Saturday, July 19, 2008

Looking Back

Looking Back

I could hardly recognize myself. I was no longer the quiet, easy-going girl that very seldom got angry. In my reaction to my husband’s tirades and verbal abuse, I began having unkind thoughts (that’s putting it mildly!) and often responded with a sharp edge to my voice.

It felt like my insides were boiling and any day this volcano of bitterness would erupt to scald whomever stood in my path. When my intuitive co-workers confronted me and asked if I was harboring some anger inside, I became very defensive and said, “I’m not angry! That’s ridiculous!”

Although it took me a while to admit it, I began to see a mirror image in myself of the traits I detested in my husband. How could this have happened? I despised my stinking attitude and felt defeated by the man who knew which buttons to push to get a negative reaction out of me. Even more, I dreaded seeing the smirk on my husband’s face when I sank to his level, and hated hearing him declare how “unchristian” my behavior was.

I wanted the old me back—not the part who became my husband’s doormat, but the peaceful, kind person who was still there beneath the surface of turmoil and anger. During a marriage counseling session our pastor asked, “Are you willing to try to make this marriage work?” As a good little church lady I responded, “Of course!”

The next day his question haunted me. I knew the truth, but I had not been courageous enough to admit it. “No! I do not want to make my marriage work!” I said it out loud as if God couldn’t read my thoughts. “I don’t want to make this work!”

Living with a difficult, abusive man for 20 years was just about all I could take. I was not willing to go back and endure more of the same. I did not believe my husband would ever change, and I no longer had the strength to carry both of us. As soon as I admitted the truth to myself and to God, I was able to make one last attempt to reconcile the marriage. I agreed to seek the help of a professional counselor as long as he would hold my husband accountable for his actions.

I asked God to forgive me for my sinful attitudes and actions, and restore to me the joy of living and a purpose for being alive. I submitted my anger and right for revenge to God, trusting Him to provide justice and deliverance from harm.

As I expected, my husband had no intention of changing, and seemed to delight in pushing me over the edge. Instead of reacting to his rage, I remained calm and in control. Although he became increasingly violent, I made a conscious choice to restrain my tongue, set limits, and do whatever was necessary to maintain my safety.

Instead of remaining a powerless victim, I began focusing on what I could change—myself. I began to keep a journal and write down thoughts and feelings, as well as documenting incidents of abuse. My prayer life was more active as I prayed for my husband and for wisdom to know how to proceed if he refused to change or get help. The scriptures became a precious source of strength and builder of self-esteem as I rediscovered my worth through the eyes of the Lord, my creator.

Like a struggling baby bird pecking its way out of the shell, I began chipping away at the lies I had believed in the prison of my own making. I was emerging as a person capable of surviving and thriving on my own.

When faced with the decision of whether to allow my son to suffer the trauma of a broken home or live in an abusive home, I chose to leave and take him with me. It was the right choice for me . . .and ultimately for him.

When I had to choose whether or not to be truthful on financial questions when my husband skillfully hid assets and lied about his income, God helped me choose honesty over money. He helped me choose faith over feelings and integrity over manipulation.

I did not get the old me back, but the Lord gave me a new me instead. I praise Him for the changes He has made in my life. Some were very painful, but all have been for my good. My life is full of joy and anticipation as God opens doors, provides for my needs, and fulfills my every desire.

Brenda Branson, Copyright © 2002-2008, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Greed, Envy and Jealousy


“Greed is the selfish desire for or pursuit of money, wealth, power, food, or other possessions, especially when this denies the same goods to others.” (from Wikipedia)

Greed’s two sisters are envy and jealousy. Together, they form a diabolical trinity that sneaks their way into the heart of a person, unnoticed at first, weaving and twisting their toxic vines around the heart, poisoning the soul.

Where does greed come from? “But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:14-18 ESV)

It was greed that germinated in Lucifer’s heart. He was one of the most beautiful creatures in heaven, but he wanted more. Instead of being thankful for all God had given him, he wanted what he didn’t have and tried to take it by force. He manipulated other angelic beings with his lies and corrupted, twisted thinking and gained allies to join him in his diabolical attempt to gain power and control over God himself! Crashing headlong up against a holy God sent him reeling, banished from heaven forever, but still power hungry in his temporary dominion of earth. Since then he has taken great delight in reproducing his vile nature in the hearts and minds of people who listen to his lies instead of trusting God’s promises.

