Please welcome volunteer staff member and guest blogger, Kim Gray.
Recently I was challenged to look in a mirror. This wasn’t a usual look in a mirror. Not like the casual one I do every day as I am getting ready. This look was meant to look past the surface and look deeply into my soul. They say our eyes are the windows to our soul, so this shouldn’t be too difficult, right? Wrong! It was painful.
Why was this so hard for me? I realized I had used my eyes for years to critique what I saw when I looked in a mirror. My mirror would tell me “Wow, look how tired you look.” Of course I am tired, I am busy “doing” all the stuff that needs to be done! I mean who wouldn’t be tired in my shoes? “You looked better ten years ago.” Dang, why didn’t I appreciate what I saw in the mirror ten years ago? “Might be time to switch to an unwrinkled cream.” Do they even make an unwrinkled cream? It’s obvious the anti-wrinkle stuff isn’t living up to the hype. I saw what I went looking for. Validation for all the things I have believed about myself. Validation for what my culture tells me beauty is all about. Validation for all the things I didn’t hear as a little girl. Painful.
At that moment I caught myself. I stopped and drew that mirror close. Really close, till it nearly touched my nose. I heard a voice deep within me say,
“Let me tell you who I see. I see a loved woman. I see a woman of great worth, one who is worth being known. I see a woman who I delight in, one who is worth a Holy Son. My Holy Son.”
Could this really be true? Of course it’s true; but, could I really embrace it? What would it be like if I actually allowed myself to believe what is true and not all the lies spoken and unspoken that I have bought into for years? What if I could see who I am?
I wish I could tell you at that moment my whole world changed. I wish I could say some incredible transformation took place, that the clouds parted and the sun stood still. No, I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that my perspective changed. Instead of looking in that mirror and having it reflect what I’ve seen for years, I looked at “who” I am.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. My beholder is the One who created me. I choose to immerse myself in that truth. I am a worthy, loved, and known woman. Nothing I do creates that. My creator created me to be loved, to be worthy, and to be known. Each morning when I look in the mirror I remind myself of that truth. Do I still look tired? Sometimes. Do I still wish for that miracle unwrinkled cream? Occasionally. Am I loved, worthy and known? All the time. Every day. Every moment.
On this post-fall side of heaven, receiving love with open arms can be a challenge. We know about God’s grace and he “so loved the world,” but accepting the full, glorious joy of his love into our heart can seem too hard to hurdle.
When we try to describe giving or receiving love with complete abandon, we often talk about babies: we delight in lavishing love upon them, expecting nothing in return. Wee ones are too small to be “useful” but we don’t mind one bit. We pour the full wonder of our hearts upon them and they revel in it; neither they nor we have any need of “earning” our love or favor.
But something happens. We grow up and learn we better carry our own weight, write thank you notes, repay kindness with kindness. What, at its best, would simply be us learning to let our own gratitude pour back into the world gets a little twisted up and becomes paying back. And we silently learn to keep track.
You give something to me. I thank you. I look for a way to repay. The next lunch? I’ll get it. Mow your lawn? Now we‘re even.
Instead of learning to be loved, we learn to be even.
And when we are old and our bodies start to fail and our money runs thin and we can’t pay for lunch and we can’t mow the lawn, it’s a long journey back to just receiving. To just being lavished upon.
My grandmother is a handful of sunrises away from her 90th birthday. Her body can’t keep up with her still swift-moving ideas and her funds are dwindling faster than her retirement income replenishes.
These “limitations” make it hard for her to feel worthy of love. And hard for her to repay the very kindness she aches for and her family delights to pour out … but that she also can’t help keeping track of.
A month ago, she asked me what book of the Bible talked about old age and dying; I found devotionals written for aging seniors. She asked me to make her a blanket with yarn she never used when she didn’t learn to knit like she planned at age 88; I knit her a cozy lavender throw. She loves, loves, loves her coffee and misses the mountains in winter, so I decided a snowflake coffee cup was just the right surprise.
When I present these goodies, she is overwhelmed with glee, so happy that dolphin noises come out of her: “Eeeeeeeee!” She snuggles the blanket and flips through the books and cradles the mug.
Then it comes: “Oooohhhhh, I have to pay you for these books because I asked you about talking to God. And I just wish I could think of something to get you and I wish I could take you to lunch and I wish I could get out and buy things for you. You do so much for me! This is too much!” And a wave of embarrassment at not “being even” steals just a smidge of the love and fun from her happy heart, even as I express my utter thrill at bringing these gifts and being in her presence for every moment I can.
