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Dave Ramsey Doesn’t Need Your Help

It doesn’t take long to name recent well-known powerful people and their businesses for whom Christians have taken up. The owners of Chick-fil-A. Dave Ramsey. Sarah Palin. That one dude on Duck Dynasty. We call it “Culture Wars” and we take it so very seriously.
How you ever stopped to ask why we do that? Why do Christians get up at arms for someone with plenty of money, influence, and resources and who doesn’t know them and never will?

Read the rest of “Defending the Powerful Is Not Our Mission” on A Deeper Story

Independence: the False Gospel Destroying American Christianity

The second hardest life lesson I’ve had to confront is asking for help. The hardest one has been actually accepting the help.  (Note: I haven’t mastered either one yet.)

I’ve always been a capable person with the full calendar and resume to prove it. But ever since our oldest daughter was born with life-threatening complications, it was like having someone press my nose into the mud of my personal weakness and hold it there. It was a shock to discover how incapable I could be. It forced me to examine why it was so painful to accept that I need help. Why is it so humiliating to ask for and accept that help? It appears that I am not alone. Once I started looking for it, I discovered that this thread of I-don’t-need-help independence weaves through the American national identity and it influences how Christianity enters and merges with that national identity.

The Evolution of American Christianity

Resistance to asking for and accepting help is embedded in the fabric of American culture. Even though our individual heritages vary (some were forced here as slaves, some were here first and were conquered, some of us — including both sides of my family – immigrated here relatively recently), we all live and breathe and absorb our society’s characteristics. Our independent pioneer/cowboy spirit is the foundation these United States were built upon. The people who fled here from Europe and survived, the ones who pushed west, the pioneers who carved new lives from prairie, plains, and forest, the Lone Ranger… that kind of life takes grit and stubbornness and willingness to go it alone.

Yet, ours isn’t a noble story. The story of how the United States became what it is today is riddled with crimes against humanity. As a nation, we do not occupy any sort of moral high ground when it comes to the way we treat people who are different, have what we want, or stand in the way of what we want. Our cowboy independence feeds a willingness to trample others and the two spun together become a cord of superiority woven across our cultural DNA. Yes, it has made us a powerful and successful nation, but it is has a dark and deadly underbelly that still influences us today.

American Christians as a whole have struggled to rise above this superiority complex (or should I say “fall below?”). Jesus teaches us to be humble, love others, and not to worry about dominating or winning (the last will be first, remember?). This clashes with the Lone Ranger psyche we are born into, so we cut and patchwork it together into a deformed, Christian-in-name, distinctly American religion (Matthew Paul Turner has written an excellent and thorough history of this process in his new soon-to-be-released book Our Great Big American God: A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity).

This American-Christian halfbreed teaches that we can do anything if God is on our side–we can go it pseudo-solo (because we’re not really alone if God is with us, right?). It idolizes independence. And it culminates in the false gospel, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.”

Every culture and society has blind spots, places where our culture and society blind us to the meaning and intent of Jesus’ teaching. We delight in identifying these blind spots in others, forgetting that we have them too. I believe  that this “God won’t give you more than you can handle” idea is the ultimate expression of our most dangerous American-Christian blind spot — independence.

Independence and Individuals

As an American Christian, woman, wife, and mother, I soaked it up without noticing.  American Christianity told me that the perfect Christian, woman, wife, and mother was someone who could handle everything herself. I made that my goal, and of course I had to do it independently.

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This was me juggling a babe-in-stroller, a wheelchair-bound non-potty-trained elementary-schooler, a barely-potty-trained toddler, and an easily-distracted preschooler. You can see the exhaustion in my eyes if you look really closely.

But by telling me “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” this false gospel also taught me that my failures were my fault. If I couldn’t handle something, it was because I was a bad Christian. I had been lazy, didn’t put forth enough effort, didn’t plan well, didn’t follow through, indulged myself instead of being self-disciplined, or had otherwise sinned in some way. (Sound familiar? Yes, this is the same pattern we see in name-it-and-claim-it Christianity.)

The false gospel of independence teaches that needing or requesting help is either a symptom of some other sin or a sinful attitude in and of itself.

