Something frustrating/painful/paradoxical about writing books about your life is that storylines you had sewn up at book’s end can, and do, unravel in real life. I’m dealing with that now.
My memoir is sewn up, edited, on its way to press…as far as paper and ink go…but in real life, this one thread of my story is refusing to stay put. That thread is a “character” in my book, a family member, whom I left at a good spot–and whose relationship with me ended in a good spot. But now the relationship…the character…it’s all just unraveling. And I am crushed.
That’s the thing about a happy ending in a work of non-fiction. Unlike the ending of a novel, the story can change. Happy can turn to sad, resolved to unresolved.
It’s times like these when I can start to wonder, Why did I even bother? Why did I go to the trouble to try to organize and understand and “sew up” my story? Happy endings in real life can’t really be sewn up anyway…can they?
I wrote a book about overcoming depression. About moving past family dysfunction. About finding joy and new starts in the sinful, yet beautiful world around me.
And now this piece of my conclusion is unraveling, a piece of my life that originally caused much of my depression, contributed to my family’s dysfunction, and seemed to suggest that life would never–could never–change for the better.
What does that mean for my book, and for me? Does it mean that I am a fraud, my book a farce? Does this make my message of “new life” a bunch of baloney? Does it mean that depression can’t be overcome? That dysfunction can’t be left behind? That joy can’t be found?
If I give in to my gut reaction (this is terrible!), if I listen to my heart (I’m so sad, I feel so depressed), or if I trust the words Satan whispers in my ear (why get up today? Look at the junk I have to face…), then I can easily jump to those conclusions.
But if I remember the most important storyline of my book–the real message–then hope revives.
My Reasons for Hope
One of my favorite chapters in my book is my chapter called “Rebirth,” where, amidst the backdrop of this same thread unraveling that I’m currently blogging about (it’s been a recurring, unraveling thread in my life story, you see), I begin the habit of daily prayer, Bible reading, and Bible memorization. As I learn, my attitude, my mood, and my inner peace (or lack thereof) do not have to be determined by my outwardcircumstances. After three weeks of me meditating on God’s promises, that stubborn thread remains as stubborn as ever…but I have experienced a genuine heart transformation: after ten-plus years of depression, I no longer feel depressed!
And that is the overarching thread in my story–that we can learn to hear and operate in God’s truth even when Satan is attacking us with his fiery darts; we can embrace a new life on the inside even when lifeon the outside hurts.
Beyond that, if we are faithful to God, he promises that one day we can have a new life not only on the inside, but also on the outside. The Bible says that if we believe in Jesus and give our lives and hearts to him, these sad stories down here are not our final stories. One day Jesus will “wipe away every tear”; in other words, he will sew up our stories for good and lay to rest those stubborn threads that keep tripping us up and pulling us down.
These truths are narrative threads that can never unravel.
Sometimes hearing these truths don’t help much. Sometimes these Bible promises, if spoken lightly and out of context, seem like an insensitive slap in the face of our very real, very present pain. And that’s exactly why, I maintain, we need the sad stories along with the Bible promises.
My story of overcoming depression, moving on from dysfunction, is not a farce, and I am not a fake. The fact that one of my threads has unraveled again, again causing me much pain, is not a reason to hide my past story of suffering and overcoming; it is a reason to celebrate it. My story Ending the Pain has become a precious record of the Lord’s intervention at a desperate time, and now I can reread it to find hope for the present and future.
If I had not written the story, I might be tempted to forget that the Lord works in wonderful and mysterious ways even when, especially when, the threads of our lives seem to be unraveling.
Here on planet earth, until it becomes the New Earth, threads unravel all the time; things fall apart. So let’s not to forget to celebrate those strong, unbreakable cords of love that have held us together in the past…and that can hold us together today and tomorrow, no matter what falls apart around us.
This week I wrote on my Facebook page that I’m addicted to self-help books. But that’s softening the problem. Really, I’m just addicted to myself (that’s the human condition, you know). But this week, and for the next month, I’m working to change that through reading and performing The Love Dare, which you might remember from the movie Fireproof.
I’m one week into “The Love Dare,” or the forty-day challenge of doing something specific for my spouse every day; and already I feel that it’s is changing me. From my words to my actions to my thoughts, I am being challenged to be kind to my husband, give him the benefit of the doubt, and extend grace. Oh, and to be the first to initiate these loving traits, even if and when he doesn’t deserve them. It sounds kind of hard. But it hasn’t been, not really.
I’m a nerdy sort of a girl who likes to learn things from books, who likes step-by-step instructions. The Bible gives me the core principles on love (God is love, love keeps no record of wrongs, I should forgive seventy times seven times, etc.), and it also give me the perfect example in the life of Jesus (because Jesus is God in the flesh)…but The Love Dare, with its day-by-day steps, has given me a format that my personality loves.
As a Melancholy wife, I’ve always felt I needed to keep some kind of record of Buc’s wrongs; it was my job to correct him and perfect him (sound familiar, women?). In fact, trying not to nag Buc has been my biggest challenge during our ten years of marriage. Want to know what the first dare was? (Did author Alex Kendrick have me in mind when he wrote this?)
“Speak only positive words to your spouse,” and “if you can’t be positive, don’t say anything at all.”
Even if I had stopped there, I think I would still feel a change at home.
It’s actually a relief to be told that, for today, and for the next thirty-nine days, my task is not to say anything negative to Buc. (I even have a place to check off each dare, and a page and a half to journal about my thoughts each day!) As I’ve continued to implement my daily dares, it’s been a relief to know that my words will not cause any arguments for the day; it’s a relief to have decided beforehand that any negative thoughts I will “take captive” to Christ–I will not say them to Buc.
I can’t say I’ve done a perfect job in my first week of dares, but I can say my home is more peaceful; many petty arguments have been eliminated; and my new thoughtfulness is often being returned. All in all, The Love Dare is positively impacting my home environment, and it’s probably doing as much to refine my character as any self-help book I’ve read. Who knew that putting others above yourself (in a healthy, Christlike way–not in a martyr-like, self-effacing way–of course) was actually a form of self-help, too?
