One question we are frequently never asked by the multitude of followers we don’t have is what are some practical steps in dealing with ‘self’? As the non-existent pressure to answer this question has reached a critical stage, we feel it is time to appease our imaginary audience with a satisfactory reply. Our God, in His great wisdom, provided us with some ragged flowers in a flowerpot today with a valuable object lesson about how He works with us to deal with ‘self’.
5 Years Living in a Motel
To understand the lesson of the flowerpot and how it relates to dealing with ‘self’ we need to give you some details on where we live. If you are not aware, we live in a motel struggling to earn its first star in Kingston, Ontario. In fact, today is our 5-year anniversary of arriving at the motel. In that 5 years, we have encountered many people and situations that have taught us how to deal with ‘self’.
The room we are in is in a long narrow building with 19 rooms. We are smack dab in the middle of this building. Many people have come to stay at the motel and often know each other. When the drug gangs came in 2019 and 2020, they would frequently walk back and forth between the rooms to exchange drugs, condoms, and stolen goods. When they left, the motel began renting rooms to the city as an overflow shelter. Now most of the occupants are shelter people. They also have continued the tradition of walking back and forth between rooms. As people who like privacy, having this kind of traffic walk back and forth in front of our door, often peering in, was unnerving.
We had to do something.
In 2019, our solution was to put some chairs between our car and the wall, effectively blocking traffic from passing in front of our door. Most normal people would see the obstruction and walk around our car, but many of the guests that have been here are not like that. Often these people are lawless, self-willed, stubborn, entitled and not able to handle boundaries.
In dealing with these people, we have had many altercations.
We have been verbally and physically abused all because we want a little privacy and space. I would like to say we handled all these encounters wisely, but we have not, at least not initially. When we are learning how to bear the Lion nature of God, we often make mistakes. However, over time, our responses have improved.
The Root of Addiction
From these experiences, God taught us a valuable lesson in dealing with ‘self’. To understand this lesson, I (Homer) must revisit my past with you to give you some background. Growing up, I fell into an addiction that lasted well into my adult years. This addiction started with some unresolved root issues in my soul that ‘self’ used to cause me to medicate away the pain. Unfortunately, that medicating began killing my spirit, and I knew I needed help. Wanda and I began the long journey to Elijah House to find inner healing for the root issues in me and ways to be free from the addiction.
'Self' is a Lawless Trespasser
‘Self’, if you are not aware, is a lawless trespasser in our spirit core that seeks to rule over us and drive us away from God. In my situation, the ‘self’ nature would feed thoughts to my brain that would trigger the need to medicate and then act out my addiction. I learned to stop medicating and acting out, but never really understood how to stop the thoughts ‘self’ would bombard me with. Then, with the trespassing of the people in front of our door, a light went on.
The lawless behavior of the people ignoring our chairs and pushing past to go their entitled way was a visual parable for us in how the ‘self’ nature bullies its way into our thoughts to make us do what it wants. ‘Self’ does not care for our boundaries, for it is selfish and only wants what it wants. To put a stop to this requires some effort and understanding, which God was about to give us.
Taking Thoughts Captive
To begin, we must look back at a well-known Scripture Paul wrote to help us understand how important it is to reign in the thoughts ‘self’ throws at us.
“[Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One),” 2 Corinthians 10:5 AMPC
In this passage, Paul urges us to take active measure against thoughts that come to mind through ‘self’ by bringing them into obedience of Christ. Although I can grasp the meaning of what Paul is talking about here, I wondered how to do this practically. Then Jesus brought to mind the visual of the chairs by our door that block the path.
Reason and Authority
In our last encounter, a shelter person decided to walk through where our chairs were and I went out to stop them. I asked the man politely to walk around, but he refused. He argued with us for a time, then pushed me aside and walked right past Wanda and me. We were aghast at his belligerence. After this encounter, I talked to the person’s caseworker and reported them. That man has not walked in front of our door since and we have maintained our boundary.
Remember, if the person won’t listen to reason, they’ll have to submit to authority.
Learning How to Say No to 'Self'
By giving us this experience and pairing it with Paul’s instruction, I now had a way of dealing with trespassing thoughts. Every time a thought comes into my head that I know comes from ‘self’ and is leading to acting out, I tell ‘self’ to go away. My spirit is in control of my mind and has the authority to tell ‘self’ that it cannot trespass. God designed my spirit to have authority over my body and soul, but if ‘self’ is in control, it is helpless. However, when God helps us evict ‘self’ from that position of authority, it can no longer call the shots.
‘Self’ must obey the authority of the spirit.
However, ‘self’ is still a bully. You may find that ‘self’ will still try to push its way into your mind even after you tell it to stop. When this happens, you can then lean on higher authority for help. This is when we can call on Jesus to help us evict the bullying ‘self’ from attacking our mind. Remember, if our ‘self’ nature won’t listen to our spirit, it must submit to God.
Enforcing Boundaries and Feeling Bad
Yesterday our neighbor next door had his children come to stay the night. They were young and exuberant. However, one of them sat in the chair we use to block the path. In a normal environment, this would not be an issue, but with the proximity to our door and all the activity, the child’s presence was causing us stress. Wanda went out and gently asked the young girl if she could ask her father for a chair and not use ours, to which she complied. Although Wanda was gentle but firm with the girl, she felt like an ogre for wanting a little space. It is hard to enforce boundaries and the effort can be difficult.
The Well Timed Gift
We did not know, however, if something like this might happen again, so we wondered what we could do to prevent any further trespass. This morning Wanda asked if we could buy a potted plant to put in the chair so in the future people would know not to sit there. This would mean she would not have to tell people not to use the chair. I agreed it was a good idea, but wondered about how we would get one. We left the conversation there, agreeing that on our next shopping day we would look into it.
About a half hour later, another shelter person we befriended came by with two ragged and dry potted plants. He asked if we would like one of them. Wanda and I just looked at each other knowingly. God had heard our conversation and had prepared us to get a plant, only to provide that plant a few moments later. We graciously accepted the wilted flowers, gave them some much-needed water, and duly set the flowerpot on the chair between our car and the door as intended.
Allowing God to Provide
When we have to deal with ‘self’ and the way it bullies its way into our thoughts, it takes discipline and time to learn how to effectively take those thoughts captive to Christ. Sometimes the effort can be exhausting. When the effort becomes too much, know that we have an Advocate watching over us, ready to help as we need it. In this visual parable of the flowerpot, God showed us that when we attempt to establish and enforce boundaries around us, He is willing and able to provide the resources we need to hold the line. This goes for holding the boundary against ‘self’ in our thoughts and the physical boundaries we need to keep with those around us.
Enforcing Boundaries and Resting in God
Today you may deal with ‘self’ attacking your thoughts with fear, doubt, worry or a myriad of things that lead you away from God or you may deal with people that are trespassing against your boundaries. Your responsibility will be to enforce those boundaries, even if there is a negative response. However, remember that God is watching you and will help support you as you need it. The lesson of the flowerpot is a visual reminder that we have help when we need to bring every thought captive in obedience to Christ.
May you find the strength from God to step up to the challenge to kick ‘self’ thoughts out and know that He will provide when you can do no more.
Homer and Wanda