I have this problem with circuses. I love the fanfare and the glitter, but I can hardly breathe during the dangerous acts. I’ve attended about two live performances in my lifetime and that was enough for me. Give me television where I know it’s taped and if anything bad happens it’ll get edited. I’ll never get used to someone putting life and limb in harm’s way to entertain me.
The performance that gets to me the most is the high wire act. Forget the lions and tigers and bears. They can be trained. They do have to eat. You can’t train gravity. It’s there, it’s relentless, and you can’t bribe it with a T-bone. Some days I feel like a tightrope walker and my life an act in a three-ring circus. If I make a wrong move the world might want a return on its investment. Someone could get hurt. It might even be me.
Nothing gets me climbing the rungs to the top of the tent faster than these self-analysis tests. You know, questions that ask if you are this-or-that or either-or, and rate yourself from 1-10. That’ll get me on that wire, bare-legged, sequined, and grinning, before you can yell “popcorn, please.” These litmus tests are used often on Christians, and this time I’ve decided to analyze the test as well as myself. Are you game? OKAY! Drum roll, please.
The questions are:
Are you God-centered or self-centered?
Is it, Thy will be done or my will be done?
There is a left-hand column that’s all about self-absorption, and a right-hand column that is everything a perfect, God-centered saint should be. Okaaay.
Now here’s my problem: if I answer “yes” to everything in the right-hand column, wouldn’t that mean I’m actually everything in the left-hand column? I mean, talk about ego! I’ve blown the “humility” angle right outta the water. Let’s look at some of the actual statements from this self-analysis thing.
I need the good opinions of others about myself.
I crave admiration and popularity.
I’m increasingly free from the need for approval or praise.
Everyone, even the person who thought up these lists, wants the good opinion of other people. Neither does it go against God’s word. Take a look at Proverbs 3:3-4, “Do not let mercy and truth get away from you. Bind them about your neck (like a yoke), write them (inscribe them) upon the writing tablet of your heart. Then you shall find FAVOR and GOOD UNDERSTANDING (a good opinion, maybe?) in the sight of God and man.”
The operative word that seems lost in the left-hand column is “crave.” The problem lies in the UNBALANCED need for good opinions and praise. The need itself is not wrong. Why would you want to find favor and good understanding if you weren’t looking for them in the first place? Why do we bother to praise our children or other people if it is wrong for them to need it? Who are the only people I know of who are totally free from the need for the approval and praise of others? Psychopaths.
I’m rigid and opinionated. Yes. No.
I’m flexible. Yes. No.
Again. Balance. If I’m too flexible I’m a milksop, a limp dishrag, a wimp who can be “blown about with every wind of doctrine.” (Ephesians 4:14). These are the people who won’t make a stand for anything, and will believe everything that comes down the pike.
If I’m not flexible enough, I alienate people because the love of God cannot emanate from a fence post. Jesus was the perfect example of balance. He listened and grieved over the heartaches that people poured out to him, and he soothed their fears and met their very human needs with the gentlest kind of love. Yet he never, ever compromised the truth.
Yeah, well . . . you say . . . Jesus was perfect. Jesus was God. Gimme a break. Listen to what Jesus himself said in John 14:12, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he that believes on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do . . .” That’s because Jesus was going away, back to his Father in Heaven, so that the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, (John 14:16) could come and live within us, to show us how, and to lead the way.
One of the very worst of these statements is the one that reads:
I spring back slowly, painfully from disappointments.
I have the capacity to rise above disappointments and use them creatively.
I know it is not meant to, but this sounds like a clown with painted smile and sad eyes still trying desperately for a laugh. Pain and disappointment are to be experienced. It’s supposed to hurt. Otherwise, what do we learn from it? What do we gain from it? I’m not saying we are supposed to wallow in it and wear it like mourning apparel for years or the rest of our lives. But Jesus himself was described as “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief”. One of the best-known verses in the Bible is, “Jesus wept.” Here was a man who KNEW that death was not the end; a man who SAW the glory to come, and yet he grieved for Lazarus, his friend. He grieved for the grief borne by Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, his friends.
I cannot see any human being leaping with joy because their loved one died, no matter what the glory to come. Or because your child has destroyed his life with drugs. Or because a beautiful, but misguided son or daughter winds up in prison, among predators, because he or she chose a wrong path. Or because the husband or wife you love and trust betrays you. Disappointment is a small word for what can really happen in life.
Yes. God can help us rise above “disappointment”. It is necessary and right that we do so. But first he must hold us in his arms and let us cry. He must comfort us while we grieve for what could have been, and for what has been forever lost in this world. Grieving over these things is not wrong. It is right and normal and balanced to do so. And it takes time. And only God knows how much time is required for each of us.
