When You've Forgotten Who You Are

When You've Forgotten Who You Are

When you've dealt with depression for a large portion of time, you sort of get used to the feeling of being off kilter.  Things that used to be easy, aren't.  Relationships take more work.  Work takes more out of you.  Simple things like cooking supper can feel like climbing a mountain.  And this is just how it is....a resignation of sorts. You begin to know yourself by your 'new normal.' You become redefined, and nobody asked you if that's what you wanted.

You begin to see yourself with different eyes.  Looking back on who you were when you had more energy...concentration...patience...motivation.  You pine for those days, sometimes, when things came easier and the fight to just get out of bed and do the simple things didn't take so much out of you.  And then you're jolted back to reality and the re-realization that you're not who you once were.

But then the voice of God begins to peck it's way through the dark shroud that veils your soul.  He starts to whisper, "My Love, who you were before isn't who you are now, but I'm calling you deeper and deeper into Me, and I will change you and make you new, despite the dark night you're in.  This isn't the end."

And you want to believe it with every fiber of your being.  You long for answers and change and light and ease.  And you believe He is able to bring that.  You just don't know when.  You don't see the light coming, and you barely hear His voice. 

And when it feels like you've all but forgotten who you truly are, when the last shred of hope has begun to take flight, He lifts your chin and whispers again, "You're mine.  I will never leave you nor forsake you.  I have bought you with a price.  You are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you."*

Then you begin to understand that you aren't called to be who you once were.  You're called to something new, something deeply important, something real and raw and healing and good.  You won't be who you once were.  You can't.  The butterfly can never again become the caterpillar. 

Could your pain be your healing?  Could the weight on your shoulders be making you strong in ways you never dreamed of?  Could this death bring life? 

This is your inheritance.

Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? 
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert. {Isaiah 43:18-19}

*{Heb. 13:5b, 1 Cor. 6:20b, Isa. 43:4}

Four Steps for Learning to Be Gentle with Yourself

Four Steps for Learning to Be Gentle with Yourself

Recently, my husband and I have had a couple conversations about how I deal with myself.  He doesn't mince words.  What he said, to be precise, was: "You don't have any grace for yourself."

Ouch.

I happen to think he's right about this.  I probably never did have grace for myself, but it's become especially apparent after becoming a mother.  We women tend to internalize the messes in our lives more than men do (they externalize more often).  And I for one, am probably the harshest critic I have.

As I mulled over his honest words (he's lucky that I love truth, even when it's difficult), I started seeing little segments of my days as I take care of our house, or try to teach our boys something, or make a meal in the midst of the early evening chaos....and the internal dialogue (that sometimes makes its way out of my mouth) was dismal, at best.  

A particular scenario played itself out on recently as I spent a couple hours at home before picking up the boys from school.  I knew that my 8 year old was having a friend over after school and I had wanted to take care of some of the mess in the boys' room before school got out.  I found myself in typical ADHD mode, moving from one spot to another, cleaning this, picking up that, not staying in any one place long enough to do much good.  And I was having an internal war with myself:  

"I wanted to have some good, solid quiet time this afternoon, since there's no school Friday or Monday and my sanity will be stretched."  

"But I want to get some things organized in the boys' room, so it's not so messy when their friend arrives."

Back and forth the war went on.  I knew what was driving it.  I wanted to have the house more presentable, so that my son's friend wouldn't go home and tell his family what a mess our house was.  Total honesty.  This is me.  

"Hello, I'm Heather, and I care too much about what people think of me and my house and my children and my everything."

<insert exasperated sign here>

Now let's have a reality check here.  I'm 99% sure, my son's friend could have cared less if there were too many Legos and books on the floor of my boys' room.  But look how I went into auto pilot mode and let my sinful tendencies control my day!  It almost cost me my biggest goal for my day - to spend some time journaling and praying, reading Hebrews, and listening to some soaking music.  And THAT is what I truly needed.  More than a clean room.

But to break through this rhythm of striving takes some serious intentionality. You know why? Because striving is almost always wrapped up in a false identity.  You know....those selves we live out of when we don't know our identity in Christ....when we're caught up trying to be something, or prove something, or please someone.  And those identities are not beautiful. They're not free.  They're in bondage.  And you just don't have to live like that.  You get to live free.  

So dig deep now, let's take a look at a few steps to take towards learning to be gentle with yourself and finding that freedom we all long for.

