Familiar Flesh made Strange (Flesh Series Part 1)

Jer 17:9- The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?

glass-ball-1897154__340When I started graduate school I took a secret pride in the knowledge that I was one of the only students in the Counseling program that had not gone through counseling. It is a rather common phenomenon that many people after experiencing the benefits of counseling decide that they want to enter into the field themselves. I say “secret pride” because I was only partially aware of it.

I firmly believed that I knew everything there was to know about question-1969018__340myself. As I went through the program I learned and was challenged. I came to understand healthier ways to live, dysfunctional patterns, and the ways in which we develop emotionally.  I grew and changed, but I didn’t really encounter anything that I would consider a radical discovery.

I even tried therapy for one session with someone just out of school. I really didn’t give him a chance but I was convinced that there was nothing he could tell me that I didn’t already know. It wasn’t until I entered the psychology doctoral program and life prompted me to get some help for the anxiety that I was experiencing. I was floored as I finally encountered a blind spot in my life.

That whole process is a little more than I planned for this bog, but it was in that moment that I encountered things about myself and life I really didn’t know were there. When I recognized this for the first time it opened my eyes to the true value of therapy and also created a cascading effect of awareness. From that point on I began to learn more and more about myself and realized that there was an infinite amount of blind spots to discover. This was the start of a life long journey of discovery.

Romans 12:2 (MSG) “…Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking…”

There is a saying-“The last to know about the water are the fish.” A great therapist and writer once said that one of the tasks of the underwater-1216244__340therapist is to “make the familiar strange.” Our lives are the only ones that we have ever known. Much of the familiar aspects of our lives are not near as benign or unchangeable as we’d think. There are so many currents influencing us unawares because we have known them our whole life.

I think part of what I try and do with my writing is an extension of my therapy task- I try and make the familiar strange in order to help people experience the water they are swimming in.

I think that Jesus attempted the same with his use of parables. He was trying to engage people in a different way in order to change perspective. Change occurs when we have a “gut-level” experience. Often this occurs through metaphor, analogy, parable, poetry, music or simply a different kind of language. It is an experience that engages our emotions before our defenses and analysis take over. Much like Nathan who tells a story to King David engaging his sense of outrage and then revealing that the story is about him, hearing things in a different way can challenge and change us.

One of the ways that I help people in this area is by challenging labels. The problem with labels is that we stop thinking the moment we put a label on it. That is why we often crave them. Once I can put a label on something and throw it into a category there is no need to expend further resources to understand it. I hear this often in my counseling sessions as individuals will say “that’s my addiction talking” or “that is my Co-dependency.” I hear it in the church when they say:

“That’s your flesh talking”

“I’ve got to crucify my flesh.”

In an old church that I attended people used to jokingly say “foul devil” whenever they or someone else did something wrong. This was half in jest, but the real problem is that when we simply blame the devil or time-for-a-change-2015164__340attribute something to our “flesh” we are no longer trying to understand the behavior. What does the “flesh” really mean, how do we deal with it? We throw our phrases like “crucify the flesh” without really understanding what that might mean.

One of the reasons that I like psychology is it enables me to see things from a different angle, it allows me to stop and pause at Biblical verses and terms that I would have simply passed by. The concept of the flesh is extraordinarily important in my mind but terribly misunderstood by most people that I know.

Gal 5:17(NIV)For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.

Part of the purpose of this series is to challenge your notion of the biblical concept of “the flesh”, to get you to see it from different sides, to make the familiar strange, and help challenge you to think and wrestle with things that you’ve not seen before. I try to write about things that have a practical application in some way- that aren’t entirely academic. I believe this is also along those lines, if you join with me on this journey you may discover things about the flesh and yourself that can help you to live a more fulfilling life.

Romans 7:21-23 (MSG) The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

Next Week: Invisible Flesh- the power of the unseen (Flesh Series Part 2)

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