Tag Archives: depression

Rubble

Sunday (or Monday) Refreshment – Restorer of the Rubble (Ezekiel 36:33-36)

Thus says the LORD God, “On the day that I cleanse you from all your iniquities, I will cause the cities to be inhabited, and the waste places will be rebuilt.
“The desolate land will be cultivated instead of being a desolation in the sight of everyone who passes by.
“They will say, ‘This desolate land has become like the garden of Eden; and the waste, desolate and ruined cities are fortified and inhabited.’
“Then the nations that are left round about you will know that I, the LORD, have rebuilt the ruined places and planted that which was desolate; I, the LORD, have spoken and will do it.” [Ezekiel 36:33-36]

When Ezekiel wrote this book of prophecy, the Babylonian empire destroyed the country of Israel. They defeated Jerusalem and left the temple and the city in destruction. Over 100,000 Israelites were taken captive and exiled to a foreign land.

This is the desolation Ezekiel speaks of. Deserted cities. Ravaged lands. Untilled fields. Rubble and refuse where buildings once stood.

Do you feel in a place of desolation?

Empty. Uninhabited by joy. Rubble fills your heart.

Ezekiel himself was to be a priest in the temple. Yet when Jerusalem was destroyed, so was his dream of the priesthood. The temple didn’t stand. Everything was broken, useless. Yet the Lord gave Ezekiel a role even in exile. A purpose even in places of exile and desolation. The Lord raised Ezekiel up as a prophet, and gave him words of correction and comfort for the house of Israel.

God promised Ezekiel that someday, Jerusalem would be rebuilt. Someday, Israel would be inhabited again. Green fields would spring up again. Children would play in the streets. Houses would be rebuilt. In fact, people would exclaim that the land was like the Garden of Eden.

And it happened, just as He said. Years late, Jerusalem was rebuilt out of the rubble of the exiles. Even now, the land of Israel is beautiful and fertile, especially in the springtime–like the Garden of Eden.

God will rebuild you. He will use you even in your desolation, even in your time of dryness and wandering. When you feel ready to despair, He will hold you up. God will bring you back to the deserted places. He will take the rubble of your life and build it up brick by brick into a temple that is holy. God will till the dead soil and make it alive again. You will be like the Garden of Eden, touching all with the vibrant wealth of wisdom and love the trials of life have given you.

Don’t be ashamed of where you are. Don’t give up hope in your brokenness. When you feel like a wasteland, cling to God. When you feel like a deserted city, trust in Him. He can use you where you are. And He will repair all that is broken.

Because the Lord is a Restorer of the Rubble. He is a Repairer of the City. He is a Tiller of the Garden.

You will be desolate no longer.

 (This photo actually taken in Israel on Mt. Carmel by…me)

JourneyTowardsJustice

Journey Towards Justice Series – Part I: Burden of Justice

Have you ever been burdened by something?

I mean really burdened. Burdened to the point that you feel a heaviness inside that can’t truly lift. A fear so deep it keeps you paralyzed from action.

Have you ever seen something so atrocious, or heard a story so dark, that it left you with a sour taste for hours afterward? The injustice of it made you sick.

Have you ever questioned God about what He actually is doing in this messed up world? I mean, where is God in such a world of darkness and injustice?

For the next few posts, I’ll be discussing a series about justice entitled Journey Towards Justice: I’ll be talking about the burden of justice, the God of justice, and Christians of justice.

Part I: Burden of Justice

I can’t even remember when I heard about human trafficking for the first time. It was sometime during high school. Or maybe earlier. Was it in a magazine? Or on TV? I can’t remember. Yet hear of it I did, somewhere, somehow.  All I know is that the older I got in high school, the more burdened I became about the state of the world.

I mean, if you really think about the world—wow, it’s dark. Rapes and murders and enslavement and beatings and torture. War and devastation. It’s pretty horrible. And these things are happening to people. People like me who don’t deserve that kind of pain.

Sometimes in high school, I’d lie awake at night and think about the darkness. I’d think about the countless woman forced to sleep with countless men while I slept in my cozy little bed. I began to think of the hunger and starvation in the world while I ate three bountiful meals a day.

Why me? I’d ask. Why was I born in America when so many aren’t? Why do I have a rather secure life when I could’ve been born into an abusive or impoverished reality? Why do I get to have so much when so many have so little?

It’s truly unjust, this world we live in.

Sex trafficking hit me more than anything.  I felt sick inside every time I thought of it. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wasn’t one of those people in high school that could stop thinking about things. I thought about the world all the time, and it killed me inside sometimes. My heart actually hurt when I thought of everything going on. Needless to say, I struggled a lot with depression and despair. 

Why, God? Why do You allow things like this? If you are a good God, why is there so much pain and darkness? Where are You when people are murdered and raped? How can I trust You when things like this happen?

These questions followed me all through high school and into college. I attended a Bible school. Every year, we had missions conference where people came and spoke about all the needs in the world and informed us about missions. Every year, I came away overwhelmed by the magnitude of the pain in the world. Every country had needs, had horrible things going on. The issue of human trafficking was on the rise. Little girls were used for sexual slaves. It made me sick.

God, what am I supposed to do? There’s nothing I can do in the face of such evil. I’m overwhelmed and afraid. I feel so powerless. 

***

Social justice issues can be very overwhelming because they seem so….big. Sex trafficking seems like such a dark, huge thing that often, we want to shut down and not think about it. When you really think about it, it’s devastatingly tragic.

