In his book, The Surprising Grace of Disappointment: Finding Hope When God Seems To Fail Us, John Koessler writes,
“The construction of the spiritual life requires as much tearing down as building up.”
I was beginning to see that, because one truth I was definitely starting to grasp… I needed to step back, and take a fresh look at many of the scriptures I loved.
When a scripture would come to mind that seemed to contradict my circumstances, I would think, “I don’t know what that meansanymore…” My beliefs and my reality had a serious credibility gap.
Since I know that it is impossible for God to lie, then the only other possibility, was that my understanding of what I was reading was somehow faulty. If there is nothing false in God (and I staunchly believe there isn’t) then that meant my beliefs about what the Bible actually teaches, desperately needed an overhaul.
(It was a place to begin and just facing that truth took some of the pressure off.)
Okay, so if I am the problem, then I need to ask God to show me where the errors in my thinking are, right? Obviously, my circumstances were in direct contradiction to what I had believed God promised; especially about His care and protection. I had thought that what I HAD BELIEVED was the unmoving, unshakable Truth…
So, if it wasn’t, what was?
Can I interject something here?
There is a short prayer one of my Senior intercessors taught me while I was serving on a church staff. It can really help in times like these. She said, “If you’ve hit a wall with God, just pray: ‘God, show me my heart as You see it.’and He will.”
Simple. Direct. It gets right down to business. I love that.
Not a very fancy prayer, but it was an honest start, and I had a small mustard seed of hope that God would hear my heart, and be faithful to eventually answer…
Eventually? I barely had time to say “…Amen.” before He gently began to reveal, the first of many errors in my understanding about who He was, and more importantly, about what His ultimate agenda was for me specifically, and His Kingdom as a whole.
Recent events had more than accomplished the “tearing down” of my erroneous beliefs. Now it was God’s turn, and so, He met me where I was, and patiently began the task of renewing my mind, rebuilding my faith, and reviving my broken heart… real Love does that.
IN… NOT FROM
You don’t think of yourself this way, do you? As Loved and protected? You believe that because I have allowed you to walk through so many disasters these past few years, that you are out in the storms of life, wind and rain whipping and tearing at you, and you are alone, yes?
It is true that I have allowed the enemy to “sift you.” What good are all the lessons you’ve been taught, if they don’t stand up against the assaults of the enemy? Would I build a rugged sailing ship and then keep her in the harbor? Would I never test her hull? Her rigging? Does that make sense to you?
(Of course it doesn’t.)
Listen My child. Plant this Truth deep in your heart. You are my sheltered olive tree… but you are sheltered in the storms of life~not from them. To understand this will eliminate a great deal of confusion from your mind, and it will give you a place to “set yourself” the next time a gale blows up.
How childish My church has become regarding the suffering of this world! This is a real war you’re in and real suffering goes with it—but I have not abandoned you. Quite the contrary! Not once have I left your side.
(Though there were times I stayed silent.)
Your storms will make you SweetHeart… and through each one, I’ll be right here.
My Father was not good at expressing his feelings or the things that really mattered to him, and that deeply affected our relationship, and how we related to one another.
Unfortunately, for both of us, because my dad had a dysfunctional relationship with his parents, there wasn’t anything in the emotional file drawer when it came to giving or expressing the unconditional acceptance and love I needed.
My grand-father, who was also emotionally remote, barely noticed his younger son while he was growing up. Now, add an abusive mother to this dysfunctional equation, who had been raised by an alcoholic father, who had been abusive to her, and you have the sum total of my father’s own broken and bruised childhood.
Poor dad, he tried, but he just didn’t “get girls” who needed to be affirmed as well as taught.
How was this guy who had been tasked with the entire job of rearing a couple of daughters (who were an enigma to him) supposed to cope? How was he supposed to communicate a kind of love and affirmation he himself had not received?
Is it any wonder that broken people raise broken people?
I believe it is impossible for someone to draw water from an empty well, so this crippling brokenness gets passed on from one generation to the next.
