Life Is Difficult – Thank You M. Scott Peck

As we are about the business of recreating a better “me” through self awareness and the power of best practices, God is about the business of transforming; creating a new person in Christ, by the power of His Word and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit.

Life is difficult. Most of us muddle our way through trying to escape the difficulties, patch up the wounds and fight against the things that continue to cause us discomfort and pain. Often times the running and kicking back only causes more distress and deepens our discouragement. We are left battle weary and no more trouble free than when we began.

Perhaps, we have imagined life differently; an easier and smoother ride. Matthew 6:34 reminds us that there is always hardship and each day has it’s own trouble. Just as the changing seasons bringing their own blessings and problems, our daily circumstances may change but life is never trouble free. There is always something we would love to avoid, deny or escape.

I read M. Scott Peck’s book, The Road Less Traveled, back in the early 80’s. Just as he was on a spiritual journey of making sense of life and people and God, I was on my own similar trek. I struggled to understand the purposes of life, relationships, love, difficulties and pain; the connection between God, myself and real life. I was torn between outwardly pretending that life wasn’t difficult and internally weeping under the weight of it. As a twenty-something, separated and nearly divorced Christian woman who didn’t know her Bible well, this book was revolutionary. It had given me new perspective.

He had me with the first two paragraghs of chapter one.

Life is difficult.”

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I found truth in these few sentences. Reading on, he highlights the necessity of suffering and the value of experiencing pain. He lays out disciplines for experiencing pain and meeting it head on rather than avoiding it. These personal practices were good, wise and helpful. Who would disagree with taking responsibility for your choices or delaying gratification? These are choices that differentiate the proverbial children from adults. My need to grow up, face difficulties head on and do hard things became clear.

And now some 40 years later with many trials and difficulties behind me and a fuller knowledge of the Word of God, I can see that while The Road Less Traveled may have set me on a better track of thinking, the ability to actually walk it well was made possible only by the grace of God. I have seen his hand in even the most painful of times. His love for me has transcended pampering and moved toward perfecting. 

I recognize that the issues and solutions presented in Peck’s book were centered on self and although the idea of grace, a greater power, and God were present, they were not prominent and foremost in his philosophy. These are good personal practices but they are not the embodiment of freedom, pain management, or transformative living. What seemed sensical lacked the fullness of truth and the power to transform the one who was broken by life’s difficulties or battered and bruised by their own poor choices. Though acceptance and surrender are a part of Peck’s spiritual equation, surrender to God is the only solid solution for the human condition.

As we are about the business of recreating a better “me” through self awareness and the power of best practices, God is about the business of transforming; creating a new person in Christ, by the power of His Word and the resurrection power of the Holy Spirit. Pain, difficulties and disappointments are His tools, by which He shapes and forms us into the likeness of Jesus. How we process difficulties determines the condition of our heart toward God, others and ourselves as well as our ability to surrender to God and be changed into the image of Christ.

Yes! Life is difficult. Life’s difficulties are not without purpose.

Romans 5:3-5  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love have been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

James 1:2-4  Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.

2 Corinthians 4:16-17  So we do not lose heart . Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light and momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.

Facing trials head on, accepting circumstances as they are and not as we have hoped them to be is a lesser traveled road. Surrendering our lives, our circumstances, our will and our control to our Loving Father who keeps us sheltered under His wing is the pathway to peace, contentment, joy, renewal and a transformed life.  We will never be as we once were. We will be tempered and humbled.

Life is difficult. There is eternal purpose in our difficulties.

The last line of an interview printed in Psychology Today, quotes M. Scott Peck as saying, “I’m somebody who often, like so many people, preaches what he needs to learn.”

I echo your words, Mr. Peck!

…there is Liberty.

Quarantine is not about your freedoms being taken away. It’s about liberty. Liberty says that I am free as long as my actions do not infringe upon or take away the freedom of others.

We’re doing a new thing. It’s called self-quarantine. We’ve no context for what this means for our future. We’ve never experienced anything globally such as this. We have never experienced anything in our country, our state, our community such as this. The closest my family has come to self-quarantine was the Chickenpox and those quarantined were under 4 feet tall with no drivers’ license, job or responsibility other than making their own bed and picking up their toys.

