I remember the first time I got “had” by my own kid. It was at the dinner table and she was less than two years old. Grace had not quite finished eating but was getting fidgety.
“I wanna get down.” She said.
“Not yet, we’re still eating.”
She fidgeted more as we continued our dinner conversation.
Then it came:
“Mama… I wannna Huuuuuug!” Her arms reached to me with a face that pleaded to be embraced. I put down my knife and fork, lifted her from her chair. No sooner had I begun to give her the “hug,” then she squirmed out of my arms and was off. For her: “Success!”, and I’d been “had.”
For several meals following this when Grace tried to pull “I wanna hug” we would say: “Grace, that’s not true. What you want is to get down. You need to ask properly: ‘May I be excused from the table, please?’” Now the attempted manipulation no longer exists.
Here is the reality check. Our culture today likes to say that humans are intrinsically good. It especially likes to say that children are innocent and innately good too. But let’s be honest with this reality check. At 20-months-old Grace was ready to institute manipulation to get her way, and think that was acceptable. On the path of life, if she were allowed to go on in this fashion she would not only continue in manipulative lies, she would also convince herself there was nothing wrong with it. She would believe her methods were legitimate and pride herself on achieving her goals. Consciously or subconsciously, the reality is she would not be seeing the truth of who she was or acknowledge it as wrong, unless someone taught her.
Maybe you think I’m being too harsh on my kid, but truth be told— isn’t this what we all do with our own sin and short-comings— regardless of our age? I argue this is so because this is the very nature we were born with: the nature of “self-service.”
The Bible gives us real wisdom on the truth of who we are. If we would only be brave enough to look inward and see that truth…
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. (Psalm 36:2)
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
The truth is we spend a LOT of time trying to convince ourselves that we are “good people.” If we just try and live a “good life” that’s good enough. But in the midst of this striving to be “good people” we constantly fall short, we hurt others, serve ourselves rather than others, and we are not honest about it. We justify our bad behaviors for whatever reason seems convenient at the time— “I was busy, I was tired, I “needed” it, I’ve done a lot…” and continue to try and convince ourselves we are “good people.” But notice the first word in each excuse always begins with “I.” The very center of “self-service” is placing our “I” on the throne.
The self-serving “I’’ is powerful as it clashes with our desire to “do good.” As Paul describes:
I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do…. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing….So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work… waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin…. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? (Romans 7:15, 18-19, 21-24)
If this is true for SAINT Paul, Jesus chosen apostle, how much more true is it for us? This is the truth of who we are. We are trapped in the battle of a divided heart. A heart that wants to do good, but oft chooses to do harm. Just as Paul yells out in frustration, don’t we also wring our hands at our lack of will power, crying out: “Who will save me?!!! Stop the madness!”
Salvation can only come from one place. Much like Gracie must be taught not to lie and manipulate, we too must be saved from ourselves, and learn from someone who has greater wisdom and sees us for who we really are. When the verse from Jeremiah says “The heart is deceitful above all things…. Who can understand it?” The inference is that only God—the one who has greater wisdom— can understand us. To understand ourselves, our every motive, to get a grip on who we really are and quell the raging battle within, we must be shown by God and His word…
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
And then we must be taught a different way…
Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart…. (Psalm 86:11)
Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place…. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51: 6, 10)
But to be shown and taught we must know the one who teaches and reveals. Jesus.
When we come to know Jesus, we come to know the truth.
“Then you will know the truth,
and the truth shall set you free.”
His gentle mercy and grace allows us to see honestly who we are in a way that we can handle it. And then He can transform us! Only in this loving relationship with our Lord can we be free from slavery to our “selves.”
This seems so bleak!!! What’s the Good News???
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free….
The Good News is we can stop beating ourselves up for our sin and shortcomings. In Christ we are freely justified and redeemed. From Christ comes the power of the Holy Spirit. From the Holy Spirit comes counsel, revelation and teaching such that we can look our sin straight in the eye, know it, own it, and allow the Spirit of God to transform us, and declare victory over it!
… if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave… but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.” (Romans 8:13-15)
We ARE God’s children. This is the cornerstone of the Gospel! While we celebrate our Risen Lord this Easter Season, the Gospel is not just His rising again to overcome death— it is the entire package gained by the Resurrection: our justification, redemption and access to the Father!
We do not have to be slaves to our short-comings or the battle of the “wills.” We can find freedom in following our Father. Most “parenting experts” will tell you that children crave structure and discipline. They want the security of boundaries. They want limits, solid leadership and wise guidance to follow. I would argue that doesn’t really change as we “grow up.” But as adults where do we turn? We must turn to our Heavenly Father. We cry out “Abba, Father!” Just like our children cry out for us to guide them, we cry out to the Lord: “Help me! I’ve done wrong! Help me do right! Teach me! Change me! Grow me up!”
And God faithfully promises to do so:
I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 11:19)
How will it work?
Love. That is the only way.
To truly follow God’s direction we must love Him above all else, above ourselves. Look at His love for you. Feel it to your very core and your heart of stone will melt away to a heart of flesh.
LOVE Him fully for this truth: That he so loved you he gave himself up.
LOVE teaches. Open your heart to let the Love of the Father teach you…
Do you know how much He loves you?
Do you love Him enough to let Him show you who you really are, and teach you how to grow?
Do you love him enough to let Him into your life to transform you?
Do you love him enough to bury “I”… to bury your own “self”?
He did it for you… He loved you enough… He loved you more than enough. He loved you more than His own self.
Alleluia! The Lord Is Risen!
A Special “Thank You!” to Maggie Snyder again— for all her help and research with this piece, and as well to Tamara Tyler for her offering of scripture suggestions.