A taste of life

It’s been a while. And it’s amazing I’m finding time, even now, to write anything on here. My workload this semester with school has been intense, not to mention the stress of my job and certain personal issues in my life, so I doubt I’ll be contributing much on here over the next few months.

But I thought I’d share something quickly that happened to me the other day. Something that gave me a taste–just a taste–of what the author of this blog post shared in his reasons for leaving the institutional church and instead joining a more organic expression of church. I will preface what I’m going to share first by saying I’m thinking of leaving this thing called the “institutional church” as well. I’m just so sick and tired of the superficiality, the ritual, the deadness, the lack of real community, the social club atmosphere…pretty much most of what the author of the aforementioned blog post said. I’m just so disillusioned right now and consequently no longer regularly attend church services.

However, in an effort to find some sort of spiritual community, I recently started attending a small group unaffiliated with any particular church, and geared toward people seeking emotional and relational healing. I wasn’t too impressed at first, even though the people I met were welcoming and friendly. To be honest, I thought at first it just seemed like a navel-gazing session, where everyone rehashed all their child-hood traumas for the umpteenth time. But, because the people were nice, I decided to go back. Well, this past Wednesday evening, as I sat in this brightly-lit room in a basement, surrounded by only four other women, I just spilled some of the things I’ve been struggling with, and instead of the condemnation and judgment I expected, all four women decided to spend some time praying for me. Me, and only me. I protested at first, but they insisted, so I let them pray for me, and afterwards the leader of the group said she felt God wanted her to hug me, because I needed it. So I let this woman hug me, and as she did so, something in me just broke. I sobbed. Hard. Tears of pent up frustration, of loneliness, of despair, of pain, of every negative feeling that has been oppressing me for so long, fell on that woman’s shoulder as she held me close. And as she held me, I felt, in a way, that God Himself was hugging me. Letting me know He understood. That He really did care. That He loved me, despite my brokenness. It was a powerful, cathartic few minutes, and after this woman let me go, the other women took turns hugging me as well, while speaking words of encouragement over me.

When I left that meeting, I felt so much lighter than when I went in. And I felt I had experienced, for the first time in a very long time, a taste of what the Body of Christ is supposed to look like. What the true church ought to look like. People ministering to each other. People being real with each other. A place where the broken, the lame, and the sick can come, just as they are, and be made whole. A place where plastic smiles and superficial spirituality are not allowed. A place where the love of Jesus is not just talked about, but actually seen and experienced. A place where rivers of life flow, in place of stagnant pools of dead doctrine and dogma.

I think it’s sad that most of my experiences of this type have been found outside an institutional church. And apparently I continue to find these pockets of life outside the four walls of a church. But I’ll take what I can get. For however long it lasts. If I must go outside of “church” to find church–real church, that is–then so be it.

I think I’ve had enough of the institutional church. But the other night gave me hope. Hope that not all is lost, and that perhaps, as far away as God feels most of the time to me, He is closer than I think, and just waiting to hold my broken, fragile self close to His heart.

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Letter to a hurting little girl…(and to any hurting little girls)

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Dear child,

I know the pain you’re enduring. I weep for you. I weep for how isolated and unloveable this pain makes you feel. I weep for how this pain will adversely affect the rest of your life. I weep for all the dark times ahead that you will have to endure. I weep for how broken your life will feel. How broken you will feel.

But I want you to know something: this pain is not your fault. You are not to blame. You are not to blame for the scorn of others. For the taunts of others. For the callous remarks of others. For the rejection of those who simply, in their own brokenness, didn’t know how to love you. You are so, so special, my child. You have a beautiful imagination, a keen intelligence, a sweet spirit, and a wonderfully sensitive soul. Your circumstances and trials do not define you. You are, beneath your humble exterior, a little princess. Like Sara, in one of your favorite novels, A Little Princess. She chose not to let her circumstances and the way others treated her define who she was. She held her dark, little head high, remembering that true princesses are not princesses merely on the outside, but princesses on the inside. And that is what you are as well, dear one. Remember that.

So hold on, sweet little girl. Your life will not be an easy one, and you will probably always feel a bit different from others because of the things you’ve had to endure, but never, ever let that uniqueness pull you down. Instead, embrace it, remembering your uniqueness is what uniquely qualifies you for the tasks and plans ahead. Remember that uniqueness when, one day in the future, you meet other boys and girls–and even adults–who, like you, have known tremendous pain. Your own suffering will enable you to have a greater empathy and compassion for others who suffer.