And now, dear [Lindsey], I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. (2 John 1:5)
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.. (1 John 4:7)
God knew, that’s who. I’m so glad to serve such a wise God, and I look forward to learning more about his character as I practice loving my husband better.
After giving her question plenty of thought and prayer, along with hunkering down with the Bible and other sacred writings, I can answer that question. The answer is yes.
It’s a complicated issue, because I’m also quite certain writing is a calling from God. It’s part of my mission and ministry. So, on the one hand, my writing is a calling from God. On the other hand, it is an idol. How can two such opposite things get confused in the same activity?
God has impressed me with lots of thoughts about this as I seek to put him back at the center of my life. (If it seems like I have to wrestle with the task often, it’s true—I do. Satan is always warring within me to take my focus off Jesus.)
Worshiping Gifts, instead of the Gift-Giver
Isaiah and Jeremiah teach me much about my tendency to confuse the gift with the Gift-Giver. Isaiah 44 strikes to the heart of the matter by describing how people use part of a tree to make an idol, and then burn the rest of it as firewood (see especially verses 9-11 and verse 15). The firewood is the proper use for the wood, because the wood is only a tool given by God for sustaining and improving life.
It’s the same with any “tool” or gift God gives us. Our gifts, like firewood, are meant to be spent for the spread of the gospel. We should not try to conserve them, because they were given to be used. When God gives us a talent, it is wrong to worship it, to look to it to bring us satisfaction. No, we should always and only look to God for satisfaction, and salvation. The talent, gift, or tool, is just that: a tool that should be used, even exhausted, in the service of God and others. It is nothing to take pride in; on the contrary, it should help us humble ourselves before God.
I am on track when I focus my writing on God and the message he wants me to share with others. I get off track when I focus on what my writing can bring me: as in fame, success, or recognition.
I also get off track when I focus on the writing of others, even Christian writers, as something to aspire to so that I can have similar success.
My Distorted Relationship with Reading
On that note, here’s something that surprised me in my recent inventory of my heart: I’ve been reading “good, Christian books” with the wrong motives. I’ve been reading lots of self-help books, but not receiving any help—because I’m reading for craft, not content.
What do I mean?
Four of five years ago, when I first starting seriously researching how to publish my writing, I read that writing is a business, and writers need to study writing that sells. At the time, I was also getting to know the Lord better and working at beating depression, so I had the noble goal of writing and publishing uplifting books. To feed these parallel goals—publishing, growing spiritually—I started reading writing/publishing books in tandem with Christian/self-help books; at the time, the writing books were to help me write better, the Christian books were to make me a better Christian.
But at some point, all my reading, even my Christian reading, became too much about the publishing. I found myself reading popular Christian authors not just for spiritual feeding, but for research.
I wanted to know what topics these best-selling authors were writing about that were selling so well, and I wanted to know how good they were at the craft, to see if my writing could stand up to theirs—or, more particularly, to see if my writing was of publishable quality.
When I judged that my writing was, in some cases, of higher quality, I became prideful.
And when I read that I must immerse myself in “good writing” in order to produce “good writing” (grammatically and aesthetically speaking) I became a reading snob. I started to choose my reading based on the quality of the writer’s writing—and not so much on the quality of the writer’s Christianity.
I won’t name drop here. I’ll just say I’ve read some “Christian writers” who write beautifully, but who, in their writings, exalt a spirit of selfishness and prideful-ness, and a resistance to yield to God’s hand of correction, should it conflict with their inner desires. Some of these Christian writers are heavily influenced by the world and popular culture’s “follow your heart” mentality—a mentality that must, if I believe God’s word, come from Satan.
I know some of my own writing bears out this struggle between Christ and Satan—and I am sorry. I am not sorry for representing the struggle, because the struggle is real, and we must name it to overcome it. But I am sorry for the times I have let Satan win. And I repent of it. I want to give my gift of writing to the Lord once again, to be used to uplift him, and not myself.
Getting Back to Truth
So I am getting back to truth. I am reading some hard-hitting stuff that doesn’t really feed my literary side, but feeds my soul. And I am asking the Lord to make the “soul impact” of my writing my greatest concern—not it’s literary quality, or it’s salability (if salability would mean it is out of alignment with God’s truth). I am letting go of “idol writing”—writing for myself, and for my own gain—in favor of writing for love of God and for my fellow humans—the two greatest commandments.
Lord, help me to stay true to you in all I do—especially in this gift you’ve given me.
I am thankful this morning for unexpected good things, including my new Ford F150 (our first family vehicle) and Duck Dynasty. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. I never pictured myself driving a truck as my primary vehicle, or watching those “silly” rednecks by choice. My main focus for now is still working on my book during naptimes—now I’m on to my book proposal, with a particular editor in view. But in the meantime, God continues to fill my life with other interesting stuff, and I’m glad for it.
For instance, I’ve made a new friend in my next-door-neighbor, who gave birth to twins two weeks before Sam was born. She has been such a blessing to this homebound mama, because she has become almost like a “coworker” (in the business of mothering babies) to commiserate with and compare stories. (We SAHMS miss that coworker/adult banter.) We take the babies for walks once or twice a week, swap books, discuss those books (a built-in book club! What could be better?), and text each other. Tonight we will attempt a movie night at her house once the babies go to bed. God has given me lots of friends over the past few years, and I love their awesome uniqueness equally, but there is something to be said for having friends, and family, close by. Logistically, you can do so much more with family and friends who are physically close.
Construction, and reconstruction, on parts of our house continues—now we are moving into month two. I skipped writing about it when it began, but the short version is that a plumbing leak led to gutting a bathroom and a hallway, and the resulting insurance money spurred us to proceed with other home improvements we’ve wanted for five years. So lately most days around here are noisy and messy, with subcontractors tromping in and out of my backyard and the back rooms of the house. Included in the work are new walls (to replace sliding glass doors), a new window, new carpet, and new paint. I’ll be glad to get this over with, but with the mess around me, my next home project may become purging more of our junk.