I used to shut down. I’d be so burdened about the state of the world, I’d sit down on the ground and feel this weight on my chest. I remember asking God again and again, “Why do You allow this? Don’t You see? Don’t You care?” The weight I felt was crushing. In every sense of the word, I felt hopeless in the midst of such great evil. This hopelessness crippled me.

My junior year Bible college’s missions conference, I felt more burdened than I ever had before—about life, about injustice, and especially about human trafficking. Yet I felt so powerless. I felt so afraid. There was nothing I could do, there was no way I could stop such evil. So I had to sit in despair. I remember getting alone after the week was over and just sitting there feeling tired, depressed, and overwhelmed.

There is so much pain in the world, God. What am I supposed to do about it?

Yet that junior year, as I sat alone with God trying to process the overwhelming evil of the world and what part I could possibly play, He gave me Psalm 55. In this Psalm, David talks about the anguish he feels as he sees the wicked. He wants to fly away, to leave and never return because of the wickedness around him.

…For I have seen violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around upon her walls,
And iniquity and mischief are in her midst.
Destruction is in her midst;
Oppression and deceit do not depart from her streets. [Psalm 55:9-11)

David cries out over violence, strife, and destruction. He sees injustice all around—in the city and in his own personal life.  He is burdened to the point of anguish. He trembles in fear, he groans in horror. He has a heavy weight on his chest that he can’t seem to shake.

Yet what does he do then?

As for me, I shall call upon God,
And the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur,
And He will hear my voice.
He will redeem my soul in peace from the battle which is against me,
For they are many who strive with me. [Psalm 55:16-18]

 Notice the verbs David uses: call, complain, and murmur. Weird, huh? Not at all. David concludes in this Psalm that when he sees injustice, he will call out to the Lord. He will complain and murmur. In other words, he will pray, pray, pray without ceasing as he looks out on the world’s darkness. He will not be silent. He will point his finger at the darkness and pour out his burden to the Lord. He will talk to God about it, he will wrestle with Gd over it. He will not forget.

When God gave me that Psalm, He spoke very directly to my heart. I saw the oppression, the injustice all around me. I was indeed in aguish—so much so that I had this burden in me that made my chest literally feel heavy within. And God said, “You must pray, you must cry out. You can’t be silent. You’ve got to wrestle with Me over this. You’ve got to face this darkness and this burden.”

This seemed so trite to me at the time. All You want is for me to pray? Wasn’t I supposed to do anything yet?

“Not yet,” God said. “Not yet.”

* * *

So for months and months, I prayed. I got up every morning, and I prayed about human trafficking and injustice and my friends and my family. I sat at Jesus’ feet. I went through the fires of refinement my senior year at college. I broke—my heart and my life broke in profound ways.

But all the way through it, I prayed. I called out to the Lord. I asked Him to change me, to heal me, to rebuild me. I asked Him to right wrongs and bring justice. I learned to know Him, to hear His voice on deeper levels than I had before.

And I believed in His great and mighty name—I believed that He cared about me and about every person on this earth more than I could ever have even imagined.

In short, my heart became transformed from the inside out. It was then that I began to realize that God is indeed a God of justice. And I began to see justice in a whole new light.

To Be Continued in Part II, “The God of Justice”

TB-From-God

What Emotions Are Forbidden to Christians?

Hello All,

This week, Thrive80 (an imprint of Moody Publishers that challenges the millennial generation) is hosting a blog series about Christians and Forbidden Emotions. What emotions seem forbidden to most Christians? This is to help promote their newly published book The Anxious Christian, by Rhett Smith.

I was privileged to write two posts on the topic of Christians and Forbidden Emotions.They go hand in hand. You can find them here…

What I Learned From (Most) Christians About Negative Emotions

What I Learned From God About Negative Emotions

Please check these articles and all the articles that will be running this week. Check out The Anxious Christian, too! This is a really important topic for Christians to deal with in an open, healthy manner.

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Unclean: The Shame of Brokenness

shoeprintWe live in a polished world of successful, driven people. We are conquerors, climbing the corporate ladders, slaying the dragons that confront us. We are bold, strong, good-looking. We can strut our stuff and preen with the best.

But underneath…depression rages. Suicide and divorce rates go up. Addiction, eating disorders, and self-hatred all seem to be rampant among teenagers. Even amongst Christianity, people are deeply hurting and messed up. People don’t even know each other anymore. We all feel so alone. When we stop pretending, what are we, really?

Broken…and ashamed of it.

***

After my senior year in high school, after my first big hurt from a guy, depression consumed me. I cried at least once a week in my closet. I felt so alone. It was like my heart was made of glass that had shattered into a million pieces. All over the floor the pieces lay, and I had no idea how to put it all back together again. I struggled with depression, I dabbled in anorexia.  I was tired and sick, confused and sad. Where had the happy Christian days gone when nothing was wrong? And where was the joy Christians were supposed to have in this inexhaustible, boundless supply?

This broken feeling lead to much shame. Most of the time, I thought things like, How could God use someone like me? I am dirty. I am messed up. If anyone knew the secrets I carried, if anyone knew the shattered state of my heart…they’d leave.

And the enemy used this concept mightily in my life. Of course you’re broken, he whispers. And God can’t love you. No one can love you. You will never heal. You are messed up.

During this time in my life, I most often pictured myself as this little girl crouched in a corner crying. In this mental image, I was in dirty rags. I was in a dark room and I was alone. That was who I saw myself to be. Messed up. Broken. Alone.

