Daring to Love: The Ultimate “Self-Help” Project

love dare
by Author Alex Kendrick

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.

Hamster Wheel Days

It’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve just tucked my fourteen-month-old, Sam, in for his first nap. Yeah, I know. That’s early for a nap. But we’ve been awake since 4:30. “It’s another hamster wheel day,” a voice tries to tell me, after a series of events like teething, traveling, and sickness that just won’t let us get back into our sleep routine. But then another voice replies, “Maybe not. You don’t have to live constantly struggling to catch up and never getting anywhere. You have choices.”

I have choices.

I’m not blogging this morning to complain. Well, maybe a little. But I’m making a big effort not to complain to my husband this week, or ever again…and I also have a need to express my feelings in order to work them out. I have expressed my feelings to God numerous times, and I am trying to make him my foremost confidant. But a blog audience is a nice audience to complain to, if you need to complain. I can talk about my struggles without being tempted to attack—like I am tempted to do with my husband—and I usually get some encouraging comments from my sweet readers. If nothing else, pounding the keys of the keyboard does something good for the anger inside me.

God is doing a work in me. He continues to do a work. Through this motherhood gig, he is pointing out sins that I wasn’t previously ready to confront.

Hello, selfishness.

I can keep blaming other people and circumstances for my frustration—there are always plenty of excuses. Or I can take responsibility for my actions and my attitude.

The fact is, I’m not (mainly) frustrated because Sam’s sleep is erratic, or my babysitter cancelled again, or my husband doesn’t help with meal cleanup. I’m mainly frustrated because I am selfish, and I have not planned for “interruptions” in my plans.

I am selfish, and I struggle to see motherhood (and wifehood) as my first duty and calling. I am selfish, and I have tried to neatly portion out blocks of time that are “mommy hours,” and blocks of time that are “me hours.” I am selfish, and I have not lived as Jesus Christ, giving my whole self—my body, my time, my attitude–as a living sacrifice. I am selfish, and I have wanted motherhood to happen on my own terms, not on God’s terms.

I have been deeply convicted that my failure to love and appreciate my husband and son in the midst of inconveniences or upsets in schedule are rooted in selfishness. So I am putting my eyes back on Christ—because I need his supernatural patience and love to get me through these “hamster wheel days.”

I have choices.

I can’t right now choose the time of day I want to study my Bible, or choose how long, or even totally choose what hours I want to sleep. (While I am doing what I can to sleep train, factors outside of my control like teething, sickness, and travel back and forth from Texas are legitimate struggles that cause regression and necessitate some babying.) But I still have choices.

I can choose to own this stage of early mornings and night wakings not as a tragedy, but as an opportunity to grow patience and self-sacrifice. Practically, I can also choose to nap with Sam on the really hard days, and realize that the world won’t end if I don’t post a blog or cook homemade food on those days.

I can choose to get my eyes off myself and focus on others who are going through struggles much worse than mine. I can look to mentors and good influences to lift me up. And I can celebrate all the good around me, like the fact that my friend just gave birth to a new baby.

Getting off the hamster wheel means simultaneously lifting up my eyes and lowering my expectations. I must do this—I will do this—so I can stop running on empty and be still sometimes…at flexible times, at whatever times Sam takes his naps. I don’t know what kind of a day you’d call that, but it sure beats the hamster wheel.

Idol Writing

2015/03/img_1958.jpgA few months ago when I blogged about scaling back my writing efforts in favor of motherhood, a faithful reader asked in the comments, “Do you think your writing desire might be an idol?”

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.

Life-Saving Routines

"Soap" by mimwickett
“Soap” by mimwickett

Living without routines can make life clumsy; but living without purpose can make life seem impossible. In my last post I wrote about how my lack of purpose and routine as a freshman in college brought me to the brink of suicide.

I’m so glad I have a different story now, eleven years later. That story is one of great purpose, and as many routines as life with a one-year-old will allow.

Because my life once lacked purpose, I love to remember my second year of teaching high school English—the year I found purpose, and the year I started observed the most important routine ever. (You can read more about that life-changing year in this post.)