The Chickenpox was a bit of an inconvenience but nothing more. My kids were itchy and have a few faded scars but other than that our life as a family returned to normal very quickly.

Today we are self-quarantined. Many people are under a mandatory quarantine; only permitted to leave their homes for the necessities of food and medical needs. It seems our state may be heading, very quickly, in that direction. Americans have never known this type of constraint of freedom on a large scale. We, Americans, pride ourselves on our freedoms. We live in a “Free country.” We are free to make our own choices and we resist the government telling us what we can and cannot do with our money, speech, bodies, time etc. We are free to choose. Our state motto is “Live Free or Die.” The idea of quarantine stirs up the perception of loss of Constitutional freedom and produces an inclination to defy the heavy hand of government and defend freedoms.

And so we live in a growing culture of fear. Fear of contracting Covid-19. Fear of spreading the virus. Fear of losing our jobs. Fear of economic crash. Fear of losing control. Fear of losing our freedom.

Dictionary.com defines Fear as an unpleasant emotion caused by a belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or threat and defines Freedom as the power or right to act, speak or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint. Liberty is not exactly the same as freedom though we use the words interchangeably. Liberty is a type or a subset of freedom that carries with it responsibility and duty. It’s the responsible use of freedom; a freedom with boundaries that are considerate of the freedom of others. It does not act selfishly but for the good of others.

Let us turn our focus to Liberty.

This is true liberty:

1 Corinthians 10:23-24

All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good but the good of his neighbor.

Quarantine is not about your freedoms being taken away. It’s about liberty. Liberty says that I am free as long as my actions do not infringe upon or take away the freedom of others. Can we look at this through the eyes of Liberty and with that freedom, love and consider others before and above ourselves?

Let us willingly, fearlessly, obey the strong suggestions, requests and orders of our leaders. Romans 13 says we all must obey those who rule over us. Those in authority serve God. It’s a conscious, humble act of submission to authority. God did not offer this up as an option. It’s a command. Honor God by honoring those in authority. Romans 13 goes on to remind us to love our neighbor as ourselves and that love does no harm to his neighbor. Can our love be identified in our obedience?

As men and women, brothers and sister in Christ, I encourage you to open the hand that clutches tightly to the fears that so easily overwhelm us and grab hold of Jesus, the anchor of our soul and our hope. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have said these things so that you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble but take heart, I have overcome the world.”

Now the Lord is Spirit and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 2 Cor. 3:17

Where the Spirit of the Lord is…

MY WAY

My personal preferences are a good servant but a lousy master.  They can serve me well but when I become a slave to my preferences I serve no one else.

While sitting in a class (which I wasn’t super excited about in the first place) I found my critical heart becoming increasingly nit-picky.  It began with the subject matter.  Before the speaker even opened his mouth, I had attitude.  As he began to teach I found him as well as his presentation to be distasteful.  Soon I found myself getting up to leave the room.  I needed a break to regroup and regain some perspective before I could head back in.  What I began to realize was, that while critical thinking is vital to true discernment, a critical heart suppresses the Holy Spirit.

My personal preferences are a good servant but a lousy master.  They can serve me well but when I become a slave to my preferences, I serve no one else.

  • My way is right
  • My point of view is right
  • My perceptions are right
  • My thoughts are right
  • My counsel is right

If I believe my methods/preferences are right then, by default, the methods/preferences of others are wrong.  I am setting myself up as the standard by which all other things should follow.  It’s a throne position.  I am exalted in the process of expressing my preferences as truth at the expense of others.

When I am controlled by the narrow view of my personal preferences, there is no room for the way of others or their viewpoints, perceptions, thoughts or counsel.  They cannot be heard in my presence.  I become the authority.  My way becomes the standard by which all things should be perceived, thought of, stated, done and counseled.  I am teaching others my way while I myself remain unteachable.  I do not hear others because I do not listen to others, therefore I cannot learn from others.

It’s a “my way” approach to even the most menial of tasks which are meaningless to the big picture.  Process, not people, is first.

