Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bringing Out the Ugly

“Make your life a clear testimony. Be like a brook of which you can see every stone at the bottom-- not like a muddy creek, of which you can see only the surface. Be clear and transparent, so that your heart’s love for God and man may be visible to all.” ~Charles Spurgeon

I’ve been stuck in between sharing this post & not. Sin is ugly. It’s embarrassing. But, I set out to be purposeful in blogging so that I can remember what the last several months have meant for me. (Lord knows I will need this reminder in the future. Probably even tomorrow. I’m a slow learner!) I thought about keeping it private, but being openly transparent with others is something that the Lord has been working on in my life, so I’ve shared.  I thought about not writing this because sometimes I simply don’t like the responses of others. I think without meaning to, people often trivialize something that the Lord has taught you or they attempt to simplify your personal experience. Such comments & attitudes are neither edifying nor helpful, and it usually just leaves me feeling hurt. But by sharing, I’ve opened myself up to criticism, which I just have to get over because choosing not to share how steadfast the Lord’s work has been simply because someone might hurt my feelings is selfish.  Therefore….

All through my pregnancy and even through Abi Kate’s earliest days, I heard that being a parent would change who I am. Most of the time, I pridefully felt like I didn’t need to change much about myself. I had a degree, a career, and a precious marriage before having a child. It’s not like I had to stop being a party girl and grow up (and seriously, the idea of me as a party girl is pretty hysterical. I know you laughed!) I’ve heard women talk about how their experiences with their fathers or mothers altered the way they wanted to parent. I couldn’t apply that to myself either, and I’ve never appreciated that more than I do now. I have a very present father who walks in integrity. I have a very Godly mother who serves the Lord with gladness. Simply put, I have a really good relationship with both of my parents. Nothing about my growing up was broken or tarnished.  I also felt when people mentioned this idea of change that I was already walking with the Lord. I knew there was plenty of room for growth, though I didn’t grasp how much. But after looking the face of my precious girl, after carrying that sweet life inside me, and after longing for her to love the Lord with all her heart, I knew that change was inevitable. I couldn’t hope that she would live her life a certain way if I wasn’t setting that example for her. I couldn’t expect that she would be compassionate and merciful towards others, humble and meek if I wasn’t living that in front of her day in and day out.

Much of this recognition of long-lived sin in my life started years before Abi Kate’s arrival, but I’d been able to make change applicable on my own terms for years. Looking back I cannot believe how patient the Father’s heart has been with me. How patient He is with me still. I would’ve forsaken me a long time ago. Early this summer, the Lord really began dealing with me about this pervasive issue. He used a few relationships to challenge me to walk more faithfully and convicted me to respond in ways that I normally would not. But the struggle between myself and what Christ would have me do was very present. Several months after that, we joined a new connect group at church and we also began a new Life class. Much of these two classes overlapped in their discussion and content. It was funny because they’re taught by the same person and he’s said throughout the duration we must be getting tired of him and his teaching. We aren't.  Really, I think the Lord intended for me to have the double dose because I’m such a stubborn learner. God has used a culmination of events, people, and these two weekly meetings to bring great repentance in my heart. Sad to say I was really surprised by this. I have no longer been able to escape the evident truths of God’s grace. I’ve no longer been able to make them applicable on my own terms. They are things that I’ve always known. They’re not new concepts for me. I grew up in the church and saw Godly truth lived out in my home. I was saved at age 8, by the grace of God and only that I never experienced a period of outward rebellion. But my own heart has been “deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9), deceiving even me into believing that I was walking with others in humility and grace.

