I've been considering the ways we keep ourselves from maturing and living a good life.  As I examine myself and spend more and more time counseling, it becomes disturbingly clear that it is not life circumstances or other people who ultimately keep us from peace and joy.  One of the primary ways we harm ourselves is by being defensive- not open to advice, challenge, or ideas that will stretch us to view the world differently or change our behavior.

A friend recently recommended the book Gilead.  It is the story of an elderly pastor who is writing a series of letters to his young son.  It's filled with simple wisdom such as this:
"Nevertheless, I would advise you against defensiveness on principle.  It precludes the best eventualities along with the worst.  At the most basic level, it expresses a lack of faith.  As I have said, the worst eventualities can have great value as experience.  And often enough, when we think we are protecting ourselves, we are struggling against our rescuer (154)."

Defensiveness as Death

 Around the same time I was mulling over that quote, I happened upon Jeremiah 38 in my personal study.  In that chapter, the Babylonian army has Jerusalem under siege, and have come in judgment due to Israel's repeated sin and rebellion. I'll pick up the action at the second verse with Jeremiah speaking to the people:
"This is what the Lord says: 'Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine, or plague but whoever goes over to the Babylonians will live'...Then the officials said to the king, 'This man (Jeremiah) should be put to death.  He is discouraging the soldiers who are left in this city, as well as all the people, by the things he is saying to them.  This man is not seeking the good of these people but their ruin.'"

That got my attention.  This passage is giving us a basic insight into who we are as people. We don't want to listen, especially if we have set our minds on an idea or a course of action, even in the face of clear warning from God and others.  How can such stupidity be possible?  God spent the first 37 chapters of Jeremiah spelling out to the people that judgment was coming.  Then He is gracious enough to give them one last out- just surrender and accept what is inevitably going to happen and you don't have to die.

But the people were defensive.  They thought they had to continue protecting themselves and fighting back, that it was the only way.  They were closed to instruction or warning.  This response fits their defensive patterns that led them to destruction in the first place, ignoring God's warnings and calls to return, refusing to accept that consequences might follow.  And so they sought to kill their rescuer, attributing motives that were entirely false.  We need to see ourselves in Israel's example, because we know a thing or two about defensiveness ourselves.

Have a Little Faith 

How does defensiveness express a lack of faith?  It touches directly on the question of control and stubborn self reliance.  Are you the final authority on all things?  Do you know yourself and what's best for you better than anyone, even God?  You see, God is speaking to us all the time.  He uses our circumstances to get our attention. 

Is your spouse upset with you about something?  Are there patterns in your relationships that don't seem to ever change, things they're pointing out or asking you to do?  God could be using your spouse to show you a place you need to grow.  Do you read the Bible ready to be taught?  How do you respond to a challenging sermon or a question from a friend about your behavior?  This principle is true even in situations where the confrontation isn't necessarily loving.  This is where faith is required, trust that God might have some truth He wants you to know about yourself in all difficult circumstances.

If no one is allowed to speak into your life, you will never hear from God and you will never change.  You will lose relationships that matter to you.  I sadly see this in my office from time to time.  I can recognize it in the stony expression on a client's face when their spouse is sitting next to them and crying, begging for something to change.  This is the person who wants me to fix their child or their spouse and who withdraws from therapy as soon as I ask them to consider their role in the problem.  The mantra, "I don't need a counselor to tell me how to live my life" is often on their lips.  That's fine, because I never considered that my job description.  My desire is to help, and it is thwarted most deeply when I encounter defensiveness. 

So I implore you to have a little faith.  What are you most defensive and sensitive about?  This is the place where God is trying to get you to stop and listen.  You are under siege and your very life is in jeopardy.  If you surrender and let down your walls, the battle can stop and you can live.  Your supposed enemy may actually be your rescuer.  In Jeremiah, Israel's king refused to listen.  He had his eyes put out after he watched his family die.  That's an image that I hope stays with you.

A Final Word

The counselor in me won't allow the discussion to end on that note, however.  I want to be clear that I understand there are reasons why hearing criticism or warning can be hard.  It is threatening and humbling.  For many, it taps into deep wounds.  I have heard from many men stories of verbal and physical abuse they experienced as children and subsequent vows they made to be strong, not to take anything from anybody.  Exploring weaknesses is not a safe activity.  Others have deep self hatred instilled by parental rejection, and to admit wrong in any area is to open up wells of hopelessness and despair, to confirm what they are quietly telling themselves already.

But this is exactly why I'm writing on this topic, so that we can mature and become adults.  Those vows were made by a child who thought it was the only way to survive.  Those beliefs are founded on lies and God would have you live by truth.  If you're no longer a child, those defense mechanisms will not help you thrive or have adult relationships. 

There is rescue available if you will stop and listen to the voices around you- particularly the ones you are fighting hardest to shut out.