Lastly, dear child, know that you are loved. You may not feel loved, and you may feel God has abandoned you, but the truth is that His tender hands are what hold you, and for His own mysterious purposes that you currently don’t understand, and perhaps may never understand, He has allowed this pain in your life. If nothing else, He will use this pain to draw you to Himself, the only source of unfailing love, which, even if you don’t feel it, is always, always there. Hold onto Him, even when doubt and anger cloud your vision. He is holding onto you, and He loves you so, so much. One day in the future, when you hold a dirty, bedraggled little street girl in your arms, you will experience a taste of the love your Heavenly Father has for you–the kind of love that will hold you close even when you feel dirty and bedraggled. He isn’t the legalistic, perpetually angry God you’ve been exposed to since birth. I promise you. He isn’t.

One day, child, you’ll make it through all this. Don’t lose heart, though many dark days lie ahead. I know the tears you shed, and the pain you feel, for they are the same tears I shed today, and the same pain I feel today, but I know now that, though the journey through the valley of the shadow may seem endless, I do not walk it alone. You aren’t alone, dear one. He is there. And He weeps with you. He knows. He sees. And He holds you close.

So remember: no matter how others treat you, no matter how gut-wrenching your pain, you are, and always will be, a beautiful little princess. And may that enable you to hold your head just a little bit higher.

Most affectionately,

Your future self

My “Romance & Adventure” list

Blessed-is-SheSometimes I have a hard time holding onto hope. Sometimes I have a hard time believing any of my dreams in life will come true. My valley, and my pain, have lasted so long, that it’s far too easy to believe the negative whispers in my soul, telling me nothing will ever get better. But I’m trying to fight that. I’m trying to see through different lenses. Years ago I felt God gave me the verses that inspired this blog, as a personal promise that one day my Valley of Achor–or trouble–would end in a door of hope. And that promise kept me going through a time of intense darkness and pain. But as the pain has lingered in recent years, and I’ve met with more disappointment and setbacks in my life, I’ve found it more and more difficult to hang on to that promise. Doubts, fears and at times despair have ransacked my soul, telling me my life will never have any sort of redemptive ending or satisfying purpose.

But I’m trying to fight back. Even though sadness, disappointment and disillusionment still lurk in the shadows, I’ve got to believe that better days are somewhere around the bend. So I’m posting the beautifully written Bible verse above (courtesy of blogger Morgan Day Cecil) to remind myself of the faith I once had. I’ve also been inspired by the aforementioned blogger (whose blog can be found here), to post a “Romance & Adventure” list–which is essentially a “bucket” list.

I’ve had a mental bucket list for a while, but perhaps just having it written down will help keep me motivated to never give up pursuing and believing in my dreams, even when the darkness, sadness and pain seem to mock those dreams.

So without further ado, here is my “bucket” list–or my “life’s goals” list–or “romance & adventure” list–in no particular order:

  • Be made whole: emotionally, spiritually and physically.
  • Use my pain to minister to others.
  • Get married to an amazing man and travel around Europe together on our honeymoon.
  • Serve God alongside this amazing man.
  • Visit Israel.
  • Visit beautiful, bonnie Scotland at least one more time.
  • Live in Brazil or somewhere in South America.
  • Speak at least two foreign languages fluently.
  • Learn Biblical Hebrew.
  • Get my B.A. and become a linguist (working on that!).
  • Give a people group their own written language and/or Bible.
  • Know Jesus better and become more like Him.
  • Bring at least one person to Jesus.
  • Be the hands and feet of Jesus to the least, the lost, and the broken.
  • Write and publish a book.
  • Sail in a hot-air balloon.
  • Go hang-gliding.
  • See the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, the Pacific Ocean and the Alps.

I doubt every one of these will come true, but here’s to hoping at least the most important ones do.

As one of my favorite literary heroines, Anne of Green Gables, once said, “I don’t know what lies around the bend, but I’m going to believe that the best does…”

The ache intensifies…

I am more confused and frustrated than ever.

I have tried to seek out answers to some of my theological questions and doubts recently. In doing so, I came across a good apologetics website, that had a bunch of teaching videos on theological issues, so I watched a few. They were pretty good and got me really thinking. But a remark in one video struck me with particular force, considering my struggles lately. The guy teaching mentioned that having a “personal relationship with Jesus” is actually not Biblical. It is more of a “westernized” phrase. The guy pointed out how a lot of cultural assumptions influence our theology. And here in the US, and other western nations, we have very individualistic societies, as opposed to the collectivistic societies of Bible times and other modern-day nations like China. So, during the early church, for example, having a “personal” relationship with Jesus was a completely foreign concept. Knowing and following Jesus was a communal thing. Which makes perfect sense when you read the book of Acts.

