I’ve always struggled to obey. It’s not that I don’t want to be obedient, believe me, I do. I’m hardwired to please others, especially authority figures.
But it’s always seemed as though doing exactly what I am supposed to do is tantalizingly beyond my reach. I’m like an eager little puppy trying my hardest to do what I think my master wants me to do… and failing repeatedly.
As a child I studied my parents. I read their moods and tried to please them any way I could: doing my chores without being asked, cleaning up the house as a surprise, and doing or saying things to cheer them up.
When I did get into trouble it felt like the end of the world. In our family, spankings with the back of a hairbrush were a frequent consequence to disobedience. The sting of those blows made lasting impressions on my heart, although not perhaps what my mother intended.
My mom did her best, and I remember always being welcomed into her arms after a cooling off period. But I was left, not only with feeling sorry for being bad, but with a deepened determination to never. do. anything. wrong. again.
But of course I did… over and over again.
My failings were rarely the result of outright rebellion; my desire to stay out of trouble made me too timid to break the rules. It was interactions with my younger sister that invariably sent me over the edge. We fought frequently.
This younger sibling was a rebel at heart, and she rightly resented my bossy, know-it-all attitude.
I remember thinking that she was kind of stupid for getting into trouble with our parents. Her outright defiance was incomprehensible to my way of thinking, But upon later reflection I realized that she was just more honest than me. I hid my infractions and when I was caught, I lied.
I hid and I lied.
In some ways, not so unlike Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Hiding and lying about my sin has been my default ever since.
“When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11 ESV)
I like to think that, like Paul, I have put away my childish ways. And in many ways I have. I have matured a lot since those early years.
But when I feel threatened my initial reaction is still to burrow myself away. Only now I’m even trickier about it; many times I even fool myself by rationalizing or revising the sequence of events leading up to a sinful response.
It might look like:
- Justifying my response… “that’s just the way I am,” or “I’m tired.”
- Judging someone else… “they should just get over it,” or “they shouldn’t be so easily offended.
None of the above responses actually deal with the root problem which is my sinful heart attitude. In the book “40 Days of Decrease” Alicia Britt Chole calls my tendency to rewrite the story as revisionism. It’s my way of rationalizing why my response is alright despite an uneasy sense that it is not.
“The motivational root of revisionism seems to be either the fear of losing power or the compulsion to avoid pain. Both are pursuits of control. Pain-avoiders change the story to absolve themselves from responsibility: they revise history because the weight of reality is too crushing to bear.” *
“Fear of losing power or the compulsion to avoid pain.” What a combination, and unfortunately for me, I think I do both. I try to control everything to avoid pain.
In my all-encompassing desire to avoid pain I am choosing to rely on something other than my Savior. And anytime I choose to pursue anything besides Jesus to make me feel better I am actually choosing an idol over Him.
So which is it going to be? False comfort or Jesus?
This is the question that I must face when confronted with the temptation to run from the Holy Spirit’s persistant convicting voice.
Alicia Britt Chole goes on to say, “Revisionism is a deadly form of self-deception and a formidable foe to intimacy with God.” *
And there’s the heartbreak of it… my ongoing self-deception becomes a wall between me and Jesus.
In my misguided, control-driven attempts to avoid pain I erect a barrier between the One who loves me and died for me. I allow pride to direct my actions instead of humbling myself before my Lord and Savior.
Jesus is changing that. Now I know that no matter what, He is good. And I can trust Him when I am good… and when I am bad.
I look back on the young child I once was with pity. I feel sorry for the little girl who wanted to be good… for all the wrong reasons.
If only I had been able to understand then what I know now. Nothing, not even escaping the pain of punishment, is more important than being truthful about the state of my heart. Why? Because ultimately… the truth leads to Jesus… and Jesus leads me back to my Father.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6 ESV)
* 40 Days of Decrease by Alicia Britt Chole, page 93.