A Friend

Three years ago God began revealing something to me: Love Him, others, then myself. Everywhere I turned, the message was clear. I was pretty bad at loving people, and He was doing a pretty good job of showing me that. But I was too calloused and stubborn to really see and love people, so He had some work to do.

At the moment when things started to shift in my life, I quickly formed a couple deep friendships quickly. The Lord had brought people into my life that hadn’t really been there before, and friendships rose out of crisis. These relationships weren’t out of mutual respect or admiration but rather out of needs that needed to be filled. These friends needed a shoulder to cry on, and as I would find out later, I really needed to be needed. And I wasn’t afraid to manipulate, push, or deceive to fill that need, and all-the-while I was convinced that I was being selfless in my  actions because I was caring for them. As quickly as the friendships arose, they crumbled. There came a time when I no longer felt needed, so I became desperate, and the relationships, which didn’t have a stable foundation to begin with, died as a result of my actions.

Within two months, I went from having few friends to having two “best friends.” Six months later, I had royally messed up both relationships and distanced what friends I’d had before the whirlwind began. Crash and burn.

Somewhere in that messy process, God awakened my heart. He showed me my deep need for relationships, which I’d never known before. I think that’s part of the reason I went so crazy when I finally had people around me who I felt cared. I’d never really known that, outside of my family. I craved that feeling of companionship. I panicked when I wasn’t around someone. Even my poor roommate had to deal with my extreme neediness.

But as He’d planned, when I felt all was lost and I thought I’d lost my two closest friends, I turned back to God. He was all I had, and, as I remembered, all I needed. He showed me His grace and then humbled me by bringing in other friends, friends who’d I’d distanced through those few months, to love me and support me with no questions asked.

Both friends have opened their hearts back up to me. We’re building on new foundations now… a foundation of trust, boundaries, respect, and admiration. I don’t know how far or how long I’ll be blessed to have them in my life, but I’m still humbled by their forgiving hearts. The relationships are drastically different now, and that’s hard for me. I’m having to reshape how I think, how I behave, and how I respond to my feelings.

I want more than anything to have mature, Christ-seeking, young women in my life who can come alongside of me and pray WITH me, not just FOR me. I want mature friendships, but I know in order to have those, I must be mature. And I must learn how to LOVE. Easier said than done.

Moreover, I want to be known. I want to be understood by someone. I want inside jokes, and coffee dates, and shared favorite movies. I want someone to care about how my day went at work or if there was traffic on the way home. I want to be known for all my faults and loved anyway. Part of me says that if God would just hurry up and bring me the right man, that’d all be fixed.

But I know better. I know MYSELF better. This isn’t a physical need that deserves a practical solution. It’s a spiritual need that deserves a supernatural solution. I think about what King David wrote in Psalm 139:

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! … Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether… You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

David was admired by his kingdom and loved deeply by his many wives. Surely he had enough companionship! But David’s search for love, more often than not, got him into trouble. But he knew how well God knew him, and I imagine that as he wrote those words down, it was an encouragement to him.

Like David, I deeply want to be known by someone. I don’t want to struggle with loneliness anymore. But I know it’s a battle that’s mine alone to fight, a battle of the heart as I seek to be nearer to Christ. I know He can fill that hunger I have. But truthfully, I don’t know how to let Him do that. I don’t know how to let Him be my friend and confidant. So that’s what I’m praying about. Tips are welcome.

That said, I’ve become all too aware of my own messiness and increasingly aware of Christ’s grace and patience with me. He loves me on the days I can’t stand to be around myself, and He makes it bearable. It’s that kind of love that I want to be the foundation of all my future friendships and relationships… love as an outpouring of what’s inside me for the glory of God, not demanding from others what I lack for my own fulfillment.

So I’m discovering what it’s like to have a real friend in Christ. He’s the best role model for everything else, so I guess that makes sense that He’d be good at this whole love and friendship thing too.

John 15:13: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

 

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Low Self-Esteem – The Antidote?

Many people these days, myself included, battle with what we call “low self-esteem:” condemning thoughts about our abilities, gifts, appearance, and value.

As Christians, one of our reactions is usually to dismiss the battle all together by saying that it doesn’t matter and trying to shrug it off. But like anything that rests under the surface for a while, it manifests in other ways. We see it in diets, eating disorders, and people grasping at status objects to boost their worth.

