I’ve been thinking about this post for the last couple days now, but didn’t feel it was ready, or I was ready to write it. Well, after a afternoon of struggling, I heard this song on the radio, and it about undid me, because it was exactly what my heart needed to hear. And now I’m ready.
Jesus said precisely, “You are sent into the world just as I was sent into the world—to heal, to cure.” Trust in that healing power. Trust that if you are living as the beloved you will heal people whether or not you notice it. But you have to be faithful to that call.” -Henri Nouwen, emphasis mine.
I’ve been practicing that bolded statement this week. It’s a revolutionary concept, since my way of life to this point has been motivated by a lot of fear and control and mistrust, to move (be moved) to a place of love and peace. I can’t even begin to list the ways it’s changing me.
If you’d have asked me about my faith-journey (“testimony”, in alternate parlance) about twenty years ago, I’d have started at age six, when I “prayed the prayer,” telling God I was a sinner (and I think at the time I had an age-appropriate understanding of that) and wanted forgiveness, and asking Him to “live in my heart.” As the elementary school years went by, I remember watching my parents and other people in my church family express the excitement and realness of their relationship with God and wondered at it, because I just couldn’t practice enough, DO enough to manufacture that sort of relationship myself.
Middle school and then high school years came, and I found myself increasingly frustrated with the futility of my efforts to produce that relationship that I wanted. About that time, I faced what was the biggest challenge of my life, to try to not only understand, but practice what giving my future and my present to Him would mean, and that frustration reached a point where I could no longer stand it. “I can’t do this, Lord!” And for the first time, I heard Him speak to me.
“Of course you can’t. It’s too big for you. Give it over to me, and let me walk you through it.”
Gentle words, that melted my stubborn resolve to keep working my way to Him, and invited me instead to lean back into His grace. It changed my life, because I knew without a doubt, in a way I never knew before that I was loved. It wasn’t about what I did. It was about walking with Him every day, placing it in His hands, asking for directions, obeying because I knew the guidance came from a God who knew me more intimately than anyone else ever could, and loved me anyway. Obedience comes so much more naturally (albeit, not always more easily) when you are obeying One who loves you.
I learned then what prayer really was about. I still really don’t always understand why some struggle with prayer and talk about it being a difficult thing. Since that day, for me, it’s been a natural conversation, talking and listening. I’ve learned since then that yes, it’s also a discipline, and there’s real value to making time for concentrated, focused prayer, always with the foundation of Scripture -but I couldn’t imagine living a day without that ongoing conversation in my head/heart/soul. Sometimes things get noisier and busier and it’s harder to hear, but He always gathers me back when things get to be too much.
…All this, however, was going on deep inside me. I kept it to myself. I carved out a place inside where I could safely be myself, and rarely broke beyond the self-consciousness and outright terror over letting my truest self shine anywhere else. I felt like if I did, I’d be found out to be something I wasn’t, and the ugliness I knew was there would find me out. I let go of a piece of me here and there, but never really felt comfortable enough to step outside that wall and walk in freedom.
I used to think the only one hurt by that proposition was myself, and, well, that was a price I found reasonable to afford myself a sense of safety and avoid the misunderstanding of other people. I wondered for many years why I’ve had this baseline irritation and anger simmering in me, why I get so defensive of my “personal space,” why I’m willing to risk being too harsh with my children when they wander too close to a part of me I’m not willing to share. I knew I wasn’t being the wife, the mother my family needed and deserved. I prayed to take it away. I prayed for God to fix it. Turns out, He needed to fix ME.
I forgot that I was loved.
I forgot that I was loved not only by God Himself, but by my husband, who knows me more than anyone else -including a measure of the ugliness, and loves me anyway. I am loved and needed by my children, and my family, and so many others that have come along the way. What has finally made the change in me is that I finally stared down that part of me that cries out -Remember me! Notice me! Love me! I never had the courage in myself to see that God put that piece in my soul. It wasn’t there by accident, or a shortcoming to be overcome. It’s who I am.
The beauty of that realization is that no sooner had I found and dusted off that part of me that I was flooded with responses to that need. I’m learning to stop cringing when I’m smiling inside. Learning to let my children in a little, to realize that since I am beloved, I have more than enough resources to open myself to them. Learning to enjoy being someone’s wife, and letting myself finally express a romantic side that hadn’t really ever been let out. Learning to let what’s resonating inside my heart out -on my face, in my voice, in what I do, in what I create. And doing it with a heart full of peace. I’m walking in freedom!
And that’s why I found myself fighting tears listening to that song this afternoon, driving to pick up my kids from school after a day of struggling with feelings of being forgotten and lonely again. When I hear that song, I see my Ebenezers -moments in time when I’ve clearly felt reminders that He is remembering me. I think of the day I realized upon seeing my baptismal certificate that maybe my parents didn’t know what they were doing, but God had his hand on my life far before I or anyone else knew. I remember dreams that have come true, prayers answered, promises fulfilled, wounds healed, fingerprints of the Creator I find throughout every day of my life that remind me that He is there and He calls me beloved.