Everyone has them…those disturbing selfish tendencies or annoying impatient attitudes or judgmental prejudices or gripping fears or glaring weaknesses that we just can’t seem to totally get rid of. We wrestle with them off and on, we could in fact have long spurts of freedom from the besetting vices, but when some event triggers that wound, that Achilles heal, that fragile and often unhealthy defence mechanism or mindset or emotional reaction – we realize we are not entirely free of it after all.
Discipline and self-control are good things; they go a long way in helping us lead more stable and consistent lives, and though they can assist us in not giving in to our baser and unhealthy urges and help us in dealing with unpleasant and painful situations, they will never remove the trigger point itself, the hook in the flesh, the agitating sliver, the shrapnel under the skin, the tender spot that just never seems to totally heal. Discipline cannot bring wholeness.
So are we doomed to just “live with” our weaknesses, our failures, our tendencies toward destruction, and hope that our ability to say no, our stamina, grit and determination will keep us from hurting ourselves and others? I don’t think so, yet I have no tried and true method, no 1-2-3 steps to personal freedom that I can share with you. I can only tell you what has happened in my life.
I have a bit of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) which exhibits itself in mostly harmless ways like counting stairs when I climb them, sniffing everything before I put it in my mouth, and remembering exactly how I left things so I can tell if anything has been moved in my absence (I thought at one point I might make a good detective). But when this tendency toward compulsion grabs onto your soul, your identity, your well-being and worth...then you’re in big trouble. This happened in four areas in my life: one related to food, one related to relationships, one related to intimacy, and the other to fear. I spent years praying for God to take these things away from me, worked really hard at developing healthy habits to replace the unhealthy ones, but always with limited success. I know through painful experience that humanity really is powerless to save itself.
I can’t explain how or why, but one by one, over time, these compulsions have disappeared out of my life. One day I woke up and another one just wasn’t there anymore. I did not do anything different that would explain the drastic change from being a slave to being free. I did not seek counselling, I did not ask someone to pray for me, I did not have a “Holy Spirit power encounter,” in fact I kept all these things hidden and private, ashamed of my weakness. All I did was cry out to God day after day after day to help me. And in his time, he did.
Part of the territory that goes with being obsessive is the tendency to seek control and peace of mind through the use of patterns, repetition, and methodology in a desire to bring consistent results and stability. We even tend to pursue our wholeness, our faith, and our relationships this way and that never works. And sadly, we expect God to operate in a certain predictable pattern as well, but the only predictable thing about God is his character. And only those things that originate in the character of God have the power to truly change things. I am learning this day by day and ever grateful for undeserved grace.
One of freedom…matte