1.  Pay attention to the "shoulds" in your head.  If you're really honest with yourself, what is driving you?  When we're pushing ourselves based on some need (that we're usually not even consciously aware of), we are most definitely not gentle with ourselves.  What "should" you do?  What "should" you not do?  What "should" you look like or not look like?  But the first step is to pay attention and listen to what's actually going on inside of you.  Identification is essential.

2.  Ask yourself what's driving the "shoulds" or the expectations you have for yourself.  This is where the false identity will usually rear its ugly head.  You're trying to be someone or something you're not.  You're gaining your worth from something external.  This is where we die to self.  The self that wants to be something more than what it perceives itself to be. "I'm not good enough, all by myself."  Of course you're not - that's God's job to make you into what He wants you to be, and it'll never be under your power; it'll be by His.

3.  Ask yourself what your soul needs.  We're not very good at paying attention to our souls, eh?  We just like to get the job done, and feel good about ourselves for doing it, right?  But slow yourself down so you can hear the rhythm of your soul.  It's there, trying to tell you something, underneath all the noise of your life.  Usually, our souls are lonely, thirsty for real relationship, for someone to see us as we are and not reject us.  This is one of the driving forces behind our performance oriented selves; it's true for me.  "If I perform well, then I will be liked."  We don't believe we will be loved and accepted for who we are, without proving we are somehow needed or important or essential.  Are you connected to anyone who can meet you at this level?  There was a point in my life several years ago where I was dying internally, until someone stepped in and said, "I want to know you, even the darkest parts, and I promise I won't leave."  Maybe you need to reach out.  

4.  Finally, create for yourself a breath prayer.  I was first introduced to the concept of a breath prayer a year or so ago after reading Ruth Haley Barton's book, "Sacred Rhythms."  The whole point is the centering aspect of it.  It's short, no more than seven syllables.  You breathe as you pray.  For example: Inhale and say (out loud or silently in your heart) "Father," then exhale and say, "hold me close."  Your breath prayer is your own.  Make it a few words that have deep meaning or express your heart to the Lord.  Begin and end your day with your breath prayer, and pepper it into your work and family time.  When you're tempted to push yourself to perform, breathe your breath prayer.  When you're feeling lost and alone, breathe your breath prayer.  

Becoming more comfortable in your own skin only comes by being gentle with yourself. We never get good results with harshness and degradation - we know this from our relationships and parenting - why would we expect it to be any different inside our own heads and hearts?  

 

Words as Medicine

Words as Medicine

I've had a particularly challenging season for the past several months.  A quick snapshot into my world would show you that my husband and I purchased a fixer-upper and moved into it over Thanksgiving weekend with a LOT of the work still left to finish.  A lot.

Add to that helping our two young boys transition somewhat smoothly into our new-to-us and quite unfinished home, some ongoing marriage struggles, and the fact that it's winter in Minnesota....well, it's been something.

And it's been hard for me to write.

Typically, writing is a welcome outlet, a safe haven, even a sweet deserted island in the middle of the ocean, where things come into focus again.

But God's been up to something deeper, and the words haven't come easily.  

I recently sat in on a conversation with several women I've never met before, via Hope*Writers, on Writing as a Spiritual Discipline.  One woman shared a quote from Madeleine L'Engle that struck me deeply.  

“The discipline of creation, be it to paint, compose, write, is an effort towards wholeness."

I was immediately struck by the word wholeness, because I tend to run after it and fling myself at it headlong, whenever the opportunity arises.  It's hard to catch, that pesky wholeness, but wherever it can be found, I want to be there.  (I say this tongue-in-cheek, because I believe wherever God is present, and He's omnipresent, wholeness is waiting for us. But there are threshold moments.  There truly are.  And He gives deeper glimpses and longer breaths and clearer thoughts.)

My next thought went something like this:

"When God created the earth and all the animals and Adam and Eve, He used words, through The Word."

WOAH.

When we participate in creativity, something that we are MADE FOR as IMAGE BEARERS, I believe we catch a closer glimpse of The Word, and that is always healing and the movement like the crescendo of a symphony propels us towards wholeness.  

In my season of near wordlessness, I came to the end of myself.  I said to my mentor the other day, "None of my usual misery stabilizers work anymore....shopping, food, even sleep seems somewhat elusive in this season.  Nothing works.  It's all empty.  I'm here and it's just me, and I have no place to go."

He said, "So you're hanging on a cross."

It has felt like death.  But, the best possible kind of death.  Death to my way of doing things. My demands.  My agenda.  My escape mechanisms.  ME.  Once again, the emotional life of Christ shows itself to overlay my emotional life, as all who name His name are promised. 

And I can be assured that the deeper magic is still true.  That when there is death, there will be a resurrection.

