I had an experience yesterday. One of those moments of clarity where suddenly you understand it all and you don’t know how you could have missed it. Those moments are beautiful and wonderful and an essential part of growth. They also come with a challenge – you can not experience truth without acting on it. At least, if you want to continue to be healthy and grow you must act on it.
I’ve known for years that I’m messed up – my history left me broken and crippled and I’ve got a list of maladaptive behaviours and destructive coping mechanisms. These were things I needed to survive and adopted because I didn’t see any other option. Slowly, painfully, with the support of people who love me I’ve been untangling them, healing, learning, growing. Over the last few years I’ve become more than just a result of my past. It’s been exciting and difficult and frightening and exhausting.
One of the lingering things has been my difficulty with vulnerability. This can be seen in a lot of ways, but the one that is relevant here is my difficulty being vulnerable, being authentic. I can give information – even information about me, about my experiences, about what happened, how I felt in the past – but it’s so much more difficult for me to give myself. It’s hard for me to share how I am feeling right now, to admit my needs, to accept help, to show my weak points. It comes because in my experience, feeling “safe” is just another opportunity to be hurt, to be taken advantage of. Safety is another sort of vulnerability.
This has made friendships and relationships really difficult for me – I tend to either keep people out or get too close. I’m awkward and needy or I’m stand-offish and superior. If something is wrong I wall myself in or I lean on one person so hard I’m shocked they don’t break. I was vaguely aware that this was a problem and wasn’t good and was probably something I should work on, but yesterday in that moment of clarity, I understood.
I was scared of authentic intimacy, so I was content with creating false intimacy. I was happy living with counterfeit closeness – situations where I was in control and felt people didn’t know me as well as they thought they did, or at least not well enough to hurt me (not that it actually kept me from being hurt in relationships). I needed intimacy – closeness and friendships and to share like that – but I was getting a tainted version of it. Poisoned medicine in place of what my soul really needed.
So last night with a group of friends I confessed. I confessed how hard it is for me to be honest, how hard it was for me to feel comfortable and safe with them – even though I’ve known them and respected them and been “close” with them for years. I cried. They understood. On the outside I’m sure it was no big deal at all – what person hasn’t been insecure or had difficulty opening up – but on the inside, I am changed. That’s one more piece of my soul that’s been set right, put back together, made whole.
Hosea 6:6, ESV
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
Mercy, not sacrifice. Steadfast love, not burnt offerings. An act of the heart not just an act of obedience.
This verse is breaking my heart this morning, echoed by Christ in Matthew 9:13
Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.
The whole Church, the Body of Christ needs to ask – what are we giving, mercy or sacrifice? Where is our heart? What is our concern – showing love or saving our own skins? What is the purpose behind our actions, our legalism, our quest for purity, our understanding of forgiveness?
We have been forgiven, cleansed, made new, all by the work of Christ with no effort on our parts beyond acknowledging when the Spirit opened our eyes to see it. So what do we do with that? We offer sacrifice – time and prayers and money and ego – all in hopes someone will see and acknowledge and validate us, that our mansion in heaven might be a little bigger, a bit better furnished. Where do we show mercy? Where do we acknowledge that it is by grace we are saved – us and everyone around us.
Mercy. Not sacrifice. Grace, forgiveness, following the example of Christ to seek out the sinners and what – yell at them about how evil they are? Tell them they’re destined to an eternity of torment? No, that’s not how Christ treated the sinner. Mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Christians should be active in the work of restoration – renewal and healing and the journey toward wholeness.
Mercy, not sacrifice. God give me strength.
I just had one of those moments where suddenly I understand things and I can’t believe how foolish I was for missing it in the first place. Some background:
- my church has been going through the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas. A few weeks ago we finished looking at the Traditionalist pathway
- We’re also, as a church, celebrating Advent with a reading and lighting of the candles each week. There’s also daily materials that I forgot existed until now.
- I’ve signed up with my local multicultural association to help as refugees start pouring into my city – training starts tomorrow.
