No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending (Zondervan, 2017)

International speaker and writer Esther Fleece recently completed No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.  In her book, Ms. Fleece uncovers the biblical language of lament.  Esther describes lament as a real-world way to deal with our raw emotions that moves us forward to healing.  Furthermore, Esther states, think of lament as real talk with God when you’re hurting, the kind of song you need for hope and healing, a cry God can work with.  For no matter the cause of your pain, pain always needs to go somewhere.  Therefore, we need a grid for processing our grief.  However, coping mechanisms, although well-intentioned, ultimately never take us where we want to go and function as a cheap substitute for healing.

Lament, in contrast, requires acknowledging the truth of what happened to us and taking our pain directly to God.  God, the protector and keeper of our hearts, desires to be with us in our pain.  On the other hand, unprocessed laments keep our heart in chains.  Also, when we opt not to wrestle with God in our brokenness, we turn to blaming others as well as God.  But, lamenting opens the door to a relationship with God in the midst of our heartaches.  Only God offers this type of intimacy for our pain.  First, though, we need to attest to our pain and offenses before we can lament them.  While facing the past is painful, it’s even more painful to live out the lies we’ve come to believe as truth.

Learning to lament out loud allows God to correct our misconceptions regarding how He sees us and thinks of us.  Hence, Ms. Fleece encourages us to take our questions to God rather than using them as an excuse to disengage.   She notes that, in our laments, God permits us to ask questions as a relationship-building test- to draw near to us in conversation.  God prefers honest questions to faked spiritual strength.  Specifically, Esther sees one particular question- “How long, Lord”- as a powerful prayer of hope.  In addition, that question serves as a bold declaration of God’s presence, active listening, and power to act on our behalf.

In conclusion, Esther urges us to spend time with God and in His Word to remind ourselves of His true character.  When we fix our eyes on God through the lens of our circumstances, we see a warped reflection.  Thus, reminding God of His promises helps us to remember them and reassures us of our trust in Him to keep them.   No season of lamenting lasts forever.  No season of lamenting is designed to take us out.  Instead, as we surrender to those seasons in faith, we know that the future holds joy.  In the meantime, Esther inspires us:

”  . . . let’s all make the choice to be done with faking fine.  God has much better plans — plans for true healing, wholeness, and life upon life.”

Hearing a new song of praise

“You will know you’re coming through a lament when you begin to hear a new song of praise.”- Esther Fleece

“He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in Him.”- Psalm 40:3

Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 11 of No More Faking Fine as she asserts that a new song only occurs when we’ve walked through lament.  Again, this lament requires honest communication with God as we wait on Him.  Yet, our time of waiting does not disappoint.

However, a new song of praise doesn’t make our hurts disappear forever.  Ms. Fleece explains:

“The dangers and troubles are still very present.  But . . . God’s presence and His Spirit . . . work in our hearts [to] clear the way for us to sing a new song.  And even in our troubles, it is God who helps us to stand firm.”

In addition, this new song gives us a whole new language.  Before now we were unable to sing this song.  As Esther writes, “lament opens our eyes to see God with us and for us in every circumstance.”  As a result, lament provides fresh:

  • experiences of His presence
  • hope in His character- His love and compassion
  • comfort in His mercies, new every morning (Lamentations 3:22-23

Furthermore, even if you’re in the deepest of pits and the darkest of nights, take comfort that God sings right over you.  Hold unswervingly to hope, and take heart until you’re ready to sing a new song.

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece exhorts:

“Lament is the language designed to bring us back to life — deeper into Jesus and deeper into the healing only He can provide.”

Today’s question: Currently, what new song of praise fills you ears and heart?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: the Annotated Bibliography of No More Faking Fine

How we walk with the broken

“How we walk with the broken speaks louder than how we sit with the great.”- Pastor Bill Bennot

Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 10 of No More Faking Fine as she stresses the need for empathy and presence when someone experiences hard times.  In the depths of pain, Ms. Fleece adds, none of us need correction to our theology.  Specifically, others need to give us credit for hanging in there during tough times.  Furthermore, we need comfort more than criticism.

