What Do You Do When Life Spins Out of Control?

When a small airplane goes into a spin, the worst thing for the pilot to do  to try to muscle it back on course. The harder you grip the stick and the more you wrestle against the spin the worse it gets. Or so I’ve been told.

Pilots know that stopping a spin is counterintuitive. You have to power down and point the nose of the plane toward the ground. Yikes.

So too when our lives spin out of control.

In my last blog I asked how you fight spiritual entropy, that state all of us fall into where, no matter how hard we grip the controls of our lives, the slow spin begins and takes our spiritual breath away.

The Fallacy of Self-discipline

At one time severe self-punishment was considered a mark of spirituality or godliness. Famous are the men and women of faith who starved, beat, and even mutilated themselves as a form of discipline, as a way to fight off the creep–and sometimes even the tidal wave–of sin and shame and guilt in their lives. The belief behind this was that they could flagellate the disobedience or evil out of themselves.

Martin Luther, before his “Tower Experience,” practiced such discipline fiercely. He felt God’s justice demanded he punish himself to pay for his sins. No matter that Jesus had already paid his–and our–bill. But Luther discovered that no amount of shivering in the snow all night long in February, nor climbing up and down the Scala Santa (Holy Steps) on his knees in Rome reduced his shame and guilt.

Luther wrote, “I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him! … I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.

The real goal of all this pain was not mere punishment, but rather self-discipline. And maybe even to get God to love them. Luther–and others–wanted to better themselves and believed self-punishment and deprivation would help. It didn’t.

How Do You Punish Yourself?

Spiritual self-punishment is not as popular today, nor as severe, as it once was, thank God. But still many of us practice mild forms of it, maybe subliminally. Today we may only force ourselves to watch several hours of the TV show Jersey Shore, or watch one of television evangelist Benny Hinn’s “Miracle Crusades,” or–if we have really sinned–relive any of the New England Patriot’s Super Bowl wins.

But seriously, now that I’ve probably offended you, how do you punish yourself? In the extreme, self-cutting and eating disorders are well documented problems in the modern world. These painful, heartbreaking disorders are, in part, echoes of those ancient, ubiquitous drives for perfection. And they are just as ineffective at producing perfection.

The other extreme is quitting. Maybe you have just quit trying to grow spiritually.

Many of us, however, simply grab the stick tighter. We work harder. If at first you don’t succeed try harder. That works when cleaning a floor or driving a nail. It does not work so well in matters of the soul.

Rest: The Counterintuitive Answer

What do you do when your life spins out of control? Neither a tighter grip nor giving up is the answer. Irish poet and singer-song writer Thomas Moore wrote, “It’s important to be heroic, ambitious, productive, efficient, creative, and progressive, but these qualities don’t necessarily nurture the soul. The soul has different concerns, of equal value: downtime for reflection, conversation, and reverie; beauty that is captivating and pleasuring; relatedness to the environs and to people; and any animal’s rhythm of rest and activity.”

In the Christian world we call this Sabbath. “Sabbath is that uncluttered time and space in which we can distance ourselves from our own activities enough to see what God is doing,” says Eugene Peterson.

Without planning it, my recent backpacking trip with my son, Brendan, and some close friends from Oklahoma, turned into just such a Sabbath. On the mountain there was not even a control stick much less an opportunity to grab it tighter. No cell coverage, no internet, no bad political news. Only eating and sleeping and fishing and talking and praying and stars. There was work to be sure. Pumping water, gathering firewood, cooking, the constant watch against the weather. But it is a different kind of work. Work sans worry. It is the work of letting go.

And in so doing the small plane of my life righted, pulled out of its spin, and leveled off.

Sabbath, I’ve rediscovered is powering down and letting go of the stick. But more than that, it’s releasing control of life to a bigger, more capable hand.

We’d love to hear about places and times you have found rest.