I cringe a bit, but I am no different. I, too, learned along life’s journey to “keep even.” My response sounds just like hers when God pours out his sweetness and generosity on me, whether through his Spirit or the love of people around me. I revel in the moment until my own version of, “I just wish I could think of something to do for you! You do so much for me! This is too much!” kicks in.
So, together, Grandma and I will practice in the time we have. To this mother-of-my-mother who has kept me awash in love from the moment I was born, when my only impressive acts were breathing and sleeping and demanding everything I wanted by wailing my lungs out, I will now return the same delight, the same patience, the same you-owe-me-nothing-for-my-love. And we will both receive with delight God’s unmatchable love and grace, giving our thanks, and instead of keeping even with him, just look for ways to keep letting it pour out around us.
I travel around the world as part of my missionary career. I love it and I dread it. I love seeing new things and tasting new things; I get to practice keeping a straight face when scenes don’t look familiar and when my taste buds experience flavors far different from what they are accustomed.
There are deeper challenges and opportunities, too. Many times, those challenges are to my sense of identity and worth, which for me are closely tied to my need to “get it right.”
On one trip, an old woman offered me her seat on a local bus in Southeast Asia during a bright morning ride across town. After interpreting her gestures and smile as insistence that I take her seat, I finally acquiesced when she stood, refusing to give in to my return smile and head shake of what I hoped communicated “No, thank you.”
As I slid into the seat, I was warm with embarrassment and worry and failure. I assumed I was doing something culturally inappropriate or foolish in my standing on the bus and bracing myself with the hand straps. I thought I had been quiet and polite, standing where I was supposed to and not giving offense. My heart sank, since clearly I had blown it and this woman was trying to get me to stop being so stupid.
My friend and travel companion, a woman who was raised in this part of the world, sensed my disappointment. When I apologized to her that I must have been doing something wrong because a woman much older than me made me take her seat, my friend explained to me it was local hospitality. Age had nothing to do with it; I was clearly a visitor in this part of the world and this woman was caring well for me, as her upbringing taught her.
Then, another familiar sense overwhelmed me; once again, I had assumed the worst of me.
The bus ride was a crash of cultures and my own fallen heart. In my home culture, it’s polite for me to stand and make sure anyone older than me has a seat, especially a senior citizen. Here, it’s polite for anyone of any age to give up their seat for a guest in their country. With a moment’s reflection and a little more information, my mind can process the difference and appreciate the experience. But by then, my heart has to be resuscitated; inside, I always first process anything uncomfortable or unknown as failure on my part. My fallen inner voice tells me all the time that I am not enough and if I want to be loved (at most) or not a disappointment to God or anyone else (at least), I need to get every step and every interaction and every choice just right. When things don’t go precisely the way I expect or I don’t know what to do and there is the slightest chance I might stumble, I always first interpret the situation and my feelings as my failure.
It hadn’t crossed my mind that the elderly woman was being kind. It hadn’t crossed my mind to simply experience the moment with open eyes and heart, willing to observe and enjoy and learn. I was in full self-protection mode, only watching and processing my own actions, guessing at the impression I was giving others, striving to make sure that impression made people like me.
Granted, it was just a brief bus ride with people I will likely never see again, but it tells me something about my instincts and inner habits; when I live in self-protection mode, I miss good things. I miss relaxing in the warm smile of a woman’s kindness; I miss seeing others and their real intentions, obsessed instead with myself; I miss learning in real peace and trust, clinging instead to whatever I think will keep me most acceptable to people, a false peace.
Gratefully, I am gaining a better sense and habit of my already-complete acceptability in Christ. If I believe I am already wholly acceptable, it gives my heart space to process new information and new moments … and receive God’s sweet smile and generosity in the gift of a seat on the bus.
Reading this excerpt from John Eldredge’s book, “The Sacred Romance” got me thinking…is Eldredge overstating the impact of our negative experiences? Do we really carry wounds from our pasts that impact our current lives? It’s easy to for many like me to think about all the many wonderful blessings that have been bestowed upon us and sweep the rest under the rug. However, I have concluded that ignoring our wounds from the past, whatever they are, limits our ability to connect with each other and even limits our experience of connecting with God. Take a moment to read this excerpt and share your thoughts.
At some point we all face the same decision—what will we do with the Arrows we’ve known? Maybe a better way to say it is, what have they tempted us to do? However they come to us, whether through a loss we experience as abandonment or some deep violation we feel as abuse, their message is always the same: Kill your heart. Divorce it, neglect it, run from it, or indulge it with some anesthetic (our various addictions). Think of how you’ve handled the affliction that has pierced your own heart. How did the Arrows come to you? Where did they land? Are they still there? What have you done as a result?
