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Healing does not equal a cure

I was listening to a talk by Rachel Held Evans last week. Near the end of her talk she spoke about the difference between healing and a cure. It really struck me. Here’s a link to where she started speaking about this:

Rachel Held Evans – Keep the Church Weird

I agree with her. I think particularly in our Western society we are overly focused on “the cure”. Now, I’m not saying that the research and efforts put into finding cures for our ailments are bad. I’m talking more about the way we approach sickness in the evangelical church. We pray for healing…but sometimes for God that doesn’t mean a cure. I like how Rachel puts it: healing is “like a meandering river…it takes time”. And it’s relational. We would miss a whole lot of “relationships” if God always answered our prayers for healing with the cure. I don’t say this in any way to demean or belittle people’s suffering and their agonized pleas to be freed from their pain. I hate suffering. I hate watching people suffer.

I also recognize that God doesn’t always cure. And what does that mean? That’s where I get nervous. Because there have been times when it seemed implied that the reason the person was not cured was because they didn’t have enough faith or they had some hidden sin in their life. But what if it wasn’t that all? What if the sick person is not to blame? Maybe that’s it. We need someone to blame in order to explain the cure that didn’t come. These lines of reasoning can do serious damage to a sick person’s faith in God. He becomes a fickle slot machine that will only answer our prayers IF…

Where does that leave grace – if we have to be “good enough” to receive His cure? There is no room for grace here. And there is little room for hope. I find the perspective of healing presented in Rachel’s talk much more grace-filled. It resonates much more with my experience. My husband died suddenly at the age of 29. There were church leaders who prayed the night he died for his resurrection but I didn’t pray that prayer (as much as I wished he wasn’t dead). I had surrendered to God, to the One I had come to believe loved me no matter what, who was not punishing me by taking my husband away. I trusted Him to get me through this and believe me, it was terribly painful and lonely at times (and I wanted the pain to stop). I wanted to enter back into marriage months after my husband died – I wanted that horrible void to be filled. But I had also surrendered that to God saying I wanted a firm foundation entering into my next marriage and I was willing to wait until that foundation was set. It took a while, though not as long as for others I know (but it felt long enough for me). It took that time for God to work some healing in my heart. I can tell you my current marriage is in the beautiful place that it is because God had me wait. If He had provided the “cure” I would be in much worse shape.

So while I believe that God can and does cure people, I also believe He is just as interested in the slow, meandering process of healing, which often goes much deeper than our physical circumstances but in the long run produces much more in terms of our overall wholeness.

Bearing witness and being seen

 

They did this experiment at the University of Guelph. What they found was that “These conversations weren’t just connecting people—they were changing people. What began as a pair of apprehensive strangers awkwardly lowering themselves into a ball pit in the middle of campus transformed into dozens of students forming conversation circles in and around the overflowing ball pit all afternoon, rich with fervent hand gestures, engaged body language, and vibrant facial expressions.” One of the conclusions they made was “It is only when we view our fellow students through a lens of understanding, regardless of our religious traditions, cultural heritage, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and beliefs, that we can truly see one another. When we can truly see one another, we seem to like what we see.”

I see the Ball Pit experiment as an intentional way of connecting people in meaningful ways. These people weren’t engaging in small talk, but rather in “smart talk” – speaking about things and in ways that foster connection.

It’s also about “being seen”. In her blog post this week, “Cool Ashes Can’t Burn Us”, Glennon Doyle Melton spoke to this very thing: “what strikes me is how desperately we all need to know that we are seen and heard. We don’t need our lives to be different, or easier, we just need someone to see the pain. To know what we’ve faced and overcome.  To say: Yes. I see this. This is real. We don’t need a magician to take it all away – we just need a witness.” “We see ourselves in [each other]. And that means that we are not alone. We might hurt, but we are not alone.”

To me, this is one of the most awesome things about being a part of the body of Christ: we are not alone. Bearing witness is one of the most powerful things we can do for another person. Oh, that we would learn better how to “see” each other (and allow ourselves to be “seen”).

How are we transformed?

