I’ll never forget one of my counselors explaining to me that we can stop developing emotionally at or around the point of our first major trauma. I was 25 at the time of the session, but I had a 14 year-old little girl huddled up inside my heart, hiding. You see, her safe, familiar world was turned upside down when her family moved to Upstate New York when she was just finishing middle school. No longer did she feel free, loved, seen. She felt exposed, misjudged, hurt, suffocated, angry. She was spending her formative years in an environment that wasn’t accepting or forgiving. And so she froze in time and hid. She became everything everyone else wanted her to become. And as each birthday rolled around, she grew further and further away from that little girl.
I burst into tears during that counselling session because I knew exactly who that little girl was and I was ready to embrace her again. But in order to do so, I had to also embrace who I had become in the meantime, and that was hard. I didn’t like who I was. And I didn’t like why I had become that person: Because people didn’t understand the difference between acceptance and approval and made me believe that the only way I could feel loved is by doing everything right and never getting anything wrong. I was more familiar with the emotion of shame than I was of love. I hated what had been done to me disguised in the Name of Jesus. I felt so afraid of him, so suffocated by guilt and religion that more often than not, I wished I wasn’t even a Christian anymore. It was just too hard.
It took me several years to get past my anger at who I was and what had been done to me. The more healthy I got, the more I wanted to go back in time and stand up for myself. I wanted to right all the wrongs done to me and my friends. But I couldn’t. There isn’t a blasted thing I can do to fix what has been. And so I had a choice: Could I begin to see my past differently? Could I see that the Jesus I was taught is not the Jesus in the Scriptures? Could I see that all the rules I was told to follow hold no power over my self-worth? Could I see that being a Jesus Follower isn’t suffocating – its a beautiful life full of freedom, grace, love, and forgiveness? Could I see that I had done my best with what I knew and what I had to keep myself alive in an environment that was dangerous and harmful and cost more people their futures and their lives than we care to admit? Could I get into counseling and begin to unwire my brain of the legalism/fundamentalism I was taught so I could begin to think and believe and live for myself? Could I love who I was and what Jesus has called me to?
Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry over things in my past. But I don’t allow them to create regret anymore. I would have never chosen what happened – but I had to face it and I faced it the best way I could with what little tools and knowledge I had at the time. Now that I know differently, I can embrace that little girl and tell her I’m sorry, I did the best I could, and from this point forward, things will be done differently. Not because I owe anyone anything. Not because I’m out to prove anything. Not because I need to make up for lost time. But because I know better now – and I know better because that little girl hid until it was safe to say, “Enough! No more! Let’s get back to who we are and who Jesus has made us to be!” I love who I am today and I know that I couldn’t be this person without who I once was. She made me into the compassionate warrior (my counselor’s description of me) that I am. And I wouldn’t trade who I am for anything.
Please don’t allow your past to sabotage your future by keeping you locked in a prison of regret, shame, and anger. You did the best you could back then. Now, you need to move forward and honor who God has made you to be and what he’s called you to do – TODAY.
I’m in your corner! Let’s get after it together!
So I can’t get past the life changing message in 2 Chronicles 20 (Who would have ever guessed there was such awesome stuff in Chronicles? Who even knows where Chronicles is in the Scriptures?).
Let’s Get Caught Up
To get caught up with this blog, read Juggling. Here’s a quick recap: We know that King Jehoshaphat is up against an army he cannot defeat. He cries out to God and says: “We are powerless against this great horde…we do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.”
God responds: “The battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf.” Wow. I can’t get over God’s answer. He says in essence, “You can’t do it. You will fail. Watch me do my thing.”
God wanted to show off to His people. He knew that they could not do anything on their own; only He is self-sufficient. He wanted to prove this to them. So what were they to do during the battle if they weren’t going to fight?
2 Chronicles 20:21: “And Jehoshaphat appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise Him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD, for His steadfast love endures forever.”
The army simply praised God! And God blessed them…He “gave rest all around”.
