I was browsing a thrift store recently when I spotted a pair of ceramic geese. I had a visceral response—part embarrassment, part nausea. Those geese brought back memories of a time when my kitchen was… More
I begin this post with Dear Reader because it reminds me there is a flesh and blood someone on the other side of these words I hurl into cyberspace.
Where have I been, you ask?
This summer I did a lot of soul-searching and zero blogging. There was a fair amount of talk therapy splattered in there as well. I spent eight peaceful days alone in the woods contemplating my life and asking hard questions. I filled my journal with ink that told on my heart, revealing the conflict it contained.
Recently I had the joy of experiencing my two-year old grandson. His antics and adorableness make me grit my teeth in attempts at self-control. If given over to my impulses I would scoop him up and smother him with unending kisses. Though his tolerance for smothering gramma-affection has diminished, his desire for my undivided attention has not waned.
We spent the morning playing and at one point in the back yard he observed and commented, “It’s windy.” For a poetic moment he stared off David Thoreau-like and added, “I like the wind. It blows the hot off me.” I could eat that boy up!
Though I enjoyed the occasional wind that blew the hot off me this summer, I more needed the wind of God to blow the dust layer off my outlook.
I took a hard look at my identity, my relationships, my purpose, my heartaches and my dreams. I also questioned my blog. (Ask a couple of my friends and they’ll tell you this happens on a regular basis.)
- Why blog?
- Do I have anything to say that isn’t already being said elsewhere?
- What am I hoping to accomplish?
- Do I have a theme and who’s my audience?
- Do I have a readership?
- Can I grow a blog while refusing Facebook and Twitter?
- Am I too open and why for the love of boundaries do I freely bare my soul?
If you’ve read Grace Grips before, you know I’m intentionally transparent because I think people are tired of pretense, idealism, glossy rhetoric and religious cliches. Don’t you just want a place where make-up is not required?
One of my goals for this blog has been to acknowledge and share the messiness of mucking out my honest-to-goodness-real-life with its searing imperfections, frequent failures and side-lining discouragements.
I talk about living with depression and anxiety and PTSD and the effects of childhood sexual abuse. I talk about my relationship with God and share the things He shows me. And though I’m real, it’s not my intention to offer a steady diet of wallow and whine so occasionally I highlight the celebratory moments when It is well with my soul!
I try to offer glimpses of Jesus in the midst of it all and illuminate the Grace that grips when I don’t feel I can hang on.
And, I just happen to think there are folks who benefit from some of this!
A couple weeks ago I listened to a new friend update me on her life. She’s a first-grade teacher taking a fully-loaded graduate course. All I could offer her in response was to say that I’m a stay-at-home grandmother operating in the self-termed ministry of availability–helping where I’m needed. I didn’t add: when I’m not stuck in depression that is.
While I cheered her, insecurity chided me.
Though I’m getting better, I’m a perpetual self-scolder. I tend to dismiss my dreams and habitually question my purpose. I work hard to push against the persistent voice of disqualification that has plagued me since childhood. I get lost between my feeling of not being enough and my fear of being too much. I stumble over my emotions. I get tripped up on the opinions of others. I fall flat when rejection jumps me. I wrestle with anxiety. I’m easily overwhelmed when two or more of these factors are present at the same time.
Mostly, I just can’t seem to keep a firm grip on who I am so I’m apt to look for clarification from others and wait in vain for permission to live my own life. And sometimes I isolate in a vacuum of self-effort while I attempt to work out a fix for my current version of broken.
One muggy August afternoon I whined to my therapist, “It’s like I keep taking courses but I never get the certificate and here I am at fifty-eight questioning my purpose and if I’ve wasted my life and where do I go from here…and I’m very, very tired.”
Pass the tissues, please!
The tissue-passer reminded me that I’m never going to arrive. Her reminder was analgesic. This side of the gates I’m never not going to be broken, flawed and in need of transformation. I’m never going to be fully qualified or completely equipped. “But that doesn’t mean,” she added, “that you stop putting yourself out there.”
So this summer I laid my heart before God and somewhere in my contemplative exploration God turned the questions on me:
Does who you think you are carry more weight than who I say you are?
Trust me, my only response to that was repentance.
As summer packed up for the year I had come to some conclusions. Most importantly I determined to identify myself as one dearly loved by God.
I am His chosen, uniquely created, intentionally-loved, perpetually-cared for recipient of unending Goodness, Mercy and Grace.
(Read that again, please, because it’s true of you as well!)
I decided to accept that His calling on my life is exactly that–His.
I determined to trust where He leads, no matter how seemingly incongruous the path.
I agreed to relinquish the outcomes of His initiations for and through me and to release my need to quantify their import or impact.
And I accepted, once again, the inescapable reality that I’m going to mess up and not everyone is going to like or agree with me.
Back to my blog. I’m going to keep at it even though it still scares me.
You might be a Grace Grip reader if you aren’t afraid of someone offering their vulnerable journey with Jesus through a messy life. My hope is to point to a life-simplifying relationship with God. In the process I hope to be relatable and to offer identification for those who think their struggles are unique and that they are alone. I want to inspire courage for those looking at and dealing with the hard stuff.
Thank you, friend, for hanging out with me.
And, by the way, by taking a moment to comment, you join the conversation and broaden the impact—not to mention inspire trepidatious me.
