Risk – the only way forward

“There are so many unknowns. . . . Risk is the only way forward.”- John Piper, Risk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life Than to Waste It (Crossway, 2013)

In Chapter 8 (“When Waiting Is Risky”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell notes the consequences of her failure to risk.  First, Ann’s fear coerced he into the false belief she needed a lot of social currency with another before taking the risk of revealing her condition.  Next, she’d circumvented questions about her trich in some form for most of her life.  Thus, Ann tried to wriggle out of explaining trichotillomania.

Therefore, the author asserts, we take a risk in telling others about our brokenness.  It’s risky because we can’t control what others do with our confession.  Yet, Ann underscores, “risk is inexorably bound up in faith.”  Time and time again she’s found that risk seem important to God.

Furthermore, biblical people of faith – Abraham, Daniel, the Virgin Mary, for example – trusted that the rewards of their faith greatly outweighed the risks facing them.  And the Bleeding Woman, already bereft of social standing, jeopardized her last thread to dignity to encounter Jesus.  After exhausting almost all her choices, only risking remained.  If we’re honest, Ann states, that’s the only choice we have left as well.

Most noteworthy, no one sees our internal risks that we take with God.  You take risks when you choose to keep your spirit open and vulnerable.  Even when your prayers go unanswered in the way you with and know God can!  The author summarizes:

“This is the real, hard work of faith for most of us — not jumping off cliffs or swimming in shark-infested waters, but being willing to lay our hearts and souls bare before God without protection or pretense.  It’s risky to open our hearts to the Lord when our dreams and desires don’t line up with reality.”

Today’s question: How do you embrace riskiness as the only way forward?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Staying tender and needy before God”

Shame can be silenced – even as we wait

“Shame can be silenced.  Even as we wait in unwanted realities and sickness and broken relationships, unwhole and unwell, we can still silence shame.”- Ann Swindell

“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”- Hebrews 12:2-3 (NIV)

Ann Swindell reminds us of the cost of shame as she concludes Chapter 6 of Still Waiting.  Shame:

  • makes it seem impossible for us to extricate ourselves from our struggles
  • makes it appear that our brokenness determines our value
  • pairs our worth with our weakness
  • yokes us to lies
  • tells us whatever image we put forward, whole or not, reflects our identity
  • forces us to cover up who we are
  • is a liar

However, Ann asserts, shame need not have the upper hand, even in the most staggering circumstances.  Shame, indeed, can be silenced.  Citing Hebrews 12:2-3, Ms. Swindell states that she loves the word scorning.  Because it points us to the fact that Jesus chose – or better refused – to endow shame with power in His life.  Therefore, Ann explains:

“Through the Holy Spirit, we now have the power to live new lives and make new choices.  Although we may feel shame, we, like Jesus, can choose to scorn it.  We can choose to separate our identity in Christ from the ruined image we have of ourselves.  We can choose to listen to the truth of Jesus and separate our worth from our weakness, our lives from lies.”

In conclusion, the author adds, there’s one way to live in freedom from shame.  Open your heart and life to those who love you.  And invite them to extend the grace all of us need from each other.  For love and acceptance from people and the Lord help us “grasp the truth of the gospel for the tender and waiting places of our souls.”

Today’s question: What Scriptures help you know that shame can be silenced?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The genuine pain and sorrow in every heart”

Awareness of brokenness – a baseline reality

“I didn’t know how to bring the knowledge in my head — the awareness of my brokenness as a baseline reality and a starting point for my need for Jesus — in line with the motions of my heart and my deep desire to feel whole . . .”- Ann Swindell

In Chapter 4 (“When Waiting Claims Your Identity”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell stresses that she loathed her “trich” identity.  Yet, she knew that identity comfortably.  Thus, she still had a face, or façade, to put forward.  She needed to mask her condition.

Furthermore, even though faith in Christ means acknowledging and accepting your brokenness, a cultural tug comes into play.  That cultural tug pulls us to maintain an identity and put a face forward — in both a literal and allegorical sense.  But, places exist in life where you need a façade.  As Ann notes, you can’t wear your heart on your sleeve for everyone!

