I've been thinking a lot lately about Exposure.
I protect my children from being exposed to certain things. I try to protect myself from being exposed to too much as well, if I'm honest. This isn't something we tend to readily admit. But I'm kind of in this place of processing out loud, of being very honest with myself about who I am and how I live, and my friend Kacey has a beautiful, brave heart that makes you want to be brave and bold, too.
So here we are.
I hide. I run from things I don't feel like I can affect or help with or contribute positively to in any way. I shut myself off and self-protect because sometimes it hurts so much. I feel like I cannot bear to witness suffering without dying a little inside myself. That feeling is pretty uncomfortable, to put it mildly. And when that is coupled with the feeling or belief that you're paralyzed to do anything about a given situation?
I loved the way Kacey admitted that she uses numbing mechanisms. Girlfriend, so do I. Some of them, I wasn't even aware of. Some of them I've been fighting for years. Some of them are obvious and common to many of you, or common among women or mothers or Americans, etc.
But some of them are surprising.
Here are the ones that God has unexpectedly shown me:
- I run my kids to the doctor when I doubt myself, which is altogether too often.
- I use 'schedule/time management' as a reason I don't get more involved in ministry opportunities.
- I try to create this hedge of protection around myself and my family by always having 'enough' on hand. Our pantry, linen closet, and clothing closets are proof that this is an issue for me.
- I give things, gifts, money when my heart longs to show love or care. It's so easy to just give STUFF. But it actually keeps me from having to give sacrificially. This one hit me right between the eyes, because I always saw myself as having a generous heart. And while I do think this is a mostly good characteristic that God did create me with, it's become a handicap for truly loving others well, creatively, or in a life-giving way. It keeps my gaze on the tangible and material, which is not good.
- I back away from situations when they hit too close to home, or when they start to cost me something I wasn't prepared to give. I call it protection, or sometimes (falsely) wisdom. It's faithlessness, most of the time.
- When I want to tune out any stress or heartache I feel, I tend to turn towards the beloved pastry. I put something sweet in my mouth, something warm and soft on my body, and I tend to sleep more. Want to know how Kacey is doing? Look at her cuticles (so she says). Want to know how I'm doing? Look at my countertops. In the last 3 weeks we have amassed cookies, donuts, and flavored breads in such quantity that it's shameful and impossible to ignore. I'm trying to cope with deep spiritual issues by consuming (or self-comforting with) sugar and flour.
None of these things is inherently wrong. Some of these things are actually good, for the most part, in moderation or at the right time (I suppose you could argue against the pastries, but I wouldn't advise it. I AM pregnant, you know.) Here's what I'm learning - when I do these things repeatedly? When I am always doing them, buying them, engaging with them - at times when I am hurting or at a loss... they become numbing mechanisms. Especially when they are the first things that I turn to. They are dangerously close to becoming idols, and when they take the place of God in my life? Or when they're my first stop when I need help, comfort, hope, guidance, or reassurance? They've been elevated to a dangerous level in my life.
Today I was forced to come face to face with the possible damage of something that we all protect, and rightly so. I have spent a lot of time trying to preserve and protect this 'something', and it was threatened today. It is currently being threatened.
I have felt ALL THE FEELINGS.
Fear. Anger. Confusion. Guilt. A sense of responsibility. Doubt. Urgency. Instinct to protect. A desire to recoil.
I gathered myself, and started to process things as objectively and unemotionally as I could.
What did I know to be true? What did I need to do as an immediate next step? What information do I need? Where can I get it? What can I control? What can I not control? Whose guidance do I need to seek? What decisions need to be made, and when?
Friends. God is so faithful. I will say this every day that I live, a thousand times if you'll let me. He is good and He is true. He is ever-present and all-knowing. He loves us so much more than we can even comprehend.
He has walked with me, leading me with tenderness and love. Into spaces that are unfamiliar, disturbingly so at times. I have never felt an absence of His presence. I reminded myself of this over and over today. He is with me. He sees all of this. He is never surprised. He has led me here for a reason. This is no accident or oversight.
As I thought more about what my response should be, what I WANT it to be, I realized that I needed to be careful to set my mind on things above. To consider what Jesus' response was in similar situations, what His response might look like today if He were me. What would he value? What would he fight for? What would he do and say, how would he lead this family through something unexpected? How would he show the love of the Father in all ways, every time?
I thought about the way that Jesus never ran or hid. He came to look right into the face of pain, suffering, poverty, abandonment, brokenness, sickness, death, and sin. He never shrank back from it. He never put on gloves. He was never content to just scrape the surface.