Often our other approach is to go to God and the Bible to counteract those attacks with what we know to be true. But there tends to be a problem with that approach too: if I am so busy trying to tell myself I’m worth it and that God made me unique, even using scripture, I’m fighting fire with fire. The world will always be telling me that I’m not _____________ (pretty, smart, talented, fill in the blank…) enough. If I’m always running to other people, God, or the Bible to tell me I’m ___________ enough, I’m never going to win that battle, because I’d have to spend every waking moment building myself up to counteract the world that is always tearing me down. It’s never enough to satisfy long-term. Plus, even when I’m “winning” that battle and feeling pretty confident about who God made me to be, by placing my faith in the person God designed me as, I’m still being prideful, because I’m still placing my faith in ME and how God made ME. Then, as soon as I stumble, which God promises will happen to the prideful (“Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud,” Proverbs 18:12), I’m back to clamoring for encouragement from God and others. It’s a pendulum.

One of the above routes leads to addictions and disorders. The other leads to a crazy cycle of pride and low self-esteem. Basically, we’re screwed either way. So, what should our response to the battle with low self esteem be? Humility.

We know the opposite of pride is humility. But opposite of low self esteem is humility? I’m beginning to think so.

Pride is “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority…” (dictionary.com). A good amount of self esteem could be defined as an accurate opinion of one’s own dignity and importance. Low self esteem could be defined as a low opinion of one’s own dignity and importance. Herein lies the problem: either way, we are focussing on OUR own dignity, importance, etc, whether we feel good about it at the moment or not.

Some of you who have been around Christian churches a while have heard the old saying “Humility isn’t thinking LESS about yourself, it’s thinking less ABOUT yourself.” That seems consistent with humility being the antidote to self-esteem issues. But we always need to discover what the Bible says.

Let’s take a look at how Jesus lived His life, because I’m willing to bet He didn’t wrestle with low self-esteem at all. He knew who He was: the living bread, (John 6:51), the light of the world (John 8:12), the good shepherd (John 10:9), the Son of God (John 10:36), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), and the list goes on. He knew that He was fulfilling prophesy from Isaiah. He was outspoken about who He was. But as Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-7, He didn’t take pride in the fact that He was God’s son; he humbled himself like a servant. He was the ultimate servant. Still, He fulfilled His purpose here on earth, and when someone asked Him who He was, He told them.

Most of know the connotations that humility brings: undervaluing yourself, soft-spokenness, and timidity. But there’s is power in humility.

In the Bible, humility is often correlated with exaltation: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”(1 Peter 5:6; see also Luke 14:11, Matt. 23:12, James 4:10). Exaltation isn’t the goal of humility, but if by seeking humility we seek to make ourselves less, isn’t that contrary to what God would like to do in us (exalt us) ultimately? So then humility isn’t tearing yourself down or downplaying your abilities.

In Matthew 12:31 Jesus says to “Love your neighbor as yourself.” He doesn’t say to love your neighbor more than yourself, or to love yourself less. He wants that love to be equal and proportionate. After all, He made us all equally and individually and delights in each of us (Psalms 139:13-15). So no one person is better than the other. And according to the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:6) “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” What is truth? It’s the entire Bible and what God says about His children… like that we’re all gifted in different areas and are responsible for using those gifts (1 Corinthians 12:8-11, Romans 12:6-7).

C.S. Lewis, in Screwtape Letters, says this: “…Thousands of humans have been brought to think that humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools… [God] wants [man], in the end, to be free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as his neighbor’s talents–or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.”

I think it’s a fantastic summary of how we should view humility. If we rejoiced in our own talents as frankly and gratefully as our neighbor’s talents, we wouldn’t be prideful nor lack self esteem. It would be just the right balance.

So let me ask you (and myself) this: have you spent as much time and energy delighting in and being thankful for your, other people’s, and God’s abilities as you’ve spent trying to fight off those voices that are telling you “You aren’t ______________ (skinny, attractive, qualified, smart, etc.) enough.” Maybe that’s where the key lies.

