Protecting God

In many of the conversations that I have with my husband,  we talk about healing, especially as it relates to our Christian faith. We are both in a two year practicum in which we are learning about healing prayer and intercession. It has been a growth experience for the both of us, and we are challenged and stretched by what we have learned and experienced. We have both had moments of great clarity of our damaged and scarred selves, and the realization that only Jesus can heal that which is broken within us.  It takes a laying down of one’s pride to admit to being fractured, and it takes even greater trust to hand that over to another, allowing them to pray for us, asking them to intercede to the Father on our behalf.  The more we journey through this healing process, the more we realize the layer upon layer of hurt and damage within our souls, wounds that have been internalized for years, sometimes decades, and how we have covered them up, over and over, hiding them from the world, hiding them from ourselves.

I have always been willing to pray for someone, in the privacy of my home, within the confines of my own head. A prayer chain from church? Put me on it. You are sick? Yep, got ya covered. Just between me and God, I can throw those prayers out there, beg Him for His healing, His mercy, His provisions.  I have been known to fall to my knees or lie prostrate on the floor, crying out to the Lord.

But always in private.

Always.

Part of being on the Healing Academy is the willingness to pray for another and intercede on their behalf.  But that can mean doing it right then.

Right at the moment when they ask.

Out loud.

For me, this is one of the greatest challenges. I have to leave the comfortable, safe space that I have within my own thoughts, my own private world with God. In a way, I have to “check out” of my own head, free myself from the constraints of judging myself and the words I am using,  and pray for the Holy Spirit to fill me, to use prayers, words that are His, not mine. There isn’t a way to edit, to make pretty, the words that come. It usually isn’t deep, theological thoughts, but the murmurs of the heart, spoken aloud, sent to the heavens.

In the environment where we are, within the safety of a seminary and surrounded by believers, this is much easier to do, to be open, to claim the power and mercy of God. But what about when we are with friends and family who are not believers? Who do not yet know of the mercy of God? For me, it becomes even harder to say that I will pray for them, for their situation.  I want them to know that I am thinking about them, that I care, and so I tell them that I will keep them in my thoughts and prayers. But I have never, right at that moment, cried out to God to intercede, to heal, to show mercy.  Is it that I am trying to protect God, or at least my image of God as healer, as One who loves His people, all of His people? Because, what if He doesn’t heal them? What if we don’t get our hearts desire? Then is that disproving His existence? His power?

I know that many of my personal cries to God have not been answered in the time or the way that I have asked for.  Perhaps It is the way He has grown me in faith, taught me patience.  Sometimes, His answers to our pleas are “no” or “not yet.”  As one who has seen the fruits of faith, I have an easier time with waiting on the Lord. Not always, but at least I have the past miracles of my life to lean my faith on.

But what about those who do not have that? Those who have never had prayers answered, those who do not know what to believe in?  If we don’t share with others what our prayers are for, then if the answer is “no” or “wait”, then they can’t hold that against God. It is so much easier to keep our prayers silent, hidden, tucked away, just between us and God.

My father-in-law passed away from cancer three years ago.  During the time he was sick, he had multitudes praying for him. Our church covered him in prayer. Friends and family prayed for healing, for a miracle, for a cure. And yet, our cries were not answered. Our prayers for healing did not happen in the way we were hoping.  It is so easy in times like that to question, to doubt. And I will tell you right now, I don’t know the mind of God, nor do I ever aspire to. I do not know why some are healed and some are not, why some prayers are answered clearly and others aren’t.  All I know is that there is an answer, though it may not be the answer we are hoping for. And that is the very difficult truth when trying to tell others of His mercy and love, especially when it just creates more doubt in those struggling to believe.

Are we really protecting our tiny, human-warped image of God by boxing Him in, by not allowing others to know when we cry out to Him, when we ache for Him? Are we negating who He is when we don’t allow for the miraculous to be seen by the world? In my small mind, can I ever begin to imagine or understand the power and glory of One who is omnipotent and omnipresent? In my brokenness, have I diminished the wonder and awe by not allowing others to see what I cry out for, what I ask for?

Am I truly living into my faith if I hide it in this way, trying to protect my personal image of God?

Am I really so vain as to think that I can protect God from what other think of Him? My mind is too small, and my God is too big, to be contained in this way.

