Suffering is a part of life, as we all are well aware. No matter how hard we try to protect ourselves and our loved ones, there are always trials on the horizon. It can be so easy to turn to God in anger, in our resistance to the suffering we perceive He has control over, and quite frankly we expect more from a loving and good God. Yet Christ himself was not even spared the element of suffering in His life. In fact quite the opposite. Christ, being God in the flesh had opportunity and power to avoid suffering and yet didn’t. Even now as God watches over all of us, His children, He Himself suffers as much, if not more, than we do.
So then if God won’t even prevent His own Son’s suffering, or Himself from suffering, why should we expect any different?
A couple of differences between our suffering and Christ’s is firstly that Christ was willing to suffer, where we commonly resist it. And secondly is that Christ had no need for a spiritual audit because He had no sin in Him.
A spiritual audit is exactly as it sounds, a deep inspection of the condition of our hearts, our behaviour, our thoughts, our habits, our obedience and our relationship with God.
Suffering is a result of sin, not always directly tied to our own personal sin, as in “I shouldn’t have had an affair because now my family have left me and it hurts.”, rather as a general rule of the state of sin in the world. God suffers not because of His own sin, but because of the sin in the world. Christ’s death proves that it doesn’t matter how ‘good’ we are, sin will still impact us during our time on earth and cause us pain.
When we go through sufferance, it weakens our resolve taking us to a place where our stubborn hearts have need of God and His assistance. For those who are willing to perform a spiritual audit on themselves there is hope in trials, as evidence that a better change is coming, bringing a brightness of the new spiritual position to be obtained, as even more darker elements are cleared out. A new level of growth in Answer to fervent prayers for God to change our hearts and free us from temptation and despair.
For those of us who expect an easy life and refuse to acknowledge the need of a spiritual audit, by believing ourselves already acceptable, self-assessment is an unnecessary pass time. Because of an ignorance to the pride in our hearts, suffering is a reason to question and challenge God, and to fight against His will. However, when the level of suffering is personal in such a way that we can not ignore the role we played in the consequences of our suffering, more hearts are inclined to self-assess and want to change their ways.
Stubborn hearts pray for others to be as ‘good’ as they are, and pray in anger towards God against the suffering of the innocent. Whereas humble hearts pray for the improved condition of their own standing, and in submission pray for all sin to be overcome, easing the suffering for all, not just the apparent innocent.
For, all of us, every single one has sinned against God, and against our fellow man, in more ways than we like to admit. Our Inner Enemies make our decisions for us so often and we begin to wonder how we ever became who we are. Performing a regular spiritual audit keeps track of exactly what our inner enemies are up to, self-awareness removes all excuses and distractions, and pays attention to ourselves in ways we avoid daily. Being mindful of our thoughts and behaviour gives us back the power to change them, to bring them under the captivity and obedience of Christ.
The enemy of God has tried to convince us that our failings and sins are reasons to avoid God, out of fear, so we not only hide them from Him, but also from ourselves. A spiritual audit clears out this reasoning and reduces us to a humble servant of God, willing to be cleansed, forgiven and loved. Loved with such intensity that our relationship with God is not dependent upon our ‘goodness’ but rather our ability to spiritually audit ourselves and our hearts under God’s gaze and be reassured and confident in His Grace and His Love.
We feel beforehand that this process is a scary thing, yet let me reassure you, you will never regret it, you will grow, grow within yourself, and grow in your relationship with God, and fall deeper in Love with Christ every time you experience the comfort of His Forgiving Grace.
I used to think my Dad was narrow minded and hard to please (back when I really didn’t know him). He would ‘tut and huff’ under his breath if he came across something that bothered him, and I always felt guilty just being myself around him. I later learned that he wasn’t tutting at me, (He was tutting at the increasing level of evil which he felt all around him), but I was so used to guilt trips, that I thought I was disappointing him each time I heard that “Tut”.
After 10 years of close relationship with my Dad I came to believe I was good enough. Good enough for him, and good enough for God. When he passed away and took his place with the stars, I knew his approval, acceptance and love for me could never change. He loved me and was proud of who I am. This realisation gave me a wonderful freedom from the guilt that had haunted me all my life. Then everything changed. I began to work hard on building boundaries against those who used guilt to manipulate me. Those who tried to make me feel not good enough, so that I would change to suit them.
It seems a popular topic at the moment. Many feel guilt from expectations, and the difficulty of establishing a healthy boundary with those who use guilt to manipulate. And many more think their expectations should be forced onto others, at the cost of being kind, or giving grace. They become manipulative, without even realising it.
The problem with having expectations is that you can be thrown into a negative mindset when they are not met. I remember being adamant about what I thought others should do, especially a romantic partner, a parent, or a sibling. It caused me to be constantly disappointed, surrounded by drama, and bitterness grew easily in my heart.
We all have various expectations, it is what makes us human, but are they reasonable expectations, or are they restrictive, high, and unreasonable? Do we expect others to behave in ways we have determined to be right or acceptable, and find it unbearable when others have completely different views? This can make personal relationships extremely complicated and difficult.
Guilt has some terrific benefits to the human condition, it convicts our hearts when we need to correct the choices we have made. To develop and grow into who we really want to be. The consequences of our choices is what brings about this healthy type of guilt. Sometimes we can come to the conclusion, for ourselves. Other times we forget to self-assess and it takes an outside source to point it out to us. These can all be beneficial experiences in the long run, if we are open to them.
However, when someone tries to force us to feel guilty because we didn’t meet their unreasonable expectations, this guilt changes from being beneficial to being manipulative. It is up to us to get honest with ourselves, to consider if we trust ourselves to decide, and if WE can live happily with our choices. The reactions of others may or may not be in line with our thinking, and it seems to have become too common to slip into trying to please every man and his dog, as a priority over what we believe is right for us, living guilt free.
This is such a complex issue and so many variables make it hard to give one simple answer. That being said, I have found that being a “people-pleaser” (i.e. trying to stop people being disappointed in you) only gets you so far before you begin to lose sight of who you are and who you want to be.
Setting a healthy boundary decreases this manipulation. This boundary might be, to consider the feelings of others, but only so far as to weigh up the possible consequences of your choice, and accept that they may not like your choice. Recognize that coming up against opposition doesn’t automatically make you wrong, or in need of a good dose of guilt. Think it through, are they being reasonable or not? Are they supporting the choice you are making for YOUR own reasons? Or are they putting their own expectations over your permission to choose for yourself?
I am so very glad that I had Dad to show me how toxic high expectations can be. He taught me to aim for grace over restriction, to try being accepting instead of dissatisfied.
Life is hard enough without tripping over the graceless expectations from others. We are human after all. The ability to get it wrong and change is upon our own shoulders, no one elses. Grace is a blessing waiting for us to grab onto. Give Grace to others, but also Give Grace to yourself and be freed from manipulative guilt!