***

This feeling of brokenness persisted when I went to Bible college. Although I was honest with some of my issues to people, I still couldn’t communicate to others the extent of the woundedness inside. So I hid. Especially from guy relationships. Because I felt so broken mainly because of a guy, I hid from guys. I masqueraded confidence, but inside I felt small and weak and utterly vulnerable.

After two years of brokenness inside, I dated a guy my sophomore year. During this relationship, more of my own issues came up. I was so scared that I couldn’t be happy. I couldn’t love. I just felt shame and fear and brokenness. Although I did try to trust him and to open up to him, in the end I couldn’t. But he wasn’t a good guy who was willing to help me along in the healing process. He dumped me. And this seemed to confirm all my brokenness. See? the enemy whispered. You’re broken. And you always will be. No one will ever stay.

My depression was at an all time low during my sophomore year. I felt passively suicidal. I never would’ve killed myself, but I wanted to get sick and die. To never wake up. Or get in a car accident. I was so tired of fighting this darkness that seemed to consume me. And still no one really knew what was going on, because I was so ashamed of my brokenness.

Finally, a father-figure at school told me he was worried about me. “You’re sad, you’re losing weight,” he said. “You should go to counseling. Just promise me you’ll go once,” he said. So I promised.

As I hit rock bottom, I began to go to counseling. I began to sort through all the pain and depression and confusion I had lived with ever since my senior year in high school. I met with a counselor every week and talked. I talked and talked in a safe place. And slowly, I began to make connections, to understand why I felt the way I felt, the deep wounds inside me, the unhealthy patterns in my life.

I also began to pray. I met with a small group of committed people who desired to lift each other up in prayer. I began to pour out my woes and struggles to God in more and more honest ways. And God began to show me the Truth.

***

In Bible times, one of the worst sicknesses one could get was leprosy. Lepers were highly contagious, and no one could touch them or be too near them for fear of being contaminated. Leprosy caused your skin to become white, and limbs to become limp—even fall off. When a person had leprosy, that person had to walk and call out, “Unclean! Unclean!” at the top of his or her voice to warn people to get out of the way.

I felt like a leper most of my time at Bible college. I felt like that most of the time around guys. My heart was damaged. I was broken. I was this messed up little girl who just wanted to shout out, “Unclean! Stay away from me. I’m not worthy of love or acceptance, because I am broken and sick. Unclean!” So I pushed people away, and I ran from relationships. All because of shame.

I treated God like this, too. You can’t really love me. I am unclean. You will leave me. Eventually, you will get so frustrated that You will abandon me. So I tried to run from Him. I couldn’t ever really trust Him.

***

But God doesn’t let us run from Him. He doesn’t leave us in this state. He will do whatever it takes to get us to face our brokenness and heal.

When Jesus walked the earth, he wasn’t afraid of any kind of brokenness. He talked with prostitutes and taxcollectors, with liars and thieves. He healed the lame, the blind—and yes, lepers. In Mark 1:40-42, a leper comes to him and says, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” And it says in Scripture that Jesus reached out and touched him, saying, “I am willing, be cleansed.”

Jesus touched the leper. He came close enough to touch a broken, dirty person that all of society shunned. He didn’t run. He walked straight up to the wretched, sickness-ridden man and was filled with compassion. His love covers all our ugliness of our past.

Like the leper, I cried out to God, “I am broken. If you are willing, you can make me clean!” again and again through the last few years of counseling and prayer. In fact, ever since I began to take the steps to heal by acknowledging how desperately I needed it, Jesus has never left me. He stepped into that counseling office with me, and he began sorting through the jumbled pieces of my heart with me. Patiently, over a two year period, he began to rebuild my heart. He gave me answers, He gave me Truth, He gave me grace, and He gave me love.

Gradually, I learned that I don’t need to be ashamed of my brokenness. Jesus can draw near to me, and I can draw near to Him. I can lay the pieces at His feet. I can know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves me and will never leave me—even when I cry, or when I am angry and grieving. Even when I mess up and sin all over again.

***

Do you feel like a leper? Do you feel broken and unclean, scared to interact with God and with people because you’re afraid of what will happen? A lot of people in our society feel broken. Whether it was because of a bad relationship, sexual assault, addiction, deep sin, etc…Many of us feel as if we have been tampered with to the core of who we are. That something is irreparably damaged.

When someone is broken, the natural reaction is to pretend you aren’t. To try as hard as possible to not be broken by sheer willpower. I remember thinking that because I was a Christian, I should be able to handle this brokenness I felt. I should be able to overcome depression and to walk victoriously all by myself. Yet I couldn’t.  Not on my own.

Don’t stay in that place of desperation. Find help. Begin to sort out your life, Don’t be afraid of confronting the pain, the sin, that haunts your background. Jesus isn’t afraid. He is beckoning you onward to a new life of learning to rebuild a heart piece by piece. He isn’t afraid of whatever state you are in.

There is healing. There is hope. It’s a long battle, but you don’t have to be broken and ashamed forever. Christ beckons with a wide embrace. Come to Him, all who are weary from the great woundedness of the soul. He will give you rest.

I still remember the first time I didn’t picture myself as a girl crouched in a corner anymore. It was at a Christian conference, and I was worshiping. And suddenly, I pictured myself walking into the throne room of God. Jesus held my hand, pulling a frightened and ashamed me forward. Yet I wasn’t alone. Jesus was there. And I wasn’t in a corner. I was at the feet of God.

heartinsand

Heartbroken: Identity in Messed Up Relationships

heartinsand

And they lived happily ever after.

 If you were like me, your childhood was filled with stories that ended with this happy refrain. Whether you watched lots of Disney movies or read fairy tales, and epitome of happiness seemed to be…in a relationship. In falling in love with that special guy or girl, depending on your gender.

