I find that God speaks to me through songs. Here’s a snatch from one of my recent favorites:
If you need something to believe in
If you feel you’ve reached the end of the road
Don’t be afraid, I’ll always guide you home
You should know
I’m never gonna let you down
I’m always gonna build you up
And when you’re feeling lost
I will always find you love
I’m never gonna walk away
I’m always gonna have your back
And if nothing else you can always count on that
When you need me
I promise I will never let you down 1
Here’s bits from two of the songs I was listening to today:
I wanna save you,
I wanna save you from the pain.
I wanna help you,
I wanna help you feel the same again.
I wanna fix you,
I wanna fix your brokeness.
I wanna change it,
I wanna change it for the best.
So, listen to me now.
I’m not gonna stand here, when my friend’s down and out.
I’m not gonna run when, it’s hard to figure it all out.
If there’s anything I’d say,
I will tell you right now:
You’re not alone,
You’re not alone,
You’re not alone.
You’re not alone,
You’re not alone,
You’re not alone. 2
Oh no, did I get too close?
Oh, did I almost see what’s really on the inside?
All your insecurities
All the dirty laundry
Never made me blink one time
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally
Come just as you are to me
Don’t need apologies
Know that you are worthy
I’ll take your bad days with your good
Walk through the storm I would
I do it all because I love you, I love you
I will love you unconditionally
There is no fear now
Let go and just be free
I will love you unconditionally
So open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart and just let it begin
Open up your heart 3
When I listen to these songs, it feels as if God is singing to me. I hear and feel the heart of the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit. Sometimes…depending on what’s happening in my day…I’ll catch my breath and start to weep. The words are so comforting and speak so much of God’s love for me.
Guess what? I hear these songs on the radio (Sirius XM) but not on the Christian radio stations. They’re playing on the secular channels. Here’s what I think: all people bear the Imago Dei (the image of God). We are all made in His image. And the Triune God (Father, Jesus, and Spirit) are always pursuing people, always speaking to them (if they would open their ears to hear). So am I surprised when secular artists reflect the echoes of the heart of God in their works? No. God is speaking to all people…everywhere. Why wouldn’t He use the radio as one way of speaking to His creation? The question is: are we listening?
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35)
1 Never Gonna Let You Down (by Colbie Caillat)
2 You’re Not Alone (by Marie Miller)
3 Unconditionally (by Katy Perry)
2015 is over, 2016 has just begun. Christmas celebrations are over and I find myself thinking about this past year. It’s been a good year and it’s been a hard one.
I feel blessed by God and think of Paul’s prayer in Ephesians “…asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God. I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.” (Eph. 1:17,18 NLT) I grew in the knowledge of God this past year and have more peace and confidence in the hope we have: God’s abundant grace and love for all people.
And though I stumble and can get stressed, “if our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts…” (1 John 3:20 NIV) I have peace even in the struggle for God is for me, not against me. And I know He walks with me through the pain (I am not alone) and the ultimate goal is healing, restoration, and relationship with Him.
But it’s been a hard year, too. There were a number of people who passed away in our extended family and friends (my mom being one of them). We had to walk through some difficult things in addition to all of the above. Feeling weary and worn out is part of this season. So I continue to learn what it means to rest and trust.
And I am hopeful for the new year. One day at a time. Growing in my knowledge of God and His amazing love and grace. The more I learn to let go and receive His grace (without me doing anything about it), the more peace I experience, even in the midst of the ‘hard stuff’. His grace makes all the difference in the world. And I will not give it up or stop talking about it.
I pray that you will be able to receive God’s abundant grace for you and would know that you are not alone as you enter this new year with it’s blessings and hardships. Grace and peace to you in the name of the Triune God – Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit.
I watched the movie “Still Alice” tonight. I read the book a couple of months ago and the movie stays true to the book. There’s a line near the end of the movie: “Nothing is lost forever.” It amazes me how this book/movie can tell a story of such tragedy and yet there is hope. And I have to wonder if God feels the same way: nothing is lost forever. There is always hope.
“Now these three remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)
“…through him [Christ] to reconcile all things to himself…” (Colossians 1:20)
I completely forgot to post yesterday. Whoops!
