When you wonder if you matter

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You matter. 

You need to know that.

You need to know it because it’s truth, truth that will set you free.

And when you know that you matter, you can stop trying to prove it and start giving yourself away. (John 13:3-5)

Maybe you’re thinking, “Of course I matter. I know that.” But . . .

  • Do you find yourself cranky if others aren’t grateful for your service?
  • Do you apologize for bothering someone when you need to ask for help?
  • Is your life a panic of rushing here and there trying to keep your world in orbit?
  • Is your standard answer “fine,” even when you’re not?
  • Are you so focused on others that you fail to care for your own needs, needs that, if they belonged to the other person, you would insist be attended to?
  • Or are you so focused on your own needs that you ignore the needs of others?
  • Do you feel guilty if you say no?

Any of those can be a sign that you don’t really believe that you matter. You yourself. Not just what you do.

How did we reach this place?

For some of us, it’s obvious. We’ve been told we didn’t matter. Ignored. Abused.

For others, it’s more of a puzzle. As surrounded as we were by love, somehow, somewhere, the lie crept in that we didn’t matter.

Maybe we sang the Sunday school song, “J-O-Y, J-O-Y, this is what it means, Jesus first, yourself last and others in between.” Maybe we absorbed it not as a description of willing service flowing out of a secure identity as the beloved, but as a statement of our worth in the world. Yourself last.

Maybe we were taught that it’s wrong to be angry. And, since “anger is the energy Mother Nature [or God?] gives us as little kids to stand forward on our own behalf and say I matter,1 maybe we understood that we weren’t worth standing up for.2

There are a million ways we might have been duped into believing that first lie that has echoed through the hearts of every person since: God doesn’t really love you. You don’t really matter. The important thing is that, somewhere deep down, we have believed it. The more important thing is that it’s not true.

Come with me for a moment.

Listen to the words of Dr. Luke as he records the echo.

  • The Father speaking to Jesus: “You are my Son, whom I love. . .” (Luke 3:22).
  • The devil speaking to Jesus: “If you are the Son of God. . .” (Luke 4:3).
  • And right there between the two, ending that list of 75 fathers and sons  (you know – the list we usually skip), this startling statement: “. . . . the son of Enosh, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.” (Luke 3:37)

Jesus, the son of God. Adam, the son of God. I think Dr. Luke is saying that Jesus’ sonship is ours too. That we, too, are loved. That all temptation, Jesus’ and ours, is aimed at making us question our belovedness.3

 

Listen to the words of the apostle Paul: “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ . . . . ” (Eph 1:4 NLT)

And the prophet Isaiah: “. . . you are precious and honored in my sight, and. . . I love you. . . “ (Isaiah 43:4)

And the apostle John: “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1 NLT)

 

And listen to the words of God himself, wearing our skin, praying our feelings, living our limited, struggling humanity: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. . . .” (John 15:9)

Stand on the road at the foot of the hill the day after He spoke those words. Look up at that rough middle stake and the One on it. He’s there because you matter. 

And he wants you to know it.

 

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1Joann Peterson cited in Gabor Mate, “When the Body Says No,” p. 274.

2There are, of course, healthy and unhealthy ways to express our anger, but that’s another question for another day. . .

3Oh, do listen to this free 30 minute talk by Ross Hastings. It’s the most helpful teaching I’ve ever heard on temptation.

How to live confidently (without being perfect)

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At first, at least, many of us fear it. But it’s so true what she says, that that same fearful vulnerability is “also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.” (Brene Brown)

Dr. James Houston, with his 90 years of experience, would agree. In his words, “friendship is based on the mutual sharing of weakness.”

It’s one thing to know the value of vulnerability, and quite another to be willingly vulnerable. There’s no substitute for just taking the plunge – again and again and again – and discovering that, though it might or might not get easier, the rewards are worth it. But here’s a little encouragement to help you dive in the first time. Or the thousandth.

You are made in God’s image. You are a unique prism, reflecting Him like no other. If you don’t let us see you, we miss out on seeing that bit of God’s beauty reflected in you. You are being crafted, written, shaped, not just for yourself but for us too.

