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The Thing Beneath the Thing | Steve Carter

The Thing Beneath the Thing | Steve Carter

The Apostle Paul once said, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do (Romans 7:15).” Here is the most prolific writer in the New Testament articulating the struggle to be human. He expresses the ways his good desires are at conflict with his choices to go against the good and do the thing he hates. I wonder if we can relate to this struggle today?

As a pastor for 20+ years, I’ve shared countless hours and space with people who’ve expressed their own versions o this loop. No one ever walked into my office to declare, “Today is the day I self-sabotage, annihilate my character, decimate my family and train wreck all the good in my life.” And yet, most often they are sitting across from me exactly because that’s what has unfolded in their story.

So why does this keep happening?

Several years ago I had some difficult interactions with a coworker who could be quite pessimistic and driven by worry. This was a combination that was pretty difficult for me to feel safe to bring my full self. One day I came home from a frustrating meeting with him and began to unload al the gory details on my wife. As she listened to me go on and on, she finally spoke up and said, “I just think, babe, that God is so incredibly kind to you.”

I expected her to say a lot of things, but not this. How was placing me in a relationship with this negative person God’s way of being kind? Her response floored me.

“Listen,” Sarah continued, “this guy seems to just bring out the worst in you. I wonder why that is. Maybe something about him is stirring up an old wound for you. What may be buried that God is inviting you to resurrect so you can be wholly healed from it?”

Welcome to the thing beneath the thing.

Years later I was relaying this story to Jim Cress, an incredible counselor, and he remarked, “If you find yourself getting hysterical, it’s most likely historical.”

See, the reason we often do the thing we hate is because of all the pain and trauma we’ve carried, unchecked and unaware, for years. When someone, like a coworker or a spouse, gets close to that old wound we get triggered. Our bodies are racing with all these negative emotions and thoughts, which makes us uncomfortable, so we look for ways to soothe. For many of us, when we get triggered we feel permission to escape. But I began asking this question when I noticed those feelings pop up within me: What if a greater invitation exists, one that asks us to experience newfound freedom from the old wounds?

In The Thing Beneath The Thing we have the opportunity to discover our:

Triggers: the set up that sets them off
Hideouts: where you go to escape the pain of your story
Insecurities: the false stories you create about yourself
Narratives: the false stories you create about others
Grace: the place where you discover how to become more whole, holy, and spiritually heathy

These words and the explanations behind them are designed to help your community understand why they do what they do and what God helps them do about it.

One of the verses I’ve returned to again and again during the process of writing this book has been, “Above all else, guard your heart for everything flows from it.” – Proverbs 4:23

We will guard what we truly value, our security, our successes, our social standing, our families and loved ones – but how often do we consider guarding our hearts? The word “guard” in Hebrew is “natsar” and it means: to relentlessly defend and guard what matters most from danger. If you’re a fan of the NBA, you probably know that feisty, pesky, you can’t stand him if he’s not on your team defensive wizard named Patrick Beverly. King Solomon desires for his son that he showcase that same level of intensity Patrick Beverly exudes on each play for how we guard our heart because everything we see, say and do flows directly from our heart.

So to help me better guard my heart and protect me from doing the thing I hate, I’ve been doing a little practice on Sunday evenings that I’ll share with you:

1. Play It Back (reflect) – look at the last week and identify one or two times where I didn’t guard my heart. I try to not focus on what I did; but rather what was going on underneath the surface. Why was I feeling anxious, stressed, tired, frustrated, disappointed, or some other emotion and I write about what caused that feeling.
2. Play It Out (rewrite) – look ahead to the upcoming week and I imagine myself back in that same situation but this time instead of reenacting the past I rewrite what a more Christ centered response could be. I try it on. I visualize it. I practice my response.
3. Play It Smart (refuel) – if everything flows from my heart then I must be intentional with time to refuel my heart. Schedule the hike. Plan the date. Look for healthy escapes that will bring joy to my soul.
4. Play It Honest (respect) – lastly I commit to playing the upcoming week emotionally honest. Choosing to not hide, stuff, push away, minimize or use anything as an excuse to run towards an unhealthy escape. I commit to honoring what’s really going on in my heart. Our feelings have motion to them which is why they call it emotion.

How To Use This Resource:
Inviting your church to get after the thing beneath the thing will help them make decisions from a place of grace and wholeness and not past wounds or trauma. The flexibility of a message like this is that it can be a sermon series that kicks off the new year or post Easter, or a small group campaign that helps your people draw closer to Christ and each other, or a deeper study guide for your staff and leaders. We are all in the same boat, and can all benefit from deciding to stop running from our pain and instead allow God to use it to teach and develop our lives and well-being. Welcome, to the thing beneath the thing my friends.