Where did you learn that? It’s a question we may ask our kids, but we’d be better off asking ourselves first! We often go through life on autopilot, acting and reacting in our set ways. I’m not talking about committing “big sins”, but the little ways and habits that show up as we interact with other sinners. The constant defensiveness, bitterness, judgmental attitudes, isolation and anger are all signs that the old self is still calling the shots, even though we show up to church and stay away from the big bad sins of adultery, stealing, murder, and abuse. When confronted, we just say “it’s how I am, leave me alone, I’ve always been like this.” The reality is, this is how we’ve always been, but that doesn’t mean we should stay there.
Often, when we’re stuck in a bad behavioral habit, it’s been engrained into us over a long period of time. That way of living has become the air we breath, and we can be completely unaware of how pervasively shapes us. The reality is, we’re pursuing good things falsely. We depend on idols to give us what we lost at Eden. We feel the pain of lacking what we lost, we want what we lost, and our false selves act out to get them from idols. Part of living in a fallen world is owning our own brokenness and where we’ve sought to protect and provide the good things lost at the Fall.
So do some heart work, was there a specific past event you reacted to? Or maybe something painful kept happening over time and you sought to protect or provide for yourself? It could be the habitual sins of others, a traumatic event, rejection, or even your own sin that caused damage to yourself and others.
Here’s the question…
What happened that you learned, “if I became a [fill in false self here] I would get [good desire]”?
An example may be someone who avoids conflict at all costs. “When my parents fought all the time I learned to avoid it at all costs because I just wanted peace (good desire). I still avoid conflict and don’t take initiative to reconcile with others”. Peace would be the good desire, but it’s pursued with the false self of “the avoider” that was learned and reinforced over time through various experiences. This isn’t about blaming, but explaining why we do what we do so we can experience healing and pursue the good desires with open hands of faith in a fallen world. The hard truth is, if a good desire is pursued falsely and sinfully, we’ll never get it!
These are the lies of Satan that echo back to the garden – “If you just try this way, outside God’s order, through this great shortcut, you’ll get what you really want”. This is the way of unhealthy autonomy and isolation. Adam and Eve could have gotten all their fulfillment and glory from God, but they sought glory in their own proud way, and fell. The desire wasn’t wrong, they were actually created to be God’s appointed glorious rulers over all creation. The problem surfaced when they pursued glory outside (and thus against) God and his ways.
Instead of trusting the goodness of God, they chose to “be like God.” They opted for self-defining, self-reliant mistrust rather than finding their life in self-giving participation in the life of God. As history demonstrates, their decision did not result in life-giving independence but rather in a self-absorbed reactivity and painful estrangement. Ultimately, the autonomy of the false self proved deadly because humans are constituted as relational beings.Richard Plass. “The Relational Soul: Moving from False Self to Deep Connection” (p. 83).
So what do you want? How do you try to get it? Where did you learn to pursue it that way? A response of repentance is an important start because we certainly need let go of that false way of living, but that’s not all we need to do. We also need healing. So bring your past hurts to Christ, his yoke is easy and his burden is light, and he wants to hear from you. Use the language of lament found in the Psalms (almost 1/3 of them!). Cry out to God knowing lamenting is an act of faith that sanctifies us in and of itself! Hear Jesus’ word to you and surrender to his love…
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. The one who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him”(John 7:37-39 CSB)