My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 2

Read Part 1

green and red apple
Photo Credit: “Red and Green Apple” by Just4you

What does it mean to be a born-again Christian? To read the New Testament, you’d think it means getting a whole new perspective on life, a new heart, and new behaviors along with it. Galatians chapter 5 gives a nice, quick contrast between the life controlled by the flesh, and the life controlled by the Holy Spirit. The former produces bad fruit like sexual immorality, impure thoughts, idolatry, hostility, quarreling, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, divisions, and much more. But the latter produces those famous “fruits of the Spirit”: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (see vss. 16-26). To make it more personal, living a Spirit-filled, or “born-again,” life would mean new thoughts for the depressive (formerly me) who keeps repeating, “I just want to die” (Eph. 4:21-24; Col. 3: 1-3).

If an entire household were born-again, I suppose that would mean no more yelling at one another—no more anger and bitterness and malice. Parents would love each other and kids would respect their parents. Sabbath mornings would be joyful, not hate-filled. My parents would have stayed together—and our family would not have ended in an affair, an illegitimate child (or my beloved younger brother), a divorce, and possibly not the two older children (my brother and me) moving far, far away from a home that we came to know as a battleground. In a family that called itself Christian, how could we have gone so wrong?I believe it was because my family was not living a Spirit-filled life: we were not truly “born again.” (To read how Jesus explained rebirth and the Spirit-filled life, see John chapter 3).

Becoming “Adventist”

I know my parents were taught doctrine (a set of biblical beliefs) before joining the Seventh-day Adventist church, but were they taught about how to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? Were they taught how important it is to “be renewed in their minds”—and not just by learning information, but by internalizing God’s love for them and Jesus’ suffering and death and resurrection? When they were baptized, were they really taught what it meant to be buried with Christ—to put on love—and to die to self (Rom. 6:3-4)?

While I am tempted to blame the church for not teaching my parents these things—because the fruit in their marriage and in our family points to a “non-born-again” existence—I don’t know the answer to these questions.

Bible
Photo Credit: “Black Bible” by Tacluda

Before I go any further, I should note that my dad grew up Lutheran and my mom, Catholic, so if a church or denomination is to blame for missing the “born-again boat,” several are to blame. I don’t know much about my parents’ formative experiences with church, except that Dad’s didn’t leave any notable impression on him, and Mom’s left her wanting more and better answers. She finally started to read the Bible for herself in college, only to realize that the Catholic church strayed pretty far from its teachings sometimes. (One example would be their changing of the ten commandments—deleting the second one and splitting the tenth into two.)

I know my parents, when they were newly married, came into the Seventh-day Adventist church through a Revelation Seminar, or a series of meetings that teaches esoteric prophecies in Daniel and Revelation, along with other defining doctrines of the Seventh-day Adventist church (the seventh-day Sabbath, the state of the dead, the truth about hell, the health message, etc.). I know my parents latched on to the logical presentation they saw; they couldn’t argue with the Adventists, because these people proved everything they taught straight from the Bible. I know these convincing proofs were enough to get my parents baptized.

kids-in-church
Photo Credit: gritintheoyster.wordpress.com

And then my parents started doing what the Adventists did. They took my brother and me to church on Saturday and restricted what we could do on the Sabbath: no TV, no sports, no shopping or eating out from Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown. They stopped eating unclean meats, such as pork and seafood, per instructions in Leviticus. And as I grew up, these outward markers, to me, became what it was to be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian—only I didn’t think much about myself being a Christian, or a follower of Christ. I mostly thought of myself as an “Adventist,” because, it came to my attention, being “Adventist” separated me from my peers who were busy eating bacon, playing sports on Sabbath, and attending other fun events that I couldn’t. 

My Fallout from Church

When I was sixteen, after Mom left with my baby brother and Dad and my older brother were angry and I was depressed, I started blatantly breaking the fourth commandment (“Thou shalt keep the Sabbath holy”) by working on Saturdays. Suddenly I didn’t care about breaking the Sabbath, because, well, why should I? I had been attending church all my life, but church hadn’t helped me any. It hadn’t saved my family.