I spent a portion of today preparing for what I’m going to talk about at church next week. And perfectionism is rearing it’s ugly head. I’ve been agonizing over this for weeks. I want to get it ‘just right’. But I’m getting the impression I need to trust God and be myself. The topic I’m speaking on is shame and grace so it’s not like I haven’t spent some time with the content. And when I get together with a group of people and start talking about this stuff, it flows out of me – unscripted – because I’m passionate about it and have thought about it a lot. That’s what happened this evening over supper with a group of friends and they seemed to be encouraged by it.
So…down with perfectionism! Onward to trust and surrender…
Jesus said, “I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10). I believe the ‘abundant’ life Jesus was talking about speaks to wholeheartedness, to wholehearted living. The wholehearted have developed a resiliency to shame. Just as Jesus modelled vulnerability for us, I believe He lived and modelled a wholehearted life for us. And He wanted us to have that too.
At the core of wholeheartedness is “…vulnerability and worthiness: facing uncertainty, exposure, and emotional risk, and knowing that you are enough.” (Brown, B. Rising Strong (2015). New York, New York: Spiegel & Grau. p. 274)
Jesus embodied wholeheartedness. He faced uncertainty: think about growing up in Egypt, being the son of a carpenter, not having a permanent residence…
Jesus faced exposure: He allowed Himself to be “seen” by all people, whether the peasants or the rich Pharisees; He experienced criticism and judgement from the religious leaders but He was still willing to engage with them (even after they tried to stone him to death).
He faced emotional risk: He opened Himself up to the people and to His disciples; He wept over Jerusalem because He knew they would reject Him and be destroyed and yet He still loved them (Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome 40 years later); He wept at Lazarus’ tomb when He saw his friends mourning and in despair; He considered His disciples His friends and they ran away when He was arrested. He took a lot of emotional risk and experienced pain and sorrow as a result.
And yet in all of this, Jesus knew the Father loved him. He knew He was enough. People may argue that Jesus was God so of course He knew He was enough. But Jesus became a human being, with all the brokenness that comes with that. Jesus experienced pain and disappointment and He still lived wholeheartedly, so much so that he prayed that God the Father would forgive the people who had condemned Him to death (and not just any kind of death, but an excruciating one).
When I think about the things that the wholehearted practice, I think Jesus practiced many, if not all, of them too: authenticity, self-compassion, a resilient spirit, gratitude and joy (He thanked His Father publicly), intuition and trusting faith (He trusted the Father and only did what He saw His Father doing), creativity (He never healed someone the same way twice and He was creative in the telling of His parables), play and rest, calm and stillness (He often went off by Himself to pray), meaningful work (His ministry), laughter, song and dance.
I see a correlation between the wholehearted and the life of Jesus. He really did show us a better way to live and He made a way for us to live abundantly now, in this life.
As an evangelical Christian, I grew up hearing the Gospel and knowing about the Four Spiritual Laws. I knew about “asking Jesus into your heart” to be saved. My perspective and thinking has shifted and I now have some issues with the traditional evangelical approach to preaching the “Good News”.
If we go back to what I was writing about at the beginning of the month, the research on shame shows that everyone experiences shame and that shame drives us to hide. Yet when we tell people about becoming a Christian we focus on how they are sinful (as their identity) and how they’re not good enough.
This is completely counterproductive and here’s why: in telling people they’re not good enough we’re essentially heaping shame on them. And shame drives people to hide. At the same time, we tell people they need to come to God. Why would someone come to God when they’re hiding in shame and have been told that HE doesn’t think they’re good enough? This is certainly not the Good News from my perspective.
Here’s what I believe: people already know they “sin”. People outside the church don’t use the word “sin” but they can certainly attest to hurting each other and themselves, of messing up, of making mistakes. They experience shame and so they know all too well the feeling of “not good enough”. As Christians, we don’t need to remind them of that and reinforce the message of shame (and with that, fear).
Jesus did tell people to repent of their sins and turn to God. He saw how they were lost and broken but He focused on their actions (guilt) and not their identity (shame). He didn’t want them to be afraid and hide. And actually, he said that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” (John 3:17).