In a nutshell, that year, my morning time with God saved my life. Amidst a backdrop of uncertainty unfolding with my family, I found purpose knowing that God still had a plan for me and for my family members. I couldn’t see the overall plan, but as I surrendered each day to him, I knew that it was enough to do what was in front of me. At that moment, the things within my control were teaching one-hundred high school students and developing my own character through Bible study and prayer. So I focused on excellence and consistency in those things. I had a wonderful school year, and found myself the most happy I had felt for years. And eventually, the stressful home situation resolved itself.

That year was my first memorable spiritual “peak,” and I’ve had many dips and bumps in the five years since. Life is always throwing us new realities, and these challenge our routines and often necessitate change (a new baby being a prime example.) That’s why it’s good to periodically re-examine our routines, assess what is and isn’t helping move us toward our goals, and change accordingly.

But what happens when life challenges routines that, for our best health, should never change?

Here are a few tips that could apply to not only new parents, but anyone in a schedule-upsetting situation.

Don’t Give Up

It’s an understatement to say that a baby complicates daily time with God—which I’ve argued is my life-saver. Same for daily showers. But that doesn’t mean we stop taking showers, right? Realize that showers, God times, and other important things may not be as frequent, long, or luxurious as they used to be. But don’t give up. If you can find five minutes to shower, you can find five minutes to talk to God and read a couple words.

Abbreviate Your Routine

If you have to shorten the time, so be it. Reading one Bible verse is better than reading none. Oftentimes I get more out of meditating on a single verse all day long than I get out of reading five chapters of the Bible in thirty minutes or an hour.

Move Your Routine to Another Time of Day

For months off and on, Sam woke at or before 5 a.m.—this after waking multiple times in the night. You can bet that a 4:30 Bible study wouldn’t result in much holiness. So when we went through those spurts, I moved my worship time to right before my bedtime—and I moved my bedtime earlier, too. If it doesn’t work to meet with God in the morning, find a time that does.

Don’t Confuse Routines with Schedules

Be careful not to confuse a schedule with a routine. Schedules tie activities to exact times and days. Routines have to do with the order in which you do things; but exact times can change if needed. For a mother of young children, a routine is an achievable goal, but a schedule may not be. If you’re in a season where life is predictably unpredictable, forget schedules; they will set you up for disappointment. But do establish some routines.

For the time being, Sam takes a pretty reliable two naps a day: one in the morning, one in the afternoon. The naptimes change based on when he wakes up for the day, so instead of planning to write at 10 a.m., or to prep supper at 2 p.m., I plan to write “during Sam’s morning nap,” and cook “during his afternoon nap.”

I don’t always accomplish what I hope to in a day, but I can relax knowing I made some progress toward my goals. If a daily worship is all I manage to get done, then that’s okay too, because I can honestly tell God I kept first things first. God tells me that if I seek him first, all my other needs (I include writing for my sanity in that list) will be added to me. Sooner or later. Either today’s nap or tomorrow’s, or next Tuesday’s.

Now, as soon as I post this, Sam will probably change his habits again. And I will have to adapt again, too. That’s the life of a mother. Can you tell how counterintuitive this is to me? I don’t like having to adapt all the time, but I didn’t like having to suffer depression and other bad things, either.

One thing I do know about struggles: they make us grow. We do best when we don’t resist being stretched; if we resist, we might break. If we can stretch a little along with our circumstances—adapting our routines as needed to fit our core purpose to glorify God—we recover faster, and can thrive sooner.

What routines have saved your life?

Learning to Wait on the Lord

Lady and Clock
Photo Credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are two big lessons my first year of motherhood taught me: Number one: I am impatient. Number two: if I wait on the Lord, asking for his help where I am weak, he will answer.

No Rest for Mommy

Nowhere was my impatience more evident than when I was waiting for Sam to sleep through the night. Throughout Sam’s first year, I was not the loving, adoring mother so often pictured in movies. No. I was resentful, frustrated, anxious, and impatient. But not just impatient with Sam and his erratic sleeping. I was impatient with God.

Night after night of interrupted sleep, and day after day of droopy eyes, I moped; I complained; I acted like God wouldn’t ever work this out. I said things to friends and family, like, “Oh, Sam’ll eventually get there,” and “God is helping me.” But more often, I grumbled. I spoke words of despair. I acted like I didn’t really trust God.

Finally, Sam’s sleep improved, and I got some rest. And, surprise surprise, that’s when I looked back at the past nine months and realized that God had heard my prayers—slow to answer though he seemed.