Of course, that’s not to say none of us are to endeavor to know and follow Christ individually–there are plenty of examples throughout the Scriptures of those who walked with God and knew Him on a personal level. Such as Enoch, Abraham, King David, the prophets, and the apostle Paul just to name a few. But no one, especially within the church, is to have that personal walk with God in a vacuum. Yet here in the US, and other western nations, we focus so much on the personal aspect of a walk with God, that we do tend to often put it in a vacuum.

And so suddenly I’m wondering if that’s part of my problem. That because of my cultural background and influences I’m putting my relationship with God in a vacuum, so to speak. Even as there is, at the same time, an ache in my heart for community with believers and a rebellion against the individualistic society I’m a part of. Naturally, this war, or tension, within myself is utterly confusing and exasperating. While I won’t argue with the fact that a “personal relationship with Jesus” is a cultural concept, I think it’s nonetheless Biblical to have, at some level, an individual relationship with Him. We have to, at some level. My confusion lies in where does the individual relationship end and the corporate relationship begin? If God is all I need, then why did God say of Adam (in his perfect, not-yet-fallen state no less), “It is not good for the man to be alone”? And why is the church urged not to forsake assembling together? Clearly, we need each other. Clearly, in some capacity, Christ leaves us incomplete if we need each other. So how does this reconcile with the verses that tell us we are complete in Christ?

I just can’t quite figure all this out. And meanwhile this ache and void in my heart just continues to grow. Because, more than anything, I want intimacy. And I don’t know how to have intimacy with Jesus, because as much as He might care for me, it doesn’t feel like intimacy to me when ultimately I know I’m just a small and insignificant part of His larger Body. And I currently still don’t have intimacy within that Body either, leaving me feeling desolately alone most of the time. Then there’s the desire for intimacy with a husband, that also goes unfulfilled.

So I ache. Desperately. And suddenly I don’t know where to turn to fix that ache. I can’t fix the ache within the church. I can’t fix the ache with a husband. And most frightening of all, right now I can’t fix the ache with God either.

Come to Jesus

This beautiful song touched me in a profound way the other day, so I thought I’d share:

I’ve been thinking how so often in this blog I vent my tears, frustrations, pains and sorrows–after all, I did title it “Valley of Achor” for good reason–but how few and far between are posts reflecting true joy and thankfulness. The truth is the last several years of my life have definitely been more sorrowful than joyful, more tinged with pain than with sweetness, and I often feel like God has given me the “short end of the stick,” so to speak, when it comes to the amount of pain He has allowed in my life, but lately He’s been convicting me about my attitude to this pain.

I came across this quote a couple weeks ago, posted above someone’s desk, and it really struck me:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on my life. Attitude, to me is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstance, than failure, than success, than what other people think, say, or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home.

The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.

We cannot change our past; we cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude…

I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me, and 90 percent how I react to it.

And so it is with you… We are in charge of our attitudes.”

This quote is attributed to Pastor Charles Stanley, although that’s debatable–however, regardless of who said it, how true it is. And it reminds me of what James says in the Scriptures: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

I am no different than anyone else. When things hurt, when things don’t go my way, when my circumstances don’t make sense, when God seems a million miles away and callous to my pain, when He doesn’t answer my prayers the way I want Him to (and when I want Him to), I get angry. I get frustrated. I question Him. I justify my self-pity and my wrong attitude. I vent much of those feelings on this blog. And most would say, hey, that’s ok.

But is it? Of course, we all need to vent, and God would rather me be honest than mask my pain. He’s big enough to handle my anger, frustration and doubts. But I feel like I need to take a step back and reassess my attitude. I am, somehow, in the midst of my pain, my questioning, my frustration and my doubts, to “count it all joy.” Really, God? Joy? Joy when I’ve endured so much already? Isn’t that asking a bit much?

But it’s what He wants. Somehow. Some way. So often my attitude simply sucks. Let me just be blunt. But even though I know it’s still ok to get angry at times, to question, to vent–King David is my role model in being honest with God–I am not to remain in that place. I am, somehow, to count every hard, difficult thing in my life as joy.

So I’m going to endeavor to do that. By God’s grace, of course. I still don’t understand the why of so much of the pain, confusion and frustration in my life. I still ache, long, hope for intimacy in my relationship with God and others. I still know it’s ok to weep and shake my fist at God sometimes. But I’m realizing I can’t let my pain, my past, my failures, and every other negative thing in my life make me a negative person. Because the truth is that I am blessed. I may not have as much as some, I may not have the kind of fellowship and friendships right now that I long for, I may not have the future spouse I pray for, I may feel incredibly lonely most of the time, I may feel like my dark valley is stretching out to infinity, but I do still have so much to be thankful for. I have a few good, precious friends. I have a wonderful, large family, which now includes two adorable baby nieces. (I love being an auntie!) I have a roof over my head. I have food, clothing. I have Jesus. And, as Jesus said, with these I am to be content.