I love this story because it proves what I know intellectually, but need to be reminded of emotionally. I can do nothing. I am simply a branch. Do you remember in John 15 in the Scriptures when Jesus said, “I am the vine and you are the branches”? Have you ever wondered what that actually meant?
It means realizing that the vine gives the nutrients. The vine causes the growth. The vine protects, sustains, and fortifies. I simply get to know who Jesus is and then let him come in and do all of the work. The more I get to know him, the more like him I become. I just am because I am a part of the Almighty I Am.
Who Am I?
I’ve said this before, but some of you don’t know who you are because you don’t know who Jesus is. Wait, what? You are trying to find your identity in anything and everything because you are too afraid to slow down and really ask the questions: Does Jesus love me? Does he accept me? The answer is a resounding YES! But some of you have been taught a Jesus that doesn’t exist. You’ve been taught a Jesus arrogant Christians made up to control you. It’s time to stop running from him and figure out who he actually is.
A great place to start is in the Gospels. When I was deconstructing my faith, I started reading in the Gospels. My views and relationship with Jesus were transformed as I read how he interacted with people and loved them unconditionally.
What Happened Next?
And would you know, I started slowing down. Saying no. Leaning into my identity as someone who is loved and accepted by Jesus and so no longer needed to prove herself. I started getting healthy in counselling and loving people with no strings attached. I started being thankful and praising Jesus for the good things in my life that I was finally able to slow down and enjoy. It was not overnight, but gosh was it life-changing.
So what about you? Are you brave enough to come to the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Scriptures) and see who Jesus actually is?
Why is it so hard for me to accept that God does not need me?
I need to be needed. I need to feel like I matter. Like people’s well-being depends on me. Cause if people don’t need me, they will leave me. And then I will be alone with my thoughts and feelings and that scares me. I don’t want to have to face my past…I want to distract myself from my past with my busy present. And so I tend to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to get things done so I don’t have to think. To feel. And I exhaust myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
There is nothing wrong with being busy. Busyness is a part of life. But sometimes my “busyness” is self-inflicted to either distract myself or to find my identity in something else.
And so we always say yes and never say no and now we have so many things on our plate, we aren’t balancing anything, we are juggling everything. God never meant for us to “juggle” our lives. What is that verse in Matthew 11:28? “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” Nothing in there about Jesus’s work requiring juggling, or causing anxiety or exhaustion or overwhelmed feelings. It just says what Jesus asks us to do is “easy” and “light”. Gosh, how do I find that work? Must be nice.
The First Step
In 2 Chronicles 20 in the Scriptures, King Jehoshaphat (crazy name) is in a war that he knows he will not win. He is facing an overwhelming circumstance that he cannot avoid. See, that’s the first step in going from anxious and overwhelmed to easy and light: It’s setting down those things that don’t matter – those things that are just distractions. We will face enough in life that we have no choice but to confront. Why are you exhausting all of your mental, emotional and physical margin on things you don’t have to do? If you are having trouble saying “no” to certain things for fear of being replaced, rejected, or abandoned, that’s a tall-tale sign that you need to find a good counselor and get to work on yourself.
Back to our story: Jehoshaphat turns to God and cries out for help: “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand You…We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Wow. To have the courage that Jehoshaphat had to admit that he was nothing and could handle nothing apart from God…
Whether it’s your fear of your past, the intimidation of counselling, or just the looming circumstance in front of you that you cannot circumvent, you have to have the courage to invite God into your situation. You are not strong enough…big enough…brave enough…healthy enough…But God is.
Here is God’s response: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”
God doesn’t need me
I tend to believe that God needs me…because I need to be needed. I have so many fears and insecurities that I try to temper by being needed, which in my mind is a sure way to evade rejection and abandonment. But if God did need me, then he isn’t God at all, is he? And that scares the sh%$ out of me.
