If you’re interested, help me settle an internal debate:
There are two opposing statements about human nature that I’ve thought a lot about, and I want to contrast them here. I’m curious what the masses (read: you 7 who follow my blog) think and why.
First is the great CS Lewis. I admit to having Brother Lewis on a pedestal, because I agree with most of what I’ve read and I am so persuaded by his easy logic and ring of truth statements. Therefore, some of what he teaches about human nature has significantly affected how I think about myself and others. From Mere Christianity, I quote:
“When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected; I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts; they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberated and premeditated. On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats; in only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.”
This makes sense to me. I spend a lot of energy trying to curb the “natural man” in me, striving to be pleasant and friendly and kind and slow to anger and all that. My frequent failure to do so, however, has resulted in a tendency to really beat myself up. I’ll lose my temper at someone on the freeway and suddenly I feel like I’ve lost any ground I’ve gained in the positive direction. Back to square one, basically. I assume that, like Lewis says, the “real me” is the me that comes out when I’m caught off guard, when I don’t have time to shape an “appropriate” reaction. And I’m here to tell you, this girl is sometimes very slow to process and that instant reaction is not always great. So if that’s the real me, then…..not great.
Enter S. Michael Wilcox, an LDS speaker and institute teacher. Bro. Wilcox also has a simple, reasonable tone but he also speaks so much of love and mercy. His words take my breath away sometimes, in the sense that they are exactly what I need to hear. In a talk called “Using Scriptures to Solve Serious Problems” he coins something he calls the “Doubting Thomas Trap.” Though he’s talking in the context of marriage, I heard it as concerning myself. Here you go:
Far too often couples fall into the Doubting Thomas trap.
If I were to ask this group to fill in the blank: ‘blank’ Thomas….You’re all going to say ‘Doubting’ Thomas. Poor old Thomas; he’s remembered at his worst. Isn’t that sad? Sometimes we say in a marriage that’s struggling a little bit, “Ah, now I know the real you.” And the ‘real’ you is usually you at your worst, right? So who is the ‘real’ Thomas? Doubting Thomas? And then I like to ask people a question: Can anybody here think of another story in the New Testament about Thomas? I rarely get a single hand go up. Nobody knows the other story about Thomas in the New Testament, and yet we see a different Thomas. It’s in the 11th chapter of John, when Jesus is going to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead. And the disciples are concerned, they say unto him, “Master the Jews of late sought to stone thee, and goest thou thither again?” Your life is in danger if you go back towards Jerusalem. But Jesus is determined to go. And in the 16th verse we read, “then said Thomas, which is called Didymus unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.”
Now how else could we fill in the ‘blank’ Thomas? Devoted Thomas? Loyal Thomas, Sacrificing Thomas? ‘Willing to die for Jesus’ Thomas? So who is the real Thomas? Doubting Thomas, or Devoted Thomas? I like to think that Devoted Thomas was Thomas at his best. If we could just realize this in our marriages…as I think of my own wife. My wife at her best is the most magnificent woman God ever created on this earth. I, at my best, am…not too bad. And an eternity with somebody at their best is probably worth a few times when the stresses and frustrations of life bring out maybe not their best selves. Let us always realize that the person we married is them at their best; the devoted Thomas part of them, not the Doubting part of them.
(Listen to this amazing talk here)
Can I tell you, when I heard this my entire paradigm shifted. That sounds dramatic; But I really struggle with guilt and self-doubt, so to hear someone say that the worst parts about me don’t define me has been more helpful than any council I’ve sought out in a long time. I can go easier on myself when I think that way. I still try to do better and improve, but when I have a moment of weakness it doesn’t have the snowball effect of making me feel like a terrible person. That’s the idea, anyway—the practice of it will take time, but I like the idea. And it really has helped.
So, time to compare. Is one right and one wrong? Does one ring more true to you than the other? I believe both of them but have found one of them to be sort of damaging to my self-image.
If I believe Lewis, then I haven’t really changed at all because I still get ridiculously angry sometimes; I still am unkind at times; I still have bad thoughts and temptations. Those things are the real me because they are they quickest, most raw sides of my personality.
But if I believe Wilcox, then I’m pretty great. I still have all those negative things in me, but at my very best I’m doing good things and am confident I’m ok.
It’s obvious which one is the more attractive school of thought. Of course I want to believe that I’m great, but it’s much easier to believe I’m not. This may not be true of everyone, but it’s true of me. Perhaps this is just the age-old debate about whether man is basically good or basically evil. Anyway, I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on this. A note, however: I’m not looking for validations or comments about me. I use me as an example because, well, I’m most acquainted with my own experiences. I’d really like to hear about other people’s thoughts.