That is, unless we get a whole NEW SELF, and with it, a true image of who we are meant to be!
God calls Believers “more than conquerors” and if we have a relationship with His Son, then we have a royal inheritance. We have Kingdom privileges that are to make overcoming “the norm” of our everyday lives.
Yet, most of us live our daily lives way below our privileges and Kingdom authority, and let me tell you, that was definitely me!
And I desperately wanted things to CHANGE.
I wanted more hope, more love, more joy—more you name it! I had been doing, doing, doing, for years by attending church, singing songs, signing up for classes, seminars, retreats, etc. etc. All my doing on the outside looked great. But on the inside, where we all have to live 24-7, I was a wreck!
I wanted the abundant life Jesus promised.
I wanted to make a difference in this world.
I was tired of talking about it or dreaming about it—I wanted to actually do it!
Do you remember the Bible story of Gideon and how he lived fearfully quaking in his boots down in a wine pit stomping out grapes? Then suddenly an angel shows up with an assignment saying, “Mighty soldier, the Lord is with you!”
Hiding out in a hole in the ground?
Yes, we are MIGHTY, because God sees us as we will be.
Each day I would look at my mess, shake my head in disgust, mumbling and complaining in my heart, while doing a mental inventory in my head of all my failures and impossibilities—all the “why’s” God could never use an unholy wreck like me.
Who do you see in your mirror because how we see ourselves is crucial to advancing the Kingdom of God.
I struggled for years with the image of “conqueror” or “overcomer” because of my early experiences with abandonment. What my head knew, was frequently at odds, with what my heart felt.
It’s all very well to talk about having boldness and courage to advance God’s Kingdom, but if you’re someone like me and your early years were punctuated with criticism, isolation, and rejection, not to mention a lopsided “fire-and-brimstone” presentation of who God is, it’s easy to fall prey to what I call the “cotton-candy-comfort” offered in many of our churches.
It Goes Something Like This…
If you just DO enough for God, if you just GIVE enough to God, if you just BELIEVE enough in God, or THANK Him enough, or whatever your particular brand of “enough” is, then your life will abound with sweet and painless blessings.
I swallowed that stuff for a good long distance until I discovered that it just isn’t Biblical!
The Bible speaks often of suffering and going through rough seas and dark places, and not just for the unbelieving, or the rebellious.
Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation.”
Many very Godly people go through very dark stuff.
Remember Joseph, alone, accused, and abandoned in a prison?
What about Gideon hiding in a winepress, or David hunted and hiding in a cave, or the Apostle Paul ignominiously hiding at the bottom of a laundry basket?
You can make fine speeches all day long about what you believe, or you can declare yourself silly with positive statements, but it is in the darkness of that winepress or dark cave, or at the bottom of that laundry basket where you meet a God who walks with us THROUGH trouble, not far away from it.
I have wrestled over and over again with the concepts of Godly brokenness versus worldly brokenness, and frankly, I believe The Church as a whole struggles with these images too.
You could talk to me about “Christ-in-me” all day long, but that overcoming-truth seldom made it from what my head heard, to what my heart felt, or my eyes saw in my mirror.
The Church’s mandate about loving others and boldly advancing the Kingdom gets preached regularly, and it should, but I believe the core reasons we Christians so often fail to carry this through in our day-to-day lives is because a lot of us still carry the cumbersome baggage from a distorted Kingdom-self-image.
That Guilt Gets Translated To Our Intimacy Issues With Our Heavenly Father
Such had been my case.
I was seven years old when my Mother decided to forsake family in search of her longing to be seen as “a professional woman.” Predominantly raised by a father who had extremely exacting standards (that I often failed to live up to) I believed that my failures were letting him down, and that guilt became deeply engraved in how I saw myself.
I was raised by two very broken people who struggled all of their lives with their own defective self-images which meant I came to the conclusion early in my adulthood that God was impossible to please.
Therefore, why even try?
God was perfect. I was not. End of story.
Seeing myself as “a reject” in my mirror had become normal.