Oftentimes, though…once you grow up, thing seem to get messier. We begin to find that friendships and relationships with the opposite sex are complicated, confusing. With the passion of youth, and the lies of the media, ringing in our ears, we put our identity, our worth, in him or her. Because by doing so, life truly can be an Ever After.

But what is love? And what if you love someone who doesn’t love you? And where does God fit into all of this? These are the questions I will wrestle with in this post.

Note: This story I am about to tell you has defined so much of who I am today. I’ve struggled with how much I should divulge, and have tried to keep it as short as possible. Yet this might be one of the longer posts you read.

***

            My junior year was a year of relatively peaceful “spiritual weather” in which God spoke gently. My friends and I did Bible studies, reading books like 1 John and Philemon. I remember these books talked a lot about loving one another. Feeling tired of such messages, I began to get exasperated. “I know how to love,” I thought with annoyance. “Love is not that difficult.” Most things God said in His word were easy, I believed. Why didn’t Christians just follow Him? Hardships would probably be a lot easier to handle, people wouldn’t be depressed or in pain, families and friends would show each other love and forgiveness.

Then I met *Peter. It was senior year in high school. There was a senior meeting at my house. Another friend said she was bringing a boy named Peter who she wanted to set me up with. So on the day of our meeting, I opened the door to let him in—and there he was. Dark hair that was just a bit tousled, light grey eyes, a slow but friendly smile.

I knew. I knew I would like him, and I felt a small voice inside me say that day, “This is going to be very hard.”

We began talking a lot and hanging out, and before I knew it I had given my heart away completely.  He was funny, we could talk easily, he was kind, we had fun together. He read his Bible and went to church. He was perfect. Not to mention cute. There was hope that he liked me, I believed. He definitely didn’t mind hanging out with me, and I could tell he enjoyed himself. Yet at the very end of November, a good friend had these words to say: “Teryn, I just thought I should let you know that Peter doesn’t like you in that way. He said there just wasn’t any chemistry.”

There wasn’t any chemistry? I felt sick inside, but I laughed it off. It was no big deal, I assured her. I hadn’t liked him that much. But I went into the bathroom that night, turned on the faucet in the sink, and cried—the rushing water of the sink drowning out the quiet trickling of confused sobs. These were the first of many, many tears shed.

I couldn’t show Peter how I felt, though. So I washed my face, took a deep breath, and practiced my cheerful smile. I decided I’d be his friend and that I’d be okay with it.

* **

So we were friends, and he trusted me with many things he didn’t trust with anyone else. The closer we got as friends, the more I began to realize how much hurt he had—a lot of deep issues, a lot if self-hatred. He didn’t understand God’s love or forgiveness. It broke my heart, because I wanted to help him.

Yet I cared for him much more deeply than he did for me, and the closer we got the worse it felt. “You are the only one I can trust with this stuff,” he’d say.  Why didn’t he like me then? I was trying so hard to be a good friend, and he didn’t notice me. There wasn’t any chemistry, he said. Why not? What was wrong with me?

Finally, the inward feelings of pain and confusion I was trying so hard to hide from everyone began to surface in external ways. In early December, I toppled headlong into the first true depression I’d ever experienced. One particular night, I felt swallowed in a sea of darkness, utterly alone and lost, with only self-deprecating thoughts to keep me company.

“What’s wrong with you?” I asked myself again and again. “Why doesn’t he like you?”  I remember getting up at 1:00am and reading Psalms to take my mind off things. Where was God in all of this? I cried and cried that night. And from then on, tears were always close to the surface.

Depression was followed quickly by illness. I lost twenty pounds in three weeks, and I had pain that ran up and down the left side of my body. My mother and I went to countless doctors trying to figure out what was wrong, but no one could figure out anything. During the spring of my senior year, my life consisted of mental haziness and physical pain, of sterile-smelling rooms and doctors who shook their heads in bewilderment. A strange, lingering sickness that would not be resolved for another 5 years.

I’ve already mentioned that during this time of illness and depression, I began to dabble in anorexia. Partly because I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me and why Peter didn’t like me. Partly because I desperately needed to control something in my life. Partly because I felt as if I’d failed God because of the darkness I found myself in, and I needed to be punished.

* * *

            Unrequited love is a strange and painful thing. And I did love him. It took me months to wrap my mind around the feelings that were so confusing to me. These feelings were not, “I like him. I want to date him. I want to go to movies with him and have dinner with him.” It was more than that—it was a deep and acute longing to support and be there for him. Nothing else mattered but to care for him, to help him, to cherish him. I wanted to show him God’s love because he didn’t understand it.

However, my love was far from pure. In early March of my senior year, God showed me how much I’d loved Peter in a selfish way. Having never thought of God’s glory, I’d wanted him to see me as the girl who’d saved his life. I’d replaced God with Peter, and nothing but darkness could be the outcome. I had to love God more than Peter. I had to learn what Real Love really was.

No matter what I thought I had known my junior year in high school, I didn’t know anything about how to walk the life of a Christian. Life was extremely difficult without leaning on Him. I couldn’t guard my heart, or love, or forgive without Him. I couldn’t be faithful to Him without His help. I realized I would be a selfish, prideful girl with horrible ulterior motives in all my relationships if God didn’t refine my stubborn heart. Aghast at myself, I repented and begged God to help me learn how to truly love.

* * *

            Yet the journey was far from over.