Our story is who we are, and if we deny it, we deny not only our own selves – we deny the very Author Who’s writing this redemptive epic.” (Ann Voscamp)

A friend puts her hand on the books. “These are God’s. They’re given to you to share.” And I can’t help but think of Jesus’ statement, “The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing His work.” (John 14:10)

I hear the hesitation. I’ve felt it too. “But that’s Jesus talking about himself, not about me.” True. He was a unique channel of God’s self-revelation. He listened perfectly, obeyed perfectly. We don’t. But Jesus follows that statement with the startling words, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14:12) And it’s only a few lines later that he tells us how this is possible: “I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

Our words aren’t inspired the way Scripture is. We can get things wrong. Still, over and over through Scripture, the declaration is made: “I have put my words in your mouth.” (Is 51:16, 59: 21; Jer 1:9; cf. Ex 4:12; Matt 10:20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11-12; 21:14-15; Eph 6: 19) It’s God’s way. He puts His words in our mouth, writes His laws on our hearts, puts a Counselor within us to lead us into all truth. By some miracle of grace, He chooses to speak into us and through us. “. . . it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” (Matt 10:20)

If all those promises feel like too many words and you need one single line to tuck in your heart and carry with you into every vulnerable situation, try this one:

“I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.” (John 14:20)

Those fifteen small words (all but one three letters or less) wrap us around and fill us, defusing our two biggest reasons for hiding.

“It’s not safe to share.” No. Maybe not. You might be rejected, unappreciated (. . . though I daresay it will happen a lot less when you share your real self than when you show us your mask.) But even if it does happen, you won’t be alone. You’ll never dare to open your broken places and find yourself rejected by God. “I am in my Father and you are in me. . . .” Your life is hidden with Christ in God. There’s no safer place than tucked into Jesus who Himself is in his Father.

And those quiet fears that you don’t really have anything worth sharing? That whatever’s inside of you is, at best, ordinary, at worst, garbage?  “. . . I am in you.” When you drop the mask and let us see into the real you, you’re not just sharing your (broken yet beautiful!) self with us; you’re sharing the God of the universe made flesh for love of us. The crumbled open places of brokenness? Those are the places we glimpse little rainbowed refractions of the Light of the universe who has made His home in you.

The sculpture with its open brokenness tells the honest-to-God truth: real confidence grows not out of flawlessness or whitewash but out of leaning close and offering the daily given grace – and finding our broken selves loved.

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I’m leaving this morning to share bits of brokenness and grace with a group about to begin my Bible study. Pray for us, will you?

Though I won’t be around these next few days to respond to comments, might you consider sharing anyway? What fears keep you from letting yourself be seen? When have you experienced grace in vulnerability – either in your own, or in someone else’s daring to trust you with their heart? What helps you take the risk of showing us your real self? You might even want to risk loving your brothers and sisters today by responding to the comments they leave.

Put aside the Ranger

I’ve been like the Ranger in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I’ll bet that at some point you’ve been too. A person of character and integrity playing a key role in the drama. Playing it well. Caring, encouraging, fighting valiantly to protect others against some evil. But preferring to fight in the shadows, hood pulled up over my head. Hiding my real self.

Elrond’s words pierce me, words spoken when he handed Aragorn the sword that once had been broken and called him to take his rightful place as the king of Gondor. “Put aside the Ranger. Become who you were born to be.”

The words challenge me. Excite me. They’re good words. Freedom words. Oh, yes, I want to be who I was born to be! Sometimes. And sometimes not. Then they’re frightening words.  They feel heavy.

“God, It’s too hard! I can’t do it! I can’t!”

He sends reassurance: “God’s mercies are new every morning — not as an obligation to you, but as an affirmation of you.” (Ann Voskamp)

One of those great mercies is that he doesn’t let us stay hiding in the shadows of some seven billion other clones, each clamoring to be a little faster, stronger, better.

He loves us. Me. You. Yes, you. He likes you, too. He wants you to be who you were born to be because He planned you just the way He wanted you.

