Saturday, February 17, 2018

Step Away From the Ego

Yesterday I wrote about one’s having a too high of a regard for one's self. 

One might contend that, however off-putting this trait, it is not a sin. Let’s go to Scripture to test that theory:

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3 (I encourage the reading of the entire chapter).

The Bible is our personal accountability in which we find the expectations and warnings of God on how we are to live and how we are not to live; how we are to be and not to be; in short, how we are to abide in Christ at all times.

Certainly nobody pulls this off perfectly. But in order to be able to even begin, we must go to the beginning, Jesus Christ and His Word. And the more we find ourselves there, the less we will live in, and from, in here.

Okay, so we know we ought not to have a high self-regard. But what actually is it and what is its cause

In yesterday’s post I gave examples of how it might manifest in daily life.

Today, we’ll get into the backstory of how and why it occurs.

The website, provides some excellent insight when it ties a high self-regard to the ego:

"Egotism is an excessive focus or occupation with oneself driven by an inflated sense of self-importance. Egoism is a preoccupation with oneself yet may be without the inflated self-importance. Egoism also refers to the belief that self-interest is the motivation for and/or the valid end of all action. The human tendency toward being an egotist/egoist is no surprise from a biblical perspective. It is also something the Bible speaks against, and God soundly dealt with egotists such as King Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4).

At the root of egotism is self. Egotism is ultimately driven by 
pride and thinking oneself worthy of the utmost attention or capable of complete self-sufficiency. At times, an egoist may be motivated by past hurt. Betrayal, abuse, or abandonment may cause a person to believe he must always look out for himself—because no one else will. Rather than trust others, someone who has been hurt may isolate herself and believe she can only trust herself. Though not pride as we would generally conceive of it, this is still an unbiblical stance that raises self to the status of a god.

Philippians 2:1–11 is one passage that speaks to egotism. Verses 3–4 say, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” We are to look to the interests of others based on the example of Jesus Christ, who, though He is God, humbled Himself to live a human life and die a humiliating death in our stead. In both the Old and New Testaments, followers of God are called to humility; we are not to have an over-inflated sense of self-importance. Humility is not self-debasement or a lack of confidence. Being humble does not mean that we neglect our own needs or uphold no boundaries. Rather, humility is having an accurate estimation of oneself wherein we think of ourselves less often. We are not preoccupied with ourselves; rather, we see and care about the needs of others. We are willing to sacrifice our own preferences for the benefit of others.

Christians understand that serving self is not the highest goal."

Some examples of how to put this kind of humility into practice in day-to-day interactions could be:

Listen and do not interrupt
Ever notice the tendency for one person in a conversation to begin speaking before the other person has completely stopped talking?

Listening is not an end in itself
We also must hear what is said. And to hear what is said, we have to want to hear what is said. And to want to hear what is said, we have to value the speaker. We have to respect the speaker whether we respect what they are saying or not.

Then we must respond, what? Not to our self, but to the other person!
When someone has finished talking, what often happens is that we react from a position and mindset of self. So if the person just divulged a plan for how to approach a project at work, we jump in and, ignoring their plan altogether, launch into our plan.
Or, because we have our own plan waiting in the wings, we verbally negate their plan in lieu of ours. 
Instead, it is better to take time to play back what was said, highlight the potential positives and negatives of the plan, and then weave some ideas we may have into that. We work with the other person in cooperation, versus commandeering the project.

Listening, hearing and responding are the first steps in subordinating the ego to the leadership of a humble spirit. These three actions can be applied in every relationship, and are just as valuable with children as with adults.

Dismantling the ego as defined above will test our patience and our ability to let go of a critical spirit. It will pain us to share our importance with others. It will feel as though we are being diminished. But we are not. 

Our importance, along with other people’s importance, is actually enhanced (and even that can sometimes be difficult to swallow, because it is humanly counterintuitive: we have been trained to be the important one, from self-esteem movements, to Facebook bragging rights, to one-upping with material possessions).

The world sends a mixed message: “Let’s all be kind to and tolerant of one another” but “you and your individual rights are the most important in the world.”

Humility can overcome these rather intimidating barriers. But how?

More on that in a future post...

Copyright Barb Harwood

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Immobilizing Effect of Having Too High of a Regard for Oneself

A high regard for one’s self.

It is what causes us to think we are too good for:

Our job
Our families
Having children
Being a parent and raising children
Being a wife
Being a husband
The normal and necessary drudgeries and chores of daily living.