The summer after senior year, I had decided to take a year off between high school and college, hoping to go to college the following fall. Peter was still around, and we were “just friends.” However, that summer he began to fall away from God. I watched as he began pushing friends away, not returning phone calls, being rude and aloof. Angry with him, I wanted to abandon him and let him figure out life on his own.

“No,” God told me gently. “Stand by him. Love him.”  Those two simple requests—stand by him and love him—were to shape the next twelve months of my life. As I struggled to obey God in these simple requests for a friend, I realized anew how selfish I was. You see, I interpreted the command to love him as a sign that it was romantic love. That I should love him, and that he would love me back. But God didn’t say that. He meant agape love—selfless love that thought of nothing in return. So throughout this entire year, I was struggling with what I wanted and what God was really saying.

Peter didn’t make it easy to learn to love. One time, he didn’t return my calls for three weeks. This frightened me because I had legitimate reasons to be concerned about him. Yet he didn’t ignore other people. I knew for a fact that he’d called other friends and had them hang out. Why was it just me he treated with special disdain? Finally, he answered the phone. “I just didn’t feel like it,” was all he said to justify his actions.  He began to lie to me about everything, making false promises about phone calls and hang outs. I was so angry with him, I told God I wasn’t going to love him or be his friend anymore.

“Would you love him if you knew he’d never love you back equally?” God asked me one morning in my devotions. Struggling for many minutes, I finally prayed, “No. I can’t. Not on my own strength. But if You want me to love, then take over from here. I cannot love him on my own.” Peter would never love me romantically. I wanted him to, but there would never be anything between us. Yet I still had to love him with agape love, and not cave into bitterness and anger about everything that had happened between us.

It was from that moment on that the refining fires of God’s love began overtaking my cold human heart. These fires were intense and painful as I learned to serve Peter with no thought of love in return. I called him and wrote him encouraging emails. He never responded. I prayed for him every day. And he didn’t care. In fact, he never acknowledged any of these acts of friendship. There were many times I sobbed from the pit of my stomach because I felt so much pain, and I didn’t understand why God would put me through this. Yet I had to learn to lean on God’s love, His agape love that loved the entire world who rejected Him. To a very remote degree, I began to understand God’s heart for the world, and God’s heart for Peter.

Because Real Love loves no matter what. Real Love is the kind of love that is there for people. Real love sees a person’s pain and prays for them, listens to them, interacts on deep levels with them. And even when that person may lash out or reject you, Real Love never succumbs to bitterness or unforgiveness. It still loves. Real Love doesn’t seek its own interests, but that of others. Real Love is God’s Love for us at the cross, when Christ emptied Himself to the point of death—even for us, horrible sinners who spat in His face.

***

            Finally, one day before summer, I met with him in Starbucks. I felt God wanted me to speak to him about His love. I sat there holding my Bible nervously. “Peter,” I said, “God loves you. You don’t have to do anything to make Him love you. You don’t have to do anything to make Him forgive you.”

He just stared at me with tears in his eyes. “Teryn, you’ve always been there for me, and I don’t know what I would’ve done without you,” he said quietly. “I don’t think I would’ve survived this last year without you. So thank you.”

Peter walked away from me that day with a huge smile on his face. Yet I only saw him two times that summer. One time I drove to his house to give him a book by Philip Yancey I was reading that I thought would really encourage him. To my knowledge, he never read it. Another time I gave him a picture I’d drawn. The act of drawing this picture was my way of visibly forgiving him for all the pain he’d caused me.

Yet ultimately none of it mattered. Peter went his own way, he fell away from God. He began to lie to me more and more frequently, and the false promises continued. That summer, I found out he was dating someone. He had tried to keep it a secret from me, but a friend told me about it. Again, this wound opened up in my heart as I realized that the person I loved did not love me and never would.

In August, right before I went off to Chicago for college, I threw a going away party. I invited everyone weeks in advance because it was so important to me that people come. But Peter didn’t come. He actually scheduled work the night of the party. I remember crying very deeply and brokenly as I realized he had walked out of my life. The tears were not because I was angry; I was overwhelmed with the amount of pain someone could inflict and yet the amount of love I still felt in my heart for this boy.

In reality, I still loved him. I still wanted him to love me. I was hurting very deeply, yet loving very deeply, and I didn’t understand why God had decided love could be so painful. Why had God said, “No” to a relationship? Why had He taught me love, only to take away the one I loved?

Over and over, I sang a Sara Groves song in broken whispers: All I have need of His hand will provide. He’s always been faithful to me.

            Peter did not ever say goodbye.

* **

It is painful to look back on that time in my life, because there are still so many confusing elements. Yes, God humbled me through this experience. My self-righteousness and self sufficiency was shattered as I realized just how hard Real Love truly was. God broke into my heart during this time. My relationship became real and raw with Him. I began to see into His heart—to see the way the world rejected Him as Peter rejected me. Yet He was a God with a never-ending love that could not be quenched, who called His followers to share that kind of love with the world.

However, as the years have passed—I have processed this period much more. Looking back with a maturity in Christ I lacked as a senior in high school, I can see that I put my identity in Peter. If he didn’t like me, if he wasn’t there, then my whole world was shattered. He could treat me how he liked—manipulate me, lie to me, ignore me. I didn’t care. He was an idol, and I justified many of his passively-abusive actions towards me without acknowledging the wounds he was causing me.

You see, because of this friendship, I have struggled with abusive tendencies ever sense. He treated me like I was nothing most of the time—just someone to dump his garbage on when the time was right. He did not care whatsoever about my pains, my struggles. He liked almost every one of my girl friends except me—even when he knew I cared for him deeply. It was a one-way friendship where he took, took, took.

