Tag Archives: God’s Love

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

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DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

“Jesus Loves You More Than a Man Ever Could” – On Guilt & Falling in Love

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I was listening to a love song. A person came to mind (or maybe to heart) when I heard it. And I immediately felt guilty.

back at the pianoI grew up in a culture that told teenagers their romantic feelings and desires were something they needed to get rid of. And if they couldn’t shake those feelings and desires no matter how hard they tried, they had to direct them toward Jesus instead.

“Jesus loves you more than a man ever could,” I was told innumerable times. And when I’d have a crush and it just wouldn’t go away, I would reprimand myself for not letting Jesus be enough for me. I loved Him so deeply. But I didn’t have confidence that He was satisfied with me; I believed He was demanding I love Him more and love Him differently. I didn’t believe my genuine love was enough for Him.

When I was told Jesus loved me more than another person could, the application was always: “So you better give Him credit for that.”

Back in October, when I heard that love song, I felt guilty. Because I wanted to sing it about a person, and what’s left of teenage Tessa immediately pointed an accusing finger and told me I couldn’t. I had to sing it to Jesus, or I shouldn’t be singing it.

But then I heard the whisper:

“What if I sang it to you?”

A bit of all of it happened. And He healed something in me that day.

Jesus loves me. More than anyone else ever could. But instead of the response to that truth being guilt, He wants something different.

When He sang that love song to me, He wasn’t shaming me for any lack on my part (and He certainly wasn’t angry at me for having feelings toward a person). He helped me understand by using a song I could relate to: the way I felt for that person? It resembled how He felt about me. And the response He wanted– the response it naturally elicited from me– was not guilt or forced praise.

It was awe.

I had so much in me for that person; it swept me up just to be in possession of it. They didn’t have to do anything to maintain it. It was something living in me, for them. I loved them because of who they were, not because of anything they felt (or, more accurately, didn’t feel) toward me. It was overwhelming in a beautiful way. And finally it was beginning to connect– God goes through that concerning me?

I am a wildly imperfect person, yet I am able to love in measures like these. Why have I believed that God who is Love… would do less?

It would take more time for me to unpack these things. I’m still in the process; He’s still teaching me how to let Him love me. But I wrote in my journal that night, after the song ended:

“Maybe the whole reason we fall in love is so that we can grasp Him better.”

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On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

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flower walk, pink and treesGod knows how to love you.

He knows what’s going to reach you. He knows how to show you love in a way that will connect with you and make its truest mark on you.

He doesn’t love like people do.

People have loved you, but not perfectly. Sometimes, their love has manifested as dominance and even control. And it scares you, makes you build your invisible boundaries so that people can see you but can’t know you. You are open and honest and don’t hide your true self from anyone… but never do you give yourself to anyone. You let them see, but don’t let them touch. Because if they can touch, they can hurt. You don’t want that to happen to you anymore. So you hold up your invisible boundaries, so that you are visible but not truly vulnerable.

You know love is giving. That love is always a risk. But the cost… you’re not sure you’re truly willing to pay it.

She tells you that to love is to be willing to be broken for their sake. And that in order to be loved, you must make yourself vulnerable to receive what they give… which makes you vulnerable to the risk of being hurt. You know she’s right. You want to listen to her.

But you realize that in your efforts to keep people from controlling you, you have begun to act controlling toward them. You’ve learned to maneuver conversations and interactions so that you can keep anyone at a subtle distance, to protect against the chance of them hurting you. And when He shows you that you’ve even extended that to how you relate with Him… it terrifies you. Because who is He, truly, if He isn’t the image you’ve crafted of Him for yourself? If you can’t ignore pieces of Him and pretend He’s someone He might not be?

You pray a prayer you can feel the danger pulsating throughout: “Reveal your true self to me. Help me to accept the way you want to love me, even if it’s not a way I’d ask for.”

He starts answering. But not in ways you expected. And you even expected the unexpected.

He shows you a young man. One who is sweet and humble, but not without being strong and bold. The young man leaves soon, but not without searing that image in your mind. Part of you slowly begins to believe those things can coexist, gentleness and strength. Part of you begins to see that strength makes you feel small, but doesn’t have to in the ways it has before. Instead of intimidating and scaring you, this strength can make you feel safe. You don’t have to feel powerless. You can feel wrapped in it, and it can warm the winter in you. Among the wild mess inside you, there’s a moment of clarity, and you realize that is what’s happening.

