In my last post, I talked about how the Lord has convicted me of romanticizing my sin. In the same way that the Israelites decorated their idols with gold and silver (Isaiah 40:18-19), I’ve painted sinful thought patterns in so many layers of lies that I’ve actually believed they were beautiful. Odysseus’ approach to the Siren’s song illustrated how I’ve been living: because Odysseus refused to block his ears, he was deceived into thinking that hideous murderers were beauties worth the price of his life.
Along with this conviction, I’ve felt the Lord saying, “This is the start of a new chapter, one of freedom, if you will step into it, daughter.”
Now the question is, how do I step into it? How do I step into this new, vast freedom so unfamiliar to a woman used to living hunkered down in a prison cell of lies?
Remembering the deception of Odysseus, how do I “block my ears” so I can see the things Satan wants to use to divide and destroy me as what they truly are?
Before I can approach the how, though, I have to do the hard work of understanding the why. Why do I crave the Siren’s song? Why do I sit in the dirt, decorating a wooden idol when the Creator of the universe holds His hand out in power and compassion and healing?
We need the why before the how because if we don’t get to the root of the issue, all we’ll do is put a band-aid on an inwardly festering wound.
And we need the why before the how because we are all different. Our hearts are all deceitful (Jer. 17:9), but to remix Tolstoy*, “every deceitful heart is deceitful in its own way.”
Knowing Our Frames
A mentor of mine drew my attention to the word “frame” is Psalm 139:15: “My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret.”
Our frame, she told me, isn’t just physical, it’s our heart and soul, our abilities and vulnerabilities, the core of who we are as individuals. And it is mind-blowing to realize that not only does God know our unique weaknesses, but he has empathized with them intimately since we were growing in our mothers’ wombs.
I think that key to answering why we are drawn to certain sins is to better understand our frames. If we seek to discover our natural tendencies and identify the lies we’ve swallowed, we will be much better positioned to recognize and fight the sin in our lives.
One tool that has helped to identify my sinful tendencies is the Enneagram. Now, I know that the Enneagram is definitely not a Christian invention and that it probably qualifies as pseudoscience, but hang with me! Taking the assessment isn’t magic, and it shouldn’t be given that much weight. But I’ve personally found that it gave me a much needed reality check about the sins I tend to wallow in. The Enneagram might seem like a downer at first; whereas Myers Briggs tends to highlight the positive, the it’s pretty blunt about your weaknesses. But this is a good thing if you’re looking for a personalized strategy to fight sin!
I’m an Enneagram 4, and one of my most basic destructive tendencies is to romanticize negative emotions, making melancholy, victimhood and discontentment part of my identity. As strange as it might sound, rather than moving forward after grieving a disappointment, I often go back to stoke the pain. Along with the Lord beckoning me into a new season, I also felt the tough love of the Holy Spirit saying, “Do you want to stay stuck, Hope? Because you’re sure acting like it.” And it’s true. I had been holding on to the pain of the past as a marker of meaning and identity, when really, it was just a gaudy, meaningless idol.
My Battle Plan
For me, this is how the how has begun: I’ve realized that I have such well-worn paths** of destructive thinking that if you leave me alone, my mind will almost immediately spiral. I commute to work and am in the car almost an hour and a half every day, which has consistently led to mental disaster. So this past week, I made a plan. I strategically chose podcasts for my commute that would direct my thoughts to God and away from myself. And already, the negative thoughts are no longer center stage. But I know I need to be in this for the long game. Rewiring my brain won’t happen overnight. These are thoughts I’ve been thinking over and over since I swallowed the original lies at about age 12. So I need to continue to plan ahead. I need to continue to strategize against the default mindset I’ve lived in for so long.
In Deuteronomy 30: 11-20, God sets a choice before the Israelites: Him or idols, life or death. What compels me about this passage is the urgency of God’s tone (as spoken through Moses). It’s not the angry yell of a distant tyrant. It’s the voice of a father urging his children not to walk off a cliff, but into his arms. It grieves Him to see His children destroying themselves when He offers them clear-eyed, freedom-filled life.
In this passage, He tells us that he has given us the ability to obey Him: “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” (vs. 11-14)
He sets life before us and urges us to choose Him, who is our life: “See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. “(vs. 15-20)
The Lord is beckoning us to choose life over death, Him over idols, to walk in His meaning-filled story rather than to scribble our own. He holds out His hand, urging us to step deeper into our identity as his children.
When He calls us to choose life though, He’s also asking us to lay ours down. Jesus tells us to take up our cross and follow him (Matthew 16:24). It recently struck me that in order to carry a cross, you have to put everything else down. Holding on to other things is not an option. So now, I choose to throw away these ugly idols and to choose the beauty of the cross he calls me to bear. And soon, these “beautiful” idols will be fully exposed as what they truly are: gaudy, dull burdens that have only weighed me down.
*Leo Tolstoy’s famous first line from Anna Karenina reads “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I don’t agree, but Anna Karenina is still a great read.
**In her book, Fully Alive, Susie Larson talks in depth about the science and psychology of these “well-worn paths” of destructive thinking. God has used this book to speak truth and give me the push I need to aggressively change my thought patterns. I highly recommend the book if you are desperate for healing in your thinking.