Duck Dynasty. I rolled my eyes a couple years ago when some family members described the show, but now my husband has introduced me, and I’m hooked. This is the only television I watch besides a half hour of morning news, mind you. I could easily live without a television. But this show makes me laugh at the end of a hard day; plus, I am encouraged by the Robertsons’ strong example of family togetherness and their un-ashamedness of their faith.
Speaking of faith, my new neighbor friend asked if I would like to read through the Bible with her in forty days to refresh ourselves on the big picture of God’s Word. I said sure, but it definitely won’t get read in forty days! More accurately, I read from two to five chapters a day (I’m almost to Leviticus, and I’m thinking of skipping it this go-round…anyone want to hold that against me?). The more I read the Bible, the more new insight I get. This time I’ve picked up on a couple new things. One example is in Exodus 20, where, directly after God gives the 10 Commandments, he repeats the injunction not to worship or make other Gods—making a special point to warn them of the exact sin he knows they are about to commit with the golden calf! In the instructions for building his temple, I am reminded that God pays attention to detail, and he cares for the details of our lives. In his instructions to hire skilled workers, I take encouragement for my book project that God wants us to be skillful in our trades, and thereby glorify him.
P90X. The weight loss effort continues, with s-l-o-w success. I am still twenty pounds away from my goal (pre-pregnancy weight). But I am working out 3 to 4 times a week after Sam’s bedtime, usually with one of these extreme workouts, so I resist feeling bad about the weight that won’t (yet) come off. I’m doing my part—also trying to eat right—and I can’t do more than that (unless I give up chocolate like my neighbor…and I’m not quite ready for that!).
What else? Sam is doing great. He’s had a few bites of rice cereal, so that will probably become part of the routine soon, to keep up with his nutrition needs. He is spitting up A TON…but I hope that will level off soon with him taking some cereal. Also, my one-day-a-week babysitter, my sister-in-law, is done now that her kids are out of school. So Sambo and I get lots of quality time! Hubby took Monday and Tuesday off for the holiday weekend (which was so nice for our family!), and when he had to watch Sam from about 2 to 4:30 one day (Sam’s fussy time), he asked me how I do this every day! Like with anything and everything else in life, the answer is with God!
This post has been a hodgepodge of goings-on, and I want to end by thanking my Creator (and Re-Creator) God for all of them. My life is so full right now I almost don’t know what to do with myself! But once upon a dark time, I didn’t even want to see the light of day. When I think of the depression he brought me out of years ago, there is only one conclusion to be made: God is worthy of my worship, every single day, and every single moment of this crazy, busy life!
What I saw in my kitchen this morning made me instantly angry, and I most certainly would have sinned, again, if I had not been meditating for the past two days on the Apostle Paul’s instructions to “Be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26).
The puppies tore up my rug, again, the one I had just fixed with duct tape (don’t laugh); and their water and food dish was empty, again, showing that my husband had shirked his duties for these puppies he wanted, again.
As I sat stewing at my dining room table, contemplating what to do with this welling anger (magnified greatly by past-due pregnancy hormones), I stroked my Bible. This was supposed to be my morning devotion time, but I was tempted to wake my husband and yell at him: “See what they did? You clean it up. See their empty food and water dishes? You fill them.”
I was also ravenously hungry by this point, and getting angry, yet again, that Buc has never in nine months of pregnancy made it a priority to get up and eat breakfast with me on the weekends. He always has to shower first and look at his news, which seems extremely selfish when I’m about to pass out. Because he won’t rearrange his routine, we miss eating breakfast together—because often I just can’t wait.
Anyway, this morning I had a decision to make. Was I going to pause and pray, or just react? Because I’d been mulling over Ephesians 4 for the last two days, I heard these words in my mind: “Be angry and sin not.” “Forgive others as Jesus forgave you.” “Speak only words that will encourage others, not tear down.” I also remembered an anecdote I’d just read about how Abraham Lincoln once advised a general to deal with his anger at a colleague. To summarize, Lincoln told his general:
Write a letter to that man in all honesty, in all nastiness, to express your feelings.
When you are done with the letter, DO NOT send it. Reread it to yourself, then burn it. Now, write a new letter.
While my first impulse was not to pause and pray, or to write a letter, I asked Jesus for strength to overcome my instincts, my unreasoning hunger, and my prego hormones. And then I popped in a toaster strudel to tide my appetite, and pulled out a clean sheet of paper.
“To my husband,” I began. “I am very angry at you right now…” From there I quickly filled up the front and back. I could have gone on, but interestingly, part of my letter ended up detailing my own faults. Trying to see things from Buc’s perspective, I found myself writing things like, “I know you would tell I am too easy on the puppies, letting them get away with ruining my stuff, and how will I discipline a child if I can’t even handle dogs? Maybe you’re right; I just wish you could appreciate how damn hard this is for me. I’m not good at discipline.”
I paused for a moment, considering how small this morning’s events really were in comparison to life’s bigger mysteries—such as my son’s impending birth—realizing how sad it would be to ruin a morning just for the chewed up rug and empty water dish. And then, remembering what I’ve learned about fruits and roots, I wrote: “Maybe a root of this anger is that I feel unappreciated and disrespected. I feel you don’t understand how hard certain things are for me [like disciplining the dogs] or how important other things are [like breakfast on demand]. I just wish you would try to see things from my perspective and not brush off these things that are a big deal to me.”
By the end of two pages, I felt less volatile, but I still didn’t trust myself to speak in love. Remembering a tip from Dr. Laura’s The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage, I pulled out a second clean sheet of paper. (The basic premise of Dr. Laura’s book is to kill your spouse with kindness—actively love him or her so much through words and deeds that he or she can’t help but respond in kind.)
