The path to a “small god” begins in childhood. It leads to self-reliant living, which is always destructing to relationships. The way out of this type of dysfunction is possible with a little help from competent friends.
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Mable has been struggling for years with massive doses of guilt and shame. She is painfully introverted, though she has learned to mask it well. Only her closest friends have any idea about the internal angst that rumbles in her soul.
Eighteen years with a lazy, critical, and mean-spirited father has left a mark on her soul that she has never been able to scrub away. To compound matters, she has mapped her relationship with her dad over her understanding and experience with God, the Father.
This problem is common. Children only have one father, which makes him their earliest and most profound definition of a father. In situations like Mable’s, the description of a father is influential and confusing. She has always lived with the underlying message from her dad that there was something wrong with her.
The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly and with unflagging attention. It must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over. Here, as so often in this world, persistence is the first and most important requirement for success. – Adolf Hitler
And from this truth comes another principle that Hitler implemented: “If you tell a lie often enough, people will begin to believe it.” Unfortunately, Mable bought the lie that bled through her father’s constant disappointment with her. She finished her childhood years entirely convinced that there was something wrong with her.
Mable perpetually dangled between what she could do to overcome what was wrong with her and total failure. Boyfriends, body image issues, and relational conflict made up a “three-man tag team” against her soul. Though she hoped to overcome this internal struggle, she always found herself on the mat, prostrated and defeated.
You see her soul condition in the Mind Map. Her God is small because of the oppressive fear that controls her. Though she became a believer during her teen years, the footprint her father planted on her soul skewed her view of God. The Lord was as intimidating as the other father in her life.
Her new Christian friends did not discern her deficient and controlling thought processes. They assumed that when Mable was regenerated all things would be new and that her past would lose its grip on her (2 Corinthians 5:17, Ephesians 4:22). This hope was a wrong assumption. She was born again (John 3:7), but she was not transformed internally (Philippians 2:12).
No person becomes untangled from what is wrong with them at regeneration. The untangling process is progressive, which happens over decades of cooperative effort with the Lord (Ephesians 4:22-24; James 2:14-17). Salvation gives you the equipment you need (2 Peter 1:3-4), but it does not transform you into Christlikeness.
Mable could not thoroughly enjoy her new-found relationship with the Lord. In her mind, it was a bridge too far. Though she enjoyed a brief honeymoon with God, as things appeared to be better, it was not long before the old crippling fear began to dominate her thinking again. With this fear came guilt, shame, and regret–as you can see in the Mind Map.
Mable’s mantra, “There is something wrong with me,” ran on an endless loop in her brain; it was a theme that captivated her thoughts and made her angry. The real source of her anger came from unmet desires to be liked, appreciated, approved, and loved (James 4:1-3). Because she was not able to fulfill those desires, she lived in a low-grade boil that occasionally erupted onto others when they pushed her the wrong way.
Since she could not rely on the Lord, because she viewed Him in a similar way she experienced her father, she had no choice but to figure out how to overcome her problems on her own. The self-reliant approach was far more palatable than trusting God, her Father. In the Mind Map, you see how she was saving herself through self-sufficient, self-atoning practices. She bounced between five of them: legalism, punishment, worry, fear, and self-hatred.
Legalism – Mable was perfectly fit for legalism. All she needed to know was the rules. Of course, she chose the rules, which had to fall within her strengths—the things she could do well. The legalist will always pick-and-choose the regulations they want to follow because failure is not an option for the performance-driven person.
Punishment – Since it is not possible to be a perfect legalist, there has to be an explanation for occasional failure. Mable typically blamed others for things that went wrong with her or with her relationships. She could not own her role in any dysfunctional situation because of her insatiable desire to be accepted. Anger, criticism, blaming, and cynicism helped to insulate her from owning any failure.
Worry – Her constant companion was worry. She played back every scene, circumstance, conversation, and interaction in her mind, and the filter through which she played the tape was worry. Being positive and thinking the best of others was hard for her, which meant she would always shape her conclusions by the negativity that anxiety provides.
Fear – Mable’s underlying sin pattern was fear, which was born out of her functional unbelief. Because she could not trust the Lord in all the matters of her life, she became the modern definition of the unbelieving believer (Mark 9:24). Just like Adam before her (Genesis 3:10), the choice to not trust the Lord in all things will lead you down a path of fear. Fear thrives in the heart of unbelief.
Self-hatred – Eventually all of the complexities in her soul would gang up on her to where she could only find relief by punishing herself. This process was like a merry-go-round of idol swapping. She would have seasons of sleep, seasons of overeating, seasons of under-eating, and seasons of binge TV viewing. There was no consistent pattern, other than atoning for her sins by taking them out on herself, rather than allowing Christ to take her punishment.
Her self-atoning worldview led to all sorts of solutions, escapes, and results. I have already mentioned some of them in the previous list of five, but you can see more in the upper right side of the Mind Map. Her self-reliant solutions gave her varying degrees of results; some of them felt good in that they brought temporary relief to life and relationships.
Sadly, none of them ultimately worked, even substantial Christian counseling, because the fly in the ointment was her broken relationship with God, her Father.
