Monday, August 24, 2009

how we change (6) when do you struggle

When do I struggle? Ah, yes. Let me tell you.

When I've had no sleep. When our new baby is waking me up every few hours. When I'm 6 weeks into babyhood and I'm coping pretty well, really, until I get the flu, which results in 2 years of persistent illness and mild PND. When I'm so exhausted that every muscle in my face aches, and I cry into the nappy bucket.

When, in my exhaustion, I give way to irritability and despair. When my tiredness pours itself out in constant, draining, undeserved anger at my husband. When I can't find a kind word for my kids. When I stare into space, wondering how it's possible to feel this bad. When I wonder how the "me" that I'd thought had grown in godliness could give way - again! - to this childish petulance.

I'm behaving like this because I've had no sleep, right? It's the sleeplessness talking, isn't it? Who do I blame in this scenario - me? Because I'm not usually like this.

Over a year ago, I wrote a post on sleep deprivation. One of you asked, "How do we measure the fruit of the Spirit when a good night's sleep is all it takes to be more godly? Is God's work in us hindered when our bodies and minds are not functioning?"

Well, I've finally got an answer. I've realised that the me I see when I'm suffering is the real me. This is me giving in to bitterness and irritability. This is me overcome by discouragement and despair. This is my heart talking. Jesus says,

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. ... The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. (Lk 6:43-46 cf Mk 7:14-23)
Suffering can't make me sin. Suffering doesn't change what's in my heart. Suffering reveals what's already there, biding its time, waiting for an opportunity to show itself.

Just before he died, Moses said to the Israelites, "Remember how the LORD your God led you ... in the desert ... to test you in order to know what was in your heart." (Deut 8:2) In the heat of suffering, their hearts produced immorality, idolatry and grumbling. (Exod 17:3, 1 Cor 10:1-14) Compare this to Job's response to suffering: "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised." (Job 1:21)

It's easy to blame our behaviour on our circumstances. I was brought up this way. I was mistreated in the past. I'm just this kind of person. My kids push my buttons. My husband doesn't treat me well. If only things were different. I'm in a difficult situation. It's too hard. I've had no sleep. I can't help it! Sound familiar? As Chester says, our circumstances can trigger sin or change the shape of our sin, but they can't cause it.

Who are we really blaming when we talk like this? It's God, isn't it? But the real problem is my sinful desires:

When tempted, no one should say, "God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (Jam 1:13-15)
So what does suffering reveal about our hearts? Chester says it reveals two things:

Humans are always interpreters and always worshippers. ... There is a two-fold problem in the heart: what we think or trust and what we desire or worship. Sin happens when we don't trust God above everything (when we interpret in the wrong way) and when we don't desire God above everything (when we worship the wrong thing). Sin happens when we believe lies about God instead of God's word and when we worship idols instead of worshipping God.
We believe lies and we worship idols (Rom 1:25) - which is why the only solution is faith (trust God instead of believing lies) and repentance (worship God instead of idols - Mk 1:15, Eph 4:22-24).

Over the next couple of weeks we'll take each of these in turn, and talk about the practicalities of how to turn to God's truth in faith, and from our idols and sinful desires in repentance.

For reflection:
1.When you sin, do you ever think “I can’t help it”, “It’s not fair”, “If only …”, “Anyone would …”? Can you think of subtle ways you make others feel guilty for your behaviour? Who or what are you blaming?

2.Think of a particular struggle. What's happening in your heart? What lies are you believing? What idols are you worshipping?

If you'd like to see or use my seminar How Change Happens, which is based on Tim Chester's You Can Change, please contact me.

quotes are from chapter 4 of Tim Chester's You Can Change, emphases mine

images are by Olivier GR, tlonista, and Jiri Sebek at flickr


Sarah B said...

Bitter thoughts.
I am better than x.
x deserves punishment, I don't.
Worshipping self.

Nicole said...

Thanks Jean. I was writing an email to a friend last night, in which I reflected that it was good for me to see the extent of my sinfulness after I had my 3rd baby (and I wasn't coping). I was glad when the pressure of sleep deprivation was taken away, but looking back, I can see I learnt a lot in that time (including how to say sorry to my children!).

It really was the real me coming through - which was scary - but it did drive me to the cross again and again.

mattnbec said...

Thank you. Timely. Ouch. In no particular order.

I think it's time I picked up "You Can Change" again. Before I'm back in the new baby etc situation and am struggling even more.

Looking forward to the rest.