Category Archives: Faith

Repurposed Pain ~ My Messy Beautiful

This essay is part of the Messy Beautiful Warrior Project. To learn more about this project, click HERE.  To learn more about Glennon Doyle Melton’s bestselling memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, click HERE

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No pain is ever wasted. Years ago, one of my mentors told me the story of losing an infant son. She said one of her friends had told her those words as they wept and grieved together. God never wastes a thing. He won’t waste your pain. And He didn’t. Again and again, throughout the years, this woman comforted and encouraged grieving young mommas with an empathy born only of enduring a similar pain.

I never forgot that story. And in my hardest, most trying days and weeks and months, I have remembered those words. That promise – God won’t waste this. God won’t waste this. God never wastes a thing. – has reverberated through my soul, weaving a web that holds me together even if everything around me seems to be falling apart.

The messes of life, the hard, hard times, the things we would never in a million, jillion years choose to endure – those messes can transform into amazing beauty when, later, we receive an opportunity to help or encourage someone going through a similar mess.

Five years ago, my husband nearly died when his heart decided to go a little berserk. What an emotional earthquake that was! For a couple years, the medical battle was intense. The hospital stays and expensive diagnostic tests, the information overload, the medication and surgeries – all of it was frightening and formidable. But the emotional battle was even worse. My young, strong, seemingly healthy husband suddenly confronted his own mortality. This independent, active man abruptly became dependent and unable to do most of the things he had always done. He was angry and depressed — understandably so, but still anger and depression are not much fun to live with. I shouldered the burden of extra work and extra care-taking and quickly grew exhausted and gradually grew resentful. Resentment isn’t exactly fun to live with either. Or so I’ve heard. His emotions, my emotions, the children’s emotions, the fear and stress and constant presence of the potential for death. It was a mess!

A few weeks ago, a friend’s husband had a stroke. And just like that, the emotional earthquake shook their lives. Rocked their world. Through a quickly-typed Facebook message, I shone my little light into the debris. My friend crawled to that light. And our shared pain yoked us together, my friend and I. Kindred spirits. Warrior wives. God never wastes a thing. My pain, my mess, beautifully recycled into hope. No pain is ever wasted. The other day my sweet friend wrote, “Thank you for going through this before me.” Well, it was not my pleasure. That’s for sure! But knowing that my messy dark days have been repurposed into a beautiful comfort for her – well, that is a pleasure, a strange kind of joy deep in my soul. None of it was wasted.

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Today, I’m typing this from a hospital room. Yesterday, my Silas, my 11-year-old boy, tried to go sledding down our basement stairs in a giant cardboard box. Because somehow in Boy World, that seems like a good idea. In the doctor’s words, “He broke the heck out of his arm.” What a mess! He snapped both bones in his forearm. One of the bones was an open fracture. Do not Google up pictures of open fractures. Trust me. You can’t un-see those images and you don’t want to hurl all over your laptop.

At midnight last night, some people in green scrubs and cloth shower caps wheeled my little guy into surgery so he could get some titanium rods inserted into his arm. I might have gotten three hours of sleep last night on the green, industrial, plastic couch in his room. My husband stretched out in the vinyl, floral print reclining chair. Relief from the pain medicine has come up just slightly short of the allowable dosing times. When Silas isn’t sleeping or engrossed in a television show, he is ranging from very uncomfortable to near-writhing in pain.

While Silas was getting a dose of morphine today, his friend Sierra was shopping for gifts for him. Two weeks ago, Sierra fell off a horse and broke her arm. In this same hospital, a doctor inserted rods into her arm and Sierra’s parents stretched out on this same vinyl furniture. Within the past 24 hours, Sierra’s mom has prayed for me and texted me, comforting and encouraging me with an empathy born only of enduring a similar pain. In that first text, she shone her light into our debris. And I crawled to the light. God never wastes a thing. No pain is ever wasted. Their mess has been beautifully transformed into a consoling help.