Now, here I was sitting in my own personal ash pile with my life in ruins, thus confirming once again my faulty-self as an utter failure, and an unworthy outcast of His Love.
I suppose that’s why God’s tenderness made me so uncomfortable. A critical demanding God I could deal with, but this “Abba-Father” who wanted to come close and get intimately loving and transparent with me, with all my messy issues? No way! It was way too touchy-feely for me.
And so, I kept pushing God away.
But what about our deal?
YOU ARE BREAKING MY HEART!
Let’s talk about this mindset of yours.
Yes, mindset, because for reasons that are yours alone you refuse to give it up in spite of what I tell you.
Listen to Me again Mighty One.
You are not rejected by Me.
You are not My outcast.
I will never throw you away!
Why do you dwell on the past deeds of others this way?
Why do you keep returning to this pigsty for just one more roll in the mud?
I have dressed you in snow-white robes of My righteousness.
I have covered ALL (Yes, all.) of your sins and failures with the red, pure blood of My Son’s heart.
I want you to stop this now because you are breaking My heart. I know your past. I know what others in your past have said and done to you. But, what about Me? What about what I have done for you?
I sat in my ashes each day thinking, “Is this what God calls abundant?” I really wanted to experience the abundant life Jesus spoke of, but how in the world was I supposed to look at the shambles my life had become, and see it as abundance?
I was raised believing in a God who was much too holy and righteous for the likes of me.
Whenever the “fire of heaven” would rain down from our church’s pulpit, I would shrink under my daddy’s arm, trying to hide.
I believed God was scary, angry, and wanted to send me to hell!
The church people I grew up with spoke of heaven, and going there someday “in the sweet by-n-by,” (whatever that was) but then they would do, or say, the most horrible things to, or about, one another!
All this got filed into my own internal file drawers.
By the time I reached eighteen, and was free to begin to make some decisions of my own, I was not sure of much, but one thing I was certain about. I did not want anything to do with God, church, or church people.
So I chose “the world” and a prodigal-road, which of course led to even greater hurts, disappointments, and failures.
At age 28, after being on that broken road for ten years I came to the conclusion that nothing I had found in “the world” was worth having, including Christianity.
I believed life held nothing but pain and I was weary of it.
I wanted relief and peace, so I came to the erroneous conclusion that the only logical thing to do was to end my life, thereby ending my pain.
Enter for the first time this Abba-God speaking and asking a very simple question.
“When will you trust me?”
That’s all I heard but it really spooked me.
Who was this Voice speaking?
And why was He talking to me?
I’ll admit I was shaken, but I was also intensely curious. Could I have been all wrong about God being absent and uncaring?
I had to know the answer to that question and so I began my quest to try to get to know who God really was.
I wanted to know if I could reallytrust Him?
I joined a church. I got baptized. (Admittedly one of the most wonderful days of my life!) I read through my Bible cover to cover, many times. I studied. I joined. I volunteered. I served. I did everything I could think of, all questing after this holy grail of “becoming an Overcomer-Christian.”
I wanted to be a Christian who not only knew God, but also one who totally trusted Him, and therefore God would be pleased.
See a pattern here?
So I wholeheartedly pursued God outwardly, yet still struggled to navigate all my inner-storms of unanswered questions and self-doubts that refused to be silent.
I kept thinking, “How can THIS be it!”
It all “looked right” from the outside but it all “felt wrong” on the inside.
Now fast forward to the days after leaving the hospital.
I remember after my accident the first faint whisper God spoke. I sat every day in the ashes of my burned-down-life, not sure if I even wanted to recover from all the devastation I saw.
A weariness had enveloped me that was beyond anything I had ever experienced before.
That place, right in the middle of all my MESS—God showed up.
I wish I could tell you I was in this super-spiritual place but the truth is I was trying to contemplate a life without God. My disappointment went far beyond my rage at my circumstances. I was just “finished” and God and I both knew it!
That had been our deal.
I had returned to my faith from “the world” as beat-up prodigal who didn’t believe “a God of love” even existed. So, before I was even willing to try out this “Christian” thing again, I wanted a new deal between God and myself.