Certainly some of my failures to handle things were and are my own fault, but not all of them. Sometimes, I do reach my limits. This happened regularly when Elli was alive, and it happened daily during the 15 months between the day the youngest was born and the day Elli died. We also met our financial limits trying to pay for the kids’ health care and accommodate her special needs. And I spent the years immediately following Elli’s death well beyond my ability to handle alone. And as my physical therapy records indicate, now that I’m getting older, I’m discovering my physical limits.

When I can’t handle things, I reach the point where I end and you begin. What happens next depends on our theology of independence and community.

Independence and Communities

I have the best husband. He’s reliable and steady. He washes dishes, mops and vacuums floors, does laundry, and basically is the absolute best tidy-up-the-house-for-company person I’ve ever known. He changes diapers and gives baby bottles and during the baby years he got up with each of our kids on Friday and Saturday nights so I could sleep. He follows through on commitments and takes action when something needs to be done.

Many women would kill to have a husband like that. Which makes it all the more awful that my reaction when he helped around the house used to be anger. I was insulted, my pride was hurt, and I felt like his help meant that I was falling short on my responsibilities. While I was relieved to have help, it felt like condemnation.

I’ve had years to learn to accept my own limits and face how hurtful my prideful independence is. God has forced me to face the truth that, in fact, I’m Not All That. I can’t do it myself. I actually do need help.

© 2006 金娜 Kim S, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

“Teamwork” © 2006 金娜 Kim S, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio

This is the monumental thing that our American Christianity gets wrong: God didn’t create us to be self-sufficient. He created us to live together, to complement each other’s weaknesses with our strengths, and allow their strengths to complement our weaknesses.

You can easily enough see how this kind of thing works by looking no further than your own body. Your body has many parts—limbs, organs, cells—but no matter how many parts you can name, you’re still one body. It’s exactly the same with Christ. By means of his one Spirit, we all said good-bye to our partial and piecemeal lives. We each used to independently call our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. (This is what we proclaimed in word and action when we were baptized.) Each of us is now a part of his resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain—his Spirit—where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive. …

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. …

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of. An enormous eye or a gigantic hand wouldn’t be a body, but a monster. What we have is one body with many parts, each its proper size and in its proper place. No part is important on its own. …

The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don’t, the parts we see and the parts we don’t. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.

You are Christ’s body—that’s who you are! You must never forget this. (Selected verses from 1 Corinthians 12, The Message)

Each of us will encounter something we can’t handle without help. Some of us will spend years there, while others have only fleeting moments of need.

And this means all of us will come into contact with people who need help. This is normal, healthy, and can be beautiful. It is a privilege to help one another, but that requires someone to receive the help. It brings people together and allows us the opportunity to live out the commands Jesus gives us to help those in need, give food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, help to the helpless.

Independence’s Sinister Underbelly

The false gospel of independence teaches that needing help is sin, but it gets far more sinister and deadly. The natural outworking of this theology is to conclude that offering help must also be sin. The logic goes like this: “if that person is asking for help, they must have screwed up somewhere. They are sinners. I need to let them experience the natural consequences of their sin. It would be sinful of me to give them an easy out.”

This is what we’re thinking: If God won’t give you more than you can handle, don’t come running to us, our churches, or the U.S. for help. You need to handle it on your own.

Sounds like reincarnation and karma. Sounds like a gospel of independence, retaliation, arrogance, and judgment. It does not sound like Jesus.

Where is the grace and mercy of Jesus in a theology that causes us to withhold help from the people who need it most?

I believe this false gospel is the reason we see protestors pounding on buses full of desperate children fleeing death threats in their home countries. It is the reason so many families are living on the brink of homelessness (please click that link and consider helping out).

The false gospel of independence not only hurts the people we turn our backs on, but it will hurt us too.

Jesus’s words in Matthew 25, where he says:

You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.

 

If Only: Letting Go of Regret

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“No regrets.” Sprayed across t-shirts, bumper stickers, and posters, these words were the 80s version of today’s YOLO (You Only Live Once) and Horace’s “carpe diem.” We have so many sayings like this, reminders that life is short, you can’t count on tomorrow, so don’t miss opportunities, that you’d think we all know exactly how to live a life with no regrets.

