Your “Self” on a Shelf

Credit: Wise Counselor
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During this season parents have fun moving an elf to different places during the night so that the children get up excited to see where the elf has moved. The elf has powers of observing children to make sure they are qualifying for the delights of Santa on Christmas .

In some unequal relationships, however, one partner only moves with permission,  like an elf on the shelf. There is no joy and a lot of pain since a partner cannot be the same person who has no power in the relationship.

Here’s how your “self” gets put on a shelf.

Do you feel that you are always prevented from free movement in your relationship?

Is any idea you have always explained away?

Is any desire you have for your needs respected met with shame, criticism or even an angry outburst?

Are you free to pursue your talents or skills outside your home?

Are you able to use any money you earn as you see fit?

Is any question you ask challenged as disrespectful?

Are you called insulting names if you don’t follow exactly what your partner wants?

Are you blamed for problems but never appreciated for handling responsibilities?

Do you find you do the giving but don’t receive in the relationship?  Emotionally? Communicating? Workload? Physically?

If any of these are what you are experiencing, you have been put on a shelf. You are being held in a small space and moved around only to fill another’s needs. Your partner believes they are entitled to your service but have little if any responsibility to serve you.

Their idea of a godly partner is “don’t need”, “don’t ask”, “don’t feel”. They believe a partner should only be taken off the shelf when they need her or him.

What is even more disturbing is that some partners enforce this position by appeals to religion. The idea that your full, mature and free self is displeasing to God is a very high and hard shelf indeed.

We dishonor God who created us when we allow someone to keep us on a shelf. We are created in the image of God, which means we share the power of mind, speech and spirit with our Creator.

God empowers us to be more, not less. Some toxic man-made doctrines seek to keep partners limited, easy to control, for the gratification of the other person’s ego and freedom from mutual consideration and respect in a relationship.

This view of another reveals a departure from God’s desire for humans and relationships.

These two pictures are of a woman who was trying to obey a false doctrine that God wanted her to be compliant and limited in order to be pleasing to God but matured in her faith.

On the left is her “before” under the false doctrine. On the right is her “after”, an image of reclaiming her full personhood  in God, free to flourish as her true self.

On the left, her “self” was on the shelf. She’s smiling because she is a person who enjoys helping others. She’s part of a group that downplays her “self” to earn acceptance. She has accepted the false view that her only worth comes from serving others. Her acceptable role is child care.

On the right, she accepts herself and knows she is pleasing to God because of the way she is made. She’s smiling because she no longer has to deny her own needs to serve others.

Which one looks more fully herself?  Which one looks like she’s been on a shelf?

May you be glad, free in Christ this Christmas.

How Churches Painted Themselves Into a Corner (And How Equality Can Get Them Out)

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We looked in the last post of some of the reasons that churches across the doctrinal spectrum have been slow or reluctant to help the 1 in 4 women of faith in their congregation who are in destructive relationships.

Churches derive their power from their claim that they represent Christ’s message on earth.

Their history is one of organizing and transmitting the legacy of Jesus Christ in the world.

Jesus is presented as the Savior, the One Who, once followed, takes our heavy burdens upon Himself and provides a never-ending source of support, love and forgiveness.

Indeed, the claim is that once people accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, they will be redeemed – made new. A transformation is to take place. A new birth, a new creature is now operating in the world.

What happens to the church’s message when this doesn’t happen?

In the slide toward political power and social approval, churches left themselves without recourse when members fall short, not in small human foibles, but in gross behaviors which even non-believers may not condone.

Such is the current fallout with sexual abuse and other extreme violations of human dignity. Discussing views on how the church got sex wrong will be held for another post, but the dilemma the church faces over members who fall below a decent not to mention Christian claim to character is a major challenge.

If the standard of character transformation is no longer a sign of accepting redemption, the church is left with the watered- down tea of social pressure and lip service.

When not just members but leaders are shown to have fed upon the fold rather than nourish them, the party line is left with nothing but condemnation. Sin becomes the focus and not relationship with God. Cries of “kick them out” arise. There is no mercy for the twice-sinned. Members turn upon each other. Traumatic house- cleaning commences.

The application of forgiveness of sins becomes problematic when narcissistic manipulation protects the predator and condemns the victim. This is the reverse of what Jesus taught. Protecting the institution becomes more important than genuine repentance but this is only cliff hanging.

The church is left with the dilemma of admitting they have been a sham show or closing ranks. What would Jesus do?

Here we are left with His disdains for the hypocritical religious leaders of his day. He did not mince words for them and instead preferred people who knew they were in trouble, needed help and were grateful when they got it.

Mock repentence in order to hold onto to position and power are not Christ-like. When churches encourage a view that we are better than those who are unsaved, they have painted themselves into a corner if the betters are less than the lowers.

The window out of the corner is to abandon the false foundation and start over.

The foundation crumbled when a static rather than a dynamic view of salvation was used to build.

In the static view, salvation remains outside the person and he still remains a worthless person, relying on Jesus outside of himself for viability. Eternal groveling is required. “Rejoicing” in what Jesus has done for me or to me, not in me, is the membership card. It becomes a system that praises suffering and death. Emotional pathology can be encouraged as pain becomes pleasure. There is glee in righteous gore.

In the dynamic view of salvation, Christ within is the hope of glory. An original worthlessness is not required to grow into a fullness of life. Indeed Christ is followed because of higher dimensions of being human. God’s Spirit lives in each person and is pleased with growth and development, harmony, peace, and continual well-being. God is not anti-human. Christ shows what is possible and invites people to do it.

In this view of salavtion, church members are not focused on social status and political power (externals) and concentrate on the power of  compassion for fellow human beings who hold Christ within (internal). They don’t hire “professional Christians” to do their faith for them or tell them the right way to do it.

That’s what Jesus did.

The church must not go away sorrowful, like the rich young ruler, when asked to follow Jesus. Nor should they organize around  power which becomes the lure for scam artists. Rather they must reclaim gender equality in leadership and use consensus to create community so that everyone is empowered and no one is excluded. There are models, such as recovery groups, that emulate the early house churches.

Being human is not what backed  the church into its corner. Pretending superiority is: members better than outsiders; men better than women. A static view of salvation leaves people fighting over manna. It is horrible to see a church torn apart as finger pointing becomes more vicious. Hurling attacks about who is the “genuine” follower is not the path of peace. Neither repentance nor forgiveness are acts that can be commanded on schedule.

Once trust has been betrayed, it is better for the hurt and the ones who hurt to receive therapy and healing and maybe not together. Often the church will have to disband. It takes time. If we are graced, a genuine group of people who want to follow Jesus will reemerge. Love is the doctrine.

The 30 pieces are never worth it.