I learned something then: that even when we feel weak and helpless in our prayers, and even when we keep repeating ourselves with no apparent results, we are doing an important thing. It’s the only thing we can do sometimes, and it’s a thing God commands us to do. We are “waiting on him” (Isa. 40:31). Eventually, he will renew our strength.

But boy, the waiting can be hard. Especially when we are waiting against our wills.

Three Stages of Waiting

In hindsight, I see three levels of waiting I did concerning Sam’s sleep.

First, I waited unwillingly, without peace. This level of waiting happens when you don’t agree to wait, but circumstances force you to. This happened for so many days and nights when I pleaded, bleary-eyed and bedraggled, “God, just let him sleep!” but Sam didn’t sleep (or not when or for as long as I wanted him to).

Second, I waited willingly, but not yet with peace. This level of waiting happens when you give up your plans and choose to trust God on faith, even while results tarry.

At this stage I changed my prayers from “Lord, help him sleep” to “Lord, give me the grace to deal with whatever this night brings.”

During this stage, improvements in Sam’s sleep came; but we had also started the distasteful process of sleep training. (We chose the Ferber method, which had us checking on Sam at ten-minute intervals while he cried–after we had tended to all his known needs, of course.) This stage of waiting was necessary, but it sure wasn’t comfortable, or very peaceful.

During those nights of “Ferberizing,” I had to get on my knees so I wouldn’t go into Sam’s room while he cried. I had to pray for strength to do not what felt right to me (soothing him at the first whimper), but to do what was right for Sam (letting him learn to soothe himself). I cried as Sam cried. It took every ounce of strength in me not to go in to him before ten minutes was up. It was HARD. But improvements came.

And then the third stage of waiting came—the stage where the situation wasn’t quite sewn up yet, but I could see God working—and I could feel his peace.

One evening during this stage, I realized I had come to a place of calm about the whole sleep situation. I remember putting down a fussy and crying Sam (a now fairly uncommon state at bedtime), and then calmly walking to the kitchen to begin my nightly cleanup routine.

“Lord, please help him to settle down,” I prayed, hands submerged in soapsuds. “But thank you that you are here to help me even if he doesn’t settle quickly. I know that eventually he will sleep, and I will survive. Even if I have to get up with him in the night.”

As we went through our sleep training program, Sam progressed from going down peacefully for naps, to crying less in the night, to consistently sleeping through the night—hallelujah! And as I saw God working, slowly moving Sam to more consistent sleep patterns, I found more and more peace. Now, on the occasional nights when he woke, I could handle the situation with thanksgiving.

If I were write a memoir of my first year of motherhood, this milestone would be the turning point in the book—the climax, the major lesson. Not a lesson on surviving a baby’s erratic sleep, but a lesson about waiting on the Lord. A lesson about how, if we get on our knees and petition him, and surrender our wills, and ask for his to be done, and ask for his help where we are weak (like I was weak in carrying out a consistent sleep routine), he will answer. Maybe not as quickly or in the way we want him to, but he will answer.

Here We Go Again

As a funny coda (funny only in hindsight), Sam’s sleep derailed once again after our move to St. Louis; and I, sleep deprived and stressed from the move, derailed again, too…for a few days. But then I started the stages of waiting again…and Sam started sleeping better again…and I found some peace again. Sam’s sleep is not quite back to where it was before the move, but I am at the waiting stage where I believe we will get there.

It helps to realize that this cycle of waiting on the Lord repeats itself. Though it’s hard passing through the first two stages, it’s a relief to realize stage three will eventually come. And so we head into the next year, the next stage, the next growth opportunity.

But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint. (Isa. 40:31)

Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord! (Ps. 27:14)

Truly my soul silently waits for God; From Him comes my salvation. (Ps. 62:1)

My soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning— Yes, more than those who watch for the morning. (Ps. 130:6) (How appropriate for new moms!)

Is There Such Thing as Too Honest?

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freedigitalphotos.net

Most people agree that “Honesty is the best policy.” But as a writer and ministry leader who has made honesty her central message and MO, I wonder if it’s possible to sometimes be “too honest.” Not a few times as I’ve posted unflattering, embarrassing, content, I’ve wondered: am I hurting my influence by being so raw and real? After people read this, will they still look up to me?

