We want a better life. We want security and peace of mind. We want to love and be loved. We want to believe that even our failures can work for good if we learn from them. Many of us want to become the person Jesus describes in the Sermon on the Mount, a person who loves his enemies, but when we look into our heart, we realize that not only do we not love our enemies, we don’t even love some of our family and friends.
The popular myths we believe are often the source of our failure. We’ve bought into ideas that initially looked reasonable, but ultimately were lies. Let’s consider one of the most destructive: the notion that we can bring about positive change in our life by our willpower.
Think about all the times you’ve heard, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Think about how you normally approach making changes in your life, like wanting to act better or work more or eat less. The default mode for most of us is to rely upon our willpower to alter our behavior. And it nearly always fails.
Think back to a resolution you made and broke. What caused you to fail? Most of us assume we failed because we did not have enough willpower, but was that the real reason? I would suggest your downfall was not due to a lack of willpower. I would go so far as to say it is impossible to fail because of a lack of willpower. The term “willpower” is an oxymoron–your will has no power of its own.
Why? Think about what your “will” is. It is your ability to choose. My will, for example, is responsible for the words I am now writing. I had a dictionary full of words, and I picked these. But why did I choose to write these particular words? Because my will responded to the three real determiners of who I am:
- The most influential is my mind. What I think about affects my emotions, which prompt my will to act.
- My body also exerts a tremendous influence on my will. Many of my bodily systems run without my assistance, but when my body has a need (like food or water, for example), it expresses itself to my mind through feelings like hunger or thirst and alerts my mind to send a message to my will: Feed me!
- My will is also influenced the people around me and the relationships I want to build and nurture, so in my writing I choose words that encourage and edify.
When we take a closer look at what influences us, we discover it’s not something abstract like willpower that is driving things; my mind is in charge, and it is constantly being influenced by my body and by the people I hang out with.
This is good news for those of us who have been trying to change by using something (willpower) which doesn’t exist, because now we can focus on things we can influence: what we allow into our mind and body, and who we allow into our life.
But step one is to replace the myths we’ve embraced. Many of these false beliefs go all the way back to our childhood, and we’ve turned every significant event in our life into a story that we’ve nursed and rehearsed for years. These stories are not just about what happened; they have sights and sounds and smells and feelings attached. These narratives are so powerful that they shape our identity. They become the “truths” we live by–even when they are not true. We must replace these myths with God’s truth.
One that I had as a kid was the notion that God was perpetually angry with me because I was always messing up. God was cop, judge, jailer, and executioner. It took me a long time to realize I had the story wrong.
Some of these myths are so pervasive that entire cultures succumb to them. Like the evil lie I grew up hearing that said a soul’s value is defined by the color of a man’s skin. Or the myth in China today that says a person’s value is defined by her gender.
These kinds of myths have done major damage in our world. Jesus’s prescription is simple: “Repent,” he said. Change the way you think.
The apostle Paul affirmed Jesus’s message by encouraging Christ followers to present their lives as living sacrifices. In Romans 12, he tells us that when we put our trust in Jesus, we will undergo a complete metamorphosis. He urges us to adopt Christ’s attitude and set our minds on things above. According to Paul, life change happens when we embed the words of Jesus in our heart, abandon our false narratives, and let His story shape our truth.
When I did that, my outlook on life changed. The stern Judge I knew growing up was replaced by the Father Jesus introduced me to, my loving and merciful abba.
What about you? Got any stories you need to trade out?