Lament occurs in the context of honesty.  Esther explains:

“We don’t have to always make everything sound so nice and pretty and ‘Christian’ when it’s not.  Things are not always okay.  God never silences a lament in Scripture, so why would we think  we can?  God doesn’t always rush to answer our laments, but He never minimizes our pain or tells us to ‘just get over it already.’  God does not ignore the cries of His people and He never, ever abandons us. . . . Instead of silencing those who are hurting, let’s start training our ears to hear the night cries.”

Therefore, laments help us roll out of our uncomfortable emotions and rise up from hopelessness.  Also, we’re privileged to love each other as well as listen without offering solutions as we join in lament.

In conclusion, Esther state that rushing the process of healing cheapens it.  Times of suffering potentially birth deep treasures.  In the midst of struggle, the healing process develops resilience and character.  On the other hand, offering trite formulas and pious platitudes characterizes conditional love.  Ms. Fleece notes:

” . . . lamenting is actually a testimony of God’s great love for us.  It demonstrates that we have a God who listens to us, a God who hears us, and a God who concerns Himself with every area of our lives, both great and small.”

Today’s question: How has your vocation loss helped you walk with the broken?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The other side of lament”

Our old coping mechanisms

” . . . it’s actually a gift from God when our old coping mechanisms no longer help us get by.  When our old standbys break down, it drives us to Him, and to the awareness that we need other people.”- Esther Fleece

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”- 1 John 1:7

Esther Fleece begins Part 3 (“To Sing Again”) of No More Faking Fine with Chapter 10 (“Lamenting Together”).  First, Ms. Fleece describes the perils of faking lament:

“When we haven’t lamented, we assume the worst about ourselves inside- locked up and unhealed.  When we process, we find clarity — and without that clarity and perspective, our view of our situation can be warped.  We don’t assume the worst just about ourselves; we assume the worst about God and other people.”

Furthermore, Satan loves to intercept our processing with his twisted lies and half-truths.  Also, we make Satan’s job much easier when we isolate ourselves.  In isolation, we process alone while shutting out our voices of truth and wisdom.

Therefore, we need other people – Christian community.  As a result, Esther notes, “God severs our ‘faking fine’ tactics in order to show us a better way.  I just didn’t see it at the time.  We rarely do.”

Although woundedness potentially makes community uncomfortable, community can be one of the greatest catalysts for our healing- especially when we lament.

Today’s question: What old coping mechanisms no longer help you get by?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “How we walk with the broken”

Remembering- a bold action

“Remembering is not a passive reflection, but a bold action of calling God’s truth into the present.”- Esther Fleece

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.”- Proverbs 3:5-6

As Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 8 of No More Faking Fine, she reminds us of the beauty of lament.  Lament involves “unedited, unfiltered real talk that allows God to meet us right where we are.”   Therefore, when we feel like God’s forgotten us or left us behind, we’re able to openly express those feelings.

Then, the next step is to remind God of His promises to us.  Obviously, God remembers His promises.  Thus, reminding God benefits us, as Esther notes:

“But reminding God of the promises He has made helps us remember them and reassures us that He can be trusted to keep them. . . . Remembering is an active tool to reignite our faith.  As we wait on Him, He actively renews the strength necessary for us to persevere.”

The Hebrew language uses active tense verbs for “remember” (zakar) and “not forget” (lo shakach).  So, our intentional practice of remembering “leads our hearts into thankfulness for the past and hope for the future.”