I’ve found that honesty, at the level I go, can be hard to find in Christian writers, teachers, and leaders. Many I’ve observed in this group like to use honest illustrations and anecdotes…of other people’s struggles. Or, if the stories are first-person, they tend to remain on a safe, surface level. I once read an article by a Christian who used the analogy of scrubbing her floor to illustrate the filthiness in her heart. But she made no mention of what, exactly, was in her heart. “Scrubbing my dirty floor made me think of how God has to scrub my heart clean of sin. I thought, how much better if I kept it clean daily, instead of letting it all pile up?”

Illustrations of the gospel like this one don’t resonate with me. It’s not that they’re bad or untrue, it’s just that they’re so general, so vague so b-o-o-o-o-ring. Worst of all, illustrations like these are generally unhelpful when it comes to making real changes to behavior.

At the risk of assuming other humans think like I do, I would submit that humans long for authenticity. Especially when we’re talking about faith. If our sources of inspiration don’t hit close to home, addressing real issues we battle daily, they will be perceived as impotent, laughable, and even painful (because they minimize our struggles)—and they will be quickly abandoned.

That’s why I chose to be vulnerable in the memoir I wrote about discovering my new life in Christ.

It’s why I choose to be vulnerable almost every time I post on this blog.

I believe people are hungry for other people to relate to them—to say “I’ve been there, too. Look how screwed up I used to be, and how I still struggle sometimes. And yet, look what God was able to do with that mess!” I believe messages like this bring hope.

But what if I’m wrong? What if messages like this do the opposite? What if brutal honesty breeds distrust in God and disaffection for his “honest, messed-up followers?”

When leaders decide to be honest, this is a very real risk we take—the risk of our followers unsubscribing because we are not perfect.

I am willing to take this risk, not only for the reasons I listed above, but because a genuine Christian faith should not hinge on the words and deeds of any human being. (In other words, no one’s faith should hinge on me.) It should hinge on the person and words of Christ.

When Leaders Disappoint

A few years ago I was deeply disappointed when I learned that one of my spiritual heroes, Leo Schreven, committed suicide. Honestly, I felt betrayed and somewhat deceived by this man who previously appeared to “have it all together.” But I was able to weather this bad news by clinging to the truth that God is not, and never will be, totally represented by those claiming to be his followers. When we see good in Christians, that is from God. But when we see bad, that is from the enemy. We can’t lay every quality at Christ’s doorstep, because not every quality is from him.

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I had the privilege of meeting Leo Schreven in 2010 when he conducted a seminar at my church. My husband (left) had met him many years before and introduced me to Leo’s preaching through a set of seminar tapes that made me eager to meet him.

One quality I do believe is of God is the quality of honestly engaging our struggles as we seek His healing. I think I would have still respected my deceased spiritual hero if, in life, he had openly admitted his struggles. Perhaps I would have respected him even more for choosing bravery, rather than bravado—even though his brave sharing would have painted him as a fallible, sinful, wounded human being.

I have to add something here, to be fair. A family member of Leo Schreven’s contacted me after reading my blog post about Leo’s suicide, to tell me that my “hero” had struggled with psychological problems the public knew nothing about. This family member wanted me to have a fair, truthful view of Leo. The truth included mental illness, and as a former sufferer of mental illness, I empathized with that. I understood that I had put Leo on a pedestal. I also understood that his mental state may have precluded him from the type of honesty to which I am calling spiritual leaders.

Given the state of Leo’s mental health, it’s actually amazing that he enjoyed the long and successful career as evangelist and motivational speaker that he did. I have had similar thoughts, of course, about the late Robin Williams. Leo and Robin show us that there are exceptions to the standard of honesty I am putting forth. The exception applies to those who are not able to help themselves, or not able to let God help them, because of mental illness, or a genuine medical problem. Maybe they keep up the façade for the public for awhile, but in the end, we find out they are not the leaders we wished them to be. But then again, no one in whom we place our trust is immune to struggles, and to sin.

The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, so we know every person, Christian or non, ministry leader or not, has a mix of good and bad.

No matter what we know to be true about our leaders, hopefully we can sift the good from the bad, and remember and respect them for their good qualities. Hopefully we can go on learning from them, no matter what their lives reveal. Sometimes we may observe the right course, other times the non-example. As long as we are looking up to human beings, we should expect both. And if we are the ones being looked up to, we must trust Christ to be the one shining example our audiences need; we must be okay with being imperfect representations of him.

