I’ve had a lot of conversations with people over the past couple of weeks who have been very confused by me and my message/platform. They believe that someone like me, in my position, with my background and upbringing, should be preaching a different message. Instead of asking hard questions like, “How has the church hurt you?” or “Did purity culture scar you?” or writing blogs about why I swear, I should only preach positive messages about the church and purity culture and watch my language. I believe some people think I’ve gone off the deep end after being raised in such a fundamental, legalistic environment and they wonder if I’ve thrown the baby out with the bathwater
I understand their hearts – I really do. They aren’t trying to be nasty or argumentative. They are scared. I think as our world has changed so drastically in the past 10-20 years with the internet, technology and social media, etc (I’m rolling my eyes, but we have to make space for the fact that these things have dramatically impacted our world and culture), a lot of our religious messaging has not adapted to the times. The use of fear to keep people from experimenting is outdated. I think owning the fact that maybe we didn’t parent, lead, or teach the way we should have and are the catalyst for some people’s mental, emotional, and religious deconstructions is a hard pill to swallow. Instead of replacing fear with humility and owning when and how we got some things wrong, we are still running scared. And we’ve left a bunch of people in our wakes who are now running from a Jesus who doesn’t even exist.
Teaching me to fear certain things like the big three (sex, drugs, alcohol – should we add homosexuality and divorce?) was not the Jesus way. The Scriptures teach in 1 John 4:18 that “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” and then again in 2 Timothy 1:7 that “God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind”. Gosh, if there is one thing that is absent from evangelicalism today, it’s a “sound mind”. I’ve heard how I am to practice “faith over fear” and then in the same breath am told I should be “terrified” about where the world is headed. Are you as confused as I am?
I’m not saying there aren’t consequences for our decisions. We all know there are. I’m just saying our modus operandi as Jesus Follower’s needs to change from leveraging fear to promoting love. Ah love. Another word so many of us are scared to death of. Doesn’t love mean you accept a person and approve of their behavior? Does it mean you are affirming? Can we just obliterate the words, “acceptance and approval and affirming” from our vocabulary? These are three other words evangelicals have used to totally muddy the waters of unconditional love. When someone tells me they love me and who I am but then also goes out of their way to explain all the ways they disagree with me, well, that’s not very accepting or loving (this has been done to me so many times). If you do this to other people (and I have, unfortunately), it’s really selfish and fearful. It’s me wanting you to know that I love you, but also wanting everyone else to know how I disagree with your lifestyle so they don’t misunderstand or judge me. I’m also protecting myself from future guilt over your decisions. If something goes bad wrong for you, I’ll be off the hook if I’ve told you where I stand on that issue.
How on God’s green earth is any of this loving? How does this exemplify any of what 1 Corinthians 13 says love is? It doesn’t.
Gosh, we’ve gotten so much of this wrong. Jesus never went around telling people he loved them and then giving them a laundry list of the things he didn’t like about their lives. Instead, he just hung out with people who were nothing like him, never changed who he was, and loved them unconditionally. It was this love, this kindness, that lead to repentance (as Romans says).
There is so much we’ve gotten wrong throughout the years on so many topics. I’m not going to burn a bridge with someone over something that I may not like or agree with. Nope. I am going to love that person like Jesus, hook, line and sinker. My love leads them to Jesus and then I trust Jesus to lead that person in the direction HE wants them to go. It’s that simple. I’m not the assistant Holy Spirit in people’s lives. It’s not my job to manipulate change through fear. It’s not on me to convince someone to live a certain way. It’s to point people to Jesus, someone who loves them just as they are, today. Someone who has a plan for their lives and will reveal that to them. That’s my job.
So I use my platforms as safe places for people to share and feel. I ask the questions that most people are too afraid to ask and I welcome all the answers. I try to model Jesus’s way of listening and loving no matter where a person is. They need to be seen and heard. I think the sooner we can slow down and replace fear with love and manipulation with kindness, the sooner we will be able to listen and hear what people are really saying. And that’s a game changer.
“When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions. Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts!”
I have a number of close friends and family members that I have seen wrestle with the devastating consequences of their brokenness. I have been privy to the statements, condemnations, judgments, and even prophecies that have been spoken over their lives. If you have ever lived through a season of “reaping what you have sown” as I have, you know firsthand how quickly the religious people come running out of the woodwork bent on making sure you understand that what has just happened must not and cannot ever happen again.
I was broken.
