Approach or Avoid?

Today’s scripture: Psalm 49 (NRSV) (The Message) (KJV) What might God be saying to me?

My thoughts (Steve Adams):

“Why should I be afraid…of treacherous foes?” the Psalmist asks. Judging from the rhetorical question-to-self, it looks like the Psalmist suffered from something that just about everybody has — fear of people. The Psalmist’s adversaries bragged about how rich they were, thinking they were better than everyone. The Psalmist puts fear in perspective by saying these people are in no way superior, because they, like everyone, have a limited lifetime here on earth, and are destined for the grave — just like everybody else.

I think the Psalmist’s fear of people makes perfect sense. It’s never been God who scares me. I’m very fortunate to have been consistently exposed to loving images of God since early childhood. For me, Psalm 103 captures God in a nutshell — He/She heals all our diseases, in this life or the next. He/She forgives all our iniquities — our deepest, habituated sins. As high as the heavens stretch above the earth, so great is God’s love for us.

But, people? They are the double-edged sword. On the one hand, I’ve been blessed by family and dear friends who are gifts of love and grace — who bring God’s love alive in immensely beautiful and incredibly varied ways. And yet, other people (most of them well-intentioned) have caused me almost unbearable psychological pain. Like most everybody else, I’ve suffered from abuse and neglect — often subtle, but nevertheless devastating. My perspective has often been, “If I can get through dealing with all these mean people who don’t really understand and aren’t in touch with what’s really important, then maybe I can reach the loving, understanding arms of God.” And, when you think about it, it wasn’t God who betrayed, tortured and humiliated Jesus. No, it was flesh-and blood people!

Do people cause a similar visceral reaction for you? Are there some — friends and family, — who elicit incredibly deep joy, and give you courage to go through the hard challenges of life? But others who have caused deep psychological pain? This results in a powerful syndrome, often called approach-avoidance. The classic example is when you want to call someone who you like and are attracted to in order to invite them on a first date. On the one hand, it seems like a slice of heaven to think of sitting down with them — just the two of you — to talk. But, on the other hand, it seems like fear is holding a gun to your head when you’re getting ready to dial their number. Oh, the torture of hyper-ambivalence!

I think we can get resolution from this conflict by going beyond this Psalm and soaking in Colossians 2:2 — That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; (KJV)

Aside from our relationship with God, loving relationships with other people are the greatest gift of life — the crème de la crème! And, think of Jesus. There was “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13, 19, 20 and 21), and Mary Magdalene. These were two of those incredibly special people in His life, who gave Him the strength to carry on because of the deep and intimate love they shared. Think of the special people in your life. We’re blessed beyond measure if we have one, two, or three of them — those whose love is like an ecstatic piece of heaven that transforms an “average” moment into pure joy!

Many times God is energizing us to push through avoidance — the fear which makes us feel so uncomfortable — so we may reach the potential for rich, fruitful relationships like these. The love of Christ constrains us to do so! Even though some people will inevitably disappoint and hurt us, others will show us God’s love in unique, poignant, vivid ways we would never had experienced otherwise.

Thought for the day: Wounds inflicted by the cruel and callous acts of others can make me want to avoid new relationships, and can also prevent me from deepening the emotional and spiritual intimacy of existing ones. But God’s love gives me an overcoming energy that helps me deepen my existing relationships, and start new ones, as the Spirit leads.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. If you need a place to get started, consider the suggestions on the How to Pray page.