In conclusion, Esther encourages us to dive into Scripture during those times we feel God’s forgotten us.  Reading Scripture provides a great opportunity to refresh our memory of God’s character and promises.  Esther writes:

“God’s promises are energizing; they give us courage, and courage helps us to get moving to do what needs to get done.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses help you make remembering a bold action?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Forgiveness- our invitation to process the pain”

When we have unanswered questions

“We can rejoice, even when we have unanswered questions, even when we have doubts and fears — and yes, even while we are still lamenting. . . . We can receive the peace of God and raise our hands to say Selah . . .”- Esther Fleece

As Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 7 of No More Faking Fine, she observes that the pain we face is temporary.  Yet, pain never feels temporary.  But for Christians, pain never is our final destination.

However, lament helps expand the concept of peace beyond the immediate.  It acknowledges and abides in God’s vast and mysterious plans (Walter Brueggeman) while trusting in God’s goodness.  Esther adds:

“An invitation to wrestle with God, to come face-to-face with Him in our deepest need and darkest questions, can have an outcome of peace in our hearts if we first allow ourselves to lament.”

Therefore, as Esther looked at Habakkuk’s process of lament, she discovered that Habakkuk:

  • demonstrated persistence
  • stood watch and waited faithfully, expectantly- even when not pleased with God’s response
  • anticipated God would respond
  • expected his understanding of God to change in the process
  • rejoiced, even though his circumstances remained grim
  • had Selah, although his circumstances had yet to change

In conclusion, Ms. Fleece applies Habakkuk’s approach to us:

“Even as we cry, ‘How long, Lord?’ we can trust the process that  in the waiting, we are being strengthened, sanctified, and transformed.  Even in the waiting, God is powerfully present, and that can be our source of deep, unshakable joy.”

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, what unanswered questions persist?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “Circumstances might not always feel like a gift”

Intent on reaching resolution

” . . . we risk missing out on knowing God when we are intent on reaching resolution rather than appreciating the relationship.  When we are too focused on outcomes, we. . . despise lament sessions and begin to question God’s heart toward us.”- Esther Fleece

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.”- Hebrews 13:8

Esther Fleece continues Chapter 7 of No More Faking Fine as she describes a first date she recently experienced.  Although Esther hadn’t dated in ten years, she decided to be open and try again.  However, the moment she got in her date’s car, the interview process began.  Her date remained fixated on his end goal.  As a result, he failed to see the beauty in developing a relationship over time.

Similarly, Ms. Fleece believes, we tend to do this same thing to God over time.  Speaking personally, Esther writes:

“I want to know God’s plans for me.  I am often impatient . . . and many times I complain about how hard my life is . . . instead of seeing myself in a committed relationship with Him — for better, or for worse.”

Therefore, Esther states, we must trust in the character of God while we await His response.  Thus, lament is a process that:

  • may not yield immediate results
  • is deeply relational
  • requires our hands and minds to take on a posture of humility and anticipation of deepening our relationship with our unchanging God
  • includes sanctification
  • can be hard, but also beautiful

In the next blog, Ms. Fleece focuses on the Book of Habakkuk.  Reading Habakkuk showed Esther the wisdom of embracing the process of lament and how lament transforms us.

Today’s question: During your desert, land between time, are you intent on reaching resolution or developing a relationship with God?  Please share.

Coming Monday: the Easter Short Meditation, “Hope comes in two flavors”

Tomorrow’s blog: “When we have unanswered questions”

An absolute we can count on

“God’s loving presence is an absolute we can count on.”- Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece begins Part 2 (“A New Way to Pray”) of No More Faking Fine with Chapter 6 (“Why?”).  As Esther opens the chapter, she notes that questions we’re afraid to voice don’t go away.  The howl of the soul cries “Why?”  Yet, Esther, states, even though that question isn’t always answered in a way that brings us peace, it’s still okay to ask the question.

Good parents know that their children’s questions serve as a relationship-building tool.  As Esther points out, lament serves that same purpose with God.  The author explains:

“God permits us to ask questions in our lament for the same reason.  Even if the answers cannot be explained in this life, He still loves to draw near to us in conversation.  He loves that we bring our questions to Him.  Even the hardest ones.”

