Having the courage to look inside your self.

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Shipwrecked Souls And Intimacy

“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?”

mouse trap

Don’t Take The Bait – Randsomed Heart Ministries

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. 

wild-horses-free-category-horse_342000

Can We Trust Our Emotions Or Are They Wild Horses?

I have often heard it said in Christian circles that emotions can’t be trusted. I don’t like things that can’t be trusted. Imagine a fuel gauge in your car that is giving accurate feedback 50% of the time, but you have no idea when it’s right and when it’s wrong. Basically, it becomes 100% useless.

For most of us, our emotions don’t always line up with our core values and beliefs. We sincerely desire to experience and display emotions that are consistent with the fruit of the spirit (Galatians 5:22), but frequently we find ourselves inwardly (and outwardly) experiencing and displaying the opposite (Romans 7:15).

What the heck?

As a result, many of us have concluded and have even been taught that we should work hard to suppress negative emotions. And if we are going to have any emotions at all, we need to work on conjuring up the positive ones. I don’t know about you, but that’s never really worked for me or those closest to me.

If you study emotions in the Bible, it is apparent that God has emotions and that the key characters in his story experienced them too: sometimes in healthy ways and sometimes not. So, if God made them, they must be good for something, even though they seem to behave like wild horses at times.

How useful would it be if God gave us a gentile pin prick every time we began to take action or think in a direction that was based on a lie that we unknowingly adopted as truth? How about a whisper of encouragement in our ear when we are taking action or thinking in a direction that aligns with his truth? I believe God uses emotions to give us helpful cues. If we pay attention, these cues are incredibly useful. They are still very complex and challenging to manage, but these “wild horses” can be bridled and ridden. They can take us to an often mysterious destination: a place where we see what we actually believe at an instinctual level. We can then focus on challenging our false beliefs and affirming the beliefs that are true.

Example: My three-year-old son begins to defy me. After several attempts to reason and negotiate, my emotions begin to “rise” (read: unhealthy anger). My attempts to gain compliance and control only seem to drive my son further into rebellion. I know that I should not be disciplining in my anger and that yelling, threatening, and even physically restraining my son are not recommended strategies listed in any respectable parenting book; however, I am compelled by my deep emotion of anger. In retrospect, I discovered that the intense emotion was not the problem, but an indicator of a false belief. I believed that my dignity depended on my three-year-old’s respect and compliance. That’s a ridiculous belief, but keeping my dignity is not. Time to reject the lie that ties my dignity to a three-year-old’s behavior.

I would propose emotions are not something to be ignored or shut off. They have important purposes, including uncovering what we actually believe about ourselves and God. The process of bridling and riding these “wild horses” to their destination (our hidden beliefs) takes some humility and introspection with the Lord, but it’s a ride well worth taking. Remember, our negative emotions are not the problem; it’s our instinctual beliefs that drive them. It’s been said that emotions do not validate truth, BUT they do validate what we believe the truth to be.

Memorial

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn: A 9/11 Tribute

In an effort to acknowledge the tragedy of 9.11, I would like to talk about mourning. The Beatitudes give us the phrase, “blessed are those who mourn”. This doesn’t really jive with the American way and the selfish desires of my heart, but I’m sure it’s true. In my understanding, the idea of mourning is centered on an acknowledgement of something that is good that is missing. This acknowledgement can often be painful to the person who is admitting there is now a void of someone or something in their lives. Unfortunately, in an effort to minimize personal pain, I might ignore or diminish this acknowledgment. This can have significant long-term, unintended side effects. In short, by not acknowledging the good things that are now gone, we can unknowingly close off those areas of our heart and prevent them from ever being healed. You see, we cannot selectively shut out pain. The door we are shutting is the same door that healing and love need to enter our hearts. So, if you are like me, you may have closed many doors in an effort to avoid pain, but you also stunted your ability to love and be loved. Part of the GOOD NEWS is that God can help you re-open those doors, mourn, and heal.

I pray for the families and friends of those who died on 9/11, that they would be able to re-open doors that may have been shut and experience God’s healing touch.

Blondin (Francois Gravelet) pushes a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagra Falls

Operational Belief vs. Intellectual Ascent (part 2 of 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I considered the difference between two kinds of “belief”:

  1. Intellectual Ascent
  2. Operational Belief

The examples of:

  • a dad who knows how he should love and disciple his children (intellectual ascent) vs. how he actually behaves when they frustrate and disrespect him (operational belief)
  • a mom who knows God is always loving and present with her (intellectual ascent) vs. her feelings of loneliness and abandonment when her spouse and friends are emotionally unavailable to her (operational belief)

The hard part: our instinctual responses of self-protection served us well at some point in life, but now they keep us from the relational connection and healing with God and others that we truly long for.

What to do?

As you might imagine, these operational / instinctual beliefs die hard. Here are three steps that may help close the gap between our intellectual beliefs and operational beliefs; steps we are all invited to take with a loving God who isn’t afraid of what we’ll find:

  1. Recognize our own “gaps” and inconsistencies—we must be aware when we are operating in an incongruent way with our intellectually-stated beliefs. This can be extremely difficult since these instincts have often developed over decades and feel like they provide a sense of emotional stability and security.
  2. Understand the false belief that is driving the behavior—after you’ve noticed a possible inconsistency between your intellectual beliefs and your operational beliefs (behavior), it’s critical to ask some questions: “Why am I doing this? What am I believing that is driving me to behave this way?” Since we already know the “right” answer, it can be humbling and difficult to go for the honest answers here, but honesty and humility are mandatory—and freeing—in this process.
  3. Replace the false belief with the solid truth—find and meditate on the scriptures that speak into the truth gap in your heart. Pray through them, asking God to change your instincts. Share with a trusted friend or two how you want God to change your operational beliefs.