Grace and Peace!
I’m not very good at it.
Being a semi-good story teller doesn’t necessarily make me a good communicator, particularly when it comes to speaking truth in love. Unfortunately, sometimes my love-truth spends a little too much time fermenting in frustration and comes out covered in emotional barbs.
I lack practice in truth-speaking because I’m afraid of it. I prefer to avoid conflict and I still care whether people like me! Though I’m actively working to resist it, I’m sometimes motivated by my fear of anger and rejection. Too often my words and actions are filtered through the grid of people-pleasing. Unfortunately, my truth-speaking comes easiest when I’m emotionally charged.
I remember a comment made by a British entertainer: “You Americans are so touchy and easily offended. You take yourselves far too seriously.” I think we generally know this about ourselves, and our culture; it hinders us from daring to confront in love.
Christians are too easily offended as well. We get our feathers in a ruffle if someone dare suggest we might need a little spoken-truth. John Bevere’s book introduces the idea that offense is The Bait of Satan.
Many of us have a very difficult time receiving truth especially spoken from the lips of fallible human beings. Nothing rouses offense like some flawed hot-mess pointing out our teeny-tinny flaws.
Offense is not only a natural byproduct of being human. Offense is deadly.
Offense is a baited-trap to ensnare us so Satan can dismantle unity and weaken the body of Christ.
Through offense, Satan disrupts and impedes kingdom growth and our kingdom purpose.
In Ephesians 4, Paul urges Christians to grow up. He tells us to put away falsehood and speak truth to each other so that we can grow up into the full measure of Christ–emulating not only His actions but also His character.
Marriage provides good practice for this–a brutal boot camp that never ends! My husband and I were in a rather animated conversation once. Okay, we were in a big fight that went south rather quickly.
There was a lot of truth being flung around our 25 foot RV that night in the middle of the woods. I was so upset that I refused to get in bed with him; choosing instead to sit at the table with my head in the crook of my arm and shiver-sleep. He, on the other hand, well, let’s just say his snoring was a metronomic reminder that my dramatics were wasted. My chattering teeth eventually ate through my pride and sometime before dawn I crawled into bed with the enemy!
Somewhere in my husband’s upbringing he determined it was necessary to avoid confrontation, regardless of the significance of the relationship or the degree of the behavior. Being one of ten children may have influenced his belief that superficial peace was preferable to conflict-riddled honesty. His motto: Pick your own nose and keep your finger out of other people’s faces.
I grew up with a spasmodic communication style. Silence. Pressure. Blow. Retreat. Silence. Pressure. Blow. Retreat. I had a very difficult time navigating our relationship by his rules. Trust me, I really tried to fit in–that’s what trauma survivors do. I’d pretend things didn’t bother me. I’d forcefully hum my way through situations that I would rather have talked out.
To be fair, he had his challenges with my style as well. (I think we’re improving!)
About every six months I’d become so backed-up with truth that I felt like I would explode if I couldn’t unpack some of it. My need for emotional honesty and vulnerable connection was too great. I had come too far in my journey out of disfunction to welcome avoidance.
My unpacking usually began with one small thing: When you don’t give me eye contact it makes me feel like you’re angry with me. So far so good, right? But if he didn’t acknowledge or respond , which was usually the case, my litigious brain would kick into gear and I would enter my carefully tagged exhibits–examples of other things he did to create emotional disconnection.
My evidence combined with my multi-layered, multiloculated communication style overwhelmed him. He’d feel ambushed and would start throwing self-protective truth-grenades. Emotional carnage ensued.
Such was the case that night in the quiet woods. By the way, have you ever tried to yell in a hushed voice? Not at all easy and definitely not attractive–just sayin’.
The following morning we picked up the pieces and prayerfully (with repentance) recovered the real truth in the truth we had flung at each other. We agreed that there was a better way to communicate truth.
- We agreed that we would be prayerful before speaking truth.
- We agreed to posture ourselves in love before speaking .
- We agreed that truth-speaking, as hard as it can be, is absolutely necessary for our growth in Christ and in our marriage.
- We agreed that Truth is the twin to Grace.
- Truth without grace is injurious.
- Grace without truth is indulgence.
Is it easy? No. But it’s essential.
As humans we find balance very challenging. We think balance comes from the architecture of spiritual algorithms, which are born of our skewed reasoning and fueled by our affinity for and need to control, measure, assess and evaluate.
But balance comes from the pace of a Spirit-ordered walk of grace and truth. It sounds over-simplistic doesn’t it?
We have to be prayerful about Speaking the truth in love because there is a God-determined priority of transformation in each of our lives. One of the lessons I learned in Experiencing God is that we are to join God in what He is doing around us–according to His plan–rather than asking Him to join us in achieving ours.
Jesus reveals this Father-led-transformation priority in nearly every sinful-man encounter recorded in scripture. Of the woman caught in adultery, Jesus demonstrated that Her spiritual void was higher in priority than her moral conduct so He offered her grace. But grace is always followed by truth. In her case He concluded with Now go and live differently.
Grace and Truth are activated by the Holy Spirit and empowered by love.
- The pre-requisite of truth-speaking is the ability to hear and receive truth ourselves.
- Truth cannot be spoken outside the architecture of love, first love for God and then love for the recipient.
- The motivation for truth-speaking must be love for the recipient.
