Slow Down Before You Map Your Experience Over Others

RMlogo Four things that will help you to keep your experience from being how you see life

A blogger’s nightmare is when a person reads their article, pulls a point from it, and responds unkindly to the post. It often happens after I have posted a blurb on Facebook. Someone will respond uncharitably without doing the work of understanding the context or taking the time to ask questions.

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These are my drive-by shooters, who function with a “Ready! Fire! Aim!” mentality toward social media. They blow in, blow up, and blow out, never to be seen again—at least not until the next blurb with which they take issue. They illustrate a common temptation for all of us.

It is natural to interpret life from our personal experiences, which is what Cornelius Van Til called “no neutral or brute facts.” We precede every fact, story, thought, or idea by our belief system that has been shaped by the many things that have happened to us.

Nobody enters into a discussion knowing everything there is to know about the situation. Nobody comes into a conversation with the ability to suspend their shaping influences so they can be objective about what they perceive and what they want to say.

Here are three examples from three everyday life experiences that can leave an indelible impact on how any person interprets life. All three of these illustrations were my early life experiences.

Coming Out Of a Legalistic Culture

A legalistic culture is an environment where rules, lists, and secondary preferences can be equal to or even function to supplant the gospel. A rule-based system creates a fear-based culture where how you present yourself becomes the basis for being accepted or rejected.

In this kind of culture, the temptation to present yourself falsely, while assessing and uncharitably judging other people for how they present themselves can be a natural temptation to succumb. If the person is not able to keep up with the pretense of behavioristic religion, he will more than likely sour with the lifestyle while looking for less restrictive environments.

In most cases, the expatriate makes what I have called the “grace mistake,” as they choose to live with fewer rules and more freedom. They typically shudder or even react angrily to anyone who “tells them what to do.”

When hurt people leave a legalistic culture and land in a grace environment, their previous life experience weighs so heavy on them that they call all mandates to live holy as being judgmental. It is nearly impossible to give these kinds of people directive counsel that requires holiness, standards, or disciplines.

They have only one filter for hearing directive care: “You are judging me” or “Don’t tell me what to do.” These people have experienced legitimate hurt by others, and the only kind of religion they know is a mean-spirited or demanding person who makes secondary standards more important than what they should be.

Coming From a Home With a Mean Father

Adults reared in a home where the father was not a sincere or close replication of God the Father will shape a false interpretation of who God is because they have been indelibly affected by their experience. One of the most potent shaping influences in a child’s life is their experience with their father.

To be shaped by our earthly fathers is an inescapable reality for all of us. It is impossible for a child not to be influenced by their Father. I remember watching a British TV show with my daughter that was talking about a man living in the wilderness. The Brit was struggling, tired, and thirsty when he said, “I could murder a cup of tea” to which my eight-year daughter asked, “Daddy, what does murder mean?” She knew what murdered meant, but she had never heard it in that context: to kill a cup of tea.

I explained to her what the Brit meant. My daughter knew the meaning of murder, but to hear another view stretched her beyond her understanding. This illustration presents the problem any child could have if their experience with an earthly father is different from God the Father.

Too many adults have difficulty thinking about God as being kind, loving, merciful, gracious, and forgiving. That was not their experience. They came to the Father timid and fearful while expecting the relationship not to go well with them because not relating well to a father is all they knew.

Coming Out Of a Horrible Marriage

There are no good ways to explain what it is like to be in a horrible marriage. Experiencing it is to understand it, and if you have been in an awful relationship or if you are in one, you know. A horrible marriage is a life sentence with no possibility of being set free until you die.

Another type of horrible marriage is one where a spouse commits adultery. This kind of devastation, too, has no parallel. It is impossible to go through unfaithfulness and divorce and not be negatively shaped by that experience. There are too many temptations to list.

A horrible marriage is like a dark cloud that never goes away, and after a while, that darkness will not only shape you, but it will control how you think about and respond to life. Some of those responses to life are anger, cynicism, jealousy, and despair.