And when the pain and darkness seem overwhelming, as that song above so simply says, I must go to Jesus. Whether it feels like He’s there or not. I’m still figuring out how an intimate relationship with the invisible King of the universe really works, but to whom else can I go? And maybe that’s the point. Sometimes we have to be stripped of everything before we can see what’s right in front of us. Or Who’s right in front of us.

I know all this in my head, but hopefully I’ll come to know all this in my heart. And in the knowing, that my heart might be healed and made whole.

So, I come, Jesus. And may I somehow count all my sorrows, all my pain, all my frustration, as joy.

More thoughts on intimacy…

I should be studying my precalculus right about now, but instead I feel the need to unburden the confusing, frustrated, and hurting thoughts milling about my head.

Intimacy. Fellowship. Relationship. Friendship. These are things every human longs for. They are natural desires. They are meant to be fulfilled in some way. We are wired this way by God. He said Himself, “It is not good for man to be alone.”

So, why, I keep asking, both myself, and God, are these things still so elusive for me? Why, throughout all my experiences in the church, do I continually find myself feeling like I don’t quite fit in, that deep and meaningful friendships and relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ are so few and far between? I’ve had so few truly fulfilling, truly satisfying experiences in the church, that I’m tempted to give up hope altogether that the “spiritual family” and spiritual friendships I long for will ever materialize.

I’ve been attending a wonderful, Spirit-filled church for the last several months, that I’ve been greatly been blessed by and thank God for, because it’s been a long time since I’ve even attended a church regularly–but as wonderful as this church is, I still feel that familiar, disconnected feeling there. Even in the singles group I’m a part of, I feel out of place, as sweet and friendly as everyone is. I know that part of that out-of-place feeling simply comes from the fact that I happen to fall in that unpleasant category in Christian singledom: mid-thirties, never married and no children. Most of the people in my singles group are not only much older than me, but also divorced with children. So while I put no limitations on friendship, not being able to chime in when most of the people around me are discussing their kids, ex-spouses, etc., definitely hinders me from establishing meaningful relationships. It’s also frustrating when you’re still the “newbie” after several months, and it’s clear everyone else has known each other for a while and formed a friendly rapport with each other.

But more than any of these things, it frustrates me most of all that the majority of the people in this singles group seem more preoccupied with superficial, trivial things than the things of God. Unless we’re actually sitting down in our official “discussion” time, it seems most of the chatter revolves around sports, recreation, painted toenails (for the women), and other trivial matters–which, in and of themselves, there’s nothing wrong with, and I’m certainly not opposed to, but when I gather with fellow believers on a Sunday morning, I’m not really there to talk about trivial things. I want to share Christ. I want to pray. I want to be prayed for. I want to see Jesus show up. But how can He, when we’re so preoccupied with everything BUT Him? And how can I ever truly find the sweet, intimate, Christ-centered fellowship I long for, when those around me seem more satisfied with talking about who won the football game and what color their toenails are?

I’m not claiming to be more spiritual than any of these people. Far from it. I like painting my toenails, and I love watching football, but there is a time and place for those things. I just don’t think Sunday mornings are that time and place. And when I sit there, as those around me discuss everything but Jesus, something inside me just aches with loneliness. And I walk away feeling so empty and disappointed. Feeling once again that I don’t fit in. That as much as I long for relationships, apparently I’m not going to find them in church. Or at least I haven’t yet. I’m there, but I’m not there. I’m there, but I’m not known. I’m there, but I’m sitting on the outside looking in. And this is the feeling I’ve had throughout my life, in nearly every church I’ve attended. Most often, it’s been outside the four walls of “church” that I’ve found, in brief periods, sweet, Christ-centered fellowship with other believers. Like the time I sat outside for nearly a whole afternoon, in Brazil, talking in Portuguese with a sweet, sweet Brazilian man who told me he was disappointed that most Christians he knew didn’t want to talk about Jesus. So for nearly a whole afternoon he and I simply talked about Jesus. It’s an experience I’ll never forget, and one that, sadly, I really haven’t replicated in my life since then.

Is there something wrong with me? Or is it more than just me? Why is that kind of friendship, fellowship and intimacy so elusive for me? Why do I only seem to find it in isolated pockets and experiences in my life? I’ve been crying out to God for a while now for more Christian friends, deeper relationships, and just a Christian “family” where I feel safe being vulnerable, but so far, even at this church I now attend, such relationships feel so out of reach for me.