I wanted total transparency with no head-faking-bull.
I wanted no part of the phony church stuff I had seen growing up.
Actually, things worked out well for the first few years. I jumped into the discipleship thing for all I was worth. I studied my Bible each morning. I regularly attended church. I devoured every Christian book I could get my hands on. I began serving in church in all kinds of different ways. Life was good. I was growing. You might even say I was thriving.
Then life fell apart. An undetected illness and the resulting visit to the Emergency Room brought everything crashing down.
Each day I sat in the ruins trying to decide if my “return to God” had just been another colossal mistake in a long line of mistakes.
Was this Christian-thing just one big con job? I felt betrayed. I was recoiling from all the stuff I had believed.
If you tust God is THIS what you get?
So I stopped reading my Bible.
I couldn’t pray.
I wanted nothing to do with a God like this!
How did I get here?
My doubts that had begun as whispers were now shouting at me, “Is this what obedience brings?”
Everywhere I looked I saw only devastation and chaos!
I wondered, “What kind of a loving God loves like this?”
God hears even the faintest whisper in our hearts.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, is hidden from God. He was “listening in” on all my doubt and inner rage. I didn’t know it then, but He was counting each broken-hearted tear. He was letting me grope my way along in the dark for awhile—just waiting. Waiting for me to finish venting all my frustrations, and for the silence to descend.
Now in the inner quiet He began to whisper.
I grabbed a pen and began to write.
Yes YOU sitting in the ashes.
These ruins you see all about you? They are not who you are.
They are not your final destination or your destiny.
You are in Me and I AM in you.
Our two lives are as inseparable as a brook that flows into a river. Where does the brook end and the river begin? Hah, you can’t tell Me! That’s how it is with us. My life flowing in you. Your life flowing in Me.
You look at these ashes and think, “It’s all over now.”
You see ruins where once stood bright hopes and shining dreams, and you think, “What’s the use of dreaming?”
But Sweet Heart look up.
Turn those tear-filled eyes toward Me. I AM still here. You are still here. We are not going to dwell forever in—this place. This is only for a moment in your eternity. A wink! I AM your true Vine not your dreams. Your life flows from Me, not from people, possessions, or calling. Come, dry those eyes. Life is not over. Only changed. But remember what I told you? “I do not change!” I AM the One you can always count on. I AM the Foundation that does not move.
We will be leaving here soon. As we step out of these ashes to begin again? You will see Me transform these ashes of yours into radiant beauty.
I think it might be difficult for some of us to connect to those we consider BROKEN if we have experienced “breaking” in only minor or irritating ways.
For instance, if you are pitching a fit because you just broke another nail? Trust me. You and I are on opposite sides of the Looking Glass.
When I say “broken” I see smoking rubble and bombed out buildings in my soul. Yet, even I don’t “see” smoking rubble the same way a woman fleeing Syria or Iraq would, right?
Does that help?
We, meaning we in The Church, can often trivialize people’s pain by our own casual approach to what we do not understand. My “brokenness” may be very different from what you have experienced. You can think you are “aware” when perhaps you are actually clueless. I have often heard well-meant heartfelt messages from those who I believe really did mean well, but there was a kind of authenticity or depth that was missing, simply due to a shallower understanding or experience of the subject.
Unfortunately, what people who haven’t survived gross abuse don’t know can add new wounds to the souls who have.
If you haven’t been through deep and dark water or been on intimate terms with Evil, the deeply wounded and broken will know it, because a crushed heart covered in the scars of an intimate acquaintance with Evil is not something you can head-fake.
I also believe there is a kind of inborn intolerance, an unknowing or condescending heart will reveal. Not to intentionally be unkind perhaps, but simply because of profound ignorance.
I don’t say this to be mean, but I believe it is necessary to know, Hearts that have bled from deep wounds have an internal radar that will register any FEAR or SHAME tactics immediately. You may not mean it to sound that way… (Or you might, depending on your motives?) either way, I just want you to understand where I’m coming from when I ask,
“When have you looked into the eyes of your Abuser and seen the pure pleasure that they derive from inflicting new pain? New horror? New terror? New shame? When have you heard pure hatred screaming at you; seen its face contorted in ugly rage inches from your face? When have you seen them smile as they slice and shred your soul again, intentionally carving new wounds?”