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I’ve been thinking about how we are changed. I am a very different person from who I was in high school. But how did I become that different person?

I think there are a number of things and not just one thing. Life experience and choices I’ve made have certainly shaped me. The hand that’s been dealt to me. What others have said about me and the way they’ve treated me. What I’ve believed about those things. Love extended to me. My actions of love toward others. Relationships have played a huge part. No man is an island. We cannot help but be changed by and through our relationships with others.

And although I can look back and see God guiding me down a path that would lead me to this place, it’s still the choices I made along the way that got me here. If I think about life on a continuum, have I been making choices towards gratitude and contentment or choices towards bitterness and anxiety? There are many different ways you can put it: light vs. darkness, life vs. death… I think you see where I’m going.

Under-girding all of this “change” is our belief system. What we believe about the world and ourselves significantly determines our course in life. I don’t bring this up as a point of condemnation: believe the ‘right’ things or you’re doomed! (there was a time where that is exactly how I’d be feeling at this point). I’m thinking more of what Jesus said: “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) and when He was asked what work God wanted people to do, He answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:29).

I think there is a notion in the evangelical world that we need only pray ‘hard enough’ for God to change us and we’ll be changed. I certainly believe God wants us to be changed. But how much change can He effect if we continue to believe things that work against Him? Let me use an example:

As long as I believed God was more interested in punishing me for my sin than loving me unconditionally I wasn’t about to trust Him. I might try really hard to trust Him but subconsciously I believed He wasn’t ‘safe’ – I thought He was out to hurt me. My subconscious went the route of self-preservation and steered away from trust. When I came to accept (it’s an acceptance and a surrender) that God actually was more interested in loving me than punishing me, then I could begin learning to trust.

So how did my belief system change? I think it started with nigglings. A foreign idea would form in my mind, something different and counter to what I believed before. Perhaps someone would present a different point of view, perhaps it was something I read or heard. I would chew on that idea for awhile (I recognize this process is probably very specific to my personality type). And I would either come to the conclusion of rejecting the idea or (with trepidation) decide to ‘risk’ believing this new truth. What if I believed ‘wrong’? What would happen to me? Would I still be safe? The new truths that were the scariest for me to accept were the ones that disrupted my sense of safety. I understood the world to operate a specific way and I felt ‘safe’ in that worldview. Accepting an alteration to my worldview meant insecurity and unknown territory. Things weren’t as certain as before (although I recognize this is really an illusion). Eventually I became comfortable with the new belief and felt secure once again.

I realize this post is becoming lengthy so I’ll leave with one other comment and continue on in a day or two.

The thing I find most encouraging in this process is that I believe it is God who helps me to change my beliefs. He is gracious and compassionate and I don’t have to stress about not believing the ‘right’ things. My role is to believe that He is faithful and that He will help continue the process of believing the things that are true about Him and discarding the things which are not true. It requires my openness to new things and trusting God in the process.

Leaning into trust

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I find trust to be somewhat ambiguous. It’s hard to nail down. One minute I’m feeling fine and secure, the next I’m anxious and catastrophizing. All it takes is something to change in my circumstances to knock me off balance some days.

I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I felt confident and secure all the time and that my circumstances would not have such sway over my emotions. I imagine if I just understood more of who God is and the incredible depths to which He loves me, I would have no fear. My trust would be perfected and I would lean solely on Him. Yet I’m learning to accept my ‘humanness’. I am not perfect, nor will I be in this life. And that…is…okay. Sometimes trust is believing the things that my head knows but my heart isn’t hearing (or vice versa).

I wonder if one of the reasons we live in this broken world is to learn to ease into trusting: trusting God, trusting others, trusting ourselves. It doesn’t work all the time. Sometimes our trust is broken by others, sometimes we break it ourselves. After these kinds of events the question becomes, will I risk to trust again? We must learn to accept that we are all human and that means we make mistakes, bad choices, and generally screw up (not all the time, but sometimes). So what do we do when that happens? The temptation is to close ourselves off and not trust anyone. We believe this is a way of protecting ourselves. But it doesn’t really work that way. We are wired for connection – we want to feel loved and that we belong. And the way we experience that is in relation to others. So when we close ourselves off from people we are starving a part of ourselves.