You realize it is Him doing it.

You see that His love is meeting you in ways that will get through to you. He’s been going at your pace. Instead of demanding you change so that you can be loved, He has been entering what’s there, even your vices, and loving you. Not simply in it, but with it. Anything, He says, to be with you.

Anything to love you.

He knew what would reach you. You hid, but He still saw you and knew you. He became the shape that would fit the hole you’d found yourself in.

He knew the deep desires you barely knew existed in your heart, and He entered them, met them in ways you wouldn’t have thought. You didn’t think to want these things, because you didn’t believe you were the kind of person who would ever have them. But He brought love home to you, in a bouquet of flowers bigger and more elegant than anything you’d ask for. It blew you into wide-open wonder and gratitude. But you weren’t looking at the flowers when you thanked Him– you just looked at Him. You met His eyes with your teary ones, and you just looked at Him. Because He was the gift. He didn’t only give you flowers; He had given you His heart. Himself.

Love is giving. The giving of yourself for their sake. And He knows that more than anyone. He always has.

He’s been doing it right under your nose this whole time.

You thought you had to do the hard work of breaking down all the lies that live in your core before you could let yourself be loved. You tried to take steps to do so, and it was beautiful and brave of you. But He chuckles, and He murmurs into your ear that only one thing has ever been necessary.

All you had to do was lean into Him, and let Him love you.

So that’s what you do. You close your eyes, lean against His chest, feel Him wrap you close.

And you let Him love you.

“Simple trust is your participation.”   –Eve by Wm. Paul Young

The Fuel of Temptation: On Shame & Grace

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DSC05087I haven’t had to carry shame like what I’ve carried this week in such a long time. It’s been so loud.

This time last week, I had just told the world about my struggle to fully remove pornography’s influence from my life. Many were kind and life-speaking in response, and I’m so grateful for that; some had a harder time. I love them all, and this is still true: I heard once that if a person makes you feel fear or shame, it’s because that’s what they’re carrying. I think I believe that. And some accidentally passed shame and fear on to me when they said what they did.

When I stumbled and looked at porn three weeks ago, I was broken over it. Then I went to my Father, He held me close, and we started moving forward again. I was doing okay; I was focusing on things that were good and healthy for me and He was doing work in me. But after hurt-filled conversation about the fact I even had to recover from this… I started feeling afraid.

I felt so close to stumbling again, constantly on the edge, even though I had no desire for it. I began standing stagnant where I’d left off; shame was crippling my ability to move on, but more than that– the fear of stumbling was pushing me closer to actually stumbling. When I let fear and shame live in me again, they told me I was weak and dirty. It led me to believe I was likely to continue stumbling, because it was part of who I was; I was too weak and dirty to be different. I was incapable of doing better, they said.

Fear and shame never tell the truth. They were (…are) lying to me. The truth’s words are so much different.

Truth says that God loves to enter weakness; He has even been known to refuse the removal of weakness so that He can show His power through it. Truth says that God has led us to put on our new selves, and that He renews us consistently. Truth says that fear cannot live inside perfect love. Truth says that my judgement day has been moved from the future to the past because Jesus stood in my place and declared me holy and clean. This is the gospel. Anyone who believes shame has any place in me doesn’t know that shame cannot live in God’s house– or that I am that house.

At church this morning, I was in the worship service, and began remembering what worship services used to be like for me. I remembered how scared I used to be that I wasn’t meeting the standards God expected of me or that I was still far from Him whom I loved. And I realized that I used to struggle so much more frequently and intensely when shame and fear were part of my daily baggage. When I believed I was filthy and unworthy even after repentance, I stumbled much more often; I despised myself even more often than I stumbled. Shame was the fuel for my temptation. Just like what I experienced again this week.

When my focus shifted and I began to believe in and abide in God’s love for me, I stumbled remarkably less. I felt more full of life. And when I stopped believing God could be more proud of me and in love with me than He already was, I didn’t have to fear anything anymore. Nothing could touch who I was. God declares no shame for me, so none exists for me; He is God and He establishes what is true.

My mission was no longer removing my sin so He could love me; it was resting in His love so He could remove my sin. I’d had it backwards. I feared my sin, when I could have told my sin to fear what was being done in me.

The focus has to be grace. Anything that gives a “but” to grace doesn’t know what grace fundamentally is. Grace doesn’t follow any rules; it follows love. And love is what God is made of.

