by Tara Johnson
Have you seen the “Stop It” sketch starring Bob Newhart? A friend recently showed it to me on Youtube and I confess, it left me in stitches.
Let me give you the quick run-down: Bob Newhart is playing a therapist and a woman enters his office as a first time patient. He tells her he only charges five dollars for a five minute therapy session. She looks baffled but pleased. How often can you get a deal like that?
He listens to her confess her terrifying phobia of being trapped in a box, a debilitating neurosis that has left her life in a cycle of paralyzing fear. After nodding, he tells her he has two words that will change her life.
She eagerly grabs her pencil and paper to write down his advice. She watches him carefully, ready to absorb his wisdom. After a pause, he leans in and yells, “Stop it!” The woman looks dumbstruck.
With every phobia or fear she confesses his answer is always the same. “Stop it!” In the end, and fearing he can’t get through to her because of her frustration with his therapy advice, he yells, “Stop it or I’ll lock you in a box!”
Although the skit had me laughing, I confess a niggling unease as I watched it. An unease because I fear this is what is happening in many of our churches.
Whatever the past abuse or trauma, no matter the circumstances or crushing blows the enemy launches against his people, too often we give this very same advice to the hurting. “Stop it!” “Don’t do that.” “Do what’s right and stop doing what’s wrong.” It’s the old parental, “Because I said so” routine.
Churches are filled with hurting people, broken people desperately seeking help, love and guidance. They come and offer their shattered hearts and expose their secret shames, their addictions, their struggles and scars. They reveal the most vulnerable parts of themselves and instead of compassion and mercy, they are met with a cold list of dos and don’ts.
Too often, our responses resemble Newhart the therapist. “Well, stop it!” Oh, if only sin were simply a matter of will power. If that were the case, we would have no need of a Savior.
If we aren’t careful, we can resemble the one James spoke of who said, “Go be warmed and filled” but offer no food or clothes. Instead of compassion, we give rules. Instead of being willing to be an accountability partner, we just tell them to read their Bible more. Instead of giving them the tools they need to break free of addiction, we heap guilt on their shoulders.
When hurting Christians don’t fit into the ‘mold’ we’ve created, it creates fear. In general, people become fearful when things are out of their control. So the easy way to gain control again is to create black and white rules. Follow the rules, check your list and everything will be rosy. But the enemy continues to throw his fiery darts and the wounded waffle between confusion and guilt. In short, fear leads to legalism. And legalism has never, ever healed a shattered heart.
Legalism is basically the law. And if the Law couldn’t save us, why do we continue to demand it of others? The problem with legalism is that it leaves no room for grace.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t obey what God’s Word says is right. Far from it! Obedience is key to finding freedom in our walk with God. And yes, sometimes a person needs a good, blunt, spiritual kick. Unfortunately, most kicks are not because we sense that’s what the hearer needs, but is an ungraceful, fleshly response when we are frustrated. Truth must always be paired with love and gentleness. Always. If we can’t be said in love, it shouldn’t be said at all.
Our journeys with God are a process. It’s marked with lavish grace and many failures. Is it frustrating when those around keep doing the opposite of what they know to be right and good? Absolutely. But then again, it must grieve God’s heart when we disobey too.
When Michaelangelo completed his statue of David, an admirer stood staring at the masterpiece in awe. The story goes that the man turned to Michaelangelo and asked, “However did you create such a glorious work?” Michelangelo’s reply? “It was easy. I just chipped away the parts that didn’t look like David.” (paraphrased)
That’s what grace is— walking alongside God and letting Him chip all the hard places within each of us until we resemble his Son. It isn’t automatic. It doesn’t come naturally and Satan will do his best to discourage us. Our journeys are a cycle of failed attempts, victories, grace and mercy. Show the grace that you want to receive. Love like Jesus. And if you think you can’t, well, just stop it! Through Him, you can!
Have you ever fallen prey to the “Stop It” syndrome? Do you think it’s easier to see in others or ourselves? I’d love to hear your thoughts!