Now, I love the advent season, I celebrate solstice (in the sense of taking time to reflect on the darkness and celebrate the return of the light) and Christmas is both a cultural and a spiritual celebration for me. I understand the history, the richness, the excitement and the depth of this time of year – holy days and sacred times. However, this year it’s all felt really flat to me. Maybe I’ve been too busy, maybe I’ve been too distracted by the cultural rituals (shopping, wrapping, hearing my kids say they want a ton of things) – whatever it was, something was missing.
Then I read this post and suddenly my heart swelled and tears were in my eyes and I understand it more. It’s not just the rituals (spiritual or cultural) or knowing the significance of the celebration, it’s taking the opportunity to feel it. To feel the anticipation, the hope, to understand the longing and the fear that comes in the waiting – what if it doesn’t get better, what if the light doesn’t come, what if we miss the Messiah – and then choosing to hope regardless. Choosing to celebrate, to feel joy. Choosing to prepare and anticipate and believe that God is bringing something that will forever change everything and that you are part of it.
I have an extra special opportunity to understand Advent this year, and I almost missed it. I almost didn’t connect the experience of helping new people settle here with the excitement and anticipation of advent. Suddenly things feel different, I’ve got that anxious excited fluttery feeling and I can’t wait to see what happens, to experience what is coming. I am so thankful to be a part of it.
A common theme in conversations and thoughts and in my heart and soul for the past few months has been abundance – abundant life and living in the Kingdom and all the good that we’re supposed to experience – now and for eternity.
What I’ve come to realize is that I don’t understand this concept at all. When I’m feeling cynical I blame it on the traditions I’ve been raised in and the culture of fear and shame that Christianity sometimes creates – how can I believe I can live abundant life when it’s so clear that I fail God over and over again, when I am obviously still a slave to sin, when I’m supposed to be humble and patient and gentle, when I’m reminded over and over again that I’m one choice away from losing my salvation.
When I’m in a more honest mood I can admit that my inability to understand abundance comes from fear. What if I’m not really saved, what if the promise of abundant life isn’t really for me. What if I am weeds and goats and bad trees. I don’t live in the Kingdom because I’m still scared that I don’t belong in the Kingdom.
The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.
Luke 14:15-24 has been in my head a lot. There’s layers of truth there, but the one that most often sticks out at me is the truth that I *don’t* belong in the kingdom. The banquet wasn’t prepared for me. I wasn’t invited based on my accomplishments or achievements or honour or status. Yet I am welcome. More than welcome, I am compelled. And there is still room for more.
I don’t need to hoard or hide away the good in my life. I don’t need to be afraid that any minute it could all turn to dust. I don’t need to be scared of being found out – and I don’t need to put on airs to try and fit in somewhere I don’t belong. I do belong, both as I am and as I am being transformed to be. There is no limit to GOd’s grace ,not for me and not for anyone around me. I can share it – all the oy and excitement and wonder and awe and blessings and good and mystery and everything else. I can share my questions and my (mis)understandings. I can share my strengths and my weaknesses. I can share my self and my time and above all I can share love. There is no limit to the love that I can share to those around me, in whatever form they are open to receiving it.
To live abundant life is to live knowing that there is more – more joy and love and wonder and more of God to know and experience and be in awe of. To know there is more and to be aware and experiencing what is in each moment. I still know that I don’t really understand the concept, but I’m trying.
Here’s the thing about chronic pain – or at least how I’ve experience chronic pain – it’s sneaky. It’s like a slow leak, just under the radar, slowly draining my energy and my patience and my ability to handle life. It’s not enough to keep me down, just enough to be there in he back of my mind. The human brain is an amazing thing and as long as I keep busy and have something to focus on, it’s almost like the pain isn’t there. Almost. I ignore the extra work it takes to stand up, or the slight limp because my muscles are so tense. I don’t dwell on how it keeps me up at night because I just can’t get comfortable no matter what. I push it to the back of my mind until I almost forget about it. Almost.
Part of me doesn’t think I have the right to tell people about my pain, or to give myself any sort of pass for needing extra support when I manage it. I sort of feel responsible for my pain – because I haven’t treated it, because I haven’t talked to my doctor. Obviously if I was really that bad I’d see my doctor or take something, and I don’t. So if I’m not going to fix the problem I have to live with the problem, I have to accept it. I can’t let it affect my life, or at the very least I can’t let it affect the lives of the people around me.
