I was sitting in the dentist office, waiting to have my teeth cleaned when I notice a sign sitting on the lower shelf of the divan across from my chair. It had a picture of a man who looked frightened, trying to look away from something. It had this saying—
‘Those whose lives are ruled by fear ironically avoid what is necessary to remove it.’
I thought, ‘boy is that a Christian problem— avoidance.’
Perhaps it is because we have been taught to ‘be nice’, to ‘play fair’, to ‘get along with folks’, ‘to avoid confrontation’, ‘to be forgiving’ ‘to go with the flow’. Whatever it is that causes us to act in the manner we often do, Christians tend to be world class avoiders. Not just procrastinators, we are good at that too. No I mean avoiders. And as the maxim quoted above shares, what motivates this behavior is usually not love or forgiveness or even the desire to just get along with people. What motivates it is fear and dread. One thing I am sure of— if you allow fear to run your life and dictate your decisions, fear will ruin your life. It will, as they say, ‘eat your lunch’.
Perhaps you’ve met the classic example— the world-class worrier with ulcers. Fear has a devastating effect on the human body. It not merely gives you indigestion and ‘agida’ (as the Italians would say), it gives you sleepless nights, bitten fingernails, and a variety of physical problems, such as elevated blood pressure. When you internalize things to that degree your innards quite naturally protest and revolt. ‘It’s a revolting development’.
Yes indeed, avoidance is all too often the default mode of those whose lives are ruled by fear, and sadly there are a lot of Christians out there living this way. Fear causes spouses to avoid confronting their spouse when they behave immorally. Fear causes a person to put up with and avoid dealing with a relative’s alcoholism. Fear causes a person to avoid going to the doctor. Fear causes people to even avoid going to church, for fear of being reminded they need to change their sorry lives. And when fear is combined with guilt, well that’s a potent cocktail with a kick like a mule.
One thing that I have noticed over and over again is that Paul was not guilty of the sin of avoidance, even when it came to people he cared deeply about. Take for example the story in Galatians 2 about his confrontation of Peter when Peter, to avoid displeasing some folks in the Jerusalem church, had withdrawn from eating good ole non-kosher barbecue with the local Gentile Christians in Antioch. Paul is simply appalled and shocked by the behavior of Peter and Barnabas, and he accuses them both of hypocrisy, of in principle agreeing with him, but avoiding the consequences of such a belief, by simply capitulating to the Judaizers who insisted on withdrawal from table fellowship with those unclean Gentiles. Paul, will have none of it. No avoider he. He cares enough to confront. He follows the advice of old Barney Fife on the Andy Griffith show—- ‘You gotta nip it, nip it in the bud.”
Ask yourself this morning—- ‘What am I avoiding saying or doing for all the wrong reasons?
What am I truly afraid of? What is it that is eating me up inside, and why exactly am I avoiding doing something about it? One of things you notice about the stories of Jesus in the Gospels, he seems to frequently say to the disciples—- ‘Don’t be Afraid’, even when a sane person would realize there is plenty in this world to be afraid of. Did you ever ask yourself why Jesus, and angels, and God keep saying that to their followers? Surely the answer is because ‘greater is he who is in and with you than any of these forces in the world’ and if you believe that then you are supposed to be living your life making faith-based and God trusting decisions, not letting fear and avoidance dictate your behavior.
So how about you—- What fears and avoidance practices are you guilty of? Let’s talk about one possible answer to the question. It’s called passive aggressive behavior. What a passive aggressive person does is not simply avoid things. No, their form of action is to run around the back side of problems and try to manipulate things so they can get someone else to deal with them or do their dirty work. So for example, a Christian who notices some sort of immoral or inappropriate behavior in a fellow church member will not do as Jesus says and go and talk directly to the prson, they will run to the deacon or the pastor and tell tales, implying the pastor should do something about this!!! In fact, if you feel that strongly about it, you shouldn’t avoid doing the job yourself. Or even worse, instead of doing something about it, one simply gossips about the problem and person hoping someone will take a hint and do something. Passive aggressive behavior. It’s a form of avoidance all too clearly in evidence in the church.
My spiritual forebear John Wesley once preached a sermon entitled ‘The Cure of Evil Speaking’. You know what the cure is—- Wesley says ‘speak no evil of any absent person who is not there to defend or explain themselves’. Boy would that eliminate a lot of gossip and avoidance in the church if that advice was practiced faithfully.
It is always a good thing once in a while to take an inventory of your own fears and the things that are making you behave in ways or have internal feelings that are neither good nor godly. Perhaps today would be a good day to stop avoiding the avoidance in your life. If you muster up your courage, I can promise Jesus will be right there with you saying—- ‘Don’t be Afraid.’ Fear— it even makes cowards of normally courageous persons, and even pastors. It’s time to stop avoiding the obvious—- Christians have an avoidance problem.