Jesus talked about love and said that loving God and loving others were the most important things (Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34). He talked about God’s extravagant love for us in parables such as the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8). And He said people would know we are followers of God if we love one another (John 13:34-35). This isn’t typically what evangelical Christians focus on when sharing the Gospel.
While I believe that our “sin” (and shame) separates us from each other and God – shame drives disconnection – our sin does NOT diminish our worth in God’s eyes. We are of such value to God that He sent His Son to save us from our sin and shame (“God so loved the world…” John 3:16).
Which brings me back to the “Imago Dei” – the image of God. Why don’t we start here when telling people about God? That they bear the image of God, that they are beautiful and precious to Him. That He loves them so very, very much. He longs to have connection and relationship with them. It’s not about God controlling our lives – He gave us free will. It’s about relationship. He wants to remove the things in our lives that drive disconnection, that come between us and God and between us and each other. This is for our benefit. This is for healing and wholeness. His grace says that “we are enough”, we are accepted; we aren’t condemned. Through God, we have a way out from under our shame. Jesus made a way for us through His death and resurrection to come back to God in relationship. I don’t exactly understand how, but through this Jesus dealt with our separation from God (which included hiding in shame). Our part is simply to accept that this is true, to receive that love, and to be open to a relationship with the One whose image we bear.
This is a much more compelling message in my eyes. Instead of a message which has shame and fear as the foundation, we have a message of love, acceptance, and belonging – those things all people are wired for – those things which are ultimately fulfilled in our relationship with God. A relationship which brings freedom and healing and life. Good things! Good News! That’s what I want to focus on.
There’s a concept that I ran into a while ago. It’s called the “Imago Dei”. It’s Latin and translated means “image of God”. The idea is that all humanity is created in the image of God. This comes from Genesis 1:27 which says “God created man in his own image…male and female he created them.”
The thing is that when we start to view people, all people, as bearing the image of God, we start to see beauty in all people, whether they go to a church or not. At least this is what I have experienced. And when I stop to consider that all people experience shame AND all people are made in the image of God, I see more and more the things we have in common rather than the things that separate us.
It is no longer “us” vs. “them” or Christian vs. non-Christian. I can see beauty in everyone and I look for God’s likeness in everyone. This has reduced my fear – I used to be terrified to share my faith with those not going to church because they felt like “the other” and I feared that. But not anymore.
My love for all people has grown. It’s easy to love people when you realize we are all in this together and no one is better than anyone else. We are all on equal ground. We all walk through this life, broken and hurting and in need of love and empathy and connection. These are the things which unite us. This is our common humanity. There is amazing beauty in that.
Because I am better able to love people and not fear them, I am more compelled to share my experience of love and grace with them. I want them to know love and be free, too.
I think we would do better to start with how we are the same when relating to non-church people than how we are different. This makes sense to me when I understand that we are all longing for connection and belonging, to be accepted and loved. Why not begin from that place of our common humanity, of the Imago Dei?
I’ll talk about how this relates to the “Good News” (i.e., the Gospel) tomorrow.
I believe one of the things Jesus came to Earth to do was to model vulnerability for us. If you take a look at Jesus through this lens, you start to see his life from a different perspective:
- He didn’t have a home to call His own (Luke 9:58).
- He told His disciples that in order to be a leader they needed to be servants and slaves (Matthew 20:26-27, Mark 10:43-44). Those are very vulnerable positions.
- He allowed a woman to wet his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair (Luke 7:36-50). That’s quite the intimate act on the part of the woman but allowing someone to do that to you involves intimacy and vulnerability, too. The Pharisee who was hosting Jesus was upset that Jesus was letting this happen and I wonder if part of the reason was because he felt too uncomfortably vulnerable being witness to this.
- Jesus wept, more than once. He wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) and he wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35).
Then Jesus washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). He took off his robe, wore a towel around his waist, and washed the disciples’ feet. How vulnerable is that?! On top of that, he told the disciples that he was setting an example for them to follow in doing this. I believe not only was He telling them to serve others but to be vulnerable in the serving.
And finally, there was the crucifixion. Jesus allowed Himself to be mocked, stripped and beaten. He allowed men to torture him by hanging him on a cross, naked and exposed for all to see. I can’t think of anything more vulnerable than that. To me, His sacrifice is that much more beautiful in the vulnerability of it. He didn’t hold anything back from us, but was completely naked before us. So great and true is His love for us.