There is Real-Evil in this world and some of us have looked helplessly many times into its cold dead eyes. That is a “knowledge” you can’t fake or forget. And, that experience changes HOW you view BROKEN—and how you respond.
Yes, Christ and the sheer power of His love and grace poured out on His cross, can overcome Evil’s power to make one cringe in terror or run and hide. And yes, forgiveness poured from old wounds will lift the broken and crushed heart, and bring it back to resurrected Life. Absolutely!
But, that miracle of love and forgiveness in itself is no guarantee that Evil will surrender its hold on the Abuser, or that the Abuser will magically choose to change their ways.
The Abuser is also free to choose and many choose to continue their abusive ways. (Perhaps due to their own self-loathing?) I don’t know. I have never understood my Abusers. What I do know is that I have been on the receiving end of my Abuser’s resistant intolerance for love and their entitlement to their own cruelty.
I have loved my Abusers, believing that my love would change them; cause them to make changes in their behavior. It did not. Love for Christ and our devotion to Him does not mean we will be able to reconcile ourselves to those who steadfastly refuse to surrender their hatred and destructive behaviors.
Yes, we must forgive them for their past abuse. Yes, we must pray for our enemies and those who willfully choose to continue to abuse our love and trust. But I do not believe we have to be reconciled to continue in a close relationship or in proximity with those who embrace Evil and refuse to surrender their deep desire to destroy us.
I also believe there are sincere Hearts that have not bled at the hands of that kind of Evil, who don’t understand this. They haven’t seen this for themselves—felt it or heard it—and so they just don’t KNOW.
I used to succumb to critics who would loudly proclaim “broken” as “incapable.”
All those in The Church who are so intolerant, unable, or unknowing, because I thought they were right.
I figured that they knew their stuff!
When those dear souls would criticize my tears; my fragility; my brokenness, I would listen to them.
When they would criticize the broken saying, “You can’t speak, or teach, or reach, unless you toughen up, put on your wax lips, and smile… your gratitude will fix it all.” I would inwardly wince! As if doing all those things hadn’t ever been tried by the abused who also love God and their abusers!
I think those who advocate such simplistic answers have no clue the damage their naivete inflicts.
The abused and broken don’t want band-aids. They don’t work! And I don’t believe the broken want another slick-song-n-dance-schtick of:
“I got it ALL TOGETHER and ain’t it great BEING ME?”
How many times have I heard a speaker “speak to me” just like that, and I would think, “That will NEVER be me.” because I felt too, broken; too much of a mess, and saw no way out of my terror-ridden situation!
Not today. Now I believe hurting people just want real with all its awkward and messy flaws.
In ancient days if a guy was making and selling pottery, and it came out of the fire with cracks, they would rub a little wax into those cracks so they wouldn’t show.
(I mean, who deliberately buys a defective pot, right?)
I guess people got wise to the practice, though. (People eventually do.) So among the potters, the term “sincere” was born, meaning: Without wax.
Without wax, yeah. I’ll take my books and sermons and songs without all the shiny wax, please. Just give me real.
Remember what Jesus compared the “religious professionals” of His day too? Vipers. White-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones! When He confronted “the money-changers” in His temple, He made a whip and drove them out! It doesn’t sound like nine bars of “smile, smile, smile” does it? No wonder they hated Him. He chose to hang with the nobodies. Sinners. Prostitutes. Tax collectors and smelly fishermen—He sought them out! The Broken. The failures. The outcasts. (Yeah.) The Son of God said to all of us messy-misfits,
“Make Mine Broken!”
The professing-professionals I once knew used to “help me” feel real-unqualified. Told me, “I had to get my act together.” if I wanted to be the real-thing—before I opened my mouth.