I’m sitting here at this computer with a half-smile on my face, the kind I get when I’m feeling especially cynical and, well, regretful. I’ve made plenty of choices I regret, whether it’s words said without thought, purchases made without counting the cost, or the most haunting of all, losing my temper with my kids. If we’re honest, we all have made mistakes that we’d do over if we could, don’t we? I try not to stay long, but I’ve spent plenty of time thinking “If only…”

If_OnlyIf I stay too long there, it drags me into a downward spiral. This is what Michelle van Loon, featured writer on Her.meneutics (by Christianity Today), writes about in the book she releases next month, “If Only: Letting Go of Regret.”

I read an advance release copy two weeks ago while traveling for work, and as I told Michelle later, I had to choke back tears a couple of times. Heaven forbid that I should cry in an airport terminal or next to a total stranger on a plane! She deals with the topic with the gentleness it needs. I got to interview her this week for her book release. Check it out, and then get yourself a copy!

Joy: Why did you write this book, and why did you write it now? 

Michelle: Have you ever had a time in your life when it seemed like you were having the same conversation with every person who crossed your path? As I moved into midlife, I kept having conversations with my age peers, all of whom were in the midst of their midlife transition. They would express regrets about the way they’d parented their children, their career paths, their marriages, their divorces, and the way they’d navigated relationships with aging parents or their siblings. I had quite a list of my own regrets to match theirs.

I’d learned through some of the reading and study I was doing that spiritual growth at midlife happens as we come to terms with the reality that we don’t get a do over in our life. Our if only’s contain the potential for growth if only we have ears to hear what God is saying to us through them.

In the church, we aren’t always very comfortable talking about our regrets, particularly those we’ve racked up after coming to faith in Christ. I discovered that God had embedded an invitation to maturity, wisdom and whole-hearted courage in my regrets. That repeated conversation and my experience prayerfully processing those regrets sparked my writing. I quickly discovered that the topic of regret appeals to many, not just those at midlife. We all have regrets.

Joy: You wrote about the way stuffing our regrets and hiding from them hurts us down the road. When you described our tendency to gloss over and oversimplify the process of dealing with our past choices, I found myself wanting to sit with that awhile. How do we know we’ve stuffed instead of dealt with things? 

Michelle: There’s no simple litmus test that will reveal the stuff we’ve stuffed, sadly. In the book, I tell the story of a friend who was a good Christian girl. She did everything “right” in order to cover up the shame she felt as a result of being sexually abused during her childhood. She had done nothing wrong, thus, had nothing to regret – but her precision in getting her behavior just right all the time was her way of avoiding dealing with the pain and confusion of her childhood experience.

If we’re burying regrets, we’re often trying to hide from them in the same way. We may be especially rigid or legalistic, particularly in the areas closely related to our regrets. Or we may self-medicate with eating, drinking, shopping, drugging, as a way to anesthetize our shame. We may over-compensate. We may sink into depression and be able to connect the dots to why.

I’m hoping my book will encourage many readers to begin to name, face, and prayerfully come to terms with their regrets with the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Those regrets can be redeemed in our lives, for God’s glory and our good.

Joy: Lastly, this was probably my biggest question after reading your book — what about what’s happening in my life NOW. How can we deal in healthier ways with more recent regrets, or the mistakes we make in our present? How do we head off tomorrow’s if-onlys so they don’t come back to haunt later? 

Michelle: That’s such a great question! No matter how intentionally we live, let’s face it – we’re going to blow it. That’s why we need a Savior! Submitting to his leadership and being honest about our struggles, temptations and failures – as well as our dreams, desires and affections – will help us live an honest, courageous, whole-hearted life.

Joy: Do you think you’ll write more books? Are you working on anything now? If yes, what can you tell us about it?

Michelle van Loon, author of "If Only: Letting Go of Regret"Michelle: I’m a writer, so I’m always dreaming about future writing projects. Some are small – lots of blog ideas for my Pilgrim’s Road Trip blog at Patheos, and some are book-length dreams. I’d love to write about the Jewish Feasts described in Leviticus 23 and their relationship to the Christian calendar. I’d welcome the opportunity to write about spiritual growth at midlife and beyond. My goal is to point readers toward Jesus, no matter what I write.

Thank you so much for inviting me to visit your blog today, Joy!