Greedy people are often blinded to the truth about themselves. They rationalize their actions when they take what belongs to others by saying, “Well, I don’t have what you have, so I’m going to take yours.” They may even delude themselves into thinking they are serving God with the bounty they have taken from others. But God is not pleased. Jesus spoke harshly to religious people who appeared to be generous and merciful on the outside, but were inwardly “full of greed and self-indulgence.” (Matthew 23:23-26 ESV)

What does greed look like? It often hides in the heart of a person, unnoticed until the greedy person is squeezed by disappointments in life; but sometimes it is overtly evident in the selfish child who grows into an envious, greedy adult. Here are some components of the multifaceted face of greed:

· Narcissism—I love myself more than I care about your well-being, and even though I say I care about you, what I want is really more important.

· Arrogance--I am always right, even when others say I’m wrong for taking what belongs to you. I’m digging in my heels and refuse to consider anyone else’s opinion, and I’m shutting my ears to what God has to say.

· Entitlement--I deserve to have what you have, so I’ll just take yours without any regard for your welfare or other people’s needs.

· Envy and Jealousy—My good deeds and hard work have gone unnoticed while people applaud you. I want what you have so people will like me more. I will not rest until I have rendered you powerless, invisible, discredited and stripped of everything that I want for myself.

· Control—You are confident and assertive while I am needy and afraid. When I take from you, it makes me feel “large and in charge.” When I have it all and you are left with nothing, I may be able to control you by my selective, strings-attached generosity.

· Judgmental and punitive attitude--You hurt me so I will punish you by taking whatever will hurt you the most. Just when you think it’s over, I’ll come back to take more so you will suffer like you’ve caused me to suffer.

· Selfishness—I want what I want when I want it, even if it means you will go without. I will destroy you if you get in my way.

What is the spiritual condition of a greedy person? It is very hard for a greedy person to trust that God is good. Regardless of God’s blessings in their lives, they wonder if He is holding out on them. It’s the same lie Eve believed when she was living in paradise, surrounded by everything she needed and desired, but still wondering if there was more. When a person rationalizes that God might not come through for them, they decide to take charge of their own life and become a god unto themselves.

When someone values anything more than God, scripture calls it idolatry. The twisted logic of a greedy “religious” person says that what they are coveting and taking from others is for God’s work in the kingdom; therefore it is justified. Greedily taking from others to further the cause of their own “ministry” becomes the idol that separates them from worshiping the true God who requires mercy and justice instead of tainted offerings that have been stolen from others.

The apostle Peter spoke about people whose “hearts are trained in greed” (2 Peter 2:14-22), calling them “waterless springs and mists driven by a storm” who promise people freedom, not realizing they are themselves enslaved. “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” (verse19)

Are you a “waterless spring?” Do you appear to have God’s life in you (living water) as you engage in religious rhetoric and humanitarian good deeds, but in reality you are as dry as dead men’s bones because of your greed and envy and jealousy?

If you have found your own reflection in the tri-fold mirror of greed, envy, and jealousy, what should you do? You’ve already taken the first step toward healing by opening your eyes and admitting your brokenness. God has great compassion and mercy for those who run into his open arms for forgiveness. He despises an arrogant, stubborn spirit, but embraces a repentant heart.

The next step in true repentance is to turn and go in another direction. In Colossians 3, Paul advises us to put the idolatries of our hearts behind us and pursue “compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (v. 12), and most importantly, to allow God’s self-sacrificing love (v. 14) to flow through us.

As you pursue the path of righteousness, you may still occasionally hear the voice of the enemy whispering familiar lies in your ear, trying to get you off course. “She’s got stuff that you don’t have . . . you deserve better . . . people love her more than you . . . maybe God is holding out on you . . . you should take matters into your own hands and take what should be yours.” When those lies assault your ears and invade your heart, don’t let them take root. Take the whole rotten mess to your Father and let Him replace your fears with His truth. To the extent that you keep running toward Him with a tender heart that seeks truth, the enemy’s lies will lose their potency.

If you harden your heart and continue to embrace evil, God will most definitely deal with you. Sometimes He relentlessly pursues his wayward children and sometimes He leaves them to their own devices until the consequences of their actions send them running back to Him. For you, dear one who is struggling with greed and envy, God desires to rescue your heart from the clutches of the evil one. If you’ll just risk standing naked in the presence of holy, He will redeem and transform your heart and mind through the power of His incredible love. What will your choice be?

Brenda Branson, Copyright © 2008, All Rights Reserved