The list is long of “I am this or I am that,” and “I am here or I am there,” statements. I can’t go into them all. But their goal, according to the one I’m reading, is “ego-slaying.” Now, let me say here that the word “ego” has gotten some really bad press. Ego, basically, is simply self-awareness. Without it you wouldn’t go to work, you wouldn’t come down for breakfast, you wouldn’t care how you looked, you wouldn’t excel at anything. It’s when “ego” gets out of balance that it becomes “egotistic.” And that’s another word altogether. We bandy about the words “over-inflated ego,” but that’s just another definition of egotistic. Believe me, you don’t want to slay your ego. There’s a term for someone whose ego has been slain. Zombie.
And here we are, back to the word balance again. Ego makes us sensitive to the world around us. It is God-given and God-blessed. When the Bible says we are to “die to self,” it means our selfish desires, the self that makes us feel that our needs and wants are paramount to everyone else’s, the self that is “egotistic”, the self that can never be in balance with God because it is not OF God. Believe me, I know what these statements, these lists, are trying to say, but they are not saying them very well. And if they can send me, an old-timer Christian, guilt-tripping across a tightrope, what may they do to a young Christian who is new in the Word? Meeting these standards looks absolutely hopeless.
What I’m concerned with is balance. In the beginning, this world God created was in perfect balance. When God created man, he created an emotional person. Otherwise, why bother. But in that misty world of Eden, emotions were balanced. God created well-balanced people . . . until . . . they blew it by listening to the voice of the Tempter. It was mankind who got themselves, and the universe itself, out of balance, by listening to a Deceiver who promised the moon and stars and Godhood. Talk about EGO. When we become new Christians, we are, essentially, being re-created. The Bible says we are “new creatures,” new creations, (2 Corinthians 5:17) with the ability to get back what was lost — that perfect balance in God. (II Timothy 1:7).
Trying to walk that tightrope without God is impossible. As Abraham Lincoln so aptly put it, “you can’t please all the people all the time.” You can’t even please yourself all the time because most of us don’t even know what we want or what’s best for us. Also, even though we are all members of one body in Christ, we don’t all reach the same status in equal measure. It’s not always about how long you’ve been a Christian. You may be younger in Christ than me, yet farther along in some areas than I am. I may be younger in Christ than you, but farther along in some areas. We don’t all have the same background, experiences, innate temperament, and physical or mental capabilities, not even among members of the same family. In other words, we are individuals. When God made me, he didn’t want to make another one just like me. When he made you, he didn’t want a world full of little “yous”. Each one of us is unique, and God deals with, and uses, that uniqueness for his own purpose. (Read Romans 12). I like two versions of Psalm 139:13: the Good News version and the King James –
“You created every part of me. You put me together in my mother’s womb . . . When my bones were being formed, carefully put together in my mother’s womb, when I was growing there in secret, you knew that I was there — you saw me before I was born . . . I am fearfully and wonderfully made. How marvelous are your works.”
Do I mean we are never to listen to others? Not at all. God uses many things to keep us walking true on that “straight and narrow” tightrope, his Word and the Holy Spirit being the first and foremost. But he also uses those who are older and wiser, and farther along than we are in our Christian walk. And I don’t mean “older” in years. You know who to trust among your Christian friends and family. Hopefully, you have a good pastor, and there are good books, and ministries on television and radio that help keep me focused. But we must be exceptionally careful and prayerful about these books and ministries. Many are the clever, tricky, “winds of doctrine” that pull gullible people away from the rock of God’s Word, which is God’s Truth. (Ephesians 4:14).
Do I mean that it’s okay to saunter along in our Christian life with no concern about how long it takes us to grow, or, God forbid, that it’s okay to wink at our sins and shortcomings? As the apostle Paul says, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? God forbid . . .” (Romans 6:1-2).
What I am saying is, don’t be constantly trying to “measure up” to someone else’s ideals. Stay in the Word, walk in the spirit, acknowledge God as God, and “be still” often enough to know that he is God. He promises that he will “direct your path.” YOUR path. Not someone else’s idea of what your path should be.
Well, you say, this is still a balancing act. Life’s tightrope is too high and too long. It’s impossible to be everything everyone expects me to be. Hey. You’re absolutely right. I couldn’t agree more. But it is possible to be all that GOD wants us to be, right where we are, right now, at this moment. That’s right. We can walk that tightrope. No sweat. We can, once again, enjoy the balance that the fall from grace took from us. Our balancing bar is the Word of God and our natural inner balance is the Holy Spirit. And if we slip sometimes, why, underneath are the everlasting arms, the safety net. (Deuteronomy 33:27a).