I am done with the false, finger-wagging, works-based god that was handed to me. Give me Jesus. Give me the healer and redeemer and lover of humanity, who doesn’t say “get out of that place” but “I will take your place.”

Yes, God wants the best for me; yes, my life should be lived in a manner worthy of the gospel; yes, I need to put in my best effort to overcome my struggles. But what I do is secondary to what He does. What I do cannot and will not save me. Christ and only Christ stops the flesh. It is all grace. All of it. We are not saying effort has no value. We are saying grace is of infinite value. Grace must be the focus. It must. Where you place your focus is what you walk toward.

When my focus is that He loves me and has my best in store, I am no longer afraid; instead, I rest. And He works in me, and when He asks me to do something I do it. But I no longer try to do everything. Because He tells me I don’t have to. I just listen and obey. And because of that, I no longer face anxiety but intimacy.

This week, I am going to my Father. I am going to submit to His work in me, for that is my work. And instead of drowning in the shame and fear others might try to place in my hands, I’m going to swim in the grace He’s given me to carry in it’s place.

“Grace is God’s best idea. Rather than tell us to change, He creates the change.”  -Max Lucado

 

Turning My Darkness to Light

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“Most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.”  -Philippians 1:14

DSC04846We don’t like to vocalize our struggles until we feel they can be wrapped up somehow. Until it becomes part of our past, we don’t tell more than a few people (if that) about our most broken parts.

What happens when the past doesn’t stay there?

What happens when the past used to be a long time ago, but this year we stumbled, and the past became February? And what happens when February turns into five days ago?

All week, I have known my recent stumble demanded a new response from me. I learned a lot last month about what it means to be real; I value no-exception honesty in people more and more every day, and have gained unspeakable comfort and strength from those who vocalize the raw, unfinished pieces of themselves. I cannot escape the knowledge that there is power in being wholly genuine in every context I find myself. Even Scripture has encouraged me to bare it all, has said, “When anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

Our darkness becomes light when we shine light on it.

Light can only enter broken things, after all.

I can feel my heart pound wildly against my chest at the thought of the freedom I would be walking in if I just released everything… including the parts I don’t want you to see. But I’ve been afraid. People can generally accept someone’s messy past. But a messy present? One that may or may not go away soon… if ever? It scares us. Because it’s imperfect and we can’t fix it with our usual, one-size-fits-all answers.

I used to be afraid of the struggles of others. But when I stopped denying the existence of my own, when I couldn’t ignore them anymore, I found such comfort in the company of those who were openly imperfect. Even if they weren’t physically with me, I knew they were with me. I knew I wasn’t the only one dealing with garbage like mine.

It is time for me to be that company for others, too.

I have to bring my darkness out into the light. For me, but also for you. It might scare you once you see it; it might make you leave me, or attempt to fix me with no result. Those are deep fears I keep running into as I write this. But… what if it helps heal you instead? It might do that, too. It might embrace you, or spark some measure of hope in you. Because you might remember it when you think you have to hide your own struggles, when you think you have to deal with them by yourself. And it might lead you to accept the open arms of your Father more readily. I know this because others shining light on their garbage has done the same for me.

You are not the only one. You are not the only one who tries but doesn’t always succeed; who has been doing well but knows they could fall again; who still deals with things they hate, things they know should belong in the past. I’m here, too. I’m with you.

And here is what I have in my garbage right now: lust and pornography.

I accidentally found porn around three years ago. It horrified me, and I sobbed into my Father afterwards, repentant and deeply pained. It truly was an accident. But months later, in one weak moment… I remembered how easy it had been to find. So I found it again. On purpose this time. And it horrified me, and I repented in deep sincerity once again.

This cycle has repeated itself since. My Father has forgiven me and welcomed me immediately each time. He has never condemned me. Instead, He has comforted me, and let me weep inside Him as my shame and disgust overwhelmed me. He has promised to teach me to renew my mind, and has done so much in restoring me.

And I still struggle.

I deal with lust in some form on an almost daily basis, but it’s only been twice this year that I have given in to pornography: once in February and once last week. But twice still feels like so many, because I know there shouldn’t be any instances of this in my life anymore. Both times, I have written to a friend I go to for accountability, and lamented: “I thought it was gone. It had been so long, I thought I was finally rid of it. How did I get here again?”