A.W. Tozer says: “This truth [that God is self-sufficient and needs no-one], while a needed rebuke to human self-confidence [ouch], will when viewed in its Biblical perspective lift from our minds the exhausting load of mortality and encourage us to take the easy yoke of Christ and spend ourselves in Spirit-inspired toil for the honor of God and the good of mankind. For the blessed news is that the God who needs no one has in sovereign condescension stooped to work by and in and through His obedient children…In the meanwhile our inner fulfillment lies in loving obedience to the commandments of Christ and the inspired admonitions of His apostles. ‘It is God which worketh in you.’ He needs no one, but when faith is present He works through anyone.”
I have to have faith that God is going to come through for me. That he’s not going to drop the ball. Unbelief, Tozer says, is deadly because I am believing in myself, not God, and I am only human. I will fail. Do I really believe God has got this…whatever the “this” may be in my life at any given time? If so, I will allow Him to dictate my day (“Spirit-inspired toil for the honor of God”) and I will be freed up to love and to serve other people (“the good of mankind”). I won’t be distracted by finding ways to make myself feel wanted and needed and irreplaceable. I will be able to focus on loving God and loving others, which is exactly who God created me to be. I will be living my divine purpose, and there is nothing more fulfilling.
Where to start?
Here’s where I’m starting: I am trying to find 10-12 minutes each day where I can pray uninterrupted. I like to write my prayers – it keeps me focused. When I can’t write them, I like to run and pray or walk and pray. In those 10-12 minutes, I am pouring out all of my anxieties, insecurities, fears, feelings of being overwhelmed, and confused. Then, I get up from that time fully surrendered to do what I know needs done next. Not what will necessarily distract me or make me feel better, but what actually needs done. My yoke actually does feel lighter because I’ve left all of my negative emotions with Jesus, trusting that He will take care of those things. And then I live in the moment.
Want to join me? How and where will you spend you 10-12 minutes in prayer today?
Do you feel like the walls are caving in and God’s just watching your life fall apart? Like, He doesn’t really see you? Do you feel utterly and completely abandoned by God?
The fear of abandonment is what caused my mental/emotional breakdown in 2010. I had experienced the pain of rejection the previous five years and determined that it was the absolute worst, most helpless feeling ever. I decided that I was unlovable, that someone else would always be more interesting, likable, pretty, smart, fun than me. I didn’t value myself – I didn’t think I had worth and so I figured everyone else felt the same or would figure that out eventually.
Rejection makes us feel and do horrible things to ourselves and our relationships.
I believe in Jesus (don’t check out just yet – give me a minute) and so I use some examples for my writing from the Scriptures. I am not asking you to believe any of this, I’m just asking you to stick with me and listen to me read (well, write) this story about Sarah and Hagar.
Sarah was barren and had probably come to terms with the fact that she was. Then God promises children…lots and lots of children. I’m sure Sarah told everyone. And if she didn’t, she kept it to herself but couldn’t wait to get her dignity back. But it didn’t happen right away. In fact it didn’t happen for years. And years. She grew impatient and I believe even more ashamed than she already was. Child-bearing was a woman’s sole purpose – it was her whole identity in those days. And so in her shame and embarrassment, she used Hagar. Sarah told Abraham (her husband) to have sex with Hagar (her slave), because in those days, that child would be considered Sarah’s.
Abraham slept with Hagar and she conceived. As you can imagine, this didn’t go well for Hagar. Sarah, who was already marginalized, defeated, depressed, and discarded by her society, couldn’t handle it. And so she took out her hurt and anger on Hagar by abusing her.
Shame also makes us feel and do horrible things to ourselves and our relationships.
I believe that shame and rejection go hand-in-hand. We cannot allow people to get close to us due to our shame. And so we push people away and reject them. Rejection causes shame, and so on and on the deadly cycle continues.
But here’s where you and I may part ways: I don’t believe that God is ashamed of you and I don’t believe that He has rejected and abandoned you. Yes, he allows bad things to happen, but he does not cause them (as Jennie Lusko reminded me). We live in a broken world. You and I have both heard that “hurt people hurt people”.
