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In Anticipation of Death

Growth is a heady feeling. An intoxicating, soul-warming, heart-swelling wonder.

For a seed to grow, it first must die. I’ve been carrying around this seed within me, deformed from the effort it’s taken to keep it alive. Its name is self-preservation, and I’ve held on to it as tightly as I could since I was old enough to speak. I was taught that if I don’t fight for myself, no one else will. So to avoid the heartache of realizing that no one was fighting for me, I never gave anyone the chance to. I didn’t let myself need anyone. It’s just been me, behind my fortress, fully clothed in my impenetrable armor, shield raised, sword drawn.

In my early teenage years, my sword was my tongue. I was the bitch – the one with the death glare and the amazingly crafted insults that pierced through your chest and never left the corners of your heart. Then I stopped talking and started hiding – my sword of choice in the recent past has been to withdraw my affection. I figured that was better than saying the hurtful things I knew I was capable of speaking. None of it was malicious; I was merely doing as I was told. “If you don’t fight for yourself, no one else will.”

When I came out from behind my fortified walls, I thought I’d done it. I’d made the big leap – I was truly learning vulnerability now. That was back when I started writing this blog and learning how to take baby steps. I laugh now at my naivete, not because I wasn’t growing back then, but because I thought I had arrived at my [vulnerable] destination.

Two years later, I realize that I’ve still been carrying around that armor, still wielding my sword, still cowering behind my shield. Although I’ve stepped out from behind the walls, I’ve been so preoccupied with taking care of myself – with protecting my heart – that I might as well be back in that fortress I built forever ago.

And to discover that it was all from a warped view of God and His role in my life. The things you learn about yourself in therapy are eventually hilarious once it doesn’t hurt so much. As it turns out, I’ve been trying to play God my entire life, trying to take over His protective role. Instead of letting Him protect my heart like He promised to, I’ve been [ineffectively] doing all the work – wielding my sword unnecessarily and creating an incredible mess.

Oh, to have been taught that “guarding your heart” doesn’t mean building a fortress in which to cage your emotions, or living with a strict “three strikes and you’re out” mentality, but instead, radically entrusting your heart and emotions to God for safekeeping and taking your hands off the process. Freeing yourself to love and feel and be disappointed and break and be repaired, knowing that the hurts won’t kill you, and that the One protecting you is also able to repair you – what a wild, wild notion.

I’m not emotionally available to love or be loved because I’m much too concerned with being aloof and keeping my guard up. I’m always on the defensive, worried that if I’m too vulnerable, if I let you in too far, you’ll stick a knife in my gut and gloat as I bleed to death. I’m afraid of collecting more scars because I know just how long it takes for those wounds to heal. I ignore you and become stone cold when I’m romantically interested in you, because letting you know how I feel would be just as terrifying as running down College Avenue naked as the day I was born, screaming, “Look at me! Look at me!” I can’t cry around you because I’m afraid you’ll think I’m weak and overly emotional. Hell, I can’t even let myself be super fond of you because what if you aren’t just as fond of me?

What a shitshow. Pardon my French.

And then this week, I had a stunning realization. In the midst of practicing unconditional love (which I wrote about here), I discovered that it really is the nicest feeling to like a person for who they are without any expectation that they like who you are in return. And then it hit me: I’m growing. Sometimes I get so lost in my flaws and shortcomings that I fail to see that I’m not who I once was. I’m growing. My leaves are budding – and even though there’s a fall breeze outside, it feels like spring inside. It tastes like the beginnings of finally being free.

A few months ago, God promised that this new year would be one of rest; a Sabbath. I thought that meant that all the things I’d asked for for so long would finally be mine, and all the pain would magically disappear. But today, I think His rest looks a lot more like me surrendering my armor and my weapons and letting Him fight for me – letting down my guard in order to let Him be my guard. The pain is still there and maybe always will be, and the things I’ve asked for are still not mine, but in contemplating the surrender of my self-protective habits, I feel closer to rest than I’ve ever felt in my entire life.

I’m not free yet – unlearning decades worth of terrible habits is not something that happens in a month, or six. But now I can see what freedom might look like – that when I stop fighting for myself, I can finally be free to live. That there’s more freedom and rest in letting go than in trying so hard to protect myself. That I find my life only when I’m willing to lose it.

Maybe a year from now I’ll have learned what it looks like to let Him do the fighting – to be emotionally available, to wear my heart on my sleeve again, to cry in front of you when I’m awestruck by beauty or when my heart is breaking, to love and let myself be loved.