Do not let your heart be troubled

My mom used to tell me when I was a little kid that I was choosing to have a bad attitude. She tried to teach me early on that my attitude was my choice, and I had control over it despite the circumstances. Often I had a bad attitude because something wasn’t going my way or I didn’t have control over the situation. But how I dealt with those feelings was always my choice, she said. I hated it when she said that, because it was always so much easier to blame her or the situation for my tantrum.

Even now, I still throw tantrums. I’m still very much a baby Christian. I’ll throw a “spiritual” fit and get frustrated with God because of all of the work He’s doing on my heart. He’s taking the time to teach me a lot about myself, Himself, and how the world works, and to be honest, it’s resulting in me often feeling spiritually and emotionally drained. And that exhaustion often leaves me frustrated with myself, God, and the people around me. When I’m not frustrated, I’m mopey and pouty. I don’t really have a reason to be… but I still like throwing my baby fits.

But the “mature” side of me knows what the Bible says:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.” John 14:1

Our pastor brought up this verse during his sermon on Sunday. I know it well, but it hit me in a funny way on Sunday. And as I was laying in bed this morning pouting about my circumstances (even though, like I said, I don’t really have a reason to pout), God reminded me of this verse. “Do not let…” If I don’t let something bother me, I have a choice. Which means I have a choice over whether or not my heart is burdened.

But how do I make that choice?

I don’t know the Bible through and through, but one thing I’ve seen from the passages I know is that our thoughts have power. Anxiety, lust, jealousy, pride, and anger all have physical manifestations, but they begin in the mind. David pleaded with God:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psalm 139:23

Where our thoughts go most often is where our heart is. The things that I think about the most are probably what I’m putting first in my life. God is often not far from my thoughts… but I tend to focus on the hard parts on my journey with Him more than the easy parts. I put my God-approved troubles and experiences above my God-given strength and encouragement. He is so good about sending me reminders and demonstrating how easy His yoke is (Matthew 11:30), but even still, it is so easy to let my heart be troubled and focus my thoughts on how hard life is.

A friend of mine made an art/photo collage for me a few weeks ago that has this verse affixed to the middle. It’s something I seriously need to take to heart and live by:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Philippians 4:8

On a more personal note… I sit here typing this, being all “spiritually mature” with my Bible verses, after throwing a tantrum last night. I was up late pouting, went to bed pouting, and woke up pouting. But then that verse, John 14:1, came to mind. I know it was God, slapping me gently and reminding me that I didn’t have to be a baby. Dang it.

I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m up, down, and all over the place when it comes to my walk with Christ. Most of the time I’m in the middle, and I feel like my high points are getting higher as I spend more time in prayer and reading the Bible, but I’m still soooooo far from where I want to be. I know that I’m not who I’m supposed to be yet. There is still so much that God has to do within me. He’s done a lot these past 6 months, but He’s only getting started. In some ways that’s encouraging, but it’s also a harrowing idea to entertain because there have been so many difficult steps these past few months already. However, I have an idea of the person God is growing me to be. I can almost see her… and I want to be her, really badly. I get glimpses of her when I’m really on fire for Him… selfless, gracious, pure in deeds and thought, and most importantly, a champion for Christ. But I’m very far from that ideal right now, so I guess God and I are going to keep working (Philippians 1:6)…….

Once Upon a Time

First of all, I’d like to say how honored I’ve been reading comments that you guys make about these blogs posts. It’s nice to know that what I’ve been learning can be of some benefit to others and that others can relate. So thanks for reading and for the encouragement.

Six months ago I had made it up in my mind that I didn’t really have a testimony. I had a lot of stories where God did something cool for me, but since I accepted Christ into my life when I was 3 years old, I didn’t have a radical “come to Christ” moment and there was no “before and after” story. I grew up in church and knew all the Bible stories. Ho hum. I felt that my only testimony was my day-to-day walk. I had no story that would win people to Christ.

There was a lot wrong with that conclusion. First of all, God had already done some amazing things in the short story of my life. He had delivered me from a painful/abusive situation, and by the time I was 18 I was able to give up that pain to God and forgive. I think in the back of my mind I always knew that would be a part of my testimony, but I didn’t consider it grand enough to be my entire story. And rightly so. God is a much bigger thinker than that. But still, I was wrong to write it off. The second thing that was wrong with that assumption was that I hadn’t been completely honest to myself (or others) about who I was. The person I pretended to be around other people (especially Christians) wasn’t who I was. That person was perfect, so she couldn’t have a “story.”

