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Self detained     

Posted by Katherine Putnam on June 29th, 2012

“I am a hostage to my own humanity: self detained and forced to live in this mess I’ve made. And all I’m asking is for You to do what You can with me. But I can’t ask You to give what You already gave.”

Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking; a dangerous pastime, I know.

What have I been thinking about? Self deception.

“The heart is deceitful above all things. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

Self deception is a bottomless manure pit of awfulness, if I do say so myself. At least, it’s a bottomless manure pit of awfulness once some kind soul drags me out of it and I can finally view the situation from a clear perspective. Because, honestly, when I’m busy serving as the captain of the SS B.S. it’s kind of hard to tell truth from, well, bull manure.

Self deceit is such a troublesome sin, but one we are often unable to see in our own lives. For me, some of the biggest lies I tell myself are:

  • I have a right to be angry about [insert petty frustration] and I have a right to act out that anger on others, either by complaining to anyone who will listen, or lashing out at whoever I hold responsible for my anger (or whoever’s closest).
  • If someone hurts me and I let it go, without hurting them back or holding it against them for all eternity, then I’m being a doormat and letting them walk all over me.
  • My temper, my hyper irritability, my attitude, my fears: these are all part of who I am. If someone asks me to give them up then they’re asking me to be less me.
  • I will never succeed in overcoming any of my sinful desires. It’s impossible. Why try when I know I will fail?

I have repeated these lies to myself for years (and, in all honesty, I still repeat them). I repeat them because believing them allows me to hold tight to a security blanket of sin. I am oftentimes so comfortable in my sin that it becomes my shelter, not God. It feels more comfortable, more familiar, and just plain safer for me to lash out when I am angry; I feel too vulnerable, too out of control, too uncomfortable at the thought of casting my cares on the Lord and surrendering those sinful urges to Him.

I think one of the biggest lies I get caught up in, one of my favorite lies to tell myself, is the lie that I have the ability to see myself clearly, to define myself based on my observations alone. What utter bull. Yet I cling (clung? I hope one day to make this definitively past tense) to this lie. I cling to it, and turn my self-crafted definitions into a weapon to defend myself against anything I don’t like.

Example? I identify myself as an introvert. If I can try for a healthy definition, I think that simply means that I need to balance the time I spend with people with time I spend by myself. Yet I can take that definition to unhealthy levels, weaponizing that definition to excuse away shyness, rudeness, selfishness, or fear. If I may confess my sins, I have used this definition as an excuse for shutting people out, for avoiding situations that would require me to challenge myself and overcome fears, for selfishly choosing my own desires over the needs of others.

It’s so easy to say “this characteristic defines me” instead of remembering that it should be our faith in and relationship with Jesus Christ that molds and defines us. We are not to deify our own self portraits; we are to become, each day, more like Christ.

Yet we reject anyone or anything that contradicts the lies we tell ourselves.

“A scoffer does not love one who reproves him, he will not go to the wise.” (Proverbs 15:12)

I think we’re all guilty, from time to time, of seeking out people, books, etc that will validate the lies to which we cling so desperately. I know I’ve done it, and I know you know what I mean. It’s when we push away from (or find reasons to invalidate) those that know us best and/or those that are wise in the Lord in favor of verses pulled out of context, melodramatically self-indulgent song lyrics, and Youtube videos of secular voices proclaiming that no one has the right to tell you you’re wrong, that you are a unique and beautiful snowflake, and everyone else is just jealous.

“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.” (Fyodor Dostoevsky)

That manure pit of lies sure is hard to escape. The longer we stay there, the more we become accustomed to the stench of untruth, the more our hearts are dragged down into the mire, the more we reject the beauty and sovereignty of God’s truth for our lives.

