The Law of Three

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AffirmDenyReconcileOrdinarily, I don’t pay too much attention to popular culture, or try not to. You know, those Yahoo and Facebook links that masquerade as news, the ones I waste time pursuing every morning. But last week, I read a series of reflections about the Law of Three, written by Episcopal priest Cynthia Bourgeault as guest posts on Richard Rohr’s blog. One of her posts reminded me of Oprah Winfrey.

Let me back up.

The Law of Three is a pattern of affirming, denying, and reconciling. Our culture equates affirming with action and denying with passivity like fixed principals, Bourgeault stated. Thus, “…it requires real mental effort to override these preconditioned patterns.”

One woman Bourgeault worked with had always struggled with dieting. Using the Law of Three, she identified the affirming force as her desire for healthy eating habits and the denying force as bad, fatty foods. “So, of course, third force was my willpower,” she said. The result was self-canceling forces and frustration.

Then one day she thought about reversing the first and second forces. The affirming force became her desire for unhealthy food, which denied her concern about healthy eating. With this shift, the third force changed. “I decided to enter into a conscious relationship with that rich, fatty food,” the woman said, “not to treat it as the enemy but to honor my body’s desire for it and to satisfy it—but consciously.”

This consciousness helped her keep the weight off.

You’ve probably figured out why I thought about Oprah Winfrey. For years, Winfrey’s weight has been an obsession for her and the viewing public. According to media reports, she joined Weight Watchers in August 2015 and has steadily lost weight, not by dieting but through conscious eating. A life-style shift, with a twist: Oprah also became a major stockholder in Weight Watchers and is their advertising spokesperson.

Perhaps Oprah’s Law of Three shift went like this: she desires unhealthy treats, which deny her a healthy self-image, including making money. By entering this relationship consciously, she’s been able to lose 40 pounds and so far keep them off—and Weight Watcher’s stock has gone up.

This morning, I read David Jeremiah’s post about Bible teacher F.B. Meyer who told missionary Amy Carmichael that he often lost his temper when he was younger. To counter this fault, he’d pray, “Thy sweetness, Lord,” whenever he felt irritated.

Carmichael took this advice to heart. “Take the opposite of your temptation,” she said, “and look up inwardly, naming that opposite: Untruth—Thy truth, Lord; unkindness—Thy kindness, Lord; impatience—Thy patience, Lord; selfishness—Thy unselfishness, Lord; roughness—Thy gentleness, Lord; discourtesy—Thy courtesy, Lord; resentment, inward heat, fuss—Thy sweetness, Lord, Thy calmness, Thy peacefulness.”

So. My desire for healthy relationships and denial of anger through willpower, which often fails, shifts to: I affirm that I feel angry, which denies me healthy relationships. So I pray for truth, kindness, patience, unselfishness, gentleness, courtesy, calm, and peace.

Truth. I looked at what I wrote about popular culture. Maybe I need to apply the Law of Three shift to that topic—and a lot of others.