What I believe they just didn’t get? Nine miles of bad road is supposed to change you. Rearrange you. Jesus uses UNDONE as a big part His transformation process.
The wilderness-furnace is meant to remove the wax and reveal the cracks—’cause we’ve all got ’em!
I hope anyone who reads my stuff can see ALL my flaws. (They’re there.) Every bump on that bad road I’ve been down has done its worst.
But, when you see my faults and failures, I hope you see one thing more…
I hope you see the glorious Light of Jesus shining through those broken places, because He is The One that makes all the difference, in my faults, and in yours; His Love shining through ALL our brokenness.
So let’s let His word to us, be our last Word:
But God chose the foolishthings of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 1 Corinthians 1:27 NIV
Please remember when someone asks to hear your story:
Tell them your story—your way.
Keep it simple. Keep it real.
People are starving out there for real!
And that BIG noise? The one you hear from the sidelines selling “the best wax” that money can buy?
Pray for them.
Ask God to give them understanding hearts.
Then go out there and let His Light and amazing grace shine, baby.
Simply put God has called me to the Prodigal-Church.
Yeah, you know.
The ones referred to as:
The Wrecked and Wounded.
The ones who have heard it all before and just ain’t listenin’ anymore!
These are the “ones” who are severely bruised, deeply disappointed and pissed off at God, The Church, or all of the above.
(Nope. Not an easy crowd.)
But, you know what else?
God passionately LOVES these that many folks just privately hope will “Go away.” leaving us in ‘The Good Church’ to our sleepy tranquility.
I know because I was one of these prodigals, and truth be known? Sometimes I still am.
Ticked-off that is—not prodigal.
I still get angry because many of these folks have been brutally beat-up good-n’-proper.
Perhaps they “once upon a time” believed. But, now?
Now they ain’t havin’ anything to do with it!
They have hit the dusty trail, and now have turtle-shells thick-n’-crusty around once trusting hearts.
Yet they are STILL HIS. And are perhaps MORE WANTED than they were in the beginning.
(Before it all went wrong in their lives.)
Make no mistake about it—He still calls them BELOVED, and He longs for them to come home to Him.
These the Saints consider rabble-rousers, and futile-flotsam, He calls with infinite tenderness, “My Beloved.
I believe this because—I was one of them when He came after me.
(And I do understand how “The Church” feels.)
I fondly remember the days of easy crowds and occupying easy chairs. (Yeah, I confess.) All gone now, and it’s okay because I believe someone needs to reach Wounded Sheep! All those Prickly-Prodigals with crusty shells around hearts that have stopped believing in anyone calling themselves Christian—walking away from our churches—taking the back door out.
Yep, they’re my assignment. My mission. My project.
I rarely got any sort of an answer so I stopped asking.
(But I confess, I never stopped wondering.)
I’ve heard good Christians tell me that “THE Answer” was that I had to learn to live with all my unanswered questions.
(That didn’t help much either.)
I don’t believe a broken heart is about getting answers anyway.
I believe mostly it’s about what Ann Voskamp said in her book, The Broken Way—it’s about communion. It’s about wanting someone to come close in our pain. Feel close. It is the aloneness we feel in our brokenness that magnifies all our other stuff.
For Prodigals this is especially acute, for the communion, they most desperately need—is also the thing they most fear.
Where do they go then?
What do you do with your wounded heart, when your once “safe place” has become to you the image of Habakkuk’s Vineyard?
Where do you begin to look for a PLACE of healing and hope and strength to believe again?
Is there such a place?
There are many prodigals who would not hesitate to answer a loud and resounding, “No!” Especially if you are presenting today’s Church as your answer to that Safe Place!
They’ve been there—bought the tee shirt.
They’ll gladly show you the blood-stains, pointing out all the bullet holes!
(What do you say to that one then?)
That Outcast who looks at The Church and sees a carefully camouflaged Enemy lurking there?
Do you say, “Just trust us? We’re different. We’re the REAL thing!”
(And if they’ve heard all that before?)
If they know The Church in their past is guilty of shooting it’s wounded?