Yesterday I talked about grace. The challenge is to believe it. There’s something Jesus said: “Then they asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.'” (John 6:28-29 NIV)
This never made any sense to me. How can ‘believing’ be ‘work’? And how can it be the work God would want us to do? For someone who thought she needed to DO things in order to be ‘good enough’, this was completely counter to my thinking. I had heard all sorts of other messages in church, like praying and reading your Bible and being ‘good’. Believing…that wasn’t on the list (I’m guessing belief was assumed).
But I think I’m beginning to understand what Jesus was talking about. Living the life God desires for us is so much more about what we believe than what we do. What we believe drives our actions. Living that abundant life is hindered when we don’t believe Jesus and we believe things that are not true.
What did Jesus tell us? That God had come to “be with” (i.e., have connection with) his people, with all people (Matthew 1:23). He told us to turn from our darkness (and shame) and come to the Light/God (repent) (John 8:12, Mark 1:15, Luke 1:78-79). He told us that God loves us…so much so that He was sending Jesus to make a way for us to have connection/relationship with Him again (John 3:16). Paul tells us: “But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17, NLT [emphasis mine]). He also says: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NLT [empahsis mine]).
Now this is tricky, because there are lots of people who think they believe. The question is: what are they believing? If what they believe means they experience fear and condemnation (or shame) on a fairly consistent basis then I would suggest they take another look at what they’re believing. There is no fear in love (1 John 4:18) and God is love (1 John 4:8) so fear and shame wouldn’t be what I expect to see from someone who believes Jesus and believes His message of grace.
Believing and accepting grace is not necessarily an easy thing. Shame blinds us to grace. When we are bound by shame, we feel unworthy to come to God, we hide, and we stay bound up in blindness and unhealthy ways of being. This is where fear and condemnation have a field day. We stay hidden and shrink from vulnerability, which makes is difficult for us to understand or experience grace. I know this was true of my life.
For me, my journey towards grace involved taking baby steps of trust with people who I felt truly accepted me. With that slow increase in trust, I was able to ‘hear’ the True things they were saying. I experienced love and belonging. My beliefs started to shift – away from the lies in my head towards the Truth of the message of grace. With each ‘shift’, it became easier to embrace grace (even if it was the tiniest part of grace). And each time I received healing and love through this process, it became that little bit easier to trust and embrace more of grace.
This is where liberation and life happens. When we are able to believe and receive God’s grace, we stop being afraid and we stop hiding. We understand our identity is secure in the love and acceptance of the Father, Son, and Spirit. We can come to Him in our brokenness and He heals us and sets us free. We can be vulnerable. And this process is grounded in what we believe. All the doing in the world (to make ourselves better) will not achieve this. It’s also a life-long process. We will all experience shame throughout our lives. Believing Jesus means while we may have bouts in the darkness, we don’t have to stay there permanently. We can live in His love and light.
For any of you who have followed my blog for a while, you’ll know that grace is a big deal to me. It’s a very big deal to me. And here’s why: for someone who grew up in an environment underscored by shame, who deep down felt was never good enough no matter how hard I tried…GRACE is the lifeline.
It’s the lifeline to experiencing connection and love. It’s the lifeline to learning to have compassion for myself (when all along I learned to hate myself – I would say terrible things to myself, things I would never say to anyone else). Grace is the lifeline to learning to be vulnerable (when all along is wasn’t ‘safe’ to be vulnerable – I learned very well how to ‘hide’, how to not let people see me because that would have been far too risky – my sense of self-worth was already being hammered…no way I would give anyone the chance to hammer it more).
Without grace I would be dead inside. I need to know, I need to hear, I need to experience over and over and over again that I AM worthy of love and belonging. Because God says so. I have His unmerited favor…that no matter what I do, no matter how broken, He loves and accepts me unconditionally. I have always had His love. I have always belonged to Him. Nothing in all creation can separate me from His love.