Ultimately, however, how others perceive the size of your lack is immaterial.  For in your own heart, that lack potentially looms large.  Also, once you view yourself as an outcast, you carry that stigma in, as Ann describes, “the folds of your persona.”  Therefore, that stigma need not come from anyone else.

Most noteworthy, a major difficulty comes up when we start to define ourselves by what we lack.  We begin to obsess about it.  The author explains why she once found herself incredulous that Esau exchanged his birthright for a simple bowl of stew, yet now judges him less harshly.  Ann writes:

“When we experience that ravenous hunger for the one thing we so deeply desire, we all find ourselves tempted to give anything in exchange for it.  We assume that getting that one thing will be the key to permanently transforming our lives.”

Therefore, we need a baseline reality – an awareness of brokenness.

Today’s question: What Scriptures establish a baseline reality of your brokenness?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the new Short Meditation- “The sustaining face of God”

Tomorrow’s blog: “A deep-down ache — made for more”

We spend ourselves on what we value the most

“Yes, we spend ourselves on what we value the most.  Whether it’s money, time, energy, or emotions, we pour ourselves out on the thing that we deem most worthy of our devotion.”- Ann Swindell

In Chapter 3 (“When Waiting Costs You Everything”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell discusses the high price of hiding.  On a personal note, Ann states that she found herself unable to untangle the lie from the truth.  Thus, she believed any brokenness tainted the successes in her life.  She failed to realize her daily failures with truth didn’t define her or negate her strengths.

But, Ann asks, at what cost?  Hiding her condition from her friends and teammates cost her a great deal.  Ann paid in time, energy, and friendships.  In contrast, friendships build on the back of brokenness.  Also, intimacy often stems from shared pain.

Furthermore, we feel desperate when we need something from God.  We frantically await His response and action.  To varying degrees, we all surrender time, energy, emotional wholeness, and sometimes money, to cover up our weakest places.

However, while desperation has it’s own cost, we face another cost in our painful places.  The cost of waiting.  Ms. Swindell explains:

“When we have to wait for God to move on our behalf — when we find ourselves at the end of whatever rope we’re hugging — it’s painful.  That’s because waiting demands that we pay . . . because when we are forced to wait for God’s work — for his healing, for his provision, for his answer — the waiting itself becomes a high cost.  We come to a point in waiting for his breakthrough when it feels like too much to bear.  The waiting is the thing that hurts — sometimes even more than the initial pain we faced.”

Today’s question: How do we spend ourselves on what we value the most?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The cost of waiting — payment of our self-sufficiency”

Brokenness – more normal than foreign

“All of us live with brokenness in our lives.  To varying degrees and in various ways, brokenness is more normal than foreign in the human experience.”- Ann Swindell

in Chapter 1 (“When Waiting Makes You Broken”) of Still Waiting, Ann Swindell states she began to clearly understand brokenness at the age of eleven.  Up until that point, Ann considered herself a “good girl.”  A rule-follower by nature, the author notes she came from a long line of rule followers.   Thus, Ann felt a sense of internal control.

However, at age eleven, Ms. Swindell received a challenging diagnosis: trichotillomania.  The American Journal of Psychiatry defines the condition as “a poorly understood disorder characterized by repetitive hair pulling that leads to noticeable hair loss, distress, and social or functional impairment.”  For Ann, “trich” manifested itself through pulling out her eyebrows and eye lashes.

As a result, Ann first experienced the emotion of knowing her own brokenness.  In addition, for the first time she felt helpless to change her brokenness.

Whether small or overwhelming, we all know that feeling.  And sometimes it seems too much to bear.  As the author astutely observes, “we wait because we are broken and we are broken because we are waiting.”

Also, waiting hardly presents as a calm and even business.  Ann explains:

  1. We wait because we are broken.  The Bible declares what we know in our bones.  It describes all creation as tattered, destroyed, and torn.  Yet, until God comes and makes all things new, we wait in the brokenness.  We wait to receive from God what we can’t secure on our own.
  2. We are broken because we’re waiting.  God could end our waiting at any point.  Until then, we wait.  We put our trust in a God who saves, who promises to come through.  And yet, Ann stresses, God’s prolonging = a kindness.  It reveals His patience.
  3. We know the defeat of broken waiting.  As Ann poignantly writes, “we all know the hollow truth of brokenness, of feeling defeated, of seeing ourselves as failures.”