- The goal of truth is reparative and restorative.Truth germinates in the life of another through grace.
- Truth-speaking must be Holy Spirit led and paced.
- Truth is necessary for health in the body of Christ; it is essential for life-transformation.
Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. Eph. 4:25
One Sunday he was just fine.
The following Sunday prayer was requested for an upset stomach.
The Sunday after that he arrived with a report of stage 4 cancer in his esophagus, his liver and his lymph nodes.
In the short span of time between his first scan and his second the spots on his liver had migrated into a single large one. Oncologists said it is advanced, aggressive, incurable, and untreatable. They advised against chemo and suggested a course of pain management and palliative care.
Glory. Glory. Glory. All glory belongs to our savior Jesus Christ! God can do whatever He chooses to bring glory to His name. I ask that God would give me strength to glorify Him in this and that I would not fail to praise Him in all things.
His wife sings harmony in this chorus, echoing those sentiments.
The report landed softly in the room where our Simple Church gathered. Our collective response was, O Lord, nothing is impossible for you. We ask you to heal our dear brother. We trust You with the outcome.
Like a scalpel, the news sliced into our respective hearts confronting our faith, our theology and our unspoken fears.
As my fingers move over my keyboard just now, our brother is receiving, in faith, his first chemo treatment–against the advise of his doctors. There are days when pain and nausea thrash him like mortal enemies and still his lips speak praise for our Love-sovereign, gracious, merciful, omnipotent LORD who’s ways are perfect and worthy of all the glory.
He’s no stranger to affliction.
- He and and his wife worshiped while grieving the stillbirth of their twin sons and said, “We count it a privilege that God would consider us worthy to display Himself through our loss.”
- When their wealth was vaporized by a Christian brother who had defrauded them they responded, “Nothing in this life compares to the riches of knowing the love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And they forgave.
- Presently, unless God intervenes, he is moving rapidly toward his heavenly home and great kingdom reward.
This unassuming couple is quietly speaking volumes in the way they are standing in this furnace of affliction. It’s a message about the incomparable worth of being a child of God with humility that is focused on bringing glory to Him.
You see, I’ve been giving this humility thing a lot of consideration lately. Early in chapter 4 of Ephesians Paul urges (actually entreats or begs) believers to walk in a manner worthy of Christ’s calling (or ordered steps) for our lives. He describes what that looks like, opening with humility:
…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love…
Right out of the gate I’ll admit that I’m one of those people who can walk into a room where 99% of its contents are in good order. Invariably my eye will fall on the crooked picture frame or the tilted lampshade. I’ve fought it my whole life. Flaw or gifting? I don’t know. Either way I try not to let it in the driver’s seat but I don’t stuff it in the trunk.
As someone who has experienced childhood abuse, alcoholic family dysfunction and mental illness I can tell you that I’m no stranger to the world of self-help.
In my early twenties when I began my healing journey there was virtually nothing on childhood sexual abuse. PTSD hadn’t been coined. Adult children of Alcoholics was just gaining a voice. Melody Beattie’s spotlight on Codependency wasn’t mainstream. At that time most of the emerging self-help conversation was in secular arenas. The faith community eventually responded and has since contributed some amazing helps for wounded hearts and broken lives. But…
I’ve noticed the pendulum swing wide since those early years when it was just me and Jesus gutting out my chaotic internal world. But now I think we have become obsessed with ourselves and with our wellbeing; with our passions, our purposes, our dreams, and our voices. We have personality assessments, gift assessments, love-language assessments, and ministry gift assessments. We have markers, labels, identifiers, and a whole vocabulary of newly coined terms–all intended to help us better understand ourselves and recognize each other.
We seek the deep mysteries in ourselves but in the process have we lost our appetite for the deep mysteries of God?
The result of this propensity for introspection, indicated in too many ways for me to list here, has been summed up in a Brennan Manning quote:
“God made man in His image and man returned the compliment.”
Have things gotten turned around in the relationship between the Creator and the created, the Redeemer and the redeemed, the worshipers and the only One deserving of worship?
I’ll never forget the impression made upon me by a book title that caught my eye in the 80’s: Write Your Own Ticket With God. Really? Not in my bible!
Entitlement has crept into our culture–not just in the secular arenas, but also the sacred. Sadly, I recognize it in my life as well. Ugh. I’ve noted how my conversation with God has shifted. It grieves me that:
- I petition more than I worship.
- I too often scrutinize my life and world, determine what or who needs fixing and then petition God for remedy as though He were life’s Customer Service Agent.
- I can be much more concerned with my petty agenda than I am of His kingdom purposes and of His redemptive story forged in and throughout my life.
Ironically, the quiet humility of my friends has been God’s megaphone in my ear:
God is whispering to our preoccupied hearts. “Keep your eyes on me. Stay focused. Live to glorify me. Lose your life to find it. Be the least so you can be great in my kingdom. Trust my ways. Walk humbly before me.
The truth of the matter is that our lives really don’t belong to us, they’ve been purchased by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! (1 Cor. 6:19-20)
I’ll be honest. My life hasn’t been pretty lately, which may explain my absence here.
Presently, I’m sitting among a stand of fir trees and taking in beautiful Dickey Lake in northwestern Montana. The setting is perfect for woolgathering.
