Testimonies

On Discerning, Suffering, & Trusting Myself to Know

outside breakfast 1Hi.

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

This has been a strange, raw year for me, almost as if I’ve been in open heart surgery this whole time. It’s honestly still that way nearly every day. I know that someday I’ll probably tell you every little detail, but not today; the surgery still isn’t over. And recovery takes time, too. I’m beginning to accept that healing is a process, instead of attempting to push it to go faster. Hurt doesn’t usually go away by any force except for the force that time is. But it does go away. I’m beginning to learn that, too.

There is something I’d like to talk about right now, though. I haven’t written (to you, at least) in months, so I hope we’ve still got our cozy atmosphere for conversation and that I’ll still be able to articulate my insides decently on the outside. I want to share it now because it is what’s getting me through this tumultuous year, and, if no one else, I need to have it written down so I can go back to it and tell myself the truth.

Where should I start? Well…

This summer, I was facing a difficult decision. Actually, it wasn’t that difficult; I knew I wanted to say no, and I knew that the path He’d pointed me down years ago wasn’t down the route a “yes” would take me.

But… I struggled to trust myself to know those things for sure anymore.

Because a few months prior, the enemy broke into the lovely home Jesus and I had been building, and he tried to take it from me by attempting to imitate Jesus, treating me in ways I deeply hoped Jesus wouldn’t treat me and saying things I just couldn’t imagine Jesus saying.

Jesus had been shattering the false images I had of Him and replacing them with truth, so I wanted to be open to Him, because in this process I had been learning He was more loving and more kind and more passionate and more absolutely irresistibly good than I ever knew He could be. I didn’t know I could be this in love (with anyone, let alone Him), or that He would be this deeply in love with me. It was the richest I’d ever felt.

So when the enemy tried to deceive me, it nearly worked. Because I was so (beautifully) vulnerable and trusting, that even when I knew in my core this couldn’t be right, I didn’t want to hold the one I loved to a false image I might have of Him if He was trying to shatter it.

It took the persistent presence and affirmations of the people close to me to keep me grounded, to shake me out of the paralysis, and to get me to understand that the haunting, deeply unsettling image couldn’t be Jesus. But damage to my sense of trust had already been done. Because it had taken me so long to rest on the truth of who it was that had spoken… and because my (courageously) open heart had been so open that I almost let the enemy trick me into believing a terrible lie, about Jesus and about myself.

Ever since then, I have struggled to be open to trust anyone, even myself, to tell me the truth. I trust Jesus, with all that I am. But most of the time, I don’t trust myself to discern what He’s saying to me. And I can’t explain how terrifying that is. I’ve tried, so many times; I attempted seeing a counselor about it for a while, and I still haven’t found the words to express how helpless and rotten this has made me feel. No words feel sufficient.

So over the summer, when I faced a decision I thought deserved a no but was afraid should be a yes, I didn’t know what to do. I’d still been speaking to Him, even when I didn’t understand His end of the conversation, so I told Him about it. About how scared I was. About how I’d do anything He wanted me to do, and how I so hoped He didn’t want me to do this. About how confused I was and how lost I felt.

A few days later, I read the story of when He faced the enemy’s lying, imitating voice Himself.

Before Jesus began traveling with the disciples, He spent forty days alone in the wilderness– isolated, exposed, and without resources. He faced consistent temptation every one of those days, and He had no food during them. By day forty, He was weary and starving. The enemy saw that vulnerability, and said to Jesus:

“If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.”

Jesus could have done it. Jesus probably wanted to do it. And most interesting of all: the act itself, of turning a stone to bread so He could nourish His starving body? It wasn’t an inherently bad, sinful thing to do. It even made sense.

But Jesus didn’t do it.

Why?

Because He knew who was telling Him to do it.

The voice telling Him to do it was telling Him to prove Himself– “If you are the Son of God,” it had said. And Jesus knew He had to do no such thing. He knew who He was already. And He knew His Father wouldn’t make Him question that or ask Him to prove it. Jesus knew that in His Father He had security and safety. So when the voice speaking to Him didn’t display those truths, He knew to reject it.

