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I Did It My Way

Ashlie Michener sat in the passenger seat of the family Suburban sobbing. Her ponytail was cinched down tight at the crown of her head, and the August sun refracted into tiny prisms as it glinted against her damp cheeks. Today was "kindergarten roundup" and "meet the teacher" day. All summer Ashlie had anticipated this moment. June and July had crawled toward eternity, and the first two weeks of August had been absolutely interminable to the anxious, school-bound five-year-old Ashlie.

And now she sat crying, almost bellowing, begging her befuddled mother not to make her go to school. Even Dolores Michener, who had the patience of Job, was being tested by the dramatic and sudden reversal from her ordinarily delightful daughter. All summer Ashlie had been excited—no, ecstatic—about going to school. She’d bugged her mom unceasingly with the how-much-longer-now question.

There wasn’t time to get to the bottom of this crisis right now, so Dolores played her parental trump: "Ashlie, Dear. Your crying will not do any good. We are going to the school and you will meet your kindergarten teacher. Besides, I’m sure she’s a lovely lady and you will be just fine."

With the crisis temporarily stuffed under the front floor mat, the morning’s remaining errands—kindergarten roundup, enrollment, meeting the teacher, locker assignments, and the supply trip to Wal-Mart—were uneventful. Moms don’t come much sharper than Mrs. Michener. She knew intuitively that a trip to the lunch pizza buffet, along with a large glass of soda, would loosen the tongue and reveal the mystery haunting her little Ms. Ashlie.

There was lots of "girl talk" during lunch, and ultimately the $64,000 question was asked, "Honey, you were so excited about going to school. What happened this morning in the car? Why did you change your mind?"

"Mommy, I’m not ready to go to school." The eight-inch tall, plastic glass was held in both hands as she sucked pop through the soda straw.

"Why not?" (No point to mess around. Dolores was about to hit pay dirt, and believe me, she was curious.)

Tossing her ponytail and setting her drink back on the table, Ashlie rested her chin in her hands. The painted fingernails were not normal for five-year olds at the Michener’s, but this was a special occasion, the dawning of a new era of independence. Dolores looked at Ashlie as she sat across from her; Ashlie was fast becoming a little lady.

"Mommy, I can’t tie my own shoes. I can’t read. And I…" whatever the third reason was, it was monumental. The green eyes cut to the corner of the room as couple of times before locking again with Mrs. Michener’s. "…and, I can’t draw a star."

There it is. The crisis. The rat’s nest of a problem that threw Ashlie into sobs, usurping the confidence she’d displayed all summer. Her ability to cope had been torpedoed and her little boat was taking water fast.

As time goes by, I’m sure Ashlie will get more sophisticated with her coping abilities, just as you and I have. The techniques a five-year-old has for getting down the road of life aren’t all that complex, but mix in a little time, a helping or two of parental foibles, a mess of circumstances, and a truckload of miscellaneous experiences, and you’ll find a vast array of coping mechanisms. While I wish it wasn’t so, this story isn’t just about Ashlie. All of us have developed our angle for living life.

Ashlie, like all of us, was determined to acquire one thing through two means. Acceptance was the goal and she would obtain this jewel by (a) getting love from others and (b) bestowing love on herself because she could read, tie her own shoes, and draw a star. I have mastered reading, shoe tying, as well as drawing a star (albeit crooked), and have now moved on to other performance tasks—just like you have—in the quest for acceptance.

Coping covers a broad spectrum. The social sciences have devoted themselves to the mission of studying how 6,000,000,000 coping mechanisms were developed. Yes, every one of us has our unique angle on getting by. And don’t be fooled. Just because it’s call "coping" doesn’t mean it’s socially acceptable or effective. The man who deliberately runs his pickup into the bridge abutment is coping, as is the derelict on the street corner, the kid who joins the gang, and the serial killer. Lots of time is spent assessing which mechanisms are positive, acceptable, and permissible, and which ones are negative, unacceptable, and must be socially rejected.

I know it is an over simplification, but coping comes in three garden varieties: Yukky, Plain Vanilla, and USDA Choice. Obviously, Yukky and USDA Choice are polar opposites with Vanilla occupying the middle While the junkie fits Yukky and the successful, self-confident achiever fits Choice, most of us hold down varying shades and tastes of Vanilla. All day long, everyday of the week, all of us work "our angle" to accomplish the goal: getting acceptance from others and bestowing acceptance upon ourselves through whatever means we’ve developed.

"Coping" isn’t a biblical word, but it is a biblical concept called "flesh." Granted, this is a complex concept, but for our purposes it can be verbalized: getting my needs met my way.