I hate pornography. I hate the industry, I hate the effects it has on us psychologically and physically, I hate the perversion it displays of something that was made to be pure and dazzling. I hate it with the deepest passion. Yet I have consumed it twice this year. I consumed it last week, even with all I know. And I don’t know if this time was finally the last.

I believe there will be a last time. God has kept His promise to rework my evil intentions into good things for His glory, making me stronger with new revelations every time I have failed. I just don’t know when that last time will be. I hoped it would be February, and it wasn’t. Now I hope it will be last week. It could be. But I honestly don’t know. Not one piece of me wants pornography in my life, but what happened last week that somehow made me feel differently? I don’t understand it. I hate fearing the ticking of a time bomb inside me, never knowing when or if it could go off. Because I know I have control over my actions… yet I do what I hate.

This is where I am today. I’m emerging from grieving my sin. I’m wrestling with what it means to be a human being with flesh warring against my soul. And I’m exposing my darkness so it can become light. Altogether, I am learning how to live in freedom. Freedom from my struggles, but another kind of freedom, too– the freedom that comes from living fully in the truth, without hiding anything and without fearing what others might see in me.

My unsightly pieces are visible to you now. But I hope when you look at me, they aren’t what you see. Instead… I hope you see a companion. I hope you see there is so much more to me than my struggles, that my garbage is not who I am– and that the same is true for you.

We have let fear and shame keep us from our freedom and from each other for too long. It’s time we take back our ground. We have been given the gift of being able to bear each other’s burdens and walk toward healing together; I don’t want to forsake that anymore.

I am with you. I am with you.

And we are still fully loved, even as we are fully known.

We get to learn how to live in our freedom now. One stumble and one step at a time.

On Brokenness, Fear, & The Cure

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I’ve never been able to articulate any thoughts or feelings about tragedies; I just can’t talk about them. I have always turned to music instead. I’ve painted with tears in my eyes as I listened to a song in attempt to find comfort; I’ve sung words that poured out of me and became prayers; I’ve written verses that maybe no else hears but that have been some of the most genuine, crafted verses to come from me. It’s the only thing I can manage. For me, tragedy becomes music.

I’m beginning to understand why.all of God's children

I believe fear and all that comes from it is the driving force of all that is broken about the world, about us. I believe love is the cure.

I believe any action born of our brokenness comes from a deeply-rooted fear. And I believe the deepest fear we all carry is this: that God doesn’t love us like He says He does. This fear ends up convincing us we aren’t loved at all, because God is love. We fight the fear every day, often without knowing. Some of us lose the fight, miserably, every single time; I believe that is why we do the terrible things we do. If we don’t believe in the love that exists for us, we can’t believe in any love that can come from us. So we don’t love. We don’t know that we can.

That is why I believe love is the cure. I believe that when we all accept the love that exists for us and enter into learning how to love others, our brokenness will be healed. Love is the cure. God is love. And I run to Him with tears in my eyes, and He holds me close and tight until the pain finally stops.

I am discovering that all of this is why my response to pain has always been music. Music is my home. I’ve always felt a belonging and a kinship inside it. I’ve been through seasons of distancing myself from it, but every return is genuinely like a homecoming, like waking up. I was made for music, or it was made for me, or some combination of both.

Music is the place where love is manifested the greatest for me. It is where I feel most alive, where I feel like I am living in what my Father has made for me to live in. Music is how I most purely receive love, and it’s how I most purely give love.

Of course it would be my response to tragedy, to violence, to pain, to brokenness, to fear– it’s where I meet the deepest love I know.

I want you to look inside yourself, and I want you to find whatever your music is. What makes you come alive every time you find yourself in it? What is home for you? What is the biggest fountain of love in your life? When you find whatever it is– do it. Do it wholeheartedly and without reserve, and do not stop. Your souls needs it, but even greater than that: the world needs you to do it.

When fear and all its friends is our response to tragedy, we’re only allowing more of the problem into the world, because fear is the source of it. But when you find your identity in the love that exists for you, and when you release the love that’s living in you, you are adding to the cure.

If we all loved from our deepest places, we would see love come into its fullness in our world. It would become the kingdom on earth. And our greatest hope is in His promise– that this kingdom of love is our inheritance, is our actual future.

He proves His love for us, as He teaches us to love like Him. And He fixes the brokenness; with His perfect love, He casts out the fear.

Fear doesn’t have the final word– love does. Love always has the final word. Because love is bigger and is stronger.

So, please: enter into Love. Find your music. And make it with all that you have.