Jesus has something to say about this:

“And he also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt. ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” Luke 18:9-14

See, when we have such a high regard for our self, we tend to think we are special in a way that others are not; that we have sensitivities and qualities which others do not possess.

We feel that we are more concerned about the world than others; that we alone have the answers to the world’s problems.

We believe ourselves to be creative and in possession of a vision that nobody (or only a very few), likeminded souls possess, and if it weren’t for inane social constructs or other’s incompetence, we’d flourish and reach our full potential.

In other words, if it weren’t for “the man” (that ill-defined obstructer to our no-brainer solutions) we’d implement—efficiently and successfully (with an implied sense of single-handedness)—all of our ideas.

What tends to occur as we languish within this very high regard for our self—now with a self-formulated enemy called “the man,”—is that we do nothing. We impact no one. We become immobilized.

But we don’t hold ourselves accountable for that lack of action because self-constructed victimhood has deluded itself that not “selling out”—that remaining disengaged from “the man”—is doing something. In this way immobilization is enabled and encouraged.

But what high-regarders often miss is that we are not escaping “the man” after all.

For example, those who cannot hold down a job due to their inability to co-exist within an office or employment paradigm not of their own making, will ironically become reliant on, who?—“the man” in the form of parents, friends or the government.

See, as far as I can tell, this nefarious bogeyman people call “the man” is nothing more than the guy who has his act together enough to carry the world when the disenfranchised check out—or when it serves the disenfranchised’s convenience.

As a case in point, those wanting to “stick it to the man” fail to see that they serve “the man” every time they fill their automobile tank with gas, use their iPhone, drive their corporately produced car, shop for groceries or employ the teachers of a child’s daycare.

Which brings us, I believe, to the real point: We think we are too good for those in the world who don’t agree with or exemplify our lifestyle or ideology, not realizing that, in fact, we are mutually beneficial to one another.

In fact, we ourselves, in many ways, are “the man,” not only through our eventual and ultimate reliance upon him, but also in terms of someone else wanting to stick it to us: because there will always be someone who disagrees with our standards and idealism.

We are, at any given moment, “the man” in someone else’s eyes.

It’s the old adage of “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.”

One cannot be disaffected by the world and yet desire or rely upon the benefits of those we claim to disdain. And one can’t prevent one’s self from being “the man” which others perceive to be getting in their way.

It’s a beautiful oxymoron that proves the joke is on all of us.

So, to illustrate:

One’s disdain of government comes up against another person’s enjoyment of and appreciation for maintained sidewalks, bicycling lanes, a place to send their child to school, social security in the later years and worker’s disability compensation. 

One’s all-out lamenting of big corporations comes up against those who like nothing more than to see the emerging big corporation of, say, Elon Musk’s Tesla or the success of a conglomerate such as Whole Foods, Apple or Volkswagen.

One’s abhorrence of being an at-home mom (one of those nasty "social constructs" that must be obliterated)—and her general stance that staying home and raising children is “settling” and “below” the liberalizing of women—comes up against the fact that this very mom relies upon other women to raise her children for her while she works outside of the home. One does wonder if this same woman would find it “beneath” a man to raise those children? And it comes up against the women who find the “social construct” of staying home and raising children not only satisfying, but also exceedingly beneficial to the children and family.

So what do we make of all of this?

Simply, that to think we have a righteousness and rare sixth sense of virtue, intelligence or artistic disposition that others do not possess is the height of narcissism.

This sense of individuality, of being “above” the “normal” machinations of society, excludes us from consistent, long-term interaction with a community comprised of a variety of personalities and value systems.

We have worked hard to fool ourselves into believing that it’s society’s fault for rejecting our greatness and aptitude. But society hasn’t rejected us at all.  We have rejected society because it doesn’t meet our standards or operate within our idealism; we have rejected it because we’ve deemed it to be below us. We, our lifestyle choices and worldview, are always better. Our affirmation is what counts. We are obliged to affirm no one (especially those who have a vastly differentiated experience than ours!)

So much for co-existance and tolerance!

The problem with idealistic thinking is that it is either/or thinking: there’s no place for the real world, which isn’t as cut and dried as we’ve made it and as we’ve waxed philosophically about from a distance.

In short, the end result is that, since others cannot accept me “the way that I am,” and the world cannot offer me “the world as it should be,” then I will not accept others and the world either.