For the spouses who cannot get out of their marriages, they seek distractions by immersing themselves in things that take their minds away from what they cannot escape. Two of the more common distractions are children and work, or for the Christian, it can be a ministry.

Shaped By Shaping Influences

All three of these illustrations are real and make up a large part of our Christian culture. There is never a week where I do not interact and engage a person who experienced shaping in one of these ways. These amazingly powerful shaping influences become the filter for how a person thinks about God, others, and life. The strength of the “filter” determines what kind of restructuring that needs to take place to correct the problem with the person’s interpretations.

A significant part of my Christian experience is trying to tear down these anti-biblical filters that have shaped me while reconstructing a new interpretive grid that looks more like what the Bible teaches. De-programming your mind can take decades. Part of that process requires practical and helpful tips that you can apply to your life.

Here are four of those tips that have helped me in the process of reconstructing the wrong shaping influences in my life. This graphic is an excellent illustration to help you to think about how you filter and interpret life.

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What Can Be Known

Omniscient

All of us know we are not omniscient, a theological term that means we are not all-knowing. Though this is common knowledge and no one, but an insane person, would dispute this, we still have trouble applying this truth to our lives.

How easy is it for you to think you know what you know, particularly when someone “hurts your feelings?” How many spouses have charged head-long into a dispute with their spouse, fully confident of their interpretation of the facts?

How many times have you heard the sad story of someone who has been offended by another and you gave counsel based on a one-sided story? I think it would be safe to say we all have made these mistakes.

These occurrences are where the graphic is so helpful. No matter how much we think we know about a story, we do not see the whole story. This truth should put a governor on our mouths while causing sober reflection before we speak or send that email, text, or paste our thoughts on a social media platform.

Humility

A careful look at the graphic should grow humility in our hearts. We do not know everything, no matter how much we think we know about any situation. There is always another side of the story.

An example of this is in situations where an employer fires an individual. It is easy for the friends of the fired person to take up an offense for their friend.

Loving their friend is a good thing, but where the situation can go wrong is to think you know the whole story. For example, the people who work with this person eight to ten hours a day, five days a week, have a perspective that his friends cannot have.

They may know him in many contexts, but they do not see him in every situation. You also see this in some marriages, where one spouse presents the other spouse as a bad person, which may be true to a degree.

The problem here is that the friend of the spouse talking critically about the marriage does not know this person inside their marital relationship. It takes two to make a relationship awful, and if the hearer of the complaint does not consider their lack of omniscience, they could uncharitably judge, while reacting wrongly to the other spouse.

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. – Proverbs 18:17

Self-Suspicious

The humble heart is self-aware of their lack of knowledge, which motivates them to be self-suspicious. Being self-suspicious is not a bad thing; it is a wise thing. The over-confident person can be a dangerous person.

Even how we think about the Bible should be held self-suspiciously. If God regenerated you for more than a few years, you know this is true. Think about some of the things you believed right after the Lord regenerated you.

I could give you a long list of things I thought were right when I was a young Christian that I do not believe any longer. The truth is that I am less confident about many of the things I accept today than I was about some of the things that I believed when I was younger.

While I am fully confident in the gospel, I tend to hold other things with a looser grip. If I have learned anything from history, it is this: there are some things I used to believe that I do not think any longer, which means some of the things I accept today, I will no longer value in the future.

There are holes in what we believe, and it would be wise and humble to admit this. Submitting yourself to omniscience is not a bad thing.

Ask Questions

One of the most practical things we could do regarding our lack of omniscience is to ask more questions than making statements. How many times has someone told you how things were when it would have been far better if they would have asked you a few questions first?

How many times have you done this? The difference between question askers and statement makers is humility and pride. The humble person will understand their lack of omniscience and will have a well-guarded heart, mind, and tongue.

The humble person does not live in a ready, fire, aim world, which is in part what it means to display the aspect of the fruit of the Spirit that Paul called self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness that God requires. – James 1:19-20

Call to Action

  1. What have been some of your negative shaping influences?
  2. How have they shaped you, and how do you need to change?
  3. Where do your negative shaping influences get you in the most trouble?
  4. Will you share these things with someone who can help you?
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