The messages I learned to tell myself are still in my mind, lurking under the surface. When I get struck by the warm wash of shame, they kick into full force, telling me I am the mistake, that I am stupid, that I am worthless. When I am experiencing these strong feelings in the darkness of my soul, I can look up and see the Light and it reminds me that grace is holding me and it will not let me go. Even though I feel like crap, I can tell myself that God loves and accepts me, that I am enough, that I am worthy of love and belonging. I may not feel that at the moment, but leaning into these truths helps lift me out of my hole of shame.
Because of grace and my growing ability to receive it in the midst of my brokenness, shame does not ‘knock me out’ for as long as it did before. Before I would be living in a shame storm for weeks, months, years. Now, I might be knocked out for a couple of hours, days, or if it’s really bad, a week at the most.
So I will keep talking about grace; I don’t think we talk about it nearly enough. I will make it a big deal until the day I die. It is Life to me. Or as Glennon Doyle Melton says: “Grace is the only buzz I have left and they will take it from my cold, dead hands.”
Here’s the video where she says this – it’s worth watching the whole thing.
I’ve written about watching Brene Brown’s TEDx talk on “The Power of Vulnerability”. This is the part that blew my mind:
They just believe???? Isn’t there something they DO??
And it struck me: it’s GRACE.
The wholehearted know grace: “the freely given, unmerited favor and love of God”. They believe they are worthy of love and belonging because they know grace. I truly believe that.
More on this tomorrow…
I love the concepts of “light” and “darkness” and they are strewn all over the Bible. John in particular uses these metaphors. Here’s a few passages:
“God’s light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed.” [emphasis mine] (John 3:19-20, NLT)
“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’” [emphasis mine] (John 8:12, NLT)
“I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark.” [emphasis mine] (John 12:46, NLT)
“…God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other…” [emphasis mine] (1 John 1:5-7, NLT)
To me it seems that what John is talking about is linked with vulnerability and shame. The idea of light brings to mind thoughts of being seen, truly seen, without the masks and facades I may put up to protect myself. It has to do with vulnerability. Darkness brings to mind hiding and I’ve already talked about how shame drives us to hide. We don’t want to be seen so we withdraw, we put on masks, we do whatever we can to not be exposed.
In the first passage I quoted, the people who “do evil” hate the light precisely because they are afraid their sins (actions) will be exposed. I think these people are living in shame, and they hate vulnerability. They would rather live in darkness than be seen in the light.
I’ve mentioned this before: I think one of the reasons Jesus came to this Earth was so that we wouldn’t have to walk in shame. Look at the John 8:12 and 12:46 passages. Jesus is saying we won’t have to walk in the darkness (in our own shame).
And the 1 John 1:5-7 passage tells us one of the results of living in the light: we will have fellowship with each other. I haven’t talked a lot about vulnerability yet (I will later on this month) but vulnerability is a vital part of our sense of connection with each other. The strength and depth of our relationships is linked to our capacity to be vulnerable with each other. Walking in the light, which I believe vulnerability is a part, means we have fellowship and connection with each other. And the research confirms this.
Tomorrow, I’ll talk about grace and my “aha” moment.
Take a look at this:
“Now the man and his wife were both naked, but they felt no shame.” [emphasis mine] (Genesis 2:25, NLT)
“At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.” [emphasis mine] (Genesis 3:7, NLT)
What happened in between? The Fall. This is the story of Adam and Eve and how sin entered the world.
So here’s what I think: the Bible says that sin entered the world when Adam and Eve chose the forbidden fruit (Romans 5:12). I don’t know all of what that means, but I do believe that when sin entered the world, shame entered along with it.
According to the research, everyone experiences shame so this fits with me. It is universal to the human experience. And what did Adam and Eve do? They hid from God. Just like the shame research says: shame thrives in secrecy. In hiding. In covering ourselves so we won’t be “seen” (i.e., vulnerable).
So there you have it: our initial disconnection from God as a result of our own sense of shame. And what do I see God doing throughout history? Doing what He could to reconnect with his people, with all people, in the way at the time that they could grasp it. I believe that is why Jesus came to Earth. To make a way for us to have connection with God and not hide in our shame. We needed to be absolved of our shame. So Jesus died to say that we don’t have to carry that shame anymore. Grace is the way back to God.