The enemy presented many more temptations to Jesus during that time, but the last one was unique. He brought Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple, and told Him:

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'”

The “if” statement was there again, but there was something more complicated in play, too: the enemy had quoted scripture.

It is wildly unsettling to know that the enemy can use scripture, but I’ve witnessed it so many times, in my culture and my church experience and my own mind. I struggle so much to trust anyone’s interpretation of scripture, my own included, because deception isn’t exempt even there. But Jesus experienced this, too. And He knew how to face it head on. The enemy used scripture, yes–

But he didn’t use love.

Because he doesn’t have any. That is his dead giveaway:

God is Love.

Love is the defining context of all of scripture, because love is God’s character. If it isn’t love, God doesn’t do it and He doesn’t ask us to do it. When the enemy told Jesus to jump off a building as a sign of faith, Jesus knew that His Father who loved Him would not do that to Him or ask that of Him.

He also knew scripture; that while it did host the words the enemy said, it hosted other words, too. He knew scripture required context to be properly understood. And He knew the words Love had for Him were not the ones that had been spoken; instead, the correct words were: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.” So He spoke those words back to the voice, the enemy’s voice. Eventually, the enemy saw his efforts weren’t working, and he left.

Jesus knew His Father. He knew He was well-loved by His Father. And that was the pillar of truth for Him, who is Truth. That was what kept Him firm.

It is still so hard for me to trust that I’m walking in the truth. But I stick by Him. I study scripture intently, to see what love looks like manifested through Him. And though I admit I approach the Bible and His presence with a measure of fear every day, what I find there is not crushing– it is life-breathing. It is Him. It is love. I see that love is patient and kind, doesn’t insist on its own way. And that greatest love does not push us down– it lays down everything for us. Like He has always done.

I’d had it wrong. I knew that love leads us to suffer for the other person, but I didn’t understand what that meant. I wasn’t even aware that I thought this… but I thought that Jesus wanted me to love Him by suffering. I thought He was telling me to suffer and that it would prove I loved Him.

He was not. He would not.

Jesus knew it when He refused to jump from the temple roof, and I am finally learning it for myself.

Love does lead us to suffer for the other person. Love does not lead us to tell the other person to suffer.

That is not love, that is manipulation and cruelty and fear. When anyone else acts that way, it’s usually obvious to us that they aren’t being loving. Why do we automatically assume God, who is Love, might be the cruel and controlling exception?

Why do we continue to think that God, who is Love, would be less loving than we are?

Jesus laid Himself down to suffer for those He loved. He told us to follow Him in doing the same for others. He did not tell us that in order to love Him, we must suffer. Instead, He told us that when we love Him, suffering will come and He will be with us in it. He is not the source of the suffering; He is not behind it, He does not bring it on, and He does not want it for us. He faces the inevitable suffering with us, even after He suffered for us. That’s what love does.

Love doesn’t hurt others– it hurts for and with others.

Love lays itself down– it doesn’t push others down.

That’s what I hold to. That’s the heart I seek behind every voice. And if that heart isn’t there, I reject the voice and I wait for His. For the truth. I sit with Him, let Him wrap me up wordlessly, nestle in close.

Because, while I still struggle to be sure of His voice… I can always be sure of His presence. His overwhelmingly soft and kind presence.

He keeps my feet on solid ground, even as He lifts me up off my toes.

He’s love.

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Embraces for Your Spirit · Testimonies · The Basics

On The Giving & The Receiving of Love

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

Responses · Testimonies · The Basics

Be Kind to Yourself

10474834_690577417644852_3293979167945899032_nI heard a song called “Be Kind to Yourself.” And I loved it. But I didn’t know if I should.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be kind to myself.