This is what Adam and Eve did. They determined—with Satan’s counsel—that they needed to know the difference between good and evil. So, they did it their way. They are the forbidden fruit and crossed God in the process. That’s arrogant flesh. Joseph’s brothers decided—with Satan’s counsel—that they would be more loved if Joe weren’t around. They contrived a plan, executed it as they deemed appropriate, and offended God in the process. That’s jealous flesh. Moses came to the conclusion that Israel had stayed in Egypt long enough. His solution? Kill Egyptians one at a time, which he began doing, and he encroached upon God’s plan. That’s presumptive flesh. Jacob lied and usurped his way through life, as did Abraham. That was their flesh. David struggled with sexual lust; his son Solomon lusted for women, wealth, and wisdom. Martha had performer flesh; Paul, USDA Choice flesh manifested in superior religious performance and zeal; Peter’s flesh was impetuous, and Ananias’ was deceitful. Everybody’s got theirs. What’s yours?

Spotting Yukky flesh and labeling it "bad" and "ineffective" is no real challenge. But what about Vanilla and USDA Choice? How do we assess that product? While the Yukky flesh fellow produces yukkiness, the Plain Vanilla person generally makes it OK in life, and the ones in the Choice crowd overachieve. Does this make Vanilla flesh and US Choice flesh "good"?

No, and here’s why: God hates the flesh, even USDA Choice with all its success, achievement, and benefit. What’s the problem? The goal of the flesh is to get my needs met my way, not God’s way. The flesh cuts God out of the picture and makes a declaration of independence, which is the mother of all sin.

Fundamentally, God wants to meet our needs and accept us absolutely through the finished work of Christ. Once we get this down, His plan is to use others to enhance our sense of acceptance. In other words, it’s not inherently wrong for me to feel good about receiving accolades, but it becomes wrong if I pursue this on my own terms and in my own strength, because in so doing, I buy the enemy’s lie and cut God out of picture.

Becoming aware of your unique version of the flesh does two things: First of all, you understand what kind of temptation Satan will offer to you. His plan is to use your flesh as the platform to launch his attacks. For example, if you have coped by hitting the bottle, your fleshly independence will be tempted to go by the bar for a drink. However, if you’ve gained a sense of acceptance through strict prohibition, the devil isn’t going to get too far tempting you to pick up a six-pack at the Stop-N-Go. He might tempt you with self-righteous justification based upon your restraint, but he won’t bother to tempt you to go get soused.

Don’t be deceived. His goal is not necessarily for you to become a serial killer; you will serve his purpose just fine if you teach Sunday School in your own strength. He wants to cut God out of the picture using any means available, and his goal will be accomplished if you walk after your flesh instead of depending upon Christ in and through you.

The second thing you gain by understanding what your flesh looks like is an understanding of what the Lord is doing in your life. He will consistently work to wean you off of dependence upon the flesh. His goal is that you become like Christ, and this is achieved through intelligent dependence upon Christ—and He loves you far too much to let you live beneath this ultimate goal He has for you.

The person with Yukky flesh is usually aware that his flesh is ineffective; it doesn’t please him, so it only stands to reason that God isn’t happy with it either. But the Plain Vanilla and USDA Choice folks have a more difficult hurdle to overcome in terms of recognizing their flesh as displeasing. Their flesh is effective. It works. When Plain Vanilla flesh is implemented, most things turn out OK. When Choice flesh goes to work, the results are glowing achievement, success, acceptance, friends, self-confidence, etc. With either, the motto can quickly become, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!" In short, it’s really tough for effective-flesh folks to realize they have a problem. At least the Yukky flesh people know they have a predicament on their hands.

It’s sad to say, but most Plain Vanilla and USDA Choice flesh folks have to crash and burn before they abandon dependence upon their flesh for dependence upon the Lord. It doesn’t have to be that way. All of us have the option of calling our unique angle of living exactly what it is: Sin. While your system may be working effectively here, God still hates the flesh, and that translates into spiritual failure no matter what the earthly results look like. Treat the flesh like the sin that it is.

This doesn’t mean we are to quit performing well, or quit aspiring to improve our performance. It does mean we are not to use performance as our source of acceptance. Like Ashlie, all of us are trying to perform in order to bestow love on ourselves and receive love from others. But, whether your system is working or failing is irrelevant if you don’t appropriate the Lord Jesus as your foundational source of acceptance.

So, what’s your angle? What are you doing to get your need for acceptance satisfied? Where are you on the spectrum? Yukky? Plain Vanilla? USDA Choice? All three fall under the unpleasant heading "Flesh," even though each appears to be in a class by itself.

Speaking of reading, tying your shoes, and drawing stars; now that you’ve read this, it might be a good time to put your shoes on, step out back under the stars and tell your Father that you’ve come to a conclusion: Depending upon the flesh is not a viable option. You want Him to be your source—nothing more, nothing less—and if your acceptance is reinforced by others, you’ll view it as icing on the cake, not as the main course.

Preston Gillham

About the Author

As a co-founder, Preston Gillham led Lifetime for 30 years. Preston is a writer, speaker, and leadership guide. He has authored numerous articles and several books including No Mercy and Battle for the Round Tower. He blogs on “Life and Leadership”. More about Preston, his writings, speaking, and his consulting practice can be located at PrestonGillham.com.