By the time I left for college, I was completely drained of self-worth. I didn’t know where I ended and Peter began—which were his problems or my problems, his pains or my own pains. His issues rubbed off on me in deep, complicated ways.

His treatment of me was also damaging. I began to believe somehow that I deserved to be treated in such a fashion. I believed I was simply a tool to be used for the gain of others. And I believed I should be punished, ignored, or manipulated when I wasn’t perfect—by others and by myself. My own emotions couldn’t be shared, because that is not what a relationship is supposed to be. A relationship is about the guy, who simply takes.

These are the lies I had to fight all four years of my college career. I only dated once during that time, and I attracted someone vaguely similar to Peter simply because that is what I expect. This relationship only confirmed what I felt about guys and myself. It is a terrible truth that once a woman is treated in a self-deprecating way, it is very hard for her to ever value herself as she should again. Many do not understand this unless they’ve gone through a damaging friendship or relationship.

To my knowledge, Peter never came back to God. When Peter began to slowly leave my life, I struggled with intense anger with God. Why are You taking him away? I’d ask. Why don’t You let everything end happily, like it’s supposed to? What was the point of all this pain unless something good actually happens? What is the point of Love if people still walk away from it? This are questions I still struggle with to this day.

            Something a professor said to me my senior year in college is true: This professor spoke of “vicarious suffering.” Vicarious suffering is when you walk alongside someone bearing a great pain, and you ache for them. You help them bear their pain. Just as Christ suffered on our behalf, carrying the burden of our sins on His back. “If you avoid suffering, you sometimes avoid helping people,” this professor said. Sometime, we don’t get anything for helping others. Sometimes, we get a stab in the heart. Pain. Yet is it worth it to show love? Christ did.I suffered to help Peter. I truly loved him, and I tried to help him. And I did help him through a very difficult year. Love is sometimes pain. But Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13).

Yet God took him away because my story with him ended. God took him away because He knew that my friendship with him was damaging me in ways I couldn’t see at the time. Even if I was supposed to love him with agape love, I was not supposed to be in a romantic relationship with him. If I had had my identity in Christ at the time, I could’ve been a friend to him, yet still retained my own sense of worth in God’s eyes. If I had truly submitted to God’s commands to agape love, I wouldn’t have longed for him to love me romantically. That never should’ve happened, and God protected me from the dangerous thing I craved at the time. God always knows what’s best for us, even when it seems as if He is so cruel sometimes.

* * *

        A year at college passed. My story with Peter had ended, and a new one had begun.

Or so I thought. But the last part of the story took place the summer after my freshman year of college. A mutual friend was leaving for Mexico to be a missionary, and she had a going away party. As I drove up, I saw Peter’s car parked in front of the house. At first, I was overwhelmed with sorrow and went into a bedroom before he could see me. A friend prayed with me, and I was able to go out and sit down in the living room with composure. It was there he came up to me after a few minutes. He said hello, and I responded back. “It’s been a long time,” he said. I agreed.

We did not talk much besides that first initial acknowledgment. I didn’t think we needed to. Yet as we all laughed, played games, and reminisced about our friend, I realized that I still loved him. It was not romantic love anymore, but agape love. I looked at him and didn’t see the pain, the hurt, the confusion, the tears. I did not see what I had so desperately wanted—love in return. I just saw Peter. He was forgiven and loved by God, and I felt God’s love inside me well up for this prodigal son. It felt like my heart was bursting with joy, burning with Real Love.

“Don’t you understand now?” God whispered to my heart that night. “That’s how I see you. I love you because I love you. This is My love.”

***

Some wounds run deep.  It is usually the wounds of the opposite gender that cut the deepest. Yet I have seen God faithfully walk me through the process of healing. I am no longer the girl desperately longing for love, who let an unhealthy boy define her worth. God has grown me up, stood me on the solid ground of His Love, and is leading me onward and upward.

I have long ago forgiven and healed from Peter. God used it in His plans to change me and humble me and learn a deeper meaning of love. Still, sometimes there is still a little girl crying in me, yearning to be loved rightly. Yearning to be honored and treated with true respect by a man. To be loved back in the same deep fashion that I have learned to love others, and which so many in the world have no understanding. This has yet to happen.

But in the end, I know this: That God is ultimately the Love that can heal the deepest wounds. God is the One who loves us when all others fail. He alone must be my identity. A person’s love will always fall short of the Love we have in Christ Jesus, who poured out His life to the point of death, even death on a cross.

*Names and slight details are changed for privacy sake.

shipalone

Alone: The Aching Abyss of Loneliness

shipaloneI can remember the first time I really felt alone. It was right after we had moved from New Mexico to Texas. My family was staying in a hotel. I was eleven at the time, and I missed my friends a lot. I felt this emptiness that couldn’t be explained settle into the pit of my stomach. My family was playing in the hotel pool, splashing in the aquamarine water. My eyes were blinded by the sunlight reflecting off of the water. I wanted to go back to the hotel room. So I did. I lay on the bed, missing my friends.  I felt so alone. There was no one to turn to. So I buried my face in the clean-smelling, tan-colored covers of the hotel bed and cried.

* * *

This loneliness persisted. All throughout junior high and early highschool, there was this emptiness inside. The only way I can describe it is a cavern, a fissure that went deeper than anything I could imagine, wedged into my heart. Nothing could fill it. Nothing could satisfy the emptiness, the loneliness I felt.

For some reason, I’m intensely relational. I care so much about people that I get this passionate pleasure from loving, helping, and being there for others. I ached to have a deep connection with people. To share our inmost joys and sorrows with each other. I longed to pour out to others and have them pour into me.