I was raised to do the right thing and to let my moral compass guide me, to obey the Bible in everything (which I am grateful for). Making the right choices was of the utmost importance, so if I made a mistake, I needed to know I made a mistake. I needed to be told it was a mistake, I needed to declare it was a mistake, I needed to vow never to do it again, and if I spoke about it afterwards, it was quickly shoved out of the conversation, as if speaking about it was it’s own mistake. This wasn’t intentional, but it’s the way things worked out. And now, as an adult trying to navigate personhood, I still live with this sinking feeling–

“I can’t be too kind to myself, or I’m giving myself license to keep making bad choices.”

When my flaws are especially prevalent, or I make a mistake, or I’m wrestling with messy questions, my first reaction is to tell myself to stop. “Tessa, you know better. You are hurting yourself. You have to stop. Why do you keep doing this? You know it isn’t good. Get rid of it!” My internal voice has been saying those things since I can remember, in her angry, intolerant tone. She has not been kind to me. She makes me feel incapable of being a good person, like every thought I have has to be polished and fit into a tidy spot somewhere, or it has to go. She is seeking spiritual perfection. And I have followed her in that pursuit, and have stumbled into a melancholic inner rage every time I fall short.

So when I heard “Be Kind to Yourself,” I smiled. But I also crumbled, and wanted to cry. Because it was something I wanted to believe, but didn’t think I could.

I asked my Father to help me understand. Because I knew I was broken, and I didn’t know how to cope with it. I was going to have flaws my whole life, I realized. And only He could fix my brokenness. So why was He was angry with me about something I couldn’t change? My heart was heavy, with anger and sadness and fear…

Fear that He didn’t love me the way I was.

But He heard me. And He began sending me voices to teach me about being flawed and broken. He sent Christian Collins to plant a seed in me, to stir my thoughts to wonder if my flaws are supposed to be in me, if they contribute to my unique make-up to help me live fully in my purpose. He sent J.S. Park to point out to me that I will never reach a flawless version of myself while I live on earth; we’re all just doing the best we can with our brokenness. He sent Scott Sauls to remind me that fixing my own behavior is leagues different from letting my Father transform me from the inside. And He sent John Piper to look me in the eyes and declare over me: my weakness is my Father’s favorite place to enter, in power, and He loves me for it. He loves me. All of me. Even my flaws.

He just wants me.

When I first heard “Be Kind to Yourself,” I liked it, but I didn’t know if I should. Because I didn’t want to give myself license to be messed up without being disciplined.

I didn’t know that being kind to yourself is like building a relationship of trust with yourself.

We are in a relationship with ourselves, as strange as that sounds. And if I treated other people like I treat me, there would be no one left around me. Because I would condemn them, remind them of their mistakes, tell them to be better in order to be more loved. I would be viciously lying to everyone, in a twisted attempt to help them.

We feel guilt automatically. If we have love for our Father in our hearts, we will be hurt by our failings. We will feel remorse. There is no need to make sure we are feeling that remorse or that we know we are sinful. We do.

When I am kind to myself, I am teaching my brain that I am trustworthy, a safe place. A few days ago, I admitted to a mistake I’d been making. And something about that admittance was just so different from those I’d made in the past. Instead of reprimanding myself, I was glad that I was admitting my mistake and seeking growth. I began trying to figure out what caused me to make that mistake and what I could do to make things better. I expressed love for myself by offering a hand instead of wagging a finger.

I had been more quick to make the admittance in the first place because I wasn’t afraid of being shamed and belittled by myself. I knew I would be welcomed.

My Father is like that.

I knew the truth in my head, that God loves broken people. But I had twisted it in my heart. I believed He only loved broken people because He saw their potential to be fixed. I believed when I acted out of my brokenness, He was angry with me for it. I didn’t hear “I love you” from Him; I heard, “I love you, but you have to do better.” And that is not how my Father speaks to His kids.

My Father does not reprimand me for my screw-ups, my mistakes, my flaws, my brokenness– He opens His arms.

And He picks up the pieces Himself.