At the same time, depending on how badly we’ve been hurt, learning to trust again can be very, very hard. Who wants to put themselves in a place where they’ll be hurt again? It may take baby steps over a long period of time to come to the place of trust again. And there are other cases where the other party has consistently broken trust and the healthy choice is to walk away from the relationship (because remaining in it will only mean continued pain).

Then there are those circumstances beyond our control that wreak havoc on our ability to trust. There are many things we take for granted and when those things are shattered we end up rather gun-shy. I assumed my first husband would be with me until we were old and gray. As that didn’t happen, there are moments (especially when my husband doesn’t arrive home when I think he will) that I get a sick feeling in my stomach that he’s gotten into a car accident and died and that I’ll have to go through the ordeal of losing another husband and enduring the pain all over again. It’s a real joy crusher, I’ll tell you that.

I know there was a time in my life when I was very closed off from everyone. I wouldn’t have put it in those words, but I certainly had trust issues. I don’t think I even trusted myself for I didn’t let myself into the deep, dark recesses of my soul, much less let anyone else. I’m not in that same place now, so what changed for me? After learning how ‘not to trust others’ I started learning to trust as a result of love. It was love expressed to me that was freely given, with no strings attached. And I soaked it up like the dry, parched, thirsty sponge that I was. Looking back I recognize this was dangerous territory for me. I was so desperate for love and connection that I would have done practically anything to get it and keep it, which could have proved disastrous in the hands of a less decent person. The relationship had its faults to be sure (we were both so insecure), but I was generally confident in the other person’s love and care for me. The person? He would become my first husband.

That was a starting point and through the love of others in my life along the way, I have become much more trusting and at peace (generally) than I’ve ever been. When I look back on my journey I see that love has been the springboard for so much positive growth in my life. And love is something we experience predominantly in relation to others. Love is the glue of relationships. And when I speak of “love”, I’m not referring to the gushy feelings one might have. It’s much more solid than that. It is expressed as grace… forgiveness… choosing to look past the other persons’ faults… choosing to do the right thing even when it is the hardest thing. Love takes vulnerability… letting your guard down so the other person can let down theirs. It’s not always easy and sometimes very uncomfortable, even painful, but it is necessary for our well-being and the well-being of those we care about.

God is love. He wants us to experience it in this life. And in experiencing His divine love, we learn how to love others. But it takes trust. Do I actually believe that I am loved (and worthy of love) and that this has absolutely nothing to do with how I perform or what I produce? I know for myself there are times I do not trust that this is true. But for the times when I do ease into that trust, believing that grace is real, I experience much peace and freedom. It is so much easier for me to love others. I am more willing to be vulnerable. And that’s where connection and belonging happen and this great web of relationships we’re a part of is strengthened and blessed.

So I will continue choosing to lean into trust (especially when my negative emotions are hijacking me). And when I get hurt? Some re-adjusting may be in order and I might be tempted to close myself off, but I will choose vulnerability and the path of love. It is where I find true connection and the most fulfillment and joy.

I believe in feminism

I read an article this morning entitled “I Am A Mother of Two Children and I Cannot (And Will Not) Support Feminism” and a following response article, “To The Mother Who ‘Can’t Support Feminism’ While Raising Her Sons”. It got me thinking.

First, it saddens me that there is such divisiveness over this issue. The first article points to the extremes of feminism and uses that as the argument for why the author won’t support it. This reason doesn’t bear weight with me. I identify myself as a Christian yet there are extremes in Christianity that I do not support. That doesn’t mean I need to stop being a Christian (and I won’t).

The definition of FEMINISM is this: the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men (taken from Dictionary.com). THIS I believe in with my whole heart.

Yes, there are extremes; yes, even male bashing. Yet…yet, the conversation I hear and read on the internet lately is turning more away from “us vs. them” (i.e., women vs. men) to an inclusive movement with women AND men working alongside each other to bring about equality for all. I was encouraged by Emma Watson’s speech to the United Nations this summer as the UN Women Goodwill Ambassador launching the HeForShe campaign.