Now, I listed all the GOOD things about my hubby I could think of. Blinded as I was by my anger, I needed to remember that my husband wasn’t intentionally annoying me; and I knew that compared with all his good traits, this little issue would fade.
After I wrote for that one page (why is it so much easier to write bad than good?), I cracked open my Bible and reread Ephesians 4 in The Message version (yesterday I read the NIV), and then I went on to Ephesians 5 for good measure. Very funny, God. Chapter 5 is the one about wives submitting to their husbands. In my reading, which took no more than ten minutes, I was reminded of these key ideas:
1. Because I have been reborn, I can rely on Jesus’ blood and breath flowing through me, and Jesus’ love for my husband. I don’t have to rely on my own strength anymore.
2. Also because I have been reborn, God wants me to be mature, not childish anymore (Eph. 4:14-16; 21-24). How mature is it (I had to ask myself) to make a fuss over a torn rug and an empty water dish, or my empty stomach?
3. “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life” (Eph. 4:26-27).
4. “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another [husbands included] as quickly and as thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). What a tall order this was! But compared to Christ, who forgave those who tortured and murdered him, what did I have to complain about?
5. “Figure out what will please Christ and then do it!” (Eph. 5:10). I was pretty sure it wouldn’t please Christ for me to explode at my husband or skip my morning devotional. I was also starting to feel that it would please Christ for me to, once and for all, admit that these frustrations with our puppies are largely due to me not preventing bad behavior I could, actually prevent. I figured it would please Christ for me to finally just deal with the problem so it wouldn’t waste any more of my time or energy. I resolved to submit to my husband’s good counsel (Eph. 5:21-28) and start being more assertive with the dogs, and not let them sleep in the main areas of the house anymore (we have a laundry room that will do as well) so as to avoid these unpleasant morning surprises.
When Buc sauntered into the kitchen, eyes widening at the fluff strewn all across the tile (I hadn’t had energy to clean it yet), I was just finishing my three-part anti-anger plan, and I had no desire to yell at him anymore. I also didn’t feel much like talking (which is sometimes the best recourse when you can’t say anything nice), so I left the list of good traits on the table and threw the nasty letter (ripped to pieces) in the trash. I went to take a shower, after which I started scrubbing the bathroom tile. Better to give myself lots of distance from the temptation to sin. After awhile, Buc approached me, and he lit up my day with three statements:
1. “Do you want to eat breakfast together?” (Yes, I did.)
2. “I found that list you wrote about me, and I know you’re mad at me, because you don’t write those good things when you’re not. But I appreciate the list, and I love you. And I cleaned up the dogs’ mess.” (I was gratified that he’d found the loving list, and he knew without me telling him that I was angry. I was also reproved by the fact that he thinks I don’t write good things about him unless I’m angry—something for me to work on.)
3. “I’m going to get cracking on organizing my closet and my gun supplies” (something I’ve wanted him to do for the last few weeks). “I appreciate you honey, and how you keep me organized.” (This made me feel especially good, because it told me he has noticed the extra efforts I’ve been putting in to get ready for our baby. I was also softened to see that Dr. Laura’s advice was working: I had chosen to be kind to him, and he chose to be kind back.)
Readers, this may seem a long post to recount a silly could-have-been spat this morning, but don’t take lightly how important these small moments of life really are. I believe our lives are made up of these small moments, these small choices (to yell or to pray, to speak kindly or to criticize) and they are the stuff our characters are made of in the end. One “silly” spat can ruin a whole day, just as the choice to submit to God in something as simple as pausing to pray (or to read, or to write a “fake” letter) can set off a full day’s worth of kind words and deeds.
I wrote this post for myself, to remind myself how important it is not to skip my daily time with God, but I hope I have reminded you of the same thing. Even born-again Christians need to be recalibrated on a daily basis.
After giving my life to God, I was always on the lookout for tools to share my faith. I didn’t feel I was particularly good at this part of the Christian life, and I thought it was because I hadn’t yet found the right method. Enter Paul Coneff and The Hidden Half of the Gospel.
Paul conducted a week of prayer at my church in the spring of 2012, and after just the first night, I knew his message was special: I sensed it might even be the missing link in my life and ministry, this “hidden half” of Jesus’ story. So, what was it? And how, if I’d been in church almost my entire life, had I missed it?
The Hidden Half of the Gospel
Paul began his presentation with a question: “What did Jesus do more of while on this earth: Teaching or healing?”
Healing was the obvious answer. Then Paul asked, “Why have we [churches and Christians] reversed Jesus’ model of ministry? Why do we do more teaching than healing, when he did more healing than teaching?”
He continued, “Now let’s say that I am sitting in my office and I am studying for a sermon. Some church member comes in and says, ‘I have been struggling with guilt and shame from an abortion.’ Is it easier to turn to that messiness and brokenness of her life, or is it easier to do a Bible study on the character of God? Give her some scriptures on forgiveness and say, ‘You know God has forgiven you,’ pray with her a thirty-second prayer, and walk away. Which is easier?”
His point? Many churches, and Christians, don’t know how to handle messy problems like this one (other common examples being pornography addiction, abuse, eating disorders, infidelity, and cutting ), so we don’t–meaning we don’t offer the help so many people need. He went on to prove his point with a concept he calls the “cycle of sin-and-forgiveness.” Many Christians come into the church and get forgiveness for their sins, only to fall back into their patterns of sin. Then they ask for forgiveness, but continue to sin, again and again and again. (In my own experience of praying with women, I’ve also seen a pattern of wallowing in guilt over past sins that the person is no longer committing.) Paul continued. “Why is it that so many Christians who have accepted the ‘good news’ of Christ still are not free?”
I was riveted. Exactly! I said to myself, remembering how my parents had been wooed into the church with lots of good information and had gotten baptized, only to leave our family scattered and scarred by an affair and divorce (see parts 1, 2, and 3).
For the first time, I saw my problems standing stark naked in church, and I was desperate to know: How can the church address these issues?
