Avoiding Avoidance

Deathbed advice offers impact which no other advice provides.

My father died of cancer sixteen years ago. A few weeks before his death, knowing he would die soon, my father offered me advice.

As a long term pastor, my father counseled hundreds of men and women. He said that many of them lived their lives being controlled by their parents. They spent their lives avoiding their parents’ bad behavior.

My father was not an angel; he had an anger problem. He lost his temper over little events, like when he lost his keys (which he seemed to lose all the time!). He was concerned that his kids might waste their lives trying to avoid his anger issue. He advised me instead to spend my energy imitating the good things I saw in my parents and teachers and friends.

Then he said this: “If you spend your life trying not to be somebody you will spend your life not being somebody.”

We will never become ourselves by running from; we will only become our true selves by running to. If we turn our inner life into a vacuum—always removing things—our inner life will never become a thing of substance. It will always be empty.

It’s true in morality as well as in self discovery.

As an example, let’s look at the commandment about coveting. If we pour our energies into avoiding coveting, we will fail. We can’t become something by trying not to be something.

Jesus summarizes the first commandment with, “Worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Luke 4:8). If we could pour a mere fifty percent of our lives into worshipping God, coveting would gradually disappear.

But if we pour one hundred percent of our life into avoiding coveting, we still won’t be worshipping God—not even with one percent of our hearts.

Just look at the Pharisees. They spent their lives avoiding sin, and Jesus said they were like whitewashed tombstones, looking clean on the outside but filled with ugliness on the inside .

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not okay to be immoral. If you want to rob a bank, don’t do it! But we can’t fill our inner vacuum by emptying.

It’s true in self discovery as well as morality.

Jesus did more than save us from something; he saved us for something. But many of us spend our personal reflection on not being. We are not a business person, not a pastor, not a salesperson, not a “suit.”

These ‘nots’ are tying us up in knots; they imprison us. Shakespeare wrote, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” God wants us to be more than he wants us not to be. That is the answer.

So I have a question which I’d love for us to reflect on:

What is the “bad” that you’ve spent your life avoiding?

If your ‘avoidance’ isn’t too personal, please share it below as a comment. Through other people’s stories we might see our own avoidance, and so begin to avoid that avoidance ourselves.

(See also, Filling the Void[ance].)

© Copyright 2012, Beliefs of the Heart, Ltd. All rights reserved.


7 Responses to Avoiding Avoidance

  1. Lyle Regan says:

    How true Sam. Allow me to share my experience involving my father and my discipline to NOT be like him.
    As you know, I grew up in a poor environment laced with alcoholism. I figured out at an early age how to survive in such an environment, and in my teen / 20 something’s made the decision Not to be like my father in any way. It almost killed my heart. I was fortunate to have a godly man take me on as a disciple for a couple of years to encourage me to figure out who I was. Still, I vowed never to be hurt again. (1 of many agreements that held me down).
    I love the quote:
    “If you spend your life trying not to be somebody you will spend your life not being somebody.” Today I understand that more than ever, thanks to God’s pursuit of me and some terrific men that He has brought into my life.
    I am a BIG advocate for men to pursue their true heart, discover the freedom of who God has made you to be, and live from that place with a company of like minded men. If anyone is interested in more details, I give Sam permission to fill in the gaps as needed.
    Thank you Sam, my friend / brother for doing what you do. Lyle

    • Hi Lyle,

      Wow, excellent personal reflection when you say, “I vowed never to be hurt again.” Great point, the agreements we make keep us down.

      Thanks for being so personally honest.

      Thanks for your friendship.


  2. Mark Wager says:

    Really simple thought… Very profound. I think I’d have to admit I spend a lot of time pouring in… But it is more to get stuff out. For instance, I find I listen to CDs and podcasts etc in hopes that it will displace some other unholy thing in me. And in the process I miss much of what is being offered because my focus is still on “removal” and not on the positive aspects of what I have in front of me. I’m probably making no sense, but I get what you’re saying. I’m going to give this a try this week and see where it leads.


    • Hi Mark,

      So what “positive aspects” do you think you will focus on? Here is a suggestion. Instead of thinking of the things you want removed, look at people around you and think of the traits you like in them that you want to have in yourself.

      Part of the way we can know ourselves–become the men and women God made us to be–is what good we see in others. The good we see is actually a clue to what God is doing in us. That’s why we all see different things in others.


  3. Jim McFarland says:

    Name: Jim McFarland
    Email: jimparlan@comcast.net
    Message: Sam,

    The image you posted flashed me back to the past year when my father was in & out of the hospital before his death in Feb of 2011.

    It was also moving to hear what you shared concerning what your father said before his passing. i.e. If your life is about not being something then you will not be something.

    For me I had just the opposite challenge. i.e. I had a very strong desire to be what my father was not. My parents divorced when my siblings and I were young.

    I met my father once for a few days at age 18. Our relationship really began when I was 30 and he was 57 until he died at age 93.

    There was a long time, less now, where I felt I had to capture what I didn’t have i.e a father and a normal family.

    It pulled me for a long time away from pursuing God first.

    In the end of my fathers life I was able to give him the gift of acceptance for his past regrets of not being a complete father.

    After resisting my requests his whole life,he received Christ on his deathbed minutes before he died.

    I wonder sometimesif healing the gap between us wasnt actually a temporary calling in my life that stretched over decades.

    • Jim,

      Your story here is powerful. I love the way you and your dad were finally able to connect, how you were able to give the gift of acceptance, and how your father finally gave his life to the Lord.

      I wonder if bringing healing may not be part of your Calling. You certainly displayed it in your relationship with your father.

      Do you see other places where healing is needed? Perhaps in your relationship with others, but do you also see it in other people, where they need healing with others?


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