This is one of the cycles of life – we comfort others with the same comfort we ourselves have received. My mess metamorphoses into beautiful salve for someone else’s mess and pain, then her mess metamorphoses into beautiful salve for someone else’s mess and pain, and on and on and on. Beauty drawn from the midst of mess. A beautiful mess. A messy beautiful. No pain, no mess, is ever wasted. God never wastes a thing. He won’t waste your pain. Let this refrain reverberate through your soul, falling together and weaving a web that holds you together when your messy beautiful life seems to be falling apart.

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We Are Weak Together

You know, I appreciate the idea that in my weakness I most see God’s strength manifested. I do. I appreciate the notion that I am completely dependent on God, totally reliant on Him to accomplish anything worthwhile. Those are good thoughts. They come straight from the Bible. I know those principles are true. Set against a lovely sunset and worded in sing-song verse, they make the perfect To Encourage You greeting cards.

But honestly, the reality of living those thoughts pretty much stinks. It’s not fun to feel weak. I don’t particularly enjoy feeling utterly dependent on God. Do you?

No, I prefer the times God seems to say, Hey, Jenn, I made you naturally talented in this area, so I’m plugging you in here. Now shine! And there are times God works like that. I LOVE it when He works like that! When I’m doing those things I believe I was born to do, I feel confident and grateful and so alive!

Sometimes, though, God intentionally puts us in a place of dependence on Him. He makes it so obvious that I need Him. And, of course, I know I do need Him. I just prefer not to feel so desperately dependent on Him. I prefer that underlying theoretical I need Him because He’s God and I know any strength I have is because He gave it to me, now watch me keep these plates spinning on my own! 

I was talking with some friends about this the other day. We have all been stretched beyond ourselves this year doing a ministry that seems so much bigger and harder than anything we should be leading. So many times we have raised our eyebrows and looked at each other, laughing, like  Can you believe anyone let us be in charge of this?! Shouldn’t they have picked the real grown-ups?! And other times, we have floundered and cried and felt foolish and frustrated because Really, God? Really? Did we misunderstand You? Was this really Your idea? Because we don’t want to insult you, God, but we would have thought You could plan this all out better and find someone capable of actually doing these jobs well! You know, seeing as how You are God and all. 

And I’m not going to tie this all up with a pretty little Christianese ribbon. I just can’t. I’m not in that place. I just want you to know, friends, if you are feeling weak and bucking against that, you are not alone. If you are struggling to lean into God and give in to that feeling of full reliance on Him, I’m right there with you. I’m here, acknowledging that you are doing a hard thing. It’s hard to own your weakness and trust that God is strong. We are doing this hard thing together, friends. We are holding on to Him, hedging all our bets that He is Who He claims to be and that He won’t let us down.

I’m here, holding on with you, weakly grasping onto His hand and your hand. We are weak together. And somehow, it’s going to be OK.

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Profound Love or Deep Hurt

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Andy Stanley says there are two categories of people who influence us and form us into the people we become, “those who hurt you deeply and those who loved you profoundly.”

In the past ten years, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, speaking and writing about how we can make a positive impact on the world, or at least on our own little corner of the world. I’ve also attempted to use my own strengths for good – to practice what I preach. I’ve thought about our strengths and passions and great delight and the world’s deep needs and how those things intersect. And I wasn’t wrong.

But then I go and hear this thought by Andy Stanley and everything within me says, Of course! Yes! Of course, that’s true! Yes, yes, yes! 

We are influenced and shaped by the people who hurt us to the core and by the people who love us from their core. I have made the most impact on the people I have deeply hurt and the people I have profoundly loved. I’m sure of it.

As I’ve thought about this for the last few days, I’ve lamented, mourned over, the times I have left my mark with deep hurt. I don’t want to influence others by the damage I leave in my wake. I want my legacy to be one of love.

If we want to positively influence this world, if we want to make a real impact, we must do everything with profound love. Radical, unconditional love. Yes, our strengths and passions and deep delights are involved. Yes, we can consider the needs around us and match our giftedness with those needs. But in order to most fully influence, to really leave our mark, love must be the undergirding force.

There are some things in my community I’m trying to change. There are some people I’m hoping to influence. I’m praying love will be my guiding force. If I’m going to shape my world, I aim to shape it with profound love.