I think my angst comes from this: After a season of about 6 months of living through absolute Hell due to emotional problems and self-medicating, I really didn’t need anyone telling me how bad I was or that these behaviors needed to stop. I knew it. O Lord, You know I knew it. I was so broken, so devastated, so utterly ruined by who I had become, I didn’t even recognize my own reflection in the mirror. I was terrified. And it was in one moment, face down on the floor of our bedroom, that I just called out to God from the depths of my heart. Even typing this is making me emotional. I told Him I was nothing. I had nothing. And if He was real, if He truly was my Savior, then the only way I was ever going to go on living was to be reminded in that moment that He loved me. And I’m not lying to you when I say that I heard Jesus whisper His love to me. Right then. Right there. And I was never the same.
See, I think that’s what true brokenness is – when all we have to cling to is the fact that Jesus loves us. In the past I could’ve made myself feel better by listing my spiritual accomplishments. But my mental/emotional breakdown did just that: It broke me day after day for about a year and I was literally stripped spiritually and emotionally bare before God and others. Yes, my clinical depression and anxiety, my emotional issues were exposed to others. Never before had that been the case. However, my humiliation pushed me to Jesus. He’s all I had. And if He didn’t come through for me in that moment on the floor, then I am not sure what would have happened next.
The Way of Jesus
Isn’t this the way of Jesus though? Didn’t He do this for people over and over in the Scriptures? He met them in the middle of their brokenness and humiliation and didn’t condemn them. Instead, He reminded them of how much He loved them – even in the middle of their mess.
Brokenness looks different for all of us.
I believe brokenness looks different for each of us but one thing is the same for all of us: When you are stripped bare and left face down before God wherever that is, you know. You know the depths of your heart have just been revealed to you. And you know that you will never understand the Gospel and it’s life-altering ramifications better than you do in that moment. You will never interact with Jesus the same again because you quite have nothing more or left to prove. You only have His love, grace, and forgiveness. It’s an incredibly powerful, resurrecting, transforming process. And there is a freedom that comes from true brokenness. A freedom that is often misinterpreted, but a freedom that I will defend the rest of my life.
Freedom in Brokenness
It’s the same freedom the Prodigal Son experienced when he came back home – the freedom to party and dance even though he was still dirty from living with the pigs (read Luke 15). You see, he wasn’t celebrating his brokenness, he was celebrating the love of his father and the fact that he came home and was safe. Why can’t we do this for people? Why do we operate out of fear and guilt? Why can’t we just rejoice when someone comes back to Jesus and trust Him to finish the work He’s started in their lives?
Our church, Centerpoint Church, ministers to hundreds of broken people every week. And I am here to tell you that we celebrate Prodigals coming home. All I can do is to remember my story and the fact that the Father came running to me when I was most helpless. Unable to offer or prove anything. And He changed the trajectory of my life. When we stop trying to prove to God why He shouldn’t love us and just determine to accept His unconditional love, grace and forgiveness for us, He does a miracle. It may look to outsiders like He is letting us off the hook. All I can say, we know otherwise. And that truth saves and sustains our lives.
Full disclosure: I wrote this blog sitting in car line (the longest line you will ever sit in – where your soul dies). I came home and read it to my husband, Bryant, and then he read me his message for that week (surprise – he’s a pastor) and gosh were we so in sync. So, after you read this, I’d encourage you to listen to this podcast.
But without further ado, here is my car line blog.
We are afraid of our own brokenness.
Admitting we are broken would be to admit that we have a past that we don’t know what to do with. What do we do about all of those things we regret? All those seasons and situations and circumstances that we wish with all of our might we could go back and change – for ourselves, for our marriages, for our families, for our relationships.
We already know the answer and that’s what scares us to death: We will be able to do absolutely nothing.
We cannot change the past. We can only own the past. And gosh almighty that is so painful. Embracing the fact that there are things we could have done differently and therefore our life wouldn’t look like it does now is nothing short of daunting. This is why we tend to rewrite history. It’s the best form of self-defense. Your brain cannot face the fact that certain relationships, seasons, opportunities are lost or broken because of your choices. Living with that grief is too overwhelming. So we lie to ourselves and others, not out of spite, malice, or ill-will, but out of self-protection. Our pride becomes our saving grace and that leaves no room for God’s grace.
Here’s what I think we all too often forget…
If we don’t deal with our pasts and failures, then we will live enslaved to them. That kind of bondage looks like living with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, anger, a lack of empathy, an obsession with control, ignorance, manipulation, rejection, passive aggressiveness, arrogance, and abandonment.
That sounds like an awful way to live.
So you have a choice: You can decide not to deal with your past and remain enslaved to it…or you can go back, with the help of a therapist/counselor, and do the hard work of getting healthy.