When life and relationships get messy, I tend to pull back and pull inside myself. My voice shrivels up along with any permission I feel I need in order to speak or to be seen or to belong. I hear and respond to the accusing voice in my head that condemns. Why should anyone listen to anything you have to say; you’re life is shaky at best?
My (sometimes) wonky, dilapidated life and perspective have driven me into hiding. Again. Pride and fear send me there. Again, the voice: After all, Miss Messy Pants, shouldn’t you be a little further along by now—shouldn’t you have this licked?
I’ve been here countless times before and thankfully, by God’s grace, I do manage to drag myself—or does He pick me up?–back to the simple truth that often drives the seemingly beat-up truck of my life–and of this blog.
The Lord’s words spoken to an infirmity-beleaguered, conflict-riddled Paul give me courage. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
I lean heavily upon this promise as I return to the page and allow God to use my vulnerability and my transparency–some would say foolish, indiscreet openness–to invite others to look at their lives as well. Hopefully to become more inspired or encouraged.
I don’t think it’s too bombastic to say that we live in a time where isolation has never been more culturally prevalent. It may be a generalization but don’t we hide our stage 4-shame-ridden selves behind religious mantras and our social media updates while we attempt to buy time to tidy up our real lives enough to actually engage in real time, with real people.
We’re afraid of being judged, uninvited, or rejected because our realities don’t quite measure up to the ideals we’ve adopted for ourselves, borrowed from the glossy pages of the picture-perfect examples plastered all around us.
We hide. We don’t connect. We don’t engage. And this incubates and spreads the virus of neglect in the body of Christ. Have we become so introspective that we can’t see past our own navels to the lives and needs of others? Ouch!
In the rare glimpses I am given into someone’s real-time life I often hear the don’t-judge-me-but… preface to their hesitant transparency and self-disclosures.
We desperately want to connect, we want to be in loving and nurturing community but we feel inadequate. Our messy cars, the unfolded laundry piled on our couches, the pastries we swear off and then order with our skinny lattes, our failures, our excesses, and our perceived deficiencies keep us confined to our privacy–and to our pain.
We say, I’ll crack the door open to my life but you have to promise not to judge or reject me because my life isn’t the way I want it to be and it sure doesn’t look anything like what I think everyone else’s life looks like.
All the naval gazing I’ve been doing lately has led me to think about humility. I guess you could say Jesus has teamed up with life and they’ve graciously handed me a not-so-free scholarship for another term in the school of Grace and Truth.
My human nature and some gray matter issues medical science has assigned a stigmatized label keep me in perpetual supply of humility-inducing opportunities. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it! I often mount Self-sufficiency and try to outrun my own life and my reality. I try to overcome in my own power. I fail. Every time.
“When you think you stand, take heed lest ye fall.” (Doesn’t that sound more impactful in the King’s English?)
“God resists the proud (self-reliance and hubris) but gives grace to those humble in heart.”
When I get caught up in trying to please man or achieve man’s standards for acceptance, favor or approval, I know that I’m walking in pride. I know that humility has become a missing spoke on my wagon wheel. And I know I’m flirting with a religious spirit. And I’m terribly close to a face plant.
There’s a line in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes that describes this propensity toward pride:
“The old wheel turns and the same spoke comes up.”
Pride is going to come up in our lives for as long as we breathe earth’s air. Only humility can displace it. Only humility allows us to see rightly.
We need grace.
I’ve determined that I cannot live in grace if I don’t walk in humility.
Two things are necessary for this sojourn we call our lives:
Grace-reliance and Humility-dependence.
- Humility gives us the receptors for grace—it allows us to receive the grace our insufficiency requires.
- Humility quiets our perfectionism and releases us from approval seeking.
- Humility opens the door to let others see into us.
- Humility keeps us from promoting ourselves and our purposes; it enables us to serve.
- Humility stifles our tendency to judge and our propensity toward cynicism.
Humility positions us rightly before God—it keeps us looking to Him as the Awe-inspiring recipient of our lives rather than the resource for our agendas.
On that note, I’ll break here for part 2 of The Lost Art of Humility and post it next week.
I ended my talk with these words:
We want to be offered solutions but He offers HOPE instead. Hope goes beyond the skin-depth nature of solutions. Hope does not disappoint, despite our continuously changing circumstances.
The vivacious woman who had strummed us into worship stepped into transparency and spoke first, “I’ve been hiding in plain site.” Her ministry call and various positions had left her feeling invisible and empty. Her love for children and her desire to be a mother had been met with an inexplicably barren womb. She sits with conflict and pain while Jesus holds onto her hands that may have lost some of their grip. Her heart hangs in the balance of a life transition and faith transformation that can’t be explained but can only be lived out.
A woman with beautiful eyes and an open heart said that she had experienced the hand of God lead her out of meth addiction, restore her career and her relationships but that the marriage and ministry she saw with the recovery package had yet to materialize. She sat in undefined limbo trying to find motivation for her life–in God and in loneliness. She vulnerably expressed her disillusionment and her dry faith. She feels reluctant to continue to till ground that has not yielded the harvest of her hopes and prophetic promises. And while she hasn’t turned her back on God, she sits with the unanswered and the unfulfilled.
