Discovering New Spiritual Paths   4 comments

I grew up with a father who believed in systems, in order and method.  It’s an effective approach to face this world as the modern industrial movement has proven.  This pragmatic and efficient outlook found a perfect petri dish in American society, leading to a remarkable level of productivity.  My dad’s books all reflect this approach: a system for Bible study, a system for ethics, even a system for living the Christian life.

Dad was drawn to this approach because of his personality.  He felt most comfortable and safe here, and his sense of value was deeply rewarded as a choleric:  someone who thrives on activity, goal setting, and accomplishments.  He transfused this outlook into me, and it helps me organize and plan, to feel some sense of security by means of order and control.  But since I am not a choleric–the personality that fits so well with this approach–his emphasis led me to a great deal of internal conflict and turmoil.  Order and action works well for minds already tame, but they could not corral the forceful questions that galloped through my heart and mind.  I tried repeatedly to make his solutions fit, and felt myself a failure when they didn’t “take,” only to slowly realize that his sums were not for the problems in my book.

As an example, a key to his view of the spiritual life was to separate sins into intentional and unintentional so that he could clearly delineate between “defeated” and “victorious” Christians.  If a fellow knew something was wrong and chose to do it anyway; he was sinning intentionally, while the unintentional sins were those he did not “choose” such as a reflexive emotional reaction, a lack of insight, dispositional sins like pride and so on.  Of course, such a neat distinction can only be made by those who are outward rather than inward focused. For instance, when pride is recognized, it becomes an intentional sin, but cholerics may not notice themselves bragging or posing or pontificating unless it is quite blatant.  We who are sharply and constantly aware of our own pride are, based on dad’s system, defeated Christians living in sin.  I beat myself with his sin chart for 20 painful years before trading it for a spiritual path that worked better for me.

Hidden inside each of our strengths are our hidden weaknesses, blindspots, and distortions.  Our default is to offer everyone the solutions that have worked for us.  Dad offered everyone alike his well thought out action steps just as I tried to solve everyone’s issues with introspection and analysis.  But Sue may not need his strategy or my interpretation.  Perhaps she just needs a hug or a sounding board or a push.  We must constantly work to embrace the perspective of those who differ from us–to understand who they are, where they come from, and what works for them–or we will cause more pain and harm by the very help we give.  Even if the goal is the right one, we may take very different paths to reach it.  In this give-and-take, we may well discover their views challenging and correcting ours, a painful truth I have often realized.

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Posted January 7, 2017 by janathangrace in Uncategorized

4 responses to “Discovering New Spiritual Paths

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  1. Such a great word! Having known your dad as I did, I can agree completely with how hard it must have been for you! So glad you are working through these things and sharing with others like me💙

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  2. Appreciated this Kent. Makes me think of how life seems to come in various “shades” much more than we want to admit. I often feel like a seesaw, bouncing back and forth, , between a culture that loves it’s systems and one filled with subjectivity and a kaleidoscope of uniqueness. I suppose we all possess a bit of both, but when I am walking in love and grace, I seem to offer people what they are needed at that time. I am just as prone though, to impose on them the expectations and systems that have been imposed on me over the years. It always comes from a crappy place too.
    Over the past year, I have become friends with a guy named Giorjio, who has some physical and mental disabilities. Some times when I see him, I let him be him, in all of his uniqueness, but there are days where I want to “fix” him and that I am impatient with him, because he does not work as hard as I wish, or accomplish things as fast as I think he should. My impatient responses often surprise me, because I am going against the very thing that has so riled up anger in me toward others in the past. Hopefully, I will become more astute at offering the grace to others, I have so desperately sought.
    Thanks for the reminder that we all long for the grace to simply, be who we are.

    • Thanks for sharing, Brett. The farther we are from embracing grace for ourselves, the less capable we are of sharing it with others… and empty pitcher fills no cups. I struggle with this so much myself. Interestingly, I heard the converse this week–that the more we are able to give real grace to others (not just self-imposed ‘grace’, but genuine acceptance in spite of their shortcomings), the more it teaches us to love ourselves with our shortcomings as well. A good thought.

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