How People Change…and Repent

It’s funny how no matter how much I think I know, or how many lessons I think I’ve learned, every once in awhile (or, let’s be honest, fairly regularly) I find myself in the delightful position of being shown that I’ve forgotten something I thought I’d already learned.  I’ve wandered back into wrong patterns of thinking or behaving and I’m being humbled again by my own stupidity. Just this past week I experienced another one of those fun “re-learning” moments.

Prior to last Monday, I would have told you that God had successfully shown me that my administrative bent had often turned into a sinful desire for control in my life, but that I could see that very clearly now: “Check! Lesson learned! Moving on!” This past week, however, I learned – again – that a desire to control had successfully crawled back into the recesses of my heart where I couldn’t readily see it.

A little background on this story might be helpful.

Up until a couple years ago, I was one of those people who were staunchly against owning a “smart phone.” I could acknowledge that they might be helpful in some situations, but would often protest: “Come on…is it really necessary for all of us to carry around an Internet connection 24/7? Surely most of us can’t possibly justify needing what a smart phone offers.” Besides, why does a phone need to do more than connect me directly to another person and allow me to speak to them? My “dumb” phone even allowed me to text, and I found that level of communication to be more than sufficient.

Somewhat smug about the whole thing, I was content with a phone that made it possible for me to speak to people and even send 160-character text messages.

Then I got an iPhone. It was like an interesting toy at first, but then I slowly began to realize the multiple efficiencies it brought to my very-busy life.

  • I could look up addresses and avoid driving around looking for a location that’s “around here somewhere.” It hardly seemed relevant that this outdated way of driving around had worked for me for nearly 30 years.
  • I could get to my e-mail no matter where I was! Far from being tied to the house as I was waiting for a response to a care ministry request I’d sent out, I could walk up and down the aisles of Hy-Vee doing the family grocery shopping, and simultaneously managing fix-it requests or hospital visits. As someone who thinks multi-tasking is a skill everyone should have, this level of power was intoxicating.
  • I could instantly quiet my young son by simply handing him my phone-turned-video-game-unit. We Mayers are a verbose bunch, and while our son was somewhat reluctant to pick up English as a toddler, he is now rarely silent…unless he’s unconscious or his attention is turned to Minion Rush or Angry Birds. He can be the king of distraction when I am trying to take care of “more important” matters, but now I’d found a powerful “silencer” in the various free iPhone game apps.

Still, I would have continued to tell you that I could have lived without my smart phone “just fine.” Until last Monday.

The newest iPhone operating system (iOS7) came out only a few weeks ago, but I woke up Monday morning to a notification saying there was already an update for the various software bugs they’d found. OK…No big deal, right? I clicked “Update” and set my phone down. I came back later to find that my phone was asking to be connected to iTunes. When I obediently complied, I then learned that my phone had crashed and needed to be restored from back-up. This was no small feat, apparently. I proceeded to spend the morning trying to restore my phone, trying to reinstall old information from a backup, and desperately attempting not to lose all the very important data that I’d spent the last year archiving. And all the while, my heart was getting darker and darker.

I was beyond annoyed that technology wasn’t working the way it’s ideally designed to. This felt like a major affront to me, a personal attack, and I was angry. Very angry. My world of power and control had been horribly violated entirely apart from my sovereign iPhone consent.

Coincidentally, I’m reading a book right now by Paul David Tripp and Tim Lane called How People Change. Among other things, I’m learning to look beyond the circumstances of life to the heart’s response to those circumstances, and to identify the sin or wrong thinking behind the response. So, in the midst of this iPhone-fueled hissy fit I was having, I stopped and asked myself, “What on earth is going on with me? Yes, I’m being inconvenienced, but why am I this angry?”

Clearly, God was using this “difficult moment” to show me something in my heart that was still in need of cleansing. My anger was an indicator that something I value was being threatened, and while that thing I value might even be a good thing, it had clearly moved into a position of higher value than it should ever be allowed.

One lesson that came out of my technology fit is that I am far more tied to my iPhone than I would care to admit. For someone who likes to be efficient and to control – and oh, Lord, do I love to control and manage and be efficient! – this little device had become a strong tool in my hand. I had come to depend on it to give me the control I desire. Without even realizing it, it had become something I thought I deserved or needed.

Another lesson is tied to the first. My administrative bent is always developing agendas for my time, and while I really do want to live my life for Christ, I find I can easily wander into developing agendas for my day that are more about me than about what God wants for me. My agenda items might even have a service orientation to them, but if I get angry when my agenda is thwarted, that’s a pretty good indicator that accomplishing that “selfless task” was more about me and my agenda than God’s plan for my day.

And so I find myself, once again, returning to God’s knee for forgiveness and renewed vision to see when I begin to wander. Thank you, God, that your mercies are new every day (Lamentations 3:22-23), and that your patience and great love for us means that you don’t get frustrated with us the way we get frustrated with each other (Psalm 103:8).

I am confident that if there are lessons from last Monday that I failed to see, I will again encounter a difficult circumstance that will shed light on that hidden sin in my life. God is faithful to conform us to Christ, and to root out all ungodly behavior. I pray God will continue to soften my heart and sharpen my vision to see those areas in my life that still grieve Him. And where I cannot see, that He would continue to bring technology failures – or whatever else is necessary – to shed light on them.

Lamentations 3:21-24 (ESV)
But this I call to mind,
  and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
  his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
  great is your faithfulness.
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
  “therefore I will hope in him.”

Psalm 51:10-12 (ESV)
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
  and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
  and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
  and uphold me with a willing spirit.

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