It Figures: A New Understanding of “Spiritual Warfare”
This year, my husband’s and my anniversary fell on the day before Jon had a (routine, low-risk, minimally invasive) medical procedure scheduled, so we didn’t go out until about a week later. On the morning of our rescheduled celebration, I was so excited. I’d splurged on a 90 minute couples massage appointment and was planning on taking Jon to one of my favorite (rather expensive) restaurants. Garrett would be spending the afternoon/evening at Grandma’s house, so we’d have the rare treat of toddler-free conversation. (I cannot stress how very, VERY rare our date nights are… since we both work, we really prefer to spend as much “off” time as we can with our son. And the upside to spending so much time with our child is that when we DO make time to go out just the two of us, it really is a special occasion.)
So of course, of course, that morning I asked Jon a question which he took offense to, and he answered a bit caustically, and I cried and hated his guts for about 30 minutes straight.
When I was part of the cult, anything that went wrong in our lives was blamed on one of two things: an attack of the devil or God’s judgement for sin in our lives. It took a long time for me to shake the idea that every flat tire meant I was in gross rebellion and therefore risking an eternity in the smoking section. Even during the times that I rejected the idea of the Judeo-Christian God altogether, I still had this sneaking suspicion that some big frowny face in the sky was waiting to smite me. I felt that I deserved everything bad that ever happened to me – and probably a whole lot more bad stuff but periodically God-or-whoever gave me a pass because he-or-she-or-it felt sorry for me. (Yes, I was – I am – rather screwed up.)
I’m not sure what the turning point was, but I think it may have had something to do with reading Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace?. Only then did I come to realize that if God loved me enough to sacrifice his Son so my sins – my terrible, mortal, definitely-oughta-go-to-hell-for-THAT-one sins – then he probably wasn’t keeping a tally of how many times I said the F word or had a bad attitude with my boss. He was probably too busy loving me and everyone else on the planet.
For some reason it wasn’t nearly as hard for me to shake off the idea that Satan was using traffic jams and sinus infections just to annoy me. I mean, I wasn’t even sure if I believed in a singular, personal, embodiment of selfishness and sin. I kind of felt like evil was some a vague yet pervasive philosophical reality – not a single being, but perhaps humanity’s collective shadow self. I really didn’t like the creepy, overblown focus on the Devil that many Christian groups indulged in. I was tired of spending valuable energy and attention screaming, “Get thee behind me, Satan,” and I wasn’t sure it was doing any good. Rain falls on the just and the unjust, does it not?
As I’ve come around to a renewed and very different faith in Jesus, I’ve found that there are – surprisingly! refreshingly! – quite a few Christians out there that take a much more balanced approach to the idea of spiritual warfare. It is difficult to unpack your entire worldview and try to figure out where everything fits when you start putting it back together again, and honestly, I am not certain where the angels and demons fit it my concept of the universe. I am, however, a little more inclined to think that they could be real simply because I’ve run across some not-so-loony believers who acknowledge that there’s gotta be a little more to the way things work that what we can see and hear and feel with our physical senses. (Anthony DeStefano’s The Invisible World went a long way in opening my mind on this.)
For instance – this anniversary is important for me and my husband. Last year we were in a bad place and it was rather hard to enjoy the day. This year I am profoundly grateful that we decided to stick things out, to hold on to our commitment even when we really didn’t like each other and were not having any fun at all. Not only are the big ticket problems becoming a distant memory, even our selfish spats are few and far between and we seem to really enjoy each and every day together as a family. I was so looking forward to spending the day together celebrating our marriage. And then – for the first time in I don’t know how long – we managed to get into an impossibly dumb verbal altercation.
It figures. And it almost makes me wonder what is going on in another reality that I can’t see – what forces might be at work here that want to keep me and my husband at odds, so that we lose faith in each other and in God? (Or, in my husband’s case – never have any faith in God, because his “Christian” wife is shrewish and unforgiving.)
You will be relieved, I’m sure, to know that I didn’t start rebuking a behorned mischiefmaker. What I did was accept my husband’s apology when he humbly offered it – and a few weeks later, when I said something that hurt HIM, I humbled myself and apologized. I believe, sincerely, that humility is a form of spiritual warfare. We open up room for evil when we are too proud to ask for forgiveness and too full of our own feelings to offer it. But we close the door to Satan – no matter what form we believe he takes – when we give each other the benefit of the doubt, when we examine our consciences and realize that hey, we really could have done that differently, said something more kindly (or not at all). This is how we fight for our families – by acknowledging that we need to change, by giving a little more and demanding a little less.
When arguments and hurt feelings seem to come out of nowhere, at the worst of all possible times, the best course of action is not a long shower and a tear-soaked pity party. (Ahem. Not that I have a tendency to do JUST THAT.) It’s realizing that this sort of pettiness is exactly what will feed the dark sides of our souls, if we let it – and deliberately choosing grace, light-giving and loving and totally nonsensical grace, which is what every person and every relationship desperately needs.
After I hit “publish” on this post, I coincidentally (ha!) found a couple of recent (and super awesome) blog posts about marriage: Hallie Lord talks about When Marriage is Hard over at Moxie Wife and Abigail is sharing a series of stories called “Marriage is Healing.” Go forth and read and laugh and learn and relate.