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Walking Into Walls
5 Blind Spots That Block God's Work in You
By Stephen Arterburn
WORTHY PUBLISHINGCopyright © 2011 Stephen Arterburn
All rights reserved.
PHANTOM WALLS THAT STOP US
Sometimes when I want to just put my mind in neutral and be entertained, I will flip the TV remote to America's Funniest Home Videos. One of the funniest and most telling video clips involves a house cat at the back door of a home. The door is a common type—an aluminum frame designed to encase a single, solid panel of glass. In the clip the cat is at the door meowing to get out. What the cat does not realize is that there is no glass in the door frame. It had apparently been broken out. The man of the house comes and tries to urge the cat on through the empty space, but the cat will not go. The man even steps through the open frame to show the cat it can be done, but the cat still refuses to budge. It is not until the man opens the door and allows the cat to scurry around the frame that it goes out to freedom.
Much of the time the walls that hold us back are no more real than the absent glass in that door frame. I don't mean that they are not really barriers; I mean they are often constructions built in our own minds from incomplete or misunderstood pieces of reality and combined half-truths woven together in such a way that builds a false perception of the truth. In that sense, what often stops us are barriers that are not really there. They are fabricated entirely, or at least mostly, in our own minds.
We are all guilty of this. We take fragments of reality and a few half-truths and build concepts that are not exactly accurate. Because of these lies that circulate in our heads, we build barriers of anger and resentment about things others have done, or guilt about things that were not our fault. We may view some of our strengths as weaknesses and define ourselves inaccurately, exaggerating all that is wrong and crowding out all that is good and strong and capable.
Maybe you have built a phantom wall by making someone else responsible for something that is clearly your own doing. You may be married to a fairly normal person with fairly normal problems, but you manage to blame your spouse for all your difficulties. You play the role of victim, blaming others for all that's wrong in your life, and the blame becomes a wall in your mind that holds you back just as effectively as if it were real. But it is not real. Those you frame to take the rap for your stuff may actually be guilty of many things, but they are not responsible for all the things that have gone wrong in your life. They are especially not responsible for the wall you have built in your mind in response to their actions.
The Importance of New Perspective
The new perspective we need in getting past our walls is more than just seeing the upside of the dark and traumatic experiences in life. It is not a matter of merely seeing the glass as half full. It is looking at life from a broader perspective than just one painful event. It is looking deeper into all the facts surrounding the past rather than personalizing the hurt. We often carry destructive thoughts around with us that may not exactly fit the real facts. We know the story of what happened, but it may not be a completely accurate story. In our pain, resentment, or anger, we may have assumed things that were not true.
Adoption can be an example of inaccurate perception. It often leads to feelings of rejection. Adopted children can assume there must be something wrong with them, or their birth mother would not have given them up. Yes, giving up a child for adoption does involve some form of rejection, but it is rarely as evil or as personal as many adopted kids think. If you were given up for adoption, your mother did not reject you, the person you are now. And her motives for giving you up were likely related to wanting something better for your life than she thought she could give. Almost all who give up their children do so with a tremendous amount of reluctance and grief.
Adopted children need not let their birth mothers' choices become walls. They can come to see that they were not personally rejected. Their parents rejected only the concept of a child and all that a child demands and needs. It was not personal. It could not have been personal because she had no way of knowing you as the person you are now. It was a decision made by a parent struggling to survive, feeling inadequate to raise a child, and wanting the best for her child. First, your mother made a decision for you to live. She did not abort you. She chose life for you. Then she chose a better life for you than she could provide. Seeing this truth can bring down the wall of rejection.
Jesus was intent on getting people to see the truth. That is why he so often challenged the way they looked at life and each other. He would sometimes say, "You have heard it said ..." and then quote some established belief. Then he would counter that common wisdom with, "But I say ..." and proceed to astound listeners with an amazing new perspective on the old way of thinking.
Jesus' philosophy could be summarized this way: Life is not all about you, it is not all about your things, and it is not even all about this world. It is not all about feeling good or getting what you want. It is not about what you think you need right now. It is about another world beyond Earth and an inner world of the heart without conflict or pretense. Jesus made a difference two thousand years ago because he challenged people to see things from a true perspective. The old way created barriers because it was not based on reality. Living with and in the truth sets us free. It is another way of saying that understanding reality removes walls.
