I recently heard the idea that every human being fights two wars. One is with God, the other is with themselves. This struck me as a provocative proposition. War is a common analogy when it comes to the development of personal character. I’ve often heard the question, “What are willing to fight for?” Or, “What are you willing to die for?” When confronted with a challenge, someone might ask, “Are you just going to lay down and surrender? Or fight for what you believe?” However, I don’t remember hearing much around who the battles that we fight are with.
There is this mention of who we might be wrestling with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. We also may have discovered that we can pick fights with people, places, even ideas (intentionally or unintentionally). Wars, on the other hand, are of a grand scale, can take significant amounts of time, and lead to massive changes in the landscape of the world in which they are fought.
A war with God.
Another way to say the same thing is that doesn’t reference a particular world view is, “a war with reality.” If you believe God to be real, then reality includes God. If you don’t believe God to be real, then reality is just the combination of things (seen and unseen) that are real. Here, reality may be beyond the full perception or understanding of an individual person. Reality is unwavering (what is real, is real), unaccommodating (it doesn’t change just for you), and non-partial (it doesn’t really care who you are). It affects everyone in different ways and varying degrees, but no one gets away from an experience with reality – although much human effort has been expended in finding ways. I can say that my war with reality began the moment I experienced an outcome of action that I hadn’t anticipated, didn’t think was “the right one”, and didn’t want to accept. I planted my flag and began to fight for a different reality – the one that would reconcile the expectations in my mind. As with many wars there were periods of time when only small skirmishes would occur, and other periods of intense battles. I can fairly say that this went on until the fall of 2019 when I hit burnout. The wall I hit was akin to losing a major battle. I realized that something in my thinking that put me at odds with reality. My pathway out (which is ongoing) has been a journey of seeking. I started with questions. What is real, true, and trustworthy? What can I put my life on the line for and know that it will hold? How can I test the answers to these questions in low-risk environments?
These questions haven’t solved anything specific in and of themselves. What they have done is given me a process to test deeply held beliefs. The process has been one of diminished pressure. The answers I seek are important, but what is equally important is the way in which I seek them. Which is more important, being proven right – that is winning the war – or getting to a place of reconciliation and peace?
A war with myself.
Once my war with God/Reality was set on a path towards peace, an almost immediate second war arose. This was the war with myself. When thinking about the two wars, one might expect that once the war with God was reconciled, there is no need for a war within myself. Quite the opposite. Reconciling the war with God opened my eyes to the reality of the war within myself. It is the war within myself that has taken much of the focus as I work out my path. What is this war, and why does it exist?
Until a reconciliation with God, we are formed in the context of a different perception of reality. Upon reconciling with God, our eyes begin to see the reality of how we’ve been formed. It is often a combination of things that we see as we turn our vision inward. Some thoughts, feelings, and habits of action already align with our new vision of reality, while others now seem in opposition to it. The next step in moving forward is to confront the patterns of thinking and doing that are in opposition to reality. This confrontation can take different forms. Anyone who has attempted significant personal change may attest to the hard work that can arise. Sometimes it looks like labor, other times it looks like war. I would like to offer that it can also look like an adventure, or an intense course of learning. There will be resistance – deeply formed habits don’t like to change. There will be grief – I have felt as if I was losing a part of myself. It will often be difficult, but it can be joyful (that is encountered with a sense of goodness). It will be something only you can do, but you do not have to do it alone.
This war has seemed to me somehow harder to deal with than the war with God. It has felt more personal. There is more riding on every battle, more at stake in every fight. I have faltered many times. Others have misunderstood the changes that I have endeavored to make, causing further challenges. Every individual’s context for these wars is different. What the battles look like will be different. It is difficult to have a clear sense of our own inner landscape, let alone someone else’s. In both cases, for ourselves and with others, compassion, time, and space (mental, emotional, and physical), among many other things, can be helpful tools in the journey to shift these wars from areas of conflict to areas of consideration and care.