You guys. He dove into the mess. He touched lepers. He walked into rooms and tombs where the dead lay and brought them back to life. He commanded demons out of sons. He ate with outcasts. He defended vulnerable women. He pulled children onto his lap. He washed dirty feet. He stayed in the homes of others.
I am so broken over the thought that I have often made choices so contrary to Jesus' choices, never realizing it. I prefer to stay in places that are clean and sanitary. Since we're being honest, I also prefer an aesthetically pleasing environment. I like it when people smell good, when they bathe regularly before I am in close quarters with them. I'm all for giving to causes but rarely do I build relationships with the people who are suffering or struggling. I keep my distance in so many ways. I hate to say it but I dread funerals. The stench of death and the idea of coming face to face with mortality and loss - it overwhelms me sometimes, makes my heart pound just to think about it. I don't wash many feet, and if/when I do, I am certainly not running towards the ones who threaten to betray me. No, I am content to wash feet that are already clean.
Loving and serving others, in Jesus' name... it's not natural. Not if we're going to do it the way He asks us to. Today I find myself faced with a choice that's complicated on one hand, but also very simple on the other. Will I continue to follow Him where He leads me? Will I continue to love in His name? When it's hard, messy, scary, and totally countercultural? Who will I listen to - those around me who might encourage me to 'be careful' with good intentions, implying that I ought to back away? Or will I listen to Jesus, who asks me to consider His ways, His example, and love the way He loved and still loves? Will I continue to dive in, or will I self-protect?
The rub is this: Jesus' love cost him everything. Social status, friends, followers, and favor. Relaxing days, a carefree attitude, ignorance... none of these were afforded to Him with the path God had laid out for him on earth. His ministry, the purpose of his life, it landed him nailed to a cross, blood pouring out. And that was the plan all along.
Why do we think we can love without it costing us something? Why do I assume that I'm the exception to the rule - that I can love someone else well, in the name of Jesus, and not have it be costly or painful?
Here I am again, examining my stingy little heart. Happy to have it busted apart, yet again, as I learn what it means to really love. To really care for those Jesus asked us to care for. To give in ways that I didn't realize I could - beyond means and resources and stuff. To start giving of myself in ways that are meaningful.
It might be obvious, but you can't really give of yourself without being broken apart and having something worth offering, an actual piece of yourself to hand over. When I run from the breaking process, I have very little to offer that is worth giving. And whatever I do give at that point? It has very little to do with me, and very little Jesus in it.
On the other hand, when I splay my life out before The King, and say "it was all yours to begin with, every piece, and it's all still yours today"... when I stop pretending that I have control over any of it, that I can actually protect it in meaningful ways, for good reason... then I am able to take a real, honest step of faith. I can lay my Isaac on the altar (whatever that might be, whether it's dreams for my future, my children, our happiness, our health, our routines and schedule, our relationships, our purpose or our ministry). I can lay it before Him in trust, knowing that He is a good God and He will provide for us in all ways that He sees as best. He will bring Himself the most glory every time, and He will make me more like Himself in the process. Every time.
If that includes being pressed? It's ok. If that means loss? I am desperate to grasp that and say it's ok. If that means the death of something I was trying so hard to breathe life into? Well then God help me, I will step back and let Him have whatever I cling so desperately to, knowing it's futile to fight God's plan.
I will admit that I have no idea how to do this. How do you gather up your courage enough to say "I'm ok with things not turning out the way I had hoped. I am ok with being brokenhearted."?? I do know one thing - I don't have it in me, by myself. I need God to do this work in my heart.
I realize that He is at work every day, trying to help me learn these lessons incrementally. When a lesson feels particularly harsh or abrupt, often it's because I've been lazy or ignoring His nudges. I've been undisciplined to study what He says in His Word, and I haven't been growing the way I should. At the same time, when a lesson feels harsh, I am learning to turn the sting of correction into thanksgiving. Thank you, Lord, for not leaving me in the place that I was. Thank you for loving me enough to change me to be more like you, by your power and strength. No thanks to me, but all glory to You.
The more I am able to see life the way God sees it, the less I hold on so tightly to my idea of how things should be. By God's grace, day by day I am learning to release my grasp of things I never really had control over to begin with. If and when those things are taken from me? I hope I am able to still praise God - because that is my desire. To be so totally caught up in Him, so fully trusting and following Him wherever He leads, that the consequences are worth it. Or not worth comparing to what He has given to me in exchange, and what He has promised to me for eternity.