“Become who you were born to be.” Not because he wants to make things harder for you. Because he wants to set you free. Because his love has made you great and he doesn’t want you to miss out on the joy of being who you’re born to be. Because he doesn’t want the rest of his body to miss out on it either.

Why do we fear becoming ourselves? Is it because we’re afraid who we are isn’t enough? That we’ll be judged by those who want to mold us in their own image?  That’s just the point. Faster, better, busier: they’re all measured against others. I will fail if I’m trying to be who someone else was born to be. 

Or do we fear that we’ll try and fall flat? That we won’t know who we were born to be, or won’t be able to get there? That’s the other key. I will fail if I think that becoming myself means making it happen myself. I am not made to be an independent individual. I am made to be a person, joined to and filled with the Persons at the center of the universe. Joined to and part of Christ’s body.

I was born to be me. You were born to be you. And part of that you-ness is your union with Christ. Until you are united to him, you’re not the you you were born to be. And when you are united to him, then you no longer carry the weight of becoming the real you by yourself. You’re hanging onto him, and he to you, and he’s making you into the you you were born to be. He’s completing the work of creation that he began when he dreamed you. That is good news!

There’s a freedom in becoming yourself. What do you have to lose? Your life, perhaps. But it will be given back to you once you’re free to live it fully. And when you’re trying to be someone else, you stand to lose everything. Including yourself.

There is fear in hiding, and fear in stepping out. We get to choose our fear. The difference is that one leads to real joy.

We weren’t all born to be king of Gondor. But we were all born to be someone that no one else can be.

“So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body,  let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.” (Romans 12:5-6 The Message)

 

When words fail

Words fail me.

Maybe that’s the point.

Some things are spoken most truly without words. Isn’t that why there are sunsets and roses and hugs? And people who sit, silent, and hold the hand of a young mother losing her only child?

“I sat with her today, and held her hand as she cried, because there was nothing else I could do. The words ‘khudawan meraban as’ stuck in my throat, not because they aren’t true, but because just at that moment that seemed like a cruel thing to say.  ‘God is kind,’ so . . . he will take away your only child? And I had heard those words said over and over, like a mantra, by those around me – the same doctors and mothers of other children who were also telling her not to cry, there was nothing to cry about. The kindness I wanted to tell her about was the kindness of a Father who was crying with her.

Then her husband came in, followed by two other male family members. I watched as this tough [ethnic] man quietly cried as he touched his little girl, and I watched as her uncle, only young himself, maybe in his late teens, pulled back her hat and laid his hand on her head, as in a prayer, as tears rolled down his cheeks.  And inside I just felt like screaming at the injustice of it – 5 month old girls should not be yellow, should not leak[1], should not be gasping for breath. Especially not when they came into hospital with a tummy bug, that developed into pneumonia and sepsis.”

“God is kind.” It is one of those things that even God, who formed worlds with words, knew could be heard only through the single wordless Word who curled himself small and helpless and came into the mess of our real, uninsulated lives, surrounded by the pungent scent of fresh dung.

Coming as an infant (the Latin root means “not speaking”), coming, without words of condemnation, into the mess: it’s the way He speaks the truth that it’s not the ideal me that is loved. It’s the real me. It’s the messy, beautiful, fearful me who longs after Him, but not nearly enough. The me who loves and struggles and tries to do what only He can do, and then remembers and lets Him bring me close again. It’s how He comes right into the places where we feel past knowing what is the truth, and wraps us tight in arms that declare, “This is the truth.”

This is the truth. I am the Truth.” He silently cries it, submitting gladly to the dark crampedness of our inmost spaces. Surrendering to the violent pains of our birthing through his own. Opening those places wide with the bloodied speaking of the speechless Word so we can receive the truth long hidden in the spoken words and know that God is kind. That He is Love.