If they’d had Facebook, would Paul have unfriended Barnabas? (or Disagreements Among Christians)

Are you ready for the understatement of the year? Here it is — Sometimes Christians disagree with each other. As if you could spend any time on the internet and not realize that! Right?

We can read the exact same passage of scripture and pray over it and wrestle with it and come away with two (or three or four . . .) very different meanings. And I don’t claim to know how that happens. And the peacemaker middle children everywhere would probably much rather have God spell everything out exactly so there is nothing gray anywhere, then we’d all just get along already.

It’s not only our understanding of scripture that differs but our perspective and preferences and approach to life can also be quite diverse. Some of that can be chalked up to being at various points along the path of spiritual maturity, but some of it is simply because God doesn’t have one specific mold he presses His people from. We come from different places. We have different personalities. We have different passions and interests. We come at scripture from different backgrounds and with different mindsets.

Disagreements among Christians aren’t new. Believers have disagreed with each other ever since being a Christian became a thing. In the book of Acts in the Bible we can read about the very first followers of Jesus disagreeing with each other. You know, I love that the Bible isn’t a PR-spin for God showing the good and hiding the bad, but a book about real people with real quirks and warts and three-dimensional personalities. Sometimes those real people didn’t see eye to eye – which is refreshing and encouraging because I don’t always see eye to eye with every other Christian.

Early on, the first followers of Jesus were Jewish, and they thought the Church should reflect the Jewishness of Jesus (and themselves). These believers wanted new converts to be circumcised. Other believers reminded them that God was more concerned with a person’s heart than with his . . . you know. Some early believers wanted everyone to follow Jewish dietary laws. Others believed all food was fair game, so to speak, and people could eat what they wanted with freedom and a clear conscience.

Two early Christian leaders, Paul and Barnabas, even had a big argument about whether Mark could come with them on a mission trip. Paul thought Mark was an unreliable quitter; Barnabas wanted to show him mercy and give him a second chance. They had such a “sharp disagreement” that Paul took Silas and went one direction and Barnabas took Mark and went another. And the Bible doesn’t say who was right and who was wrong. It really doesn’t even seem to matter to God. He used Paul and his team and Barnabas and his team and got twice the work done in the same amount of time. Because God has that amazing way of using everything to bring good.

Sometimes, like in the case of the dietary laws and the circumcision issue, the early Church leaders met and talked it out and prayed it out and formed a compromise so as to protect and honor everyone’s backgrounds and preferences as much as possible. Sometimes God used men like Paul to encourage the people not to worry about who is right and who is wrong, but to focus on respecting each other and loving each other. He even advised the early believers who were right to give up their rights in order to better love others. It seems that being right about the nonessentials isn’t nearly as important to God as loving each other.

Paul, on authority from God, instructed those first Christians to stop judging each other in matters nonessential to the faith, to make every effort to get along, to be patient with the weaknesses and failures of others. He encouraged the believers to accept each other just as Christ accepted each of them. (Read Romans, chapters 13, 14, 15 for more on this.)

I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes I get caught up in debates. I want to be right, and I want to convince you that I am right. But when I read how those early Church leaders handled conflict and I read Paul’s advice, I want to do better. I want to be better. I want to remember that just as I am living out my beliefs to God, other Christians are living out their beliefs to God. We will all stand before God and answer for ourselves.

In the meantime, my job is to love my neighbor as myself and dress myself with Jesus — put on Jesus every day so it’s like I’m wearing Jesus, completely encapsulated in Jesus.

My job is to love, doing no harm to my neighbor. God’s job is to be God – to judge and to shake it all out for good.

Failure, Success, My Over-Critical Brain, and God

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Today I have been thinking about success.

I tend to be a bit critical. Sometimes of others. But I am most critical of myself. At the risk of sounding like a complete loon I will tell you — after I lead a small group or speak to a large group or participate in a Bible study or lead a children’s program or attend a meeting or (for the LOVE!) have a normal, everyday conversation, I replay every detail in my mind and analyze it all. I chastise myself for wording this thought the wrong way or for blurting out something without thinking it through. I beat myself up for talking too much, for saying that sarcastic comment, for making that joke that someone could have taken the wrong way.