Today is my last blog post here.  It has been a pleasure to be a part of this blog for the last several years. Thanks, Mike. And thank all of you for your listening ear, wise comments, funny responses, challenging ideas, and your on-line friendship. Please consider, if you have not already, joining me on my Living Spiritually blog. Click here and subscribe. Eugene


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2 responses to “What Do You Do When Life Spins Out of Control?

  1. Georgie-ann

    Of course, I DO 100% agree with EVERYTHING you’ve said about REST. And hopefully, — in many “regular” cases of stress and times of facing difficult circumstances — kindness, rest, mercy, prayers and sympathetic understanding for ourselves and others, will go a very long way toward soothing and healing our stressed-out and damaged souls,… chicken soup is good, too,… or a nice RESTaurant,… (-:

    Our modern lives are set up in such a way, that I think most well-intentioned “achievers” actually expect too much of themselves performance-wise, as unique individuals, and our friendly mutual support networks are not nearly as helpfully well-developed, and compassionate and realistic, as they should really be. So, pacing ourselves realistically is wisdom. We really don’t have to do everything that’s “out there” to be done,… and some days we’ll be more “up” than “down” and vice versa,… this is all pretty normal,… and of course, no one is perfect, so our rough edges might hang out a bit too much sometimes under duress, hurting not only our polished self-image, but our personal pride,… (not to mention whoever else doesn’t like it either),…

    Risking being “unpopular” myself (oh well,…), I’ll add another perspective that I honestly believe that many — if not most — American Christians tend to marginalize and side-line, and call it “other things”,… which is especially potentially dangerously misleading when we identify with it, and call it “ourselves”,…

    We see “sin” trying to manifest in our lives?,… then we want to directly punish/discipline ourselves in reaction?,… (of course parents training/leading children are responsible to “train” and educate correctly!),… do we assume this impulse is something we are directly responsible for, (or is it actually an intruder)?,… something in our “flesh” gravitates a certain way, and so we’ll hurt our “flesh” to fight back against it?,… or we’ll give in?,… we’re in a going nowhere push-pull tug-of-war?,… a non-ending repeating cycle with no way out, no exit?,… this procedure doesn’t seem to help, so maybe we’ll numb our brains with addictive substances to try to block awareness and just vacantly sit around philosophizing excuses?,… we’ll become argumentative with various Christian teachings and theological positions?,… we lose a close or comfortable connection with God?,… we end up feeling somehow helpless and stuck out on a limb?,… maybe even lost?,…

    If we still want to fight/oppose something, I would recommend that it not be God, or ourselves,… we are affected by sin, but sin is not us,… it is not who we are,… for sure sin is our enemy, and sin can dwell in us, and it has a mind and will of its own, and it will gladly take over and rule our lives, and make lots of problems for us,… it will lie to us unashamedly,… it is a cruel and unfeeling master, and not nearly as cute as it sometimes pretends to be,… if we can recognize it for what it is, without identifying with it, we have a better chance of being able to resist it and separate from it,… but because it infiltrates in so many forms, it is impossible really to generalize about the “human condition” in this regard,… some influences are fairly obvious,… some we learn to recognize,… but many are “hidden” strangle-holds on the individual(s) and influence our society in rather commonly accepted but blinding ways,… as Shakespeare says, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark”,… yeah,… it truly is,…

    Perhaps understanding how great and purely destructive and evil an enemy, sin is/satan is, we would redouble our efforts to personally escape from his grip,… not so much because of guilt and that we hate ourselves, but for self-preservation and because we love ourselves!,… loving God, and understanding and hating the essence of sin itself, is a blessed and balanced spiritual place to be in!,… otherwise, how do we know what to guard against and protect ourselves from?,…

    Psalm 139:21,22
    21 “Do I not hate them, O Lord, who hate You?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
    22 “I hate them with perfect hatred;
    I count them my enemies.”