Getting past a wall could mean learning more about the history of the person who rejected or abused you and discovering the origins of the rejection or abuse. At a workshop I conducted in Southern California, I worked with a young man whose life was blocked by a wall of anger at his mother. When he was an infant, his mother left him on a neighbor's front porch and abandoned him. He was in a rage now because, after all these years, she wanted back into his life.
At my suggestion he was able to work through the incident and see it through a clearer lens. I instructed him to call his mother and ask about her childhood. Maybe it would reveal her reasons for making the decision to leave him. The next day he came back in tears. His mother had told him of how her mother had done the same thing to her, but she never came back. Now she was trying to turn a page and be something better than her own mother had been.
Seeing the whole truth behind the traumatic event removed the wall for this man. It freed him from this barrier from the past that blocked his present. It allowed him to resolve his negative emotions, refocus his life, and develop a deep bond with his mother.
Many parents and children are estranged from each other, not realizing that they actually share a bond of neglect, a common experience of pain, and a mutual battle to move beyond walls of resentment and bitterness.
When an abandoned or abused person comes up for air from a life of bitterness, anger, and resentment, he can come to see that he did not have the whole story. The heartless person who inflicted the hurt may have found a heart, and the pain the victim feels may be that person's biggest regret.
But My Abuse Was Real
At this point you may be thinking, This book is not for me because I really am being abused, or This is not for me because the horror of my childhood is not a phantom wall. It is not something I just made up; it happened. If those are your thoughts, or anything close, I hope you will read on, because I am very aware of real abuse in the past and living with impossible people in the present. I do not discount your pain for one second. Life for many is a living hell.
But I would not be writing this if I did not believe the worst situations can be helped. Even if you were living in the worst possible abusive situation or the most neglectful and disconnected relationship, you may have built a wall that keeps you stuck in a dark place where you don't have to stay. Children are not responsible for the abuse that robs them of their childhood, but as adults they are responsible for their reactions to that early life—reactions that could rob them of a meaningful adulthood. Once you take responsibility, you will find new hope and insight as you get your life unstuck and move past your wall.
* * *
We become the kings of stubborn resistance in our own little worlds. We get into ruts that lead us down paths that cause nothing but pain and end with our hitting a wall. Yet we will do everything but try something different.CHAPTER 2
THE WALL OF STUBBORN RESISTANCE
Twice a year I serve as host and speaker of a nationwide intensive workshop on weight loss called Lose It for Life. Each time, I am astonished at the people who have journeyed from all over the country to come. Some have had to endure the embarrassment of purchasing two airline seats just to accommodate their bulk. Many come in wheelchairs, because their weight prevents them from walking easily, if at all. Oxygen tubes run from tanks to their noses, because they are no longer able to breathe well on their own.
When I see these people, I think of the line from the movie The Sixth Sense when the little boy said, "I see dead people." It truly looks as if the life has gone out of these wonderful people. You would think that in their plight they would all be highly motivated to hear new things and try new ways of losing weight and keeping it off. But that is not necessarily so.
On the first night during the first session, I stand before them and say, "All of you in this room have something in common, and it is not just a struggle with your weight. Every person here struggles with what I call 'stubborn resistance.' In fact some of you have built your whole identity around resisting anything that anyone else suggests. If someone says 'white,' you will automatically respond with 'black.' If someone says, 'Go to the right,' you will veer to the left. You have a hard time going along with what others think.
"For some of you the stubborn resistance is so strong you actually came here to prove you could not be helped. You may not realize it, but you came here to solidify your belief that you know everything there is to know about weight loss, and no one knows you and your needs well enough to help you. But if you don't give up your stubborn resistance, you will leave here not having heard, not having shared, and not having risked taking the step that could make your life completely different from what it is now."
Don't misunderstand me. It was not stubborn resistance that made these people overweight. That was a combination of the foods they ate, the exercise they chose, the attitudes they carried, and the genes they inherited. But it is stubborn resistance that keeps them stuck in their overweight condition. Stubborn resistance can prevent them from seeing their blind spot and thus feeds the belief that there is no hope for getting past the wall that prevents them from experiencing a new life.
Fortunately, because we talk about this right up front, many attendees are open-minded enough to be alert to the possibility of a blind spot and to accept the implication that their continued inability to move past the walls of their weight might be partly their own doing. With that kind of openness, many who have held on to their stubborn resistance since childhood are able to see it and find a new path filled with hope and potential. They not only lose weight and reconstruct their external realities, but they also address the negative internal constructs that have fed their cravings for more food than they need.
