I visited with a man today and asked him what he had learned to do, by age twelve, to be loved and affirmed. “Be the best,” he answered. Many of you may share that belief, but does it work? I asked him if he thought it had worked for him. He thought only a few seconds and responded, “No, it doesn’t work, because I can’t always be the best, and even when I am the best, it doesn’t mean I’ll be loved; sometimes it means I’ll be resented. He was right and yet, this had been his go-to all his life. If it continues being his way of getting approval and acceptance, there is disaster, disappointment, and a ton of heartache ahead. We all have misunderstandings like his. To discover yours, answer these three questions for yourself:
What did I learn to do to be safe and secure by age twelve?
What did I learn to do to control people and situations around me by age twelve?
What did I learn to do to gain acceptance, love, and value by age twelve?
How we find security and safety; our ways of maintaining or gaining control; and what we do to be accepted are loved are three of the biggest questions we will ever answer. It is in these three areas: safety, control, and acceptance that men almost always lose focus because these are trip wires that trigger the explosions of anger, addiction, depression, and anxiety in our lives.
Around age twelve, kids generally figure out something that seems to work for them in these three areas. The problem is that what works at twelve doesn’t work as they get older. Our juvenile understandings have shortcomings and deliver us messes and problems as adults. Addictions, depression, failed relationships; drivenness, obsessions, compulsions, suicidal thinking, low esteem and more are the results of flawed twelve-year-old beliefs that were helpful coping methods as kids but become toxic to us as adults. A correction is necessary to avert further damage to ourselves and more importantly, to begin to enjoy the rewards of living out accurate thinking and understanding. Those rewards are the things we really want in life like close and healthy relationships, respect, feeling good about ourselves, power over addictions, freedom to be who we are, peace of mind, and a sense of succeeding at life.
Every day, the priests of the tabernacle and the temple of Israel approached a very large outdoor basin filled with water. It was known as the bronze laver. Made from mirrors, as the priest leaned over its rim to wash his face, imagine what he saw. Of course, he saw his face, but didn’t he also see the sky above him? It was a forced moment in which I think God wanted these men to keep a clear perspective about themselves by seeing themselves in the context of the heavens and who they represented. Remembering that I am under God is right thinking. It is liberating thinking.
Look again at your written answers to those questions. Common answers are things like:
To feel safe and secure: I kept to myself. I did as I was told. I relied on my parents. I raged. I was funny. I kept busy.
To keep control: I kept the rules. I didn’t upset anyone. I tried to succeed. I intimidated others. I used force. I yelled. I submitted.
To be loved and accepted: I did whatever it took. I worked hard. I included others in my mischief. I did as I was told. I kept my mouth shut. I got attention. I made people laugh. I helped others.
These answers share a common flaw – they don’t work. Oh, in some situations, or for a limited time they may seem to succeed, but in the long run, they all fail miserably. Keeping to yourself doesn’t keep you safe, always, any more than keeping busy or being funny protects you from all danger — emotional or physical. No matter what tactic is used, the facts are firm that you can’t control other people, period. People make their own choices and they don’t always follow our rules about which choices they make. Lastly, love based on my actions or abilities is fickle. One day, when I can’t reach someone’s expectations of me, they’ll be gone and I’ll be miserable again. Even if I get their attention or approval this time, I may not get the love and attention of others using the same behaviors. I’m constantly a yo-yo on someone else’s finger and feeling up or down based on what they decide they think about me from day to day. None of these work because they rely on my ability to convince, persuade, or ignore others. In this equation, the weak link is me. Because I just can’t be everything to everybody, I turn to alcohol, people, drugs, possessions, accomplishments, accolades, and myself to deal with them, which is like trying to extinguish a fire by pouring gasoline on it! No wonder we are depressed, defeated, lonely, empty and weary.
Again, the reason the priest was sent to the laver was so he could see himself in light of God’s majesty, greatness, and beauty. Can you envision the brilliance of the blue sky highlighted in cotton-white clouds and illuminated by blinding bright light! This glory told the priest, “God is greater and you are to be in the light of His presence.” Safety is found in the fortress of a mighty God like this. Because He is above it all, He is unaffected by what is too powerful for us. While I can’t control others, I can control myself. I can choose to put myself under the control of God who controls all things. We need love and acceptance, but people aren’t the most reliable source for it. They may not love me when they should, and they may only love me when I’m good, but God loves us even when we fail, even when we don’t love Him! He loves us because He made us. That can’t change. Therefore, His love for me can’t change. That is the dependable, unconditional love we all crave.
A loved person can give love and handle rejection without losing any of their own peace or fullness. A man under the control of God doesn’t fret about troubles or even face death like one who has to manipulate control or risk his sense of stability. A person who knows that the ways of God are safe is not dragged away to imposters like drugs, relationships, or antics to gain a sense of security.
The power of the message of the bronze laver is that God is great, in control, and loves us dearly. Daily washing our thoughts in that pure truth allows us to proceed in life without the grime that life paints on us. David’s thoughts in Psalm 62:11-12 show us he saw these three truths.
“One thing God has spoken, two things, have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong, (In Control)
and that you, O Lord, are loving. (Totally Loving)
Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Dependably Safe)
So, like David, as men who have occasionally lost our focus on these great pillars of stability, we pray, “Create in us a pure heart, O God. – Amen”