Saturday, 6 August 2011

"...On Fear, Confession, and Grace"

We all have them. Those moments when everything which keeps us going sort of fades into the background and we stand face-to-face with our own darkness, with the hollow places in us, with the gaps of disappointments and hurts and rejections and all the things which make us feel empty. An aching dissatisfaction. What can I do to just be happy? We ask ourselves, as we close our eyes against the memories which haunt us or the unmet desires which taunt us…


Some days, I am more thankful for God’s mercy than others. Most days, if I’m honest, I simply breeze past it without giving it any notice at all. Today, I stop, look at it, breathe it in deep, and am thankful.


I was looking through some photos from college the other night. First of all, one should never sit alone in the dark of a lonely apartment in the middle of the night feeling a world away from everyone she loves and adrift in a stage of life she didn’t see coming, and take that opportunity to look at old photos of times with friends. But, I did. And they documented some of the best years of my life, and some of the worst, and brought up the shiny faces of friends whom have stuck with me through the nitty-gritty. There are photos of dances and meals and parties and trips. Of goofing off in the college garden on sunny afternoons after classes, throwing “hen-dos” (kinda like a bachelorette party/bridal shower), playing games in the common room, chilling at the pub, and visiting the beach. There are Christmases and Easters and Bonfire Days (a holiday in the UK called Guy Folkes Day where there are always bonfires and fireworks on the 5th of Nov). Church retreats, worship times, studying in groups, and just being silly with friends. It’s strange to look back at the photos and remember exactly the state my heart was in whenever they were taken. His mercy reigns across all of it—the common thread tying together the happiest of seasons, and the ones I wasn’t sure I’d make it out of alive.

I just read a wonderful book by Anne Jackson called “Permission to Speak Freely: Essays and Art on Fear, Confession, and Grace” and all the while I took in her story of becoming real, of learning to live vulnerably like His heart, I was thinking of my own. It happened at college in England, those 3 years surrounded by people from every nation in the world all coming together to live in one big old mansion and learn to love Him and one another while maneuvering the stress of attaining a degree (Goodness, I love Redcliffe College). Anne wrote of brokenness; of being real people needy of Him, with flesh and blood hearts which wound and break, caught up in the flood of this world of sin. She wrote of the common thread we all share as people: our neediness of Him, and how we try to fill it without Him in so many ways and how we ache and feel alone and hopeless, and how the only way out of these pits is through reaching out to one another, sharing our brokenness and sin, and giving one another His grace—acting as His hands and feet, living out His heart of mercy, carrying one another until it’s our turn to be carried…

I walked through a season in college where the darkness of my own brokenness threatened to swallow me up. I did a bold thing for someone whose self-esteem was in such tatters as mine was, and I fell in love. But, among other things, I felt the inexplicable sting of rejection, and believed lies God had never spoken over me, but it seemed everything else had from the time I was small. I felt unlovable. I honestly thought I had no worth, and this only reiterated it. And I punished myself for it. When everything hurt inside, I wanted the outside to hurt too—a residue of bad habits born back in teenage angst. My torture of choice then and whenever things would just get too overwhelming was, let’s say, disordered eating—Anorexic behaviours, Bulimic behaviours, sometimes cutting, sometimes just running until my lungs wouldn’t let me go on and I’d be sick til I could no longer stand. It was always “one-off” experiences throughout school and into my first year of college. Like everything would come to a head, and then I’d feel awful for coping as I had done, and He’d restore me, and it would be months before another few days of panic would come around. By the time I was in college, this merciful God had dealt with so much of this in me that it was a shock when it all came to a head again... I was hurting more than I had ever known before and feeling this overwhelming sense of worthlessness more over-powering than ever. But my sinful response to the hurt— to my neediness of His truth over the lies—was not something I felt I could share with anyone. Until that year. It was too sinful. It was senseless and shameful.  And it hurt too much to admit out-loud how worthless I felt. But in the deepest days of my long season of darkness, Jesus made Himself tangible in the people I was living with from every corner of the globe. He saw me struggle, and He let me struggle because I had much to learn in it, but He led me to people and encouraged me to open up and let them into my struggle, to let them hold me in the midst of it. To be real, to be vulnerable, and to experience what His love is meant to be. Grace-filled through His mercy.

