In my home group Bible study, we've been reading and discussing Inside Out, by Dr. Larry Crabb.  It's an interesting book with several sound principles.  I might not agree entirely with everything Dr. Crabb covers, but the various lessons, Bible readings, and subsequent discussions have given me plenty to think about.

At the end of our discussion last week, one of the members of our group assigned us a bit of homework:

Write 5 pages on what it means to really change.

She wasn't being 100% serious, but thinking about what it means to truly change yourself is an intriguing enough topic that I want to cover it.  Forgive me if I don't exhaust 5 full pages in the process, though.

What the Book's About

The central lesson of Inside Out can be summarized in three parts:

  1. We all experience some kind of pain in this life due to our separation from God
  2. Out of a desire for self-protection, we selfishly shape our worlds to avoid acknowledging or experiencing this pain
  3. This self-protective behavior leads us farther from God and deeper into sinful patterns of behavior

To really change, we have to first uncover the pain it is we feel.  Some of us were wronged in our youth when a parent failed to live up to a promise.  Or when a friend and confidant moved away.  Or some other emotional trauma that delivered pain that we don't ever want to experience again.

Then, we have to understand what it is we are already doing to protect ourselves from that pain.  Maybe we second guess every promise given us by others.  Or we refuse to invest in personal relationships so we won't be wronged when they fail.  Or we in some other way refuse to love others because we're afraid of the pain they might inflict on us.

Finally, once that pattern of self-protection is peeled away and we're left vulnerable to the world, we need to draw ourselves closer to God so He can be our protector.  We trust Him to come through when people can't.  We trust Him to bring strength in relationships when we can't count on others.  We trust Him to help us love one another and be an example in our lives when our own intuition and willpower fails.

Meaningful Change

So what does it mean to really change?

It's not a simple step-by-step process.  Mostly because everyone is in a different place and has a different path to take.  Change for me, though, involves an adjustment in attitude.

We're all hardwired to protect ourselves.  It's the flinching behavior when someone pretends to throw a punch.  The automatic recoil when something jumps out from behind a box in a haunted house.  But this same self-protective attitude is what we (or at least I) need to get rid of.

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

- Matthew 5:38-48

Our mandate is to love one another. Not just those that are easy to love, but those who are hard to love.  Trusting those who have failed us in the past. Giving to those who we feel don't "deserve" it. Not flinching when slapped by another.  These aren't things we should do foolishly, but things we should do with purpose.

Once, a youth minister delivered a lesson on Matthew 5 and told the youth that, in fights, they should let people hit them and not fight back.  He took the "turn to them the other cheek also" passage literally, suggesting you should pull your own punches and let your enemies strike you from both sides.

That's not at all what I'm suggesting.

Our natural instinct when someone hits us is to turn away and raise our arms in defense.  The next time we're around that person, we stiffen a bit because we expect them to take another swing and we don't want to be caught unaware.  Our natural instinct when someone wrongs us is to do the same thing.  Rather than focus on and love them, we turn away and raise up walls in defense.  The next time we're around that person, we stiffen and draw away because we expect them to wrong us again.

Rather than turning away when someone wrongs us, we should hold our ground and love them anyway.  We should love those who hate us.  Even when it hurts.

And it will hurt.

That's when we should turn to God, pray for strength while we fulfill our mission on earth, and pray for those who hate us.

Understanding how to do that is one thing.  Actually doing that is what requires a change of perception and a change of attitude.  That's what I struggle with almost daily, and I expect I will continue to suffer with it for some time.