Brad is a living legend… at the local bar. At first his mostly-daily trips were his way of unwinding after a stressful workday. But over the years, one painful situation after another brought Brad to the point where he lives pretty much continuously between buzz and stupor. Offering the standard denials and predictable claims that he can quit anytime, Brad has long ago crossed the line between soothing his nerves and declaring war on his soul.
Sandy is a shell of the girl she once was. The once-vivacious high school and college student now sits in her immaculate apartment, trying to stay busy enough to avoid the reminders of how alone she is. Estranged from her family, deeply disappointed by marriage and even motherhood, Sandy has never let go of the bitterness that ultimately seeped into every corner of her life. To a stranger, Sandy is a hard-working professional with impeccable taste in decorating and fashion. But the excellent exterior hides a war-ravaged soul.
The World of the War-Scarred
People with war-ravaged souls often lose their ability to think clearly. Sometimes deceived, sometimes obsessive, they build their inner and outer worlds on assumptions that are completely false – but make perfectly good sense to them. They use words like “always” and “never” to define reality. They often have a difficult time trusting others, and are quick to detect hidden motives, even when they don’t exist.
War-ravaged souls are living proof of the corollary of Jesus’ words, “the truth shall set you free.” They live in bondage because they hold fast to a lie.
Show me an addict of any stripe, I’ll show you a war-ravaged soul. By definition, when someone has lost their capacity to say no, or to make choices for change, they have declared war on themselves, often without realizing it. Today’s escape from the pain can become tomorrow’s slave-driver.
War-ravaged souls live in emotional prisons. Often concealed to the general public, their excellence in other areas hides a spirit of rejection, depression, bitterness, loneliness or despair.
To the war-ravaged soul, emotions are no longer reactions to past events – they are predictors of future events. If I have a spirit of rejection, for example, I will start treating you like you have already rejected me, even if we just met. It’s only a matter of time until you actually do… and I’ll be proven right.
What’s really sad about all this
…is that it is so completely unnecessary.
How is it possible that two people can go through a similar experience, and one can emerge stronger, wiser – even happier – while the other lives as though they hate life (or life hates them)?
The simple truth is, everybody gets wounded by life sooner or later. Disappointment and rejection, sickness and grief are all the companions of life in a fallen, broken world.
The war-ravaged soul takes it one step further. In an obscure little verse in the Bible, Peter writes to warn some early Christ followers who had seen more than their share of pain. Fact is, these people had been devastated by life in a hostile world, and were still going through difficulty. Having moved to Gentile territory, where they felt even more like outcasts, Peter warns them of other dangers:
Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls (1 Peter 2:11, NLT).
Look at that again. It isn’t the hard circumstances that carry souls into the war zone. It’s “self will run riot.”
It’s your own desires.
How it All Begins
Human nature – all the way back to the crib or all the way back to Eden – operates on a simple principle: If I want it, I should have it.
Doesn’t that make sense?
Moreover, if I lose it, I want it back. Now. Or as soon as possible, for sure.
If I want it and can’t have it, I should have it anyway. By whatever means possible.
And of course, factor in the root nature of sin, and… If someone – even God – tells me I can’t have it, I definitely want it then. And if I want it… then you know the rest.
So, Eve, what do you do when you can’t have what you want? Or when you get what you think you want, Solomon, and it doesn’t satisfy the true desire of your heart?
A healthy soul learns from, heals from, and ultimately accepts people and life as they are, not as they would have them to be. Does that mean they never seek change? Of course not. But it does mean they don’t define their happiness in terms of getting what they want.
But others choose a different path. To them, disappointment only leads to charging harder. Clenching tighter. Demanding louder. And somewhere they cross the line – from wanting something different to warring against their own soul.
And the saddest thing of all… they never see it coming.
Time for a Truth Break
If any of this has a ring of familiarity to you, I want to start by telling you there’s hope. I know what it’s like to have a war-ravaged soul, and I know what it’s like to taste true freedom on the other side. In fact, God’s word through Peter is that it is possible for people who have been beaten up by life to actually enjoy living and see good days. More on that in the next post.
In the meantime, your war-ravaged soul needs a truth break, after living on lies for so long. So buckle up. Here goes…
It isn’t your daddy’s or husband’s fault that you are so bitter. It’s yours.
It doesn’t matter if you’re entitled to something you didn’t get. You still don’t have it, and demanding, nagging, cajoling or raising your volume won’t help.
Your pursuit of pleasure to medicate your pain will have diminishing returns. Sooner than you know, you’ll have a new set of pains to deal with due to your drug(s) of choice.
Your external or material successes can’t mask the inner rage forever.
At the end of the day, the only one you’re hurting is you.
And you are hurting you. If your soul had the voice of a little boy or girl, it would be screaming at this point, “Please, please stop beating me.”
Freedom and Healing
Even the most devastated of souls can find freedom and healing – all made possible by a Christ who “personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
It all starts by letting go. Remember, God can’t pour blessing into a clenched fist. And if in your desire for whatever, you ruthlessly demand your way (even if your way is “correct”), you are waging war on your soul.
Your desire for favorable treatment from the government? Let it go.
Your desire for a happy employment situation? Ditto.
Your desire for a deliriously happy marriage or romance? Submit first.
All those are lessons from Peter to war-torn souls.
It’s one of the most liberating ironies of kingdom life: You don’t get what you want just by demanding it. The highest form of fulfillment and happiness lies at the other end of surrender.
Don’t you think it’s time for something different?