What? I don’t get it. How does cutting back on sweets give me more compassion for others?
OK. I admit it. That headline is terribly oversimplified. There’s a rather long and winding path from one to the other, but the journey is an interesting one. It’s almost a personal case study of how to find the root cause of a weakness.
See, I’ve been realizing that my acts of care for others have often been just that – acts. In my mind, I know that I ought to care about other people. Why, then, is it so hard? Why does it seem to take so much effort?
I didn’t just want to find something surface-level to blame. No, I wanted to go deeper. Then I remembered Peter’s maturity sequence. You can review my article on finding root cause if you want the details. If not, here’s a quick refresher. 2 Peter 1:5-7 offers a sequence of steps to maturity that goes like this:
- Brotherly Kindness
If I find that my love for others is merely an act, then I don’t really have true charity. The question is – why not?
I first started walking backwards through the list. Do I have brotherly kindness? OK, well how about godliness…. It soon became clear that I was still staying too close to the surface of my selfishness.
Next I started at the very beginning (a very good place to start).
Applying Peter’s Maturity Sequence
Do I have faith? Well, that’s the starting point. I have absolutely put my faith in Christ. I could always have blind spots, but I’m not seeing a lack of faith as a problem in this particular weakness.
Do I have virtue? Hmmm… Do I desire to do right? I certainly want to do what’s right. That’s why it bothers me so much to think that my care for other people is more of a show than a genuine love and concern for them.
Do I have knowledge? I’ll never have perfect knowledge, but I at least know enough to be aware of this particular weakness.
Do I have temperance? Self-control? Ouch. Yeah – no. I’ve just been telling co-workers how I have no self-control. The giant candy bowl across the aisle from my desk is regularly filled with all sorts of goodies. Whenever it has bite-sized candy bars in it, watch out. If I break down and eat even one of those, there will be none left by the time I leave for home.
All of this reminded me of one of the passages I’ve included in my daily meditations: Galatians 6:7-8.
“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.
“For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.”
Whenever I feed my flesh by giving in to the sweets in that candy bowl, I have taught myself that my fleshly desires are in control. When I sneak a sweet snack between meals at home, I’m sowing to my flesh.
What’s frightening is that sowing to my flesh in one area – like sweets – empowers my flesh in every area.
The issue for me isn’t just eating sweets. It’s the choice to yield control to the desire for sweets. That’s a subtle but important distinction. When I surrender to any fleshly desire, I reinforce the idea that “self” actually runs my life. And a self-run life is completely opposed to a life of care and compassion for others. That’s why truly having compassion is such a challenge for me.
Responding To The Findings
So – I’ve set a limit.
Sweets only three times a week for me. That’s it. No more.
See – there are three times each week that sweets are a normal part of my routine. Those times have already been pre-determined. Whenever there’s another opportunity for sweets in the week I have to ask myself, “Is having sweets now important enough for me to give up one of my other normal times?” Every once in a while it might be, but now it’s a conscious decision I have to make each time.
Even after I think temperance is conquered, I still have several more steps ahead of me before I’ll have true compassion and love others as I ought to love them. Cutting back sweets is not the solution; it’s just a step along my path. And cutting sweets probably won’t be your solution, either. In fact, even your problem is likely quite different from mine.
Still, I hope this example of applying Peter’s maturity sequence can help you learn to dig deeper. I trust it will help you find the real root cause for an challenge of character or behavior that you’re trying to address.
Identify one area of your life that you want to improve.
Walk through the steps of Peter’s maturity sequence, and make one change that will bring you a step closer to success in that area.