Recently, I heard someone say, “I’m going to pieces.” We all know what he meant by this. He felt a sort of inner life chaos that came from difficult circumstances. He felt dismantled, deprived, and undone. He felt like he was no longer whole. The very things he had previously trusted in — the things that gave him confidence and made him feel put together — were being stripped away.
We all have days and seasons like this. In these times, it can feel like we are being destroyed. We may…
Feel deeply insecure about where we belong because of an awkward social encounter
Feel unsettled and out of control after a fight with a family member
Feel fearful about an uncertain future after losing a job or receiving an ominous diagnosis
The strong and immediate emotional response that accompanies these circumstances reveals how terrifying they can be. Something that we believed was core to our identity has been removed. Now we wonder who we are and whether we matter anymore. Our immediate response is often to try to fix the situation. We may try to appease an angry boss or take steps to secure our financial future. But these actions will not solve the fundamental problem we are facing: we are vulnerable and our eventual destruction is inevitable.
Instead of trying to put our life back together, God wants us to participate with him in our own undoing…our own dismantling…so that we might turn towards him more fully in trust. This work of dismantling is the necessary prerequisite to a freer and more joyful life with God. That means, God is committed to my dismantling and yours.
This may sound ominous, but it is a grace. God’s desire to dismantle you and me is rooted in his deep love for us. When God dismantles us, he isn’t tearing us down. He isn’t dominating us. He isn’t destroying who we really are. Rather, God is taking apart the false foundations on which we often build our identity or sense of self. He is setting us free by stripping us bare of all the things we mistakenly rely on to feel like we have worth, to seem important, powerful, and secure in our world. He wants those things to come from his love for us.
In the New Testament, Paul calls the part of us that needs dismantling “the flesh.” We often think of this language as carnal or anti-body, but that’s not what it means. In Paul’s own life, he equates his flesh with the sum of his accomplishments.
“If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.” Phil. 3:4-6, NIV
For Paul, the flesh is whatever thing in your life you put confidence in. It can be something you’ve achieved, accomplished, accumulated, or accolades you’ve received. When we take pride in these things, we often come to associate our identity with them. We trust in them. We put confidence in them. However, because we are vulnerable, our flesh is always under assault. Our accomplishments never seem like enough. Over time, we become aware that maintaining our flesh is an exhausting burden.
When an experience of humiliation or dismantling comes along, God is revealing to us what we often fail to see — how much we trust in the flesh or how much we are ruled by the demands of our flesh. Our strong emotional response reveals how attached we’ve become to our accomplishments, accolades, etc. The invitation God makes to you and to me is to welcome our dismantling…even more, to participate with him in this work of dismantling. Paul does this by considering all his accomplishments as worthless:
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ” Phil. 3:7-8, NIV
You and I participate with God in his work of dismantling us by considering our accomplishments as losses or garbage; instead, we choose to trust in Christ alone. His love for us is enough. It’s a far surer foundation than anything we can accomplish or accumulate.
Lent is a season set apart for this work of actively participating with God in our own dismantling. We do that by taking up an intentional practice that helps us abstain from something we usually turn to for comfort and self-confidence. In this practice, we choose to welcome our own diminishment, which can lead to greater trust in God. In a previous post, I shared about a group I’m leading to help people pray their way through Lent. During our times together, I’ve been reminded again and again of how good it is to join with God in our own dismantling. More and more, I’m growing in confidence that the experience of being “undone” is a gift that God gives to his children. There is so much grace in these experiences as we learn to trust more deeply in the presence of Christ dwelling within us.
What is going on in your life that feels like dismantling? How might you join God in bringing about your own undoing this Lent?