1. The root of our sin and suffering is Satan, the father of lies (John 8:44). This concept of roots is huge in Paul’s ministry. As Paul explained, all our negative behaviors and patterns are merely fruits of deep-seeded roots, or lies, planted by Satan. We cannot fix the fruits unless we first attack the roots. Thus, healing begins by identifying the Satanic lies driving our behavior. Once we know the roots, or the lies, we can take those to Jesus and let him deal with them, which leads to pillar 2.
2. The root of our healing and freedom is Jesus, our Suffering Messiah (Luke 9:22; Rev. 5:5; Col. 2:15; Isa. 53). The suffering of Jesus is the crux of The Hidden Half of the Gospel, and the key to our healing.
As Paul explained, many churches have overlooked this crucial aspect of Jesus’ gospel, instead choosing to focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. The death and resurrection take care of forgiveness of sins, but often merely believing in and accepting these concepts doesn’t resolve suffering, or the cycle of sin-and-forgiveness. Putting “suffering” back into the definition of the gospel, as Jesus explained it to his disciples (see Luke 9:22), offers hope to those of us stuck in suffering—depression, abuse, addiction, etc.—because it means Jesus didn’t just nail our sins to the cross, but he also nailed our suffering there, as well. The Bible tells us Jesus “suffered and was tempted in every way” that we are tempted, to offer us help when we suffer and are tempted (Heb. 2:17-18; 4:14-16).
Why Jesus Had to Suffer
“Have you ever thought about why Jesus’ story had to be so gory?” Paul asked the audience.
I really hadn’t.
“Well, think about it.” Paul continued. “Jesus was abandoned; betrayed; physically violated; shamed and humiliated; and verbally, mentally, emotionally, and physically abused. Now, do you think He understands the pain that abuse victims feel? Does He understand when a parent abandons a child? Was He ever tempted to numb His pain?
“He suffered all these things and more so He could identify with us. So that he could understand every way we are sinned against, and every form of self-protection we develop in order to numb our pain.
“What’s more, he suffered these temptations and triumphed over them, which means that when we take time to connect our stories with Jesus, to pray and meditate on what it means that he suffered for us, and became sin for us, we can experience his victory.”
By this time, I was hooked. I wanted this in my life. I wanted a ministry that was relevant to the suffering I’d experienced, and that which I saw all around me.
So I signed on for Paul’s seven-phase, thirteen-week discipleship program. That’s right. A thirteen-week program. This wasn’t any “quick fix.” It was going to be an intense period of praying on a consistent basis, first for myself (to get more healing in my own life before I was expected to pass it on–a requirement of Straight 2 the Heart Ministries) and then for others. I was going to learn at the feet of Jesus (and the seat of Paul Coneff) for an extended period of time, sort of like the first disciples, before I set out to make more disciples.
Discipleship, Small-Group Style
Paul spent the next four months with five of us, discipling us—praying with us, and training us to pray with others. And not quick, clean, thirty-second prayers. These were deep, messy prayer sessions that first asked Jesus to identify our negative roots, and then helped us connect our stories to Jesus’ story. It didn’t end there. We delved deeper, praying, “Lord, what else do you want me to know about these roots in my life? What blessings or barriers are there in these areas?” The prayers were recursive, connecting our stories to Jesus, then having us stop and listen to the Holy Spirit so he could take us one layer deeper into our negative roots. Always, by the end of the prayer sessions, which dredged up long-buried hurts and often tears, Jesus revealed blessings, too. He always brought to mind His promises to combat the negative roots our praying was churning up.
Our training ended, with the goal being that we would start more small groups in our church, beginning with a few men and women, hopefully to grow as disciples multiplied.
My Gateway to New Life at Home, at Work, and in Ministry
My life intersected with Paul Coneff’s message and ministry, Straight 2 the Heart, when I was at a crossroads in my life. I was coming up against the age of thirty, and was finding that pursuing my “chosen” path, graduate school to become a professor, was leaving me feeling empty. Here’s a summary of how God has since rerouted my plans through this life-changing prayer ministry.
Facing Remaining Negative Roots
First, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me to be honest about areas in my life that weren’t all healed yet (some of which are still in progress) such as:
Anger at the premature loss of my childhood family and, well, my childhood.
Resentment at my husband’s happy family (and any happy family).
Disillusionment with my church and religion because it “did not help me” in my time of crisis. Straight 2 the Heart helped me to see that my church didn’t help me because it didn’t know how—also, because I didn’t let them know I needed help in the first place. (It also provided the answer for how churches can help, when they have the right tools.)
My pattern of trying to control my life in my own strength so it would never get out of control again (or my attempts to never repeat my past depression, suicide attempts, broken family, etc., through over-planning, becoming over-busy, and more).
My avoidance of having kids out of the above need to maintain control.
Gaining Deeper Healing
Second, Straight 2 the Heart has led to more healing for those negative roots in these ways:
The decision to let go of the “safe,” but wrong career path of academia.
The decision to finally pursue the identity God has for me, which has translated into sharing my story through writing and even teaching. This blog, my memoir-in-progress, and Paul’s and my forthcoming book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, are all examples of me sharing my story for God’s glory.
The decision to have a baby.
The decision to be honest with other women, to reach out and accept relationships I had avoided but desperately needed (See my post “Friends in High Places”)
I am gaining more appreciation for my church as I look past its flaws (every church has flaws) and see the human beings there. Since deciding to be vulnerable with my own story, I’ve connected with many of these dear people in meaningful ways. I am getting the authentic “fellowship of believers” experience I missed as a child, when my family was intent on covering up its problems.
Taking the Next Step in Ministry
Third, Straight 2 the Heart has helped me learn how to have a really relevant ministry, or how to help others who are stuck in negative places and patterns like those I’ve suffered. (It is through making Jesus’ gospel relevant to the everyday struggles of life—boldly connecting our messiness to Jesus Christ’s suffering and his full gospel to “heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free.”)
My partner in prayer ministry, Amanda, and I, prayed two new young women (now dear friends) through the thirteen-week prayer process, which helped lead them to lots of healing—and baptisms in our church!
