Posted by: sailingspirit | April 22, 2011

Abusive Faith? Poverty Gospel?

I’ve been pondering lately that we might be predisposed to abusive relationships.  Anyone who has stayed in a relationship, at a job, or stayed with anything far beyond the point of it being good for them simply because they were unwilling to disbelieve or admit defeat knows how abusive that situation is. The maintenance of hope in the face of disappointment over and over again is extremely taxing. Our society tells us we should “get back in the saddle” or how many more “fish there are in the sea.” We’re told we’re “too needy” or that we need to learn how to “pick our battles” and “move on.” Here’s a real kicker: “God must have something better for you in your future, so let him/her/it go” or, “just have (blind) faith.”  In short, we’re pressured to “cut bait” and move onto more productive pursuits as soon as we’re not seeing sufficient “return on our investment.”  And it sounds so logical, so wise, or in some cases is right there in the Bible so we think it must be right and then hate on ourselves when we don’t.  We want to hang on, even though it hurts.  Most of us don’t even park more than 20 spaces away from the storefront, so why on earth would we pursue something painful and effortful in the most sensitive arenas of our lives?

For the sake of argument, let’s take the advice above to its logical conclusion: become an expert at letting go when it gets too hard.  But what do we call people who excel at those very things? Well, in the relationship world, people who let go and move on too well are called commitmentphobes or “players.” In the work world, terms like “unstable,” “unreliable,” and “not a good investment” are applied.  Clearly, this expertise is NOT well-respected.

So what gives?

The standard fallback of “aim for the middle of the road” might seem the solution.  But is it?  Really?  Is 50/50 always the smart and appropriate balance?  Says who?  Is it proven?  Or just the answer nobody argues with?

I’m wondering why so many of us, perhaps even the majority, lean toward the hopelessly hopeful side.  Like, a 60/40 or 75/25 split.  I think it’s because we’re wired for it.  We are made in God’s image and, thus, ought to be hopeful.

It’s not new to say that God created us for relationship, that He wants us to depend solely on Him as our source. But what isn’t getting enough press time is that while He did design us for relationship, and the very desire that’s within us was planted there by Him, 1) He did so such that we would seek Him out, because He’s more fulfilling than those other people/things, and 2) at times relationship with God will feel rather abusive.  Not in the sense that He’s trying to hurt us, or is neglectful of us.  But we will experience hardship and at times will be deeply disappointed, even feel betrayed or abandoned.  Ouch!  If we’re supposed to believe He’s a good God, and that He cares for us so we should trust Him, how do we cope when He seems to be as bad as anybody else we’ve known?  It’s counter-intuitive.  Unnatural.  Way hard.

And that’s why.  (!)  God asks us to do not what is natural for us, fleshly, but what a reborn, renewed, reformed being molding into the likeness of Christ would do.  And He knew it would be way hard so He gave us the Holy Spirit to strengthen and enable us so that we could do it.

Even if you accept that we can do it, though, why do we have to?  Doesn’t worldly abuse teach us that it should be avoided at all costs?  Wouldn’t it be better if we just went around it instead?  Well, would it be better if a child never ate his vegetables?  Never learned the lessons of hard work, follow-through, and tenacity?  Always took the path of least resistance?  No.  He’d be worse off in the long run.  He’d be a stunted wimp who has no idea what he’s really capable of and no faith in himself.

As would we.  The problem is we seldom look at the bigger scope, the longer segment of the timeline.  We just make judgements in the moment.  We only consider our limited perspective, like those kids.  Paradoxically, we call God negligent when He doesn’t make everything easy for us, yet shake our fingers at the parents who were negligent to step in with some tough love and “go ahead, grumble now but you’ll thank me someday” sternness.  In His wisdom, God the Father sometimes has to risk being unpopular for a while to do what’s best for us.  Specifically because He’s not neglectful of our need to grow.

