Friday, September 16, 2016

Self-Consumed

In my journal I scribble down, "What if we lay it all down—this pursuit of self-love and self-glory in all its forms, even the ones that are accepted in Christianity today—and simply receive."

I make note, "I can't really love others if I am self-consumed. And I can't even really receive love if I am self-consumed." 

I want to receive love, and I want to give love. But, I see, I'm obsessed with myself. Totally. The Lord unravels me, shows me how crazy self-obsessed I am. It's everywhere. The root of self runs deep.  In the world of trees, it's a Redwood, wide and tall, casting a shadow on all of my life.

"We can cut it down, if you want to," He says.  And the thought is exciting and terrifying and wonderful all at once.  What happens if I stop thinking of myself all. the. time? Trying to make sure I'm okay? What if I stop seeking after acceptance and approval? What if I stop caring about everyone's opinions on my life? Is that even okay? 



Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Exposed


I have so many thoughts swirling around in my head—I'm not even sure I can gather them all together, but I will attempt.  These last few years I feel as though I have been challenged in ways I have never been challenged before.  I am seeing myself, and therefore Jesus, in a whole new light.

When I was a child, I would find my thoughts to be my company.  I believed I was alone in feeling and experiencing the things I did, and so I often isolated myself.  After all, no one could possibly understand, right?  I carried that mentality into adulthood, but over the last year or two, I see the Lord freeing me of this, along with so many other falsehoods.

The reality is that every being in the human race is very similar, despite our differences.  I do believe that all of us have experienced that sickening feeling in our throats, the brick in our stomach that often comes when fear rushes over us like a consuming, crashing wave.  I'm not alone in that.  So I know that all these things the Lord is revealing to me are not unique to me—it's the human condition.  I have seen these things pop up before, but like a game of Whack-a-Mole, I have quickly shoved them back down, unwilling to face the truth because, well, it's embarrassing, humiliating.  I preferred to live in denial, but those things were still nagging me, tucked in the corners of my soul.  I knew they were there, and I knew they were affecting the way I functioned.

I can't remember exactly when it was, although I'm sure I could find a more specific date if I looked through my journals, but there came a time when I told Papa God, "Do Your work.  Dig it all out. I can't live like this anymore. I'm ready."  I don't deny that I was trembling, my faith weak, my heart pounding wildly because I knew I was asking Him to do major surgery, and what if... what if I didn't make it out alive?

I find in me this desire to let go, and yet, at the same time, to cling tight to things I know I should not.  What if I let go and it all comes crashing down?  What if I tell God, "Do with me what you will," and that proclamation leads me to a concentration camp like Corrie ten Boom?  What if I tell God, "I want to know You.  I want to experience You like never before!" and the path to knowing Him, experiencing Him and deepening my faith is to lose nearly everything I have- even my children- like the writer of It Is Well With My Soul, Horatio Spafford? What if I sink instead of soar?

And yet, I realize that all those things could indeed happen to me, with or without God.  Wouldn't I rather know Him, experience Him, trust Him through it all?  Wouldn't I rather be broken upon the rock than be crushed by it? What if I stop self-protecting, which is really no protection at all, and I let go?  What if I really let go and let Him do His work?

I've been asking a lot of "What If" questions lately.  It began as an ending— as in, I came to the end of myself, and I hammered What Ifs into the gates of Heaven. I was afraid of my own anger and passion, then shocked by Jesus' gentleness to what felt like the equivalent of beating my fists upon His chest.  He wasn't phased.  I thought He would have been.  He wasn't angry.  In fact, He was strangely pleased. It seems as though He has been waiting for me to unburden myself of my questions.

Since then, the What Ifs have been more like post-it notes I leave all over for Him to answer, if He wants, when He wants, how He wants.  Many times, the What ifs are answers in and of themselves— bold questions with bold implications.  

What if I really am radically loved?

Just asking the questions is healing, because in the asking I am laying them down.  I am releasing my grip on them, the shame and fear wrapped up in holding onto them.  I lay them down, and I'm no longer consumed by them. I'm exposing them.