I have a pretty finite idea of what success looks like. Success = top performance. Success = perfection. Imperfections, mistakes, putting my foot in my mouth — all of that = failure. And as I drive home from wherever or lie down to sleep at night, my brain whirs with the replay of failures. I don’t want to be a satan-behind-every-rock kinda girl, but I really believe this is part of what he does to debilitate us. The Bible calls him our accuser. He shoots fiery darts of accusations at us. Some of those whispers in my head telling me how I came up short again, how I flubbed this one up — some of those whispers are from my own overanalytical, neurotic self. But some of those whispers certainly come from the enemy who wants to paralyze me with fear of more failure.

And so I must recognize those whisper-thoughts as the lies and hatefulness that they are. The Bible calls this taking thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. 

In the quiet moments, in the aftermath of my interactions with others, when those whisper-thoughts are attacking me, I have to breathe a deep breath. Then when my brain has enough oxygen to fully function, I have to remember that my definition of success is just plain wrong.

My math is a bit fuzzy. You see, real success does not equal perfection. Real success allows for failure and growth and authenticity and vulnerability. Real success allows for merciful moments of redemption amidst the flaws and failure — because that is when we often see God’s hand at work. Real success is not about my saying all the right things and being in control. Real success isn’t about me at all. Real success is all about allowing for God’s plan to prevail. 

God’s kingdom is a sort of upside-down kingdom. His math isn’t exactly like our math. The definitions in His language aren’t the same as our definitions. God’s kingdom is a kingdom in which the first are last and the last are first. The lowly are exalted and the high and mighty are humbled and made low. Our weaknesses are exactly the best places for His strengths to show up and show off.

You see, when we’re doing life with God, our failures don’t negate success; our failures become opportunities for God to work. His speciality is making good from everything. He promises He will! When we love Him, He works everything out for our good and His glory.

So I don’t have to do the slow-motion replay after every conversation and interaction. When the critical whispers in my head start aiming their fiery dart-words at me, I can capture those thoughts and breathe truth onto them, extinguishing them. True success is about God’s working in every situation to bring good for us and glory for Himself. And any failure of mine isn’t big enough to stop God from doing His thing. That’s the truth!

I Am Not Enough

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Having six children in seven-and-a-half years made one thing very clear to me — I cannot do life in my own power and strength. Trying to care for so many little people day in and day out was completely overwhelming. Feeding them, diapering them, keeping them safe, bathing them, getting them to sleep – in those early years, I always felt like it was just too much.

I was not enough.

No place was my not-enough-ness more evident than when I took them all to the grocery store. More specifically – when we tried to get from the big, black Suburban in the parking lot to the inside of the store. When you have more little children than you do hands to hold onto them and you are traversing a parking lot, you feel your inadequacy. I had an Atari when I was a kid, and I played enough Frogger to know that one wrong move was all it took. I was absolutely terrified that one of my little children would dart away from my reach and a careless driver would flatten him, like Frogger on that four-lane highway.

So I carefully planned my strategy — park beside the cart-return with a cart in it, unload the smallest children from the Suburban into the cart, have older children hold onto the sides of the cart and make my way through the parking lot with most of the children safely contained. Sometimes, though, a thorough cart-retrieving man in an orange vest had already cleaned out all the cart-returns. Or we were trying to cross a church or playground parking lot. No shopping carts at those places. And so I prayed my way across the parking lot. I’d wear the baby in a sling and hold tightly onto little hands and slightly bigger hands would hang onto my shirt tail with firm instructions not to let go. Then I would pray – usually silently, though a time or two I may have felt especially desperate and uttered an audible plea for help.

Each time we made it safely across a big, scary parking lot, my heart would overflow with thanksgiving. Whew, we’d done it. And I hadn’t lost anyone! Hallelujah!

I knew that all the variables in the parking lot situation were beyond my control, so I learned to ask God for help and then trust Him. I know I could have learned this life lesson a hundred different ways, but I’m really grateful God taught me these lessons in really tangible ways by giving me more little children than I had hands for at the time.

