The Submissional Life // Matt Tebbe

living in submission, leading from below, loving as mission

Difference Between Prayerful and Neurotic Reflection: Working the Learning Circle with Jesus

I’ve been using a discipleship vehicle at River Valley Church for about 18 months called a huddle. The foundational tool for this discipleship process is the Learning Circle.


The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent and believe the good news. A fundamental assumption is that “today is the day of salvation” – every day, countless times a day, we are given opportunities/invitations to repent and believe the good news of the kingdom in Jesus. So – in huddle we learn to pay attention to these oppportunities so we can repent and believe. The Learning Circle tool looks like this:

If at this point you’re completely lost, see more on the Learning Circle here. Then come back to this post

The point of right side of the circle is to repent (see this and this post on repentance ). The second ‘step’ on the circle is Reflect. Reflect asks the question “why:”  Why did I feel like that? Why did I respond that way? Why does this keep happening? Why is this so hard for me to accept? The point of asking why is to get at the underlying or core issue/belief – what God wants to get his hands on. This all serves the purpose of hearing clearly from the Lord, “What is God saying to me?” So that I can turn toward the truth/reality of his Word and away from the illusion/sin/lie I’m living.


I’ve noticed, though, there are two ways we can reflect:


1. Prayerfully reflect = a conversation with God. I have compassionate concern for myself. I am mindful of what I am feeling/thinking w/o judging or condemning or fixing. I allow myself to be right where I am at b/c “God is so real he can only meet us where we really are.” (Thomas Merton) – My posture is one of curiosity, discovery, and compassionate concern for myself. In this practice I learn to treat myself as though I really believe that it’s the “kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance” (Rom 2.4; see also 2 Peter 3.9) If we can’t be kind to ourselves in the midst of our desire to repent, then how can we experience the kindness of God? I’ve noticed in my life and in the lives of others that how we treat ourselves indicates who we think God really is AND inhibits how God actually is from entering our lives. Some prayers, phrases I use to prayerfully reflect are:

  • “Lord, teach me about ____________”
  • “I see this happening Lord and I don’t understand. I need your help.”
  • “I long to have your mind and heart on this, but right now I can’t get past this. Come, Lord Jesus. Be present in this now.”
  • “I trust your love and acceptance of me in the midst of my failures and shame. Uncover where I need to receive your lordship right now.”


2. Neurotic reflection = looking for the next insight or tool that will fix me, or treating myself as though I have no Savior who loves me. This can turn into ‘navel gazing’ and become hopelessly self-centered, neurotic, and spiritually stifling. When I see a need to repent I am quick to judge and seek a fix to what I THINK my problem is. I end up telling myself what to do and never really repent b/c I never enter into a dialogue with Jesus to gain the “mind of Christ.” I miss out on what God is saying to me b/c I can’t get past what I’m saying to myself. And usually what I say to myself in neurotic reflection sounds like this:

  • “I’m such an idiot! I can believe I did this (again).”
  • “If I could just try harder next time this won’t happen (again).”
  • “God, I don’t know why you love me and put up with me. If I feel sorry enough will you forgive me?”


Prayerful reflection trusts the character and work of Jesus more than whatever sin I’ve committed.

Neurotic reflection trusts my sinful character and work more than the righteousness of Jesus.

Prayerful reflection leads to bearing fruit, abiding in Christ, obedience, surrender, and the fruit of the Spirit (joy…peace…patience)

Neurotic reflection leads to a harsh, critical posture with ourselves that spills over into others. Pressure mounts to conform, anger at sin is wrapped in self-loathing.

Prayerful reflection understands that grace, love, forgiveness come to us in an experience with Jesus.

Neurotic reflection keeps grace, love, and forgiveness safely distant as ideas and concepts we have to try harder  to believe in.


What is your experience with repentance? 

Can you relate to the distinction of prayerful vs. neurotic reflection? What words would you put to your experience? 

What am I missing here? Any questions? 


Categorized: Confession/Repentance, Huddle, Uncategorized Tags:Tags: , , , , ,