And here’s another thing I’ve been thinking about: Paul talks a lot about our “sinful nature” (Romans 7 & 8, 1 Corinthians 3:3, Galatians 5, Galatians 6:8, Ephesians 4:22, Colossians 2). What if when he talks about the “sinful nature”, he’s talking about our unhealthy, harmful, hurtful ways of dealing with our shame? Puts a different perspective on things, doesn’t it?
Growing up in an evangelical church, I had the impression that the “sinful nature” was my flawed – almost evil – self. Something to feel…shame about. But as I mentioned in other posts, shame does not bring about positive change, rather it is correlated with destructive behaviours. So this attitude seems counterproductive. How can I stop doing the things I hate about myself when I feel deeply flawed?
But…if we view the “sinful nature” from the perspective of shame as the driving force behind it, then accepting grace – that we are loved and accepted by God even in the midst of our brokenness – is what rescues us from our “sinful nature”.
I’ll admit I haven’t done a theological study on this, but I don’t think what I’m proposing as a perspective is counter to what the New Testament authors wrote about. For me, it’s a more liberating perspective. It’s no longer about trying to somehow contort myself into being a “better” person. It’s about resting and receiving the love and grace of God. When I live my life from that place, being a “Christian” (i.e., little Christ) becomes more like breathing and less like striving.
Tomorrow, I’m writing about my thoughts on the concepts of light and darkness and how they fit with this whole topic.
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:
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.
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.
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 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!
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
I’ve been looking at the parable of the prodigal son in a new way lately (Luke 15:11-32). I think it’s more a parable of the hired hand.
“I will go home to my father and say, ‘Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.'” (Luke 15:18-19)
Twice the prodigal son says this. Once to himself as he is rehearsing what he will say when he returns home and once when he actually sees his father.
And this is the older brother’s response:
“…but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to.” (Luke 15:29, emphasis mine)
I think for many Christians, we have made ourselves the hired hand. We have accepted Jesus Christ as our Savior but we can’t accept God’s lavish grace. We don’t deserve to be rescued. We must do something to make up for it. We OWE God.
So we make ourselves the hired hand. We slave away in service to God but many of us don’t understand that He is not demanding works from us.
“For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6); which Jesus quotes twice (Matthew 9:13 and 12:7).
I know I certainly have lived that way. And my ‘works’ were based on fear – fear that I would not be ‘good enough’ for God, that He would not accept me if I didn’t behave in an ‘acceptable’ way. But as I’ve let go of striving and trying to be ‘good’ and simply…accepted…grace… I can be more like the prodigal son when he returned home. He accepted the party his father threw for him. He received the Father’s free gift.
What would have happened if the prodigal son had dug in his heels and said to the Father, “Absolutely not! You can’t throw this party for me. I don’t deserve it. I’m making myself your hired hand and that’s that!” I think we subconsciously do that to God.
And the older brother, the ‘good’ one, didn’t understand either. He stayed behind and was faithful to the Father, but he didn’t see himself as the free recipient of the Father’s riches. He saw himself as a slave, as a hired hand (“…all these years I’ve slaved for you…” Luke 15:29).
And yet…”His father said to him, ‘…everything I have is yours.'” (Luke 15:31, emphasis mine)
Do we understand that everything God has is ours without having to work for it? That we can cease our striving and rest in grace? Or do we live our lives as hired hands?
“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 1 Corinthians 4:7 (emphasis mine)
For the month of December I decided to follow a Bible Plan. From the 1st of December to Christmas day I am reading someone else’s thoughts on the Christmas story. I never use these plans as I find I get more out of just reading the Bible by itself and talking about it with other people than following a prescribed plan but I thought I’d do something different this year.
There are a few things that have quickly become apparent to me. I’ve been out of the evangelical Christian mainstream for a while. Until very recently I have not attended an institutional church that meets on Sunday mornings nor have I really hung around the people who attend those churches. There’s a lot of evangelical Christian jargon that I haven’t heard for a while.
So when I started reading this Bible plan all this Christian jargon started popping up again. It’s not that I haven’t heard these things before, albeit many years ago. But some of the lingo sounds very ‘odd’ to me now even though I had just accepted it in the past. Some of the lingo downright bothers me, in fact.
