Added to fear is the uncertainty of what good it will do to address unfinished business. What if you did deal with it? Would you be better for it? Would it be worth it? If you have ever taken a run at dealing with unfinished business, you may think you know the answers to these questions. You may be saying to yourself as you read this that you have tried to act on your inner self issues, that nothing changed, that more pain was the result. It isn’t worth it, you have decided. It is a big risk to trust God with your secret stuff, no matter what your declared beliefs about God’s right to reign over you are.
Perhaps you have faced the fear and uncertainty. Possibly you have already adopted a strategy that you think is dealing with your unfinished business. I wish you well. But I know that unless your plan is to pursue transformation through intimacy with God, you are not seeing the freedom you thought your strategy would bring you. Here are several common tactics that give the appearance of being engaged in pursuing health, but will never set you free. Consider these in light of your personal approach to your unfinished business.
- Repression: Like Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, people decide that they will not think about the problem, in the hope that time will defeat it. Repression is trying to keep the problem out of sight, a strategy of self-deception. We decide we will not look at it anymore, that we will defeat it by ignoring it altogether. But a thing repressed does not simply go away; it merely takes up a deeper residence within our souls and continues to influence our personal story all the while we are thinking about something else. Furthermore, repression of a problem blocks us from allowing God’s love to address the root of what really ails us. If the problem doesn’t exist, we will not engage with God about it.
- Lateral moves: Maybe you deal with your unfinished business by making lateral moves, seeking relief in change. You have changed your friends, your job, the city you live in. You have changed your lifestyle, found new activities to fill up your free time, changed your clothing style, changed churches. Maybe you have invested in nip and tuck, thinking a younger looking you will bring the contentment you seek. Or changed life partners, thinking your “ex” is the reason for your unhappiness. This tactic of change comes in many different forms, but it always amounts to the same thing – making external changes without inner transformation. You are like the person at a crowded Walmart checkout at Christmas, moving from one line to another in the hope that this line will be faster and less frustrating – forlorn hope. Addressing unfinished business is not about changing the window dressing, but about deep transformation.
- Blame game: Victimization is the oldest game in the book. At the heart of this strategy is the resonance of truth. Since you live in a world affected by the Fall, you have been wounded. That is the direct outcome of humanity’s rebellion against God’s reign. Humans turned on each other. Unsurprisingly we are the casualty of other people’s actions, words or neglect. Often the wounds come from people closest to you, people whose love for you failed at a crucial intersection. Or maybe for you, like Adam, it was God’s fault. No matter who, the cause of your unfinished business is someone’s fault and you want them to take the responsibility to fix it if it is going to be addressed at all. It is easy to understand why people choose to develop a blame plan. Yet the tactic fails to deliver shalom simply because you fail to take responsibility for the destructive choices you made, consciously or unconsciously, to comfort yourself in your pain. Pointing at others keeps you from looking deeper inside and owning your own part of your unfinished business.
- Obedience: Perhaps the most misunderstood tactic to which people resort looks the most Christian. “Just be obedient. Follow what the Bible says and you will be changed. Submit your unfinished business to God and obey.” And that is almost right, which is why it is so wrong. Ted Haggard’s confession of being unable to stop destructive behavior even as a highly visible pastor and national leader shows the lie of this strategy. Everyone in the Bible who was not a Pharisee knew they’d never be changed by their ability to obey. In a sense, this kind of obedience approach is somewhat like a twelve step program. Do the steps (i.e., obey) over and over again and you will not slip back into a destructive life. The obedience model directs you to fight the inner foe by your own strength. The pathway God sets out for dealing with our innermost issues is rooted in His power, not our best efforts to obey. Obedience is the byproduct, not the method, of wholeness.
Maybe in this brief look at failed strategies you’ve seen yourself and what you’ve been doing for years to tackle your unfinished business. I hope that in this short examination you might have recognized the futility of all of them and are now open to what Jesus called ‘rest.’ In the next article, we will reexamine that last futile tactic – obedience – to help you towards the place of wholeness where God alone is able to take you.