Have you ever found yourself grumbly in everyday circumstances such as:

  • Folding laundry – Do you refold or instruct others how to fold laundry.  Even worse, when you are helping someone else fold their laundry, do you fold their way or your way?
  • Loading the dishwasher – Ever reorganized the dishwasher?
  • Making the Bed – Which side of the top sheet faces the bottom sheet?
  • Toilet Paper – Under or over?- Have you ever changed the roll position…at someone else’s house?
  • Bible Study – Morning, noon, night? And with what method? Inductive, Deductive, SOAP?

The answer is probably “yes” for most of us.  Are any of these things a big deal in light of eternity?  I think most of us would say an emphatic “no.”  And yet, when someone disrespects/disorders our preferences, how do we respond?  Does emotion well up inside of us?  When we believe that our ways should be everyone’s ways we have lost site and control of our preferences.  They rule us, we do not rule them.  There is  no freedom to waiver from them.  We must now adhere to them and enforce them upon others.  In a sense, we are saying, “This is the way, follow me.  If you do not adhere to my way, I will correct you.”  There is a rightness/wrongness but not a righteousness to this way of thinking.  We are in bondage and we put others in bondage to our way of thinking and doing.

So often we measure the good, sufficiency, adequacy or maybe a better word is value of something based on our own preferences.  We evaluate situations and circumstances as if everything about it revolves around us.  Food, temperature, hotels, restaurants, smells, neighborhoods, communities, schools, classes, people, teachers, conferences etc., are assessed by our own personal palate.  It seems our ability to enjoy and appreciate something is based on what we like or dislike.  How many times have you gone to a restaurant with rave reviews only to be disappointed?  Your personal preferences were not met there.  We cannot fathom how people considered it a good place to have dinner!

So, what’s the difference between a fair assessment and a biased one; an assessment that is just or one that is critical because of personal preference?  What is real and what is preferred?  How do we determine if something is good?

We must sort through our own personal preferences, as one sorts through puzzle pieces; by color or flat-edged pieces.  A good puzzle worker sorts first.  How often do our personal preferences get confused with the really important facts?  Before we assess a speaker, program or a class, we must ask ourselves, “What is my measuring stick of value?  Do I have a gospel view?”

The gospel is the picture of self-sacrificing love in action.  For God so loved the world… it was good for the world that Jesus should suffer for it’s sin but not so comfortable for Jesus.  It was greater love.

To assess fairly we must think beyond what we like to what is real, whole-group and gospel centered.  We must have a wide lens view that takes in the whole horizon.  We must see the big picture and give grace to minor details that are not important in fundamental ways.  How would it change the way we evaluate situations, tasks, people, speakers etc. if we saw them in light of the gospel rather than ourselves?  What if, instead of being critical, we look for the good?

I’m not saying we should turn a blind eye to sin.  Matthew 18:15 is very clear about what to do if we see a brother in sin, as is 2 Corinthians 10:5 as it addresses arguments and lofty opinions or anything that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.

When we align our personal preferences with the Word of God and measure them by the call to love one another, we are not only God honoring vertically but we are God honoring horizontally.

Philippians 2:3-8   Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Do nothing from selfish ambition but in humility, look around you.  People are wounded and struggling to survive one day at a time.  Can we find enjoyment in what others enjoy?  Can we give an honest evaluation of a situation based on the needs of others being met?  Can we remember to measure goodness based on what God says is good and not on our own comfort, preference or level of needs being met?

Jesus is the Son and all things revolve around Him.  It is through Him that all things are held together.  His ways are higher.  His thoughts are for all as well as the individual.  He humbled himself by taking on the form of a servant for a lost and dying world of which we are just one of many in that category.

I can have preferences, but my personal preferences are not a measuring stick I can use to determine right or good.  My unit of measure must be higher than myself.  When I measure myself against a Holy God, I am humbled and brought low.  His glory is all I see.  This is true and right perspective.

Isaiah 55:8-9   For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.  For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher that your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

God’s thoughts and words for us are found between the front and back covers of the Bible.  He has established a true and better way, as His ways are perfect.  Let us choose to be wise thinkers in our assessments and use the Word of God as our system of measure.

Freedom from the bonds of our personal preferences is a gift to those around us!

