Spiritual Tensions

I used to think I had God and faith all figured out–I knew what God liked and didn’t like. I knew what pleased Him and what didn’t. I knew what He would do and not do. I had all the answers–or, at least, most of them. As I study Hebrew, I see the awesome depth and beauty of  Scripture, and there are many things that were confusing to me that I understand more. However, the more I learn about God and experienced life with Him, the more I realize that God is so much MORE than I ever imagined: more awesome, more incomprehensible, more immense, more surprising. I realize don’t have all the answers of how He ought, should, and will act–I can only sit back with my jaw opened in amazement. Before, He was safe. But now I realize, to quote the Beaver in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, that though He is utterly GOOD, He is definitely not safe. He can’t be contained in my little “box” of expectations.
I have written several times before that I believe that the Christian life involves living between two opposite truths, between two opposite extremes. For example, we are to love the sinner AND hate the sin; Jesus is God AND man; God is sovereign AND we have free will; God chooses us AND we choose Him.  Any time we hang on to one truth while excluding its opposite we fall into error.

I do not think that this living between opposite truths applies only to “theological” or “religious” truth, but applies to all of life. In fact, I believe that whatever we do, we ought to do all for the glory of God, which makes everything “set apart”–or sacred–to God. I think we need to have laughter and fun, but too much pleasure leads to irresponsibility and hedonism. Too little laughter leads to joylessness. We need to be generous, but not irresponsible. Not setting any boundaries for children leads to disrespect and destructive behaviors and too many boundaries leads to rebellion. And so on.

I believe that faith is not just theoretical, but it ought to also practical. I don’t think faith is just for ivory tower discussions, but is also–or, rather, most importantly–for the nitty-gritty reality of daily life. Truth needs to be LIVED, not just discussed. Truth needs to be applied, and it needs to transform me and my life.

Much of my spiritual walk is spent trying to figure out how to live centered between two opposites. It’s not easy. I think it would be easier to hold to one extreme or the other rather than remain balanced between.

I would like to be a person of truth and love, seeing and responding to people and situations in a godly way, but for quite some time I have been puzzling out what, exactly, that means. Here are some of the things I have been puzzling out.

We are supposed to be people who love even our enemies, but I don’t always know what love looks like. I think many people’s idea of love is that it is nice, it always does what the others what them to do. I’m not so sure that this is love. Sometimes I think love surrenders, submits, sacrifices, and is “nice,”but I also think it can be tough and even painful.

Perhaps it is easier to see what love is like in regards to children. I think most good parents make sacrifices for their children. I know there are times EJ or I would give up what we’d like for the benefit of our son. We’d even give up our lives to protect his. However, there are also times when–out of love–we make him eat stuff he doesn’t want to eat, we make him go places he’d rather not go, and we make him do things (chores, school) that he’d rather not do, and we tell him things he’d rather not hear. When he complains or resists, we discipline him. This, also, is for his benefit. So love is not just a sacrificing our needs or wants for our son, it’s not just about giving him “pleasant” things. Llove is also tough and can be unpleasant.

I think that there is a time to stand firm in beliefs and convictions, no matter what it costs us. But there is also a time to let go of beliefs and convictions–when, for example, we discover that they are wrong. I think people tend to hold on to what they believe and refuse to ever acknowledge any evidence that they just might, possibly, be wrong. As Proverbs says, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes.”

Ecclesiastes 3:7 says that there is a time to be silent and a time to speak. I’d rather be silent than speak up, I’d rather endure than confront. But I began to see that sometimes my silence enabled dysfunction, and I saw that there is a time to speak up, so last year I asked God to help me to “SPEAK the truth with love, no matter what it costs me. ” I believe God has been teaching me (and it has cost me), but I also have to be careful not to engage in Lashon Hara, which is a Hebrew word which means “Not speaking evil of someone, even if it’s true.” This seems simple, but I don’t think it’s simple–because, I’ve wondered, how can we confront people, help people, help them avoid wrong teachings or evil people  if we can’t ever call any actions evil or wrong?