In order to fully close this gap between intellectual belief and operational belief, it will take time; ultimately it will take our entire lifetime. However, God uses this process of refinement to draw us closer to himself. We can experience real progress and growth in closing this gap, but don’t expect to have all gaps 100% closed this side of heaven.

Fortunately, God isn’t usually asking us to get into a wheelbarrow on a high wire, but he is asking us to examine our operational beliefs that don’t line up with the truth of his word (our intellectual beliefs). I pray we will embrace the process of sorting out our beliefs with our good, welcoming God and draw closer to him along the way.

Blondin (Francois Gravelet) pushes a wheelbarrow across a tightrope over Niagra Falls

Operational Belief vs. Intellectual Ascent (part 1 of 2)

In my experience it seems there are two kinds of “belief”:

  1. Intellectual Ascent
  2. Operational Belief

If I witnessed a stunt man comfortably pushing a wheelbarrow across a high wire with more than 200 pounds of sand in it, I could easily believe that he could do it with a normal-sized person in the wheelbarrow. This doesn’t mean that I’m ready and willing to jump in and give it a go.

In my life I also find similar gaps in what I believe intellectually vs. how I actually respond under the daily stresses and pain of life. You see, in order to make sense of life and protect myself from pain at a very early age, I arranged a self-protective survival system. Mostly, this system works at a subconscious level. It’s instinctual. I think just about everyone does this to some degree.

The irony is that the same instincts that serve to protect us from evil or harsh circumstances can also prevent us from relational connection and healing with God and others. Allow me to provide a couple examples:

  • A good father intellectually knows he needs to exhibit patience and unconditional love while training and discipling his kids. However, when the kids repeatedly show disrespect, self-centeredness, and anger toward the father, he resorts to raising his voice, shaming the kids for their actions, and using a general tone of anger towards them. How can this be?
  • A good mother intellectually knows she is never alone and God is always watching out for her. However, when she experiences loneliness due to an emotionally unavailable spouse and a schedule that doesn’t permit meaningful connection with other adults, a deep despair sets in; an operational belief that she is truly alone and must be emotionally tough and shoulder the load by herself. How can this be?

In each case, the operational beliefs do not line up with the stated (intellectual / scriptural) beliefs. It can be difficult to even recognize these inconsistencies because they happen at an instinctual level. Often they have been with us for decades and seem normal and necessary for our everyday coping and survival. But they are not. These inconsistencies threaten our ability to connect with God and others.

As you might imagine, our unhealthy operational / instinctual beliefs die hard. What can be done? Check out Part 2 of this post to find some steps to consider taking with a God who can’t wait to lovingly help you “close the gap”.

spelunking

Soul Spelunking

“Spiritual growth is not about climbing a mountain, getting better, and therefore needing Christ less and less. Spiritual growth is about discovering more and bigger caverns of need into which more and more of Christ’s grace can flow.” Tullian Tchividjian, from blog post titled: Christ Is Deeper Still

Who wants to explore their own depravity, spelunking into the depths, looking for “bigger caverns” where Christ’s grace is desperately needed? Personally, I’d like to seal off those caverns permanently with a truck load of C4. They are dark, scary, dangerous and ugly … which is exactly why God wants to go there with us. He wants to expose the deepest, scariest places within us to his love, his grace, and his mercy. He wants to begin the healing journey now, on this side of eternity. If we are truly honest, most of us can think of some places deep down where fear, self-doubt, and shame reside. Honestly, there are things I often desire more than God. I frequently doubt that God alone can truly satisfy my deepest desires (FYI: this is not surprising to God; he recognized it before I did).

It is easy for me to create an illusion that these hidden caverns don’t really affect me or others all that much. But it’s a lie. First of all, no one can possibly hide all of their cavernous, fleshy garbage from anyone in a close relationship. Just ask your spouse or your best friend. But, more importantly, when I attempt to hide my gaping caverns from others, I isolate myself relationally. Relational isolation is a dirty rotten scoundrel and a thief. It whispers in my ear, “If you come clean, you will be rejected, so keep the juicy stuff to yourself and I will keep you safe.” And in so doing, it thoughtlessly robs me of deep, powerful, healing connections with God and others. Not only that, isolation is a greedy, heartless beast. Feeding it only increases its appetite. Look out!

God has designed us to live in close relationships. It’s called community. While community can be messy and inherently risky, this is the space where ministry happens between us and others. He has gone to incredible lengths to create this canvas where we join in with others in painting the artwork which is our relationships. Without visiting the deeper places alongside our trustworthy guide (God), our color palette becomes very limited. We don’t have much to offer, nor can we receive much. God designed us to live in full color. He especially enjoys all the colors and he wants to enjoy them with you and me. He desires that we enjoy them with each other.

With God as your guide, grab your helmet, rope and a trustworthy friend. Take that spelunking adventure to which he is calling you!