My heart strings were being tugged toward the strong new-to-town military wife. Her zest for life seemed to show signs of weariness as she opened her heart and spoke in tones of frustration. She’s seen Jesus in big ways and collected, in faith, big plans but still she sits with a barren womb and a pile of God-directives that haven’t come to fruition. She’s weary of pushing upstream toward dead ends. She feels twinges of cynicism that she wishes weren’t there. She holds onto God while she handles the unanswered and the unknown. She speaks with candid kindness, “Please don’t tell me that God has something for me. I’ve heard it all before.”
The sweet young woman sitting nearest me sits wrapped in a beautiful scarf and a protective layer that hints of soul-fatigue but not despair. She lives a life quietly giving herself away but dares to admit that she feels empty. She wonders if her desire to be married and have children will get lost in the many places she busies her heart and hands to serve others. How does she get her cup filled in a culture that is so needy? How does she say yes to so many and still leave room for yes to herself? She sits with weariness, longing and unfulfilled dreams. How can she frame her life around the empty spaces?
The next to speak was a single gal with beautiful eyes and thick hair. With arms crossed over her chest she spoke out with confidence. “This message, it isn’t new to me…I hear Him speaking it all over.” She’s disillusioned about the culturally current church and the way it can leave attenders lonely and disconnected. She sits with a need for community and relationship but can absolutely no longer abide the “peganite” church practices that grieve her soul. She sits with questions. She sits with disconnection. She sits with wonder about what it is God is saying to us and how to live that out in a kingdom-serving way to a self-absorbed world.
I asked questions. Hearts were primed. We actively listened. A common thread emerged and outlined each woman’s exposed heart as they shared the vulnerable realities of their lives. There was a knowing that we would not leave that room, that night with a handout of formulas, recipes and pat answers rolled parchment-style in our clenched fists.
In the end we dared to exchange transient solutions for true Hope.
Learning to sit with the mystery, with the unexplained, with the unmet longings, with the weariness, with the unfulfilled dreams and with the dissapointment sets us up for spiritual formation that cannot be achieved otherwise
It’s in this place of the “un” that we recognize resident potential for a more mature love for God. It’s here that deep spiritual formation germinates. It’s here that we sit in the presence of a God who cannot be manipulated, formulated or perpetuated in zealous ideals, ego-centric perspectives or religious boxes. He wants us to experience Him when all the dots connect but especially when they do not.
Habakkuk records in chapter 3, verse 17:
Even though the fig trees have no blossoms, and there are no grapes on the vines; even though the olive crop fails, and the fields lie empty and barren; even though the flocks die in the fields, and the cattle barns are empty, yet I will rejoice in the Lord! I will be joyful in the God of my salvation! The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights.
If God’s ways and means could be fully explained all of the time, would He not lose some of the mystery that surrounds Him? Our willingness, and desire, to devote ourselves to Him cannot be contingent on our understanding of His ways. He is every bit God in the unanswered, in the unfulfilled, and in the not yet attained. In the disillusionment and in the silence He is the God of love and goodness, mercy and kindness just as much as when He steps into our lives in bold and dramatic ways that lift our arms and raise our voices in praise.
Is it possible to echo Habakkuk’s praise?
In the holding patterns that eclipse the view of our desired destinations?
“I have told you these things so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrow. But take heart, I have overcome the world.” Jn.16:33
We like answers. We need to make sense of things. We like tidy explanations, reasonable timelines and unlimited resources. We don’t like delays or inconvenience or disappointment. And if I can be candid, Western Christianity can be perceived as entitled, narcissistic and fickle.
That’s the hard bit.
The heart bit?
God longs for us!
He desires us–He desires our love.
He is saying to us what He was saying to Jerusalem as He wept over her:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”
So when I was asked to share the things God had been placing on my heart, I felt a willing reluctance. What I had to say felt too much like a reprimand that I had no right to deliver. So I meandered for two weeks down rosier paths trying to collect a pleasing bouquet. In the end I agreed to let God use me, come what may.
We assembled that Friday night in a state of expectancy but without the burden of over-expectation or the knowledge of each other’s history, hurts or hangups. We gathered amid vulnerable greetings, jagged dreams and epic weariness. Five generations of sisterhood took seats and settled into the evening with smiles and unvoiced burdens resting in our laps like swollen wombs filled with the awkward combination of hope and disappointment.
The Holy Spirit was welcomed in prayer as the worship leader asked that the Presence of God would draw us into intimacy with Him and prepare our hearts to hear and finally, that He would be glorified in all that was said and done. Amen!
Presence of God.
My head tingled. Those were the only words I had in my mind when I arrived as their guest speaker. It wasn’t that I hadn’t prepared. The Lord knows how much I had prepared. And when two weeks of prep hadn’t yielded a satisfying package I had begun to wonder if my Yes, I’d love to! should have been an I’m sorry, I’m not available that night!
After a time of mingling we eased ourselves into the rich melodic chords that resonated from a lone acoustic guitar. We lent our unrehearsed voices to God in heartfelt worship. We lingered. There was no rush to get through the set, no digital numbers pushing us through to the next segment. There was no platform, no performer and no push to keep a tight schedule. As the last note settled into silence I felt breathless in The Presence. (That’s what I’ve been calling the Holy Spirit lately!)
And then all eyes were on me.
Those who gathered waited for something worthwhile, I’m guessing, to come out of my mouth–something that might fuel hope. I had been praying for them, praying that each one would come away with just one something that they knew came from His heart to theirs. Yet I literally had no idea what was going to exit my mouth when my lips parted. I uttered another silent prayer of faith, fully trusting that God’s pre-emptive promise would not disappoint:
“Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you shall say.”
