What is a “double minded man”, you ask? James 1 explains the it and its dangers this way:
If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and they are unstable in everything they do. ~ James 1: 5-8
I suspect that all of us are double minded in some way or another, but what had happened in my case was this. First, as a teen I followed the instructions of scriptures and positively begged God for the gift of wisdom. Which like all such prayers is foolishness which is guaranteed to make you miserable. But Jesus said that we needed to pick up our crosses to follow him, so whatevs. And for a long time, I stood firm in the wisdom God gave me. Not perfectly, of course. But I knew what I knew from God and didn’t worry too much about results and wasn’t swayed by people’s disagreement or disapproval.
The problem is that when you are following God’s ways, it does have a tendency to put you into conflict with the world around you. People are totally fine with you having your crazy holy-roller ways right up to the point that it racks up costs in money or prestige or comfort. Then you are supposed to get practical and make smart decisions rather than just trusting on God to provide.
There came a point when I was facing increasing criticism and opposition. Someone told me it was selfish to be devoted to the care, formation and education of my two spectacularly difficult boys if it meant struggling financially. Someone else told me that I had never had a chance to have a “real life” – despite having a beautiful family, a house, a dog and all the other trappings of what qualifies as a meaningful life for most people. A few people told me that the best way to deal with someone who was being rather blatantly abusive was to “look at things from their perspective” and try harder to make this person happy so they would stop being awful. A couple of people told me that it was a sign of how self-centered I was that I had dared to speak up when I was being hurt by their behavior. I was told that the occasional simple error or normal human inability to do all things perfectly was a sign that there was something seriously wrong with me. I was told that being a mother who doesn’t make money made me unworthy of respect and someone who was using my husband to avoid having to do the hard work of being a responsible human being. There’s more, but I suppose you get the idea. (And yes, all of these things and more were actually spoken to me. And not even “in so many words”.)
Now, I knew that none of these things were true or right. I really did. I knew what I was supposed to be doing with my life, why I had made the choices I had made, what God’s priorities were. And all of these things were in conflict with those truths. (Not that I have a lock on truth by any means. But usually these things weren’t being said by people who were disagreeing with my understanding of God’s will or desire. Rather many of them stated emphatically that they rejected God or didn’t think it was right to continue following God’s ways if it meant paying a practical price for doing so.)
So, I had asked God for wisdom and then the wind had begun to blow and the waves to crash with greater ferocity than ever before. And I caved. I began to agree with the critics and the nay-sayers. Now, I didn’t renounce God’s ways and will outright. But I figured that even though I knew that what I was being told was wrong and in conflict with the wisdom God had given me, it was the perspective of people close to me. People I cared a lot about. People I didn’t want to see suffering or unhappy.
I had of course tried explaining my own perspectives and values to these people to no avail. And it’s one of my firm beliefs that I can’t change anyone else. Nor can I demand that they take my own perspectives and values as my own. So I came to the conclusion that it was up to me to accommodate their heartfelt concerns, desires and perspectives. I even went so far as to repent of things I had done and choices I had made which I knew in my heart of hearts were done in obedience to God. I had become a double minded man – trying to hold on to two opposing set of ideas and priorities and reconcile them together.
When I did this, my thinking utterly changed. I allowed myself to be judged by standards of the men and women around me rather than by God’s. I allowed my life to be judged by worldly standards of success rather than trusting that the way of Jesus and the disciples was good and worthy even when it involved suffering and failure. I allowed the important work I had done in shaping my troubled children and step-children to become after-thoughts compared to my lack of professional success. I blamed myself for not being able to hold things together well enough to avoid being mistreated by those who had appointed themselves taskmaster and judge over me.
Lest you think that I am overstating how skewed my thinking had become, allow me to share something with you. I have a stepson who came to live with us during this time. He was a deeply troubled kid well on his way to being one more black male in prison. While he was living with us, I single-handedly stopped an irate, full grown man with a knife in his hand and a stated intention of killing the boy because of something he had done. I took him to counseling and sat in every session with him as he dealt with an addiction to pornography. I spent hours everyday talking with him and counseling him – to the point that I made myself physically ill from lack of sleep. I gave up my freedom to do simple things like leave the house without kids in tow because we couldn’t trust him with small children without an adult present. I set boundaries and enforced them and encouraged him and was real with him and had long, pointed conversations with him about sex and God and his past. After two years he returned to live with his mother, hasn’t touched drugs or alcohol, is getting good grades – even giving up his spot on the varsity football team to keep them up. He hasn’t been in trouble with the law or at school. He’s a changed kid. He did most of the work, but I know for a fact that it took my work as well to make it happen. It was the two of us and God with some support from my other kids that did it. AND I did it all while pregnant and then caring for a new infant along with four other kids. I share all of that not to brag or say how wonderful I am or anything, but to illustrate what becoming a double minded man did to me. I looked at all of that and it counted for absolutely nothing since in that time I wasn’t able to figure out how to contribute financially to the family, the house was often a mess and my boys were getting crappy grades at school. Seriously. I didn’t even harbor some secret pride or satisfaction in my part in rescuing a human being from the brink of destruction because what mattered was my failure to meet the demands of the overlords I had acquiesced to.
