How do we grow in character? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I have been doing a lot of personal work on myself lately and I wanted to share some of that with you all. I don’t want to go into reasons, but I have a firm determination to live my life and enjoy it despite circumstances. Lately, I have noticed a strong struggle I have with anxiety. I have been recommended to read Telling Yourself The Truth which I have read before, but I am going through it again on Kindle and this time highlighting. I personally find it easier to highlight on Kindle instead of in a print book.
When I finish a chapter a day of that, I have also been reading some Albert Ellis. While he was an atheist, Ellis came up with a remarkable theory in psychology and self-help that I do think is thoroughly Biblical. We often think that we are angry or depressed or what-have-you because of the circumstancecs in our lives. There is no doubt that these do play a part in our moods in our day to day living. However, they are not the main causes of our emotions.
Many people will have many different reactions to the same event. Consider on one extreme, for example, my friend David Wood, if he is told that a loved one has died. His reaction? Most likely, something along the lines of “That sucks” and goes on with his day. He’s a sociopath after all and has no emotions. Then there are some people who are heavily emotional and will depending on the person be practically suicidal. Most people will not go to either of those extremes and will be found in the middle.
So you say “People will have different responses because they are different” and that is Ellis’s insight here. What happens to you can be awful and undesirable by you, but what is really the worst about it is what you tell yourself about it. If you have a loved one die, that is a tragedy and you will naturally feel sad and grieve. If you tell yourself that it’s the end of the world and there’s no point in living, then don’t be surprised when you arrive in a suicidal tailspin.
There have been times I’m sure many of us have been in a suicidal state over a powerful loss. If you have to get help, which I do recommend, do so. There is no shame in seeking a therapist out. I have one that I talk to in addition to my own work and many therapists themselves go to see therapists since they can be blind to their own bad thinking. Ultimately though, if you make any person indispensable to your life, you are making that person into a god, and only one is worthy of that kind of attention.
I have also been working on something else for myself and this is something extremely difficult on the spectrum. I suspect many neurotypicals do this naturally, but I don’t for sure. That has been eye contact. At the most, this should be no more than three seconds. Still, at least one second. Smiling is also recommended and then just learning to make polite conversation. I still hate small talk, but I will talk about something of substance.
Why bring this up? Because I wrote yesterday about self-control in areas that we are lacking. These are some of mine. I recognize I am prone to anxious thinking, have difficulty with social interactions, and that I need to work on these. There are other areas to be sure, but these are some I’m trying to conquer first.
Now as a Christian, of course, I advocate prayer and leaning on God, but remember the saying that not even God can drive a parked car. All the prayer in the world will not matter if we are not willing to bend ourselves. You can pray all you want to for God to help you lose that extra weight, but if you refuse to diet and exercise, it’s not going to happen. You can pray that God will help you learn another language, but if you never pick up the book and study, it just won’t happen.
In the same way, if you pray and that is all you do, then you are essentially asking God to do the work for you, which He will not. You are told to die to yourself. No one else can do that for you.
This is also good news though. It means the power to change your own life and how you live is fully possible. If you are a Christian, you should realize this. Philippians is one of the best books on the nature of joy in the New Testament, or even the whole Bible. Where was it written from? A prison cell. No. This was not a prison where Paul was served three square meals a day and had cable TV and a workout room. This was a prison no one would want to be in.
Yet Paul had joy.
Honestly, in light of all that we can complain about, we’re pretty pathetic. Paul is dealing with an actual prison cell and many of us get upset if someone cuts us off in traffic or says something negative about us on Facebook. This is not to discount that we can have some real problems, but let us put it in perspective. Most of what we stress about won’t be bothering us a year from now. Naturally, some things will. Just today, I posted in a group I’m in about one of our own who committed suicide last year and from time to time, I still think about him and ask “If I had stayed in his life, with what I do in ministry, could I have helped him?” It’s really futile thinking, but it’s something we have a tendency to do. Events like that will stick with us, but the good news is they don’t have to hurt as much as they do initially or control our lives. That’s up to us.
It’s also good to do this with other Christians and to have a thorough knowledge of Scripture to remind you of the promises you hold to. Again, if you need a therapist also, there’s no shame in getting one. If your case is severe, I don’t even rule out medication. For some people, it can practically be a necessity, but I would advise that if you seek medication, seek therapy also.
The main takeaway from this is developing Christian character is within our grasp, if we develop the needed self-discipline and lean on God working in us. We have to be willing. I heard the saying once from Catholic theologian Peter Kreeft that, and he quoting someone else, that if you are not a saint right now, it is because you do not want to be one. No matter what branch of Christianity you hold to, saint is a title none of us should hesitate to seek. Do you want to be one? Then aim for it.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)