    At this point, in prayer, — if a person is having trouble getting the victory over such problems in their life — I would seek to pointedly separate and address the demonic influence, taking authority over it, and separating it from its assignment,… sometimes this is necessary to clear an opening for the human soul to reach out to God in a repentive and connecting way,… we could say “not for amateurs” or “don’t try this at home”, but the Bible really isn’t shy or mealy-mouthed about what sin looks and acts like,… is it?,…

    To this day we are involved in situations needing prayer for ongoing addictive behavior in persons who have yet to find out how to “get a grip”,… heart-broken Moms?,… you betcha,… love the sinner, but hate the sin?,… yep,… been done,… it becomes obvious at this point that the dynamics involved here go beyond simple Sunday School “good news”,… God’s Truth is still always “Good News”, but the individual may have been held in a dark and unyielding vise-grip that torments and abuses,… is there a truth or a thread that can be found that will help unravel the situation?,… a crisis arises,… and prayer explores,…

    Instead of trying “one more time” to “hit the long-standing and unyielding situation head-on” in prayers of “commanding and deliverance”, thereby basically trying to superimpose our wills on the devil’s will and the victim’s will, I simply made this challenge recently: “I’ll be sending ALL my prayers of blessing for this situation straight to the throne room of God,… I’m rebuking this stronghold and the devil’s plans and purposes in the name of Jesus, but this individual needs to turn to God and make his own sincere and direct repentive connection to Him, to be able to access and receive any and all of the blessing prayers being sent out”,… why?,… our wills cannot really bluntly supersede another’s will, and we just end up in a stale-mate and quagmire of illusory “hopes” and putting “pretty, loving and encouraging, but ineffective, prayers” as temporary band-aids on the unimproved situation,… “one more time”,… so we’ll see if this more pro-active and challenging stance will work!,… anyway, it’s prayer done in goodwill, and it actually “feels right”,…

    Well, all that leads up to one more reason I appreciate the position of the Catholic Church on many of these testing and difficult things,… their prayers and sacraments are very intentionally designed to put powerful and protective spiritual distance between our vulnerable human souls (and spirits) and satan’s undermining influences,… this creates a potential spiritually protected zone of peacefulness and rest, which if carefully sought and appreciated, is a tremendous blessing,… I’m so glad that I’m no longer fighting “tooth and nail” every minute, to live in the blessings and peace that God has designed for us,…

    Well, it’s been great, as they say!,… over and out!,… we’ll see what the future holds!

    Really really Thank you and Praise the Lord!

    God Bless and Amen!

    Love to all, Georgie-ann (-:

  2. Georgie-ann

    Apparently everything “gets me thinking further”,… (woe is me & all my to-do plans!),… I think what I’m trying to depict here is that “sin is a person” the same way that we say that “Jesus is a person”,… They really are polar opposites, mutually exclusive, and enemies to each other,… they each have their own distinct (somewhat) describable character, essence, goals, and way of doing things,… It seems to be difficult for mankind, in general, to grasp a real solid sense of what we’re dealing with here, and that’s quite understandable, since we’re very much locked into the appearances and rationales of the sense realm,…

    So, who are WE?,… and how are we distinct from either one of the above?,… that’s a REALLY GOOD question and much harder for me to try to describe in a simplistic fashion than either sin (satan) or Jesus (God),… we see, we think, we have emotions, we like to eat, and on and on,… part of our maturing process involves being faced with many choices, and it is good to learn to evaluate things from a perspective of critical thinking and good judgment, etc,… it seems that we are human processing mechanisms on many many levels,… if life were only about living, and doing so “any old which way”, and nothing mattered one way or another, or was at stake in the process, then we’d just do whatever we felt like doing until we died, and maybe then “that would be it”,… some people even philosophize that this is “all there is”,…

