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Transformation: Beyond “What” and into “Why”, Part I

Transformation Blog: Readings from Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus



Transformation: Beyond “What” and into “Why”, Part I

Brandon Cook

Even still, the work of confession and repentance must go deeper.  Another milestone on the path of transformation is confessing not just what we’ve done, but learning to label why we did it.  As stated above, confessing and repenting are always connected to naming and labeling reality.  The first task God gave Adam was to name the animals so that he could live in ordered reality in the world around him, and our ongoing work, to live in reality, is to continue to faithfully name reality, led by the Spirit of God.[1]  When we do that, we develop an inner life, and developing an inner life is the only way to create a field for the Holy Spirit to play on.  This does not mean endless introspection, which just gets us curved back over on ourselves.  But it does mean the diligent work of asking, “Why?”

By way of a story, here’s what I mean: Before I met my wife, I had a consistent pattern of using women.  (The story I cited earlier is just one small chapter in a larger story, sad to say.)  Not always sexually, but always emotionally.  It was confusing to me, because I was genuinely attracted to and genuinely cared for each person with whom I was in a relationship.  But while I would be open and vulnerable with them, which bonded them to me, there was a disconnect between the affection I was looking for and ultimately, the affection I was willing to give.  Quite simply, I left a long line of very understandably hurt women in my wake.  I hated myself for it.  And I was confused, because I didn’t mean to.  Nevertheless, the fault and the responsibility were mine.

This is the what, which was certainly worthy of confession and repentance.  But it wasn’t until I got into the why that the pattern could be broken.  Things cannot be transformed if they are not in the light!  That’s spiritual physics, like the law of gravity.  Count on it 100% of the time. 

Why was this pattern in place?  I was insecure, for all sorts of reasons.  And I was looking for affection to make me feel more secure.  I was longing for acceptance, desperate for it.  At root, there was actually a beautiful longing for love and connection.  It’s a crazy truth: at the root of all sin is some good longing that has become twisted.  As Bruce Marshall wrote, “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.”[2]

It is precisely this longing within us that must be touched if we are to be truly transformed.  The religion which Jesus railed against is all about making the outside look sorted while inside, the deep humanity that needs to be touched is, in the name of God, actually hidden from God. 

So, we must get into the why.  This is not to say that we should seek to endlessly know ourselves.  We will always remain mystery, at some level, to ourselves.  Nor does it mean that knowing the reason behind a behavior excuses it.  Indeed, knowing the why is never an excuse; we must always take responsibility for the what and for whatever pain we cause.  That’s the only path to freedom.  But without learning to label the why, we will end up in a cycle of shame from which there is no escape, confused as to why will power alone is not setting us free.  Until you can label the why, you will not be able to see yourself or others with compassion, and you will not be able to become open to God so that His love can transform you.  Ultimately, we discover that God is actually the one confronting and compassionately revealing the longing and the need that is driving our dysfunctional behavior, which is the only way we can be led into freedom.  But we have to participate in this revealing, and that happens only as we are humble enough to hear and be honest.

[1] Genesis 2:20

[2] This quote has often been attributed to G.K. Chesterton, but The American Chesterton Society notes the source as The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith by Bruce Marshall, 1945.