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The Whys of Manipulation

I think I’ve told y’all before that I’m working on a fantasy novel these days. I would say I’m knee-deep in it since I’ve got a first draft of the first 100 pages, but… well, that’s only about the first quarter of the story, and I have no idea how long it’s going to be.

Anyway! One of my characters, Ilane, manipulates people like nobody’s business. She’s done it her entire life, bending her circumstances to try to survive. It’s been really interesting to spend so much time with someone like that. I can’t condone her actions, but I can definitely understand them. As the author, I’m aware that it’s just part of her make-up because, as much as she manipulates people, she’s never actually gotten what she truly needs: love. Her primary motivation in life is survival.

How many of us are like that? I’ve been thinking a lot about the parts of her I see in myself. I have that same drive to try to steer circumstances. Culturally, we’re pretty okay with telling “white lies” or exaggerating if it helps our case. We share information with people we shouldn’t or withhold information from people we shouldn’t. We hide who we really are so that people will accept us or portray ourselves as someone we’re not in order to gain something from someone else.

In 1 Thess 2:5-8, Paul says, “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young children among you” (NIV).

Paul didn’t manipulate. He didn’t put on a mask. Over and over he talks about how he’s seeking God’s approval above man’s approval (e.g., Gal. 1:10, 1 Thess 2:4). He didn’t even act like an expert while he was with the Thessalonians–despite the fact that he was trained as a Pharisee and knew the Bible like nobody’s business. The more time I’ve spent with Ilane, the more I’ve come to realize that manipulation is born out of need–whether it’s perceived or real. Someone who manipulates does it because they don’t think they can get what they need otherwise. If you’re like me, you find yourself manipulating people without even being aware that you’re doing it. The solution isn’t to work harder at being honest/non-manipulative. The solution is to be so full of God that we don’t need man’s approval, to be so grounded in who God is and the reality of our belovedness that we don’t worry about our lack.

One of the verses I have prayed for myself and my family off and on is Psalm 90:14. Spending time with Ilane has convicted me that I need to pray that one every day because the reality is if I don’t intentionally get my needs met by God, I will spend my day working to get my needs met by any means possible.

Ps. 90:14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days (NIV).

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