You see, things have been stirring in my heart. Unconventional things. Ideas that seem abstract and countercultural. I’ve spent much of my life orienting to the norm and the status quo because my lack of identity and my sense of wellbeing depended upon it. When these inklings and ideas began percolating in my soul, I batted them away in deference to insecure conformance. Who was I to speak for God?
I opened up with the Cliff Notes of my testimony. They deserved to know a little about the woman they had come to hear. I shared what brought me, after decades of self-assisted Christianity, to the absolute end of myself. I shared the arduous shame-journey that depleted me of all self and ushered in a revelation of His love. The familiar I once was blind but now I see had become I once was caught in deceptive self-loathing but now I know His love.
After I had talked about the person of the Holy Spirit and the role He desires to fill in our lives,
after I shared that there is absolutely no substitute for intimacy with God,
after I talked about the overlooked need for Jesus-modeled solitude in our daily lives,
after I shared some of the ways Jesus’ life demonstrated an organic relationship/ministry model to follow,
after I urged us to take a look at the idolatrous photo filters we have placed over our lacluster lives,
after I expressed the ways we embrace friendship with the world and enmity with God,
after I talked about spectatorship assembly and Church, Inc.
after I urged consideration of the many distractions that keep our attention divided and our devotion diminished,
after I had challenged an examination of our worship, and
after I observed how so many of us have unwittingly substituted time in the bible for a quick read in Jesus Calling–I closed me lips and looked into the penetrating eyes of the women who gathered to sit with God.
And then the conversation that I had come to begin had indeed begun.
Thank you for reading today! Please take a moment to share your thoughts. And do, please, feel free to share Grace Grips with your friends!
I once sat at the bedside of a dying nun. Cancer had invaded her body and on that morning she had gone forty-six days without food and very little water. Her paper-thin skin clung to protruding bones. Her blinking eyes were the only sign of life but they were sunk deep in their sockets and blurred with morphine. The only way to fully describe her appearance was to say that she resembled an exhibit in a Holocaust Wax Museum. Why my husband’s great aunt clung to life as she had baffled us all.
After a long morning of silence, of gazing out the window and navigating the awkwardness of imminent death, she spoke and I startled. “Do you know what antichrist means?” She pressed her weighty words past dry vocal chords and I wanted to oil her authoritative syllables. Her question caught me completely off guard. I wondered why in the world this barley-living woman would want to talk about antichrist? Was this a trick question? Delirium?
Aunt Mary had given a lifetime of service to the Catholic church, that is until in her sixties when she had fallen in with some charismatics in southern California. Her life from that point on had been marked by an ardent and daily study of the scriptures. She had also become the family intercessor and resident spiritual influencer.
I shifted in my seat beside her and silently stammered about in my brain trying to formulate a response. It seemed only seconds had passed when in typical crabby-school-teacher-nun-style she whacked my knuckles with the yardstick of her impatience.
“Anti means opposed to,” she said. I resisted the impulse to inform her that at thirty-five years of age I had a fairly good handle on the meaning of the prefix. I had been, after all, the editor in chief of my high school newspaper! She continued, “When you attempt to add anything to Christ, you are operating in the spirit of antichrist.” Suddenly, I knew I was in the middle of a divine teaching moment. I was no longer the benefactor of mercy in the presence of a dying woman, I was a pupil sitting at the feet of Jesus who was dispensing Grace and Truth.
“It’s Jesus plus nothing,” she said. “Anything else is anti-Christ.” She had exhausted herself and effectively silenced me. I may or may not have spoken something like, That’s really good! More than likely I simply nodded as someone who felt the odd emotional mixture of grace and rebuke. With one final chalk-dusted-school-teacher directive she dismissed me. “You better go on home now.”
Pagan images are conjured in our western brains when we hear the word idolatry. We think of Aaron’s golden calf or the demonic-looking idols on television’s Survivor. But idolatry in our day looks different. It takes some intentionality to recognize the idols in our lives and to identify the ways in which we practice idolatry. In my case, I am likely to turn to others attempting to get what only God can provide. I also launch out in activities and commitments hoping to bring myself a sense of purpose and significance. I expend my energies to please people hoping I’ll feel the byproduct of love and appreciation. And I can use food, shopping, decorating, television, internet, and entertainment to numb myself when I feel God is far off.
When God is silent or seems to delay, when He isn’t speaking and He doesn’t appear to be moving or doing GOD stuff in a timely manner, that’s when I’m most likely to practice idolatry. I can tend to add things to my life that bring me comfort and hope. I can begin to doubt God’s intentions toward me.
Before long I have cluttered up my worship with worldly.
32 Now when the people saw that Moses delayed coming down from the mountain, they gathered together before Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a [a]god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” 2 So Aaron…. [caved under pressure, came up with a plan to address the people’s needs, made an idol and an alter and began worshiping.]*
7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once, for your people, whom you brought up from the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. Exodus 32:1-7 (AMP) *Author’s commentary.