Amanda and I also trained women at a neighboring church to facilitate the same thirteen-week prayer and discipleship process in their congregation.
With the help of Amanda and Mary, our other cohort from our initial 13-week training, I facilitated a third prayer group, consisting of around ten ladies, in my home for several months last fall. This group resulted in amazing healing for many of these women (for marital, parental, and other common problems) as well as facilitating much needed connection between these lovely, but often isolated church ladies.
Now I am working on rendering the miracles we saw in these women willing to be honest with one another and with God into the closing scenes for my memoir. I want my story to testify to how one changed life can ripple out to other lives, and still more lives from there. This is what discipleship is all about.
Now, what I’ve left out of my rebirth story (and there’s lots I’ve left out), I am working on telling in my memoir. Why did I call this my “ugly, messy” rebirth story? If you consider a real birth (and I’ve been considering it a lot lately), it’s a messy process. It’s no small thing when a new physical life is created—and the same is true for a new spiritual life. The creation of a life, and the re-creation of a life, are not simple or easy processes. At times they are painful, ugly, and messy—but to get to the birth, or the rebirth, they are necessary. That’s why I have unapologetically included the ugliness and messiness in my story—along with its beauty. Without either, my story would be incomplete.
While I hold to my convictions (and sometimes snobbery) on certain movements (I will never understand waiting in line for hours to see any movie at midnight), I find an abundance of examples proving that mobs can sometimes follow exceedingly good and worthwhile things. For instance, I’ve been simultaneously reading Marla Cilley’s Sink Reflections and Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project, both of which are enormously popular, but also, I think, pretty valuable: they offer advice, support, and coaching for improving one’s life.
Thanks to the “FlyLady,” Marla Cilley, I’m learning more effective ways to de-clutter my house, and because of Gretchen Rubin’s chapter on aiming higher in one’s work (chapter 3), I woke up this morning with ambitions (which I promptly wrote down) to start an actual author website in 2014.
The Downside of “Good” Mobs, from a Leader Perspective
There is something funny that happens when I find a guru I admire, though, and maybe this is because I am a leader-type, not a follower: I get jealous of him or her. Rather than just taking the advice for what it is, I wish I had been the one to give said advice. Rather than just browsing Gretchen Rubin’s website and rejoicing over all the great tips she’s giving me, I start to feel pressured to match the greatness of her website. This is a particularly insidious part of being a leader (or the type of leader that I am) because I feel this insecurity not only when I observe “greats” in my lines of work (writing, teaching, blogging), but I feel it when I see almost anyone doing any job well.
This tendency to lust after other people’s talents hurts me more than I’m sure I want to know: Chiefmost, and rather ironically, it derails me from carrying out any task well. When I start admiring someone else’s work too much in the context of wishing I had done that—or thinking, “Maybe I should go get training for that”—I get distracted from what I’m really supposed to do.
When I was newly married and trying to decide on a career path, my older brother came to visit us. I hadn’t seen him for almost a year, but when I saw him that time, I was struck with how “religious” he had gotten, and a what a great life path he had taken—he had attended a Bible college that trained him to lead Bible studies and prepare the way for evangelistic series—and I started to feel guilty that I needed to be doing the same thing. The problem was, I was a married woman now, rooted to a definite geographical location: I wasn’t a single person who could just up and just go anywhere for college, or, for that matter, be an itinerant traveler for my work after college (like he had become). As confused as I was about my career options at the time, my brother’s path should have been a clear “no” for me. But because of my personality, as soon as I saw what a good effect taking Bible training had had on my brother, I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing the same thing, and I carried that guilt for years.
Doing The One Thing We’re Meant to Do
The fact is (and what I’m learning as I read “follow-worthy” authors such as Cilley and Rubin and others, such as Bible writers who urge us to find our unique spiritual gifts), we can’t do everything—and we shouldn’t try to do everything. Rather, we must figure out what it is God has called us to do, and then do it. But how do we figure out what we’re supposed to do?
The answer came to my mind almost immediately (God is funny this way):
If you would be a leader in anything, first of all, you must submit. It’s there, all over the Bible: “Humble thyself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” “The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.” “ (James 4:10; 2 Pet. 5:6; Luke 14:11; Matt. 23:12, just to name a few references). And let’s not forget that those of us claiming to be Christians are, by virtue of taking that title, also claiming to followers: We are followers of Christ.
So for those of us with leader personalities, we must first learn to submit to the Greatest Leader who ever lived—Jesus Christ. After that, I believe, is when we really start to find our path. As Isaiah chapter 30 puts it (and this is a great chapter to read if you’re struggling to submit or find some direction), only after we have submitted to God and allowed Him to direct us, will we hear “a voice behind [us], saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it’” (v. 21).
I can’t tell you what you’re meant to do; sometimes I can’t even tell myself. But I know this: when I take my eyes off Jesus and start looking to the world for my example (as in, I start thinking I need to become Gretchen Rubin, and not just glean some advice from her book and blog), I become frustrated, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled. I believe God has a specific calling for me that only I can do, and while others may give me some useful tips along the way, I must always, ultimately, go back to the one who can not only lead me, but live in me to help me carry out what I’m meant to do. “For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).
Mobs form for all kinds of purposes and on all kinds of platforms—a group of “Twerds” (Twilight Nerds) standing in line to see the new release of the movie, some gamers getting together to join a virtual world, a group of Christians gathering to worship—but the two things they all have in common are leaders and followers. So, I’ll put two questions to you:
Are you a leader or a follower?
As a teacher and church officer, I’ve observed that most people are followers—and even though I’ve always preferred to see myself as a leader, I’m undoubtedly a follower of certain things/people/movements, too. In my next post I will talk more about leadership, but let’s camp on the follower aspect for now, since everyone can claim to be a follower of something. To get to my second question:
Who (or What) is it that you follow?
