This post originally appeared on my personal blog in 2011.
When I was growing up, way back in the dark ages before cell phones, my father had short-wave radios in the vehicles of his employees. We also had two units in our house: one in the living room, and one in my parents’ room. They looked a little like telephones (not a telephone that any of my children would recognize, but like telephones of that era). Talking on them required the use of all sorts of fancy code-talk like “Car One to Base Two.”
They were kind of scary.
Then one day my cousins were playing at my house. One of them decided it would be quite hilarious if I would get on the radio and call for my daddy. I wasn’t convinced it would be that hilarious, and I thought it might get me in trouble, but he was very encouraging.
I was gullible. I was the youngest. It was part of my job to be gullible.
I was probably four. I remember being concerned about the whether I needed to say “Base Two to Car One” first, but he assured me that if I got on there and said, “Daddy! Hi Daddy!” (over and over) it would be just great.
So I did it. It didn’t take long before my dad responded with, “Somebody get her off of that thing.” It might as well have been the voice of God.
It’s ironic to think that this particular cousin is now an airline pilot, because I have a feeling that messing around with the communication devices is frowned upon in his line of work. But I digress.
That was probably the most embarrassed I had ever been. I’ve been much more embarrassed since then, mind you, but at the time it was bad. Now, I don’t want you to read too much into this. I recovered quickly. I played with my cousins for the rest of the afternoon, and I’m sure when my dad got home from work I ran up and hugged him just like always. I don’t want to paint this as a traumatic incident from my past, because it’s not.
I didn’t even think about it much until I got a job with The Drugstore Chain That Shall Not Be Named. On my first day, a coworker asked me to page someone over the store intercom, and I was terrified. Page someone? Over the store intercom? Can’t I do something less scary, like stand in the parking lot and sing a solo?
For the first couple of days I went to ridiculous lengths to avoid using the intercom. Finally I just couldn’t avoid it, so I bucked up and did it. No one was particularly impressed at the sacrifice this required, but I was pleased with myself. By the time I left the company, I could announce prescriptions and call for change with the best of them.
For the past couple of weeks, I’ve taken a break (mostly) from reading my beloved dead Puritans to read a couple of the Christian “self-help” books. Both of them contain some insight into why we do what we do, and both of them spend an inordinate amount of time discussing how childhood traumas and disappointments can shape us. It seems that all of us were paying attention in Psych 101.
But I wonder at the format. The authors seem to say: It’s all their fault that you are the way you are (“they” being your parents or the men in your life, usually). The implication is that if you can dredge up all the causes, you’ll be cured.
I’m not trying to minimize the impact of family dysfunction and childhood traumas, nor am I suggesting that the victim is to blame. I do think, however, these books skip a step. My opening example is overly simplistic and a little silly, and purposely so. But even if I take one of my bigger issues and substitute it, I’m still back at the beginning. You see, just as I knew why I didn’t like intercoms, I know why I have a fear of people dying in car wrecks and children being snatched from their homes. Maybe I’ll tell you about it sometime. But none of those things created the problem, they just uprooted something that was already there.
I didn’t like intercoms because I don’t like looking foolish, and once an intercom had made me feel that way. I was eventually able to see that people shopping in your local chain drugstore have better things to do than mock the person on the intercom, so I moved on. The bigger problems may be harder to get past, but the roots are the same as any other problem we’ve had from the beginning: fear, pride, unbelief, distrust, covetousness.
At best, discovering the role the mistakes or sins of others played in your current problems will offer some insight, but they won’t give you the solution. At worst you will go on blaming that person, growing in bitterness, and never get around to dealing with your own stuff. Scripture does contain stern warnings for those who cause others to sin (Matthew 18:6, Romans 14:20-22), but whenever it speaks directly to a person about their own sin, it doesn’t allow any wiggle room. The direct advice is always the same: repent and stop. Trust God and follow him.
Are you fearful? That’s unbelief and lack of trust in God. Fear of failure? That’s pride. We can’t change our past, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, we can put off the old self and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24). And that requires more than looking for someone else to blame.