People are, for instance, rarely “good for goodness’ sake.” They are good because there is usually a payback. Conversely, people are rarely evil for evil’s sake. There is a payback in that instance too. In fact, this is only for those who are worn out by religious promises that don’t deliver, goodness that can’t be realized, and faithfulness that doesn’t make it. If you’re there and you’ve had it with the payback pain, I’ve got some things to say that I think will be helpful . . . maybe even change your life.
First, though, you have to face the pain, own it, and make it teach you important stuff. I have a friend who, after an injury, went through weeks of physical therapy. He told me that he had learned the secret of physical therapy, to wit, find out where it hurts and probe it to make it hurt more. Eventually, if the therapist hurts you enough, you will get well. My friend, Larry Crabb, the Christian psychologist, says something like that about emotional pain. When it hurts, don’t run. Go there and probe it until it hurts so bad that only Jesus can fix it.
Do you ever wonder why people continue with destructive and painful behavior when they know it is destructive and painful? It’s because, even if they can’t see it, there is a payback for that behavior.
“Want to Be Healed?” Wait… What?
Jesus once asked a sick man if he wanted to be healed. The man had been sick for thirty-eight years, and the question seemed ridiculous. Want to be healed? The man must have looked at Jesus as if Jesus had lost his mind.
But when you think about it, it was a wise question. Jesus knew the man didn’t have to wash the dishes or take the trash out. He got a whole lot of sympathy and I suspect even admiration. He didn’t have to worry about failure because nobody expects a crippled man to succeed. He could just moan and everybody got concerned. Jesus knew all of that.
Most of us remember the promises. There were a lot of them.
We were told that we would be free from guilt and condemnation. We ran to the church, thinking that finally we had found family who loved and supported one another. We were taught about the providence of God, the joyful process of sanctification, and the return of Christ, who would clean up whatever mess was left.
For most of us that was a long time ago. Since then, some railed against the church, Jesus, and anything religious. I get that. Some gave up and quietly left. Some still hang around the church, but it feels like a den of porcupines. It’s simply not true that we’re getting better and better. And we are all so very afraid and guilty. To make matters worse, we don’t tell one another the truth because it violates the rules of the game. So we just fake it.
Now let me give you a truth that can make all the difference in the world: almost everything you think about doing to make something better is wrong and will only make that something worse. Trust me. I’ve been there often and tried it all. I’m trying to save you a lot of hassle and pain.
That’s true for our emptiness, guilt, and fear. Almost everything we’ve been taught to do and think is not only wrong, it only makes it worse. Trying harder doesn’t work. You should know that by now. Becoming more religious will only magnify the problem. Being disciplined and making a commitment will, more often than not, cause you to “hit the rocks of reality”; and your efforts, in the end, will turn to dust. Pretending is stupid. At some point, you will slip up and be shamed. And reading the latest book on making an impact, changing your world, or being driven by a purpose (as good as those things can be) will probably drive you nuts. You will only feel guiltier. Motivational advice, biblical directives, challenges, and resolutions are dogs that simply won’t hunt anymore.
So now what? Should I just give up?
Well, maybe not give up, but something that certainly feels like giving up.
Adapted from Three Free Sins, published by Howard Books, © 2012 by Steve Brown. Used by permission.