Musts

Optics and focus
In this time of pandemic and quarantine a lot of people are experiencing higher than normal levels of stress. The government has placed a lot of restrictions on the entire population. These restrictions and even the justification for them is a subject of considerable debate. Is COVID as bad as they say? The governmental response may cause even bigger problems than the pandemic. What about our constitutional rights? It seems that just about everybody has opinions. Some have very strong views and opinions are voiced very forcefully, friendships are strained and tempers can flare.

 

In last week’s post we considered the importance of using the correct optics. Life is full of pleasure and pain, dreams and disappointments, priorities and distractions. We will not experience the joy of the Christian life unless we clarify the summum bonum in every situation according to scripture. It is so important to make sure we view things through Biblical optics. Building on that, this week we will consider the power of rigid, out-of-focus thinking and how it is the source of anxiety, fear and stress. It is because of losing our focus that we are held by unhealthy and self-destructive beliefs.

 

A cognitive approach 
Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy calls rigid thinking a “must” or a “have to.” The renowned psychologist Albert Ellis wrote that emotional disturbance is caused by 

“irrational beliefs or dysfunctional attitudes (that) have at their core explicit or implicit rigid, powerful demands and commands, usually expressed as musts, shoulds, ought tos, have tos and got tos, such as “I absolutely must have my important goals fulfilled.”

 

Since the beginning of the pandemic we have heard from the authorities all of the rigid “requirements” necessary to slow the spread of COVID. This has become an extensive list of things we have to and/or cannot do. As the days and weeks have passed we have begun to hear comments such as –  “The government has to stop the virus.” “We must open the economy and get people back to work.” “We have to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.” These expressions have begun to show up in the news as confrontations in stores and armed citizens in government buildings.

 

Identifying the error
So – when are these rigid ways of thinking rational and consistent with our values? Albert Ellis suggests…human disturbance occurs when…people act on irrational beliefs in a self-defeating way, until they arrive at a new set of rational beliefs….. For example”I’d prefer to succeed and be lovable, but I don’t have to do so.”

 

There was a lot of debate in the culture and in the church not that many years ago about the use of violence against abortion providers and facilities. Consider a Christian who feels very strongly about stopping the  violent murder of the most innocent and defenseless members of humanity. That is a defensible Biblical position. When one is consumed by this issue it can morph in the mind to a rigid “I must/have to stop abortions ” and one has murder in their hearts and  becomes capable of doing things that are irrational for a follower of Jesus. A properly focused Biblical optic helps us to think and behave rationally consistent with our Christian worldview. Using Ellis’s model. “I must stop abortions” becomes “I’d prefer to stop abortions, but I don’t have to do so.” It’s important to remember that God also says “You shall not commit murder.”

 

 

Right thinking 
Albert Ellis said “There are three musts that hold us back: I must do well. You must treat me well. And the world must be easy.” It is worth considering the extent to which these are the very musts that cause us stress. Looking at these through the optic of the words of Jesus gives the right perspective.

 

I must do well – Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? Matthew 16:24-26 

 

You must treat me well – “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. John 15:18-19 

 

The world must be easy – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 

 

For the Christian, right thinking is always Biblical thinking. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul said “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

 

Now look at some of the issues that people are passionate about in this time of pandemic and consider how to keep them in a healthy perspective as those who want to act as Jesus would if He were faced with these issues.

 

“The government has to stop the virus.”

Becomes 

“I would like it if the government could stop the virus, but if they can’t or won’t I will still pray for them and trust God.” 

 

“We must open the economy and get people back to work.”

Becomes 

“It would be good to open the economy and get people back to work. In the meantime I will look for opportunities to help those who are impacted.”

 

“We have to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus.”

Becomes

“We would prefer to flatten the curve and slow the spread of the virus. If that doesn’t happen I will trust God and do my part to show Jesus to others.”

 

 

Right Living
We started out stating the obvious. The pandemic is a source of stress. The next obvious fact is that God’s people should act like God’s people. As individuals and as a church we want to think and act in appropriate ways. It isn’t a question of God’s love and faithfulness. God’s people have always found reassurance, peace and the strength to do right in difficult times. Many of us at Townsend Church have personally experienced God as our rock and our deliverer in the past and we will take every thought captive and watch with anticipation for what God will do!