That said, I believe that we in positions of trust—ministry leaders, Christian writers, etc.—should do our best to represent Christ, and this includes being honest about how God is working in our lives and transforming our sinful patterns. We should also be honest about “wilderness” times,  times when we struggle with our faith…but we should do it wisely.

Guidelines for Christian Leaders

Here are two guidelines I’ve found helpful in my own writing and ministry that can help Christian leaders determine when, where, and how much to share.

freedigitalphotos.net
freedigitalphotos.net

1) First, we should consider timing. You can read various sins and struggles of mine on this blog that occurred at various stages in my life. I blog about problems long past and problems of last week.

The safer type of post is the one about problems past. These problems are ones I have likely had victory over. They are problems that have yielded personal lessons I can use to teach others. These types of posts, and this type of sharing, should be an absolute “yes” for all ministry leaders. Why wouldn’t we use our stories of redemption as teaching tools? What better examples of the gospel could we present than the ones that have played out in our own lives?

The murky area is problems of the present. How much should Christian leaders share about present problems? Here, we have to be wise about audience.

2) Audience is the second consideration. Consider who will be reading or hearing your message. If you are a preacher and it is your job to inspire hope, then it may not be the best time to insert a struggle that you do not have victory over, or at least cannot yet talk about in a positive way.

Sure, there are times when you are on the upside of a struggle—you can see the end in sight, and you are pressing through for victory. That might be material for an inspiring message, and if you are comfortable exposing that yet-unresolved pain, go ahead.

But other times, pain and sin is too raw to project to a large, or public, audience. That’s when you need a small, confidential audience. I’m talking a few trusted friends or advisors who can help talk and pray you through your problems. When you have worked through those problems, then they may become appropriate large-group material. But don’t rush it. Getting outside voices mixed up in your current personal problems could hurt the healing process, and you need to get healthy first so you can go back to being your motivational self.

One caveat for leaders working through personal problems: if your challenge handicaps your ability to do ministry, whether because the emotions involved take too much energy, or because a sin you are fighting “disqualifies” you to be a role model at the time, then it’s probably the right time to step out of ministry, at least for awhile. In the case of Leo Schreven, I would have much preferred hearing the news that he had stepped out of leadership for awhile to tackle some personal problems to hearing that he had committed suicide. We are ultimately the most helpful to others when we get the help we need, first.

On This Blog, What You See Is What You Get

To apply my guidelines to myself, I routinely post about my current struggles, but many times I have chosen to remain silent until I have prayed over them and exposed them to Scripture and the wisdom and counsel of a few trusted others. By the time I post on an issue, I want it to be, if not totally resolved, at least on the path to resolution. I want others to look up to me, yes, but I am happy to admit that sometimes the best example I can give is: “Look, I’m broken here, but I’m looking to Christ. And if you feel the same way, you need to do the same.”

By posting my struggles, past or present, I risk losing my readers’ respect, but I also keep myself accountable to Christ for resolution. I put a problem out there (such as my sleep-deprived, desperate, witchy state), and I say, “Okay, this is the mess this sinful world, or sinful me, has created today. But now, how am I going to find Christ in the middle of it?” My mission is to find out how Christ will come through for me, and then to share my victory with my readers.

Indeed, if “Superwoman Christian” is the role model you want, look somewhere else. Because on this blog you’ll just encounter a broken girl trying to depend on Christ, and trying to work out her faith, in all things big and little. After all, as so many examples in the Bible show (Kind David and the 51st Psalm come right to mind), a Christian leader worth listening to is not someone who claims to be above sins and struggles, but someone who fully admits their weaknesses; has learned how to let Christ lead in the hard times; and can discern which, of all their life experiences, will be helpful for lifting others up.

For My Thirtieth…an Attitude Adjustment

IMG_1580For my thirtieth birthday, I got a makeover…of my attitude. I haven’t blogged for two months because I took time off, intending, in fact, to come back a “new woman.” But when I said “Goodbye for July” (and August, as it turns out), I only intended to revamp my website and my writer persona—not my whole person. God had other ideas.

The makeover God wanted to give me was not primarily professional. It was more, shall we say, domestic? He wanted to make me into a loving, attentive mother. Self-sacrificing, patient, and wise, like Jesus was as he dealt with his children. This is not the woman I was focused on becoming as I signed off for July—at least, not the woman I wanted to be full-time.