However, being so intensely relational can have its dark side. I was desperate to please people, to fill the deep wells in my heart. Because no one seems to give back quite the way I do. People kept rejecting me: My junior high peers, my high school youth group. Most often than not, people didn’t pour into me. They took. They rejected me. Or they used me. Nowhere I turned could I find satisfaction and acceptance.

Even when I surrendered my life to Christ, and when I made some good friends, the aching didn’t really go away. Sometimes, I’d walk into a crowded room and feel so alone. Of course, no one would’ve ever known. In my case, I fought against the aching need for people by pretending I didn’t need anyone. I think most people were intimidated by me, because I seemed rather independent and strong.

* * *

When I came to Bible college, I still struggled with loneliness. Because of all the pain from friendships and relationships in the past, I purposely kept myself at a distance from most people. I’ve already mentioned that I had a strange aversion to groups. So I always tried to seem capable, strong, independent. Yet deep down, I desired strongly to be in a group. To be part of something. To not be alone.

I’m an intense person who craves deeply intimate relationships. And although I made some friends like that, I still felt lonely. Although I loved God, I still felt these holes in my heart that were as big as the sky. So I tried to fill the holes with friends, who always failed me. I tried to fill the holes with grades and achievements. Ultimately, these failed. And I tried to fill the hole by finding a guy, which didn’t end up doing anything, either. Even when I dated in college, I remember thinking, “This is it? This is supposed to be the most amazing thing. Yet I still feel empty. Lonely. Alone.”

* * *

It wasn’t until my junior year in college that something truly began to change in me. I went to a Christian conference in December. At that conference, I began to realize how my identity was completely caught up in people. I literally worshiped people. My deepest desires were about relationships, about being accepted, about not feeling alone and depressed anymore.

I had this intense abyss in my heart that nothing could satisfy. No human relationship could fill the gap in me. Not even hundreds of human relationships could feed the need I had. But there was One who could. There was One who was so big, who loved so deeply, that He could satisfy the last inch of space in the wide cavern that was me and my heart.

Oswald Chambers puts it so beautifully:

“There is only one Being Who can satisfy the last aching abyss of the human heart, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.”

And I realized something: That deep longing I had to be connected with others, was at the core a longing for God Himself. Because God Himself is intensely relational. All you have to do is read Isaiah or Hosea and see how deeply passionate our God is about people. In Hosea, He compares his relationship to Israel to a husband and wife. In the New Testament, Christ’s relationship with the church is again described as a husband/wife relationship. God loves us with this love that is crazy, beyond control, beyond comprehension.

Think about these verses:

14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:14-21).

There are no dimensions to His love. Nothing can fill those deep fissures in our hearts except the Love of God. God cares for us. He deeply desires an intimate relationship with each of us. He is the only One who can know us inside and out, who can see all our joys, fears, sorrows. He knows us. We don’t have to worry He will misread us, or reject us, or think we’re weird, or run from us. We don’t even have to explain the strange emotions or thoughts we sometimes experience. He knows. Have you ever really thought about how beautiful that is?

So every time I feel intense loneliness creeping into my soul, I began to let myself feel it and then give it to God. I’m not afraid of it, and I’m not controlled by it. I just ask God to see it and to fill those areas in me. Yes, I still have my days where I feel lonely. But I find that that’s usually because I’m starting to put my identity, my worth, in people once more. Then I must get on my knees and cry, “Fill this aching abyss, Lord Jesus, with Your incredible love.”

And God answers. He always does when we are committed to putting Him as the center of our hearts. There is such joy when we let Him be all that He wants to be in our lives. It’s a choice every day. A choice to go to God before we go to anyone else and abide in His Love (John 15). This is the fullness of God in our lives.

***

Do you ever feel alone? Am I the only one who has felt this deep, gaping hole in my heart that never seems to leave? I don’t think so. There are so many lonely people in this world. Lonely Christians and non-Christians alike.

You are never alone. This is not your identity. Alone is a deep lie of the Enemy in our lives. So fight it. Let God into the loneliness. Let Him be the answer. Don’t turn to other things, people, or sins to quench it. God must be the first One to fill you, for all other earthly things will fall short. Then you will be free. Free to live in a Love that can fill the deepest longings and achings of your heart. Free to pour into the lives of a lonely world that so desperately needs to know this all-consuming Love for themselves.

Blue and White Flower

Perfect: The Damage of Perfectionism on our Identity

Blue and White Flower

 

I don’t know why many Christians feel the need to pretend to be perfect.

Maybe it’s because our culture is obsessed with appearance and performance. Look at magazines: the women always look gorgeous and confident, the men always look capable and strong. Worth is found solely in how you look or what you accomplish. Movie stars and athletes are worshipped. Normal people are losers who never do anything spectacular. So we stick up a confident picture and update our social media sites with exciting, funny, successful (meaningless) moments from our days. We find our identity in the appearance of things. In  looking, acting, performing, doing everything…fakely.

Really, we’re all a bunch of fearful, messed up sinners. But we somehow have to prove to non-Christians that God exists solely through our sinlessness. Somehow we really have no flaws because God is on our side.

I just don’t know. But it is a problem for many of us Christians. Perfect, something inside us whispers. You must be perfect. Don’t show them the mess you really are. So we smile and nod angelically at church while the worship team starts their peppy introductory notes…

*  *  *

My struggle with perfectionism started around junior high. As a kid, I had no worries. Then I started to grow up and become aware that I was the oldest in my family. Being the oldest, there is always a lot of pressure to set an example for my younger siblings. I began to have this underlining thought, “If I failed, I will let down my siblings and disappoint my parents. I will be a disgrace.” I’ve always had dreams of achievement and success. Failure, mistakes were never an option in my eyes.