I see progress through the lens of my children as well. It’s interesting that the author of the first article I linked to above has two sons and it is out of her concern for her sons that she has chosen not to support feminism. When my 18 year old son asked me this year what feminism was and I told him it was the belief that women should have equal opportunities and rights as men, he took that as a given. He was appalled when I told him that on average women still aren’t paid the same as men for the same work. And I am delighted to see my 8 year old daughter up in arms over the insinuation that she can’t do something a boy can do (of course she can do what a boy can do!).

There are many campaigns and websites to raise awareness and shed a different light on things. Like the Always #LikeAGirl campaign, like A Mighty Girl website and Facebook page (which is a resource for “smart, confident, and courageous girls”). One of the major things they are doing is combating stereotypes of what it means to be a ‘boy’ and what it means to be a ‘girl’. I love a quote by Joss Whedon (creator of one of my favorite TV series, Firefly, and director & writer of the “Avengers” movie). He was asked in an interview “So, why do you write these strong female characters?” and he responded with “Because you’re still asking me that question.” (“American Rhetoric: Joss Whedon – Equality Now Address”. American Rhetoric (May 15, 2006)

I believe gender stereotypes hurt everybody. Should my daughter be thought of as less of a girl because she likes action movies like the “Avengers” and “Captain America”? Should my son be thought of as less of a guy because he is sensitive and still gives hugs to his mom? Stereotypes put people in boxes. Stereotypes can also justify inequality. Until very recently in human history women were still considered less than a person and the property of others. Although our culture has evolved to the point of discarding these views (most people would think it ludicrous today to refer to a girl as property), our gender stereotypes serve to compartmentalize what women and men are capable of. This puts limitations on everyone. I believe it hinders the gifts that each one of us can bring to the world (particularly when those gifts don’t fall along traditional gender-determined lines).

My dream would be for respect for all people, that we would see ourselves together on this earth, not separate, not us vs. them. That we could feel safe with each other (and thereby eliminate our need to be combative towards each other). We share a common humanity in that we all breathe the same air, feel the same emotions, experience shame and empathy. We are not so different from each other. On the flip side, we are all unique and we bring our own unique gifts to the world, the gift of who we are, individually and collectively. We each have our own unique limitations and these limitations can be genetic and/or environmental. Some limitations can be overcome, others cannot. But let us not add more limitations onto our brothers and sisters. Let us encourage each other to reach for the stars in our pursuits in this life, no matter who or what gender we are.

Our Beautiful Land

Canada is a truly beautiful country. I had been to the West Coast before but never to the East Coast and this summer my husband and I took a trek out to the East and saw A LOT of Canada. We took the train from Saskatoon to Toronto and then rented a car and spent time in the Niagara Falls area, drove through upstate New York, spent time in Montreal, drove through Maine, hung around the Bay of Fundy, and ended up at a wonderful bed & breakfast on Prince Edward Island. For the trek back we stopped in Quebec City and then drove back to Toronto to take the train back to Saskatoon (stopping in Winnipeg to see friends for the last leg). It was a wonderful vacation and through it all, I was struck by the diverse beauty of our nation. I also realized that Canada has a lot of BUSH and I don’t know why people complain about the FLAT of the Prairies when most of them are surrounded by BUSH!.

Anyways, I was looking through the photos I’d taken on our trip because I was putting together my annual Christmas calendars. I usually just do one with photos of our family but I decided to create one of landscapes from our vacation for myself to hang in my office. Here’s some of the photos I’m using:

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Refusing to Dance

I stumbled across the Momastery blog over a year ago. I love reading & listening to Glennon. Grace is such a big part of what she lives. Here’s a little clip of her (from The Work of the People):

I love what she says at the end: “Grace is the only buzz I have left… and they will take if from my cold, dead hands.” I agree. I wouldn’t give up GRACE for anything!

The invitation

I sense God the Father extending an invitation to me. An invitation to try, to risk, to step out of my comfort zone.