But God began to teach me something in September: everyone has a story. Including me.

My story, in just a few words, is this: God let me get hurt when I was young. I spent the next few years running away from people, hiding, and protecting myself, trying not to get hurt again. It worked; I was able to protect myself. As an adult I began to crack when the bitterness from not forgiving began to take over, and I let God take my heart and my burden while I learned to forgive. I did forgive. Then God began to break my heart into a million pieces while He rebuilt it. I had to be honest about my faults and flaws. He has been rearranging and reshaping me the past few months. The second part of my story is not just freedom from my past: it’s redemption from my present. In Him I’m finding freedom from everything I’m afraid of.

Doesn’t that sound like a typical testimony? Pain, bitterness, shame, regret, freedom and redemption? It is, because that’s how God works. The cool part is that I’m only 21, so God still has time to do a  LOT of work on me.

Chances are, too, that you have a testimony if you’re a Christian. It’s probably not “over”, but it’s at least in progress. You might be in the middle of trauma/crisis right now, or maybe you’re just coming out of something and are still in a daze about what just happened. Or maybe something happened years ago and you just haven’t realized it.

Whatever the case, your story, no matter how small or unimportant it feels, is meaningful. The cool thing about humans is our ability to relate to one another; your story could help or encourage someone right now who’s in the middle of hard times. Don’t be afraid of your story. Don’t hide behind the illusion of perfection. I hate to tell you, but we’re all screwed up. We shouldn’t be embarrassed about it. Especially when there is so much freedom that can be found in the honesty and transparency that Christ brings.

I don’t feel the timing is right to share the details of my story and struggled on the world wide web. Maybe soon. In the meantime, I much prefer one-on-one communication. If you’re interested in hearing more, I’ll be glad to share via FB or email. You know how to reach me.

Saved

Christians are saved. “Saved.” It’s a word that the church uses so overabundantly that I’m sure everyone else is sick of the word and its connotations. I grew up hearing Christians being described as “saved” and God being described as the “Savior”. It made sense, because that’s what I was raised with. A “Savior” “saves”. Ok, got it.

But I don’t think I ever understood it. And I’m not sure that people can really understand it to its full extent until they’ve really begun to drown. I’ll explain what I mean by that.

It’s hard to put into words, but there are times where I am so overwhelmed with crap that I can’t breathe. Like I’m drowning. It’s my own crap: my failures and my imperfections. Sometimes I get so sick of myself that I can hardly stand it, because my mind exhausts itself with its manipulative cons and superwoman antics. I try to do and be everything. It’s also the crap of the world. I look at the pain that my friends and family are in, and I go through their struggles with them. The girl (this girl) who used to keep the world at arms length suddenly can’t keep healthy reins on her empathy. It all adds up to an incredible amount of crap that’s hard to carry around to work, school, and church.

But coming back to the crap: it’s too much sometimes. A lot of the time. I feel like I’m literally drowning, suffocating, beneath a tower of burdens that I’m not strong enough to carry, like a pile of bricks pushing me under into the ocean.

And that’s when I know I need a Savior. It’s not enough to say that God has saved me from my sins, like the churches preach. It’s definitely not enough to just say that He saved me from Hell, so I get to spend eternity in Heaven. That’s all churchy BS. It’s true, but there’s so much meaning lacking behind it. Where’s the love? Where’s the grace and mercy? Where is GOD the Father?

My Savior saves me when I honestly can’t breathe and when I don’t have the strength to cry one more tear as my head hits the pillow. He strokes my face and wraps His arms around me as I cry out of desperation or frustration. But most importantly, He picks up the crappy bricks that I’ve been carrying, tosses them aside, and pulls me from the water so I can finally breathe.

The cool thing about God the Savior is that He doesn’t just save us from our “sins” or our screw-ups. He saves us from our pain, our temptations, our regrets, and our inadequacies. That doesn’t mean that those things won’t still be a part of our lives, but we don’t have to be weighed down by them. We don’t have to drown under their pressures.

Matthew 11:28-30
Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

Matthew 14:29-31
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”