5 Scriptures I Finally Stopped Cowering Behind

February 28, 2015

4399065281_0b54b35fff_nAs a student and follower of Jesus for most of my life, I have wanted my behavior to reflect his teachings. Sometimes in my efforts to obey Jesus, however, I have used his teachings in ways he did not intend.

I confess that I have misused scripture as a cover for my discomfort with initiating difficult emotional situations. Instead of letting the beautiful teachings and examples of scripture transform me, I used them as righteous make-up to disguise my fear and emotional ineptness—I think I even fooled myself.

Here are some of the concepts that I have misapplied in my life for way too long.

1. Love

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:12-13)

This concept sometimes looked like this in my life: “Here, let me love you so I can overlook your hurtful behavior and never tell you anything that might upset you.” Loving like Jesus has always been an aspiration, but I allowed my conflict-avoidant tendencies to skew what Jesus intended for love. Yes, love may be patient and kind, but it also rejoices in the truth. That’s where I went wrong. As Cloud and Townsend say in their book Boundaries, sometimes the loving thing to do is to cause pain by “confronting other people when they are wrong,” because “hurt is helpful to others and sometimes the best thing that we can do for them and the relationship.”

2. The Golden Rule

“So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)

In the hands of my conflict-avoidant personality, I could project my own fears and insecurities onto other people. Don’t like to be confronted or criticized? Then try not to confront or criticize other people. Don’t enjoy having people tell you what you’re doing wrong? Then don’t put boundaries on other people’s behavior toward you. I assure you, this is not what Jesus meant.

3. Forgiveness

“Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-22)

Did you know that for some people forgiveness is a synonym for repression? Just give yourself a little time for the initial hurt, anger, or disappointment to subside, then simply pray for God’s help to forgive your trespasser, stuff down the remaining feelings and go on as if nothing ever happened. It seems so godly to let people do things that irritate the heck out of you and then just let it go—just set your anger free as if it never happened. If you didn’t realize it, that’s really bad practice for your heart in the long term. To maintain healthy relationships with others and prevent the buildup of bitterness and resentment, I realize now that I must acknowledge negative feelings and maturely discuss them with the person connected with them. (This was to some degree the point of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18:15-17.)

4. Dying to Self

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

It’s not me living; it’s Christ living in me, right? I’ve died to myself, so the unkind or thoughtless things you say don’t really affect me. And you don’t have to be very concerned about what I want, because I’m supposed to be dying to myself, so it doesn’t matter. We might as well do it your way.

5. Keeping Quiet

“So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (Romans 14:22)

This is not a direct Jesus teaching, but a New Testament imperative nonetheless. I still believe what Paul was saying in the context of this teaching—that many of our faith convictions are personal and should not be imposed on others. I hold my convictions humbly in most cases—meaning I realize I might be wrong—and in many cases I feel that debating them holds potential to do more damage than good.

However, in the past I have co-opted this teaching as an excuse to sit in silence when Christians all around me were endorsing positions I strongly disagreed with. I have swallowed a lot of frustration when I felt I was the only one in the room who held a certain belief. I have encouraged my family members to keep quiet, too, because I feared we would lose credibility if we spoke up, which wasn’t fair to them. Ultimately, I have allowed other Christians to believe that I am more conservative, both biblically and politically, than I really am, which is ultimately deceptive. I certainly didn’t give others credit for being as loving and open-minded as I am sure most of them really are.

So, What’s the Point?

Am I a mess or what?

These biblical teachings are right and good. The problem is not with the principles but with the way I ran them through the filter of my natural propensities. Everyone does this kind of thing in some way or another, so I’m not beating myself up, and I am absolutely certain that God’s grace covers me. I am just trying to see myself more clearly now and to grow into someone better. Maybe you can learn something from my experience.

The huge problem with the way I applied these spiritual teachings was the infusion of fear—fear that I might lose credibility, approval, admiration, relationship, maybe even love. I have not been open or honest about my feelings or my thoughts, even with myself.

This behavior has affected so many relationships with people I care deeply about, both family and friends. I learned in a human resources workshop at work that emotional closeness (intimacy) deepens with our ability to talk about what we think and feel. The highest level of closeness comes when we can talk openly (and appropriately) about the things we disagree on. The more parts of us we hold back from others because we are unwilling to go there or they are unable to hear us, the more potential closeness we sacrifice. (And it certainly takes the maturity and capacity of both parties to be able to reach that highest level.)

This is all so much easier for me to say than do. I keep learning and trying, though, because I still believe completely in the original intent of all the teachings I have misused. I have a long way to go, but the steps I have taken to do the hard stuff have felt really good. I understand now how much better it works than the way I was dealing (i.e., not dealing) with things.

I really want love to win – love the way Jesus meant, not the chicken way I have practiced it for most of my life.

photo credit: Descansando via photopin (license)

2 responses to “5 Scriptures I Finally Stopped Cowering Behind”

  1. Ginger Ange says:

    Hi Lynn,

    Miss seeing you! Good words here. Encouraging, as I need to have a real conversation with a sister. This is just one more thing God is nudging me with to set up a congenial meeting with her. Hope and pray things are coming to a more comfortable place in your life.

    Love, Ginger

    • LynnBell says:

      I miss you too, my dear sister. I am happy, though, with the way things are going. I pray for your success in shoring up the relationship you referenced.

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