Therefore, Esther believes, God desires our honest questions rather than faked spiritual strength.  As a result, when God permits us to ask why, He never responds by saying, “Because I told you so.”  The author adds, “God never responds unmoved.”

In the midst of your agony, Esther exhorts you to exhibit the courage to draw near to God and experience intimacy.  In the process, lament functions as your lifeline.  Bring your hard questions to God.  Continue to ask Him for help.  Finally, find the courage to seek Him.

In conclusion, Esther reminds us:

“God’s loving presence is an absolute we can count on.  But that doesn’t mean He will always provide an immediate or satisfying answer when He hears our cries.  God is lovingly and powerfully present with us in our laments.  However, sometimes that knowledge needs to be enough.  Sometimes we need to learn to love God more than the happy ending we hope for.”

Today’s question: What Bible verses support the idea that God’s loving presence is an absolute we can count on?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “When we lose lament- losing the depth and goodness of the gospel”

Secure in God’s love for us

“When we are secure in God’s love for us, when we know how He really feels about us, we are free to ask and tell Him anything . . . .  And that is His hope for us exactly — to come to Him even, and especially, when life falls apart.”- Esther Fleece

Esther Fleece concludes Chapter 5- and Part 1- of No More Faking Fine as she discusses permission to lament.  First, Ms. Fleece notes that lamenting prayers are:

  • raw
  • unfiltered
  • unedited
  • refreshing

Yet, the author observes, in the church we often flinch back in fear at the thought of examining complex human emotions.  Instead, we try to sanitize them.  However, we need a healthy view of how God handles our hurts and heartaches to move forward from pain.  Ms. Fleece explains:

“It is impossible to move forward from pain without a healthy view of what God does with our hurts and heartaches.  He wants pain to leave our hearts, minds, and bodies, but doesn’t expect it to happen overnight, nor does He give us a formula for healing.  But He does give us a language . . . lament.  Whether we are wandering toward God or away from Him, He hears our cries — no matter what.”

In conclusion, Esther stresses that God = our go-to safest person when life falls apart.  Yet, lament is a language, not a formula.  Finally, although Scripture gives us patterns and examples of lament structures, each person laments differently.

Today’s question: Do you feel secure in God’s love?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “An absolute we can count on”

Maintain some semblance of control

“All my efforts to maintain some semblance of control over my life and my emotions did not keep the enemy out, but they did keep God out.”- Esther Fleece

In Chapter 4 (“A Surprising Path to Healing”) of No More Faking Fine, Esther Fleece notes that putting your past behind you doesn’t make it go away.  Furthermore, forgetting about an offense doesn’t mean forgiveness occurs.

Also, we must not interpret self-sufficiency as a godly trait.  While independence provides needed stability, we make it an idol when we believe accepting help or leaning on others reveals weakness.  Yes, healing and lament are costly.  But, at some point, we pay too steep a price to keep faking fine.

As a friend of Esther’s counseled her, “Before we can lament our pain and offenses, we must acknowledge them.”  Resistance only works for so long.  Eventually, we run out of excuses.  However, Esther observes, take heed not to misinterpret the ‘do nots’ in Scripture (see Philippians 4:6, John 14:1). Don’t view them as directives to brace yourself for the hard things in life.

God invites you to find comfort in Him, to release all your cares to Him.  He’ll handle them on your behalf.  A lasting faith rests on a proper understanding of God.  Esther recalls how, alone in her hotel room, she truly experienced God’s presence.  She writes:

” . . . but here, alone, with nothing to offer Him but the cries of my heart, God drew near to assure me that every one of my laments was already recorded in His scroll.  God wasn’t expecting my thank offering or my gratitude: He wanted my heart in its entirety.”

Thus, remembering becomes a tool for your healing, not another way for you to resent your circumstances.  Perhaps, Esther posits, God brings painful memories to the surface so you’ll receive a new memory- of Him healing you.

Today’s question: What’s happened when you tried to maintain a semblance of control?  Please share.

Tomorrow’s blog: “The discipline of lament- honesty about pain”