Take, for example, this quote (in speaking of God’s favor to Mary): “…favor means, simply, that God is willing to use you.” (emphasis mine) What?! ‘Use you’? Why would the author employ this language? Where, in the realm of our human relationships, would we ever speak of ‘using’ people? Not in any healthy relationships, that’s for sure! When we hear the language of ‘using’ people, it is largely in a negative context, such as cases of abuse and exploitation. Is this the picture we would want to paint of God? The concept of ‘using’ people implies a devaluing, that people are ‘property’ to be ‘used’ rather than holding any intrinsic worth. This is certainly not how I believe God views people or how He views humanity.
However, to be fair, there are Bible references that have been used to reinforce this concept of God using people. Very often it is the references of God being the potter and man being the clay (Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:6, Romans 9:21). When I looked closer at these passages, from my perspective, their main point is to emphasize that God is greater than we are, so who are we to question His actions or think we can hide our actions from Him. These passages don’t explicitly speak of God ‘using’ people. When I looked for specific references that would say “God uses…” or “God used <so and so>…” I couldn’t find any…in the whole Bible. There is one passage I found that speaks of us being ‘useful’ to God (2 Timothy 2:21) but that doesn’t communicate the same thing as God ‘using’ us. You can still have intrinsic value and be useful to a task or project. Rather, I’ve found references of God appointing people or choosing them for a purpose. Again, this doesn’t communicate the same devaluing message as the idea of ‘using’ people.
My point in all of this is we should be careful the language we employ when describing God and His relationship to us. All throughout the Bible, the stronger message is that God loves the human race, that He put Himself in harms way for humanity, that He goes to whatever lengths necessary to communicate to mankind that we are dearly loved by Him. But when we say things like “God uses us”, it undercuts that whole message of love. If a person hears such things long enough, they will subconsciously start to believe that they do not have worth in God’s sight or that He actually loves them, rather that their only worth is in what they can ‘do’ for God. This message marginalizes grace. The Gospel is no longer the ‘Good News’. It puts heavy chains on people who are broken and just trying to scrape by. If they do not know they are loved, if they do not believe they are precious and beautiful…in the midst of their brokenness…, what hope will they have?
We all need to know we are loved and valued. We need to know we are so much more than jars of clay.
In Christian circles I’ve heard a couple of reasons for “why we are here”. One of those reasons is “to glorify God”. I used to blindly accept this but I’m coming to the place where I’d say I disagree with that. I believe there’s a much better reason for “why we are here”.
We are here to love each other.
Simple, yet profound. In this world of so many broken and hurting people I believe our greatest purpose is to extend love and grace and acceptance and gentleness and forgiveness. It is the outworking of love that truly changes people’s lives. Love does not use coercion or fear to elicit a desired behaviour from someone. It does not stem from our own sense of shame.
Love brings freedom.
Freedom from fear, freedom from shame, freedom from obligation. Having experienced love I believe our natural response is to love in return. And I think the world would be a better place if we learned to do that.
I’ve been volunteering once a week at my daughter’s class at school. It’s only been a couple of weeks but I’m coming to know and love the children there. I get the impression that some of these children do not come from the most loving of families. And I can’t help but think what some love and gentleness could do for them. I understand that life is not that simple, however I do believe that if people (whether they are children or adults) feel safe and loved in their environment they will do much better than if they don’t feel those things. Where often our responses are to address the behaviours (the symptoms), if love and understanding were applied to the roots, I think many behaviours would diminish or disappear.
You may think me idealistic (and I probably am) but I still believe that love is a better way, a better approach, than anything else. And I would rather “be here” to be an agent of God’s love to the world than anything else. I believe we all need it.
For those of you who know nothing about The Lord of the Rings, let me provide a bit of background. Denethor is the Steward of a kingdom called Gondor. The Steward rules in the king’s absence, though it has been many years since a king has sat on the throne. Bordering the land of Gondor is Mordor. It’s an evil land ruled by a really, really bad guy named Sauron who wants to take over the whole world and subject all the people to slavery.