“This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.”  -Leonard Bernstein

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On Letting God Do His Work (Or, That Time I Accidentally Observed Lent)

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“Change comes not from striving in our own strength to be like Jesus, but by developing a habit of being and communing with Him.”   -Scott Sauls

easter bloomsI had no intention of observing Lent this year. It has always just seemed too religious to me; the idea of religion is something I wrestle with, something I consistently need to find balance in. But in February, the day after the Lord asked me to let something go and I (hesitantly, painfully) obeyed, I discovered He had done so on the first day of Lent.

Religion is not bad, and I constantly have to remember that. On the way to church Easter Sunday, I was thinking about the past forty days, and I articulated to myself: “It’s so funny that He used Lent to do all this for me, when it’s such a religious thing.” And I heard inside me a chuckle carrying the words:

“Tessa, you love religion.”

Maybe that was true, I began to realize. I make boundaries for myself all over the place (if it’s necessary or not). Symbolic acts and ceremony matter greatly to me and help me process and remember. In some measure, maybe my soul needs religion.

Religion isn’t bad. The problem comes when I begin telling Jesus He has to operate within the boundaries of it. When I try to fit Him into a mold, to make Him follow the rules, to make sure He never deviates from the established way things are done, I am making religion my god. And that is the opposite of the point.

By religious standards, I failed Lent. For weeks after I gave that thing up, I would check in on it multiple times daily, and I picked it back up before the forty days were over. But God was present for every single thing that I did, and I acted according to His lead. He was proud of me. I felt it.

On days when I cracked under the pressure, He would scoop me into a long hug and tell me it was okay. He wasn’t exasperated or disappointed in me. He told me this was His work, not mine. My work was trusting Him enough to let Him do it.

We feel like we’re being lazy, like we’re not doing enough, when He tells us the only thing necessary is to sit at His feet. Those feelings are from the voice of shame, and it’s lying. Redemption is His work. Our work is believing and saying yes. Shame told me I had to do more, that I needed to make Him more proud.

The lie I believed was that He could be more proud of me than He already was.

He is proud of me even when I stumble, because He knows He is teaching me to walk. He lets me learn at my own pace; leads me through a process. I gave up that thing piece by piece, and each moment was led by Him. When only one piece was given up, that was all He’d asked of me. He wasn’t glaring at what was left, He was pleased with the one thing that was gone. Because I’d said yes to Him despite how it hurt me. He never rushed me; He knew what I could handle.

I blamed myself and my lack of discipline for my pain, when He was waving me over to gratitude for the growth that was happening in me. I made it about my shortcomings, instead of His lavish grace and love. There is so much more freedom in Him than I allow myself to believe. His way is so much kinder than mine.

During Lent, I learned to trust Him. I learned that I can trust Him. I learned that I am fickle and that He’s not mad at me for it– He loves me. He loves me enough to hurt me in order to remove something that is killing me inside. That thing? It was an idol to me. I needed my Father to be my God again. And He knew the best way to make that happen.

Weeks later, when He told me I could pick that thing up again… I didn’t want to.

I didn’t think I was ready. I was afraid of myself. I had turned a vessel into an idol, and it had taken so much for me to cut those ties and to see those altars start crumbling. That thing’s importance in my life was decreasing, and although it was so painful, I knew it was redemptive. I knew my Father would never ask me to do something painful if there wasn’t purpose in it; it was hard and holy work. He was not being cruel, He was protecting me. Now, I was afraid to give myself too much leeway and go back to where I was before, back to the obsession and the distress. I didn’t trust myself. But then He asked me:

“Do you trust me?”

So I said yes and picked it up again.

I asked Him why He let me pick it back up. His only response was a hug that wouldn’t let go. Grace is not about what makes sense; it’s about His love for me.

I wasn’t perfect about it, and I’m still not; to be honest, it’s been a struggle, and I’m still learning what it looks like to have this thing in a new place in my life. But I’m better than I was. Because I ask Him to take over now, and He is doing the work. Lent reminded me that being with Him is the most powerful thing I can do. I didn’t give that thing up for Lent; God entered into me so I could let go of that thing during Lent.

He did Lent for me.

Maybe that’s what religion is for. It gives us tools. It creates spaces and opportunities for us to find it in ourselves to let Him in so He can do His work in us. Maybe religion isn’t us doing the work– it’s a reminder that we can’t and that He can. And will.

“I keep my eyes always on Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”   -Psalm 16:8

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