I think He’d like me to start writing again, on a much more consistent basis. Although I live in less fear than I used to, there is still so much that holds me back, particularly when it comes to anything with the possibility of failure. What if I start writing and then stop? What if I can’t be consistent? What if I can’t think of anything to write about? It’s all very frightening to me. I realize there are other people who see these things as an opportunity to grow. But I don’t fall into that category. Shame lurks behind that door, the door of trying something new. When it comes to risking failure, somehow my identity, my self-worth, is at stake.

When it comes down to it, I believe I am not enough. Not good enough to do it, to try. There are others much more capable, more gifted, who can do it better. Who do I think I am?

If I don’t succeed it means that I am a “failure” (not that I failed while trying something). Why is my self worth at stake? Why am I blasted with shame in this land – the land of trying, of exploration, of opportunity, of making mistakes? My rational self knows that true creativity and innovation live in that place. Yet my heart and emotions hijack me and keep me paralyzed.

When I lay it out there, put it on the examining table – making mistakes – it’s not so bad. So what if I make a mistake? Isn’t this what I say to my children all the time: “It’s okay to make a mistake. Learn from it. Try again. I won’t be mad at you.” Why can’t (why don’t) I tell myself the same things?

There is grace for making mistakes. If I wasn’t afraid to try I would have so much more freedom in my life. And I know the only way to really know if something is “safe” is to take the risk to try (and find out in the trying that it really isn’t so scary – that I actually am “enough”).

So I will accept this invitation to try…and remember the grace I have for my daughter (who doesn’t want to practice reading because its too hard and scary). I keep encouraging her that she is learning and getting better at it, that she doesn’t have to compare herself to others (and how much better they are at it). All I’m asking her to do is to try. And it’s okay if she makes a mistake.

I want to learn to have the same love and compassion for myself.

Not Enough?

A copy of “Living Light News” showed up in my mailbox last week.  It’s a Christian publication that comes around a couple of times a year. When I got to the last page and read the headline, I groaned inwardly: “No Cheque is Big Enough to Pay This Off!”.  The picture under the headline is a zoom-in of a cheque with “NOT ENOUGH” written in as the ‘amount’. The article goes on to say that “we have all incurred a huge debt that no amount of money” (or good works or donations to charity) can pay off. The article ends with a prayer to God that starts off with, “Dear God, I am truly sorry for sinning against You. Please forgive me for the wrong things I have done…”

This is pretty typical in my experience of the “sinner’s prayer”. It always starts off with a focus on our sin and need for forgiveness. The focus is on how we are “bad” and because of that, God is going to punish us. This looks a lot like shaming a person into praying the sinner’s prayer to me. And in light of Brene Brown’s research on shame I would argue that this is a counterproductive approach to encouraging people towards a relationship with God. Here’s what Brene Brown says in her book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead (2012):

“…there are no data to support that shame is a helpful compass for good behavior. In fact, shame is much more likely to be the cause of destructive and hurtful behaviors than it is to be the solution. Again, it is human nature to want to feel worthy of love and belonging. When we experience shame, we feel disconnected and desperate for worthiness.” (p.73)

We all want to experience connection with others, to feel that we belong and that we are ‘enough’. ‘Enough’ to be accepted and loved apart from our actions. So why does evangelical Christianity think emphasizing that we are “not enough” for God is a good way to encourage people to follow Him? The motivating factor here is fear. Fear and shame lead to disconnection, not connection. And I don’t think that is God’s desire for us at all.  Love is the essence of who God is (1 John 4:8) and it is His perfect love that casts out fear (1 John 4:18). God loves us and wants connection with us. He doesn’t want us to hide from Him.

I believe it is our feelings of shame that keep us disconnected from God and others. Look at the story of Adam and Eve. Once they had tasted the forbidden fruit they hid because they were naked. I think it’s safe to say they were experiencing shame. I believe most, if not all, behaviors that are defined as ‘sin’ have their roots in shame.

