“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves, So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.” Job 5:17
“Use a spike collar on me Lord!” This was my prayer after reading day nineteen in Jennifer Kennedy Dean’s devotional book, “Altar’d.” In it she describes Jan as a person who is easily offended, overly sensitive and self focused. I am Jan. Not with everyone but with certain people who I fear may hurt me or have hurt me in the past. I label people as “safe” or “unsafe” and treat them accordingly. Of course their every word is filtered through these perceptions as well. Similar to the reaction some dogs have when they encounter another dog and the hair on the back of their neck rises up, I too stand wary of the unknown and protect myself. For dogs, in order to avoid this conflict they need to be reconditioned. Their minds have to be renewed. How do you convince a dog that another dog is not a threat? Some use distracting techniques (treats) that reinforce the “good” behavior, training the dog to focus on their master rather than the other dog. Some owners use more controversial methods like a spike collar to snap them out of their adversarial mindset that compels to protect themselves. Metaphorically speaking, I need a spike collar. (Note: This is not an endorsement of the use of spike collars on dogs.) But really, I need to be made aware when I am acting instinctively in the flesh instead of being controlled by the Spirit.
Because I am an adult child of an alcoholic (ACA) I learned very young to focus on other’s behavior, body language and words in order to protect myself adequately. I was programmed to take offense for survival’s sake. Emotional rejection was so common I also learned to spend a lot of time in isolation. If I wasn’t watching TV, reading or daydreaming then I was talking to my imaginary friend. In short, I learned to withdraw from stress very effectively. My two “safe” places were self protection and isolation. Carrying these coping mechanisms into adult life and even into my Christian experience was natural to me. At the time it didn’t dawn on me that this behavior wasn’t a part of the abundant Christian life God promised and desired for me. Even though I was saved at the age of twenty-eight it was seven years later before I became aware that this way of living wasn’t healthy or productive and certainly wasn’t God’s perfect plan for a believer.
However, two things happened that brought healing. First, God provided a safe group of women who wanted to grow in the Lord and who truly loved each other. Here we were able to be emotionally “naked and unashamed,” sharing our deepest fears, confessing sin and loving one another in Christ to a place of healing rest. For the first time in my life I had a loving family. Second, I went there. Encouraged to take back what the enemy had stolen, I invited God to search my heart. (Trust me when I say God will answer this prayer directly.) Both of these things occurred after God brought me into the fold of loving Christian women through a discipleship class called “The Search for Significance.” In our time together we dove into other books as well like “Boundaries” by Cloud and Townsend, “Abba’s Child” by Brennan Manning, “Making Peace with Your Past” by Tim Sledge and “Changes that Heal” by Townsend. While God used all of these books to renew my mind, He did it within a loving, safe, community by the power of His Holy Spirit. A family who was sensitive to hurts and committed to help me in the healing process, not exploiting weakness, was entirely new to me. This was the starting point to true emotional healing and spiritual maturity. Grace and truth in loving community.
Fortunately, we can never get to the end of God. He always reveals more dross that He wants us to be free of in order to experience Him more deeply. This is where I found myself when I prayed for a spike collar. Down deep I like protecting myself. It feels safer than trusting God. I want to avoid pain and pretend like the experiences of my past do not control me…but they do. So, I’ll take the precious treats that keep my eyes focussed on my master, Jesus. But, I’ll also receive discipline with open arms because this is the only thing that snaps me out of my conditioned response to perceived threats, keeping me from loving others fully and from receiving love. Yes, how happy is this woman whom God reproves, I will not despise the discipline of the Almighty! And neither should you.
“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2 NLV