What struck me about Rick at our first session was his transparency. It’s our second session of small group Bible study and he’s still a see-through kind of guy.
Rick says, “I used to believe that I was critical because my dad was super critical, and I learned it from him. Being critical was a habit. Then I realized that I was critical because I wasn’t right with God.” Rick’s wife is at our table, listening as he speaks. Rick adds, “I used to be very critical of my wife’s sisters, I mean really critical, but I’m not anymore.” His wife nods.
Here’s what Freud and a bunch of others might have missed: The source of our interpersonal conflicts isn’t the other person. It’s the huge demand we put on them. We want other people (spouses, parents, best friends, bosses) to make us feel safe, loved, worthy, important…you can insert a dozen adjectives…funny, pretty, smart…
When other people can’t satisfy the impossible demands we put on them, we fight (argue, snipe, sabotage, steal, abuse, etc.) or take flight (neglect, leave, quit, zone out on booze, TV, porn, etc.).
As Oswald Chambers put it, when we accept God’s love, we won’t demand an impossible love from people. Then our relationship with spouses, parents, children, friends and others “will grow holier and healthier and simpler and grander.”
I identify with what Rick said about his dad. My mom criticized everybody and everything. Like mom, I used to be so judgmental to the point of fearing that the unspoken venomous thoughts would make me sick. That changed when I became a Christ follower. I don’t blame my mother for my habits anymore, either.
Rick and I were each imitating our same-sex parent. Our habits arose from sucker punches to our spirits when we were children. Innocents, we were incapable of defending against, deflecting or rationalizing the assaults.
As adults we need God’s help in figuring out which habits are still appropriate. Which habits do we deploy now to ward off anticipated replays of unpleasant childhood scenarios? Which habits are ineffective responses to encounters that feel kinda like that first blow?
God gave us freewill. Habits, those knee-jerk reactions and mindless routines, preclude freewill.
Habits can separate us from God’s love. Accepting God’s love helps us dig out deep-rooted habits.
For those of you thinking, not all habits are bad, I agree. Wisdom is figuring which habits are good and which ones are barriers to our becoming who God intends us to be.
Now I criticize less frequently, and when I do start to slip down into that pit, it’s simple to rise out of it. I pray. I ask God to help me extend the grace to others that he so freely extends to me. I remember Whose child I am.