So with that in mind, I propose there is a better, more positive way of introducing people to a relationship with God. And the foundation is love:

You are made in the image of God and He loves you. And because He loves you, He wants to experience this life with you. He longs for connection with YOU. His son, Jesus, came to earth to show us what God’s love is like. He came to break the power of shame in our lives that keeps us disconnected from God and from others. Jesus introduced us to grace. It means God already accepts you and that you are ‘enough’…right now. All He asks is that you believe it and accept it. If you’re feeling crappy about yourself, believe that you are forgiven. If you don’t think you’re ‘worthy’ of this kind of love, it’s simply not true. Your ‘worth’ is not based on your actions but on the fact that God says you are precious and beautiful to Him. He doesn’t want you to hide in shame any longer. He wants you to be free. Will you take Him up on His invitation?

Disclaimer: please understand that what I’ve written above does not mean I don’t believe what the Bible says about sin – I do believe that we are all broken (we have all sinned) and that we need to accept God’s forgiveness; I believe the consequences of sin is death…’death’ being the damage to our souls from years of living in shame and disconnection from God

Balancing Dreams & Disappointments

I’ve been thinking about dreams and disappointments lately.  How does one balance the two?

I was listening to a song by Hedley the other day, “Anything”.  Here’s part of the chorus:

Everybody said boy don’t go any higher
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything
Never push the limit and don’t play with fire
(uh, uh, forget that) I can do anything

I think there’s been a shift in our society and I see it expressed in pop culture: “follow your dreams – you can do anything”.  To a certain extent I agree with this.  I believe that it’s important to follow our dreams and that too many people (including me) have been told our dreams are not worth chasing, they’re impractical, irresponsible, and so on.

However…life does not happen exactly how we plan it and sometimes those dreams are never realized.  I admit that I’m jaded in this area.  I grew up in an environment that told me to be responsible, to play it safe, and that my dreams were irrelevant.  AND…my life has not happened how I planned it.  I had many dreams I wanted to share with my husband and then he passed away.  Part of the grieving process was learning to let go of some of those dreams and learning to fulfill some of them without him (like taking my boys to Legoland).

So how does one balance their dreams with their disappointments? IS there a balance?  Or is there a different angle to this?  I’ve been thinking about this in the context of my own life but more importantly I want to ‘wrestle this through’ for the sake of my children.  I don’t want to pass on my jaded upbringing to them where their dreams are not important.  At the same time I don’t want them to grow up believing life is going to go how they plan and then they’re unable to navigate the disappointments that come.

I was talking to a friend about this and she said sometimes we have to revise the plan.  Our dreams are still worth pursuing but sometimes there’s a different way than we envisioned to get to those dreams.  I think there’s wisdom in this. We need to learn to be flexible.

I’d also add another dimension: we cannot let our dreams define who we are.  My worth is far beyond the fulfillment of my dreams.  When my worth is wrapped up in my dreams and then the dreams don’t happen, it’s a disaster because unfulfilled dreams mean I am worthless.  And that’s when it’s really hard to swallow disappointment.  If I can keep my dreams separate from my sense of worth I can take risks and pursue my dreams and even if the dreams aren’t realized I can still be ok with it, knowing that at least I tried.  I think it’s worse to avoid pursuing our dreams in order to play it safe and live with regret never knowing if my dream could have happened because I never even tried.

This is a lesson I’m learning slowly.  Taking risks always seemed too scary for me because the thought of failing was paralyzing and kept me from trying.  And I would feel so annoyed with those people who seemed to freely pursue their dreams spouting that “they could do anything”.  I wanted to yell back, “So what happens when you can’t do anything?”  These people never seemed to live in reality like the rest of us who had to deal with the disappointments of life.  But maybe I was so negative because my dreams equaled my worth and it was better to avoid them than risk failing and being worthless.  And yet I wanted to follow them and I was annoyed with the people who seemed able to do that where I couldn’t.

So for me, the first step was to accept that I still have worth…even if I fail.  Mind you, I haven’t completely learned this yet.  But I’ve learned it enough to be able to take some risks and try things I’ve never done before.  To actually acknowledge that I have dreams and that they’re worth pursuing, even knowing that disappointments will come.  I am realizing that I am worth pursuing my dreams.

As I said I’m still ‘wrestling this through’ so I’d love to hear what you think about all this.  Feel free to leave a comment.