The problem with living between two opposites, holding on to both, is that it’s easier said than done. It would be easier to live this way if it wasn’t for the fact that we are all beings with weaknesses, sins, failures, dysfunctions, and self-deceit. “Every man’s way is right in their own eyes.” It’s VERY easy to believe I am right and others are wrong; it’s easy to soften the wrongs of my actions and sharpen the wrongs of others. Yes, I ought to love, to stand firm up for what I believe, to speak up against wrongs–except how do I know if I am right or if I am wrong? If I call you “selfish” is it because you truly are selfish? Or do I think you are selfish because you aren’t doing what I want you to–which would make ME selfish, not you. Yes, sometimes I ought to be silent, to compromise, to return evil with good, but how do I know if I am doing this out of love or am simply too afraid to speak up and “rock the boat”?

Are you confused yet? I think it’s  confusing, and I get confused. When do we speak up, when do we keep silent? When do we lay down our rights out of love for others, and when do we stand firm because we care enough about the other person to speak difficult truths to them? When do we hold fast and unwavering to beliefs, and when do we let them go as not worth hanging on to? When do we silently endure, and when do we confront? And how do we know if we are “standing firm” and speaking the truth or merely being obnoxious, stubborn, or self-righteous? I’m still puzzling this out.

Not long ago, I ended up concisely summarizing a set of principles, which actually answered my prayer that God would teach me about how to live in the center of opposites. I think God has a sense of humor. I thought I’d  these principles with you. I’ve been pondering this all day, and so have added on to them a bit.

Pray! Pray! Pray!

I don’t think we can ever figure out truth, how to live, or how to deal with people without God’s constant help.

Realize that we all have sins, failures, wounds,  dysfunctions.

We’d like people to be patient, understanding, and compassionate of us when we are hurting and struggling with various wounds and dysfunctions, so we need to be patient, understanding, and compassionate of others when they hurt or struggle. People put up with us, we need to put up with them.

Choose to see people in the most loving way possible.

I read just recently at the En-Gedi Resource Center website that in Hebraic thinking, a person ought always to choose to see people in the best possible way. The article said:

Just imagine these situations and the choices you might have in your reactions:

• On the way to church, a car passes you on the road and cuts you off. Why?

– The driver is has no regard for speed laws! He is just trying to impress people!
– or, maybe the driver is late for something, or his kids are driving him crazy.

• In church, you are asked to greet the people around you, but the lady in front of you was obviously avoiding you. Why?

– She is obviously a snob and I didn’t dress well enough today!
– or, maybe she is new to this church or uncomfortable meeting people.

• A woman asks you afterward about the surgery she had heard that you had. Why? 

– She is a busybody who just wants to put her nose in your business!
– or, maybe she genuinely worries about others, and wants to share your burdens.

In almost every situation, we have the choice to look for a good motivation or a bad motivation behind other people’s behavior. The way we interpret others’ motivations has a profound effect on our reactions toward others. This idea of the rabbis to “judge favorably” certainly was a great one, even if it isn’t exactly what Jesus said.

I do not think this means that we aren’t discerning. I think we ought to interpret people’s actions as favorably as possible, but also with wisdom. Not everyone is good, not everyone ought to be trusted. Sometimes we CAN judge a book by its cover. However, we ought to not make quick judgments when we don’t know the whole story. The Book of Jewish Values says to give people the benefit of the doubt, and to look at their lives as a whole before judging them. Our opinion of a person who is most generally kind should not change because she said something hurtful one time.

Don’t make every difference of belief a relationship-breaking battle

People have different beliefs, different opinions, different choices. I don’t think the differences HAVE to destroy friendships.

I believe people ought to have the freedom to make their own choices, even if I disagree with them. Therefore, I am not offended if people disagree with me, or if they make different choices, or if they don’t take my advice.

For example, EJ and I decided we’d homeschool our son even before he was born. We had a friend who totally disagreed with homeschooling. She voiced the usual objections about homeschooling. We felt strongly about homeschooling. We held to our belief in homeschooling, but also believed that parents have the right to choose the form of education that they prefer for their children. We voiced our opinion about homeschooling when she asked us over the years, but we respected her educational decisions for her children. Rather than let a homeschool issue destroy our friendship, we “agreed to disagree.” We kept our friendship. In the years since then, my friend has changed her beliefs about homeschooling, and last year began homeschooling her children.

Compromise, if possible, but don’t live up to other’s unrealistic expectations.

There are times that a person must compromise or agree to disagree in order to get along. However, there are also times when a person has unrealistic expectations, and I don’t think we have to try to fulfill them.

