Well friends, we are still in the midst of the Easter season. I forgot that until I sat down this morning and realized that as I write this, the celebration is not even halfway over! How consuming life has been since the Triduum, and so easy to jump back into the comfortable chaos of our days.
I have been challenged by a tremendously stress-filled work environment, so it has been very easy to negate or ignore the opportunities for renewal and freedom that are available for me. There is a comfort in the known, even if I know it is dysfunctional and not what God wants for me.
One of my biggest struggles over the last four decades has been a sense of inferiority. We lived simply as a family, comfortable but not in excess. We shopped at secondhand stores for clothing, ate the store brands of food items, and did not watch television. We were not into the latest technology and definitely did not know pop culture. My mom cut my hair, and we went camping at national parks and lakeshores on vacation. I was well-dressed and well-fed, but was soon introduced to the comparison between us and our neighbors, who did get the fancy cereals, ate branded food, had a big TV with movies and video games, went shopping at the mall and had the trendy trinkets. They stayed in hotels and took trips to cities on vacation.
I was studious and a good student. I was not the popular girl or the social butterfly of the class. I did not realize the superficial differences until middle school, and my first concerts were Christian musicians. I learned from classmates that they were not interested in hearing about the Sandy Patti concert I went to for my birthday. They chastised me for obeying teachers and following the rules, and socially I moved further and further out of the “in-crowd.” I knew I was doing the right thing, and I also carried a huge fear of hell within me. From my earliest days, discipline was swift and harsh in our house, and I became terrified of doing the wrong thing and being banished to hell with no mercy or understanding. I was caught between my desire to be accepted and my fear of eternal separation from God.
My gifting did not include athleticism or the physically “perfect body.” I had very bad acne and needed a lot of orthodontic and dental work completed. I remember shopping for one cool outfit for my swift transition to public high school from private Christian school, and thinking that if I could only wear this outfit every day, I might be cool. Those stonewashed jeans and pink-and-white striped Guess turtleneck were treasures.
My mind and heart had learned that I was not ever going to be one of the popular kids. I still sought out spiritual growth and attended high school religious education. I yearned for all the knowledge of God that I could have, in hopes that this would help me believe that my worth was somehow inherent, but it conflicted with the experiences I had in everyday life.
I had nothing within myself to offer, because I was ugly and nerdy and could not relate to current “real life” happenings in non-Christian culture. I could not participate in conversations about the latest crush of someone on someone else. My role and place was in the background, not to be noticed or made to stand out, because there was nothing in me that was worth noticing. Better to keep quiet, hold fast to my faith and studies, prove myself to be a good worker and a competent, dependable person.
I was involved with a Christian girls’ camp from middle school forward. I loved the spiritual aspect of the camp, and the upward-facing theme. The counselors and the location and the simplicity of it drew me in. Despite the awkwardness of being a middle-school girl who was all knees and elbows and a big nose and zero athletic skill, I loved it. The worst were any moments I had to be on my own, in the spotlight or singled out. I did my best to blend in but felt something deeper call me. I continued my involvement in the camp through high school, volunteering as part of the Service Team, then a junior counselor and a counselor. Being a counselor was hard for me, as I still constantly compared myself to my fellow staff, with their more creative ideas, better offerings to their campers, catchier songs, more genuine friendships, and willingness to be in the spotlight. When talent or sharing or athletic prowess or dancing was asked, I stood embarrassed at my presumed failure.
I did feel a connection and gift for intercession. During prayer time, or during the camp-wide prayer session we held mid-week, I stood in the back of the tent and often partnered with another counselor to pray over campers as they approached. But I always resisted when others offered to pray over me. I had decided my role and my fate, as it were, to serve and stand in the back and even to be on the outside of the prayer and gifting that God was manifesting.
I moved from being a counselor, where I was uncomfortable and felt that none of the campers would want to emulate me because I could not be an example of confidence or free grace for them. I became the administrator for numerous years, able to fit nicely into the background, keeping things running and ensuring each aspect of the camp was supplied, a role that didn’t require standing in the front. I idolized the young counselors and wished for closeness with the campers. But I kept myself separate, believing that I could not possibly enter into their joy or freely express myself. There was nothing in me that was worth hearing. I attached myself to people, hoping that I could demonstrate my worth to them through thorough and practical and present service. But I could not ask for anything in return.
There were numerous chances through the years to receive prayer for a release from the darkness to which I had assigned myself. One of the directors shared with me that she had a vision that I was standing outside the church, looking in the windows and watching everyone as they received healing and learned their value. But despite how beautiful it looked and the light that was present, I shrank into the shadows each time there was a chance to enter and receive any of this for myself.
How often do we retreat back into what we know, and stand (or shrink) afraid of the freedom that is being offered to us from a particular sin or darkness or self-assigned shame or wound that we have carried? Why do we resist the chance to be healed or step forward into the light and allow ourselves to be stripped of that burden?
There is an unknown in freedom. We can see others and hear stories and watch friends or family step away from the darkness of pain, or live in grace and independence from the weight of previous hurts. We can observe the goodness in their lives, and when they falter or need reminders of how far they have come, we are glad to offer them help. But what holds us back from receiving for ourselves?
There is uncertainty in letting go. What if I release my burdens, confess my sins and ask for a change of heart, and it doesn’t happen? What if I am the one person for whom it is not going to make a difference when I open my heart? What if I was a mistake and God is ignoring me? (Any of these self-doubts sound familiar?) What if I have to commit to change and be accountable for my story? What if I don’t know the answers? What if I am humiliated?
We are afraid of something different. The darkness and pain and misery is horrible, but at least I know it. I know how it will feel tomorrow, because I know how it has felt for days, months, and years. I don’t know what it will feel like not to have this weight to carry. I don’t know what will be asked of me once I am free of this despair and depression and guilt for past mistakes or wounds. I don’t know what it will feel like to forgive myself. I don’t know how I will function without the power I have let so many things have over me.
But what if it’s better? What if the life you could be living is far better than anything you can imagine? What if the pain and fear do not control us anymore? What if there is forgiveness and mercy when we stand in light and remember Who created us? What if we choose what we know is true instead of pushing it away?
Yes, it’s a vulnerable place to be. To admit to doubt, share the darkness, account for our sins, and share our pain is a very scary step forward. There is massive freedom in bringing secrets and wounds into the light. Once spoken, they are not secret anymore. They have been opened to the love and support and encouragement of fellow humans who are also broken. Beyond that, a heart opened even just a sliver to the mercy and grace we proclaim our belief has that opening through which healing can enter.