Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Red Flags

 I recently received a question from a reader, and as I began to compose my answer, it occurred to me that maybe some of you have the same question. So, I’m posting the question here, with my answer. Perhaps some of you struggle with this question too, and can help the rest of us. Please feel free to comment with your own strategies!

Here’s her question: “Suzanne, do you ever struggle with trying to 'fix' yourself or 'heal' yourself' and find that your thoughts are too much on yourself?” This reader had recently found a supplement that seemed to help with her pain, and it had spurred her to do some more research, trying to find other helps for the physical challenges she faces. As she researched, she realized that she was becoming very focused on pain relief, and she wondered if perhaps she had gotten too absorbed in herself in the process.

As I thought of what my answer would be, I recognized the problem right away in my own heart. I have spent a great deal of time and energy over the years seeking relief from my pain. As you know from reading this blog, I’ve researched surgeries, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, supplements, physical therapy—You name it, I’ve either looked into it or tried it. But, each time I go on a “heal-me hunt,” I come to that place where I realize that I have become more focused on pain relief than on God’s glory.

But how do you know when you’re approaching that point? It would be great to have some warning signs that you are crossing over the line between trusting God while seeking what He might provide for you; and seeking pain relief without regard to Him. Looking back over those times that this has happened to me, I see three warning signs that I was going too far:

1. An anxious heart

Any time that my heart becomes anxious as I am seeking pain relief, I know that I have gone too far in pursuit of it. When my search for help becomes consuming, I begin to sense fear that I won’t find the help I want. This is a red flag that I have drifted from trusting God and pursuing His glory, to trusting man (myself included) and pursuing relief. As my reader mentioned in her note, we are to “Seek first the kingdom of God.” When I become anxious as I research, that is a sure sign that I am not seeking my satisfaction in Him first, trusting that “all these things” will be given to me; No, that anxiety tells me that my focus is on pain relief and, ultimately, self-satisfaction.
I believe the anxiety comes from the “what if’s” of chronic pain:  What if I don’t find a cure? What if it gets worse? I’d better do all I can now, because I’m only getting older and it’s not likely that this will get better with age. If you find yourself focused on “what if,” then take that as a warning sign to redirect your thoughts toward a biblical response. How about Proverbs 3:5-6:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct  your paths.

Ask yourself: Where is God in my research? If it gets worse, where will God be? Will he abandon me at a certain point, if I don’t keep trying to fix this? What do I need right now that He cannot give me? Your answers to these questions will help you determine whether you have gone too far.

2. Waning desire to read my Bible and pray

When the realization first hit me that this surgery had been a disaster, I sat down at my computer and rarely got up from it. I researched message boards, scholarly articles, and medical websites. I followed leads for surgeons who were experienced in this area, and made phone calls to Mayo and other research hospitals, seeking someone who could fix this. I was consumed with finding an answer.
Every time I sat down to read my Bible, I would begin to think about my leg again, and end up back on the computer, looking for something else that had come to mind as I was trying to focus on the Scriptures. I simply could not force myself to concentrate and focus on my reading because my mind was so preoccupied with finding the answer I wanted for my circumstances. In other words, my desire for temporal healing had superseded my longing for spiritual nurturing and growth.

Are you finding that you are less and less interested in God’s Word and more and more into whatever research you are doing? When was the last time you got up from your devotions feeling spiritually refreshed and encouraged? What is your mind occupied with most of the time? When you are not busy or distracted, where does your mind go? Your honest answers to these questions will give you a clue as to whether you’re on the right track.

3. More excitement about potential pain relief than about Christ.

During that time, whenever I found a new supplement, treatment, or technique that I thought might help, I couldn’t wait to tell people about what I had discovered. I knew all the details of how it worked, and how it would affect my situation. I spent time learning all about it, and was eager to tell my friends and family about this exciting new possibility. Other than asking people to pray that it would work, I don’t recall a single spiritual conversation.

Oh, I was still reading my Bible, but in a perfunctory, check-it-off-the-list way. I was rarely encouraged to the point that I wanted to share it with someone else, and my prayer life was very lame. I prayed for the salvation of my children, and I prayed the obligatory prayers for my husband and friends, but my relationship with the Lord was about as deep as a puddle. I was obsessed.

What about you? When was the last time that you shared Christ with someone? Have you experienced times of refreshing in the Word of God, and have you encouraged others with that? When is the last time you just sat and meditated on the goodness of God, or simply praised Him for all of His kindnesses toward you? If it’s been awhile, or you are splashing in puddles like I did, then it’s possible you have tipped the scales of enthusiasm from Christ to pain relief.

These are only a few of the many red flags that the search for pain relief has led to sinful self-focus. I was very happy to receive this question, because it shows that the person is zealous to guard her heart against anything that wants to take the place of God. Even the concern that this might be happening is a wonderful assurance that the Lord is near, prompting and cautioning. What a good Friend He is!
What red flags warn you when you are getting to deep into your desire for relief? Please share in the comments!