Posts Tagged ‘patterns’

The scripture teaches that “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds”, or maybe more clearly, “The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds”. But I wonder to what degree we really understand what a “stronghold” is, or how to identify them in our lives.


The definition of a stronghold is a place that has been fortified so as to protect it against attack, a place where a particular cause, attitude or belief is strongly defended. In the context in which Paul was speaking it would be a cause, attitude or belief that is not from, or may even be counter to God, which we have accepted as truth.  Once established, it can become a conduit for the enemy of our souls to speak and work in our lives.


Though distorted mindsets can develop through faulty teaching (e.g. racism) or even just a bad example, strongholds are more often cultivated through first-hand experience; and generally speaking, the more traumatic the experience, the more powerful the potential for it to result in a stronghold.


While these experiences are a key element, it is actually the conclusions we draw from them that form the basis of the stronghold. For instance, a man abandons his wife and children with no warning or explanation.  The wife concludes that he must have been unhappy because she wasn’t as physically attractive as she’d been when they first married, and thus develops an obsession with losing weight, which ultimately leads to an eating disorder.  The enemy tells her that if she were just younger, or thinner, or prettier, then she’d be worthy of love.


Their daughter, who felt like she was daddy’s little princess, concludes that everyone who says they love you will eventually leave you, resulting in a jealous insecurity that poisons all of her future relationships, and compels her to be promiscuous. For her, the enemy becomes a type of translator, encouraging her to interpret every little action as the beginning of an inevitable abandonment or betrayal.


Their son, who deeply admired his father, concludes that men were never meant to be tied down to one person, and struggles to commit to anything. Whenever he starts to feel close to someone, the enemy reminds him not to fall into the trap his father did.


In truth, none of those conclusions are accurate, but through this deeply painful experience an emotional and spiritual stronghold is formed, which then becomes a channel for further damage. No doubt the Lord wants to tell the mother that she is the apple of His eye, and that physical beauty is a fleeting thing; and to assure the daughter that He will never leave her, nor forsake her; and to remind the son that a woman was created in response to what He saw missing in a man, and that there is a wholeness that can only be experienced through that union.  But if the stronghold is powerful enough, they may not have ears to hear any of those words.


Because these things are generally held in the most remote and protected regions of our being, we can be completely oblivious to their existence. Intellectually, the wife can vehemently defend that her former husband’s action was in no way her fault, but in the deepest part of her heart she doesn’t believe that’s true. Like her, we can all develop a blind spot, which allows the enemy unencumbered access to that area of our life.


While identifying the specific nature of a stronghold isn’t always easy, there are some readily identifiable patterns that seem to accompany their presence. Recognizing these patterns in our lives can become the first step toward our recovery.


One such pattern is the tendency to personalize situations and to perceive them as personal attacks, even when they are seemingly innocuous and involve total strangers. The person who cut you off on the highway didn’t just fail to see you, they did it purposely because they thought they were better than you, or because of the car you drive, or because of the bumper sticker you have, or…  Like little ones on the playground, you’ll swear that “they did that on purpose” even if there is no logical reason to believe they did.


Closely related to that pattern is the penchant for being easily “triggered”, which causes your reactions to be completely off base in relation to what is actually happened. The clearest example I can give of being “triggered” is something I witnessed while I was in the Navy.


During those years, guys routinely messed with each other and rough housed. One day, a big guy (John) snuck up on a smaller guy (Jim), and grabbed him from behind.  Jim let out a blood curdling scream, and rammed John into a piece of machinery, causing him to let go.  When John released him, Jim turned and furiously began to pummel John with his fists.  Eventually, it took five guys to restrain Jim, and keep him from killing John.


At the time, Jim’s reaction didn’t make any sense to us, but we later learned that his step-father had molested him for years, and that what he was experiencing at that moment wasn’t his friend playing a practical joke on him, he was reliving the terror of a 5 year old being raped by his step-father. Sadly, this episode cost Jim his career.  Though it is an extreme example, it drives home the seriousness of this issue.  Our responses are often inappropriate because we’re emotionally reliving some other moment.


Not all patterns are that dramatic, it could be something as simple as the tendency to make the same mistake over and over again. Like a pothole in a street you travel on a daily basis, you promise yourself that you’re going to avoid it this time, and somehow you still manage to drive right into it.  You can rationalize that the city ought to fix the road, but you might also wonder at your own propensity for repeatedly finding that hole.


