On Sunday, I fell on my knees and wept at the altar of grace because this first year of church planting has sent me into the depths of myself. I thought I was coming here so that God could use me in this city, but the truth is that God is using this experience, this city, this culture, this church to uncover the lies that still hide in the corners of my heart.
“You have to prove yourself.”
“You aren’t all that special.”
“You can’t get it together.”
“People think you’re snobby.”
“People think you’re annoying.”
“People think you’re stupid because you talk slow (aka with a southern accent).”
“You are shallow.”
“You are weak.”
“You aren’t very fun.”
“You don’t know that much about Jesus or the Bible.”
“You aren’t intellectual enough to engage people here.”
“You better not say that out loud because ‘they’ might not approve.”
“You are SUCH a church girl. Ugh.”
“No one actually needs you.”
“Meek? Pugh. Not in the cards for you, sister.”
And on and on and on it goes. These aren’t things that run through my head in formed thoughts and words, necessarily, but as time wears on, I find that my decisions are based on these lies. Who I am in Jesus becomes smaller – Jesus Himself becomes smaller in my life – and I start to live in fear and darkness because what if I mess EVERYTHING up?! What if “they” are all (gasp) disappointed in me?!
I have found myself feeling increasingly isolated and defeated. But, per the usual, God pursues me hard and breaks right through in love, mercy, grace and usually a heap of tears (on my part). Via an encounter with an old acquaintence who meant well but stung deep, a series of morning devotions leading me back around to the issue of pride, and one of the best sermons about pride I have ever heard, I fell bent knee and broken before my God and acknowledged that somehow, I’d let it become all about me…again. And just to put a shiny stamp of boo-yah on His faithfulness, God provided me a great deal of healing balm in the form of sweet Jessica, 1 John and Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love.
Here is what is resounding through my heart this week, what I hope will give you something to chew on as well if you find yourself in the depths of…yourself:
1. The problem with the lies that I believe is that they all have to do with what other’s think of me and with the impossible expectations that I place on myself. Nine times out of ten, this is the root of every sin issue in my life. Me. Me. Me. But in 1 Corinthians 4:3-4, Paul nips this in the bud.
To paraphrase Ben’s paraphrase of these verses, “I don’t really care what you think about me. But also, I don’t really care what I think about me. I only care what God says about me.” Like both a knife and a bandage to my aching heart, I am free to acknowledge that I have stopped caring so much what God’s Word says about who I am in Him and instead have believed that lies of the Liar, that what I do (or do not do) matters. I am free to embrace that I am so broken, so screwed up, and so completely made whole. The upside down economy of our sweet, sweet Jesus played out in real life.
2. This believing of the lies about who I am is a straight shot into isolation, because I must not let anyone see the real me. They’ll know quickly that I am not enough and I must prove them wrong. I must somehow BE enough. I become critical and unkind in my heart – lacking entirely in grace and living guarded, unsure of what I’m allowed to say and what I am not. But then I read in 1 John 1:5-7:
Not only can I release the weight of pleasing anyone but my Father, which was done in full when Jesus died for me, but I can also release the weight of getting it “right” because I am free to just – live. As long as I am inviting the Holy Spirit to do His cleansing work in my life, I don’t have to conceal things, to live in darkness. In fact, this living in secret cannot coincide with living in Jesus…because He IS light. When I hide in the darkness, my communion with Jesus is broken, yes, but so is my communion with other believers.
Hear me: This brave, out-in-the-open living is jaw-breaking hard. There is no way to waltz through it, happy and glowing. It’s messy, gut-wrenching, and sometimes supremely awkward. But we must, must lean into it anyway. We must rip the curtains off and say, “Today I cried at the altar because God showed me that I have been living in sin for a year and I didn’t even realize it.” My friend Jessica saw me afterwards, tears still flowing and ugly cry threatening to pierce back through, but she didn’t act like my world or hers was falling apart. She gave me a hug, and as I told her about what I was dealing with she simply said, “Sanctification (this process of being made more like Christ) is hard.” Can we do more of this? Can we just be present with people? No more pity or condemnation or embarrassment? Just the acknowledgement that we are all screwed up and will be having moments of knee-bending repentance for the rest of our ever-loving lives on earth! And that we are loved by our people no matter. Isn’t THIS the way of Jesus?
3. Lastly, I just read Jen Hatmaker’s For the Love. I laughed ’til I cried in the middle of Starbucks. No joke. But on every page I breathed kindness, and joy, and enough. There’s a quote by C.S. Lewis that says, “Joy is the serious business of heaven.” This book takes joy VERY seriously and thus, for me, is a little slice of heaven. It celebrates that we WILL disagree. No doubt. Without fail. The very fact that some of you are not Hatmaker fans and I enjoy her so entirely is testimony to the fact that we can love God and follow Jesus AND disagree entirely on personality and writing style and motives and even interpretation of Scripture. Can I ask, though, that we give each other the benefit of the doubt? That if we are teaching Jesus as the only way to heaven, the only One who can lead us into a full and complete life, we give wiggle room in the areas that we honestly could possibly be wrong about? Can we assume a posture of humility and not condemnation? Can we assume the best until we are given reason to believe the worst? I am speaking to myself especially, here. Can we extend what has not been earned – respect, kindness, good-heartedness – because those things have been so freely extended to us? I am begging God for this in my own life – a softer heart, a gentler spirit – because He has already done it all, resolved it all, healed it all. I need not go around try to be enough or right.
I love you all dearly. Truly. And I am so grateful to be able to learn from you, walk with you, laugh with you, and cry with you. Thank you, more than anything, for extending an inordinate amount of unearned goodwill.
Dueces, my peeps.