No matter how long or how close we have walked with the Savior, we can easily stumble into doubt when we find ourselves in the face of darkness and trials. Even John the Baptist, while he sat in prison awaiting his beheading, questioned and doubted. “Are you the One?” I imagine John’s uncertainty, turmoil and pondering. I’m about to lose the life I have wholly given over to Messiah and this is how it ends? Did I miss it? Did I mislead others?
Jesus answered John’s disciples. Look at what I’m doing, what I have been doing? If you can’t believe my words, you can certainly believe my works—they vouch for me.
Rather than rebuking John’s doubts, Jesus answered him with many convincing proofs. And in the shadow of John’s uncertainty Jesus honored John with this declaration: “No one born among women has been greater than John.”
God doesn’t forbid our doubts and questionings, but he won’t tolerate our idolatrous responses to them. He welcomes our heartfelt uncertainties but He will not pander to our infidelity. As He said to Moses, Go down at once…your people have corrupted themselves so He says to us: Keep yourselves from the pollution of idolatry—trust that:
He is on time. He is enough. And He is a promise-keeper.
Do you feel KNOWN?
Do you ever wonder if anyone truly sees you, the essence of who you are when all the filters are removed and the props are shoved aside? Even though we’re seen on social media I’m suspicious of our media-driven culture in that it can give us an artificial idea and sense of intimacy. It often leaves us with an inaccurate view of ourselves and others as well.
I think people are starving for true intimacy!
Douglas Weiss has identified what he terms Intimacy Anorexia. Desire for and lack of emotional intimacy is at the foundation of sexual addiction. Intimacy hunger also fuels other forms of addiction we cultivate hoping to fill our intimacy needs.
Not every Intimacy Anorexic acts out with sexual addiction but results in a lifestyle of withholding our true selves from others and manifests in a number of ways.
Our deep need is to know and to be known but we’re afraid of it–because what if we don’t measure up to the high and unrealistic bar set by standards that focus on appearances, acquisitions, accomplishments and accolades? What if we expose the tender underbelly of our broken and flawed selves or risk revealing our hopes and dreams or dare express our truest desires and the end result is more base and painful judgment and rejection? And what if we haven’t even got a clue about what intimacy looks like, let alone how to achieve it?
We were created to know and to be known, by God first and then by others.
I spent years withholding my true self from God. Aside from my issues with binding shame, I was afraid to be in the room alone with Him. The nature of my abuse made it incredibly difficult to picture Father God as safe. Yes, He was my father but one who worked abroad and whom I never saw. I could count on Him to pay my fees at boarding school, put clothes on my back and possibly be available should I become gravely ill. But His important work on the planet made Him unavailable and uninterested in me. Thankfully, God brought me through healing and to this plumb line revelation:
Who I am is best understood in context of who He is. I was made in His image and derive my name and identity from Him. I haven’t got a clue of who I am if I don’t have an intimate understanding of who He is.
Intimacy: Into me see. Progressive: continuing, continuous, increasing, growing developing, ongoing, escalating, gradual, step-by-step, cumulative.
God desires bi-directional intimacy with us. He sees into us and He invites us to see into Him as well. From this place of knowing and being known we experience Abundant Life and fruitful living. That takes me back to the Apostle Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10:
My determined purpose is that I may know Him, that I may progressively become more intimately acquainted with Him.
God knows us and He created us to know Him–to know His heart, His plans, His ways, and His delight. Knowing Him gives us insight into ourselves and into others, it fuels our effectiveness in impacting the world with the Gospel and in helping to transform lives.
It’s resolution time but rather than adding new regimens, goals or programs to my life this year, I’m going to pare down and eliminate them!
I gravitate to the idea of less. I love words like purging and decluttering and simplifying and margin-building and mindfulness and intentionality. The idea of less has been a cultural conversation for a while now. A couple years ago I became intrigued with tiny house living, micro wardrobes, and minimalism. I’m certain I’ve watched every YouTube video there is because the idea of less really appealed to the overwhelming, overcrowding chaotic fullness of my life. I feasted on the concepts of less.
I buy into the notion that having less translates into stressing less and rushing less and pushing less, which enables more life-giving living. So, like many of you, I launched my own less-ness campaign. I got rid of seldom-used kitchen gadgets, unloaded craft supplies from bygone obsessions, and exorcised my closet of the evil skinny clothes I held onto in hopeful practicality, which in actuality was more like fierce denial. I performed gastric bypass on my garage and storage closets. I emptied drawers and cleared off shelves. I unloaded furniture and make-up and decor and anything labeled project or potential. I also stopped frequenting second-hand shops and yard sales!
I held to rules (guidelines sound better, right?) some of you may have adopted as well:
- If you don’t love it, don’t keep it.
- If you don’t use it, don’t store it.
- If you have more than one, get rid of the duplicate.
- If it doesn’t fit or needs a fix, dump it.
- If you bring something home, something else has to move away!
I purged the excess and it felt good. My yeses became more intentional which meant I had more margin in my life. But even though I was getting good at lessening objects and overcommitment, my life still felt too full, too bloated, too crowded.
Somewhere in all my ruminating I realized that my newly acquired less-ness was good but it wasn’t what my soul was craving. The word empty came to mind, and though it has a negative connotation, I can’t find another word to describe what I feel God is speaking to my heart.
I’m not seeking a monk-esque, meditative nothingness or a Mother Teresa own two dresses, give one away lifestyle. I’ve got a hunch the less-ness I am seeking isn’t found in reducing stuff as much as it is in reducing soul clutter.