The high-regarder withdraws to nurse the conviction that the world and everyone in it is an incompetent cog in a pathetic wheel.

We sit back and do nothing because nothing is where our high regard for ourselves can live unchallenged and undisturbed. We take our ball and go home.

More on the potential antidote to this state of being in the coming days.

Copyright Barb Harwood

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Overcoming the Daily Temptation to Enter into Dysfunction

There cannot be peace in a family until Christ is the fullness of each individual heart and mind.

“What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel.” James 4:1-2a

“But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, ‘GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.’ Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” James 4:6-8

That doesn’t mean we are in sudden agreement with those with whom we interact. It means that we can have peace as we sort out our differences.

This is true for all relationships.

As long as we are reserving room in our heart and mind to be filled by anyone or anything other than Christ, we will not have peace in our relationships.

Instead, we will fret.

“Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why are you disturbed within me?” Psalm 43:5a

We will be on the defense.

“for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” James 1:20

We will be on the offense.

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3

We will need to control.

“Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites;” Romans 16:17-18a

Without full submission to Christ in every moment, then arguments, disappointments, and misunderstandings will derail us.

But when Christ is obeyed, although we still have differences of opinion, disappointments and misunderstandings, they do not derail us.

“Therefore, I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Ephesians 4:1-3

Until we get that—until we internalize and thirst for that, and incorporate the reality of the indwelling of Christ into every fiber of our being—then our families and relationships will continue to be overcome by dysfunction, despair, tension and disunity.

The temptation to enter into dysfunction will never go away. But with Christ, that temptation is immediately overcome.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” 1 Corinthians 10:12-13

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

 copyright Barb Harwood

Thursday, February 8, 2018

God Will Hone His Gifts in Us

Today's quote comes from John MacArthur, writing in The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on 2 Timothy:

"Although Timothy's gift was given to him by God through the Holy Spirit and placed within him, it could not become evident or begin to function until he was commissioned to minister. In a similar though not as unique a way, every believer must genuinely and unreservedly devote himself to serving the Lord in the energy of the Spirit before his giftedness can become truly evident or effective. When our heart's desire is to please the Lord, the Lord will guide us by that desire into the specific areas of service for which He has gifted us. The Lord does not mock His children. He lovingly bestows desires that correspond to His gifts. 

When we begin to function in the area in which God has gifted us, our boldness in His service will grow, because we know we are doing what He has appointed and equipped us to do. Nothing gives a believer more courage and more protection from being ashamed of Christ than knowing he is in the Lord's will and is operating his gift in the power of the Holy Spirit." 
John MacArthur

Monday, February 5, 2018

Reacting vs Responding: A Chart

A few days ago, on January 31, I wrote about responding vs. reacting.  As a brief continuation of that, I have come up with a chart that juxtaposes the two behaviors. 

Here it is:

Reacting = flesh
Responding = Spirit

Reacting = loud
Responding = gentle, soft

Reacting = loss of perspective
Responding = perspective of Christ

Reacting = situations/people control me
Responding = the Holy Spirit is allowed to put me in a right spirit of Godliness and self-control (even when all around me is losing control)

Reacting = What I have to say
Responding = listening and hearing others

Reacting = forgets one's tone of voice and facial expression
Responding = kind or neutral facial expression, even if in a serious or highly contentious situation

Reacting = subjective
Responding = objective

Reacting = we’re at odds with one another
Responding = we’re in this together and can find common ground or reach a compromise

Reacting = separates
Responding = brings respect that, though we may not become best friends, we are connected in treating one another with respect. 

A word about respect
If respect is not reciprocated, we respect the other person's choice to not show respect and to reap the consequences of that behavior. 
As parents, for example, if our children do not respect us, we cannot force them to. But we can lovingly set consequences for them when they actively live out disrespect. 
In other words, our kids don’t have to respect us, the family, or house rules, but they are not free to act upon that disrespect by hurting us or others, be it in word or deed. Acting out will incur consequences. So I will add here that responding to acted-out disrespect lovinglyalways lovingly—means holding accountable. 
Reacting, on the other hand, greets active disrespect dysfunctionally: it entrenches a futile cycle of yelling and enabling in which we only partially--or not at all--hold the disrespectful one accountable. And often, that accountability is not dished out in love, but in hurt or anger.

Reacting = self-righteous
Responding = other-centered love out of the righteousness of God

Reacting = me
Responding = Christ

copyright Barb Harwood

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19-20