Most of the time I fail at that goal.
I fail to have patience with my kids. I fail to get everything done I want to. I fail to be a good friend. I fail to be there when people need me. I fail as a wife and a mother and a friend. I fail to be a productive member of society.
So why don’t I just get it treated?
The obvious choice with pain is to take pain relievers and get on with life. But those don’t work for me – taking enough to take the edge off the pain leaves me with that sluggish dopey feeling. At least through the pain I can still be up and moving, can still carry on a conversation, can still drive.
So why haven’t I talked to a doctor about the cause?
That’s been my struggle for the last month. After almost a year of issues and 6 months acknowledging the pain, I am trying to get treatment. I’ve gotten bloodwork done, but I didn’t tell my doctor about the pain – he’s already been dismissive of my issues and the day I was in to see him was so abrupt and short with me I already felt bad for wasting his time. Plus I don’t want him in my bits – pelvic pain is something that needs a certain level of rapport and he just doesn’t have it. I have plans to get into the clinic next month.
But the real reason? I’m scared. I’m scared of what it is – even though I don’t have bleeding or discharge or any other symptom besides the pain, I worry it’s more serious than just a pain issue. I worry treatment will involve drugs and surgery and risks. I’m a rational person, I’m aware that if it is cancer delaying treatment will only make it worse, but I’m still terrified.
I’m also terrified there won’t be a cause – that it’s not really there at all, that it’s all in my head. I’m scared that my body is perfectly healthy and there’s no medical reason that I fail at everything. Maybe I just can’t handle life.
Pain is sneaky – it doesn’t just affect your body, it affects your mind, your relationships, your sense of self.
Do you ever feel like you’re walking around with your rib cage cracked open and your heart on display for all the world? Or like you need to wrap your arms around yourself to hold it all in so you don’t leave bits of your soul all over the place? Does it ever seem like there’s so much of you trying to be seen and heard that it almost aches because you don’t have an outlet for it?
That’s how I’ve been feeling lately and it’s hard for me to share because I’m well aware it sounds so over the top dramatic. I don’t have anything profound or life changing to share, but my heart is bursting and I’m vulnerable – sharing these parts of me is scary.
I’ve been on a journey the last year trying to take care of my self – my heart and my soul. I’ve been intentional about journalling, about feeding my spirit, about sharing myself with people I trust. At the same time, I’ve been praying to be open hearted – open to people in my life, open to God, open to new challenges and experiences, open to offering and seeking help.
It’s honestly terrifying. Admitting when I am hurt, when I am insecure, when I think someone is wrong, when I think I am wrong. It leaves me vulnerable and raw and at risk. It means I’ve had to confront my self and my past and open closets and uncover wounds. I’m not always very good at it – sometimes I shut down and escape into the internet and try to ignore the fact that my chest is wide open.
It’s also been so very worth it. My past can’t come back to haunt me – no more mental ambushes in the middle of the night, because I’m not all alone. No more carrying hurts because I trust the people in my life to understand me and support me when I’m not my best. No more one sided conversations running through my head because talk things out. I’ve had the chance to open up to people, and to see the beauty of their souls when they open up to me. I’ve admitted my humanity and brokenness and found comfort with others who are also human and broken. We laugh and cry and bandage each other up and the journey is much less taxing.
Being open hearted is risk, is sometimes dramatic and emotional, but it’s beautiful. It’s breathtaking and honest and hilarious and joyful. I’ve learned to feel my joy as deeply as I feel sadness, to be open with how much I love the the people in my life. I’ve learned it can feel natural – and so good – to be told you’re important in someone’s life. I’ve realized how silly it is that we don’t tell people the simple truths – “I like spending time with you”, “I’m glad we understand each other.”, “I need some time with you” – and how good it feels to hear those things.
How do I measure success? This question has plagued me for the last few years. At 32, I am not where I expected to be in life. I had a 5 year plan, a 10 year plan, goals and expectations. I thought I’d go on to a Masters, eventually a PHD. I thought I’d write books, that I would be recognized. As it is, I am 10 years past receiving my degree and just as long from being in a classroom. I haven’t worked in my field since the birth of my daughter 8 years ago, and the only time my degree comes close to being used is on a volunteer basis or as a sounding board for friends who moved on and were able to do what I coudn’t.
