When You're Left Dangling Over a Cliff
I’ve been thinking a lot about self-preservation. It keeps coming up in conversation—the fact that when we’re afraid of being hurt or have been hurt—we go into self-preservation mode.
We see this so clearly in Genesis 12:10-13. “Now there was a famine in the land, and Abram went down to Egypt to live there for a while because the famine was severe. As he was about to enter Egypt, he said to his wife Sarai, I know what a beautiful woman you are. When the Egyptians see you, they will say, 'This is his wife.' Then they will kill me but will let you live. Say you are my sister, so that I will be treated well for your sake and my life will be spared because of you."
Self-preservation. It happens. We see it when relationships rupture… in a marriage, church or nation. It happens when we get involved with those who are ruptured. We feel awkward, “Whose side should we take?” “What do we say?” “This is so uncomfortable.” We tend to go into self-preservation mode when there’s a rupture. We ignore, hide, and go inward. We put our heads in the sand & hope it goes away. We take up alliances… usually with those who can win or benefit us the most. We become less vulnerable, less willing to share our inner selves with others. We become suspicious and distrust others. We do this because we want all things to be good and wonderful. We don’t like to encounter difficulty, pain, suffering or discomfort. It’s not fun. I know I don’t like it. It’s hard… and I’m not a fan of hard. In fact, I must confess, I can be a self-preserver.
I wonder if self-preservation is a natural response… a God-given way to protect ourselves? Or, is it part of the fall… a way I respond that’s not of God at all? This is an important distinction because it lets me know if I need to embrace it (if it’s healthy), or if I need to fight it (if it’s destructive).
I was at lunch with Sally (not her real name) recently. Sally is wise. We talked extensively about how we Christians respond to difficulty by self-preservation. I asked if she thought it was a God-given thing or a part of the fall. She immediately responded, “Oh no, it’s part of our fallen state.” She gave this analogy. “There are times in life when we find ourselves dangling over a cliff. Our tendency is to try to get away from the pain, suffering or discomfort… to self-preserve.” Sally knows this all too well; she’s had a year plus of dangling. She continued. “The point is, when we self-preserve, we’re trying to get back on land. So, we try to rescue ourselves. But God wants us to wait on Him to rescue us. He’s our rescuer. When we try to do it ourselves, we are playing God.”
Now… don’t just move past that last part so quickly. Read it again. When we try to rescue ourselves, we are playing God. Carolyn Custis James, a wise woman and author of When Life and Beliefs Collide, said something very similar to me. “Jackie, when you are in pain, you want to remove yourself from it. But, if you will allow yourself to sit in it, you will find yourself asking questions you never would have asked before… questions God wants asked.” Now … don’t pass over that so quickly either. If you allow yourself to sit in pain, you will find yourself asking questions … questions God wants asked.
I wonder if our self-preservation is a more serious offense than we realize. I mean, God calls us to a serious kind of love with him and each other. Just consider how we violate this when we go into self-preservation mode. Just consider what we miss from him when we try to be our own rescuer. I have to confess… I’m a self-preserver and it’s a sin. I want for me what God has for me. So I pray: “Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me; that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name.
Love, be willing to dangle and wait.
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