 

 

 

 

Guilt and Shame

God uses guilt and shame as a tool to draw us back into right relationship with Him and others and delivers us from its power over us as we could not rescue ourselves.  

Guilt and shame.  Two words that go together like peanut butter and jelly or bacon and eggs.  We run…flee the weight of guilt and shame.  We try to rid ourselves of the cloak. We try to take it off, put it off, shake it off, positive self-talk it off, deny it off and yet its sticks to us like a fly sticks to fly ribbon.

Book are written to help us shed the weight of this burden; to escape the black cloud that covers our conscience.  We seek out counselors, therapists, and pastoral advice to help us feel better about ourselves.  We read books, take the guilt and shame magazine tests, fill out the “breathing worksheets” and practice physical ways (running, yoga, low carb diets) to help ease our inner conscience.  We look for any way to boost our self-esteem, forgive ourselves and just feel better and yet our efforts are temporary at best.

What if we stopped running from guilt and shame; stopped and turned to face it head on?  What if we recognized that guilt and shame were not something to avoid and remedy but something to embrace?  Maybe we’re asking the wrong question and looking for the wrong solution?   Instead of asking why we can’t shake this black cloud of guilt  and feel good about ourselves maybe we should be asking ourselves better questions.  What if the question is not, how do I escape guilt and shame but how do I identify the root cause of it?  What if guilt and shame are legitimate feelings that God uses to restore right relationship with Him?  Is it not the work of the Holy Spirit to convict?  John 16:8

We see Adam and Eve go from being naked and not ashamed in Genesis 2:25 to cover themselves with fig leaves and hiding from God because of their nakedness in Genesis 3:7-10.  Sin had brought them guilt and shame.

David’s sin with Bathsheba multiplied his sin, and guilt and shame weighed heavily upon him.    With the help of Nathan he was able to turn and confront his sin.   He states in 2 Samuel 12:13  “I have sinned against the Lord.”  He writes in Psalm 51:3-4  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.  Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;  so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. And in Psalm 32:3-4  When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.  For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.     David was suffering under the heavy weight of guilt and shame.

What was it that David needed to be free from this burden?  Did he need someone to tell him how great he was and remind him of all of his accomplishments?  Did he need to read a good book on boosting self esteem and overcoming self depreciation?  Or did he need to listen, with the help of another, to the voice of the Holy Spirit through the heavy weight of conviction that was working with his conscience?

David was guilty.  His guilt and shame were legitimate and an appropriate response to his sin.  God’s love for David would not allow him to escape.  He couldn’t move on in peace without confronting his sin and humbly confessing and repenting.  His relationship with God had been interrupted by sin upon sin.  He had sinned against Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, the people of Israel and his own family.  He needed to face it in order to restore right relationship with God in heaven and with people on earth.  Then and only then was his heart set free.

Psalm 51 is David’s heartfelt confession and repentance.  Psalm 32 is his song of restoration and freedom.  He continues in Psalm 32:5-7  Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.”  And you forgave the guilt of my sin.  Therefore let all the faithful pray to you while you may be found; surely the rising of the mighty waters will not reach them.  You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.

When God forgave David he knew he was forgiven and he no longer wore the garments of guilt and shame.  It’s the same for us.  When we stop running and making excuses and turn to face our God and confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9.  This is where real freedom from guilt and shame is found.

It is finished.  We are free.  God uses guilt and shame as a tool to draw us back into right relationship with Him and others and delivers us from its power over us as we could not rescue ourselves.

Though conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit working with our conscience, condemnation and accusations are the work of Satan.  He is called the accuser of the brother (Rev. 12:20) and comes as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14).  In other words, he tells us how deeply bad we are and condemns us even after we have confessed and repented of our sin.  We come to believe these accusations because they sounds as though they come from a place of righteousness.  We find truth in these recriminations  but the real truth is that they are lies of Satan who wants to separate us from the love of God.

But God is greater than the accuser!   Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Romans 8:33.   There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death, Romans 8:1-2.  For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything, 1 John 3:20.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39.  We have been freed from condemnation by the love of Almighty God in Christ Jesus and He knows everything.

We are free.