One of my grandsons is beyond stubborn, and what he is yet too young to realize is that this stubbornness only results in problems for him. He has a big problem with cleaning up. When I visited there last month I witnessed an incident about some spilled goldfish crackers. All he had to do was pick them up and put them back in his bowl. He refused. He went to time out. A little while later he listened to the “you need to do what Mommy asks” lecture, and he was released from time out. He walked into the living room. My daughter said, “pick up the goldfish”…. and without missing a beat he turned on his heel and walked back to the time out spot. He would rather spend time in “time out” than attend to a simple task. His stubbornness on this matter resulted in him being in time out for almost 2 hours the other day. Every time he was let go, he would again refuse to pick up the toys he had thrown…. and back into “time out” he went.
The worst part of this is that in the end what results is a power struggle between him and his mother,and I can tell you from experience that she also has a stubborn streak, but I don’t ever remember her sticking to her attitude for quite as long as her youngest son.
I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about stubbornness and its implications for us in daily living. Personalityspirituality.net defines stubbornness as: dogged insistence, intransigence, temerity and pig-headedness. To that list I would add: determination and persistence.
I believe that the latter two actually do serve us well. When we are faced with difficult challenges the positive side of stubbornness–the determination to succeed at a task and the persistence to see something finished can actually be healthy. Those traits are what makes us good parents, exemplary employees, and friends that hang in for the long haul. It seems to me however that there is a fine line between healthy determination and pig-headedness. To be pig-headed is to refuse to change even to the point of ridiculousness.
We have all known people who live by the following credos…
I am not going to be the first person to say, I’m Sorry.
I called her last time, this time she has to call me.
I’d rather give up an activity that I enjoy than go when that person is there.
When people get that locked into their refusal to budge, change, forgive or relax about any issue or person I always want to ask the question, “Who is being hurt by your attitude?”
Those of you who watch the Big Bang Theory last night will have seen the point of ridiculousness that this can lead to. In short Sheldon’s parking space, which he never uses because he neither drives nor owns a car, was given to Howard. A fight ensued. And the issue was only resolved when Howard (not so graciously) gave the space back to Sheldon, and Sheldon who could not let anyone be the better man than he, gave the space back to Howard.
We may shake our heads at the ridiculousness of this argument and the stubborn, nay pig-headedness, of Sheldon and Howard as the fight escalated…. but come on, we all know people who would cut off their nose to spite their face, and who will hold onto old grudges beyond all reason.
In fact, this is a common human spiritual problem. In the Scriptural record God often lamented that we are a hard hearted, stiff necked people. As long as we stubbornly refuse to incline our hearts to God we will remain outside of God’s blessing. Proverbs 29: 1 tells us: Whoever remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed—without remedy. And yet we persist in refusing to heed God’s warning.
I can tell you that there have been times in my relationship with God that I turned away and stubbornly refused to hear him calling me to return. I often refer to that time as “the storm of my own making”.
Psalm 95 says:
9 where your ancestors tested me;
they tried me, though they had seen what I did.
10 For forty years I was angry with that generation;
11 So I declared on oathr in my anger,
What I marvel at is that I not only chose the problems I encountered, I also chose to persist in them. That is the nature of free will. We are free to choose how we live our lives. We can choose to live without God or we can choose to live with God. If we choose to live without God then God has no option but to let us go, and no option but to leave us struggling in the storm we have created.
Since coming back to God I have experienced other storms, after all no one’s life is storm free. I would much rather go through a storm with God than without him. There is a big difference in knowing that God is taking care of you through the present difficulty. There is a big difference in the strength of hope, faith and prayer through which the present problem is put into perspective.
I am profoundly grateful that I don’t have to live in stubborn insistence that I don’t need God’s help. I am deeply relieved that God has provided a way to remove my hardness of heart, and to turn it instead to him. Thank God, that in Jesus we have a way of giving up the power-struggle in which we were engaged. Thank God that in Jesus we have the opportunity to repent, turn our lives around and seek forgiveness and take on the daily challenge of living as a person called of God.
As we enter the season of Advent this is an important thing to reflect on. As we listen to John the Baptist calling the people to repentance do we want to be those of a soft heart and come into the blessing of Christ? Or do we want to remain stubborn and allow that hardness of heart keep us wandering in the wilderness? How stubborn is your heart? What will it take for you to bend? The choice is ours.