Now, my kiddos are all big enough to walk across a parking lot without being held in a death grip by their momma. I am not literally praying my way across parking lots any more. But I am often still aware of my not-enough-ness. I don’t have enough money, enough time, enough energy, enough wisdom, enough creativity, enough patience, enough humor. I am not enough. So I think back to those days of praying tiny little inch-step by inch-step across a large parking lot, then I pray my way across whatever seems too much for me in that moment.

This is what it looks like to abide in Jesus. This is what it looks like to live in His power. Stretched beyond my ability to control, I ask for help and trust in the only One Who is always in control. Recognizing my inadequacy, I look to the One Who is always enough.

I am not enough. But Jesus is more than enough. And He invites me to attach myself to Him and live in His enough-ness, one step across the parking lot at a time.

The Grace Microwave ~ remix

When we moved to FL and crammed our 8-person family into an apartment surrounded by a bunch of other missionary families who were sometimes all up in our business, I quickly realized the beauty and humiliating pain of grace. In 2011, I wrote about it. 

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You know what’s the fast track for learning to live in grace? The microwave cooking version of learning grace? Living in an apartment building with a bunch of other missionaries. No, wait. Living in an apartment building with your children and a bunch of other missionaries.

Yeah, there’s no pretending. No putting on a show. It is what it is. You are what you are. And everyone sees. Or hears.

Shortly after we moved here, my girls were leaving their bedroom window open just a little. With no screen. It didn’t take long for the boys to discover this. And it took even less time for the boys to find great sport in tossing things from our third floor window to the bushes below. Legos, hair brushes, paperwads, Polly Pockets, the sisters’ panties.

I didn’t realize the boys were doing this until the girls looked out their window one day and spied their stuff, their embarrassing stuff, in the bushes. I don’t even know how many times I traipsed down three flights of stairs and around the building to retrieve army men and K’nex creations and American Girl doll shoes and embarrassing little girl underthings.

The boys also discovered tiny bubbles in the paint in the hallways of the building. Self-control is not the most natural character trait in most little boys — and certainly not in my boys. So they picked at the bubbles and peeled at the paint until we had a spot strangely resembling the state of Texas in our hallway. Yeah, there’s no hiding that.

When the fire alarm screams at midnight, there’s no pretense. We stand around outside with all of our co-workers in whatever we happen to be wearing at midnight.

If the children are asleep, I can hear my downstairs neighbor’s surround sound television. If my apartment is completely quiet, I can hear him sneeze. And you know what that means? He and his family can hear us. (Shudder!) Because I’m sure it’s quiet in their apartment a lot more often than it’s quiet in mine!

So when my boys run and jump and turn cartwheels and thump on the floor, the people downstairs hear them. And that very next second, when I shout, “Hey! No jumping! The people downstairs will think you’re falling through the ceiling!” Yeah, they hear that too.

When I completely lose it and go all DragonMomma and start breathing fire and smoking at the ears, the neighbors can hear that. People who don’t know me well often think I’m so patient and one of those have-it-all-together mothers. After living here for four years, I’m pretty sure nobody in my building believes those illusions of me.

When you live in a building like this, there’s no putting on the mask and playing perfect Christian family. There’s no way to pretend or act every hour of every day. Children behave like children; they make messes and noise and mistakes. And sometimes I am exhausted and out of patience and I react with lots of myself and very little Jesus.

And so I fall into grace. And there is something really freeing about not being able to pretend. I’ve had imperfect children and been an imperfect mother right in front of God and everyone, and the world hasn’t crashed down around us. Instead, grace abounds.

This living arrangement has been an intense tutor in my need for grace and in learning to give grace to others. (Because they aren’t perfect Christians either.)

We’ve also learned to fix windows so boys can’t throw their sisters’ panties into the bushes.

How about you? Have you ever been in the Grace Microwave? 

