This season has been so challenging, and it's been sorely tempting to hibernate completely. It dawned on me that the mechanisms I was using to cover up the hurt weren't the most helpful, namely copious amounts of melted peanut butter and chocolate. Not even the addition of an apple could really justify that, so I went looking for better methods that weren't so hard on my physical self. So for about a week I read all of my John Buchan books into the wee hours of the morning, losing myself in the pages of World War 1 adventures. But then I ran out of reading material and needed something else.
I decided to try Brennan Manning again. His books are so deep and pithy that I have to be in the right space to really grasp them and have them bear fruit in my life. (It's way easier for me to grasp something profound if it's encased in a bit of fiction rather than philosophy.) Anyway, I decided to pick his book, A Glimpse of Jesus, since the subtitle talked about how Jesus is a stranger to self-hatred, and that seemed like something I could use a little help with these days.
While I don't understand all of what Brennan Manning writes in this book, little bits are jumping up and hitting my heart full force.
The first one that struck me was this: "The church, in all its structures and facets, should contribute to the resolution of self-hatred rather than write another chapter for the script." (page 15)
The church gets blamed for a lot, and I confess to being guilty of blaming it for a lot of things lately. But this resonated as truth in my heart. In the past nearly four months, instead of feeling built up and loved and valued, I've felt quite the opposite. And the funny thing is that most of the experiences of hurt came from parts of the church. Even funnier to me was that the two main experiences of being built up and loved and valued came from two places decidedly apart from the church. I'm a part of the very church I accuse of letting me down, and I realize that the responsibility of doing this also lies with me. And when I look into my own heart, I see lots of places where I could have done a better job of loving and valuing others too. So I guess this means we all have room for lots of improvement.
The next thing Brennan said that really struck me helped me understand why I've been so prone to "paint pictures of Egypt" lately. Here's what he says:
"I can be anointed, prayed over, sermonized to, dialogued with, and exposed to God's unconditional love in books, tracts, and tapes, but this marvelous revelation will fall on ears that do not hear and eyes that do not see, unless some other human being refresh the weariness of my defeated days. Barring prevenient grace, we humans simply will not accept our life and being as God's gracious gift unless someone values us. 'We can only sense ourselves and our world valued and cherished by God when we fell valued and cherished by others.'" (page 35)
That's what I've been missing. That's the biggest reason I've been, to quote Sara Groves, "painting pictures of Egypt". (I'm not saying that my old home is equal to Egypt, but if you know the song, you can understand how this metaphor would fit.)
When I first walked into the doors of my old church home, I was a broken failure of a person. I'd recently been booted out of a job I loved because I was failing to meet certain necessary expectations. It was handled in a very messy manner, leaving me reeling emotionally and feeling about as valued as a piece of garbage on the curb. But I walked into The Crossing that Sunday morning, full of nervous anxiety, ready to visit the church of someone I was dating at the time, not expecting to find it an instant home and hospital for my broken self. But when a pastor named Russ got up and began to talk that day about grace, he did it in such a way that it broke through the pain in my heart and beckoned me to come back to find more healing. So I kept coming. And I got up the courage one day to ask to meet with the discipleship pastor to tell her my story and see where I might fit. And the crazy thing is that she valued me. Even before I could really offer anything of value, she valued me and reiterated that it's really true that Jesus cherishes me. And then she did something even crazier. She invited me to try a few things alongside her. She let me serve, and she kept letting me serve. And with each success or failure in serving, she valued me even more until I found myself believing that I really did have value, that I really did have something incredible to offer from this messy journey of failure and grace that I was on. Before I knew it, I found myself getting to try things like speaking in front of church to share a bit of something I'd written, and writing curriculum for a class of a couple hundred folks. And in between those experiences, I was doing things like serving as a one-on-one caregiver for a child with special needs and making coffee for one of the classes and helping sort through toiletries and food for Hurricane Katrina victims. Those were days of growing in emotional health and really believing that a God named Jesus could love me, the girl who failed to grade papers in a timely manner and couldn't manage to make it to morning prayer meeting at her teaching job because she hated to get up early.
But I've forgotten all of that five years after getting married and moving to another country and another church home. I've forgotten that I really have value, that I'm really lovable. I've forgotten how to stride forward with confidence and take on little or big tasks with competence and creativity. And I know why, and I'm not yet ready to honestly let it go and forgive. That is the crux of all of this. When somebody doesn't value us, not only does it have wide-reaching consequences in how we feel as humans on this planet and as children of God, but it also brings up a need to forgive. And I'm not good at forgiving, especially when nothing has changed and the hurt continues. And while I'm the type to stubbornly insist that I shouldn't have to do this until someone values me, the truth is that not letting go and not forgiving and not focusing on just loving others keeps me stuck. It's rather silly to wait around for someone else to decide to help me get unstuck when making the hard decision to let go and move on would unstick me quite quickly.
And so that is where I'm at. Today I have the choice to get unstuck and to let go of the confusing junk of the past few months and just seek to be a kind and loving and valuing human being for whatever other human Providence puts in my path. This is going to take some work. And today I have the choice to just accept that where I am at now is not at all like where I once called home, and that though there are many things I don't like about it, I have the choice to find and appreciate the good things. Surely, there are good things about it. I have the choice to let go, to appreciate, to reach out, to be the lover of people and valuer I wish to receive. Wish me luck!