I can’t remember if anyone tried to tell me about what it really meant to be born again: in this case, being renewed in my now-suicidal mind—or finding peace amidst the storm. Perhaps some caring adult tried to tell me, and their words fell on deaf and hurting ears. All I know is I didn’t see the Spirit-filled life, or love and joy and peace, demonstrated at home. And this brings up another crucial point.

Fruit of the Non-Born-Again Family—Plus, the Christian Pretending Game

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Photo Credit: “Happy Family Leaving Church” by iamachild.wordpress.com –

I remember many kind church members who I think would have intervened had they known what was really going on in my home. But my parents were good at something many other Christians are: They hid our problems from the public eye. After they split up, my parents admitted that they’d always planned to divorce—but they were trying to wait until my brother and I graduated high school. When it hit the fan, not only our fellow church members, but also my brother and I, were flabbergasted that things were really that bad. Mom and Dad had played the game well.

Going back to the born-again discussion—because I think the true root of my family’s demise was that we were not born-again—my parents today admit that they entered marriage unprepared and unconverted in their hearts. I don’t ever remember Mom and Dad modeling for my brother and me daily prayer, except that we prayed before meals and sometimes before bedtime. Family devotions were non-existent. Our lifestyle, filled with sports and fiction and media and rock and country music, was very secular, except for one day a week when we put all that away to “keep the Sabbath.” So we were “Adventists.” But we were not really Christians (not really living like Christ). Which means we were really nothing but posers, because you can’t be a true Seventh-day Adventist without being a Christian, too.

Roots of a Blow-up

Learning doctrine is great, if it is biblical. I believe that Seventh-day Adventist doctrine is biblical. But if doctrine is all you have, in the end you really have nothing, as my family’s story shows. Along with doctrine, you need to have relationship—relationship with God and Jesus that transforms the way you think and live and relate to others every single day of the week. This is what I mean by being born-again.

family-fighting
Photo Credit: Peacefulparenting.com

Before shouting matches occurred in my home, we should have been dropping to our knees as a family. Before my depressive thoughts took root, I should have been planting scripture in my mind.

“We do not wage war with mere human plans or methods. But we use God’s mighty weapons, not merely worldly weapons…with these, we take captive every thought to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). What if my parents had learned, and I had learned, to take every thought captive to Christ?

Oh, what a much happier story I’d have to tell.

Instead, we went to church angry, put on plastic smiles, and then, when everything blew up, we kept those things out of sight, too. I learned to keep my depression out of sight. Then, when the façade became too farcical for me, I disappeared from church altogether.

The good news is that when your spiritual leaders fail you (possibly because they don’t know what you need, if they even know what they need), God can still get to your heart. He eventually got to mine. Sadly, it’s also true that the sins of the parents reach into the third and fourth generations—so sometimes even as we are coming back to God, it’s a murky, uphill battle. There are consequences to living opposed to God’s laws, and it can take a long time for life to smooth out again (hence my “ugly, messy” rebirth story).

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Photo Credit: “From Roots to Fruits” on faithstudentministries.com

Before I can tell you about the good fruit God eventually produced in me, in part three, I will expand on the lingering effects of growing up in a (church) culture where I thought it was “not okay” to ask for help—as well as the idea that there wasn’t anything inherently life-changing about Jesus, his Word, or prayer.

Read Part 1
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Are Your “Roots” Showing?

tree roots
Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

I’m not talking about your hair color, though we often get hung up on the outward appearance. I’m talking about what’s on the inside: or those beliefs you hold at the core of your being.

Last weekend I hosted about ten women at my house for a mini women’s prayer retreat, and we talked and prayed about how the negative beliefs we hold are responsible for the negative behaviors in our lives. In other words, your problem of overeating, undereating, cutting, criticizing, worrying, etc. is the “fruit” of a deeper “root.”

As Jesus said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:43-45). He’s saying that any fruit cannot grow without a root first in place, because the one flows from the other.

My co-author, Paul Coneff, likes to further explain this concept with the “toothpaste test,” which stipulates that if a tube of toothpaste is strawberry, well, when it gets squeezed, nothing can come out but strawberry paste. In other words, whatever beliefs are rooted in our hearts—whether positive or negative—will eventually come out.

