“There’s none so blind as those who will not listen.” Neil Gaiman
Stubborn (adj.): having or showing persistent determination not to change one’s attitude or position on something, esp. in spite of good arguments or reasons to do so. Difficult to move, remove, or cure.
I see a lot of stubbornness in counseling… mostly from teenagers, but it is certainly not an issue that is limited to adolescents who demonstrate defiance and an unwillingness to clean up their room when asked; this issue does not discriminate. I have seen stubbornness emanate from people from all walks of life and from myself at times, if I’m being honest. This is an issue that stops growth, and can cause a bitterness that will destroy our quality of life and relationships with others.
What causes us to choose to be stubborn (I have come to believe that this is a choice)?
What can we do to stop it!? How can we overcome our hardness of heart?
In Scripture, this word “stubborn” is often surrounded by other “challenging” words such as proud, rebellious, unfaithful, greedy, obstinate and defiant. None of these actions or attitudes are in line with Perfect Love. They are defense mechanisms used to avoid or cope with conscious conflict or anxiety. Biologically speaking, our bodies have defense mechanisms in place to fight of disease-causing organisms. In the animal world, we see chameleons and other animals use camouflage, butterflies and other creatures with false features to trick their prey, and physical or chemical combat such as the quills of a porcupine, the shell of a turtle, or the spray released by a skunk. All of these methods are protective mechanisms used to keep the “enemy” out, even if they cause the one using them to be misrepresented or misunderstood. We protect, defend, shield, and fortify in an aim to preserve ourselves or others from harm.
What does this have to do with stubbornness?
God makes this statement in Ezekiel 11:19 in reference to His people:
“I will give them singleness of heart (or an “undivided heart”) and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart (or a “heart of flesh”).” (Ezekiel 11:19)
The root-words for “stony” or “stubborn” actually means to build, rebuild, establish, to guard, protect, and keep watch. What’s the point? Stubbornness is a means of protection that causes people to build walls in order to keep themselves safe. Stubbornness manifests in many different ways: arrogance, acting all-knowing, sarcasm, being inflexible, “being right,” arguing, debating, and silence or a total lack of willingness to engage.
When we only look at the behavior and fail to see the possible causes and reasons for the behavior, we judge others (and ourselves) and choose rejection, bitterness, and lack of relationship instead of choosing to love. When we choose to love an individual who is stubborn, the “walls” and defenses crumble and the person no longer has a need for this defense.
So, how do we overcome this issue?
1. Defend with the weapons the God provides.
We are instructed to “be alert and watchful” (1 Peter 5:8) and to do things like “put on the full armor of God” (Ephesians 6:10-18). Why? Because there is a very real enemy that is seeking to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10) us and the plans that God has for our lives. It would be unwise to allow our minds and hearts to fill with evil things or not to protect ourselves from the attacks of the enemy. But sometimes we get it wrong. We choose defense mechanisms that are unloving, isolating, ugly, and detrimental to our quality of life.
God wants to “…put a new spirit…” in us; this is the Holy Spirit, His Spirit, the Spirit of God that created the universe! 2 Corinthians 10:4 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” Righteousness, peace, the Word, truth, and love… these are the defense mechanisms we are provided to use against the darkness. One of the most powerful weapons is forgiveness. We are urged in Colossians 3:13 to “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Forgiveness is an intense process that contributes to the destruction of a hard heart. Learning how to replace our instinctual or learned defenses with the one’s given by God can take work and practice! Seek help through counseling and community through a church where you feel loved and accepted. Proverbs 13:20 says, “He who walks with the wise grows wise,” and Hebrews 10:24-25 says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together.” We can learn from others about how to fight the battles in our lives; and to have support through them is always better than trying to do it alone. We are better together!
2. Singleness of heart.
The second way to overcome stubbornness is to be un-divided in our relationship with God. Division in our heart’s commitment causes us to be inconsistent and untrustworthy. James 1:8 says, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways;” another version says, “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” When we make a commitment to get married, we are saying through ceremony, vows, and postured heart “I am committing myself fully to you, I will not allow anything to cause my loyalty to be divided.” If we concede to share ourselves with another person in the context of marriage, we are obviously being adulterous and unfaithful. It really is the same thing with God. This tender, responsive “heart of flesh” that God wants to put inside of us is soft, malleable, moldable, shapable, fertile soil- in contrast to the stoney, walled-up, rocky, stubborn one that we can develop.
Check out the “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13:3-8. Jesus shares a powerful metaphor in just five sentences: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” His message is clear- growth is very difficult, if not impossible if the ground is rocky and hard; but in rich, and healthy ground that is able to receive the ingredients for growing, there will be a great harvest!
God wants you to choose a hear that is committed to loving Him and in which His Holy Spirit can live. And “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). Your heart can be a place of total freedom! Make the choice to defend yourself with weapons of Love and dedicate or rededicate yourself to Him and the plan that He has for your life. He is a good, good father (1 John 3:1) and wants to help you to become the best version of you! Trust Him, tear down the walls, and He will direct your future (Proverbs 3:5).