Here’s the hope: God promises that he sees, he knows, and he will give us the peace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and safety that we are looking for if we will just humble ourselves and stop fighting against him.
Hagar ran away from Sarah. She was in the dessert, all alone and hopeless, and that’s when God found her and spoke to her face to face. He promised to protect, love and accept her. And she was never the same.
She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her,
“You’re the God who sees me!
“Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!”
My heart is breaking because I know people need to hear this…God sees YOU. And He knows. He knows the pain you are feeling. He sees what’s been done. Stop blaming him for the brokenness he died for. He died on the cross and rose again so that we could have hope and a future knowing that someone will always love and accept us and see our worth. You just need to stop fighting him and let him rescue you.
“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.
I am not going to lie…I more often than not feel like I’m owed. I mean, be honest, don’t you? If you are thinking, “No, I really don’t.” Then riddle me this: Why do you get hurt, angry, stressed, or depressed? Because you think you are entitled to certain outcomes, and when you don’t get those outcomes, all Hell breaks lose. You with me? Personally, this is why I struggle to forgive, to extend grace, and to surrender to God. I feel like He owes me and so do people. How arrogant of me! No wonder there are times in my life when it feels like God is against me…James 4 says He’s opposed to the proud but close to the humble. Yikes.
What about Job?
I was reading in Job yesterday. Here’s a dude that had it all…a big family, a lot of money, a huge tent (equivalent to house…haha…for some reason that cracked me up), and a loaded camel (car – funny to me too…sorry). In Job 1:6-12, God basically challenges Satan to a duel. God is so confident in His faithfulness and sovereignty, that He gives Satan permission to utterly destroy Job’s life. Wait a minute…come again? Yeah, God believes enough in His own goodness that He allows Satan to wreck Job. I am not sure if you are frightened or comforted by that thought. In a strange way, I am frighteningly comforted. God knows He will be enough for Job. Here is the crazy thing…God is also confident that Job will rely on God’s immutable character to define his circumstances and not allow the circumstances to define God’s character. Wow.
In verses 13-19, four servants inform Job, one after the other mind you, that everything he has was just destroyed. Everything. Gone. In a matter of minutes. What Job does next hit me hard yesterday…”He fell to the ground and worshipped.” I just had to stop typing for a second and take a deep breath. He explains, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
What about God?
We have heard that verse a thousand times, haven’t we? But think about what Job is saying here. He realized he is entitled to nothing (he came into the world naked – with nothing – and would leave naked – with nothing), but that God is the Creator of the Universe and entitled to everything…even worship during a disastrous season.
Here’s the crazy thing…Job admits in 2:10 that he and his wife have experienced “evil”, which literally means “disaster”, from God. However, Job questions, “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” Job had a proper view of life because He had a proper view of God. God’s character defined Job’s circumstances. God’s character defined how Job viewed himself. God’s character kept Job alive when death looked more promising.
What about Us?
We live in a broken world. And this brokenness causes the evil. The disaster. I mean, read the verses in Job again…Satan brings up Job to God and says that Job won’t still love God if Satan takes everything away. God allowed the disaster, but He didn’t cause it. Satan did. Jennie Lusko and I talk about this in our Scar Stories Podcast. It’s so important that we realize that God isn’t out to destroy us – Satan is – but God offers us Himself, which is more than enough when we lose everything.
I wonder what circumstance you are walking through today that is tempting you to doubt the goodness and faithfulness of God. You’re questioning His love, grace, and forgiveness. You wonder if He’s there…close. You know what you need to do, but you are more afraid of what everyone else will think and aren’t sure God will be enough. You are allowing your circumstances to define Who God is and control what you will do. But I want to challenge you: the Scriptures say we are NEVER given more than we can handle because we are given God – and He handles everything! What you have to determine is will you surrender your heart to Him and realize you were never entitled to anything but Him. And that, my friend, truly is enough.