I’m not that girl yet, but I’m running towards that freedom with all that I have. Today, I’m celebrating a deeper understanding of unconditional love – and completely relishing my gooey affections that need not be reciprocated at all. And on the day I finally put self-preservation to death, I will throw a giant party. Because it would mean that I have finally chosen to let God be my shield, and my fortress, and my defense. And my soul will finally be at rest.

Silence Is A Cancer

The thing about pain is that it is universal. It lives inside of us – grief cohabiting with joy, unrest nestling with peace. We can’t escape it but we spend all of our energy trying to surpress it. Sometimes it lets up and joy wins for a time; and sometimes it spreads like a wildfire, consuming everything good.

The thing about me is that I’m a silent sufferer. The more intense the pain, the quieter I become, until I forget how to use my words to ask for help.

I’ve always been crazy about justice, wanting to make sure everyone gets what they deserve. It made me a little unforgiving as a child, and emotionally stunted as an adult living in a broken world. But thank the Lord that mercy triumphs over judgment. I don’t know when it started, but somehow – not by my own might – I began choosing mercy rather than judgment. And now, I’m the girl who can’t bring herself to hate a mass murderer; the girl who can’t bring herself to write a Facebook status about how she doesn’t understand how messed up and evil a person would have to be to kill dozens of people; the girl who feels overwhelming sympathy for the people we label as devils.

You know why? Cause I understand that we’re all in pain. We don’t admit it – I don’t admit it – until it eats away at all our healthy flesh and consumes us from the inside out. Everyone starts off thinking that they’re strong enough to be better than the next person. I’ll never cheat on my husband. I’ll never get to the point where picking up a gun and pointing it at someone is my release. I could never engage in non-consensual sex with a woman. We all start there, but we’re all in pain. And if we don’t choose to find our words and ask for help, if we don’t stop perpetuating this myth that suffering in silence is being strong, if we don’t let each other feel and grieve and mourn and break – we will all end up killing the good things around us too.

I can’t hate a mass murderer because his pain is not foreign to me. I can only imagine that they are silent sufferers too – ones who were told that to be strong is to wear a perma-smile and act like everything’s fine, until it’s not. Sure, I’ve never fired a gun. I don’t even know how. But I’ve at times gotten so deeply lost in my own pain that I begin to lash out at the people around me, even the people who love me. In an effort to find a reprieve, I’ve killed good friendships, hurt good men, used my tongue to lacerate my loved ones, and walked away from people who needed me. Sure, it doesn’t get the position of honor on the 9 o’clock news, but I have left my own trail of wounded, hurting people in my frantic attempt to stop my heart from hurting so much.

I’ve had my own share of trauma and abuse and heartache. And I spent years hating the inflicters of my pain until I realized that they are just as broken as I am. No, that doesn’t excuse what they did or give them any right to repeat it again. But it helps me not to demonize them, because only broken people hurt other people. And we’re all broken in various places.

So I can’t hate them. I will never condone the acts of evil they carry out in their own quest for peace, and I will never underestimate the agony the hearts of those directly affected have to endure. What I will do is remember my own brokenness, and that I am only one step away from their hell. That step is graceful surrender. The only thing that will keep me from being a cheating wife or an abusive mother or a mass murderer is the choice to not rely on my own ability to be good and do what’s right, but instead to make an honest confession that I’m broken and I’m in pain and Jesus’ grace is the only reason why I don’t go out and try to break other people. And that surrender, that choice, needs to happen moment by moment, not one time long ago in the back pew of your parents’ church.

Let’s celebrate together the joy and beauty we discover amidst the filth in this world. But let us also embrace the pain and stop telling each other to be “strong” and suck it up and pretend like we’re fine. Strength is found in raw honesty, in beautiful vulnerability. Don’t entrust your heart to people who tell you that breaking is a sign of weakness, or that feelings are for little girls. Even Jesus wept. If we don’t start breaking on a regular basis, we’re all going to be walking around with emotional tumors that can rupture at any moment.

I’m no better than that guy on the news, and neither are you. We’re all in pain. There’s a time to laugh and dance and sing, and there’s a time to break. If we don’t let ourselves break, we end up breaking others. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break. It’s okay to break.