To say we all face a decision when we’re pierced by an Arrow is misleading. It makes the process sound so rational, as though we have the option of coolly assessing the situation and choosing a logical response. Life isn’t like that—the heart cannot be managed in a detached sort of way (certainly not when we are young, when some of the most defining Arrows strike). It feels more like an ambush, and our response is at a gut level. We may never put words to it. Our deepest convictions are formed without conscious effort, but the effect is a shift deep in our soul. Commitments form never to be in that position again, never to know that sort of pain again. The result is an approach to life that we often call our personality. If you’ll listen carefully to your life, you may begin to see how it has been shaped by the unique Arrows you’ve known and the particular convictions you’ve embraced as a result. The Arrows also taint and partially direct even our spiritual life.
“Every shipwrecked soul knows what it is to live without intimacy.”
Every Breaking Wave, Songs of Innocence – U2
There are a lot of shipwrecked souls out there, including me. There is a beautiful irony in admitting that my soul is ship-wrecked. It unlocks the door to intimacy with others, and ultimately with God. I become far more relatable when I admit my weakness and failures to others, particularly those who are closest to me. Conversely, when I am unable or refuse to openly recognize my short comings and weakness, it stunts my ability to connect with others.
It’s frustrating that I often operate in a “self-protective” mode that inhibits intimacy, the deepest desire of my soul. If I wish to fulfill the deepest desire of my soul, I must confront my instinctual fears that activate this “self-protection” and choose to take calculated risks with trusted people. I know that the fear is real, because relationships are undeniably painful. However, pain can be endured and isn’t actually the worst case scenario. It can stimulate growth in relationships, especially the most life-giving relationship available: the relationships with my heavenly Father.
Contrary to what many believe, the Bible lists only two simple prerequisites for an intimate relationship with God:
1. Admission of brokenness
2. Trusting him
Really, these are the same prerequisites for intimacy in any relationship. We must be willing to trust the other person with at least some of our brokenness. This means that we need to be in touch with our brokenness (A.K.A. “baggage”). For me, getting in touch with my baggage has been a terrifying experience at times. Much of who I wanted to be and how I wanted others to view me is threatened by the exposure of my baggage. As you can imagine, chasing a fictitious identity is like chasing a wave that breaks as soon as you get close to it, but it seems to be a very common experience.
Finding the courage to dig into our baggage
The more convinced I am that my baggage doesn’t actually define me, the easier it becomes to look inward with an honest, more objective heart. This convincing is no small task. We are all fighting a lifetime of overt and subliminal messaging that flies in the face of the idea that our baggage doesn’t define who we truly are. When we discover (or rediscover) that God isn’t going to be surprised, put-off or angry when we admit our vulnerabilities, we experience tremendous freedom and intimacy with him. He sweeps us off our feet and pulls us close to his chest in a loving embrace, not because we’ve corrected our issues, but because we’ve invited him into our mess. That is intimacy; being met in your vulnerable state with a loving embrace. Yes, the mess usually begins to get sorted out, but that’s not the ultimate objective. Walking in an intimate relationship is.
In light of these thoughts, I would encourage you to ponder another line from the same song:
“Are we ready to be swept off our feet and stop chasing every breaking wave?”
I enjoy reading the daily devotionals sent out by John and Stasi Eldredge’s Ransomed Heart Ministry. Today’s seemed to strike a sensitive nerve in me. Holding on to hurt leads to death. I am seeking his help to identify and release the hurt that I have experienced. That’s not to minimize it, but to recognize it and simultaneously recognize that I also am, at times, a perpetrator of wrong, hurting others. May you find deeper connection to our Lord and Savior through this message…
The only way is love. Paul says love “keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor. 13:5). In loving relationships, we want to throw away the list in our heads of wrongs done to us and ignore them when they raise their indictments yet again. Too often we keep those lists, ruminate on them, and nurse them like a wounded animal. We say we forgive—and we may even believe we have—but when the list presents itself again we entertain it with a sort of sick satisfaction. “See what they did? Remember what she said?” We have taken the bait of offense. We are inside the trap.
The word used in Scripture for offense actually means “bait,” the bait that is placed inside a trap to lure an animal to its death.
Offenses need to be forgiven quickly, or they will fester and poison the relationship. The poison seeps out and affects our own souls as well. Offenses that are held on to lead to death.
People will hurt us. We will hurt and offend as well. We all will do this with intention and without, with our thoughts bent to wound and with no thought at all. Jesus took all our offenses into his broken body when he died for us, and he took everyone else’s as well. All that he suffered—the beating, the scourging, the mocking, and finally the crucifixion—was more than enough to pay for it all. Our offenses and theirs.