives behind the action make the person uncomfortable. Now there is a lot to the idea of conscience but I believe it goes much deeper than that, especially for people who believe in Christ. I think the fact that there is morality in this world shows that God has given man a conscience, but I have seen it at a deeper level that the Holy Spirit is doing His job and "convicting the world of its sin". The believer, especially in sin, is often very convicted or as I like to say, "convinced" what he/she is doing is not beneficial.
Often I tell my clients that the inner struggle they have reveals that whatever they are doing/thinking is not really them. The fact that the Holy Spirit lives in a Christian means that any thing contrary to the Spirit will make them uncomfortable. This is great news!!! The fact that I have a struggle with sin means 1: its no longer who I am, 2: I can chose not to continue to do it. Gal 5: 1 says "It is for freedom sake that Christ has set you free, therefore no longer submit yourself to the yolk of slavery. " Ultimately we are already free and when we become in bondage to anything, good or bad, then the Spirit with in us convinces us that this bondage is not for me. This is a life long process but the struggle reveals the identity!
Romans 6 in the Message puts a unique perspective on this in the way they translate the first part of the chapter. He says that because we have been baptized with Christ, our death with Him means that we have died to sin. (Gal 2:20) But he goes on further to say that our life, when we are raised, is now completely fully in Christ. The part I like is that he says that sin is now a foreign language to us, because we have a new life in Christ and our mother tongue is Christ's. When sin speaks to us, we don't understand it because it is not who we are.
When I was in Costa Rica, I got a head ache trying to keep up with the Spanish. I took some Spanish in High School so I knew enough to get the basics, but the conjugations, sentence structure, and speed blew my mind. Over time I was able to understand it better, but I was only there for a week. People have said that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself into that culture. I think this concept is very true for believers as well. When be are born again in the Spirit there is a new passion and we all of a sudden have a new language. The things we used to do, give us a headache and the very thought of them gives us a headache. The struggle reveals the Identity. But over time we immerse ourselves in the old ways of thinking and living and convince ourself that it really is our language because we can once again somewhat understand the language. The awesome reality is that even if we become fluent in a language, it is not our native tongue. So as I get back to speaking the language I was born into, then I find myself being who I was born to be. After that trip, it was great to hear English again. I know that this example has its limitations, but the idea is sin no longer suits me and it is no longer my native tongue!! In Christ I have a new language and a new Identity!!
To be continued....
"He is jealous for me,
Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden,
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory,
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.
And oh, how He loves us, oh,
Oh, how He loves us,
How He loves us all"
David Crowder's song "How he Loves us" is an awesome picture of the weight of God's love for me. In pondering our desires for our spouse, parent, child, and friend's approval, it strikes me how jealous we can get when something or someone else takes our place (or we perceive takes our place) in the other person's heart. Often that thing is the thing we soon find our self in competition with; whether consciously or sub consciously. I see this a lot with teens who do not take care of their things or give little value to money. When a parent's money or toys become more important to them than their child, jealousy occurs and the kid then finds him/herself in competition with or giving little value to that thing. In marriages if a husband is at work all the time, the wife then sees herself in competition with work and then begins to be jealous of anything associated with work. What ever a person "loves" more than us, becomes a point of jealousy and potential for disconnect in that relationship.
In scripture when God addresses His people with regard to the relationship to their idols (anything we run to other than Him under stress and pressure), he doesn't call it sin, he calls it adultery. Yes adultery is sin, but it goes down to the core of God's view of us as his bride. He is jealous for me!! As much as I'm jealous in a relationship, he is 1 million times more so. He doesn't want anything to be in competition with Him in our hearts. So often idols fill the void when we forget how loved we truly are. They're only a temporary fix that people have learned to trust, place their hope and identity in. Idols can even be good things like work, food, sex, kids, church and relationships. As a person becomes more aware of God's desire ,even jealousy for relationship with that person, he/she has a choice in that moment to trust the loving God or trust the idol. More often than not, this is not an easy choice, but the more our idols fail to meet the perceived need, "God's love "trumps" that need." God is slowly, moment by moment, freeing us from those things that take His place in our hearts.
When I know that I'm loved then I can freely love. When I know that I'm loved and jealously desired, my natural inclination is to turn toward the one loving. Whether in our relationship with God, our spouse, our kids, or our friends to be jealously pursued ( in a healthy way, not a sociopathic way) then we have the freedom to be ourselves.
I've noticed something interesting about people, myself included. We don't seem to make strides towards things that we know will help us, unless there is the potential for, or has been loss. It may be wired in us, or it may be a product of our upbringing. Why is it that it takes great loss before we can experience great gain?
I've noticed working with troubled kids that the parents come in to a counselor to change a certain behavior that is inconvenient for them. Little Johnny is throwing fits or not obeying, little Suzy is having separation anxiety because of fear of abandonment. What ever the case may be, it is a behavior that was cute when they were little but it becomes obnoxious and a loss to the family as they get older. At that point the parents are so sick of losing their time, sleep, resources, and sanity that there is nothing they wouldn't do to fix the problem. The child on the other hand sees their behavior as gain because every time they throw a fit and parents give in, he/she has won the battle of the wills. "Boundaries with Kids" by Henry Cloud and John Townsend is a great book for parents in this situation. It isn't until certain consequences are in place for a child acting out of line, that he/she will begin to evaluate his/her losses. Once the kid knows that there will be a loss of something they enjoy when they chose a undesirable behavior, most kids will curb that behavior and the parents gain. This again is age specific and for parents with kids with Oppositional Defiance Disorder may be something very difficult to achieve.
Now take another scenario. A man comes in trying to save his marriage because his wife is sick of his attitude, anger, affair; whatever the case may be. He has realized that the loss of his marriage is too big and he must do something to gain his wife back. At that point the man will do anything, even things he never considered, in order to save his marriage. There are things that this man can do, but it will take all the work he wasn't willing to put in prior to that point to save the marriage. The same goes for a woman in the same situation. His/her loss is the thing that motivates the will and can in turn create great gain in the relationship.
The will is an interesting thing. I spend a lot of time talking about taking thoughts captive, recognizing emotions, but not a lot of time in counseling is focused on the will. Now I guess the assumption is that the will follows in line when we have thoughts and emotions in check, but I'm finding that there is power in realizing I have a choice and I must take my will captive as well. "My thoughts, emotions and will don't chose, I do." I tell my Doer personality types, "they are most pliable when they are broken", which means they don't submit their will to Christ until life has turned upside down. There is great freedom in realizing that I can use my will to chose gain before the loss comes. There is also great freedom that in the middle of loss that I can use my will to chose to take a different course of action. There is even greater freedom when I submit my will, as I would my thoughts and emotions, to Christ at the beginning of every day. "Lord, I choose to abide today."
This idea of the will is something to wrestle with. Until I have health issues, extra weight or problems with body image, then I consider and maybe exercise my will to exercise. The loss of weight may even become the motivator to keep me exercising. Until the potential loss of an important relationship is at stake, then I exercise my will to change my interactions with that person. Until there is a threat of hell (popular evangelism technique) then I won't evaluate the need for something different like Heaven. Until I see that my sin is a great loss to me, then and only then will I see my need for a Savior. Until my idols (anything I run to other than Christ under stress and pressure) have caused a great loss in my life then and only then do I use my will to turn to Christ. There can be great gain even in my loss as I submit my will to God and chose to rest in Him moment by moment.
To be continued....