In my last journal, I wrote about Secret Formulas. The context of the journal was about misguided approaches to life. It was a discussion about the recipes we create for how life is supposed to work. If healthy love and stability were absent in our younger years, we probably developed some secret formulas to fill in the gaps.
Over the years, some of our defective formulas seem to work. We may even think we’ve mastered life’s uncertainties. It’s difficult to realize that if our faulty methods have worked at all, it could be because we’ve been with others who live by similar methods. This doesn’t always mean the way we are approaching life is healthy.
For example, a woman has a problem with alcohol. Her way of approaching life is to find someone to take care of her personal responsibilities. When others take care of her, she doesn’t have to feel afraid or uncomfortable. So she marries someone who will take over the things she avoids. It seems to be a nice set up, until her husband starts to get angry when he comes home from work. He’s angry because the house is a mess and she’s drunk again. So she falls back on her secret formula for making a relationship work … she starts to cry and say she’s sorry … she promises it will never ever happen again.
Nonetheless, it does continue to happen. It happens again and again. In her husband’s frustration, he attempts to control her behavior by being nice; loving her more, covering up for her and all the ways he thought relationships should work. He muses, “If she just had more will power, we wouldn’t have this problem.” He has his own recipe for what a husband should be, do and how he should treat his wife. Unfortunately, both of their formulas stop working; their marriage ends in divorce.
Sometimes we don’t realize our ways of getting through life are not working well. Other times we’re frustrated because we know something is amiss, but we don’t know what to do about it.
In Secret Formulas (Part One), I listed some of the more typical secret formulas we can hold on to. Some of them sound quite noble; however, if we examine them a little further, we might find there are problems that come from approaching life this way.
In this journal, I’ve jotted down a few notes next to each formula listed. Of course, this isn’t all conclusive. Each formula can go rather deep if we really get going. You may want to expand them with your own insights.
Here’s the list of several secret formulas for approaching life with my comments:
- If I love someone enough, they will change. There are a variety of views about what love is, and what it should look like. God has given each of us the gift of choice. When we try to make someone change, we are disrespecting their gift of choice. Respectful love and enabling are very different approaches. Respectful love honors another person’s choice and their personal responsibility. Enabling appears to be very loving, but it is destructive. Enabling empowers someone to stay irresponsible, while trying to save them from their irresponsible choices. We can pray for, confront and encourage someone, but it’s wise to remember that we cannot redeem the life of another (Psalms 49:7).
- If I treat my children the opposite of how I was raised, then they will be alright. Going to opposite extremes rarely solves a problem. The best way to stop a bad pattern is to understand the underlying cause of it. Then we can make the necessary changes with God’s help.
- If I ignore my problem, it will go away. Avoiding problems causes us to become stuck emotionally. Personal responsibility is a key to emotional health and good character.
- God doesn’t help me, so I have to do it myself. God may have allowed a situation to come into our lives so we learn something new, or maybe He desires to strengthen our character. This doesn’t mean He isn’t helping us. Some situations and losses are more difficult than others. Some things in life have no answers. In those times it helps to remember that we are not alone – God walks with us and comforts us, even if He doesn’t remove the difficulties in our lives.
- I must give it all I’ve got, or else do nothing at all. All or nothing thinking causes us to go into extremes. Extremes are usually rooted in personal issues linked to the desire to control. Ecclesiastes 6:16 -17 says it this way – Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself? Be not overly wicked, neither be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
- If I act helpless, others will take care of me. Choosing a victim role is a painful way to live life. Acting helpless if we are not helpless draws the wrong kind of people into our lives. It creates a destructive cycle of dysfunction.
- I must pretend I’m someone else; otherwise, people won’t like me. People pleasing is a survival skill. It may work for a while, but eventually we will bump into people who reject us anyway. Learning to appreciate who we are settles our hearts. Yeshua (Jesus) was rejected, but He remained true to Himself. When we value how the Father has created us, we value what He values.
- I give people complete trust until they prove otherwise. Here is a wise statement to remember: trust is earned and never permanent.
- We should never argue or have any conflict if we love each other. This unrealistic view forgets that people are individuals. While there is the component of “us” in relationships, there is also the “you and me.” All authentic relationships will eventually have conflict.
- I always have to be right in order to feel safe. Our world is unpredictable and at times we are powerless. Sometimes, having to be right is due to inner fears about feeling powerless. Other times, it is a way to feel in control of our lives and those around us. We don’t have to be right all the time; if we are growing we will find our views expanding and changing. Developing our faith helps us to stand and not react out of defensiveness.
- If I’m walking with Christ, I should always be happy. Yeshua promised many things. He said we wouldn’t be left as orphans. He promised He would never abandon us. He also promised that as we walk with Him we would find peace … His shalom. In a sense, we find home when we walk with Christ. Happiness comes and goes. We all need times of happiness – those simple short lived joys that bring laughter, a smile and our heart sings. Yet happiness doesn’t mean we’re going to get everything we ever wanted. Yeshua never promised that we’d be happy all the time; He promised His presence and things that bring rest, substance and a deeper life of serenity.
- We should forget our past and keep moving on. If we forget our past, we lose our identity for our past is part of who we are. We are continually changing if we are growing, but if we cut off our foundations we will live an unstable life.
- My friends should always be there for me. Unrealistic expectations and expecting permanence will smother a relationship. Nothing is permanent in real life. Relationships are a gift and not something owed or possessed. Our closer relationships, if they are growing in health, will have the element of mutual respect. Our support comes naturally, instead of emerging from something mandatory.
- I don’t stand up for myself because I don’t want to hurt others. There are times we must hold our tongue on behalf of another; however, if we make this a habit, we will sacrifice our integrity and dignity. If we suffer with guilt every time we stand up for ourselves, this indicates we don’t value ourselves.
- If I don’t dominate others, they will control me. Dominating is different than dominion and leadership. Dominating others is a destructive behavior. At the end of the day, if we continue to dominate, we may find our worst fears happen anyway. Trying to dominate others usually sabotages the things our hearts desire and need the most.
- Only my positive feelings are acceptable. God created us with a variety of emotions for different purposes. If we stuff the uncomfortable ones, or the ones we consider unacceptable, we inevitably express them in inappropriate ways. They will come out in a sideways fashion, which often hurts us or others.
Some of these survival formulas may be familiar. They’ve either been part of our own thinking, or we’ve seen them lived out by those we love. Undoing secret formulas takes time and patience. When we first realize how they’re operating in our lives, it may feel discouraging. On the other hand, it’s encouraging to know that eventually we will find that key insight which brings great hope. The timing is different for each one of us.
There’s also a paradox most of us discover in the journey – the treasures we find for our personal freedom are often found in the difficult parts of our past. Those are the places we are usually the most reluctant to revisit.
God already knows about the secret formulas operating in our lives. He knows we are human and we make mistakes. He also knows what happened in our lives, and the events that caused us to develop such strategies for self-protection.
It helps to know that God lovingly designed us as unique individuals. No one is just like us. It’s comforting to know He will undo the myths we have believed, while showing us how much we are valued in His eyes. He loved us when we were small, He loved us through our growing up years and He loves us today. His love carries us through our days as we pursue the deeper truths that free us.