Yes, it will be grueling at first. But you will be guided by someone who’s been trained to take you where you need to go and not to leave you there. If you choose not to do this, you will constantly sabotage the relationships that are most important to you…not to mention your own life.
Once you’ve dealt with your past, you may still have some pain, regret, and emotion around certain people, situations and circumstances. But you won’t be controlled by those triggers. You will live free and be able to embrace a healthy future with a healthy you fostering healthy relationships.
So the choice is yours. But so many people’s well-beings depends on your choice.
Your partner, your kids, your parents, your friends…YOURSELF.
Jesus wants you to escape from the prison that is your past. He will guide you and He will never leave you. He wants to give you a hope and a future. But you have to be willing to do the hard work. You have to do what only you can do and then trust God for what only He can do – and that’s wash grace, forgiveness, and love over your past so you don’t have to live any more of your life behind it’s bars.
So go ahead. Call that friend. Attend that community group. Make that appointment. The future you is begging the current you to take the steps you need to get healthy.
See you on the other side.️
Ephesians 6 lists the shield of faith as one of the pieces of armor to use in defense against the attacks of Satan. Why? I love what Beth Moore says, “When we are convinced that God is believable and we respond to Him in faith, practically nothing can get through to us. But when our faith diminishes, our shield begins to drop, and we are immediately vulnerable to the enemy. Satan will stop at nothing to get us to lower our shield of faith so he can wound and burn us. He stacks up tangible evidence in opposition to God’s assurances. He delights in doubts and lies. He studies our weaknesses and then aims where we’re vulnerable. His priority job description is to keep us from believing God.” And believe you me, he knows our weaknesses. My counselor calls them triggers…you know, those things that seem to come out of nowhere and cause us to become emotionally unraveled. But wouldn’t it be awesome if, as soon as we sensed a trigger go off inside of us, we grabbed our shield of faith and started preaching the Gospel to ourselves? What if we immediately began rooting and establishing ourselves in the love of God so that our emotions couldn’t take us every which way?
Psalm 25:15 says: “My eyes are ever on the LORD, for only He will release my feet from the snare.” Triggers are lies of the enemy to believe that we have unmet needs, unresolved issues, and unhealed hurts that are only going to be met by getting our own way. And so, we respond to these triggers by self-medicating. We get angry, abusive, lustful, hungry, depressed, anxious, manipulative, wounded, and selfish, you name it. We turn to ourselves or others as our saviors. And we get trapped in the snare of the deadly cycle. We have to choose to take our eyes off of those things that we think we are owed, want, or even believe we need. We need to center our attention on our loving God. You see, this verse comes after “No one whose hope is in You will ever be put to shame…” and “Good and upright is the LORD, therefore He instructs sinners in His ways. He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them His way. All the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” If we don’t really believe that those verses are true, we will never, and I mean never, refocus our wandering eyes onto God. We will never preach the Gospel to ourselves. We will never root and establish ourselves in His love. We will never experience freedom from fear.
Andy Stanley says, “Every good thing that comes your way comes from your Heavenly Father – which is all the more reason to take your unmet needs, your heartfelt needs, and even your embarrassing wants and wishes to him. Will you go to God with these or just keep trying to wring them out of those closest to you?”Going to God and not harboring or wringing takes strength and discipline. The strength part is taken care of according to Ephesians 6:10, which follows the verses on the shield of faith: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (italics mine). I don’t need to be strong in and of myself in order to face my fears. Think of the worst case scenario for the situation you are trying to control in order to avoid abandonment. Pretty bad, isn’t it? Okay, now realize that right now that seems impossible for you to face – because (and I hate to be Captain Obvious) you don’t have to face it right now. Perhaps this is why One oh so much wiser than the rest of us said to not worry about tomorrow…today is enough. We have more than enough strength and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9) to deal with today. However, we are never going to make it if we don’t decide to discipline our minds on the love of God. Train your mind to trust that God is Sovereign. Even though you may think you are in control, you are not. Those things you dread could happen regardless of whether or not you submit to God’s sovereignty and love…so why not just rest in His omniscience and omnipotence? Trust is simple…when you begin to worry or to grow angry or jealous or greedy, remind yourself that God, Who knows everything and Who will ultimately work His will for your good and His glory, loves you and will do what He (as God of the universe) deems necessary. Let me remind you again, this will happen regardless of whether you “allow” Him to or not. Rest in His love for you.
Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Ephesians 2:4-5: “But because of His great love for us, God, Who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”
1 John 4:9-10: “This is love – not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”
I mean, what can I even say after reading those verses? Did you stop and really meditate on what these verses are really, I mean really, saying? God proves His own love…HIS LOVE…His very own love…for US. How did He prove it? When I was in the middle of the worst sin I will ever commit, the one sin I will be afraid He will never forgive, the one sin I will forever be ashamed of…He died for me. Because He wants to be with me.