***The best gift I’ve ever given myself is going to counseling. No, it’s not for the “crazies” – it’s for everyone who breathes. Yes, it can be expensive and intimidating. But I’d rather starve for a few days every couple of weeks than remain emotionally stunted. Recommend is not a strong enough word for the situation, but if you need a safe place to break and it is in your power to do it, I wholeheartedly recommend seeing a counselor. Your heart will thank you a million times.***

It’s Not You, It’s Us: An Apology

I know. I know. It seems like we’re all hopping around on one foot, permanently holding the other foot in our mouths. It seems like we’re best friends with hypocrisy and married to self-righteousness. It seems like we haven’t fully comprehended the concept of Grace, or Love for that matter. I know. And I’m so sorry.

You see, we’re kinda like that one guy in that one story [which you may or may not have read] who gets pissed off that his rogue baby brother gets a party thrown in his honor after he squanders the family fortune and takes a piss on the family name. We say we’re humbled by Grace, we claim to be undeserving of the beauty of it all. But really, we’re just entitled older brothers who think that we somehow deserve the Grace we’ve been given because we’re not as bad as you. We’re not romantically interested in people of our own sex, therefore, we have more of a right to Grace than you do.

We claim to model our lives after Jesus, we claim to be living this totally transformed life that embodies everything He stood for. Yet we stand in line for hours to buy a chicken sandwich just to prove a point. A point that leaves you feeling alienated and unloved. Good grief, we deserve every name you’ve called us.

I don’t know where we get it from, this theology that demands us to be right all the time. It’s certainly not from Jesus. He never said we should only love those who agree with everything we believe. He never said to love only when it was easy or felt good. If that were His policy, He wouldn’t love me still. He wouldn’t love any of us still. And the Jesus I know spent a lot of His time with people that the uptight, religious folk of His day avoided and on occasion, stoned to death. He didn’t constantly surround Himself with people who thought the exact same as He did. He did crazy things like completely disregard the Law and save a married woman caught having an affair from getting stoned to death. Or letting a known prostitute kiss his feet infront of everyone. I mean, seriously, do you know the DRAMA that would ensue as a result of that today? A prostitute and a preacher? But that’s the Jesus I love and follow.

So regardless of what we’ve told you and, more importantly, what we’ve shown you, He is crazy about you. Just like He’s crazy about me. Just like he’s crazy about this painfully broken world. And His message isn’t one of tolerance. It’s one of Love. He doesn’t ask us to tolerate people who disagree with us. He doesn’t ask us to tolerate you. He says, “Love, as if your life depends on it.” You know how crazy that is, a Christian loving you so fiercely that it preserves their life? Oh wait, that’s right, you probably don’t because you’ve never seen it modeled.

We are so desperate to be right that we don’t care who gets burned along the way. We want to beat Jesus’ love into people. What a shameful contradiction. What a sad way of living. We’re the ones closer to death – the ones who never left home, never rebelled, and never left the corner of the party He threw for you where we glared – pissed that you of all people, get to share in our Grace. What a sham.

And it’s really not about you at all. We still find ways to alienate each other within the so-called family of believers in the same God. We hold everyone to our own standard of perfection – friend, foe, pastor, blog writer. Once they do or say something we don’t agree with, we write them off. I could list all of my shortcomings on here, but I won’t. You know why? Because my Christian readers probably would judge me for all my sins. You see, it’s not you. It’s us and our inability to let go of our pride and entitlement and our need to be right. It’s us and our inability to let Jesus change us in the most selfish parts of our being. Because selfishness and Love can’t coexist. Neither can self-righteousness and Love. Neither can pride and Love.

I’m sorry that we put proving a point over loving you. I’m sorry that we choose to tell you how much God hates your lifestyle a million times more than we show you how much He is completely in love with you. Not the you that fits into our definition of a good, Christian, never-do-anything-wrong-ever type of person, but the person you are now. Because unlike most of us, God isn’t partial, prideful, or self-righteous. And if He can still love me on the days when I all but flip Him off and do whatever the heck I want, then no one can convince me that He doesn’t love you just as ferociously also.

We’re in desperate need of Grace and Love, because the only type of people who are comfortable enough to disagree with each other without turning it into hatred and alienation are those living deeply from a place of Love and Grace. If we accepted Grace more open-handedly, maybe we would give it more freely too. We say we love God, but the truth is, we love ourselves just a little bit more. Clearly.

And here’s the thing: you are more than your sexual orientation. I’m so deeply sorry that we’ve turned you into a one-faced enemy.

“If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone…” – Jesus

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