Five month old girls should not be yellow, should not leak, should not be gasping for breath. No. Nor should the God-man suspended between heaven and earth leak blood-sweat and strain for each breath. But to speak only words into our daily pain would have been futile. So he let himself be spoken, the Word wordless for a while, Creator in created flesh, the Strong powerless, so we could bear his coming near. He gave himself to be cuddled and cared for so he could return our baby embrace with his stronger, truer one, the embrace which had held us from the beginning but from which we, in our fear, had run. This is the truth, arms that lead us through that valley where His death and ours unite in the hope of death swallowed by love.

 

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[1] From old IV sites, because of the severity of her illness

When you need to hear gospel again

Every moment, it seems, I need it again, a reminder of the truth that He can be trusted. That Christ comes behind me, covering and healing all the places I fail. That He goes before me, guiding and protecting and calling me every moment to begin again to trust. That (hear this) grace never runs out!

 

This morning, gospel is whispered through the words of a man whose bones lie shattered in a hospital bed after a truck raced down the wrong side of the road and crushed his car. “Are you angry?” “No, I know I am being transformed, so we will see what comes!” He knows God holds him, holds those he loves, holds the future. Knows that it’s what God is doing that matters. So he forgives. And trusts.  And he does it by the power of Spirit within him, not by his own strength.

 

This afternoon, as I feel myself utterly inadequate for what I’m called to, gospel shouts to me in Paul’s words: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30) Do you hear it, the gospel truth that sets us free? In God’s upside-down kingdom, everything rests on His accomplishment, not on our achievement.

 

And, this evening, needing to hear it yet a third time, I pick up the half sheet of card stock lying with my journal since it was handed out in church two months ago, soak once more in the truth of being enfolded by love. I share it here in case you, too, are longing to crawl deep, deep into the love offered, and rest there.

 

 

“Christ behind me

Christ before me

Christ beside me

Christ beneath me

Christ above me

Christ within me

 

Christ behind me

In the past, all that has been good is in His keeping. I need no regrets, no mementos. 
I can let go of all that was good, knowing that it is precious to Him.
 (Give thanks to God for all His goodness.) 
All that was bad, hurtful, shameful, I consign into the depths of His mercy.

All the hurt which I have caused, all the hurt which others have caused me,
 I lay at the foot of His Cross. May the Lord have mercy on us all.

 

Christ before me

He is the Way stretching before me 
from where I am now, 
from this actual situation I am in,
 right home to our Father’s house.
 He is the Way: the Way prepared. 
He has gone ahead into tomorrow to make it ready.
 The future is a journey home.
 Through all the dark valleys He will guide, 
and He will provide times when my cup of happiness will overflow.
 I face the future knowing the Way.

 

Christ beside me

“I am with you always.”
 He is in this situation sharing it with me now.
 His strong shoulder is under the burden I carry.
 Every joy and every sorrow He shares with me.
 He will not fail me nor forsake me.
 Nothing can separate me from His love.

 

Christ between us

To sever and to reconcile. To shield us
 from the sin in one another.
 To bless all that is good and true. To cleanse from pride, possessiveness, 
lust. To give laughter, tears, understanding and peace.

 

Christ beneath me

Underneath are the everlasting arms, 
cherishing, upholding.
 When I fall, it is into His arms that I fall, 
and He will lift me up again.
 His strength undergirds my weakness.

 

Christ above me

As a hen gathers her chicks, 
so His love is spread over me,
 comforting me, shielding me.
 I claim His protection from all attack and oppression.
 Under the shadow of His wings I am safe,
 and in Him will I trust. 
(At evening: I will sleep in peace under the shadow of the Almighty).

 

Christ within me

I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me.
 My body is Christ’s body, 
bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh.
 By the bread broken and the wine poured out,
 I know that you, Lord, are in me and I in you.
 You will accomplish the work you have for me to do, 
and Your grace is sufficient for me.

 

Christ behind me in the past, before me in the future, beside me in the present, beneath me to support me, above me to shield me, within me filling my life. Thus enfolded, armed and led, I go forth in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”  (This meditation, written by the Reverend Ian Cowie of the Christian Fellowship of Healing, Scotland, is based on St. Patrick’s Breastplate.)