I wanted to have this separate space in my life for the writer persona that has emerged through this blog and my other projects in the past two years.

On my new (but hardly dazzling) website, I have branded myself thus: “Lindsey Gendke: Writing True Stories for His Glory.” I wrote that tagline for potential memoir publishers, and maybe even clients one day (and because it describes my recently published works). I also wrote a lovely bio to characterize this blog and direct my future writings: “I am a happy writer, wife, teacher, and mom who doesn’t mind sharing that she used to be depressed,” et cetera, et cetera.

But after I signed off for my break in July (and after life got really busy, and Sam got really mobile), I couldn’t find time to write. I became unhappy, and I didn’t  want to share that with this audience. Ironic, huh?

It didn’t even matter that my first book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel, was published during those weeks (more in my next post). I still felt rotten.

Suddenly I became hard to live with because all I could do was complain about the lack of time I had to write. I found myself repeatedly apologizing to my husband for my nagging and hurtful words, and vowing to do better the next day. But the next day I only repeated my word crimes again.

Confession: sometimes when I’m stressed, I swear, and these negative months were no exception. Buc told me I better get my sporadic swearing outbursts under control before Sam was old enough to know what I was saying. But I knew I needed to get more than my words under control. I looked around at my life—beautiful baby, loving husband, nice house, good friends, PUBLISHED BOOK!—and I could not understand all the negative words flying out of my mouth.

I tried to write this post a few times…but found the words coming out so negative that I just couldn’t publish them, not in their totality. Here is one paragraph of clarity that slapped me in the face, though:

“I am disturbed sometimes by my lack of patience for Sam, my annoyance at how he disrupts my plans. I hate the wrong attitude I see in myself. Where is that love that conquers all? The love that doesn’t mind beginning the day at 4:20 because your sick baby is ready to get up? The love that is happy to put someone else’s needs before your wants? Sometimes I hate what motherhood shows me about myself. I hate how selfish it tells me I am.”

Yikes.

There it was, in plain black and white: I needed an attitude adjustment. That’s when I started doing everything I could think of to redirect, and correct, my thinking, flooding my mind with positive influences such as Christian radio programs, Scripture, books on mothering, and encouragement from my mommy friends.

I did not feel an instant change. Over a period of weeks, I had good moments and bad. But little by little, God spoke to me, until finally one day, He gave me a breakthrough.

As I tried to write this blog post one last time, and as I looked at the negative words I had previously penned, a switch tripped in my brain.

Wow, I thought to myself. Why am I complaining so much?

Suddenly, God brought to mind all the prayers he had recently answered.

  • I asked him for a book published by age thirty—he gave me one.
  • I asked for a baby—he gave me one.
  • I asked for a calling to touch hearts—and I believe he gave me one through the writing of my memoir.

With the realization of these answered prayers came instant repentance, a prayer of thanks, and my much-needed attitude change. Really, just like that.

I suddenly understood that it was time to rest from writing—at least in the professional sense. I understood now that writing more books might happen during later seasons of life, but right now is not one of those seasons.

I also suddenly remembered telling Buc, before we conceived, that I wanted my thirties to be a decade of relaxing from work and enjoying family. Now, I felt absolutely convicted that my first duty was to my family, and I regretted that I’d brought so much negativity and resentment to that sphere, treating my home duties as burdens rather than my calling. I understood that I had entered a new season of life—family, motherhood—and while I might find a moment here or there to write, writing could not be my primary focus right now. Not when my baby needed me, and not when my husband needed me.

It felt so freeing to hear God speak to me that way, and I’ve felt peaceful ever since. Over a week has gone by, in which time I didn’t do any writing, but I was okay with that, because I was taking care of my family—my primary job.

So, now that I have undergone my attitude adjustment, what happens with this blog?

I have decided to keep the “Writing True Stories for His Glory” tagline, because it describes the professional work I have completed, and one purpose of this site is to promote that work.

IMG_1647But as far as future posts? Right now I am a mother at home with my baby, trying to work out my faith through the trials of everyday life, and hoping to find a little writing time on the side. In a way, I guess my blogging counts as a story for His glory, because humans need to see faith worked out in the mundaneness of everyday life—otherwise, what good is faith?

