Day 26 – Spiritual Bypassing
A subtle occurrence in our journey through life, and certainly in a wilderness season, is attributing all that is wrong or challenging or painful to external circumstances. On the other side of that coin is never acknowledging the hard things of life. These responses to life seek to short-circuit or bypass the deep soul work of the desert. Another example of trying to bypass the wilderness is using Scripture or even prayer to “spiritualize” what is going on and not interact with life as it is. We observe this in statements about God doing miracles. Of course, God can do miracles but perhaps the “miracle” is the medical treatment right in front of us.
This bypassing or short-circuiting can occur in different ways, usually in ways that escape our notice. The invitation is to be open to listen and notice with God … to not bypass the place where we are. This is why spiritual practices like silence and solitude are so important. As we release our patterned responses and simply listen, we open ourselves to God in ways not polluted by bypasses. This is not easy work, and it is why Dallas Willard said, “solitude and silence are the most radical of the spiritual disciplines because they most directly attack the sources of human misery and wrongdoing …until we enter into quietness the world still lays hold of us.” The sources of human misery and wrongdoing? The sources are generally tied up in patterned ways of bypassing reality … whether it is grasping for certainty or not trusting the presence of God. The propensity to either positively spin difficult truth or wallow in difficult truth, rather than be with God in it, hurts us and others again and again.
For the people of Israel, we find a fascinating phrase that God uses with them multiple times in the book of Deuteronomy: “you say in your heart.” (7:17; 8:17; 9:4; 15:9; 18:21; 28:67) God was graciously inviting them to look at their hearts – to notice the ways that patterns of interpreting life were often deeper than their awareness. Because we often focus on what is in our immediate awareness and modifying behaviors, we are not able to address that which is most significantly at work in shaping thoughts and behaviors. We usually want to clean up messes rather than wake up to what has produced them. This requires staying in messy places so that transformation can occur. When our pain and hurts are not transformed, they are transferred. Another way to say it is that what doesn’t get healed gets passed on to others.
We see this reality played out in the prophets of the Hebrew Scriptures as Jeremiah shared God’s heart for His people: “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (6:14, NIV) The picture being painted is one of bypassing: Band-Aids were being used when the wounds were much more serious, and the people said, “It’s no big deal. Everything is fine.” Sometimes things are a big deal. At the end of the canon of Scripture, Jesus spoke to the church in Laodicea and shared that the fruit of simply glossing over things is lukewarmness and lack of passion. (Revelation 3:14-22) He went on to share His heart and said, “I wish that you were either cold or hot.” In that region of the ancient world, both hot and cold water had important uses (cold water for dying textiles and hot water for therapy). In essence, Jesus was expressing the idea that bypassing reality is useless and something that will make you sick (note the “spit you out” is a reference to vomit). To be clear, Jesus was not saying that we make Him sick when we bypass and short-circuit but that the process itself is unhealthy. The specifics of what the church at Laodicea was doing? “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)
Are there places in your life where you find yourself tempted to say, “everything is fine”? Are there wounds or hurts in your life in which you tend to brush aside their significance and perhaps cover them with spiritual platitudes? We may find ourselves resistant to the kind of soul work that healing and transformation invite. Carl Jung made the simple observation that: “What you resist, persists.”
A humble trust can unlock the courage needed to stay with the messes, hurts, and confusions. Augustine beautifully described the gift of staying in the wilderness rather than building a bridge to get out: “In my deepest wound I saw your glory, and it dazzled me.”
Question for reflection: in what ways is the Lord inviting you to wake up, take off the Band-Aids, and settling into being with Him in the messes?
Prayer: Lord, I confess to you the ways that I bypass or try to cover over the messes of life. Give me the courage to trust and believe that You are with me, loving me, and shaping me. Help me settle into Your presence and grace – knowing that Your love is my healing and transformation. Amen.