Poverty Strongholds – Part Five – Mind Sets (faulty thinking)
- Poor Stewardship – link to past article
- Lack of Knowledge (common sense)
- Mind Sets (faulty thinking)
- Lack of Holiness
- Agreements with the Enemy
- Bad Theology
- Blaming & Excuses
- Refusing to be a Blessing
- Pain Upon Pain
Today we look at Mind Sets, or faulty thinking and how the way we think may be keeping us locked into cycles of poverty.
On the Poverty Strongholds graphic I have faulty thinking noted as:
- layers of denial, optimistic without seeing reality
- superstitious thinking and beliefs
- rushing to conclusions (already addressed in Lack of Knowledge)
- stuck on letter of the law without the spirit of the law
- little innovation, stuck on how it’s always done
- assuming bigger is better
In brief I will add some understanding to each one of these.
Layers of Denial:
Layers of denial are habits of thought that keep us protected from bad news and from grief but also keep us from clarity and reasoning that can move us forward. Like the woman I mentioned in my first post under faulty thinking, she is protecting herself from the raw knowledge that she married a man that does not love her. He is refusing to care and commit to her, is using her for sex (unprotected sex even, as more children are added to compound her poverty), and meanwhile she continues in a habit of thought that continues to hold out hope.
Where we are not strong enough to see reality for what it is, we form denial as protection, and yet denial is a cesspool of falsehoods and reasonings that are not looking at things as they are but as we want them to be. Habits of denial keep us from making decisions that would move us forward. If this woman were to admit (to herself first and foremost) that her ‘husband’ is not interested in her or does not truly love her, she would be free to make new decisions on behalf of herself and her children.
What we have found though is that for a woman to make choices to remove herself and her children from negative and unhealthy relationships, that woman must have a strong support base around her, she must have community that supports her best future. This is what the church should be for her or for anyone in a vulnerable situation. We must, as the body of Christ ask, “How can we support this woman (emotionally, spiritually, financially) so that she can make good choices for herself and her children?”
Only in good supportive communities are we able to take down the layers of denial that cloud our reasoning and hold us locked into unhealthy patterns.
Superstitious Thinking and Beliefs:
I was once praying for an elderly Indian man who was struggling with chronic health problems and a pervasive inability to believe God as good. As I was praying for him I realized that he might have something that he was holding between himself and the Lord, and so I asked him if there was anything that he held as a regret. He answered, “Yes, the time that I killed all the mice and the rats, I think they are coming back to punish me.”
What was I to do with that?! His thinking was clearly from animism, where the ‘gods’ must be appeased and placated and where we are at the mercy (or non-mercy) of the natural world. In this man’s thinking his illness was due to the rats and mice punishing him and he, on his part, was surrendered to this belief; in his mind there was nothing that could be done about this or about his present state of heart, mind, or body, (because the rats and mice were gods and had determined his fate).
Similarly, in Thai thinking it is considered bad to improve one’s life. This belief, which is hard-wired into the culture, leaves people with a conflict, improve your life but become bad and wrong, or, just take life as it comes but without any say. This belief system leaves people in poverty. In essence you are a better person if you just take life as it comes to you, (but life won’t become anything new or better, ever).
Superstitious thinking is built on fear and a desire to control people. In the west we call these old-wives tales and find them coming from silly things that were once said to children (by control and with fear) to bring out a good result. For instance, one superstition I learned about while in Uganda is this: “If you peep at someone in a toilet your mother will give birth to a snake”.
Obviously the goal is to keep children from the habit of peeping at someone while they are in the toilet, but the fear that this breeds in the brains wiring and in the heart of the child remain with bad impact. And there are multitudes of superstitious thinking between these two examples of ‘do not peep’ ,on one end of the scale to, ‘the rats and mice will in fact get you’ on the other end.
(NOTE: At the heart of all superstitious thinking is fear, and this is what must be identified as the bad guy. We must refuse fear. We don’t use it to control others and we will not be controlled by it ourselves.)
Stuck on Letter of the Law, without the Spirit of the Law:
The letter of the law is a death thing; without the heart of intention behind any law, we see only in black and white and without depth of understanding. When we take any one commandment or injunction in a harsh taskmaster kind of way, without paying attention to the heart of our King or the hearts of the people around us, we see and act in one dimension.
Opposite to this, doing life within the spirit of the law opens up our hearts and minds, and our lives and relationships. The most prevalent example of being stuck on the letter of the law without the spirit of the law is found in our habits and thoughts around tithing.
Without the spirit of the law we end up in excess and exaggeration. For instance, and in regards to tithing (a very volatile topic I know):
- The spirit of the law says ‘live a life that trusts in the Lord’
- The letter of the law says ‘you must tithe 10%
- The letter of the law says ‘you give to god and he will take care of you’
- The spirit of the law says ‘god is taking care of you, out of that live generously’
- The letter of the law says ‘a tithe must be 10%’
- The spirit of the law says ‘give your life away, the tithe is only a starting point’
Were we to delve fully into the conversation around tithing we would find much more, but of course that is not our purpose today, I use this only to show the difference in mind-set between a letter of the law perspective versus what we know when we understand within the spirit of the law.