God is doing something beautiful in my life, and it doesn’t exclude writing. It just means writing is not the end goal of my days right now—not for this season. That said, I hope this blog will be a witness to God’s continuing transformation in my heart and my mind. Specifically, I want to become more Christlike through my role as a mother, and I think that’s a story worth telling.

 

 

Be Angry and Sin Not—Yeah, But How?

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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.

But…

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.)

ImageNow, 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.

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story: Conclusion

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?

Lindsey HH Cover MasterThe 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?”

family-fighting
Photo Credit: Peacefulparenting.com

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?

The Hidden Half of the Gospel is how Paul addressed them. This is a message I would come to know well when Paul later asked me to cowrite his book of the same title.

Two Pillars

There are two pillars to The Hidden Half:

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Here is a worksheet that can help you identify the lies Satan may be planting in your mind. I was able to recognize which lies applied to me because they were “thoughts” that ran through my head on a regular basis.

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

Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html
Photo from http://trutheran.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-burdens-of-sin-and-suffering.html

“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.

Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).
Here is a list of some of the experiences Jesus went through (from the prayer card used during Straight 2 the Heart prayer sessions).

“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 (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.
Paul Coneff (right) training Mary to lead Charles through prayer.

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

tree roots
Photo Credit: “Exposed Tree Roots” by Colin Brough

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.DSC_7783
  • 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

S2Hlogo
Photo Credit: Cristina Coneff

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.

 Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4      Read Part 5    Read Part 6

To read more about The Hidden Half of the Gospel, see the following articles Paul and I wrote on the subject:

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 1

“The Fruit and Root of Freedom from Addictions” Part 2

To schedule Paul to speak at your church or to facilitate a discipleship group, contact him at www.straight2theheart.com.

And if you want to get a copy of our book, The Hidden Half of the Gospel: How His Suffering Can Heal Yours, follow this blog to be notified later this spring when the book is published!

My Ugly, Messy Rebirth Story, Part 6

Photo Credit: "Friends Talking" by Lusi
Photo Credit: “Friends Talking” by Lusi

One surefire way to tell you’ve been “reborn” is the desire to share your faith with others. On the other hand, if the idea of “sharing your faith” turns you off or even terrifies you, that’s a good sign you haven’t been reborn. For most of my life, born “Christian” though I was, that was my experience: I didn’t know what to share, and I didn’t know how.

After my “Damascus Road Year” (see part 5), for the first time in my adult life, I had abiding joy and peace, which led to faith. Finally, I had something to share. Now, I just had to figure out how to share it.

In the four years since my conversion, I’ve decided we born-again Christians can share our faith in two ways: implicitly, and explicitly.

Sharing Faith Implicitly

First, we can share our faith implicitly by living out our new identities in Christ. If we’ve truly been reborn, then our daily lives—our habits, our behaviors, our interactions with others—will naturally witness to Jesus Christ, because we will be emulating him. If we are following Jesus, we will not be living like the rest of the world, and people will take notice.

For example, after my conversion, my public high school students started to ask me questions about my faith, even advice about faith-related matters: “Why don’t you drink?” “Why do you go to church on Saturday?” “What do you think about marriage?” “How can I make my boyfriend see that prayer is an important part of the Christian life?” These questions came without me explicitly stating my beliefs—but I didn’t need to, because my behavior showed me to be different from most of the other teachers.

Sharing Faith Explicitly

Second, we can share our faith explicitly in a variety of ways, depending on our personalities. Note: This form of sharing does not come in a “one-size-fits-all” box. Unfortunately, some churches, preachers, and Bible teachers, try to make us feel like witnessing should look the same for everyone, thereby making some of us (i.e., those of us who don’t fit the traditional mold) feel like failures before we’ve even begun.

Two years prior to my conversion, I was the victim of one such discipleship training that was intended to prepare me to give Bible studies at the end of eight weeks. But after eight weeks, I was no more ready to give Bible studies than I’d been at the beginning, for two reasons. One: I hadn’t yet met the Lord personally (though I was active in my church and looked “good” on the outside), and two: the type of ministry wasn’t right for me.