To see an example of the “fruit/root” principle, or to watch the “toothpaste test” in action, just get close to someone for a little while, settle in, and watch. Listen to what inadvertently pops out of their mouths when they get stressed. I’ve observed that even if people aren’t trying to be confessional, they end up confessing a lot more than they think (and this includes myself).

Recognizing Common Roots in Women

Writer Patricia Garey, in her book Beautiful Woman, talks about how mothers inadvertently send negative messages to their daughters about beauty and self-esteem when they make passing comments like, “Oh, I can’t go out without my makeup,” “I have to get rid of this extra flab,” or, “I wouldn’t be caught dead without [fill-in-the-blank].” What do these seemingly trite remarks say about the beliefs rooted in their hearts?

I know a lovely woman who will not go out in public until she has “put on her face.”

“I can’t be seen like this,” she chirps to her husband if he ever asks her to run to the store on a Sunday morning—even if just for a quick “in and out” errand where she will only be seen by the cashier. To go out for that sixty-second errand first must entail an hour’s preparation.

After I learned about the fruit/root principle, I asked myself: “Is this behavior just a quirk, or is it the symptom of a deeply seeded negative belief, perhaps, ‘I’m not acceptable just the way I am’? or ‘I need to hide who I really am’?”

I know another woman, well respected in her teaching job, who clearly has some insidious negative beliefs rooted in her heart. Because she doesn’t have a college degree, she feels inadequate, or “less worthy” in some way. Clearly, by the passing or side comments she makes under her breath, such as, “I’m so dumb,” or “Well, you’re better qualified for that,” or “I just wish I could really do something that would make a difference,” she believes in her heart that she is not good enough. Usually these comments come in the context of talking or hearing about someone else’s achievements, whether in the area of career, health, or other. I’ve heard many people say she is the best teacher they’ve ever seen, but sadly she won’t believe it.

I wonder how many of us have that problem. How many of us have deeply rooted negative beliefs about ourselves that everyone around us would disagree with? Sometimes no matter how many times we hear truths about ourselves, we refuse to believe them. But how quick we are to blow one negative comment into the gospel truth. If that’s so, then we can know we have some negative beliefs rooted in our hearts.

Recognizing My Own Roots

Tonight begins a thirteen-week women’s prayer group with a few good women who are willing to honestly examine those false beliefs in their hearts and let Jesus uproot them, replacing them with His truth. I’ve been through this process twice in the last year, and each time God reveals more roots I need to deal with.

Some of the easiest roots to recognize when I started a year ago were those depressive thoughts that used to define me: thoughts like “Life sucks,” “I’m a loser,” and “I will always be this way.” I have now recognized those thoughts as lies and renounced them in my life.

uprooted tree
Photo Credit: “Toppled–Uprooted” by Tacluda

Next, I faced the following slew of lies—and these, I realized, were protections I had developed to try to fend off any more depression (or my old roots): “I have to try harder and do more,” “I have to control things,” “I am responsible for making my life into something meaningful.” After prayerfully asking God to search my heart and try my thoughts (Ps. 139:23-24), I realized these, too, were lies from the enemy. I still battle some of these lies, especially when I slack in my prayer life, but this battle is getting easier.

As I begin a new prayer group, the new lies I am battling sound something like this: “I have worked through my issues, and therefore, I have arrived.” “I am better than others.” “I don’t need to spend so much time in prayer anymore.” Wouldn’t you know it, even when we reach a spiritual high, Satan can use that to slam us some more—usually this is when the “pride” lies begin.

So today I am praying about pride, and asking the Lord make me feel my desperate need for him once again. I have confidence that as I spend time with him every day, he will once again reveal his truth. In the meantime, before I can feel it for myself, I am taking him at his word that I can do nothing without him—I am choosing to believe that to remain fruitful for him, I must remain in him—I must remain in the Vine (John 15). That’s because I never want to be ashamed for my roots to show; and I always want my life to produce positive fruit (Gal. 5:22).

What fruits and roots are showing up in your life today?

 

(Note: If you liked this post, check out the preview of the book Paul and I wrote, and sign up to follow this blog so you can read more about fruits and roots when our book is published.)