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John’s World

It was a snazzy red motorboat with silver and blue stripes and a windshield. The red leather seat was warm to John’s bare legs and his bottom, and the leftover puddle of water from yesterday’s trip was warm to his big toe.

What a day! Not only was the weather perfect, but John was with his dad. Oh, how he loved his daddy! It seemed like they were almost flying as their streamlined boat skimmed across the blue water. The spray was hitting John in the face and getting his shirt all wet, but he didn’t care. Life was great for one small, six-year old boy, John Rawlings.

I need to explain. John didn’t get to be with his dad all that much, and most of the time things didn’t go very well when he was with him. His dad was a man with high standards for the people around him, especially his only son. Mr. Rawlings had patterns for being very quick to speak his mind and for having a volatile temper; he was a man who demanded perfect performance from those around him; a man who was constantly on guard to be sure the people under his authority didn’t embarrass him by doing something wrong, something less than perfect according to his standards. And when they did that, you could be very sure of one thing: They were well aware of what they had done wrong. Mr. Rawlings would see to that detail.

But not now. Their bright red boat whizzed through the maze of little inlets and quiet bays. Then Mr. Rawlings began to slow down until finally they became a part of the silence in a very still body of water on an isolated arm of the huge inland lake.

Mr. Rawlings turned to John, reaching into his pocket for a piece of paper. "John, this is a map of the lake. I want you to find the way back to the dock."

Even now, as I write these words, a lump comes up in my throat and I see a little boy, eyes big, heart thumping like crazy, replaying scene after scene after scene where he had been a disappointment to his dad. Don’t make it happen today, please Dad. Not today.

"I–I can’t…I can’t do that, Dad."

"You can’t do it? Weren’t you watching where we were going? What if I weren’t with you? How would you find your way back? You’ve got to be alert. On your toes. You can’t just sit there and dawdle the time away! Where was your mind, Son? Where was your mind? I didn’t bring you out for a joy ride, you know. I can tell you one thing. It will be a long time before I waste my money again on an outing like this. I don’t understand you, John. You’re never going to amount to anything. If you’d just pay attention instead of daydreaming all the time…."

The trip back in the bright red boat across those very same waters was not nearly so nice. The spray was still splashing in John’s face — mixing with the salty tears that he couldn’t seem to control. Once again, he had failed to measure up to his daddy’s expectations.

There was another time.

John had gone to bed, snuggled down under the covers and pulled the sheet up under his chin when he looked up. The light is on! Now that was really a "no-no." Dad had told him over and over and over again, "John, always be sure and turn out the lights when you go to bed." He threw the covers back, jumped out of bed and ran over to the switch. Something very strange and pleasant happened when he switched the lights off. His emotions eased down from their pinnacle just a little bit. That felt good.

Why were John’s emotions high? Oh, they were always high. He was struggling to please his dad, remember, and not doing well at all. It’s so important for a little boy to believe that his dad is proud of him. This is where he gets his training in masculinity. This is where he grows to be secure in his manhood. This is where he learns to accept himself. God made it that way. When that isn’t happening, when there isn’t any positive encouragement, it’s enough to make a little boy’s emotions stay around eight or nine all the time on a 1-10 scale. And, boy, did it feel good to have them come down just a tad!

Maybe if it made me feel good to turn it off one time, it might help to do it again?

And it did. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off. And before John crawled back under the covers, he had flipped that light switch for his bedroom ceiling on and off twelve or thirteen times. Good. He had done something that would really please his dad. In fact, Daddy might even say something like, "You did a good job there, son. You did it right. I’m proud of you."

John went to sleep with a smile on his face.

The next night his emotions were high again. (They’re stuck, remember?) And, if flipping the light switch on and off worked last night, then it just might work again tonight. It’s worth a try. Yep! It did.

John Rawlings is being programmed. Your psychology textbook would call this obsessive-compulsive behavior. What is that? When my emotions are screaming out at me, and a thought comes suggesting a certain exercise or behavior that just might make them stop screaming, I am so obsessed by that thought that I will be compelled to carry it out … even though the suggested behavior might be pretty strange… like turning the lights on and off twelve or thirteen times every night before I go to bed.

And if someone lives in that emotional circus year after stressful year, their body will begin to react some way — any way–to try to communicate that it’s under pressure that it isn’t capable of handling. Pressure that it isn’t even supposed to handle.

John’s body did that. By the time he was an adult, when his emotions would take center stage with their climbing act, his head would begin to hurt — finally pounding with pain. His right arm would start getting numb. Then the thought would come. A very bizarre thought possibly; but if there was the least chance that following through on that bizarre thought might alleviate the horrible stress he was experiencing, it would so obsess him that he would finally be compelled to do it.

Poor John Rawlings. He has some very destructive flesh patterns in his life.

"Flesh patterns?" Patterns that you have learned to walk in through the years in your private world: patterns where you have experienced success in getting your love needs met or patterns for surviving in a world where there is no love … a world like John’s world … patterns for meeting the stress that enveloped your days. Patterns for performance. Emotional patterns. Behavioral patterns. Thought patterns.

And "the sins of the father and mother are passed down to the children and the grandchildren — even to the third and fourth generation." That isn’t an angry God. That’s a mother or a dad who clings tenaciously to their flesh patterns. It’s refusing to allow the God who lives within to overcome. It’s refusing to say, "Lord, I don’t want to destroy my children. Show me how to let You live through me in my world that I might teach them how to let You live through them in their world.

The "John Rawlings" of this world often grow up to say, "My dad rejected me. I never pleased the man. He convinced me that I would never amount to anything. Thanks to him, I am what I am today … a destroyed person … mentally, emotionally, and physically … incapable of functioning in my world."

But our John didn’t do that. He came in for counseling and began to learn who he was in Christ Jesus. He began to understand the Power that was his because of the indwelling Holy Spirit. He began to see how he could be "reprogrammed," that rejection does not determine identity or personality when you are a born-again Christian. Your new birth determines your identity and liberates your personality. John began to see that his dad was incapable of doing it right. His dad was a prisoner, too … operating according to his unique "flesh," controlled by what he himself had learned during his formative years in his private world. And as a result, John learned that he was free to be the person God had created him to be.

A new beginning. Freedom. Acceptance. Power. Security. Someone who loves you.

And that Someone says, "I’m so proud that you’re My son. You’re learning. You’re so very special. Let’s spend some time together today. And, by the way, let’s take that boy of yours out for a spin in the motorboat. Only this time, you and I will break that old fleshly chain. We’ll do it right."


Note: This is a true story. "John" is functioning very well now. His physical symptoms have not disappeared completely, but he’s a fine dad and a good husband … thanks to You, Lord.

About the Author

Anabel spent decades teaching in many contexts through Lifetime Guarantee Ministries. She has taught countless others how to have a genuine intimate faith and a sound marriage. She shared from her heart about living from the heart. Lifetime’s beloved founder and mentor passed away November 7, 2010. Her legacy and influence are timeless and priceless.