As my last post mentioned, the kids at youth group called me perfect. They didn’t try and really get to know me. How could I let them know how angry I was at God during that time in my life? How could I let them know how much their words and actions hurt? So I pretended.

My identity became my persona. I learned to hide.  Most days at church I would walk in, feeling horrible, and smile as if I hadn’t a care in the world. I learned to keep my face very neutral, never showing what was really going on inside. I learned to lie to my parents, to act as if I was doing okay. All because of this incessant need to appear as if I was perfect, like everyone said.

When I began to follow Christ during my junior year in high school, I didn’t overcome perfectionism. Yes, God loved me, but He loved the good me, right? Good Christians had everything together. Good Christians served God and never felt alone or depressed. Good Christians read their Bibles and prayed and went to church. They were cheerful and full of the joy of the Lord. So my identity became Christian perfectionism.

My senior year, I suffered a heartbreak and a huge amount of depression in the wake of it (which I will write about in the future, I’m sure). Right after this, I began to have health problems that no doctor could diagnose. It was one of the darkest times in my life as I tried to repair a shattered heart and struggled with multiple health problems.

Still, my identity was in my appearance of perfect. I couldn’t be really honest about the pain I was in. I had to have it all together, because that’s what Christians did. As the months passed, I spiraled into deeper depression and darkness. I felt like a huge failure. I dabbled in anorexia because I wanted control of something in my life, and I wanted to punish myself for not being the perfect Christian God deserved.

No one in my church knew. My parents didn’t really know. Some of my close friends had an inkling of what was going on, but I was not even totally honest with them. I isolated myself more and more because I was so ashamed of how broken I had become. All because I had to be a good Christian who never hurt, who never questioned, who never cried or felt weak.

Perfection. A good performance. We can’t ever fail Him. That’s what God wants, right?

*  *   *

No. That is not what God wants.

It was during that time of depression and heartbreak that my relationship with God became real. God used that time to show me how broken I was without Him. God used that time in my life to show me how much I needed to be honest before Him and with others. It was a starting place of learning I didn’t have to wear a mask of perfectionism over my woundedness.

My journals became real. I didn’t write things like, “God, today is beautiful. I’m just so blessed to be here on this earth. You are so amazing and lovely. And I’m just such a perfect example of how great a person is with God in his or her life. Amen!” My journals became, “God, I am a wreck today. I feel really, really sad today. Why? Where are You in this time? Do You see? Do You care about all the pain? I need You to answer me. I need You so badly to get through the day.”

In fact, voices like this are reflected all the time in the Psalms.

     Be not far from me, for trouble is near…I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within me (Psalm 22: 14-15 NASB).

    Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am in distress; My eye is wasted away from grief, my soul and my body also. My life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing; My strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my body has wasted away (Psalm 39:9-10).

Because of my sincere pouring out my heart to God, I began to learn that God desires our honesty and brokenness far above the appearance of godliness. He is near to us in our weakness. He wants in on those raw, dirty places more than the shining, squeaky clean tombs we hide in. Because when we are honest about the dark places, then He can begin to shine His light in and heal.

Again, the Psalmists say:

The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:14 NASB).

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise. (Psalm 51:17).

The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18).

*   *  *

Of lot of this honesty is found in prayer. This is why I love prayer so much. I began to get really into it the summer after my freshman year of college, when a group of friends and I began praying once a week. We weren’t praying to look more holy. We were praying because our lives were all in desperate need of healing. So we poured out our hearts in community, and we lifted each other up before God. That’s not a perfectionism-driven Christian community, and it changed forever the way I view authentic friendship in the church.

In prayer, I’ve learned to cry before God–and yes, in front of others at moments. I mean really cry. When I feel afraid, or sad, or depressed, or confused…I can share those things with Him. Because He is near to those who call upon Him in the truth of the heart’s inner condition. In real prayer, we are completely humble and honest before God, and He meets us there in a deep, intimate way. I’ve been praying like that ever since.

I still struggle with the urge to look perfect in front of everyone. There still are periods I can’t share what’s really going on. Most the time I’m still afraid to cry in front of Christians for fear they might judge. As God continues the healing process, I continue to embrace the fact that I am nothing without Him. In the knowledge of my destitution, then God can truly work miracles. Only in authentic community where believers have the freedom to be honest can healing come. It still grieves my heart to see how many Christians always wear a mask in front of God and other Christians no matter how they feel inside.

Their identity is in perfectionism. Not in the grace and love of God.

*  *  *

Sometimes we believe God truly is a List-Keeper up there, counting every time we fail, every time we cry, every time we sin. He’s making some kind of case against us that will ultimately prove He shouldn’t love us.

Sometimes we confuse the God with the Devil.

Really, God is just waiting for us to be real with Him. To show Him our old scars, our fresh wounds, and lay them at His feet. Only then can He answer. Only then can He show us just how deeply He sees our imperfections, and how Christ’s blood is the only thing that can cover our sins. For Christ’s blood has “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14). God does not see us through the eyes of condemnation, but of Love.

Yes, He will ask us to change. He will demand that we do not stay there in the mire of our mistakes and sins. Yes, sometimes the cleansing process of healing and refining is excruciatingly painful. But in every moment of imperfection, we are indeed Loved as He patiently continues the process of sanctification.