Harry Brocksieck continues to write his "Reflections From an Old Codger"
We are looking at how holiness affects our self-defense mechanisms.
Fortunately one of the defense mechanisms that I rarely use is regression. (cough)
Regression is when we abandon a stage of adjustment which we have achieved and return to an earlier and more infantile stage. Children might return to a stage that is easier or more comfortable or where they get more 'benefits' from the parent(s). For instance, when a new child enters the family the new baby gets a lot of attention that at one time went to the older sibling so by returning to a stage of growth they had previously left the older child gets the attention they lost. They may talk like a baby or wet the bed or act out in ways previously resolved. Another reason a child regresses is when an over indulgent parent will make a stage of growth more enjoyable than the stage a child is being pushed to by peers, like at school, therefore, the child will revert to that easier stage in the presence of the parent(s) thus receiving the 'benefits' of that stage while functioning at a higher stage at school. Another reason for regression is just the opposite occurs when a child had to move too quickly through a stage of development and the needs of that stage did not get met. It is easy to see this when a teenage girl develops physically more quickly than her peers and attracts older boys to her. She may like the attention but has not developed healthy 'girl' relationships so may have to return to this phase of development in order to be healthy. Another example is when a couple gets married before they have decided who they are going to be in life. They may want to return to the 'no responsibility' phase of life before moving on to being responsible individuals. I remember a female officer who upon reaching the age of 50, her 5 children now on their own, began wearing min-skirts, shortening her uniform skirt and wearing extra make-up. She was trying to relive the years she was a mom instead of a teenager. Or the man who buys a muscle car in his 'mature' years or tries to prove he is still as good as ever on the basketball court. Or when we return to the skills we used in our previous appointment or job because it is easier than facing the challenges of the present appointment or job. We regress when 1) our sense of security is threatened, 2) life becomes difficult where we are or 3) when we missed something we needed for our growth.
Holiness is not just the 'spiritual' aspects of our personality. Holiness is wholeness. Holiness is important in the total personality. When dealing with our regression self-defense mechanism the Spirit helps us in at least 3 ways:
1) the Spirit helps us grow to richness in the various stages of our personality development;
2) the Spirit helps us move into new stages as we are ready;
3) the Spirit helps us by giving us the fruit of the Spirit needed for our growth and development into the people God wants us to be or the best person we can possibly be or the most complete person we can be (these are all the same idea).
1) The Spirit helps us grow in each phase of our lives. The Spirit pays attention to each phase of our development helping us find the richness and joy in each stage of our development. By making Christ the center of our lives the other pressures in our lives are not so dominant. We are not forced to be what we ought not to be. We don't put girls (or boys) at the center - that keeps the right perspective. We don't put our emotions at the center so we can have emotions but they don't control us. We don't put our job at the center, etc. These are all unhealthy centers but with Christ at the center the rest is more balanced. With Christ at the center this helps us garner from each stage of life the richness needed to be ready to go on to the next stage fully ready to move at the right time because Christ is our center.
2) Moving into the next stage of our lives is usually caused by some unhappiness in the old stage. James Fowler in his “Stages of Faith” notes that when we are new Christians our faith looks very much like the person who led us to the Lord - we are new at this so we want to do it correctly and who is more correct than the person who led us into this experience. However, we will eventually see the weaknesses of our fellow human and feel that we need to model our lives on other examples. The next stage of our spiritual development is to identify with a group of believers. For example, it is a delight when some women officers have a following of young women who look just like them in clothing, hair style, etc. As these young women grow they will abandon some of these ‘look a likes’ sometimes to the consternation of the woman officer. Ultimately we will, hopefully, grow out of being like others to being like Christ. There is an interesting phenomenon that the more like Christ I become the more like the person God is developing me to uniquely be comes about. ‘Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me,’ etc. leads me to becoming like Christ, which when the fully developed Christlikeness occurs I become the fully developed me - unique and rare, fully Christ's and fully myself and fully useful in the Kingdom.
3. In dealing with the self-defense mechanism of regression, the fruit of the Spirit God wants us to develop is faithfulness. Keeping Him at the center, keeping focused on Him rather than the forces around or within us, keeping up with His will for our lives, keeping up with the new demands life gives us needs faithfulness. Regression returns us to former, more infantile stages of development. Christ wants us to keep moving forward. Normal growth causes stress, distress and discomfort at times as we move into new areas to conquer. Usually our growth depends on our getting out of our comfort zone.
A personal example: I am an introvert so I like focusing on my inner processes. Opening myself to friends and letting me be more me can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful. I have heard a thousand times, “No one knows you are a fool until you open your mouth and prove it” so my tendency is to want to protect myself. While working on my degree the professor said to me, “Harry you are a good listener but no one knows you. Open up and tell them about yourself.” I wanted them to think highly of me because I was a good listener rather than the stupid things I sometimes say. So the Spirit moves me to be faithful, get out of my comfort zone, open up and be more vulnerable and real.
As the Spirit speaks to us, leads us, moves us toward more wholeness:
· The extrovert needs to learn to listen to others and not so much have a need to talk,
· The officer facing a new appointment needs to step up to the challenge of the new place rather than repeat past experiences,
· The spouse who is afraid of intimacy needs to open to the fullness of love,
· The good pastor needs to learn to be successful at administrative work,
· The ‘I hate to visit’ officer becomes an ‘I will and will learn to like it’ officer.
· The ‘I don’t like public relations’ officer becomes an ‘I will be good at it even if I don’t like it’ officer.
· The ‘I hate diets but I need to do it’ will get on with it,
· The ‘I hate exercise person,’ will make it happen,
· The ‘I haven’t given anything up for Lent’ will start now.
The Spirit makes us work through these things until we are free to be our true selves - we develop the fruit of the Spirit, faithfulness.
The Biblical example is the Children of Israel as they faced new challenges in the wilderness - they had hated Egypt, hated being slaves, hated working for the Egyptian masters. They had no future and the goals belonged to someone else but while on their journey to the Promised Land when difficulties arose they wanted to go back to Egypt, they wanted the 'comforts' of Egypt rather than having to go through the hard work of nation building, learning to trust new leaders, learning to accept the responsibility that comes with freedom, learning to step up to serve God who had higher moral standards and higher goals for them.
We could also think of Peter and the disciples returning to fishing after the crucifixion of Christ but when the Holy Spirit came upon them they no longer looked back but were faithful in moving forward.
Resource: Introduction to Psychiatry, O. Spurgeon English, M.D. and Stuart M. Finch, M.D., Stages of Faith, James Fowler