I have found in laying out my questions, I have freed Jesus to lay out answers, to bring things bubbling to the surface— things I had tied anchors to in an effort to forget.  Lately, He has done that in such a strange way, by what I can only describe as an out of body experience.  I'm there, observing myself, observing my reactions and emotions, and the physical manifestations of those things (the fear-induced nausea, for example).  In those moments, I realize that He sees me, He really sees me.  With others, even my husband, I have often felt like, if they really knew me,  if they could see all of me, they would not really love me.  This induces a fear within me that I will be exposed and then rejected. Even though I know with my logical mind that God sees all things and knows all things, that one cannot hide anything from Him— after all Scripture testifies to this over and over [Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight; everything is uncovered and exposed before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account (Heb. 4:13). The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good (Prov. 15:3).]— I realized that something within me had a belief that if Jesus really saw me, if He really knew me through and through, He too would reject me.  I find in myself many beliefs which I act from that are not based on the Truth and Reality of Christ.  In His kindness, Jesus is digging them out.  It is painful, but it is good.

I feel much like a tree that is being pruned.  Limbs are being lopped off, which in the moment feels completely wretched, but the purpose is to create a beautiful, fruitful, strong tree which is not easily swayed by strong winds and wild storms, whose branches do not bow under the weight of nests and scampering squirrels.

However, it is incredibly uncomfortable to be exposed, to be splayed out.  I feel naked and ashamed.  The truth is I have lived much of my life like that ruler in the story of The Emperor's New Clothes, except instead of false, non-existent clothes, I have false, non-existent shields. All my attempts to cover myself, to control my environment, really just leave me exposed and vulnerable to attack.  My armor is insufficient.  I'm naked and I don't know it.  But then Jesus exposes me, and I see my nakedness, see that I've been fooled, and I am humiliated.

But then I see, we're all naked.  We're all alike.  I don't have to be humiliated.  I don't have to be ashamed.  You can judge me, but in your judgment, you will find that you are the same as I am. The Kingdom of God seems upside down, but then I realize, it's this kingdom on earth that's upside down and inside out.  The truth is that when we are willing to be exposed and vulnerable, we are covered by God, fully protected. We walk in the light.  When we try to cover ourselves, we are exposed and vulnerable, and we are walking around believing we are shielded by a wall thats' weak and crumbling, believing we are protected from the fiery arrows headed our way.

I'm standing outside of myself, watching my emotions brewing, and I'm seeing those emotions have strings, and these strings weave quite a web all over my life impacting how I interact with people, what I believe, what I do, how I feel....  Jesus and I, we follow the path and see where the first knot was tied.  Again, I'm tempted to be ashamed, to wallow in it, but that's not why He's exposing it.  He's exposing it to heal me.  There is no condemnation in Him.  He speaks gently, "Look.  There.  See? There it is."

"You feel like you have to be someone.  Like you have to be special.  That's a burden to you."
Sometimes I defend myself, "But, haven't you called me to be a world changer?"
He smiles, the kind of smile you give an innocent, naive child. "No."
His response is simple. It's one word, but as His response comes out, His truth floods in. It's amazing how He has to ability to say so much with one word.

Receive. He has called me to receive, specifically to receive of Him.  He shows me that I get caught up in being a good mom, in being an excellent wife, in being a wonderful friend, and those all sound like good things to me, high callings, even.  But I'm focusing on producing fruit, and He never called me to focus on producing.  He calls me to abide, and the result of abiding.... is fruit.  It's no wonder that I'm often flustered by myself, because I'm always checking the fruit.  Is there a bud?  Is it blossoming? How many are there?  Is there enough? Is He proud of me? Does He love me yet?

Oh.  Oh.... there's that knot, there's where that string leads to.

I turn to the Scriptures, "When we got it all down perfectly, Christ loved us."  Oh, wait, that's not in there.  
Romans 5 comes to rescue me. While I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me.  While I was ungodly. Because I could never be enough. His love rushes in, pulls me close, takes away the separation.  His love makes me righteous before I've done anything right. Suddenly it makes sense again.  The gospel had become mere words on a page to me, words I could quote but just words, and in this moment, they become life again.