I long for intimacy. And I don’t just mean the romantic kind (though I certainly want that too). I long to be known. I long for more than “Hi’s” and half-hearted “How-are-you’s” on Sunday mornings. I long to sit over a cup of coffee with someone, pour out my heart, pray, and just talk about Jesus. But I don’t have that. And I can’t figure out why I don’t. Especially when I pray so much for it, and I’m trying to do all the right things to find it.

So for now, God is all I have. And while having Him is certainly a great comfort, I still struggle in attaining intimacy with Him as well. Sometimes all I want is “Jesus with skin on.”

So here I am, just aching inside, and just wishing the ache would go away.

Don’t leave home…

I’ve had a rough few days this week. I hit some bumps in the road, sank into depression, fell apart emotionally, got super-stressed out about school, started having panic attacks, spent nearly every spare hour studying, barely slept, injured my hip yesterday, then got a migraine and temporarily lost vision in my left eye…yes, it’s been a rough week. And through it all, God has felt a million miles away.

But earlier this evening, as I drove down the interstate to go have some much-needed fun with some folks from church, I had a “moment.” Maybe some people think God only shows up in super holy ways like Scriptures, but in my experience at least, He sometimes shows up in ways we don’t really expect Him to. And for someone like me, who finds relating to this invisible God very difficult at times, I appreciate any way He chooses to speak to me. So whether that’s through the Bible, through another person, through a billboard sign (I’ve had that happen before), a talking donkey, or song lyrics, I’ll take whatever I can get.

I can’t explain it, but a song I’ve heard hundreds of times, that isn’t even a Christian song, suddenly struck me in a way it never had before, as it played in my car while I sped down the interstate. The song was “Don’t Leave Home,” by Dido. For those unfamiliar with the song, here’s a good sample:

As I listened to the lyrics, I suddenly had that distinct impression, that gentle whisper in the spirit, that seemed to say, in unison with the song, April, don’t leave home…don’t leave home…If you’re cold, I’ll keep you warm, If you’re low, just hold on, ‘Cause I will be your safety…Oh, don’t leave home.

Maybe I just imagined it all in my head. That’s a good possibility. But, as I said, I’ll take what I can get, even if it’s just crumbs. I just had the distinct impression that God was using those specific lyrics to speak to me in a very specific way, to my specific need. Granted, not all the lyrics in the song were appropriate, but the chorus–particularly the part “I will be your safety”–touched me in a very vulnerable place. I felt like God was telling me to not leave home because He was my home, and in Him there is perfect safety and security.

It’s just a song…I know. And maybe I simply have an overactive imagination. But in that moment, as I wrestled with sadness and so many other negative thoughts and emotions, those words were what I needed to hear.

I like it when God seems to show up like that. I just wish He did that more often.

Thoughts on intimacy

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intimacy. What is intimacy? What does it mean to be in an intimate relationship with someone?

I guess intimacy has been so much on my mind because it is the one thing I feel my life sorely lacks and the one thing I crave, more than anything else.

I am, by nature, an introvert, and reserved and a bit shy with people, so developing intimate relationships with people has never been my strong point. I am also currently single, and while I’ve been in physically intimate relationships with men in the past, I’ve never experienced true intimacy–the emotional and spiritual kind–with a man, and I confess, especially as I get older, it is the one kind of intimacy I long for more than any other. Which, I suppose, is only natural.

I’ve stated before that I know, at least intellectually, that only Jesus Christ can fully satisfy these cravings of my heart. And I still know, at least intellectually, that no person–no man, even–can truly, fully meet the longings and needs of my heart. To place that burden on anyone is unhealthy, and I recognize and accept this. I’ve been on the receiving end of someone placing that burden on me (my first boyfriend), and it suffocated me so much I ended the relationship. So I get it. I get that no human being, no matter how wonderful and fulfilling the relationship may be, can truly be expected to meet all my cravings for intimacy, acceptance and love.

But if this is true, and God alone is supposed to satisfy and fulfill me, and meet my needs for intimacy, then why is intimacy with God something I continue to struggle with? I read books and blogs by lots of Christians who tell me that God alone is always enough, that it is only through an intimate relationship with Him that I will find true fulfillment, and I always nod my head in agreement, even though my own heart is feeling completely empty, thirsty and unsatisfied, in spite of my attempts to “draw close” to God.