To my (at times) chagrin, I often find myself scoffing at popular movements that create mob followings: the Twilight series, Duck Dynasty, Facebook, iphones and whatever else everyone seems to be doing. I’ve gotten into this bad habit of automatically rejecting certain things just because they’re popular, because, I figure, “If everyone’s doing it, it must be wrong.” I think this approach stems equally from my being as Christian (you know, “The path to hell is wide” and all that), as well as from my desire to be a leader (if I want to lead others, I can’t be just like them).
But is that the right attitude to have? After all, as a self-professed Christian, I have to admit I have a lot of fellow “Christ followers” sitting in the same boat. And obviously I don’t think I’m wrong.
A better approach as a Christian and prospective leader, I’ve decided, is not to automatically reject something because “everyone is doing it.” Rather, I must go back to my source of truth and test whatever is being followed, to see if it is noble, worthy, true, and worthwhile (Phil. 4:4). Isaiah says, “To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (8:20).
I’m not going to get onto my anti-technology platform (especially since I just got my first iphone) or my anti-Twilight platform, or my anti-whatever-else platform right now, except to say it saddens me to see so many people (and I’ll pick on Christians especially), flinging away their self-control, their dignity, their morals, to “follow” people, things, or movements that counter their so-called “convictions” or, at the very least, add little benefit to their lives. I know fellow believers who will wait for hours in line to see a midnight opening of a movie, but who can’t get out of bed to go to church. I know fellow believers who will whoop and yell at sporting events and listen with rapture at concerts, but who will barely look up from their iphones (sorry, that slipped in) during a sermon. I ask you: Who or what is it that you follow—truly follow?
Feel free to follow who or what you want, but please, call it what it is. Jesus said you can’t have two masters. You will love one and hate the other. He also said He’d rather a person be hot or cold than lukewarm.
Who do you follow?
I’d like to think I’m in the Jesus camp—that the one thing that would excite me enough to stand in line for hours, to go hungry for hours, to wake up ravenous (metaphorically speaking), is God and God’s word. I’d like to picture myself as one of the disciples sitting on the hillside at Jesus’ feet, unable to wait for his next “new release”—the next words He wants to speak to me. Right now I know I’m not always there. But that’s my desire: to be a “Jerd” (Jesus Nerd). That’s one mob I definitely approve of.
So, who or what are you waiting in line for? And does the person/thing/group at the front of the line confirm you are who you say you are?
Lest I sound too high and mighty for my britches here, in Part 2, I talk about some of my personal challenges in trying to be a Christian leader.
I’m not talking about your hair color, though we often get hung up on the outward appearance. I’m talking about what’s on the inside: or those beliefs you hold at the core of your being.
Last weekend I hosted about ten women at my house for a mini women’s prayer retreat, and we talked and prayed about how the negative beliefs we hold are responsible for the negative behaviors in our lives. In other words, your problem of overeating, undereating, cutting, criticizing, worrying, etc. is the “fruit” of a deeper “root.”
As Jesus said, “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thornbushes, or grapes from briers. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Luke 6:43-45). He’s saying that any fruit cannot grow without a root first in place, because the one flows from the other.
My co-author, Paul Coneff, likes to further explain this concept with the “toothpaste test,” which stipulates that if a tube of toothpaste is strawberry, well, when it gets squeezed, nothing can come out but strawberry paste. In other words, whatever beliefs are rooted in our hearts—whether positive or negative—will eventually come out.
To see an example of the “fruit/root” principle, or to watch the “toothpaste test” in action, just get close to someone for a little while, settle in, and watch. Listen to what inadvertently pops out of their mouths when they get stressed. I’ve observed that even if people aren’t trying to be confessional, they end up confessing a lot more than they think (and this includes myself).
Recognizing Common Roots in Women
Writer Patricia Garey, in her book Beautiful Woman,talks about how mothers inadvertently send negative messages to their daughters about beauty and self-esteem when they make passing comments like, “Oh, I can’t go out without my makeup,” “I have to get rid of this extra flab,” or, “I wouldn’t be caught dead without [fill-in-the-blank].” What do these seemingly trite remarks say about the beliefs rooted in their hearts?
I know a lovely woman who will not go out in public until she has “put on her face.”
“I can’t be seen like this,” she chirps to her husband if he ever asks her to run to the store on a Sunday morning—even if just for a quick “in and out” errand where she will only be seen by the cashier. To go out for that sixty-second errand first must entail an hour’s preparation.
After I learned about the fruit/root principle, I asked myself: “Is this behavior just a quirk, or is it the symptom of a deeply seeded negative belief, perhaps, ‘I’m not acceptable just the way I am’? or ‘I need to hide who I really am’?”
I know another woman, well respected in her teaching job, who clearly has some insidious negative beliefs rooted in her heart. Because she doesn’t have a college degree, she feels inadequate, or “less worthy” in some way. Clearly, by the passing or side comments she makes under her breath, such as, “I’m so dumb,” or “Well, you’re better qualified for that,” or “I just wish I could really do something that would make a difference,” she believes in her heart that she is not good enough. Usually these comments come in the context of talking or hearing about someone else’s achievements, whether in the area of career, health, or other. I’ve heard many people say she is the best teacher they’ve ever seen, but sadly she won’t believe it.
I wonder how many of us have that problem. How many of us have deeply rooted negative beliefs about ourselves that everyone around us would disagree with? Sometimes no matter how many times we hear truths about ourselves, we refuse to believe them. But how quick we are to blow one negative comment into the gospel truth. If that’s so, then we can know we have some negative beliefs rooted in our hearts.
Recognizing My Own Roots
Tonight begins a thirteen-week women’s prayer group with a few good women who are willing to honestly examine those false beliefs in their hearts and let Jesus uproot them, replacing them with His truth. I’ve been through this process twice in the last year, and each time God reveals more roots I need to deal with.
Some of the easiest roots to recognize when I started a year ago were those depressive thoughts that used to define me: thoughts like “Life sucks,” “I’m a loser,” and “I will always be this way.” I have now recognized those thoughts as lies and renounced them in my life.