    But for many of us, we have pain(s) and frustration(s) to deal with, hopes and love, questions and aspirations, ideals, bonds, goals, unanswered cries in our hearts, that will not simply allow us to live randomly and piecemeal, with every man for himself, come what may,… we face “good and evil” and have “reactions” to these things,… we sense that we cannot “do this” alone,… and on and on,… so, actually, we find that we are essentially “dependent beings”, and not nearly as independent as some might presume,… everything human about us is temporary: our lives, our youth, our strength,… this should make us want to make the best of the time and energy and talents that we have,… but many are content to “spend” their lives profligately,… indulgence, in the moment, is all there is,…

    We “are made in God’s image” by God,… His life force is our life force, and “it is good”,… a popular saying is that “God doesn’t make junk”,… our life force is joined to His, to life, and to each other,… how?,… I couldn’t begin to know, but it is,…

    Acts 17:27-29
    27 “so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’ 29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.”

    So, although we don’t see God, we have the potential to “find” Him, and be in relationship with Him, and He has our best interests at heart,… God calls to us and has given us many teachings about Himself,… Jesus is God having come to be with us “in the flesh”,… God desires an intimate and loving and trusting relationship with us,… and He knows us very well,… He is a “gentleman” and does not force us,… He calls us to come to Him freely,…

    So, who is the devil?,… well, the polar opposite in every way,… the devil (the ultimate twisted sin-being), instead, desperately clings to us, violently trespasses and invades all our boundaries, infiltrates our hearts and minds with his own poisonous concepts, trying to make us believe that they are ours,… the arch-seducer, he lies, he wheedles, he cons,… he works from the inside, and also poisons the atmosphere on the outside,… it is easy to think that what he does, what he suggests, IS “us”,… is “who we are”,… but this is not so,… the devil cannot and will not repent,…

    All the devil can do is lie, twist, insinuate, and manipulate and distort the good things that God has created,… the devil is not a creator, but a distorter and a damage machine, working against the goodness inherent in the things that God has made,… his motives are insane jealousy, and bitter and resentful hatred,… just as strong “energy” can twist the existing and pliable air waves and atmospheric conditions of the earth that God has created, the devil’s spiteful energy — which is rancid, definite and very powerfully fixed — is capable of inducing negative force fields of all types, which are then capable of influencing our thoughts, our perceptions, our “attractions”, etc,… we are made of flesh,… our flesh is very pliable,… we should beware of the way the devil is able to get his hold and influence on us, and manipulate us, subtly twisting us away from our true God-given nature,… he does this because he hates us,…

    Without God’s help, we (our flesh) could never resist the determined devil for very long,… but God has promised to help us, to protect us, to strengthen us, to save us,… but we need to identify God as the choice we wish to make for our souls, and then WE cling to God and His ways,… He will be faithful to us,… God does this because He loves us,…

    Nevertheless, whichever “side” we are on, the “battle” will go on in this realm,…

    Exodus 14:13 “And Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, … ”

    And David facing Goliath said:

    1 Samuel 17:47 “Then all this assembly shall know that the LORD does not save with sword and spear; for the battle is the LORD’s, and He will give you into our hands.”

    One of the devil’s most effective camouflages is “confusion”,… therefore, being able to identify him and his works clearly is a profoundly effective way to defend oneself from his infiltration,… but God is NOT the author of confusion:

    1 Corinthians 14:33 “For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”

    To reiterate: “I think what I’m trying to depict here is that “sin is a person” the same way that we say that “Jesus is a person”,… They really are polar opposites, mutually exclusive, and enemies to each other,… they each have their own distinct (somewhat) describable character, essence, goals, and way of doing things,… ”

    Jesus (God) calls to us and offers us a “personal relationship” with Him,… we should desire to have this,…

    On the other hand, “sin”/the devil/satan is absolutely determined to force himself upon us, by any devious, invasive and trespassing means necessary or possible,… he is a destructive and formidable foe, having gained his access to us via treachery in the Garden of Eden,… we should definitely desire to NOT accommodate him in any personal way in our lives, whatsoever,…

    “easier said than done?”,… identifying him and his works clearly is very helpful in this process,…

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