So, I’ve been wondering, why is this? Where am I going wrong? And do any other Christians struggle with this? Just the other day I sat on a fence at my old childhood home, surrounded by green forests, softly chirping birds, a blue sky, sunshine and a delicious, peaceful silence (aside from the birds), and I poured out my heart to God, with many tears, asking Him why, if He were to be my first Love, and the One I’m most intimate with, then why is He so hard to know? And why must He be invisible and remote, when, in my deepest moments of pain, all I want is two safe, strong, and very visible arms to hold me close? In my pursuit of God, I often feel like I’m playing hide and seek. He’ll let me catch glimpses of Him, and those glimpses are wonderful, but then He disappears again, and I’m left chasing after Him, trying to find Him again. I have this very vivid picture in my mind of being in this beautiful forest playing hide and seek with God. I know He’s there in the forest with me, so that’s somewhat comforting, but He’s always just out of reach. I’ll see Him just ahead of me, peeking around a tree, and excited, I run toward His direction, hoping to finally catch Him, only to find He’s disappeared again by the time I get to the tree. And on and on this game goes. He’s always just ahead of me, “teasing” me as it were, peeking around trees, but actually getting close to Him, or being caught up in His tangible embrace, is always just out of reach.

Naturally, this game of hide and seek with God is extremely frustrating for me. I know, as wiser Christians keep reminding me, that I’ll never develop intimacy with God unless I spend time with Him, and to spend time with God I am supposed to pray and read His Word. Well, I confess, I do derive some comfort from “spending time” with God in this way, but the truth is, at least lately, even praying and reading His Word seem to give me only so much satisfaction. I still come away, not only feeling thirsty, but asking more and more questions. I’ve been delving into the Old Testament lately, and the more I do, the more I shake my head in bewilderment at many of the passages I read, as I honestly ask myself, How do I develop an intimate relationship with a God who is so beyond my reach, so utterly holy, and, quite frankly, downright frightening at times? I know He is love as well as holy, and there are many beautiful passages that express His love toward me. I know, because of Jesus’ sacrifice, I am supposed to be justified before Him, and given access to Him. But still, I find myself drawing back in fear, because I ask myself, How can a sinful, puny little human truly have an intimate relationship with the God of the universe? Especially the God I believe in, as described in Scripture? How can I truly be intimate with someone I am afraid of? If I were married, I would only be able to have an intimate relationship with my husband if I were not afraid of him. Obviously. So, if intimacy with God is more fulfilling than even a marital relationship, then how does the fear of God factor into this? How is fear truly compatible with intimacy? Is there something I’m missing?

I haven’t read any books, or heard any sermons, that address this issue. And so I am left, for the time being, wrestling on my own with these thoughts, questions and frustrations. The only comfort and quasi-answers I’m finding in Scripture are passages written by the apostle John. I like to call John the “apostle of love,” because he seems to write more about the love of God than any other writer in the New Testament. Even he states in 1 John 4:18–a favorite Scripture of mine–that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear.” So how do I reconcile this statement with so many other Scriptures that tell me to fear God and portray God as a fearful Being? This is where I’m struggling. I understand the need to fear God. I understand the seriousness of sin. I understand how that separates us from God. I understand Jesus’ blood cleanses us and reconciles us to God. But somehow, none of these truths make me feel truly secure in my relationship with God. They don’t make me feel close to Him or able to truly enter into any kind of intimacy with Him.

When I think of God, I think of my earthly father, who, while never failing to tell me of his love for me, and even showing it to me in different ways, still caused me to draw back from him in fear because he was the strict disciplinarian in our family, and he could/can often be quite intimidating in his “wrath.” I’ve never been able to have an intimate relationship with him, despite his repeated assurances of his love for me, because I’m too afraid of him. Likewise, I feel too afraid of God to truly have intimacy with Him, even though His Word assures me of His love for me. I’m afraid of His anger. I’m afraid of His wrath. I’m afraid of His holiness.

So when people tell me to have an intimate relationship with God, is this really possible? And for those Christians that claim to have this kind of relationship with God, not only am I envious, but I want to know how they enjoy this sort of relationship. Because I’m not sure what I’m missing. I’m envious of the apostle John, who the Scriptures always portray as the “disciple whom Jesus loved” and resting against Jesus’ breast. That’s the kind of intimacy I want with God. I don’t think Jesus loved John more than any other disciple–at least that’s not how I interpret those passages of Scripture. I simply think John was somehow able to enter into a more intimate relationship with Jesus than any other disciple, and because of this intimacy with Christ, he had perhaps greater insight into the love of God than the other disciples. Which is why he wrote about love so much. But that is just my hunch.

So, practically speaking, how do I find this all-satisfying intimacy with Christ, that apparently John had, and other Christians have? Why is it so elusive to me personally? Is it really, truly possible to have intimacy with an invisible Spirit? To find satisfaction, when one’s faith wants so desperately to be sight? Or, is it more like the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13–“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known”? Must I learn to simply be content with dissatisfaction, as contradictory as that sounds? Is true intimacy, whether with God, or another human being, even possible? And if not, what do I do with this cavernous thirst, this profound emptiness, that haunts my soul? I feel like an utter failure as a Christian for even admitting I’m wrestling with these things.