(I cannot tell you how deeply thankful I am; how deeply this season has affected my entire life. It’s this which is, I think, my testimony. Something in me was brought to life in His love which had never really lived before. But it took crawling through a long dark night of the soul, and being forced to lay bare my shame to the people around me, feeling exposed and undignified, to end up at the sunrise…)

Confessions were tearful. More than that. “Tearful” makes it sound all graceful and elegant. Broken-hearted confessions are messier than that. Mine were usually loud. We’re talking sobbing and undignified. But every one of the women I timidly opened up to in those weeks, put an arm around me and prayed. I am convinced that is hugely what pulled me out of the darkness which would otherwise not seem to dissipate no matter how hard I tried. There were nights I would literally sleep on the floor of a friend’s room so she could see to it that I was okay, and keep me from self-destructing. And when the fog began to clear over this long, hard season… It was such friendships which led me into more healing and wholeness than I can ever remember having my whole life through, and it has literally changed my life. Friendships where I was real and vulnerable about my brokenness, and met with grace and love, and with vulnerability about their own unique brokenness. In the book, Anne Jackson calls that ‘the gift of going second’. When we are bold enough to share with someone our mess that we keep hidden and so are trapped by, we lend them a bit of courage to share theirs and also take a small grasp on freedom from it. Anne also comments on how we are always as sick as our secrets. How true it is! And how desperately I never want to get trapped in a secret darkness again. To that end, I sought some professional counseling in this season as well. My college had an excellent personal development program in place and caring counselors willing to show Jesus’ heart to the hurting. The thing is, when we’re living in our own secret darkness, we always think we’re the worst. The enemy shames us into staying there. Professional counselors are great because they’ve seen it all, and your mess is never so huge. Puts it in perspective. There’s really no shame in admitting we are broken…

I am convinced that God broke that destructive cycle of sin caused by terrible self-esteem in my life through my honest confessions and His touch of grace through people who showed me love in those times. People who gave me permission to speak freely. I trembled in fear of how I would be received (and still find it does not come most naturally, when the desire to self-protect is so strong! ... Writing this post has been hard!), and yet experienced again and again the bolstering embrace of love and grace and compassion, and admissions of “I’ve been there, in my own way,” a reminder that we are not alone. That humanity hurts (proof of our need for a Saviour? And this longing for wholeness and happiness, proof of a coming heaven?). And that we are only called to meet one another where we are at, and hold out His hope, His grace, His love, until that person can begin to breathe it in for themselves and stand up straight again. The next time, you might be the one needing them to wrap their grace-saved arms around you…

I believe in being real. I believe that being authentic about the hollow places is the only way we can allow Him to fill them. And that He uses the hands and feet of His church to do it, Christ’s body here on earth. Like the writer of this excellent book, having known my own brokenness I feel passionate about being the kind of hands and feet Christ would have making up His body. We often feel so alone when alone is the last thing we ever really are. Let’s endeavor to make that tangible to each other. Let’s be bold enough to lay ourselves bare, and let’s effect a change toward authenticity about our own humanity and neediness of Him in His Church by giving one another ‘the gift of going second’. May we live to show one another the face of God. May we sow His mercy, grace, and love, and may we reap His healing, His holiness, for this entire broken body we are a part of.
Everything is at stake.
And He is endless Hope…

Love on, love on, love on!
--Leah

*I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their [...] book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 

4 comments:

Brandy said...

Oh Leah! How I feel like you took some of the words right out of my head. You left me in tears. First tears of sadness and empathy (I've struggled with darkness so much as well), then tears of happiness. I've added the book to my "To Read" list. xoxo

Brandy said...

Our God is SO GOOD!

Leah said...

I am so glad, Brandy-boo! :) Stand strong in His mercy, girl!!

Jodi said...

I love your courage in this post...courage in sharing some of your struggles, courage in healing and moving into His embrace.

I must echo: I've been there, in my own way. I still struggle with some of these issues. Being an adult and a mom doesn't make my self-esteem deficiencies any less challenging or painful than they were as a teenager. I think they become worse the longer we try to hide them within ourselves.

"I believe in being real. I believe that being authentic about the hollow places is the only way we can allow Him to fill them. And that He uses the hands and feet of His church to do it, Christ’s body here on earth." I love this, Leah. But I haven't found the courage to tell anyone about the hollow places...why does it have to be so hard to find someone to trust, someone to help carry the burdens?

Thanks so much for your openness, sweet girl. You have encouraged me by your own testimony and struggles. I know I'm not alone and there is hope. Thank you for that.

Love,
Jodi

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