Soul clutter? Well, it’s an idea rising in the eastern sky of my pursuit toward staying in my own lane. Soul clutter is the horde of ideals, ideas, knowledge, concepts, formulas, standards and persuasions that I’ve picked up while blog-surfing and book-reading and conversation-having and seminar-attending and television-watching and people-following. It all lay stuffed in the folds of my gray matter and it’s encumbering and confusing me. My head is overfilled with theories, strategies, concepts, formulas, causes, commentaries, opinions, persuasions and influences—it all feels like spiritual paraphernalia.
Remember when David, the young shepherd stood before Goliath, the enemy giant? Hoping to equip David with the best shot possible at accomplishing God’s will, Saul offered his elaborate and heavy armor. David tried on Saul’s equipment but quickly realized that it encumbered rather than enhanced his mission. He chose instead to use what he knew and was practiced in. At first glance, a few rocks and a sling shot don’t seem an advantageous choice. But even less advantageous is trying to adopt and adapt to the tools and techniques of others.
I often think of the time Peter challenged Jesus about John, asking, But what about him? I hear Jesus’ reply and take it to heart: What is that to you…you go and do what I told you to do and don’t worry about what I’ve got going on with someone else.
Martin Luther was said to have insisted his wife, Katharina—whom he had great respect and admiration for—read the bible from cover to cover. Her response was firm. “I’ve read enough. I’ve heard enough. I know enough. Would to God that I live it.” In essence, she was saying, How ‘bout I focus on living up to what I already know?
I asked myself, What if I disregard the well-meaning suggestions and challenges we Christian’s so quickly toss one another and simply apply myself to what God has already placed on my heart, what I already know of His will? What would it look like to practice that well before I reach for another brass ring?
I wholeheartedly believe that there is a tailor-made call and directive that comes from Him, unassisted, to our unique selves. It harnesses our gift-set and launches peaceful and passionate service—but we have to minimize the distractions to hear it and live it out.
I want to turn a deaf ear to the voice of comparison—measuring my activities, spirituality, call and results with those of others.
I sense God is calling me into a season of soul-simplicity; inviting me to purge the dusty, inflated or oversized ideas I’ve glommed onto along with the trending throng.
Simply said, I want to unpack and reevaluate, examine the horde and toss the clutter. And I want to live extremely conscientious of what I take back in.
Someone once said it is more beneficial to have a solid grasp of five books than it is to skim hundreds. Likewise, I feel it’s better to know my call and stay in my lane than to be distracted by the call of others and swerve all over the highway of God’s kingdom.
Is God speaking to your heart about emptying? I’ll keep you posted as I explore this—which seems hypocritical since I myself will likely be reading fewer blogs this year!
Dare, with me, to become skilled at recognizing the distractions that pull us off course!
Dare to live empty.
It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? It runs against the grain of our cultural fabric. We like full–we strive for it: full cupboards, full bank accounts, full schedules and full social calendars. We’re full of information and knowledge, of resources and tools. Full is good, right? Full means comfort and protection and insurance and sometimes power. Full indicates that we’re prepared. It suggests that we’re competent, ready for anything, geared to go.
But what if empty is better?
Sometimes we can get so full of ourselves, so weighted down with our own ideas and game plans that navigating life on God’s terms can feel like an uphill race. Sometimes in all our fullness we can find ourselves bloated. When we feast on trend or fill on consensus, we leave no room for God or for what matters most.
When I look at the way Jesus did life, I see Him empty of Himself and empty of this world—empty of it’s trappings and clutter. That emptiness precipitated the infilling of His father. Jesus said, I don’t say anything that I don’t first hear my Father speaking. I don’t do anything that I have not first seen my Father doing. Jesus lived surrendered and Jesus lived light: no home, no headquarters, no apps or clubs or communities—not even a backpack to carry a few essentials.
He filled himself with the Father and then emptied himself giving heaven’s bread away. Like the mana in the wilderness, Jesus filled daily and He emptied daily. When he was empty, He sought out a place of solitude with his Father to be filled again.
Of the various ways I seek to fill my life, the area of fullness that most weighs me down is being full of myself. When I am full of myself, there is little room for God—and frankly, it’s like junk food that fools me into thinking I’m not hungry. I am full of my own words, my own opinions, my own agenda, my own solutions, my own initiative, my own sufficiency—my own need to be approved of and affirmed by others. I’m full of ideas about how things ought to be. When I fill my head and my day and my agenda with the goods I think will carry me, I am actually just weighing myself down and crowding out what I need most.
The prophet Micah tells us what God requires. Among living justly and loving mercy, we are to walk humbly with our God. It takes a certain kind of emptiness to walk with God in humility. And it takes a certain type of humility to walk in emptiness.
It was an empty womb, an empty manger, and an empty ego that brought Christ to humanity. It’s that same emptiness that will bring humanity to Christ, through us.
What does it look like to live empty? It might look differently to each of us. How do we respond when God asks us to give up something or someone so that He can fill us with the fullness of His life–so that when we are poured out, His life is given through us rather than a paltry collection of cute cliches and soft impacts?
There is nothing in this life that we can hold onto or that will sustain us. There is nothing in this world worth crowding out God. As this year winds down and I prepare to step into a new one, I’m asking God to show me the grace of daring to live empty.