I’m sharing these struggles here because, sadly, I don’t currently have any brothers or sisters in Christ I feel safe admitting these questions and frustrations to. And that in itself only frustrates me more. Despite the fact that I’ve found a church, and that I’ve even made some new friends there, all my relationships there, and with other believers, are mostly surface-level relationships only. I have no one right now I can truly open up to. Either most people I know aren’t on the same page spiritually, or they are simply not interested in developing anything beyond a very superficial relationship. So, even though I have some fellowship now, and I’m definitely grateful for that, I still feel like I’m starving relationally.

I’m starving for intimacy. Even in the midst of a loving family, even in the midst of a wonderful church, even in the midst of new friendships…I feel alone. Desperately alone. And I wonder if there is anyone else who feels the way I do.

How do I find the intimacy I crave? Will I ever find it with a husband? Will I ever find it with God? Will this emptiness, this thirstiness, this hunger, ever go away? Or will it haunt me till I die? Will it only be satisfied when I leave this mortal body?

I wish I had the answers. For now I’m simply searching. Praying. Wrestling. Hoping this gaping hole in my heart will one day be filled.

Imprisoned by the past

“Why can’t we just sweep all of that under the rug and let the past be the past?” So says an old man, pleadingly, angrily, to his daughter, who has, once again, unintentionally embarrassed him by reminding him of his past life.

A little while later, after being confronted by someone from his past, he is seen collapsing into a chair, his body convulsing with heart-rending sobs.

Both these scenes are from a BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens’ novel “Little Dorrit.” I am a huge Charles Dickens fan, and I just recently watched this masterpiece of a drama for the second time. However, this time the movie touched me in a way it hadn’t before, as I suddenly realized how much of myself I saw in one of the drama’s main characters–old Mr. Dorrit.

For anyone unfamiliar with the story, “Little Dorrit” tells the tale of a man, and his family (the Dorrits), who, after being stuck in a debtors’ prison for over twenty years, suddenly find freedom and wealth when they learn of an unclaimed inheritance. Transitioning from the bottom rungs of society to the very top proves to be a challenge for all of the Dorrits, but most especially for the father, Mr. Dorrit, who, having been accustomed to prison for so long, finds his newfound freedom, wealth, and “respect” exhilerating at first, but eventually more than he can handle.

Even as he moves among the elite in society, travels Europe, and does his best to “fit in” with those of the upper-class, he is continually reminded of his humble, painful days in the prison. Mostly by his youngest daughter Amy–known affectionately as “Little Dorrit”–who finds it difficult to give up her humble ways and become a proper “lady of leisure,” but also by former friends and aquaintances who knew him during his stay in the prison. Finally, toward the end of the story, his mind begins to crack, as paranoia sets in and he begins to imagine everyone is mocking him and talking badly of him, and at last, he loses his mind completely and then he dies.

There are other happier parts to the story, thankfully, but Mr. Dorrit’s storyline, as tragic as it is, is what struck me most profoundly, for although I’ve never been in an actual prison, I, like Mr. Dorrit, know what it’s like to live daily in the prison of my own mind, which, even once it finds freedom externally, can never forget the past–especially when people from the past continually return to refresh painful memories and reinforce old lies. It’s like an analogy I once was told about elephants: once they are trained via chains to remain standing in one spot, even when those chains are removed, they still stand there, unwilling to run away, convinced in their scarred minds that the chains are still there.

This, unfortunately, is the reality of anyone, like myself, or a fictional Mr. Dorrit, who has gone through tremendously painful, humiliating, and/or traumatic experiences. As Richard Lovelace put it so eloquently in his poem “To Althea, from Prison:”

“Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage;

Minds innocent and quiet take

That for an hermitage;

If I have freedom in my love

And in my soul am free,

Angels alone, that soar above,

Enjoy such liberty.”

So much, at least externally, has changed for me for the better recently. Like Mr. Dorrit, I’m tasting freedom for the first time in many areas of my life. Outwardly, most would say I am doing well. But true freedom is never found in external circumstances. True freedom only really happens in one’s mind and spirit. The cruelest, darkest prisons are not physical ones, but the ones imposed in our own minds. As Lovelace says, a mind “innocent and quiet” could take even an actual iron-barred prison and find peace there. I envy those with such unscarred, peaceful minds. Minds not continually haunted by memories of a painful past. Minds not tormented by a past that one wishes every day one could forget. Minds not continually reminded of the person one used to be by people from that past who continue to reject and turn a cold shoulder, seeing you always as “that person.”