I can’t say that I’ve ever been a merciful person. I’ve never loved others with a grace-filled heart. My sister does. She always has. She is a beautiful example of what grace & mercy should look like in the life of a believer. Funny how you can be from the same gene pool but have such different characteristics. I’ve had high expectations of myself and even higher ones for others.  I’ve lived the majority of my life saying that I am thankful for God’s grace, that I understand it, that it changed me. And in some general sense I guess this is right. But I’m convicted of the truth that grace can’t truly be fully understood, fully appreciated unless I am offering that to others freely and unequivocally. How could I possibly say that I grasp the gravity of sin, the perfect grace that was the only thing that could save me, the destitute condition I was in without it, and not willingly offer that to others? The answer is easy-- I couldn’t. It’s easy to say that you understand grace and mercy. It’s easy to speak those words- that you’re a filthy, wretched sinner who is nothing apart from a sovereign God. It’s easy to have a basic belief in them. It is hard to live them. It’s even harder to live them out with those that aren’t always easy to love or even those that you just don’t want to love. But the truth is, unless I am living them, I am lacking in true understanding.

I’ve said before that I easily write people off. To me, I’ve always felt if you are codependent on others, lack personal responsibility, allow others to make choices for you, then we probably can’t get along well. If friends or people frustrated me regularly, I would just pull away.  They might not have noticed it, but I was no longer intentional in my relationship with them. It was easier, clearly they needed to grow up. Oh, I’ve got plenty of friends, even lots that I’d deem “close.”  When people have few friends and lots of problems with others, it’s pretty obvious who the culprit is. But the fact that I have many friends is really more a result of the persistent goodness of God and my friends’ patience than it is a symbol of my ability to love. I have new friendships and I have friendships that are getting ready to hit the two decade mark (That makes me feel old.) But I have faltered in many of these relationships outwardly and even just in my heart. I have kept too many friendships on a surface level because of this. In fact, I think the number of friends made it easy for me to convince myself that I didn’t have a problem loving others. But that wasn’t and isn’t true. This is not the character that I hope for Abi Kate to have. I want her to love others, to cherish them even when they are difficult & when she doesn’t feel like it, to freely and easily offer much forgiveness and mercy, to be genuine in all her relationships-- allowing her faults to be seen and not judging when she sees the errors of others. As the Lord started to deal with me in this area, I was reminded of a few years ago when the Lord started pricking my heart about this subject. (For real folks, it has taken YEARS). I’d gone to visit my sister in seminary, and somehow the topic of loving others had come up and how we approach relationships. She cautioned me against supporting the ideas of the ever popular Boundaries books. Now, I know this is going to be an unpopular idea as many folks just love that book, and if you love it, please feel free to keep on loving it(I’m not trying to start a debate here). That said, I believe she was right. True fellowship with others doesn’t result from pushing them away when relationships are messy. It doesn’t result from thinking that you don’t have much to learn from others. It doesn’t come from putting up walls and only allowing people (and certain types of people) in so far in an attempt to ward off potential problems. It comes from genuine, open communication. If I am openly and humbly communicating in truthful love, the need for walls and boundaries isn’t necessary. In fact, I can’t find anywhere in the Bible where that idea is supported in context. I do see the theme that “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13. I certainly don’t see keeping people at bay for the preservation of your own good in the person of Christ. I do see vulnerability and a giving up of your own good. You can use the Bible like an encyclopedia and grab verses that support boundaries. We can even use secular psychology and make it applicable to biblical relationships to support boundaries. But if I’m honest, I don’t think boundaries is what Christ has called me to. What he has called me to is selflessness, to forgive 70 times 7 (Matt. 18:22), to place the needs of others above myself (Phil 2:4), to become all things to all people that they might know Him (1 Cor 9:22) to love others as I love myself (Mark 12:31; read the next paragraph and you’ll see I’ve got a lot of loving to do.) He himself was found in the presence of those that were difficult to love, not just with His followers. He was as much himself in genuine character with the unlovable as He was with the easy to love. And He didn’t need boundaries to preserve Himself because the purpose of the relationship wasn’t about Him-- it was about the other person, what He could do for them. This is my example and one that I have failed at miserably.