The Truest Thing About You

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Maybe you have all sorts of secrets and shame in the darkest corners of your soul. You’ve let people down. You are the MackDaddy of Mistakes. You have worn out all your second chances. Or maybe you’re battle-scarred, wounded, abused, used, discarded. You have deep holes in your soul that you have tried to fill up with all the wrong stuff.

Maybe you are absolutely as sure as sure can be that if other people knew about the darkest parts of you, they would reject you. You know you are not the person you seem to be. You work hard to keep up the image, believing that if you perform well enough, you’ll eventually push out all the junk in your heart and soul.

Perhaps you never meet your own expectations. You let yourself down time and again. And with each mistake, each shortfall, you berate yourself. Or perhaps you quit trying long ago. Buying into the idea that you cannot change, you just gave up.

And maybe it’s true. Maybe you have messed up, let people down, hurt yourself. Maybe you have wrecked your job or your marriage or your reputation. Maybe all those things you know about yourself are true. But I know that darkness, that brokenness, those mistakes — that is not the truest thing about you.

The truest thing about you is that you were made with love, fashioned in the very image of God Himself, and God loves you relentlessly and with great compassion, and there is nothing -absolutely nothing- about you that repulses Him, nothing that could make Him love you any less (or any more). That is the truest thing about you.

Today, stand firm in this truth. You are not defined by the darkness and brokenness. Be defined by grace and love. You are loved with a love that is beyond your wildest imagination. Friends, this truest truth will set you free!

The Gift Of Rest

photo-56Friends, do you see this hot mess of a living room? On Saturday — this past Saturday. January 18, a full 24 days after Christmas — I was finally taking down and putting away our Christmas decorations. And smack in the middle of it all, I felt like I was hit by a bus. Coughing, dizzy, weak, achy, feverish, I got up, left this mess and crawled into bed. And so from Saturday until Tuesday my living room looked like maybe I’d been abducted by aliens or maybe the rapture happened. Whatever the case, all the people who walk in my neighborhood undoubtedly looked in my large picture window and wondered why we had a naked tree standing in our living room. Maybe they think it’s some cool, understated hipster way of decorating and soon, naked trees will be standing in all the living rooms in my ‘hood. Maybe I still have a bit of a fever.

But that’s not really my point. (Unless this naked tree thing becomes A Thing, in which case, I totally want credit.)

This picture perfectly captures what the past week has been like for me — a sudden stop in productivity. Last Tuesday, a couple of my children came home from school exhausted, took naps and woke up with fevers. So my week, my plans, my productivity, came to a screeching halt. Except for a couple hours Friday morning, I spent the rest of the week at home resting with the various children who caught our little plague.

Then Saturday, right in the middle of being productive, I got it. The plague. All my plans for the rest of the day were chucked. Sunday was even worse. I woke with a temperature over 102 and spent the day in bed. I read and watched Netflix in small portions. Any more than that made the pain behind my eyes throb even worse. So I slept. A lot.

Now that I’m starting to recover from this awful virus, we have snow and ice. School and all activities have been canceled.

Because of this sickness and the weather, I have been forced to rest.

You see, my schedule is over-full. I have spread myself thin this school year. With the children’s activities, my husband’s travel schedule, my own part-time job and all the other things I’ve said yes to,  there has been little time for rest. I’m almost always multi-tasking, or when I’m doing one thing I feel guilty that I’m not doing the other thing that really needs done too. Many days, it seems I’m not doing anything well because I’m just trying to do everything good enough.

The thing is – I enjoy most all the things I’m doing. I’m doing things that really do employ my strengths and talents. Doing, going, producing, working, performing – it all feels so good. I matter. I’m needed.

But I don’t have time to just be. And I think that is the lesson I’ve been missing. Oh, I am such a slow learner. Fortunately, God is relentless in His mercy and grace. Last summer, I was waylaid with that whole faulty gallbladder mess. Then in the fall, I had to rest and recover from the surgery. And that whole situation took much longer than I anticipated it would. But because I tend to have a thick skull, I clearly didn’t learn the lesson of rest in all of that. So here I am again.

And my soul sighs. Be still. 

