When I was a kid, our backyard was a young boy’s wonderland, filled with oak trees that seemed to touch the sky and visited by squirrels, rabbits, and the occasional deer. During the fall so many leaves fell on the ground that we could rake them into piles eight feet high and jump into them off the roof. There was a downside to all the trees, though—the poison ivy that wrapped around their trunks in late spring. One day in the fourth or fifth grade, I chased a baseball behind a tree, and sure enough, one day later poison ivy covered my arms and hands. My mom put some medication on it and sent me off to bed. The next morning I woke up to discover that I had scratched the poison ivy so much during the night that it had spread all over my face and ears.
I was miserable. It itched so much I could barely stand to stay in my own skin. That night my mom rubbed more medicine on me and warned that if I continued scratching, the poison ivy would continue to spread. But I couldn’t stop, and I woke up the following morning looking like a poison ivy zombie. In desperation I devised a solution that was foolproof. Each night before I went to bed, I put on winter gloves and taped my hands together with duct tape! Within a week the poison ivy blisters disappeared.
My method of treating poison ivy illustrates one way we should approach our emotional wounds in times of pain—leave them alone and resist the urge to keep meddling with them. It sounds counterintuitive, but it works. When we feel physical pain in our bodies, our natural response is to ice, massage, set, bandage, or medicate until it gets better. If it continues to hurt, we obsess over it until the pain goes away. In Matthew 16:25, however, Jesus gives us insight into one of the ways we should deal with our emotional pain: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
The word Jesus uses for “life” in this verse is the Greek word psyche, which is the Greek word for “soul.” The soul, according to Jesus, has its own way of making itself better, but it also has its own way of becoming toxic. Ultimately, the health of the soul is dependent upon the way we orient our lives. We become spiritually sick when, like incessantly scratching our poison ivy, we become obsessed with our own pain. Often we’ll buy every tape and book we can find on the subject and spend endless years making personal healing our sole pursuit in life. As long as the pain is the least bit present, we don’t care how long it takes to make the pain go away—we’re not leaving our own bedside until we’ve made a full recovery.
According to Jesus, one of the ways soul wounds heal is by leaving them alone and focusing the energy we’re tempted to expend on them outside ourselves instead. I do not want to imply that seeking counseling, acquiring medical treatment, setting clear personal boundaries, or taking care of ourselves emotionally and physically are wrong. I believe these activities can be an important part of “losing our lives.” Learning to give up our demand for everyone else to make us happy and taking responsibility for our own lives is extremely important. But even these positive activities can be taken to the extreme if we’re not careful.
Check out Brian's book Second Guessing God: Hanging On When You Can't See His Plan
at http://www.amazon.com/gp/explorer/0784718415/2/ref=pd_lpo_ase/104-8586553-2939153?ie=UTF8 or your local bookstore now! (All proceeds donated to the church Brian serves)
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