Over the years I have learned how to heal, I have battled with depression and learned how to manage it. I’ve managed an illness that kept me hardly functioning for the better part of a year. I have learned how to be a wife, how to be a mother. I have learned skills and ways of expressing myself. I’ve even managed to occasionally get paid for things I enjoy doing. Still, my husband and I are in the lowest tax bracket, and it’s hard to enjoy the time spent practicing my craft when I could be working, earing, helping to support our family. As much as can go on about the benefits of being a full time parent all of the things I am able to contribute – to my husband, our kids, our home and our friends – I struggle against the constant insecurity that it isn’t enough.
I’ve come to realize this insecurity comes from my opening question – how do I measure success? If it’s through degrees or professional accomplishments, I am doomed to always fail. If it’s in the form of finances then I feel some mix of guilt and hatred for myself that manifests as misdirected resentment for my husband for not bringing home enough. I have not travelled the globe, I have not made the world a better place, I have not been in the spotlight and applauded. Success has not been handed to me from an outside source, so how will I know when I have accomplished it?
I had to learn to let go of the expectations I had put on myself. I had to accept that I am not a woman who will have it all – a career and a family and a spotless home and a full social life. I will never be that person – and I no longer hold resentment for women who are able to have that life. For the first time in a long time I am content with my life – as it is. More than content, I feel proud of the things I have accomplished, proud of my choices, proud of the life I have created and the part I play in the lives of those around me. I measure success in the challenges I overcome, in the things that I learn, in the ways that I give, in the peace that I feel.
I am not a patient person. I rarely see the value in the journey, in the process, in the wait. Once I know something is coming, I want it. Now. The worst thing a person can do to me is send a message like “I have something I really want to talk to you about, can we get together next week?” – all I want to do is scream “No, we can get together now!”
There are things in life I am waiting for. There are plans my husband and I have that must be put on hold. It’s not idle time – it’s time of preparation and growth and I know this. I know that the timing isn’t right yet, I know there is a need to wait and there is progress in the waiting, but it is still hard.
My impatience pulls at me, begging me to start something new – a new project, a new goal, a new version of myself that I can be to fill the space until it gets to now. It’s tempting. It’s tempting to want to write or work or study – all things that would give me a different path, things that look good on the surface but don’t really get me any closer to the thing I am waiting for.
So I’m learning to enjoy the waiting. Learning to take the quiet and the moments and the days when I am not pressured and rushing as gifts. Somehow I had gotten in my mind that the pressure was a sign of success – it meant I was doing, meant that there was tangible evidence of my work, of my worth. Waiting is teaching me to let go of that. To rest, to reflect, to savour a cup of coffee sitting in the sun or an afternoon giggling with my children. Waiting is teaching me to be instead of always feeling a need to do.
It’s still hard, still a struggle, but today is a day I think I did it right, and I wanted to remember that, to cherish it and tuck it away for the next day when waiting is hard.
I was struck last night by a thought. I’m not completely sure where it came from, but it was there, clear as day.
One of the most common and constant struggles for those who believe is the concept of grace.
How bizarre is that? We who are saved and called sons and daughters of the Most High God struggle with the truth of our identity, with the reality of our salvation. I think if most of us were in the garden, the serpent wouldn’t ask “did God really say” but instead “are you really saved?”
There are different theologies of salvation, of course, each one with it’s own focus, with it’s own slant, giving us as individuals differing degrees of responsibility and agency when it comes to our salvation. I’m not really talking about theology here though, I’m talking about the day to day living out that salvation – and how often we question this overwhelming grace that covers us.
Human nature looks for boundaries and limits and wants to know where the lines are. Human doubt then analyses and wonders if we’ve crossed those lines, and how many times, and how we’ve made up for it or grown or turned back or moved on. All with lip service to the God of all who is the beginning and the end, who knows all things and has saved us by his great love through sending his son.
Grace. Even for us.