Monday, March 17, 2014

I Don't Understand (and Neither Do You)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
lean not on your own understanding
In all your ways acknowledge him
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

One thing I have learned in recovery is that we each have our own unique brand of "our own understanding" that, at its end, is what Paul called "futile thinking" (Eph 4:17-19); it ultimately produces insanity, dysfunction, distortion, and eventually death.

That is to say, we each have our own personal, creative, and living version of the "way that seems right to [us]" but that actually "leads to death" (Prov 14:12).  But here's the catch: It actually seems right to us.

As a young person, I used to think these passages only applied to people who did not know God.  Sure, their thinking is futile (I thought in my naive arrogance) but Christians have abandoned 'the ways of the world' for God's ways.  We don't lean on our own understanding; we lean on the "foolishness of God" to save us (I Cor 1:18) and the word of God to direct us.

You know what changed my mind?  This little thing called death.

You see, Jesus mentioned a tidbit about "by their fruit you shall know them" and it turns out that it goes deeper than separating the sheep from the goats - us from them.  No, by their fruit you will recognize ... your own understandings and how you are leaning on them, because "in the end it leads to death."

Do not be deceived, reads Galatians 6:7-8, God cannot be mocked: a man reaps what he sows.  Whoever sows to please their flesh, from their flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

Matthew 7 tells us not to judge, but to examine ourselves and help othersMy mentor termed it, 'the call to be fruit inspectors.'

I started to notice that there were little bits of insanity in my life as a Christian; in the darkness of my own heart and the quiet places of my intimate relationships there was hiding, lying, bondage, rage, self-loathing, depression, anxiety, resentment, violence, and, yes, death.  I participated in some of these directly.  Mostly I helped to create an environment in which these fruit just sort of cropped up.

I didn't know it, but I had been "sowing to the flesh."  I had been leaning on my own understanding, following the way that seemed right to me, and it was not working out so well.

What we learn in recovery that this is pretty much the only way to recognize our own futile thinking: by its fruit.  Where there is death, there is "our own understanding."   Where there is insanity, there is the "way that seems right" to us.

This is why it is so important for us to remember who we are and who we've been, to name our slavery: It is the first step to forsaking, turning away from, repenting of our own understanding.

 ... even when that understanding seems and sounds so Christian.  That was the brutal twist on my life: The things I was doing, they were all my understanding of what it meant to be Christian, to be 'obedient,' to be 'submissive.'  I legitimately believed that I was doing what was right.  And if it hadn't been for the awful fruit, I never would have known that I was really in bondage.

None of us escapes "our own understanding."  Paul describes it as the "sin living in me... the desire to do what is good [that] I can't carry out" (Rom 7:17-18).  In fact, I think the more we were 'raised in the church' the more likely we are to fall into this trap. Paul is one of our best examples:  He had lived his whole life in dedication to his people's covenant with God.  He had abandoned himself completely to honoring God through the very law God had given for just that reason.  And it was garbage, dirty rags, excrement (Gal 3:8).  It produced death. 

I am going to go way out on a limb here and say, if it looks and seems and sounds Christian, even if it looks and sounds word-for-word like scripture itself, but it does not produce the fruit of the Spirit, it is not truth - not the gospel.  Did you know the law itself cannot stand against the fruit of the Spirit?!  "Against these there is no law" (Gal 5:22-23).

That is how desperately we need God to make our paths straight!

I have not even touched the notion of "trusting God with all our hearts" nor what it might mean to "acknowledge God in all we do."  But that is because I have found that these, too, are intrinsically addressed in the disciplines of the 12 Steps. I cannot help but explore this kind of trust and surrender as I continue my time of remembering during the Lenten season.  So if you want more on these fronts, you will just have to stay tuned.

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