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Reflections on Tyranny, Allegiance, and Transformation

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The following quote came to mind yesterday as I reflected on my opportunities for growth.

"Imagine you're facing a problem that is so big, that it paralyzes you and turns you into a tyrant. That's too big a problem for you. What you have to do is scale back the problem, until you find a dragon that's a size you'll actually contend with." — Jordan Peterson > 307. Childhood Trauma, Marriage, and Making Friends | Dr. John Delonye

I relate. So often in my life, I’ve sought to tackle problems way beyond me. Ideally, we pick a small slice to focus on, experimenting around the edges. But, going beyond our capacity is always an opportunity to grow. But in addition to the possibility of healthy growth, the growth can also be a toxic hardening of our hearts and the progression of our tyranny.

We are dependent, limited, and tribal animals. When we reach our limits, in our society, we don’t want to slow down or stop. We instead want to keep going and to overcome, often leveraging technology to enable what would otherwise be impossible.

My phone is acting up these days and the GPS is laggy. Today, as I drove through the city, with a malfunctioning GPS, I remembered when I first moved to Atlanta, before GPS, and how I got lost numerous times. I often struggled to find my way to the destination or back home. Getting lost can also happen in other ways, sometimes in ways and places we don't expect.

I’m reminded today, and by friends who love me, that when my emotions are high and my words and actions are falling short, I’ve gone beyond my capacity. I’ve reached the end of myself and something more, beyond myself and my work, is needed. We are all dormant radicals. The source we draw upon dictates the type of life we have and it determines our focus.

The following is an excerpt from today’s My Utmost for His Highest Christian devotional.

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him…' This look of Jesus will require breaking your heart away forever from allegiance to any other person or thing.
Where you are soft and pliable with God is where the Lord has looked at you. If you are hard and vindictive, insistent on having your own way, and always certain that the other person is more likely to be in the wrong than you are, then there are whole areas of your nature that have never been transformed by His gaze.“ - Oswald Chambers
It’s easy to speak and act virtuously when we have power, or things are tame and going well. But when the stakes, tensions, and emotions are high, our sinful nature comes through. What we’ve repeatedly fed our souls comes out of us. And so when I’ve gone beyond my capacity, depending on myself, I become this tyrant. I act on the belief that I must change things how I want them to be. And I use methods that are not in alignment with the way of Jesus.

We wield power over others, often harming them. What a powerful contrast to the power Jesus wielded. While he was arrested, falsely accused, punished, and killed, He could have used his power to defend himself or to destroy his adversaries. And yet he chose love instead. Wow!

The early stages of our tyrannical behavior are a helpful sign to me and my friends that there is transformational work to be done in me (especially in contrast to the loving standard Jesus imputes into us). My tyranny is a signal that I’ve lost sight of my primary allegiance and vision. It’s a moment to pause and reflect.

As a freelancer, there have been numerous times where I've unfairly not gotten paid. My inclination is to allow my inner tyrant to come out. But it is in these cases, I've instead chosen to create a system that limits the consequences when this happens, and trust God to resolve the situation on my behalf. It's not to say we should allow people to treat us poorly but that we should not become that which takes advantage of us; kind but firm as Mary Poppins says.

Thankfully, we are not left to our destructive selves. The love of Jesus is available to us all, and it is his life and love that softens the hearts of tyrants who embrace Him, including me.

Without Jesus' love, and my effort to accept it, I risk deepening my sense of having control, my self-reliance, and my incompleteness masked as completeness. If God is in control, I’m reliant on him, and he is who makes me complete, I’m liberated to be and love others how he has loved me.

This post is my reminder to embrace that love. It’s to invite you to hold me accountable. We need each other.

Consider praying the following... “Lord, show me where my heart needs softening. Please look at and love me in that part of my life. “

Not a Christian? Give it a try. See what happens. 

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