I can’t imagine that I am the only person who has thought this way, the only one who worries about what those around me will think of God.  Or am I? Perhaps it is in my own pride, my own vanity, that I want others to know MY God, to experience Him in the way that I do. I want you to know just why I love Him, why I believe. I want you to KNOW, just as I do. And yet, I know that each and every one of us has the opportunity to know Him in our own personal way, that each of our experiences are unique, and that is what is so beautiful about this life of faith, the way He chooses to reveal Himself to us.

And it is wonderful.

And I can’t protect you from that.

And I wouldn’t want to try.

Breaking Free

feet-in-chains

I like to think of myself of someone who lives in the moment, with an eye to the future. But I am lying to myself.  I spend a lot of time worrying about the past, thinking about mistakes, second-guessing my decisions, wasting energy on the things I can’t change.  And it is draining.

It is important to understand our past, where we come from, how it has shaped us. Our past is what forms the person we are today, but it isn’t everything about who we are.  Each and every day gives us the opportunity to break free from the past hurts and lies, and live anew in the redemptive power of the cross.

This past week I was given space and time to pray and listen to the voice of the Lord. Through that time, I was shattered. Wrecked. Strung out. Formed and transformed once again. But all of that happened in the gentle, loving way that only the Lord has. The touch of the Savior has brought me to a place of beauty and rest. My soul has been shaken, my world tilted upon its axis. And I cling to the cross, finding shelter, refuge, strength. There is nothing else to grab. There is nothing, no one, that has been the solid foundation, the firm, unyielding rock as my life has been battered by sometimes ceaseless storms. Nothing but the cross. Nothing but the love of the Father, nothing but the saving redemption of the Son, nothing but the passionate stirring of the Spirit.

The funny thing, the crazy thing, is that it all…ALL… came in such a gentle, loving way from God. In the soft, sweet prayers, the gentle nudging of this awakening to myself occurred. It was not harsh, it was not brutal, and yet I feel as shattered and shaken as if it had been.

During a time of prayer, I prayed that God would reveal to me the way in which I needed healing, the places that I needed His touch. I became aware of this pressing down, this stifling, this silencing of my voice…of my worth. I had a strong revelation that so much of what I have done in the past, so many of my sins and hurts, arose from the fact that I never felt like I was given much attention or love.

I have not been seen. Not been noticed. Not been heard. I have played the part of the good daughter, the good student, the busy worker bee. Done all the parts, did my job well. But never noticed. Never given accolades. I work in the background. Quiet. Not seeking attention for myself. But, oh, how I want someone to pay attention. To notice. To see.

Growing up an introvert in a big family, it was hard to feel as though I was paid attention to, or given what I needed. I never felt as though I had a voice that could be heard, and so many times I felt like I couldn’t use my voice if it questioned the status quo.  And I know my parents did their best, loved us in their own ways. But I ached for more.  I did what I could to get attention, any attention, playing the part of the “good girl.” As I got older, I rebelled, but quietly. I hid my rebellion from my family, hid the drinking, the darkness, the tatoo, the craziness of my life. I sought out ways of feeling like others were giving me the attention that I craved, the love I needed. But they weren’t giving me that…they were only using me. I continued to seek approval, desired attention. But never asking for it. Never verbalizing what my true needs were. Perhaps in fear of rejection, or perhaps just in fear. Those hurts, those scars of the past, have healed…but they are still there. Scars are the reminders of those wounds that were deep, that hurt so intensely.  For many years, I have tried to shutter them away, pretending they didn’t even exist.  I have come to realize the importance of recognizing the scars of the past, realizing their pain runs deep, but that they are not the essence of WHO  I am. They are just a part of the history of WHAT has happened in my life. And I do not need to live out my life now as though the wounds are fresh, or as though I am still living in the past.

There is a healing happening within me, through the saving love of the Creator. He is bringing me this awareness that I do want to be seen, cared for, loved. And isn’t that what we all desire, when all of the things of this world are stripped away? Knowing that someone loves us, someone cares.  I have a voice, an opinion, and it matters. It matter to Him, and it matters to others.

As I blog, I do want others to notice, to read my words, to allow them to resonate. I desire for others to comment, to discuss, to be open to the message I try so hard to convey. But I struggle with seeking approval from others versus using this blog to witness. Because THAT is the deep reason that I write. To point to Jesus and show how He has formed and transformed me, and is still. How do I lay down my broken self, sacrifice my pride and vanity, allow my voice to be heard without filtering it for the approval of others? This is my struggle, finding my voice and finding confidence in using it, and not using it to garner attention or approval.