The whole time, when I would pray to God about how awful my life was, I kept hearing, “do you trust me? Do you trust me?” And I would say, “yes, of course I trust you” and would go right back to judging myself and my life and shaping my goals and desires according to the demands and judgments of people around me. Somewhere in my mind, I could agree that God’s ways are trustworthy and true, but it no longer meant anything to me. What had previously given me life and peace was being swallowed up and suffocated.
When I thought about it, I could see it happening. I could even pinpoint the conversations and moments in which I had allowed another’s judgments to become my own. But I just couldn’t seem to find my way out of it. These ideas, priorities and desires had become so real to me while God’s ways became the explanation for how my life had gotten so screwed up in the first place.
What is interesting now, looking back, is that in practical terms, my shift in thinking didn’t change anything that happened in my life. I couldn’t change the past. Every effort I made to change my life was blocked. I didn’t change anyone’s mind about me. Everything that happened over the last 4 years would have happened regardless. It made me see myself as a failure, my life as a bust, my successes as worthless, my entire way of thinking, being and living as suspect at best and a disaster at worst. All I had done was add misery to disaster.
I kept trying to think my way out of the conundrum I had gotten myself into. I’m a smart gal. Reconciling things which appear to be in conflict is a particular talent of mine. Surely I could find some way to both follow God and live up to the expectations and demands of the people around me. I didn’t want to accept that it’s impossible to reconcile the ways of man and the ways of God.
A friend of mine describes being a “double minded man” as being like a person trying to stand with your right foot in one boat and your left in another. No wonder a person who is a double minded man is “unstable in all their ways”! At some point you have to decide which boat you’re going to ride in or drown.
So just recently I made the decision that I needed to stop trying to keep a foot in each boat. It started by simply confessing to God that I felt guilty for failing to do for the people around me what they felt they needed me to do. And unexpectedly, I didn’t feel guilty about it anymore. I have tried for years to make money as well as parent and keep everything together like a suburban goddess and I was just unable to. I had done the best I could and other people’s unwillingness to extend grace and empathy didn’t mean that I was guilty. For the first time in years, I could accept that I had nothing to feel guilty about.
It was so freeing that I started looking for other, hidden beliefs and guilts to bring to God to be dealt with. (I have many faults, but an unwillingness to admit and own my shortcomings and errors definitely isn’t one of them!) Eventually I felt able to simply say, “I repent. I repent of all those agreements I made with false judgments, ungodly demands, warped priorities – all of it. I repent of ever allowing myself to become a double minded man and chose to embrace your ways and your priorities the best I can.” And it was over. I’m still feeling a little wobbly and shell-shocked from the whole thing, but my peace is coming back. The double minded man has been put to rest, hopefully never to be raised again.
As I said towards the beginning of this very long post, I suspect that all of us are double minded men in some way. We’re trying to follow God without actually letting go of the world’s ways and priorities. I doubt most people’s experiences and stories of this battle are as dramatic as mine, but they certainly don’t have to be. So here’s what I want you to know; I have lived while completely trusting God. And I have lived while trying to serve both God and man. There is a real price to pay for living in trust to God. It will may well cost you dearly. But the cost of being a double minded man is far worse. There’s no peace in it. There’s no comfort to be had there. It won’t allow you to win in the world without having to lose God. It’s fruit is bad. I’ve seen this and I’ve lived it.
So I would encourage you to repent of it – whatever “it” is for you. This Christian walk we’re on really is an all or nothing thing. We’d like to think it was hyperbole, but Jesus told us this. And his apostles quite literally paid the price with their lives – just as he warned. I know what it’s like to be caught between wanting to follow God and wanting to be responsible and practical. You’d think those things wouldn’t be in conflict with each other, but they often are. It takes real courage to choose God’s ways over everything else. But ask God for courage and he’ll provide. And remember that while the costs are real, so is this: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”. I’ve carried the yoke of this world and I’ve carried the yoke of Christ and Jesus wasn’t lying. Not by a long shot. So, if you need to (and we almost all do), go to God and repent. Stop being a double minded man. Stop straddling between two worlds and get into the one boat you’re going to ride out the storm in.