By Barney Armstrong, MA, LMHC, Bellevue Christian CounselingAre there things that you want to change in your feelings and reactions, and in your relations with others? If so, why not take an inventory of some of the characteristics that you consider as emotional problems? You may be able to identify some of these as habits. Habits are things you do without thinking through – you just do them because they have become “usual.” They are what-I-always-do-when-this-happens or, in other words, “ruts.”
A rut in a road is a groove that has been worn by continual use so that wheels now fall into it automatically. A rut steers the vehicle, irrespective of the intention of the pilot. It becomes defining, dictating how you travel that road and where you go, and even, to some degree, what sights you may have access to along the way. Other vehicles traveling with you also fall into your rut because it is the path of least resistance, as does whatever refuse is flowing down that road. And, the more a rut is used, the deeper it becomes.
We Like Being in a Rut
Extending the metaphor that far may sound a bit scary. It is scary from the outside, but the problem is that people like their ruts. They have become comfortable with them. In my experience with my clients, the problem is not so much that people don’t have to think about what they do when they are in a rut. In fact, they often think very hard as they try to behave differently. Rather, the problem is that there is a reward hidden in the habit and the trick for some is to identify that reward. What is it that they like about their rut? Why do they like their problem?
Convincing people of this may take some work. We have a natural resistance to hearing that we “like” our problems and that this is one reason why we still have them. We reject this idea because we don’t like to be reminded that we are responsible for what we do and that this includes our habits of thought, of emotions, and of interactions with people. “Hey, I’m supposed to be the victim here, and you’re making me out to be the bad guy!”
We are Culpable
This brings us to the second and more fundamental reason for avoiding this idea – it implies that we are complicit. And if we are complicit, then we are culpable.Culpable could be translated as blameworthy or wrong. We don’t arrive at thoughts of our own culpability because our history urges us to avoid those conclusions. If we are worthy of blame, then either we owe someone or we are caught in a tangle of relational loss, turmoil, devaluing, and other feelings we cannot fix. This makes us avoid such thoughts at all costs, including self-delusion if necessary.
Your Sins are Like Gold
However, when you have welcomed Christ into your life the entire dynamic changes. You become blissfully free to encounter your own failures and to label them boldly as fully morally shame worthy. The categories that the Cross addresses and that His blood pays for is far broader than some narrow catalog of what might legitimately be labeled “crimes.” No! This is very different. Instead, you search for whatever might even remotely be imagined to qualify as sins, failures, weaknesses, fears, or foolishness lurking in every nook and cranny. These are like gold – and you need to cash them in. This experience can be compared to the feeling you have when you go to the doctor with some mysterious symptom and he says, “Oh, you’ve got ______; take this and you’ll be fine.” You are so relieved to find out what is wrong.
Becoming Free from Fear
One of my clients, let’s call him Bob, had very clear examples of fears. These included timidity, and apprehension about social interactions and about his career. My job was to help him to see, without redress, that he kind of liked his fears. He had become comfortable with the fears and, when faced with a given situation, fear was his emotion of choice. He was to some degree complicit in his fear.
It was certainly not necessary for him to figure out exactly to what degree he was complicit – we are used to doing that – but we have the wrong scenario in mind. We view it as if we appear in some human court to figure out what portion of responsibility we bear for damages – as if we are going to pay. The reality is that you are not going to pay anything, and you don’t need to untangle that – God will not over-forgive you. It’s like washing off piles of mud caked on a car, but you can be sure that the car will remain.
So the outrageous prayer – which is often the best kind of prayer – that Bob prayed was, “Lord, forgive me of all of my fears!” And the freedom that ensued was remarkable.
Christian Counseling Can Lead to a Change of Mind and Heart
If you have habits of thinking that you would like help in trouble-shooting, it would be good to speak to a trained Christian counselor. I would be honored to help you go in the direction of changes of mind and heart.
“Muddy welcome” courtesy of Loco Steve, Flickr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0); “Centro de Sao Paulo” courtesy of Andre Banyai, Flilckr CreativeCommons (CC BY 2.0)