Today’s question: How do you reconcile that brokenness is more normal than foreign?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the annotated bibliography of I’d Like You More If You Were More Like Me

Tomorrow’s blog: “Coming to know weakness in a broken world”

Press into these thirsty moments

“God calls us to resist succumbing to readily available distractions and instead to press into these thirsty moments, our weakest seasons.  Thirst is our ally.  We want to be thirsty for God.”- Sara Hagerty

“For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground.”- Isaiah 44:3 (NIV)

Sara Hagerty concludes Chapter 10 of Unseen as she observes this conundrum.  Although we drink the water Jesus gives us and never thirst, we still feel parched for Him.  And before our completeness in heaven and the end of lack, we rest in our thirst, our longing for God.  Ms. Hagerty explains:

“When our thirst for more of God deepens our awareness of how much we need Him, our capacity for Him grows.  We not only see Him as the spring of water, but we develop a continued and ever-growing thirst for that water.  Our thirst is how God allures us.  The thirsty don’t just find God, they thrive in God.  They drink with deep satisfaction.”

Therefore, we want to have a tender brush with God.  For God didn’t just come to reset the bones of our brokenness.  He came to make our broken hearts sing.  However, in order for this to happen, we must feel the hurt, feel the longing for something more.  Thus, we miss the infilling of God if we constantly try to avoid how spiritually parched we feel.

Most of all, in whatever desert we inhabit, Jesus promises to speak tenderly,  Sara concludes:

“What feels like a wilderness, a desert — the hidden seasons and the hidden places throughout the day that expose now dry we are on the inside — cannot thwart the maker of rain.  These are the times our roots forge deeper through the earth to find the water source.  It’s the only way to survive drought.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you press into these thirsty moments?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “When our wounds meet the Healer”

Brokenness – the antidote to shame

Brokenness is the antidote to shame.”- Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, The Cry of the Soul (1994)

“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.”- Psalm 34:18 (ESV)

As Sara Hagerty continues Chapter 5 of Unseen, she admits she doesn’t relish thinking of herself as vulnerable.  Therefore, she explains:

“Really, who doesn’t want [to] be an invulnerable?  We’ve bought into the lie that exposing our hearts — in even the smallest of ways — brings only pain.  and we take that lie into our exchanges with God.”

However, Ms. Hagerty notes, God sees beauty in vulnerability.  She adds that He moves in as well as near when we’re vulnerable.   Thus, we must allow ourselves to be vulnerable to God not only in big crises but in morning-after embarrassments.  As a result, God heals all the continents of our hearts.  Also, we grow in personal, intimate understanding of Him.

In contrast, it’s impossible for God to penetrate an invulnerable soul.  But, those who turn to God and hide their shamed faces in His chest hear His heartbeat.  In addition, God welcomes our most vulnerable selves because He (a) witnesses every unseen moment of our lives and (b) knows what it’s like to be vulnerable.

In The Letters of C. S. Lewis, the famed author explains why Jesus needed to be vulnerable.  C. S. Lewis writes:

“God could, had he pleased, have been incarnate in a man of iron nerves, the Stoic sort who let no sigh escape him.  Of his great humility he chose to be incarnate in a man of delicate sensibilities who wept at the grave of Lazarus and sweated blood in Gethsemane. . . . If he had been incarnate in a man of immense natural courage, that would have been for many of us the same as his not being incarnate at all.”

Today’s question: How do you seen brokenness as the antidote to shame?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The nexus of hiddenness and vulnerability”

A me that we think we should be

“Each of us has a me that we think we should be, which is at odds with the me that God made us to be.  Sometimes letting go of that self may be a relief.  Sometimes it will feel like death.”- John Ortberg

In Chapter 2 (“The Me I Don’t Want to Be”), John Ortberg stresses God designed us to delight in our lives.  Therefore, when your life ends, God won’t ask why you weren’t someone else.  He’ll want to know you grew toward becoming you.  That process frees you from pretending someone you’re not.

