There’s always a battle going on between God’s definition and mine. Wisdom says this:
Whoever finds me finds life and receives favour from the LORD. But whoever fails to find me harms himself; all who hate me love death. (Proverbs 8:35-36)
Jesus says He is life – real life. And failing to find Him is death – real death. But when I examine my fears and my dreams I find another definition of life and death going on. I fear the opinion of others because it feels like death to be exposed. I dream of certain successes because it feels like life to be praised.
Where did I get these faulty definitions? Well they spring from our own hearts and we must take responsibility for that. But, chances are, they have been shaped by events in our childhood that are being replayed over and over today.
This idea is developed by Larry Crabb, an author and Christian with years of counselling experience. Several years ago Glen and I attended a conference he ran on spiritual development. Glen blogged about it here. It transformed the way in which we saw ourselves and our marriage.
Crabb argues that all of us have early experiences that come to define ‘life’ and ‘death’. And he encourages us to spend time thinking about those shaping experiences, what we’ve learnt from them about “life” and “death” and how they get replayed in our daily decisions. So what were your “death experiences” – what made you say, “This is awful, I never want to feel like this again?” And what were your “life experiences” – what taught you to think, “I must have more of this?”
Here’s an example. Let’s say that as a child I was good at swimming. When I won competitions, I felt wonderful, precious, special. I learned that sporting success was essential to my happiness. But the lesson continued into adulthood. In later years, when I joined a work football side, friends and colleagues were shocked by the transformation in any otherwise easygoing personality. When I raised my kids, I taught them the same thing. If I could no longer pick up the trophies, maybe they could do it for me. Life, I had learned, was all about winning.
‘Death’ works in a similar way. It’s the feelings I associate with a negative event or situation that I never want to experience again. Maybe I was bullied at college for wearing the wrong clothes. Maybe I was ostracised for not having the right trainers. The lesson I learned was that appearances matter. Even today, my boyfriend has never seen me without make-up. My wardrobe is filled with clothes that I’ve only worn once. To let the mask slide would be to return to the sixth form toilets, head repeatedly punched against the wall.
For some, our life and death experiences are obvious. To others, they require a little more thought. What matters is not so much what happened – thought this may have been devastating. Instead the issue for today is what you learned from them. It’s the behaviours and patterns that continue today, many of which can be painful and self-destructive.
What do we do with these experiences? Do we spend our days running from them, being driven by them? Or do we let Jesus Christ define life and death? In His presence we can say no to every false life and face every false death.