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Judy Lair is a licensed counselor and owner of Counselorplace Christian Counseling. She is the author of “From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor’s Guide to Relational Living.” Judy’s personal struggles with fear led her through the valley of hurt and sorrow. She now embraces a joy-filled life grounded in God’s truth and freedom in Christ. Judy uses her professional counseling expertise to tell stories that help people find healing and freedom. Her vulnerable, godly approach helps people find courage to move from Fear to Freedom. For more information or speaking requests, email JudyLair@counselorplace.com or sign up for blog posts at http://judylair.blogspot.com

 “Freedom is attainable. Trust me, I’ve been on the anxiety side, gone through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and now I’m praising God, eating at the banqueting table, and helping others make the same journey. Whether you find yourself stuck in anxiety, disappointment, grief, or confusion, your heart can be set free.” Judy Lair, “From the Other Side of the Couch.”

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Are You Choosing to Live in the Matrix?

One of the most detrimental counterfeits to relational living is the Outcome-based model. It promises a direct correlation between working hard and reaching goals. If I work 18 hours a day, 7 days a week, the outcome-based formula tells me I will receive all the benefits of the “American Dream.” On its surface, striving to reach goals and benchmarks appears to be helpful and motivating. That’s why this model is enticing. It’s much more convenient to independently meet our own needs without relying on God! The “health and wealth” theology uses this same formulaic approach. If I pray and believe hard enough that God wants me to be blessed in specific ways, then God has no choice but to make it happen.

In the Relational model, each person invests in helping one another grow and prosper in loving God, themselves, and others. The Outcome-based model preys on the fear that our legitimate needs will not be met and offers a counterfeit solution to a manufactured problem. Just look at how products are marketed. Instead of focusing on the qualities of a product and letting the consumer decide what they need, commercials appeal to our emotional vulnerabilities. We’re told there’s a direct correlation between wanting to be loved, accepted, admired, etc. and a particular product. 

God’s leadership style is repeated throughout the Davidic Psalms: “His love endures forever.” Leadership without sacrificial love eventually becomes self-centered and punitive. The Bible shows how exasperating and difficult it was for God to lead households and nations of stiff-necked, stubborn, immature people. Trying to lead when you’re immature in loving relationally is exhausting and potentially tempting.

Humankind decided to create a shortcut and instituted their own leadership model. Most outcome-based leaders tell us what goals are godly and institute a set of rules and standards designed to reach those self-determined one-size-fits-all goals. In this model, there’s always a set of negative consequences for broken rules or unmet goals.

God gave us the Ten Commandments to show humankind the futility of using rules to replace relationship. What God wants most is for us to draw near to Him so He can draw near to us. Jesus cried over Jerusalem like a mother hen cries over her missing baby chicks. Our worth and value can only be understood through our soul connecting with our creator. When human leadership creates a general set of standards, it leads us away from God’s heart and we lose our personhood.

Outcome-based systems connect value and worth directly to achievements. In many homes, schools, churches, small groups, etc., you must follow the rules or meet specified goals in order to receive approval and be recognized as valuable, competent, or good. Not living up to those expectations means letting people down, an unthinkable sin. I’m not taking issue with setting up systems to encourage people to grow individually and contribute to the community. The Bible talks a lot about having a vision and pressing onward to run the race well. But when humankind use their own standards to judge worth and value, we are putting ourselves in the place of God.

There can be an internal and external tug-of-war when we’re conditioned from childhood to connect our character, worth, and value to pleasing someone or meeting goals set by someone else. If an authority figure we respect uses guilt and shame to ensure compliance, we get a warped view of what God expects from us. When Adam and Eve chose independence over relationship with God, humankind learned how to deeply hurt each other. Rather than focusing on ways to support, encourage, and care, people became objects to use and manipulate for personal gain.

One of my favorite movies is The Matrix because it beautifully portrays this tug-of-war. Its basic premise is that the world known by most humans is actually a simulation created by living machines to manipulate and control humanity for their own benefit. Computer hacker Neo begins to find and question computer anomalies and he’s recruited by a band of truth-seekers. The most important scene in the movie is when Morpheus tells Neo he has the choice to open his eyes to the simulation. Morpheus warns Neo if he chooses to see the truth, he cannot go back to ignorance. Such an immense decision reveals Neo’s character. Does he want to shut his eyes to seeing the world in bondage and continue to do what is best for him or is he motivated by truth, even if it means personal hardship and fighting against oppression?

Neo chooses to take the truthful red pill and when he wakes up, he finds himself attached to an electrical machine by an elaborate cable system. This is what reality looked like for those humans who were enslaved in the dream simulation. Reality was not as pretty as the dream world, but embracing it showed strength and integrity. Neo makes it his life’s work to help the Zion brotherhood bring truth to the world. The movie shows another man named Cyber who decides he’s tired of living in reality and schemes to return to the matrix so he can live a comfortable, pretend lifestyle. Like Judas, Cyber betrays the Zion brotherhood to the enemy machines for his own benefit.

The price for embracing the outcome-based system is a life of fear and despair. Life is a never-ending worry cycle that you won’t measure up. Every day you work feverishly to reach a goal set by someone else and when you do, you work even harder to stay ahead of the curve. This cycle eventually ends with you crashing in despair, wondering what makes life worthwhile. We keep insanely believing that doing the same things will bring about a different result. Instead, we need to question the beliefs on which we base our life efforts. 

At some point, every person asks the question, “Is this all there is to life?” We may ask it when we’re at the top of the mountain or in a deep pit from which we never seem to climb out of -- but we all ask it. The Outcome-based, logical strategy dangles the carrot, telling us to pull up our boots and to put in extra effort and time. It promises if we work hard, we can achieve all our dreams. Has that been true in your life? For me, all that hard work left me burned out and exhausted.

For Christians, this strategy usually means we throw ourselves into church and ministry. We desperately seek emotional highs during worship and obsessively spend our time giving to others. But even these “good” things leave us feeling exhausted, empty, incompetent, worthless, and desperate for happiness and joy. In such a place, we are vulnerable to manipulation and self-destruction. Rather than continuing to do more, why not re-evaluate your life strategy?

Living an Outcome-based lifestyle means enduring never-ending fear, self-protection, bitterness, and resentment. How do you know which system you are living in? Pray Psalm 51 and ask God to show you if any of these Outcome-based themes are present in your heart and mind on a regular basis:

o   Blaming others
o   Refusing to take responsibility for one’s own issues
o   Living in learned helplessness
o   Taking on the identity of a martyr
o   Giving up on life, living in despair and hopelessness
o   Attempting to fix others through manipulative techniques
o   Demanding obedience while denying personhood
o   Denying the role of emotions
o   Striving to be independent rather than interdependent
o   Living life as Martha instead of Mary
o   Choosing to prioritize ministry at the expense of relationships
o   Denying immaturities and defending them to others
o   Refusing to allow others to know you for fear of being hurt
o   Creating rules legislating worth, value and acceptance

Excerpt From the Other Side of the Couch: A Biblical Counselor's Guide to Relational Living

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