We want to be people who walk in the spirit of our Lord. We don’t want to remain stuck in the letter of the law. The spirit of the law brings life but the letter of the law brings death. (verse) Our thinking must reflect the wisdom and spirit of our Lord if we are to find health and wholeness and the Kingdom of God come to earth in our present realities.
In another example of the letter of the law gone bad was in a church where I once ministered in Uganda. They had a situation of a young teen girl who was taken out of her family due to the husband and wife having a bad time of things. The husband and wife were fighting often and long and were on the verge of divorce. The cause of their fighting was considered to be their daughter. And so, because divorce is bad (note, letter of the law) the girl was removed from her home and from her parents. And she was put into a foster home (of which 90% of them were abusive and neglectful by their own admission), so that the couple would remain married.
There is so much wrong with this thinking (and the action taken as a result), we see that it comes down to a focus on the letter of the law without understanding the spirit of our Lord. There was no consideration given to the growth and development or heart of the girl, only to the law that says ‘divorce is bad’. Bigger thinking and understanding, and the solutions and support found there, was given over for small, narrow, rigid, responses, which in the end created more harm than good.
Little Innovation – Stuck on How it’s Always Been Done:
When we are stuck on doing things the ‘right’ way we leave little room for mistakes, and without room for mistakes or failure we will not innovate and we will not expand in our ability to respond and to make critical and relevant decisions regarding our lives.
In controlled cultures, where there is little freedom of thought or action, we limit innovation and without innovation nothing changes, we just remain the same. In the professional development arena we have an understanding that to get to where we need to be in a years time that we must change as people. In other words, we cannot get to a changed future without becoming a changed people.
It is wishful thinking, and false faith, to remain doing the same things expecting a different result. In fact, it has been said that the definition of insanity is just this – doing the same thing expecting a different result. If we want a different result we must do things differently.
I think back to the example of the woman with six children, married to a muslim man with many wives, and how she keeps being with this man, sleeping with him, bearing his children, expecting that somehow things are going to be different. Yet, if we look at life with clear understanding and frank observation, we will realize that this (the man waking up one day and all of a sudden loving and caring for his wife and children) rarely happens.
The woman, in order to have a change in her world and her circumstances, would need to begin making changes for herself; she would have to do the hard work of choosing something different within herself. This is the same no matter who we are or what we want out of life. If what we are doing right now, the choices we are making at this time, are producing inadequate results in our lives, then we must change the way we are doing life.
Of course, the difficulty of this is that many people around her would not understand and may even condemn, ridicule, chastise, and may even reject her. It therefore requires great personal strength but also a strength of community (around a person) in order for change to take place. It also requires diligence and a commitment to change, and a clarity of understanding that can stand the test of time that lasting change might take root.
I don’t want to minimize the difficulty of this, it is profound, but it can be done. The primary principle to understand is that if we want a different future then we must being living our life in a different kind of way right now, not all at once of course, but increasingly, as different people.
Assuming Bigger is Better:
There is an assumption that bigger is better. I come across it all the time as I work with overseas cultures. Of course, it began in the west; for a few generations now we have been proponents of bigger and better. Thankfully, in the west we have been seeing the folly of this and have begun to change our definitions of success; more is not always better.
The problem with ‘bigger is better’ thinking is that it is assumed absolutely true in all circumstances, in all situations, and in all goals we might have. But of course, it isn’t always true. In fact, in many situations smaller is better.
We are finding that to narrow our focus and to be about only one thing makes us better leaders and more effective influences; a person trying to do six different things will do those six things in a haphazard sloppy and ineffective sort of way.
It may look good and it may sound great to say ‘I am doing … and this … and this …. ‘ but to anyone who knows better this does not sound great but in fact hazards failure.
I see this most often in school projects in developing nations. An individual will take on the challenge and goal of establishing a school for his or her community. A board will be established, teachers will be secured, a location for the school will be found and education will begin for the children in that area. This is all very good of course and it is a privilege to work alongside individuals who are becoming part of the solution for their communities; this is exactly what it means to live out the heart of God within our countries.
Yet, where it goes wrong is this. The first year has, for instance, 120 students. The second year will have 190 students, and the third year finds 265 students attending the school. From a professional development perspective this is courting disaster; the biggest threat to any organization or business is too fast of growth!
Growth that happens this fast outpaces the available infrastructure. The structures for school are outgrown, the finances are not in place to pay for the additional teachers required, and the leadership is usually not personally mature or strong enough to keep at pace with the problems and demands that come with an education facility more than doubling in size in just a couple of years.
And yet, these numbers are shared as success, with much applaud and self-congratulations. The problem is this bigger is better mentality. The thinking is simply not accurate. When we go after big instead of stable, or self sufficient, or sustainable, we court disaster – we in fact invite failure. And this, is never the point.
Here, we need brave persons who will go after things well, establishing foundations and infrastructure and careful growth. We need brave persons who will put limits on their endeavours and have the courage to say ‘no’ when necessary, with an eye to long-term projects that will prove a success over many years.
Our mind sets and the ways we interpret the world (whether rightly or wrongly) are the basis of every other part of our lives. Taking hold of our thinking and seeing the faults in our logic and belief systems is integral to moving out of poverty mentalities. We want our thoughts working for us and not against us. If we remain diligent towards this end, bit by bit over time, our lives will reveal the change in our thinking. For much of it begins in our minds.