Elisabeth Elliot: "Sulking is characteristic of an egocentric kind of softness, an overdelicate, squeamish brooding, a touchy attitude that itches to punish the offender by shaming him." Wow! When I read that list, I had to say, "Guilty."
Lisa Barry: What about you? Do any of those characteristics hit close to home? They do for me. The problem is that sulking often sneaks up on me when I least expect it. All it takes is something like a fleeting thought or two and then I begin a downward spiral of brooding. Is there anything we can do to stop the cycle? Today on Gateway To Joy, Elisabeth Elliot continues her series called "Meekness is Not Weakness" and reveals how to get rid of a sulking spirit. Here she is.
Elisabeth Elliot: "You are loved with an everlasting love." That's what the Bible says. "And underneath are the everlasting arms." This is your friend Elisabeth Elliot, talking with you again today about meekness, which is not weakness. There is often a lot of confusion about what that word "meekness" means, and it's not a virtue that most of us aspire toward.
We think of people who are meek as being sort of wimpy and like a dishrag and having no backbone and can't stand up to anybody. But that is very far from the truth of God. Jesus said, "Come to Me, you who are tired and overburdened, and I will give you rest. But take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart." "I am meek and lowly of heart," the King James translation says. "And you will find rest for your souls." Meek and lowly. Gentle and humble. But not weak!
One of the things that we are likely to indulge in, if we are not truly meek at heart, is sulking. Is there anyone listening to me today who has ever been tempted to go into a sulk? Well, I think I should ask, "Is there anyone who has never gone into a sulk?" It's human nature. If we don't get what we want, we are tempted to sulk.
I'm dismayed to hear all the talk about learning to love oneself. It is a pernicious doctrine. It has come into the Church. People are being confused by it. In 2 Timothy 3, the Apostle Paul is writing about what's going to happen in the last times. He says, "There will be terrible times in the last days." The first thing he mentions by way of illustration is "People will be lovers of themselves." In many churches today, people are being taught that they must learn to love themselves.
I think that's a hideous distortion of what Jesus meant when He told us that we were to love our neighbor as ourselves. He was simply pointing to a very human characteristic, which is self-love--the kind of love that starts by taking care of itself. We put on clothes. We don't want to be too cold or too hot. We eat food. These are ways of taking care of the body, which are perfectly legitimate. If that's the only kind of love that we're talking about, then of course that is legitimate. We have to take care of ourselves.
A good way to discover whether or not you love yourself in a wrong way would be to note your reaction if somebody steps on your toe. It is your toe. It's your body and it hurt. So your reaction then is likely to be to lash out at that person and to be angry, perhaps even to go into a sulk.
The truly meek person--the one who has learned the meekness and gentleness of Christ, the one whose meekness is a spiritual fact in her life, supple, serene, tender, rejecting brutality, having a reverence for the mystery of the operation of grace, a meekness that accords everything that time required by its inward law of unfolding. Meekness, which presupposes a mind conscious of the presence of Christ--that is the kind of meekness that I want to talk about.
To sulk is the opposite of that. It is a form of loving oneself. "I was not treated right. They have invaded my territory." "Meekness never exchanges the garment of love for a coat of mail," someone has said. Meekness never steels its heart. It does not stiffen, bristle, withdraw, become sullen and retaliate. Good definitions of sulking, aren't they?
My mother would never allow us to sulk. If we sat at the table and sulked because we had been corrected about something, Mother would often say, "You just leave the table now and go to your room and don't come back until you find a happy face." Sometimes it took us a very long time to find a happy face, because having been sent to our rooms, we sat down and sulked. And we sulked and we sulked. And we were mad and angry, and it was a very difficult thing to find a happy face.
If my field of sensitivity has been invaded, is my reaction a meek one or a loving one? Meekness is love at school. An insult or abuse, if it's intended to touch the field of my sensitivity, my susceptibility to irritation springs up from that deeply rooted attitude of self-assertion. "This is my territory. This is my space. This is my body. I have been invaded and insulted and I sulk."
What about if your rights are not respected? What is your response? The Christian response should be a very different one from that of the world. Sulking is characteristic of an egocentric kind of softness, an overdelicate, squeamish brooding, a touchy attitude that itches to punish the offender by shaming him. Wow! When I read that list, I had to say, "Guilty. I'm guilty of an egocentric kind of softness, of overdelicateness, of squeamishness, of brooding, being touchy." And I certainly do sometimes itch to punish the offender.
Do I indulge in an unhealthy joy, imagining the other person's contrition and chagrin, if I let him know that I have been insulted or hurt? I think those of us who are married need particularly these hard lessons of meekness. There is no other realm in which day by day we are together with other people as in marriage and family. That of course is the crucial testing ground of the reality of our spirituality.
Are you the kind of person who very dutifully goes to church and puts on a good front and people think that you are a wonderful Christian? But perhaps you are one of those who acts like the devil at home. There are people like that, aren't there? The going to church isn't going to get you into heaven. It is a commitment to Jesus Christ, which involves a daily obedience. It's not just a one-time, putting up your hand and going forward in a Billy Graham crusade. That can be the beginning, and it has been the beginning for hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of people.
But what happens when the test comes and you are insulted? Your field of sensitivity is invaded or rights are not respected. What is your response? True meekness forgives and lets go. Let's not allow ourselves to indulge unhealthy joy, imagining the other person's contrition and chagrin.
Sulking is resentment. It is hanging onto the insult. Sulking desires to be petted and cajoled and pampered and apologized to. Sulking is a spoiled child's response. Are we guilty of that? May God search our hearts today. May He speak to someone who is listening to those wonderful words, "Come to Me, you who are tired and overburdened."
Someone may be listening to me who is overburdened because of some dreadful sin that has been perpetrated against you. You have not forgiven. You have sulked. You have been angry. And you have been battering God's door, asking why He doesn't do something about this thing. The Lord is simply quietly and lovingly saying, "Come to Me, you who are tired and overburdened. You do not need to lug this burden of bitterness for the rest of your life. I will give you rest."
But you're going to have to take His yoke. "Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me," He says, "for I am meek and humble in heart." Meekness is not weakness. Jesus was totally meek--meek as a lamb. He and He alone can deliver you from those burdens. Let go of your childish sulking, your pride, your concupiscence. That's one of those old words from the King James Bible that most of us didn't know what it meant, but it just means self-pampering. The love of softness. We love comfort, don't we?
May God deliver us and make us truly meek as Jesus Himself was meek.
Lisa Barry: Some of you might be saying, "Well, I tried to forgive so and so, but it didn't work because I still feel angry." It's easy to be plagued by feelings of remembrance. But just because you've forgiven doesn't mean that you'll never think about it again. You need to offer those old feelings up to God and ask Him to replace them with acceptance.
I know something else that will be a great help, and that is a copy of this series. There is so much here that only a second, third or fourth listen will produce all of the gems of wisdom in this series. Again, the title to ask for is MEEKNESS IS NOT WEAKNESS. The cost is $7. You can send that, along with your request, to Gateway To Joy, Box 82500, Lincoln, Nebraska, 68501. Or you can call toll-free: 1-800-759-4JOY. That's 1-800-759-4569. Our Internet ministry address is gatewaytojoy.org. Gateway To Joy has been a production of Back to the Bible.
Elisabeth talks more about the true meaning of meekness next time, so I hope you'll plan to join us then for another Gateway To Joy.