I remember hanging up the phone and sobbing. It felt like someone had ripped out my soul, swallowed it, and then spit it out. I don’t remember the last time I cried with my entire body, but that night I did. The conversation I had with a dear friend quickly turned south and years of buried pain came to the surface. Between heated accusations and screams, we spoke words we would both come to regret. But it wasn’t just her words that smashed me that evening, it was the rules I had lived by my entire life that broke me.
I’ve spent most of my life abiding by self-governed rules — rules I implemented because my parents, church, or family praised me if I followed them or shamed me if I broke them. Rules like, Be good, be quiet, be pretty. Rules like, Don’t disappoint people, don’t be too emotional, don’t be too needy. I think we all have rules or “thou shalt not’s” in our lives. We live and die by these commandants we’ve written on our hearts. They are the laws that guide our choices, relationships, and careers. We are fixated on following them at any cost. These commandments of our hearts control all we do.
Perhaps the number one commandment that has governed my life has been this: thou shalt not make people mad. I must, must, must make people happy. I felt responsible for the emotional well-being of other people. I carried this commandment into every scenario, friendship, and social interaction. It burrowed inside my chest like blood keeping me alive. That night on the phone, I couldn’t control the emotions of my friend, and it killed me. I couldn’t make her happy or like me or be pleased with me. And that night my need to keep that commandment broke, and it broke me.
Like the commandments God gave Moses on Mount Sinai, mine were shattered. Commandments and laws and rules are put in place to keep us safe but not to be worshipped. I spent my life worshipping the commandments of my heart. If I could just keep my rules, I would be okay. I would be loved back. But a stone tablet can never love me back. It can’t. It can give me a sense of security, but it can never love me — at least not the way Jesus does.
I’m learning to break the laws that keep me in my concrete slab. My feet are breaking free from my need to please people, to be the peacemaker and the responsible one. I am letting these commandments be markers in the sand but not what keeps my soul sustained. These rules are being replaced by relationship with God, the only true source of life, the only One who can truly care for the happiness and emotions of other people. I never had the power to fix people’s feelings. It was an impossible burden to carry. When the temptation to control another person’s emotional experience arises, I slowly and nervously hand that person back to Christ. Only God can heal them, protect them, and hold them. I can come beside them in love, but I am not responsible to manage all of their emotions.
It’s a painful process to let some rules break, especially my need to keep people happy. But this rule (more than any) needs to be smashed. It’s not that I don’t encourage, care, and love others. It’s that my identity isn’t dependent on making people happy. So even when it’s painful I’m learning to let these “thou shalt not’s” of my heart break. It’s hard to learn a new way of living, but it’s also freeing. I am only bound by one law. It is the law that redeemed all the laws. Jeremiah 31:33 says, “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. I will be there God, and they shall be my people.” I am only bound by the law of God’s love.
When the laws you are living by start to break and pain ripples through your body, remember God is doing a good work. He is replacing your need to find satisfaction in being a rule-keeper to finding deeper relationship with Him. Breaking the rules might just be the greatest gift God can give you because therein, true, life-breathing love exists.
What are the commandments of your heart that you are living by?
What “thou shalt not’s” in your life need to be broken?”
God replaces your need to find satisfaction in being a rule-keeper to finding deeper relationship with Him. -Anjuli Paschall: Click To Tweet