One of the things that is very grounding about the Christian faith is that there is not only truth/Truth we follow, but hopefully a willingness to pursue disciplines that either a) aren’t comfortable, or b), may not necessarily make sense immediately. This is very helpful in therapy when clients don’t throw up resistance to the concept of a greater good through suffering– and the need to persevere in it. If you haven’t yet accepted the tenet of persevering through suffering- and not having an answer- we must first do some preliminary work. Therefore, when asking clients to consider, for example, the hard work of facing fears of certain illnesses, social rejection, or harm, there is already an excellent platform in place. However, I also see that Christians can be remarkably inflexible- myself included. I think it’s often the backside weakness of a frontside strength: commitment to truth. But a commitment to truth is not incongruous to flexibility- the practice of humility is at the heart of the Christian walk– along with acceptance of mystery and uncertainty.
Importance of Flexibility
A massive University of Rochester study (meta-analysis) examined over 44 THOUSAND people and found that in relationships, psychological flexibility was a unifying key to positive outcomes. Some of these positive outcomes were:
- openness to all experiences- good or bad
- feeling the relationship was rewarding
- stronger sense of connection
- mindful awareness and presence. Wow!
It’s been a joke for years that “you can be right, or you can be married.” True for other things, too. Belief in absolute truth allows room for flexibility. God shows this in many things, but maybe not the least of which is patience.
Examples of inflexibility I often hear in Christians:
- “I can’t make a wrong decision, that would dishonor God.”
- “Faith is the opposite of doubt. I can’t sit with doubts or uncertainty. That’s unbiblical.”
- “My thoughts are supposed to only dwell on ‘whatever is true/noble/right/pure’ (Philippians 4:8).”
- “What if saying ‘bad thoughts’ aloud will make them come true?”
- “If I spend more time with a bad thought that’s sinning even more.”
- “You are supposed to know the truth- and the truth will set you free.”
- “God is a God of order- so there must be a perfect order in this.”
- “I either have faith or I don’t. / I’m either choosing the good or choosing the evil.”
In therapy and in life, we must call out seemingly true things that are actually false, or at least not the full picture (Ephesians 4:25; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Matthew 4:1-11). I’m game if you’re game. Not only is humility one of the marks of the Christian life, so is living in mystery, tolerating uncertainty with patience and joy, and simply not being a ‘know-it-all.’
Examples of hardcore acceptance, flexibility, and uncertainty in the Bible:
- Joyful acceptance of property being taken (Hebrews 10:34)
- Jesus’s accepting the suffering of the cross (Hebrews 12:2, also see John 18:36)
- Mary chose to sit with and accept the reality that God chose her to give birth to the Messiah, as a Virgin, especially when she would have been shamed for this (Luke 2:19)
- Disciples follow Jesus in a way that calls for radical sacrifice (Luke 9:23)
- Humility, patience and gentleness are key in our walk with Christ in this life (Ephesians 4:2)- the context of Paul being in prison amplifies this reality all the more.
- The very fact that prophesy exists in the Bible points to the fact that there are some things we cannot know, at least yet (Daniel, Isaiah, Revelation, etc.).
- We see dimly; we don’t currently see the full picture (1 Corinthians 13:12).
- Keep digging for more if you want- these concepts are found all throughout the Bible.
When feeling pervasive doubt, uncertainty, and indecision, I’ve got to shoot straight with you: I think we Christians tend to be a bit more annoying in learning to sit with uncomfortable feelings. 🙂 There, I said it. We’re supposed to have the answers, right? Well, yes and no. We have some incredible answers and access to the living God of the universe (Hebrews 4:14-16)!! But we are not perfected, yet. Simply put, we are not God.
Want to be flexible?
Be circumspect, fellow Christians, so that you don’t fall into a trap of needing to know– being unable to tolerate uncertainty. When you demand certainty and are inflexible in enduring discomfort, you’re not only missing out on some cool benefits, you’re also missing some parts of Christian virtue- and as soon as you start living in fear, you’re clearly outside of God’s desire for you. No shame, but God wants you to experience freedom! (Galatians 5:1). There are many ways to grow in flexibility. It starts with the humility to say: “I don’t know it all.” The pursuit of the “perfect” in ourselves is often the enemy of the good. Rather, pursue The Perfect One. God is patient with His children and provides wisdom to those who ask.