Like Mr. Dorrit, there are days, especially after running into people I used to know, when I retreat somewhere and simply weep. Weep in agony that, no matter how hard I try to escape my past, no matter how much I change, no matter how affirming close friends and family are, no matter how well some aspects of my life may be going, all it takes to send me spiraling downward is a confrontation with those who hurt me in the past and continue to hurt me with their coldness and disregard. I know I shouldn’t let these people get to me. I try to remind myself of all those who have built me up instead of torn me down, but my mind much more easily believes the negative over the positive. Like the elephant, I know that, in reality, my chains are gone. But in my mind those chains are never really gone. And when others treat you as if those chains are still there, it’s even easier for the mind to believe that somehow one can never truly escape. That one is forever imprisoned by one’s past.

I know in Christ I am supposed to be free. I know all about “renewing one’s mind.” I know, at least intellectually, that I am loved by Christ–that no matter my past, no matter how others perceive me and treat me–I am who He says I am, and not who others say I am.

But still I struggle. And I believe I struggle because my painful past involves a cult-like church and many hypocritical Christians who, instead of loving and reaching out to a lonely, broken, hurting outcast, contributed to her pain. And who, even to this day, when I should come across them, turn away from me as if I somehow have the plague. Like Mr. Dorrit, I just want to say, why can’t the past be left where it is? In the past? Why must it continually thrust its ugly face into my own via the voices of those whose looks alone tell me all I need to know about myself? “You’re unloveable.” “Something’s wrong with you.” “You’re wicked.” “You’re not godly enough.” “You’re messed up.” “Once an outcast, always an outcast.”

The mind is a cruel prison. A cruel prison I long to escape from. And I keep trying to escape. But, like Mr. Dorrit, I’m so accustomed to my imprisonment, that freedom itself is a scary, overwhelming thing that I’m not sure I would know how to handle.

I hope I don’t succumb to paranoia one day and lose my mind completely (though I’ve felt I’ve come close before)–I hope the end to my story is a happy one and not a sad one–but, as of now, I don’t know how to break free of my mental chains. I don’t know how to handle those reminders of my past (mainly people) that keep me locked up behind bars thicker and stronger than ones of actual iron.

I can only hope and trust that the grace of God will somehow do what I cannot do. And that someday I will possess a soul, and mind, that is completely free and, with the angels soaring above, able to “enjoy such liberty”…

On Pat Robertson & being apalled

I don’t normally comment on current news, events, or goings-on in the Christian world on this blog, but after reading the following articles regarding some statements by a well-known Christian “leader”–and watching the accompanying videos–I feel compelled to share some thoughts.

The articles and videos can be found here and here.

Hopefully any discerning Christian with half a brain agrees with me that the time has come for dear Pat Robertson to step down, step aside, and stop opening his mouth. Men like him are just one more reason American evangelical Christianity has become such a laughingstock to the world. If we are mocked and persecuted for the sake of the gospel, that’s perfectly acceptable, but to be mocked and ridiculed because someone claiming to be one of us keeps opening his mouth and saying absolutely ludicrous, chauvinistic, and un-Christlike nonsense is totally unacceptable. This man does not represent Christ. And I wholeheartedly disagree with 99% of what came out of his mouth.

Should a woman, by the power of the Holy Spirit, forgive and love her cheating husband? Absolutely. But overlook it? Absolutely not. Diminish it, because, as Robertson says, “he’s a man” and “all men tend to wander”? Absolutely not. Take responsibility for it? Because, somehow, it must be her fault he cheated? Absolutely, unequivocally, most resoundingly not!

Why anyone listens to this man and gives him credibility is beyond me. For any so-called “man of God” that essentially says it’s ok for a man to cheat on his wife and that it’s the wife’s fault he cheats in the first place should be seen for what he truly is: absolutely deluded. And certainly not a “man of God.”

Pat Robertson just gives the perfect example, and provides one more reason, why I am so disgusted and disillusioned with so much of what passes for “Christianity” these days.

If only people out there calling themselves Christians would stop looking to mere men for advice and spiritual direction. Stop putting all these fallible, sinful men up on pedestals and expect them to tell you how to act and behave. Get out your Bible. Read it. Pray. And seek out those who do the same. Put Christ first. Not man. Christ is the only One we can really trust.

I wish the people at the megachurch I serve at would do this. Much to my disappointment, both of my fellow ESL teachers basically defended the pastor of the church, who, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, is being accused of sexual misconduct. I also saw news interviews with some of the congregants, who defended him as well, some giving him all the praise for “saving them.” Yikes. Wake up, people. Never look to man to save you. And if you think this pastor “saved” you, you need to start reading your Bible. Only Jesus saves.

I guess all of this hullabaloo–both with Pat Robertson, and with the pastor at my local megachurch–just goes to show how biblically illiterate and undiscerning much of American Christianity is nowadays.

How incredibly, tragically sad.