This applies very well to one of my friends. She is a single Mom with two kids, who lives in someone else’s home because she can’t survive on the money she makes. She realizes that she must abide by the rules of the owners of the house, and she really tries to do so. However, she is learning that there are a lot of expectations that she doesn’t have to follow. For example, she doesn’t let the couple choose what television programs she watches, what books she reads, what snacks she eats, or how she disciplines her children. She believes these choices are hers to make, not theirs. When my friend chooses not to live up to expectations, she tries to do so as respectfully as she can.

State boundaries clearly

My friend struggles where she lives because boundaries aren’t clearly stated. I think the couple believes that boundaries are not loving. The problem is that there are a lot of “unspoken rules and boundaries” and when they are overstepped, the couple–primarily the wife–doesn’t say anything. Or, rather, she doesn’t say anything with her WORDS, but resentment oozes out of her body language.

I think there is nothing wrong with stating “This is what I expect.” In fact, it’s very helpful and freeing to have likes, dislikes, and expectations plainly stated so that you don’t have to try to guess where the boundaries are. There’s nothing so frustrating as trying not to overstep boundaries that aren’t defined. Being honest about boundaries prevents us from inadvertently hurting or offending others. It enables people to live together, to make necessary changes. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “this bothers me” or “this hurts me” or “I don’t like this.” If we don’t state boundaries, resentments build up until they erupt into volcanic fury. Better to politely and honestly define boundaries than let resentments simmer and finally erupt. Eruptions of anger are NOT loving.

Standing Firm and Speaking the Truth in Love

I believe that there are times when we absolutely MUST stand firm in our beliefs. There are times when compromise is not an option.

A few years ago, we left the church we had been attending (and members of). The church was very tiny–only 10-20 people attended each week. The church was so small that problems and errors were clearly seen in a way that couldn’t be seen in bigger churches. We were uncomfortable with some of the teachings or practices of the church. We tried to talk to the pastor, but he refused to hear us. We realized that we couldn’t go along with what was happening in that church, and the pastor would never change. Compromise was not possible so we left.

Although we had a few opportunities to really criticize the church in our community we refused. It was not our desire to cause division.  I have written about our experiences at the church on this blog because I was attempting to explore beliefs and traditions that were taught there that I believe was wrong and ought to be considered. However, I have not and will not named the church or the pastor. I do not believe that is my place.

Speaking the Truth in Love

I believe that there are times to be silent, but I also believe that there is a time to speak up. I do not believe it’s always loving to be silent. Sometimes silence allows people to be hurt and enables sin to continue.

I believe that if we speak up, it ought to be done with love–not with anger or with the intend to hurt someone. However, sometimes loving truth hurts and not everyone wants to hear truth. I believe that if we speak up, we ought to realize that there may be a price to pay, and we need to be willing to pay the price.

I believe that I enabled a loved one in her dysfunctions for 20 years because I was too “understanding” and “nice” and too afraid of “making things worse” to tell her the truth. My silence did not help her at all, and I regret it. Once I started to tell her the truth and challenge her actions/statements/beliefs, our relationship immediately changed and our friendship ended. This was the price for my speaking up. I do not regret speaking up, although I’m sad the relationship ended.

When there is disagreement

As I started in another post, I think that when there is a difference of belief, we have several options:
  1. One or the other can change their mind in agreement with the other.
  2. Both can compromise
  3. Both can agree to disagree.
  4. If neither can agree with the other, if no compromises can be made, if neither can agree to disagree, then there must be a parting.
Sometimes, no matter what we do, there is no more “walking together,” there is no relationship, and we have to separate. Sometimes relationships fall apart. That’s just the way it is. I think relationships fall apart when communication breaks down–when there is no “hearing” each other.
However, I also think that separation does not HAVE to be forever. If there is repentance and a willingness to work on the problems in the relationship then I think there can be a working toward reconciliation.

Willingness to acknowledge that we can be wrong

I think that we must always consider that we could be wrong. It’s possible that we could have misunderstood a person, we might not have had all the information about a situation, or our perspective might be wrong. There also could be sin in our own lives. We can be WRONG!
I believe we must always ask God to teach US the truth about Himself, about ourselves, and about others. We must have the humility to consider that we could be wrong. We need also to repent and be willing to change. I always ask God to teach me His truth and to show me if I am the wrong who is wrong.

My understanding of all this is not complete. However, these are the principles that I am beginning to form.

What do you think?

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