Thus it needs to be clarified: what is best for us is defined as what makes us grow to be more like Christ.  More money, bigger houses, new cars, etc. might be best for us according to the world’s definition, but may not get us any closer to Christ.  In fact, depending on the person and the timing, could do just the opposite.

We know for certain that He is a Good God (Romans 8). But sometimes, in order to build us up stronger, He has to tear down our rickety attempt first. Kind of like updating your house; you might intend to just do the cosmetic things, but once you get into it you might find water damage or termite damage or other things that really ought to be gutted and replaced so that your new interiors aren’t thwarted and ruined later.  God will gut as much as He needs to in order to find the sound structure within.  And that process, of getting a little closer to Him only to be dashed, getting a little closer again and being dashed again, is every bit as awful an experience as an abusive relationship here on Earth. The Holy Spirit fills us with hope over and over again, while our prayers seem to fall on deaf ears over and over again. Or worse, life goes even further downhill after we’ve dedicated ourselves to Him, making it seem like discipleship is a horrible idea.

So what to do?!? Stay committed or cut bait?  Does wise advice change when the object of our fixation is God instead of someone or something else? Should it change?

In short, yes.  Our philosophy on abuse is skewed. The process of rebuilding hope time and again is normal and desired. We should be embracing that. We should be practicing and perfecting that. But NOT always with other people or circumstances; abusive-like relationship is ONLY okay with God, because it’s the only time when the process (though extremely painful) is good for us, and He is the only one with sufficient control to handle it properly. He knows exactly where too far is, and stops just short every time. Because He’s monitoring our progress, not His own comfort zone.  Again: when people abuse you, it’s for their benefit.  When God gives you a tough time, it’s for yours.  Know the motives!

God wants us to keep hoping and returning even after repeated dashings of our hearts because He only gives His best to those who deserve it.  He isn’t going to whore Himself out to just anybody who asks.  He wants to know whether you’re just a fair-weather follower. Should He remain committed to you if you throw in the towel at the first bead of sweat? How can He really know you mean it, other than for you to prove it? He’s the ultimate romantic; He wants you to keep coming back and professing your love for Him, to decide that you’d rather die trying than to ever accept hopelessness. To become so needy, you’d rather be heartbroken with Him than anything without Him.  Would you ever call it good for one spouse to be fully committed but the other cheating all the time?  Which spouse are you?

As soon as you willingly become that committed, even that needy, that’s when the dangling carrot finally lets you get a bite.  And it tastes so very, very sweet.  Sweet enough that even though it continues to be really hard, you’ll want to keep going again just to get another bite.  Your focus becomes the bites, not the spaces in between.  Rumi’s poem “Lovers Are Made Aware” describes this so beautifully.  (See Poems category to read it.)

Those of us who have been through this uncomfortable, awkward, even painful puberty-like process can assure you it’s not for wimps, and it’s toughest at the beginning because you’re not in shape spiritually yet.  But it IS well worth it!  I refer to it as “blessed torture” or “marvelous misery,” because what I gained from the ordeal, the ways in which I grew and benefitted, are invaluable and will stay with me an eternity after that season is over.  It has made me what I am today.

So the bottom line is: cultivate insistent hope and committed follow-through in your life, but start with your holiest relationship.  It is the most important you could have, is self-sustaining once you get into it a ways, and ultimately will give you the necessary guidance about “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em” in other relationships of your life.  God does love you, a crazy amount, and when it seems like He’s betraying you or letting you down He’s really not.  He heard you the first day and He’s got your blessing–and then some–in His back pocket but He’s trying to get you ready to receive something that big without screwing it up.  It’s not a delay, it’s prep!  He’s waiting for the day you’ll relinquish your own thinking power and accept that His is bigger.  To trust Him.  The more you act like a “player,” the longer it will take.  He does want to bless you a crazy amount, He does want you to be very close.  But some things you can only learn about Him by going through really testing times.  So He gives you the opportunity to learn them.  He’s not worried, He knows you’ll come out okay because He’s with you.  Your extra-close relationship, and your blessings, are on the other side of your dark valley.  Keep walking.

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