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Trust the Process Part 2: Security Strategies

 
 

[Rev. Dr. Chuck DeGroat is our blogger for the month of April. Chuck is Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling at Western Theological Seminary (Holland MI) and a Senior Fellow at Newbigin House of Studies (San Francisco). He is the author of Leaving Egypt: Finding God in the Wilderness Places (Square Inch), Toughest People to Love (Eerdmans) and the upcoming Wholeheartedness (Eerdmans).]

Last week, I talked about how I’m slowly learning, alongside those I counsel and pastor, to “trust the process.” The process I’m referring to is the ordinary way growth and maturation happens in our lives, marked by oasis highs and wilderness lows, marked by failure and disappointment as well as blessing and success. This is how it goes for most of us. Jesus, we realize, is not some prosperity pill we pop into our mouths. No, we take in the life of Jesus as the broken body, given for us, even setting a pattern for us of “falling upward,” as Fr. Richard Rohr says. If you want upward mobility, Jesus might encourage you to find another way because it is most certainly not the Jesus way.

Truth be told, we’re pretty creative in our ways of avoiding the Jesus way of trusting the uncertain process. We manage our anxiety and tame our shame, all the while missing the adventure of trusting the process God has called us into. I often use the major sects of Jesus’ day to describe at least four “security strategies” – ways of coping apart from the bold journey of trust Jesus invites us into. The four sects represent four common ways of managing our lives and ultimately taming God. Consider the four:

The Way of the Pharisee – If you like things spelled out clearly, if you enjoy clear rules, and if you need sure-fire strategies to appease your nagging sense of guilt, this is the security strategy for you. The Pharisees show us that we can manage away our anxiety by arranging our spiritual and emotional lives in such a way that we’ll never have to feel anxious, uncertain, or impotent again. If we were to package their sure-fire strategies for today, we might include 7-step self help books and easy-answer Bible studies and fix-your-life proof texts. We’d include tried-and-true guilt-appeasement strategies liking dressing in your Sunday finest and going to church religiously, reading your Bible for 30 minutes every morning, and shoving your anger deep down into handy inner compartments which manage your emotions.

The Way of the Essene – If running from conflict is your thing and if hiding under the covers makes you feel safe, then the Essenes want you. The desert-dwelling sect fled from the frightening world, finding safety and security in their private group, set off from others. To make sure they stayed safe, they set up difficult entrance requirements, assuring that they’d stay small and keep their little world tidy and well-managed. Today, we might package their security strategy as membership in the “true” church, splintered off from the scary world. Perhaps it might be the disenchanted “un-church” group that rejects institutional religion and gathers in living rooms to talk about what the Bible really means. Or, we might offer the opportunity to go-it-on-your-own, perhaps finding God on a nature trail or in a book, safely distant from the risk of community.

The Way of the Sadducee – If you like wheeling and dealing, back-room negotiations, and House-of-Cards religion, then this is your security strategy. The aim is to win the game. It’s a dog-eat-dog world after all, with danger lurking around every corner. People are out to get you, so get them first. Keep your cards close. Thicken your skin. Make sure nobody sees you sweat. And no matter what you do, don’t let anyone ever call you sensitive. If this security strategy is appealing to you, jump on Netflix and watch the first 3 seasons of House of Cards. Model your spiritual and emotional life after Frank Underwood. Make sure that your default is cynicism and sarcasm. Look at people as basically stupid. And repeat. Soon, you’ll find that your anxiety is numbed, your shame is distant, and people are doing your bidding.

The Way of the Zealot – If you’re tired of feeling powerless and ready to overcome, then the way of zealotry is for you. This is a religion for winners and overcomers. Zealots see the world as good vs. bad. There is always a war to be fought – a culture war, a denominational war, a marital war. If you live in a world where the bad guys need to be tamed, this may be your preferred pathway to power. Look for the church with the hyper-masculine pastor who names his enemies as sissies, look for the group with the intellectual fire-power to destroy the arguments of the other side, look for those who stalk others on social media waiting to pounce, look for a community who berates the ‘other’ with labels (liberal, fundamentalists, idiots, apostate), and you’ll find the security you are looking for.

Can you relate to any of these four security strategies? I can. I find myself continually looking for ways to tame God and manage life with the ultimate hope that I’ll be able to avoid the anxiety I feel deep in my bones or the shame that sometimes covers my body like black tar. I find ways to avoid that clarion call of the Gospels to follow Jesus, which entails things that make me feel uncomfortable. I find ways to deal with the scary ‘other’ who doesn’t cooperate with my narcissistic agenda.

These security strategies are simply another way of describing what Christians call ‘sin’. And I find this helpful because sin is not merely a behavior, but an entire relational strategy for dealing with the discomfort of life in a broken world.

And so, trace your behaviors to the deeply relational “security strategies” I’ve elaborated on here. What is your tendency? How do you cope with life’s uncertainties? And how might Jesus be inviting you out of that exhausting strategy into his secure rest?

 

21 Comments

  1. Katie says:

    Yes, I relate to all of these strategies and I am exhausted. I have stopped drinking alcohol – my nemesis for 40 years. The help out there in recover revolves so much around Buddhist mindful meditation. I am looking for the Christian way to navigate my way in life. I want the secure rest of Jesus but it is darn elusive. Why is it so hard?

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