I said earlier that it takes a helping hand to escape that pit. It’s true. It’s highly unlikely that we can succeed in rescuing ourselves on our own strength alone, especially when the quantity and quality of our strength may very well be one of those lies we’re telling ourselves. We need God’s help, and the help of those He places in our lives, to break free. Yet sin is often there: encouraging us to turn our backs on those outstretched hands, telling us that we can and/or should do it all by ourselves, convincing us that the only truth that matters is the one we tell ourselves.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” (Proverbs 3:5-7)

“The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.” (Proverbs 10:8)

“Only by pride cometh contention, but with the well-advised is wisdom.” (Proverbs 13:10)

“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

My past (and present, let’s be real) is infested with instances where I rejected the examples of Godly family members, rebelled against sermons, and denied God’s truth. When faced with a rebuke–either directly (via a sermon or a reprimand from parent or peer) or indirectly (through the choices and behavior modeled by a more Christ-focused friend or family member)–my first instinct is to defend myself against it by either ignoring it completely, finding ways to make myself an exception to the rule, or finding ways to tear down the person delivering the rebuke. I go on the offensive to defend myself from that which I do not wish to hear.

I’m having a fairly good day today (and by good day I mean one where sin has not had many opportunities to get a stranglehold on me…mostly because I’ve been by myself all day), so it’s easy for me to see the truth (the real truth) in those four verses above. Without the immediacy of my sin to distract me and put me on the defensive, my heart is free to affirm God’s truth. It’s when I’m in the midst of temptation that it’s hardest to let go of my lies and affirm that truth.

I’m blessed to have not only the Bible to turn to for God’s truth, but also my family. My Aunt Sherry had a hand in inspiring this round of soul searching via a note she sent me a month or more ago. (Much like she inspired some soul searching back in this post.) In her note she shared the following verse, “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Proverbs 29:11). One of the things I really struggle with is venting. I vent my hurt, my anger, my annoyance, my frustration, my insert-negative-trait-here to anyone who will listen. I vent and vent and keep my negativity alive by constantly feeding it; the more I feed it, the more permanent and grudge-like it becomes. Reading a verse like that on my own (especially if I was already upset about something) would only serve to make me extra-special-angry. “So what?” I would probably demand. “God’s telling me not to have feelings? That’s impossible!” Luckily Aunt Sherry had the foresight to share what God had taught her through that verse: “it doesn’t say not to have the feelings and that I can’t express any of them. But, I did begin to consider to what gain it would be for me to express some things and to take more things to the Lord.”

Huh.

I’m sad to say that in twenty-five years that was never a thought that crossed my mind. What if I took my anger and hurt to God? What if I expressed it to my loving heavenly Father and let Him take charge of it? What would that look like?

I think it would look like me changing to become more like Christ. And that’s a scary thought. Like I said earlier, I cling to my sin and my self-deceiving definition of myself. I convince myself that becoming more like Christ will somehow make me less me when really, becoming more like Christ can only serve to make me more me. God made us each unique, but He also made us each in His image; it’s impossible for us to be the fullest, richest versions of ourselves–the truest versions of ourselves–without striving to become more like our perfect God. And, yes, that makes for a pretty high standard to hold ourselves to. And, yes, it may be easier to lie to ourselves, convincing ourselves that desiring that perfection is restrictive and wrong. But (I say in this moment of peace and clarity), I’d much rather hold a high standard and strive to become more Christ-like, than to lower my standards to the level of the lies I can dream up.

So what’s it going to be? Covered in manure or reflecting the image of Christ?

I think I’ll go with the option that involves less manure.

So here’s my confession: I lie to myself a lot. I often choose to live according to my lies instead of God’s truth. One of my biggest struggles is controlling my temper and my tongue. (I’m pretty sure Ephesians 4:29 was written with me in mind.) My goal for myself is to try and remember–when my temper is rising and sin is knocking at the door of my heart–to release my emotions into God’s care, and to pray that he would release me from my sin.

Heck, if my five-year-old niece can make strides in overcoming sin, so can I.

Finally, I want to say thank you to those of you who bravely and selflessly serve as that third cord, who help me when I fall down. I know I don’t always respond graciously to rebuke. I’m quick to share my initial anger and hurt, but rarely do I come back once I’ve had time to process and let you know that you were right. So, thanks for speaking into my life. I hope that someday I can gift you with clear evidence of the change you have wrought in me for Christ.

Cheers,

Katherine Elyse


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