Years ago, Derek Webb penned these lyrics to the Caedmon’s Call song “Thankful”:
I ran across an old box of letters
While I was bagging up
Some clothes for Goodwill
You know I had to laugh
That the same old struggles
That plagued me then
Are plaguing me still
It can be massively discouraging when we come to the realization that we continue to wrestle with the same things over and over in life. We wonder if we will ever be free of those things we despise about ourselves and/or our behavior. Is there any hope for us when we discover we are stuck in a cycle we’ve tried so hard to break?
There are two “knee-jerk” responses when life gets tough.
The first knee-jerk reaction is to just give up. Of course, this does nothing to rid us of our struggle, but it may temporarily feel better to give up on trying and give into whatever gets our minds off of what is bugging us. In this knee-jerk reaction, we decide we just don’t have what it takes to break the cycle. We look in the mirror and say to ourselves, you’re just not good enough and never will be. Giving up can look like any of the following non-exhaustive list: substance abuse, withdrawal from others, irresponsibility, and unhealthy eating habits (too much or too little).
The other knee-jerk reaction is to try harder. In this case, we feel we are not good enough, but MAYBE we can be if we put in enough effort. So, we work and strive to do away with anything we find unacceptable about ourselves. We start reading self-help books, practicing and relying upon religious disciplines, and behaving in ways that we feel will “better ourselves”.
There is hope to breaking any cycle we find ourselves in, but it isn’t based on our own willpower to “change”.
Giving up and trying harder are two attempts to deal with our pain that wind up being a part of the cycle we want to see broken. Some of us will cycle through both. Others will tend to pick one or the other and find different ways of implementing them. However, neither offers any distance from whatever cycle we find ourselves in. In fact, they only wind up cementing our unwanted, repetitive behaviors.
The one thing that does offer a way out is this often misunderstood word: humility. Only in it will we find hope for an escape from the cycles we hate so much.
When I speak of humility here, I am not speaking of looking down on one’s self. In religious circles, humility has often been reduced to moping around acting like we are of very little importance. Instead of this imposter, let’s look at true humility. True humility is all about trust. God desires that we place our trust in Him so that we can experience His love and grace in our lives. When we, in turn, trust others with ourselves (just like we have done with God), we get to experience love and grace with each other as well. Humility can be defined as “trusting others with me”. We must invite others into our lives and that includes our cycles.
“Hiddenness” is fuel for any cycle we find ourselves in.
These cycles in our lives depend on hiddenness to keep them circling round and round. Only through exposing what’s going on in our life, relationships, behaviors, and minds can the cycle be broken. Humility accomplishes this task thoroughly as we drag everything out of the darkness and into the light where it can be dealt with. This doesn’t mean just sharing all of our sins and struggles with anyone and everyone. It means truly letting someone into our life…the good and the bad. It is allowing them access to speak into our life. It is responding to their loving insight with willingness to see things differently than we have before (particularly how we see ourselves).
Our self-view is key to staying in or getting out of a cycle.
We must understand our cycles, most importantly what drives them. Hiddenness keeps them going, but something else is at their core. Shame is the culprit that drives any cycle we are in. Fear is a close second, as it feeds off of our shame. Shame tells us we are bad, we are never good enough, we are stupid, we are incompetent, we are a bad parent, we are a terrible friend, we are worthless, we are ugly, and we are weak. Shame is a vicious enemy to all of us. As these terrible lies are thrown at us, we have no power but to remain in some sort of cycle. In these cycles, we are trying to maintain some sense of control in our lives.
Despite what shame tells us, we are not who it says we are. We are not defined by what we’ve done or what has been done to us. We are not defined by our behavior, and that includes any “cycle” we tend to wind up in from time to time. We may feel like a failure, but that doesn’t make our entire being a failure. When a professional athlete loses a game, are they a failure? Sure, they failed, but their identify has not changed. They are still really good at what they do. They are gifted, talented, and successful in the path they are on or they wouldn’t have wound up on a professional sports team in the first place.
We are God’s children. He loves us and that means something. Our identify is based on, wrapped up in, and utterly defined by how He views us. He loves us, so we are lovable. He involves Himself in our lives, so we are significant. He cares for our wellbeing, so we are secure. He shares every blessing in the spiritual realm with us, so we have what it takes to move forward in our lives. It may not be to the tune that we have come up with in our heads, but it will lead to a destiny that He has planned for us that cannot be outmatched by our wildest dreams.