I do not matter because of all the doing and going and producing and working and performing. I matter because I am. My value is not in all I can accomplish in the day. My worth is not wrapped up in all the ways I can say yes to those who ask of my time and talents. And just because I can do something – or just because I am good at something – does not mean it is mine to do. If all the doing and going and working prevents me from being, then I have gotten it all wrong.

So it’s time to reevaluate. But not now, not today. Right now, I’ll rest. I’ll receive this gift of grace, this gift of Be still. And I’ll rest.

And you? Do you get caught up in the doing and going and producing and working and performing? Do you forget that your value is not in all you can accomplish? Do you need to rest?

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Illuminating and Transforming The Darkness

Darkness and light. Wounded healers. Compassion. Forgiveness. These are all thoughts rolling around in my brain and echoing through my soul today.

I’ve started reading Brennan Manning’s book, Abba’s Child. You know how it is when you don’t even realize you’re thirsty, but then you take a drink of water, and it’s so cold and refreshing and satisfying and you suddenly can’t get enough water? That’s how I feel reading this book. I didn’t even realize my soul was thirsty for these truths.

In Chapter One, Manning writes, “God not only forgives and forgets our shameful deeds but even turns their darkness into light.” He goes on to write, “Christians who remain in hiding continue to live the lie. We deny the reality of our sin. In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” Referencing Henri Nouwen’s work, Manning goes on, “The Wounded Healer implies that grace and healing are communicated through the vulnerability of men and women who have been fractured and heartbroken by life.” 

Really, I could read and re-read those words all day long. “If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.” In order to truly light the way for others, we must be vulnerable.

Earlier in Chapter One, Manning writes of how we Christians, especially in the American church, are so hard on ourselves, that we actually have an “intense dislike” for ourselves. We beat ourselves up over our shortcomings. I think this is why so many of us within the church carefully hide what we consider to be our darkest sins, our hardest battles. Manning’s answer to this self-hatred or, at the least, self-dislike — “We learn to be gentle with ourselves by experiencing the intimate, heartfelt compassion of Jesus.”

I think it’s hard for us to experience that heartfelt compassion. Many of us believe that Jesus can be compassionate about some of our sins, but the darkest, blackest ones just make Him angry or disgusted or repelled. I read recently “Nothing about you repulses Jesus.” And the truth of that statement was like a giant spotlight on a little notion my brain has held onto forever. I didn’t even realize I’d thought it. But yeah, a little part of me thought that certain bits of me repulse Jesus. Have you ever thought that too? Well, we should stop with that thinking because it’s not true. As Brennan Manning says at the beginning of Chapter One, “God is relentlessly tender and compassionate toward us just as we are – not in spite of our sins and faults (that would not be total acceptance), but with them.” God is not repelled by us. He is compassionate – intimately compassionate – toward us.

Once we begin to experience that heartfelt compassion, that relentless tenderness of Jesus, we can begin to open up the darkest places of ourselves for His light to shine on. And as His light shines on those places, the darkness is not only exposed but transformed into light.

The more we hide our sins and weaknesses and struggles in the darkest corners of ourselves, the more we hold onto shame and self-hatred, the less light there is in us. And not only that – we are not effective in communicating grace and healing. Of course not! We haven’t fully experienced grace and healing if we’re hiding bits of ourselves in the deep, dark closets of our souls. And we cannot communicate a grace and healing we ourselves have not fully embraced.

In God’s economy the best healers, the most effective healers, are the ones who have most fully experienced healing themselves and who then communicate that compassion and grace through their own vulnerability and brokenness.

I don’t think we have to broadcast all of our sin and brokenness for all the world to see. That is not always wise. But we can begin by being real with God Himself, by letting light shine on some of our darkness and transform it to light. We can wisely choose some people with whom we can be vulnerable. We can trust that truly all things do work together for good, including our sin and weakness.

And then, as we experience the relentless compassion of our Father God, we can share that compassion and grace with others by telling them how He transforms our darkness to light.

Isn’t it exhausting to work so hard to conceal our wounds out of fear and shame? Maybe 2014 is the year that the darkness of fear and shame will be chased out by the light of compassion and forgiveness.