For pretending requires hard work.  As a result, Pastor Ortberg notes, transparency beckons us.  We long to go to a place where we live out our real selves.  John explains:

“Inside us is a person without pretense or guile.  We never have to pretend with God, and genuine brokenness pleases God more than pretend spirituality.”

Furthermore, John underscores that “comparison kills spiritual growth.”  In fact, Henri Nouwen once defined spiritual greatness as “being as great as each of us can be.”  Conversely, spiritual greatness never equates to achieving more greatness than others.

However, when we give up the me we think we should be, we die to a false self.  In conclusion, Pastor Ortberg explains the importance of the word should for spiritual growth:

” . . . God’s plan is not for you to obey him because you should even though you don’t want to.  He made you to want his plan for you.  On the other side of death is freedom, and no one is more free than a dead man . . . . On the journey to the me you want to be, you will have some dying to do.  But that kind of dying is always death to a lesser self, a false self, so that a better and nobler self can come to life.”

Today’s question: Do you find your current view of ‘me’ at odds with the way God designed you?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The final word on who God made you to be”

Grace explained – grace experienced

Grace explained is necessary, but grace experienced is essential.”- Kyle Idleman

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”- Hebrews 12:15 (NIV)

In the Introduction to his latest book Grace Is Greater: How to Overcome Your Past, Redeem Your Pain, and Rewrite Your Story, Kyle Idleman notes the familiarity of the word grace.  That common usage potentially causes a problem.  Because we find ourselves immersed in grace, the adjective amazing seldom comes to mind.

Thus, Pastor Idleman invites us to see the word grace again for the first time.  For when we miss grace, things get toxic or bitter.  In fact, Kyle notes, Hebrew culture considers any poisonous plant a “bitter” plant.  And if a small, bitter root grows slowly, eventually that poison takes effect.  Bitterness only stays buried for so long.

Therefore, Kyle posits, we best understand grace “not by way of explanation alone but through experience.  In other words, grace explained is necessary.  However, grace experienced is essential.  Explanation without experience produces little effect.  To illustrate, Pastor Idleman repurposes E. B. White’s famous quip on humor: “Grace can be dissected like a frog, but the thing dies in the process.”

In conclusion, Kyle prays that we personally experience the truth that grace is greater.  He explains that grace is:

  • powerful enough to erase your guilt
  • big enough to cover your shame
  • real enough to heal your relationships
  • strong enough to hold you up when you’re weak
  • sweet enough to cure your bitterness
  • satisfying enough to deal with your disappointments
  • beautiful enough to redeem your brokenness

Today’s question: How do you balance grace explained and grace experienced?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Appreciate the beauty of God’s grace”

Why we experience brokenness

“We all want to know the answer to the question of why we experience brokenness.  It is human nature to wrap our heads around why something so terrible could happen to us.  But when we do not lean into lament to wrestle with God over these questions, we will often turn to blame.”-
Esther Fleece

He [the Lord] said to Cain, “What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”- Genesis 4:10

In Chapter 3 (“The First Lament”) of No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece talks about the first recorded lament in the Bible.  We find that lament in Genesis 4:10.

Like Cain, when we experience brokenness, we impulsively blame ourselves, God, or others.  Hence, we find it easier to be angry with someone or something than to feel like helpless victims.

However, even though Abel died, his blood cried out to God from the ground.  Ms. Fleece applies this first biblical lament to us.  She writes:

“Nothing can prevent our laments from reaching God’s ears.  Even if everyone in the world ignores our cries and minimizes our pain, God hears us.  Neither our offenders nor injustice, not even death, can silence our lamenting cries to God.”

Therefore, when others wrong us, knowing that God hears our laments brings us comfort.  In addition, even if our offenders show no remorse over their actions, we must not mistakenly believe they’ve escaped the consequences of those actions.  God brings justice in His own timing- a comfort to us.

Without a lamenting language with God, we’ll be restless wanderers like Cain.  Rather, lamenting provides an open door:

” . . . lamenting actually opens the door that allows us to have a relationship with God right in the midst of our heartaches. . . . He wants us to use our laments to build greater intimacy with Him. . . . He is prepared to listen to us, to share our laments, and to offer us peace and comfort this world is not able to bring.”

Today’s question: How would you explain why we experience brokenness?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “God receives our groans”