Not only that, but because of His GREAT love for me, He made me ALIVE. That’s right. He took away my old life filled to the brim with sins (past, present and future sins) and gave me Christ’s life. That means that when God looks at me, He doesn’t see Nicole. He sees Jesus. He doesn’t see the years I battled with depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. He doesn’t see the years I almost destroyed my marriage and family. He sees Jesus’ perfection. He doesn’t see the sins I am going to commit in the future and be so ashamed of. Nope. He sees Christ. I mean, what?! And…I love this. He initiated all of this love first and foremost. It’s His love that defines our relationship. It’s not a mutual love. Nuh-uh. It’s only Him. And that’s great news. Cause I am going to fail and my love is going to go MIA. But He’s still going to be there. Cause it’s His love. Not mine.
It’s a funny thing…as I begin to bask in His love for me, my fear of abandonment begins to disappear.
That’s why God’s Word says that perfect love casts out all fear. But I cannot do any of this without faith. I have to believe that God loves me and hang on to that belief, especially when I experience pain from my own decisions and/or somebody else’s.
Hebrews 11:6 says it’s impossible to please God without faith. We have to believe that He truly does exist and rewards those who seek after Him. What’s the reward? What we have already studied: A life without fear. If you read on in Hebrews 11, you will see person after person who did extraordinary things in the face of real danger because they believed God loved them and had a plan and a purpose for their lives. They found their identities not in things found on this earth, but in Jesus Christ. Hebrews 11:13-16 explains, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised, they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” I love that. They could have returned at any point to the people and things that they thought could fulfill them here on this earth. But they knew better. They rooted and established themselves in the love of God and by faith accepted the plans and purposes He had for their lives. Therefore, they were able to live without fear. But living by faith is not easy. It is a moment by moment decision.
This cycle (Read: The Catalyst Emotion) even bleeds over into our relationships with God…we feel as though that is how He interacts with us. While we do good, He accepts us and loves us and wants to be with us. When we mess up, He disapproves and so no longer accepts us and would rather we not be around. And so we run. We become the Prodigal and push God far, far away so that we are not abandoned by Him, but instead reject Him to remain in control.
However, we can also become the legalist…constantly attempting to prove to God that we are acceptable…we are worthy…He shouldn’t abandon us. We are fostering a relationship birthed completely out of fear of God abandoning us and consequently fueled by us attempting to manipulate God into “liking” us.
You see, our fear of abandonment grows out of our knowledge that we are not able to measure up to anything for anyone. We know ourselves. We know we are going to let people down because we let ourselves down. We are so aware of our own struggles we truly believe that if anyone really knew us inside out, he/she wouldn’t love us…especially not the God of the Universe. And so we strive to give off some sort of air of perfection…whether in our homes, our jobs, our finances, our schooling, our religion, or our extracurricular activities. If we can find a way to accept ourselves, then surely someone else will be able to accept us. And yet, the cycle continues.
It isn’t until we come to fully accept God’s unconditional, unwavering love for us that we will be able to love Him and love others without fear. I wrote this in my journal the other day: “God does not see me the way I see myself. He loves me greatly!” I had just read Ephesians 3:17: “So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filed to the measure of all the fullness of God.” I continued in my journal, “I have to be rooted and established in the love of God in order to grasp the extent of His love.” Did you catch that? I realized that if I didn’t center myself on the fact that God loves me, then I wasn’t ever going to fully understand just how much He loves me. Reread that sentence if you need to. I need to. We have to preach the love of God for us, to us.
I looked up the word “rooted”. It means, “The part of a thing attaching it to a greater or more fundamental whole. The basic cause, source, or origin of a thing. The essential substance or nature of something.” Wow. The only way I am going to experience wholeness is by attaching myself to the love of God. If I do not allow His love to wash over me and to fill in all of the empty spaces caused by a lack of love and acceptance somewhere in my past, I will constantly be looking to other people and/or things to complete me, and, as we read earlier, that only causes conflicts and deadly cycles. The passage in John 15 about the vine and the branches is beginning to make more sense now, huh? The word “established” takes the concept of being rooted in God’s love one step further: “Having been in existence for a long time and therefore recognized and generally accepted. Having taken root – growing well.” I love that. Not only do I have to attach myself to the love of God, I have to be “growing well” in it. What does that mean? I need to constantly be preaching the Gospel to myself…especially when I fail. I have no choice but to meditate on God’s love for me.