Within the next day or so, a few words spilled from my heart.  They weren't my normal words, either.  They were new words.  Poetry.  Something I haven't attempted in probably 25+ years.

And those words brought me gently and swiftly nearer to the Heart of the Father.  His strong, tender, wild, warrior heart.  Nearer to Wholeness Himself.  

 

You see me and Your eyes
Plumb the caverns of my soul
Where only secrets and desire live.
Your piercing eyes.

 

How to Shatter Idols

How to Shatter Idols

Have you ever noticed how slippery grace is sometimes?  I try to hang on with white-knuckled, clenched fists, but it can slip right through. I'll catch glimpses of it but then it seems to run away and hide just out of sight, like a scared rabbit.  

Only grace isn't scared.  Grace is the most powerful thing in all the universe, really.  Most people say love is, but I think that without grace, love wouldn't be love.  

What is the most grace-filled truth?  The most grace-filled truth is God loves us no matter what rules we follow or don't follow.  That includes whatever rules from Christian culture we follow...or don't follow.  Could we ever live that free?  Could we ever live so covered in grace?  Not to fling ourselves about wildly, making grace cheap and scabby and tired.  But living - no, BEING - in such a way that our hearts are flung wide open and the God of all Time and Space and every Heart and every Soul walks in and makes Himself at home? Because He's really only interested in our hearts.

Grace is slippery because we don't know how to live without rules...without idols.  And so in the small porous moments of life, when our hearts experience a crack in their crusty exterior, a drop of grace falls in, a drip, like the first trickle out of the coffee maker in the early morning.  

Our rules are our idols and we eat them like dry bread we believe to be our only meal.  

My maiden voyage of Isaiah brought me upon these silly, ridiculous sentences:

"He cuts down cedars....Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isa. 44:14a, 16-17 ESV)

I thought to myself, "What an idiot!"  Especially in the face of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob declaring just verses before:

"I will pour water on the thirsty land,
and streams on the dry ground;
I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring,
and my blessing on your descendants.
They shall spring up among the grass
like willows by flowing streams." (Isa. 44:3-4)

Water on the thirsty land!  My Spirit on your offspring!  My blessing on your descendants! Doesn't it all sound like something you want to hold onto and never let go?! 

And yet, isn't this tug-of-war every man and woman's story?  Back and forth - grace vs self, freedom vs managing, water vs desert.

He continues: "No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?” (v19-20).

Is there not a lie in my right hand?!  A LIE IN MY RIGHT HAND!  He's lookin' that dear little piece of wood in the face, thinking it'll make things right.

And don't we do that, too?  I don't know what it is you're hanging onto so tightly.  But I know it's SOMETHING.  Is it a way of living/doing/managing that will get you what you think you want?  Is it the idea that raising your kids this way will guarantee you mature, productive, grown-up adult children?  Is it always appearing pristine in public so that no one will see your mess behind the scenes?  Is it holding on to the desire for a better marriage to the extent that you lose sight of why you're doing it?

Will God be allowed in that parenting?  Will He be able to break into the mess behind the scenes?  Will He break through the marriage and create oneness within?  Not if we're managing it in our own self-sufficiency and godlessness.

You can drop the idol. It'll shatter.  This I know for certain. That may sound a little scary.  In fact, it probably sounds downright, punch-me-in-the-gut terrifying.  

Do you know how to drop it?  

Speak the words.  Out loud.  They're probably dripping with shame.  Speak the words.  Or to paraphrase CS Lewis, "Drink it down hot."  Share the managing, the striving, the covering up. With your closest friend, counselor, pastor...but above all, to Him. Speak 'em, cause there's grace waiting on the other side of those words.  Yeah, that slippery little grace, it'll come a runnin'.  And the freedom you'll feel?  You won't be able to imagine it when you're still on the far side of those words.  It'll feel like "water on the thirsty land....streams on the dry ground." The thirsty land of your parched, idol-wielding heart and my parched, idol-wielding heart.  He sees and he hears and it's satisfying when He's there in the midst.  And I'm guessing you don't feel much of satisfaction these days.  But this is different. Cause you don't have to earn it.  Just speak it.  Give Him something of your heart.  

That's all.  And yet, it's the hardest thing.  Giving Him something of your heart usually feels a little bit like death.  But it's how grace enters our lives.

Drops of grace in the cracks of a broken, humble heart.    

If my words today resonated in your soul, I invite you to sign up for my newsletter below, which will be gently delivered to your inbox about once a week.  ~May Love and Grace be yours, Heather