Next, I faced the following slew of lies—and these, I realized, were protections I had developed to try to fend off any more depression (or my old roots): “I have to try harder and do more,” “I have to control things,” “I am responsible for making my life into something meaningful.” After prayerfully asking God to search my heart and try my thoughts (Ps. 139:23-24), I realized these, too, were lies from the enemy. I still battle some of these lies, especially when I slack in my prayer life, but this battle is getting easier.
As I begin a new prayer group, the new lies I am battling sound something like this: “I have worked through my issues, and therefore, I have arrived.” “I am better than others.” “I don’t need to spend so much time in prayer anymore.” Wouldn’t you know it, even when we reach a spiritual high, Satan can use that to slam us some more—usually this is when the “pride” lies begin.
So today I am praying about pride, and asking the Lord make me feel my desperate need for him once again. I have confidence that as I spend time with him every day, he will once again reveal his truth. In the meantime, before I can feel it for myself, I am taking him at his word that I can do nothing without him—I am choosing to believe that to remain fruitful for him, I must remain in him—I must remain in the Vine (John 15). That’s because I never want to be ashamed for my roots to show; and I always want my life to produce positive fruit (Gal. 5:22).
What fruits and roots are showing up in your life today?
(Note: If you liked this post, check out the preview of the book Paul and I wrote, and sign up to follow this blog so you can read more about fruits and roots when our book is published.)
After achieving the feat of being Freshly Pressed, a sort of fear can set in, along with negative thoughts like these: “I’m going to screw up!” “My next effort won’t be as good!” “I’ll disappoint all these new readers!” Happily, I’ve only had these feelings mildly, and they’re not sticking around. Instead of fear, I mostly feel hope. Rather than daunting me, the Freshly Pressed Status has buoyed my confidence as a writer (a writer whose work people want to read!), and it has encouraged me.
The Surface Answer
So, you want to know how to get Freshly Pressed? (Before last Tuesday, I wondered that, too.) The easy answer is that you just have to keep writing and hope one of your posts gets picked. On the day I produced my “pressed” post, I was just doing my regular thing. I was praying and reading the Bible like I do every morning, then I started scribbling about the issues my prayer time had revealed to me. I let the writing sit for a weekend, and then on a busy Tuesday when I almost didn’t think I’d post, I tweaked a bit, paired it with a picture, and posted. It was one of the easiest pieces I’ve published, in fact, because I didn’t expect much out of it—not like some past posts I’d edited into mincemeat (hoping to be “pressed”).
It was a complete and total surprise when, three hours later, my inbox greeted me with: “Congratulations! You’ve been Freshly Pressed!” For the next few days I soaked up the extra comments, likes, and follows—and thanked God for blessing me when I wasn’t even asking.
The Deep Answer
Maybe that’s a key to receiving blessings: to stop trying to force them.
I think back to the small string of writing successes I’ve had so far. (You can liken my writing to whatever dream you’ve carried for most of your life.) In all honesty, when I’ve succeeded in writing, I wasn’t much expecting it. Conversely, when I’ve most expected to succeed, often I’ve actually flopped.
I know I’ve talked to God a lot over the years about my dreams. Heck, he was aware of these goals even before my birth. But when I started chasing them in the beginning, it was like I wanted God on call, ready to answer at the moment I asked. I was selfish (not that I’m a saint today, but I’m slowly learning patience). I wanted to be published, and I wanted it when I wanted it, in the way I wanted it.
Some Instructive “Flops”
In 2010 I prepared a manuscript based on my “oh-so-interesting” teenage journals and figured this just had to be my first book. After a pause in the project, during which time I encountered some pushback from one of the main “characters” in the memoir, I realized maybe this sensitive material wasn’t yet “book-ready.”
In 2011, when I was re-entering graduate school with the dual goals of professing and writing, I identified a PhD in Creative Writing program one hour away from me that I thought would be “so much better” than the bland rhetoric program I was currently in. So I fretted my way through months of manuscript and application preparation, then lay awake at night with knots, willing and wanting so badly for this to work out—only to be rejected a few months later.
In 2012 I tried again, this time a distance MFA program that specifically catered to writers of faith. This, I was sure, was the vehicle through which I would make my plans—my plans—happen. Only, I didn’t get in.
Today I’m not sorry I attempted that now-dead manuscript and those fruitless applications. I think it was good for me to try, especially since I felt God nudging me toward writing and I didn’t sense him expressly forbidding those things. Where I went wrong was becoming too bull-headed to recognize that God had other, better ways to make my dreams come true besides those few paths I could see.
Doing Our Part, Letting God Do His
So it is with any endeavor. Maybe we don’t exactly know if the thing we want is the same thing God wants, but we feel it might be. In that case, I believe our part is to work faithfully—do our homework, hone our craft, practice it, and perform it to the best of our ability (so we are not presuming on God)—but after we’ve done that, we should let go and let God.
When we live our lives like that, quietly and diligently doing those things that (to the best of our knowledge) God has appointed us to do, we might just be pleasantly surprised one day when our faithful efforts pay off. Since I’ve made writing a part of my daily routine (and dropped those arbitrary, self-imposed expectations, such as “the writing has to result in X”), I’ve had a few of those pleasant surprises, including three published (and paying!) magazine articles, a co-book project, and most recently a Freshly Pressed blog post.
It’s fun to get good news when you’re not expecting it. That’s not to say we shouldn’t expect good things from the hand of God. We should. But we shouldn’t try to dictate what those things will be. As I’ve learned, God has a vast storehouse of blessings for me that I’m not able to see—and it’s bigger and better than anything I could ever come up with.
Today my prayer is that I will faithfully do the task God has given me while letting God be God, trusting that he will reward me according to his promises and for the purpose of his glory. If you need to get re-centered on what really matters today, I recommend reading Psalm 119 in its entirety, as I did this morning.
Dear Lord, “Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. Fulfill your promise to your servant, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 119: 36-38)