Monday, November 5, 2012

Changing My Mind

On Sunday, I had a really interesting talk with a friend. He was saying how our most basic belief systems are often formed by as early as ages 3-5. I'm not much of a child development guru, but I think that's probably true. What we believe about the world, ourselves, others, and God begins to take root as early as we begin to process our experiences. 

Now, aside from being really intimidated about the prospect of parenting, this whole thing got me thinking about what I really do believe about God. I'm studying the Bible and learning things about Him on paper-- and consciously I claim to believe those things-- He is good, He cares for me, He is my Father, etc. But sometimes I wonder about the things I "learned" about God before I had all this formal education; what did I come to believe at age 4, for example? And how much of that stuff do I actually still believe somewhere inside, buried deeply under fancy theological words and pretty Bible verses? 

My friend was saying that our belief systems are really hard to change, in part because they are held subconsciously. We're not even aware of them most of the time! For example, a child who "learns" early on that she'll never amount to anything may not consciously think she's dumb, but will act out that belief in her habits. She'll avoid studying because subconsciously, there's a deep fear of failure. She's almost sure she'll fail because deep down she believes that she'll never amount to anything. So why try? 

So, what did I "learn" about God that I still believe subconsciously? Did I come to believe somehow, for example, that "Father" is big and scary and to be avoided? That if he catches me I'll be punished? That he thinks my personality or aspirations are stupid? If so, I can say, "God is my loving Father" all day until I'm blue in the face without ever addressing the real issue of belief-- I believe Father is unsafe. 

What did I learn about myself that I still believe subconsciously? Did I come to believe somehow, for example, that I'll never amount to anything? That I'm not actually that smart, that I'm only as good as my grades/body/talent/income/job, or that I'm just a big inconvenience? If so, I can say, "God loves me" all day until I'm blue in the face without ever addressing the real issue of belief-- I believe I'm worthless.

My friend was saying that only a few things can change a person's belief system: major life-changing events, or lots and lots of deliberate practice over time. Again, I'm not much of a psychology guru, but I think that's probably true. The truth of those words lead me ultimately to the gospel. As a young person, I took in and processed things that I perceived to be coming from authoritative voices around me-- Mom and Dad, Teacher, Big Brother, etc. As I continued to grow and internalize those messages, I solidified what they taught me with what I perceived to be authoritative experience-- my own. If some reality is going to come along and challenge the very foundation of my world-- to tell me, in effect, that my parents (or whoever else influenced me) were wrong and that I am wrong-- who has the authority to do that? God. God's voice alone can trump all others. He created the world and thus has more of a right to explain it to me than anyone else.  

What does that look like practically? It means my subconscious beliefs about "Father" are subject to correction by God, the author of Fatherhood. If I learned somewhere along the way that "Father" means bully, God holds those who modeled that accountable, and He calls me to a change of mind. God is ultimately the authority on Father, not anyone who mirrors that reality in the here and now. It also means my subconscious beliefs about myself are subject to correction by God, the author of me. If I learned somewhere along the way that I'm only as valuable as _______ , God holds those who taught me that accountable, and He calls me to a change of mind. God is ultimately the authority on me, because He created me. He determines my worth and my identity, not anyone who stewards me in the here and now. 

I'm led to the gospel as my only hope in light of the weighty reality that that those deeply held beliefs are hard to change. The gospel says, "The lies that have shaped your world are so deeply rooted and so strongly held that they are impossible for you to change. You are in need of the rescue of Another." Thus, the gospel invites me to a life-changing event; to submit to the authority of God's voice over the voices of all others in my life, and to give Him the permission to redefine and re-write my story. 


As my friend talked with me about the necessity of a life-changing event or lots of long, slow, practice to change our deepest held beliefs, I realized that the gospel is both. It is the life-changing event of God entering my story as Hero and then slowly, over time, re-writing it. I became a Christian over 12 years ago when I submitted my life to God's authority, when I said His would be the voice I trust. But He has been at work since that day peeling back the layers of my false belief and slowly, gently, patiently undoing the lies and replacing them with truth. I still find evidence of those other voices shaping how I believe and how I see Him, and He is still kind to bring them to the surface and call me to a change of mind. As He does so, I find that I not only look at the future differently, but even my past is redefined by God's authoritative voice.

What are some voices that have shaped your beliefs? Do they agree with God's voice? Are you willing to let Him in and change your mind? It will be a life-changing event. And it will continue to unfold your whole life long. 



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