It turns out that Denethor has a special item, a Palantir, that allows him to see places beyond his kingdom. He uses this to gain information about the movements of his enemy Sauron, for war is imminent. The only problem is that Sauron also has at least one of these “Seeing Stones”, these Palantir. And Sauron controls what Denethor sees. So Denethor sees the might of his enemy, how he has multitudes upon multitudes of his servants pressing in on seemingly every side. Denethor despairs and loses all hope and eventually commits suicide because he believes nothing can withstand their enemy, that they are all doomed.
Denethor only saw part of the picture. There were other factors at play which could have brought him hope. All was not lost. Eventually Sauron was defeated. But Denethor could not see those things. He only saw the darkness. His perspective was skewed.
I think sometimes my perspective is skewed. There is so much pain and suffering in this world, so many broken and hurting people. There are wars and bombings and abuse and injustice. We can do so much harm to each other. I begin to lose hope and despair. I can’t see the light and our capacity for good. That we can heal and mend and bless each other. That there is love in this world and that it is stronger than hate.
Somedays I am like Denethor and I feel overwhelmed by it all. But this perspective does not serve me well. If I dwell on the darkness, it feeds my despair. But if I dwell on the light and seek that which is good and beautiful in this world – though there is darkness – I will not despair. I can continue to have hope.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly,…”
– excerpt from the speech “Citizen in the Republic” by Theodore Roosevelt, delivered at the Sorbonne, Paris, France on April 23, 1910
This quote says so much. It is not a cry to strive to achieve perfection. It bestows reverence on the imperfections, the failures, the falling down again and again. Because those who “dare” to try, even though it means failure and hardship, are the valiant courageous ones. And they should lend no credence to those who stand OUTSIDE the arena and criticize them. For the critics have not endured the trial of the arena; they have no scars to show. How can they possibly stand as judge?
Ironically, the “critic” who shouts the loudest, with the most biting remarks, is the voice inside my own head. I am my own worst critic. And I need to stop listening to that critic.
There IS hope. For there is another ‘voice’ in my head, a voice that has grown stronger over the years. This voice is not a critic. It is the voice of good news. And it tells me that I am loved and accepted, even as I am covered in dust, sweat, and blood. And there is absolutely NOTHING I can do or should do that can diminish or increase that love and acceptance. And once I started believing that…I mean, really believing that, I could truly love and accept myself in the midst of my dust, sweat, and blood. And that, in turn, decreased my fear. And when I wasn’t responding out of fear (or should I say, shame?), I had more patience and love for others. And I started to become the person I really wanted to be. And all my years of striving to be “perfect” (or at least, “good enough”) could not achieve what love and grace did. THAT is the GOOD NEWS!
So for all of you who feel like failures from time to time…or often: be encouraged. There IS hope. God’s love and grace can transform us like nothing else can. It can take years, with triumphs and setbacks. It takes a change in what we think about ourselves. But it CAN happen. And I believe God is personally invested in helping each one of us to this end.
P.S. I would highly recommend reading the book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brene Brown. She addresses vulnerability and shame which I believe are foundational in how we view ourselves and others, and in our ability to love and accept ourselves and others. It is a very good book!
A year ago this weekend, I was here: in the Okanogan. On the spur of the moment, my husband and I decided to visit our friends. We had to brave a wicked blizzard on the way there but we made it. I ended up spending the weekend at a swim meet with Jacki and Leighton spent his time with Jeremy. It was a good trip. It was a memorable trip. Living at the pool, I got to meet one of Jacki’s friends, Colleen, and we very quickly made a connection (so much so that she and her daughter stayed at our place in February attending a swim meet in our city).
There are times when I get the impression that our decisions are divinely ‘influenced’. If we had not decided to go there on the November long weekend I would have missed the swim meet and probably never met Colleen. I also would not have had the opportunity to get to know Jacki on a deeper level than I had before.
Colleen would have never stayed with us in February and I wouldn’t have been able to get to know her even further. There are similarities in our stories and it is precious to me to find a connection with those people who understand what I’m going through, who have lived in the midst of it. And we can sigh and say, “I cannot change your situation, but you are not alone.”
It means so much to me to know that I am not alone. Someone understands and does not pass judgement and feels my successes and discouragements. When these people ‘coincidentally’ cross my path, I wonder if there wasn’t a bit a divine prompt to bring a new layer of richness, encouragement, and hope to my life.