Our starting point will always define the journey, as well as how we end. If you want to change the way you do life, you have to start at the beginning, which is your presupposition. Your presupposition is the thing that comes before anything else. In the case of every person, regardless of our allegiances, it is how we think about God.
Our view of God, whether right or wrong, will determine the kind of life we will experience. God is the ultimate presupposition (Genesis 1:1). He was before all things, which makes Him the starting point for any belief system. Satan (James 2:19), unbelievers, nominal Christians, and authentic believers have a view of God–a view that determines and shapes the course of our lives.
Mable’s view of God was skewed–a misguided starting point that set the course of her life. Her parent’s primary job was to teach her a right view of God (Deuteronomy 6:4-9), but they failed miserably. Through their poor example and corrupted teaching, it left Mable with no choice but to be self-sufficient. She was like the proverbial dog tossed in the lake and told to sink or swim.
Mable had to figure out how to swim, using only her strengths and abilities, which were motivated by fear. This option not only crippled her, but it put a strain on all of her relationships. Mable needed to be set free. She needed a different type of introduction to the true and living God–her heavenly Father, the one who loves her immeasurably and would go so far as to crush His one and only Son to save her soul (Isaiah 53:10). The process for Mable to be set free is at the bottom of the mind map.
Mable’s thoughts have been captivated (2 Corinthians 10:3-6) by many things that are not true (Philippians 4:8). Several false arguments have captured her brain space. Collectively they have beaten her into submission. These thought arguments have subjugated her for so long that it is nearly impossible for her to realize what she is doing to herself (Hebrews 4:7, 5:11-14).
The path to freedom will come after she establishes several biblio-centric tributaries that must flow in and out of her mind. She will need a support team to help her with this process. Her husband will be a crucial discipler, plus a few close and patient friends (1 Thessalonians 5:14). Her team must be well-versed with this Mind Map and this process. They must have a theologically precise understanding of her.
Here are eleven thought tributaries that I would recommend for her. If you know someone like Mable, I suggest you print this article and the accompanying Mind Map so you can thoroughly unpack and help your “Mable” in a community of helpers.
Serving – She cannot become a “Dead Sea Christian,” a person, who only receives, but does not give. One of the most effective ways to change is by creating outlets where you are serving others. Being other-centered is part of what it means to be gospel-centered.
Fun – Christians are supposed to have fun. There are times when it is right and wise to get away from the pressures of life. Mable needs to find appropriate fun that will allow her to unwind, relax, and decompress.
Praying – It may be good for her to do mandatory praying. You forge stable relationships by being together. Mable has a deep-seated fear and misunderstanding of who God is. She needs reprogramming. Part of her retraining will be sitting before the Lord while sharing with Him all that is on her heart (Hebrews 4:13).
Listening – Solid gospel-centered music can lift the soul, which should not be a passive tributary flowing into her mind. She should be an active listener, as she focuses on the lyrics. The Psalms are words for meditation that we memorize. She should similarly treat our modern gospel-centered songs.
Preaching – Her Sunday morning church meeting is an obvious choice here, but she could also set up a couple of solid preachers who podcast. This way she can hear good content throughout her week, while she is running, shopping, or relaxing on the back porch.
Talking – The word communication comes from the Greek word, koinonia, which can mean doing life at an intimate level. This option is where her husband and friends will play a vital role in her transformation. She needs to be communicating with the right people, and they need to be interacting with her.
Reading – Solid Christian literature, plus fun reads are both appropriate here. Mable’s reading needs to be about God-things, but she also needs to bring some fun into her reading, which can happen by selecting material that brings life to her soul.
Laughing – Here is my all-time favorite quote on laughing. I will let it speak for itself:
Laughter is a divine gift to the human who is humble. A proud man cannot laugh because he must watch his dignity; he cannot give himself over to the rocking and rolling of his belly. But a poor and happy man laughs heartily because he gives no serious attention to his ego. Only the truly humble belong to this kingdom of divine laughter.
Humor and humility should keep good company. Self-deprecating humor can be a healthy reminder that we are not the center of the universe, that humility is our proper posture before our fellow humans as well as before almighty God. – Terry Lindvall
Exercising – We are physical and spiritual beings. The line between the two is not clear or the same for all people. Our “soul sizes” and physical abilities are all different. Each person is unique, and there is no question that physical exercise is vital to the body, just as spiritual training is for the soul. Mable needs a plan that serves the uniqueness of her physicality.
Receiving – Though most of the points are about her receiving something from others or things, I have singled out this idea of “receiving” on purpose because her self-reliant nature is opposed to humbling herself to receive from others. She is too proud to be vulnerable, weak, needy, and broken. She needs to be re-envisioned regarding the counterintuitive nature of the gospel, which says, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).
Identifying – The key for Mable and her helpers is how well they can recognize the things on this Mind Map that affect her. She must create a new muscle memory that reflexes a Godward orientation. The more she is retrained to have a greater affection for her heavenly Father, the more her soul will be stabilized in the gospel.
Also published on Medium.