The first fatal flaw of the training was that it didn’t show me how to have a personal experience with Christ before asking me to spread that experience to others. To its credit, the training frontloaded the concept of preparing our hearts for ministry. The speaker said we should deal with our own baggage before we try to minister to others—but she didn’t really explain or model how, exactly, I was supposed to rid myself of that “old man”—AKA my baggage. When I began the training, I was still depressed and self-centered, and it’s pretty hard to testify to Jesus’ redemptive power in that state of mind. Unfortunately, after the first night, it was assumed we were ready to learn how to “share our faith” with others. And that brings me to the second fatal flaw.

Photo Credit: "Hands on West Africa" from imbstudents.org
Photo Credit: “Hands on West Africa” from imbstudents.org

This training only presented one way of how to share my faith, as if that were the only way. I don’t want to unduly pick on my religion, but since it’s the one I know, it gets to be the example. In the Seventh-day Adventist tradition, the ol’ standby for sharing faith is knocking on doors and offering Bible studies. For Adventists, and probably a lot of other Christian religions, Bible studies equate to a series of topical handouts that progress through our beliefs by way of Q and A—with plentiful Bible verses listed to help answer the Q’s.

Let me be clear: I don’t think these studies are bad. I think they definitely have their place, especially for those who are completely new to the Bible. But when it comes to sharing my faith, these studies do not appeal to me. That’s because I did not personally or experientially come to know Jesus through these types of studies, and I find it hard to believe that others could, either (though I’m sure it’s happened).

When it comes to explicitly sharing our faith, we should choose a method we can be passionate about; it’s important that we honor our personalities, choosing and using a method that speaks to us. If you’ve found the Lord and are excited to share him, yet you’re still not sure how to do that explicitly, learn from my experience. Perhaps you just haven’t stumbled upon the right method yet.

Bible Study Bummer

When it came time to start my “explicit” phase of ministry, I knew who I wanted to reach out to—my friends and peers from church—but I didn’t know how. After a lifetime in the Adventist church, the only thing I could think was traditional Bible studies…so that’s basically what I did.

Now, I didn’t start with our prefabricated lesson studies, which usually progress through a series of doctrines. I wanted to focus more on the heart, because I believed that, more than head knowledge, my friends and peers needed a heart experience with the Lord—or what I’d recently found. So, I picked a book about having a heart experience, John Dybdahl’s Hunger: Satisfying the Longing of Your Soul, and made study guides for our meetings. My heart was in the right place, but my approach was wrong.

Photo Credit: "Small Group Bible Study" from manuscriptBiblestudy.com
Photo Credit: “Small Group Bible Study” from manuscriptBiblestudy.com

I had designed the studies similar to my high school handouts, complete with fill-in-the-blank answers. That’s a good way to short circuit good discussion and sometimes independent thought. As for prayer? By now I had somewhat of a vibrant personal prayer life (it involved a lot of writing to God in my journal), but I didn’t know how to facilitate really effective public prayer. So I duplicated the format we used at church: I asked for praises and then prayer requests. We went around the circle, said our praises and prayer requests, and then one person prayed, thanking God for the praises, listing the requests, and asking God to guide the study. It was a fine prayer, but it wasn’t going to result in hearts being transformed.

Despite my ineptitude, our Bible study consistently drew a crowd. I could tell my friends enjoyed coming (was it because I fed them?); and I even made some new, dear friends. I wasn’t running a particularly great study, but God brought blessings out of it (and therein is a lesson). However, after a year and half, I wanted something better. I’d read Trish Ryan’s Christian memoir, He Loves Me, He Love Me Not, and her small group was, as I read it, much more effective than mine. She wrote of things like group intercessory prayer that resulted in many heart conversions. It was then that I began to feel like a failure in ministry—and had my “Unexpected Breakdown” (check out what happened in this post that got me freshly pressed).

After two years of being on fire for the Lord, I burned out. After giving so much to my friends and to the church, I felt bankrupt myself.

Now about to finish a master’s degree and no longer sure I wanted to pursue a doctorate (would spending so much time in grad school be to bypass another calling the Lord had for me?) I needed to find strength again. I also needed (but didn’t know it) more healing for the roots of my former depression.

In the conclusion, learn about the prayer ministry that not only helped me heal, decide to have children, and decide to change career courses, but also taught me how to witness “straight to the heart.” It is the same prayer ministry that laid the groundwork for Writing to my Roots.

 Read part 1      Read part 2      Read part 3     Read part 4      Read Part 5