I knew a lady who married a man named Jim, who turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk and was often abusive toward her. Eventually she divorced him and married a man named Jeff, who also turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk, and who was also frequently abusive toward her.  Eventually she divorced him as well, only to marry a man named John, who also turned out to be a bit of a mean drunk, who…  Ultimately, she concluded that she just didn’t have any luck with men.  I would submit that “luck” had little to do with it, and that there was something deeply rooted within her which caused her to find this same type of man over and over again.


Another, more subtle pattern is a propensity for being “out of season”. Given that life unfolds in seasons, it is important to discern the season that you’re in, and to embrace it.  Thus, when the enemy of our souls has found a foot hold, he delights in having us show up to the pool party in a parka, or to the snow ball fight in a tank top.  We consistently find ourselves being “at the wrong place, at the wrong time”.  In fact, if you watch someone whose life is unraveling, one of the first signs of trouble is that they’re asleep when everyone else is awake, and they’re awake when everyone else is asleep.  I’ve often seen parents who want to be their kid’s “friends” when they’re young, and then try to parent them when they become adults.


As difficult as it may be to break out of these life patterns, our God offers us “divine power to demolish strongholds”. Tearing them down takes away places for our adversary to hide, and limits his ability to speak into our lives.  Like the psalmist beseeched, we need to ask the Lord to “search me”, to “know my anxious thoughts” and ultimately to “lead me in the way everlasting”.

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As human beings we are creatures of habit.  It normally begins with a pattern of thought, which often evokes a specific pattern of emotion, which generally results in a certain pattern of behavior.  In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but even a relatively healthy pattern can sour over time.  Just as we have a natural tendency to adopt these patterns, we also seem inclined to get stuck inside of them.  Unwittingly they begin to shape our concept of reality and of how we fit within it.  For too many of us, the pattern of our lives repeats itself over and over again.  Given enough time, we can easily begin to derive a sense of security (and maybe even identity) from our pattern; and if we’re not careful, we can quickly become a slave to it.


Patterns tend to breed rituals, and rituals tend to spawn religion, which is what causes us to rage against anyone or anything that might suggest we need to alter our pattern.  I remember working in a bar years ago, watching people cry in their beer about how terrible their lives were, only to have them curse the bartender who dared propose that maybe they should make a change.  I’ve heard it said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting it to turn out differently.  Based on that measure, there would seem to be a good many of us battling this affliction.


Assuming that all of that is true, it should then come as little surprise that “repentance” is a significant tenet of the Christian life.  While many still associate that word with the idea of being sorry or regretting their actions, it actually refers to a change of mind or a change of direction (i.e. a change of pattern).  But more than that, I don’t believe that God would simply have us trade our old bad sinful pattern for a shiny new sanctified one.  I sense that the life He’s authored for us is meant to be filled with growth and spontaneity and wonder; none of which happens when you consistently march in circles (even when those steps are taken within the walls of the temple).  Indeed, the security and familiarity that accompanies repetition would seem to be the antithesis of faith.


To my mind, one of the great flaws of religion across the ages has been its propensity to create a pattern and then to spend all of its resources trying to defend and preserve it from change.  I believe that one of the reasons the Lord sent His Holy Spirit to dwell within us was to free us from the bondage that comes with being trapped within a rigid pattern.


While I’m not suggesting that there shouldn’t be a certain consistency within the life of a true believer (which could rightfully be described as a pattern), I am saying that if we are not diligent, adherence to our pattern can take precedence over the dynamic, real time relationship that the Lord intended for us to have with Him.  When that happens, it not only impacts the believer, but everyone that the Lord means to touch through them.


As I have endeavored to walk with the Lord over the years, I have found that He consistently challenges the presuppositions that are so often used to prop up my pattern.  It’s not always that what I have supposed is necessarily wrong, but at best it is incomplete.  Ultimately, I need to guard my heart against the complacency that so naturally accompanies a pattern.


In other words, am I really listening for His voice or do I believe that I know Him so well that I already know what He’d say?  I sense that this is part of what Jesus was saying when He admonished us to come as little children (Matt. 18:3).  Don’t come as an accomplished veteran, who is filled with his own ideas & experiences.  Come as a child, who genuinely relies on his Father for guidance.  Even for the seasoned follower, that is a pattern worth adopting.

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