As long as these people believe the walls they can't get past are their weight, they still have blind spots, and they will keep walking into the real walls they cannot see. A deeper reality is the real problem, and I call that reality the "it." Most people come believing the "it" is their need to lose weight. But during the course of the weekend, they come to realize "it" means much more than weight. As long as weight is the only issue they attend to, the factors causing the weight problem will go unaddressed. Those who do well in the workshop discover that the "it" they need to address is the guilt and shame they have been carrying around since experiencing some extraordinarily painful event in their past. If they don't lose that "it," any attempt to lose weight will be temporary and will only add to their frustrations as they continue to feed the "it," and the weight comes back, usually worse than ever before.
Once people go after the "it" behind the weight problem, they break through their stubborn resistance and are on their way to making real progress—not just in losing the weight on their bodies, but losing the weight on their souls. That in turn leads to keeping the weight off for good.
Resisting The Loss of Our Stubborn Resistance
If you are not overweight, you might look at one of these strugglers and say, "How can a person one hundred pounds overweight stubbornly resist the help that could free her from her weight?" But if you are like me, while my body does not show an obvious problem with weight, inside my soul—and inside yours—there are problems just as big that need attention. It's that old problem of twenty-twenty vision when we look into the lives of others and blindness when we look at ourselves.
Now, be honest: When you started reading this chapter about stubborn resistance, did you immediately start thinking about people you know who exhibit that trait? It's so easy to point at someone else, because that keeps the attention off of me. It's easy to point the finger at those who have obvious problems; it's tougher to examine my own life to see if I am displaying some other form of this paralyzing stubborn resistance. But if I want to get past my walls, I must stop the finger pointing and consider whether I might harbor the same trait. As Pogo the possum used to say in the old comic strip, "We have met the enemy, and he is us."
When you are stuck in stubborn resistance, you may hear words that would help you move past your walls but refuse to attend to them. You defend and rationalize your behaviors and attitudes. You project your problem onto someone else, blaming others or circumstances for the way you are. You become reactive to those who challenge you, because you will do anything you can to protect the wall you have created to avoid the pain of self-examination. You are not open to attempting a different way of thinking or living because you are afraid of losing the comfort of having that wall of dysfunction to hide behind.
The Bible confronts us directly about stubborn resistance in Acts 7:51: "You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That's what your ancestors did, and so do you!" (NLT). If you will let him, God can use the words of this book, the words of Scripture, the words of others, impressions on your heart, and your own gut feelings to help you move beyond the wall of your stubborn resistance.
The King of Stubborn Resistance
Many people hang on to stubborn resistance, just as Pharaoh did in the days of Moses. Moses went to Pharaoh and asked to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Pharaoh resisted with entrenched stubbornness. So God sent plagues on Pharaoh's nation to turn his thinking around. Now, if I had been Pharaoh, I might also have resisted Moses' request to let my slaves just walk out of my country. But after the gnats, it would not have been a problem at all. If not the gnats, the flies surely would have turned my heart. One fly is enough for me. I know where those dirty, hairy little legs have been. But massive swarms of gnats and flies were not enough to break through Pharaoh's stubborn resistance. Nor were painful, infectious boils that broke out all over him and the bodies of his people. He remained stubborn through plague after plague, each one worse than the one before, until Egypt was utterly devastated. But still he stubbornly resisted, finally to his own undoing.
We do the same thing. We become the kings of stubborn resistance in our own little worlds. We get into ruts that lead us down paths that cause nothing but pain and end with our hitting walls. Yet we will do everything but try something different. We develop habits and hang-ups we will not even think of releasing. We hurt ourselves and those around us, allowing boils to fester in almost every area of life. The boils grow and become infected; yet we still cling to our right to do what we please. Or we demand that others cater to the pain we are in, refusing to budge past our self-created walls of stubborn resistance.
How we can endure so much loss and pain and yet refuse to seek help remains a mystery. But it happens. Rather than looking for ways past the walls, we hang on to our right to remain the same, our right to live our lives as we choose, no matter how painful those lives might become.
Our Stubbornly Resistant Heritage
I guess I have been pretty hard on you so far, insisting on the probability that somewhere in your life you likely exhibit some form of stubborn resistance. But now I want to give you a little break. Most of us don't come by these traits solely on our own. Often we learn them from parents or grandparents who mastered the art.
Excerpted from Walking Into Walls by Stephen Arterburn. Copyright © 2011 Stephen Arterburn. Excerpted by permission of WORTHY PUBLISHING.
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