In reality, all of these things stem from one trait-- pride. I know from the moment I entered this world, I was engrained with a love for self. It is easy to overlook it. Easy to pass off attitudes as being self- confident.  I have found in my life that pride is really the enemy’s greatest tool to use against me. I think most of the time we think of pride as outright arrogance. It’s really easy to spot pride in others, wouldn’t you say? But who wants to point that finger back at themselves? And the danger is that pride usually isn’t so obvious, especially in the life of the believer. It happens in fleeting thoughts-- in thinking that I’ve made better choices than someone else and thinking that they got what they deserved. It happens in my actions when I’m unwilling to listen and love others.  It’s why I’m easily irritated. It’s why I feel like certain relationships aren’t worth continuing. I don’t want others to know my struggles- it makes me look weak. I don’t want certain people to share in particular aspects of life with me-- isolation with my preferred group is much easier. It affects my communications-- it makes me belittle the experiences of others. It makes me relish in my accomplishments. It makes me place myself, any successes I’ve had, over others. It makes me convinced that others have a lot to learn, that I couldn’t learn much from them.  It even makes me read a blog like this and think, “Thank God I don’t struggle with that.” (Oh yes, I have done that). And I am convinced that it is something that I will always have to lay down, multiple times a day at the feet of Jesus, as long as I live in this flesh. I don’t think there will be a day in my life on earth when I’m free from pride. Free from the burden of pride, from the punishment and its mastery? Yes, praise God. But I don’t believe that we just “get over” a sin one day after much striving, and that we can just move on never expecting to struggle in that again. I know it will be part of working out my salvation, of being made righteous.

I now long to walk in humility and meekness. I never would’ve said that years ago because I truly thought those were weak words. Words that suggested quiet doormats of people who let others trample on them. In fact, I likened meekness to a Julia Sugarbaker quote, “Yes, the meek shall inherit the earth. But they will not keep it for long!” I was so wrong. Those people are loving others in spite of themselves, they are a living example of Christ’s sacrifice-- to love and forgive, to pursue us even when we were at our worst. I am so thankful that God has placed others in my life who set an example in this for me. And I am thankful that there are mothers who live this out in front of me.

My mother-- who likes things to be a particular way, but only because she believes in giving the best to others. (There’s not many people that are this way anymore- most people think that simply doing anything for someone else is a sacrifice, the “best” isn’t necessary for others. ) A woman who diligently lived out the example that Christ set forth in front of her children every day. In my many memories of childhood, I remember my mom’s unending patience with us and with others, something that I am not but hope to be. I remember her gentleness, even in her correction. I’ve even seen her speak the truth in genuine love and kindness to others. Plenty of people know how to speak the truth, plenty say they speak it in love,  but I know few people who actually speak it with genuine love as their purpose-- not in self-righteousness and not out of a desire to correct others for the sake of correction.

My sweet friend with almost 9 children-- she has never lorded over me how much she knows because of her countless hours of parenting. She’s never made me feel like I don’t know as much because I only have one child and she has more.  Her position has always been one of humility in our relationship. She has listened, uplifted, encouraged, and only offered wisdom when asked. She is patient, and I honestly can’t say I’ve ever heard her complain about the fatigues of parenthood, about the busyness of days spent at home with her children. I’ve never heard her play the martyr about how hard or chaotic it is to be a parent to one child or to multiple children. While I know she feels these things the way that all mothers do, I really only recall her talking about the high calling of motherhood, about its great blessings.

This is what I want to be--as a believer, as a woman, as a mother, as an example for my daughter. I want to edify others when they talk about their struggles and things they’re learning to overcome. To encourage them as they walk through a particular season of life. To never make them feel small because I might know more than them or might have more experience than them. To love in truth, as I have been loved by a perfect Savior. To take captive every thought or attitude and make it obedient to Christ. To recognize my low position and the great pit that I have been ransomed from. To be aware of the depths of sin and how easily I can slip into it. To be open with my shortcomings-- and not just the easy-to-admit ones. To let grace and humility make a difference not only in my speech, but in my life and in my love.
An old hymn kept coming to mind as I’ve written and erased and rewritten and started over….

“Draw me nearer, nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou hast died.
Draw me nearer, nearer, nearer blessed Lord,
To Thy precious, bleeding side.”

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