The blessing of my life is that I have a husband who is, and has been, attentive to my needs, even the deep, unspoken ones. He has allowed me a place in which my voice has been encouraged, not stifled, and allowed me to grow and change and discover who I truly am. There is such freedom in feeling safe with another to show your true self. There is so much fear that inhibits one from showing and sharing the brokenness within, and so much freedom and joy when you can find another in which you can allow that to happen. Darkness fears the light, and it is only by shining light in the dark places that redemption can occur and chains of the past can be broken.

Perfectionism, perfected

I can admit it. I am a perfectionist. And it isn’t a good thing.  I am trying to rise above it, to break free from it. One of my personal goals in writing a blog was to put myself out there, open and honest, unfiltered. And yet, I use the rusted, dented filter of perfectionism to slow me down and prevent me from putting out all of my thoughts.  I am so worried about creating the “perfect” post that I am overly filtering my thoughts and feelings, and in trying to create something perfect, I am stunted in my creation of anything. I want to find the right words, create the exact feeling, be perfect in my writing. So it holds me back, hinders me from expressing the true-ness, the authenticity, of my emotions, my thoughts, my deepest, darkest places.

I know that the lens of perfectionism warps everything that I do, everything I say. I am that girl who analyzes everything said after a conversation, wishing I had said or done x, y and z, never happy or satisfied with what occurred. This is especially so in conversations (i.e. arguments) that don’t go in my favor. I manipulate the entire thing in my head, just wishing I would have said the thoughts that occur to me long after the conversation is over. I go back over past writings and think “why did I write that? oh, look, that comma doesn’t belong there. That was a stupid thing to say” and so on, and so on. In everything I do, I am critical. Even when I am happy and satisfied with something, the happiness doesn’t last.  Sometimes within hours, sometimes days, but always, eventually, I will find a flaw, find an error, and it will haunt me. Frustrate me.

I was just at a marriage retreat with my husband, and part of what we did was take a personality inventory. It wasn’t the first time I’d taken the Meyers-Briggs, so I was familiar with it.  We did, however, go over it in more depth than I ever have before and how it relates in our communication and relationships with others. It was incredibly helpful and eye-opening.  It did make me chuckle when looking at a sheet that had some tongue-in-cheek prayers for each personality type. Mine read “Lord, allow me to be released of my perfectionism. (Wait, did I spell that right?)”  Yep, spot-on.  It also made me realize the extent in which my personality really does influence how it is that I interact with the world around me, and how that is played out in this tendency to perfectionism.

Sometimes, especially in our culture, it is hard to see that perfectionism is, indeed, a flaw and not a desirable trait to succumb to. It is part of our prideful, sinful nature. In a culture that rewards perfection, that desires it, that does everything possible to “create” perfection…especially visually…calling perfectionism less than desirable is counter-cultural.  We were created to crave perfection, but not of this world. We were created to crave the perfect One, the Creator. To crave that perfect union with Him.  That craving, that desire, however, has been twisted, warped from its original intention.  We think, in all of our broken human-ness, that we are the ones who can create perfection, the ones who can be perfect. And it breaks us down, causes us to stumble because we KNOW, in our most inner places, that we can never be perfect, never achieve that which we fully desire. There is a hole within us that cannot be filled. Those cravings can only be satisfied by the perfect One, through His perfect love. And still we ache, still we strive, trying to achieve that which we can never be…

Do I have any answers to cure this disease of perfectionism? Ha, I wish! The only thing I know to do is to give it to the Perfect One. Offer it up, pray for peace, and continue to press on, muddling through, doing this thing called life, and offering each and every moment up to the Father, asking for His blessings, His guidance, His redemption.  Allowing Him to come beside me and be a part of the process. Practicing gratitude has helped, giving thanks in the small and ordinary, as well as the extraordinary and significant. Being still, allowing Him to speak to me, listening to His voice in the deep quiet has also allowed me moments of rest, moments when the striving ceases.

This knowledge that I have that I am more prone to be a perfectionist doesn’t change who I am at my core, but it does give me an awareness to know that I may fall, that I may give in to its pull. Part of my journey, part of my path now, is to fight against it.  I need to allow myself freedom in my thoughts, my words. I need to pour out that which is inside, rather than worrying about what the world around me thinks. My intention needs to lie in snapping that filter of perfectionism in half, crushing it under my heel.  And I know that I can only do that through Christ, through His loving mercy and redemption.

There is nothing that I can do but rest in His perfection.