To the one struggling in silence…I wrote you a letter today.
I wrote it to myself, too- for the girl years ago who used to hide her sadness. Who was afraid to be seen. Who thought people would only love her if she showed her happy, put-together life.
This letter is a reminder to us both of the One who sees us, knows us, and loves us, even in our hurt.
Hello my dear,
Oh, friend. I know you feel alone in your hurt, your pain, your sadness. How I wish I could scoop up your heart in a big hug and tell you that I see you. I wish I could bring you your favorite flowers right now, or sit with you at a coffee shop over big mugs of our favorite tea or coffee. I’ve been where you are, and I know you’re hurting deeply, quietly. And I wish I could help you know that you are not alone.
But, the truth is, I don’t know why you’re hurting. You’ve gotten so good at holding it all inside. Can we take a few minutes to just breathe, to just be still, and to start letting those walls down?
Here’s what I know about you, sweet friend. You don’t want to suffer in silence or hiding anymore. So, I want to whisper words of hope and encouragement to you right now.
While I do not know the details of your hurt, we have a heavenly father who knows the depths of our hearts. In Psalm 139, the psalmist reminds us of how deeply God knows us:You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.Throughout the course of this Psalm, David lists these ways that God knows us intimately and deeply:
- Thoughts (v. 2, 23)
- Actions (v. 2-4)
- Words (v. 4)
- Our location (v. 7-10)
- Body (v. 13-15)
- Soul (before we were formed into bodies; v. 16)
- All the days of our lives (what is to come; v. 16)
- Heart (v. 23)
- All of our ways (v. 3)
Not only does God SEE us (even when we try to hide), KNOW us (every single aspect of our lives), but He also LOVES us fully and unconditionally.
You don’t have to hide from God. He can see you anyway, sweet friend. Let down those walls and tell Him about your pain. Cry out to Him with those struggles. He can handle it. He is the One who holds your anguish and your tears in His hands. He is the One who grieves with you. The One who pursues you even when you try to hide in the dark. He is the One who will never leave you or forsake you.
I’m praying for you today– that you would remember that you are not alone. I am praying that the God who comforts will be close to you, and that you would remember that you can tell Him anything. Praying for the healing work to begin as you bring your struggles, pain, and grief into the light. God sees you and knows you in this hard season, my friend. And more than anything, He loves you.
– – –
Shifting the Self to Make Room
When I was growing up, I didn’t play “house” in the same way other little girls did. I played writer, teacher, theatre director, Miss America, and interior designer. I played artist, inventor, and in 9th grade I had one weird year where I thought I wanted to be a behavioral geneticist (I was really into science that year). As I entered into my 20s, I often thought I would opt to not have children. I was afraid I was too selfish. I feared I would mess up, or couldn’t handle the responsibility of raising a human. So it was easier for me to dream of Broadway instead of babies.
Then, Emmett entered my world.
Six weeks into my young marriage, I got sick and convinced myself it was a stomach bug showing up late from a Mexican honeymoon. But two pregnancy tests at home and one blood test from the doctor proved me wrong. That “sickness” was the most unexpected, terrifying blessing I could have ever imagined.
I had an unexpected reaction to this news. I grieved. I was so scared to step into this role, and I had no clue how to adjust to the reality of being a mother. I was so scared to embark on this journey, unsure of who I was, unsure about the impact upon our finances, and honestly unsure if my fragile new marriage could handle a baby.
Most of all, I was scared I would fail at motherhood.
Each day, as I rode the commuter train to work in Boston, I prayed.
God, I don’t know what I’m doing. Please show me how to love this child. Show me how to be its mom. Show me what to do.
I bought a cute little journal that I slid into the front pocket of my purse, and I started writing notes to the baby. I told it what I was eating that caused the most kicks and wiggles. I shared how the weather and shifting seasons looked like from my view out the train window. And as the baby grew, I started to cradle my belly with a protective hand.
When we found out the baby was a boy, we knew his name right away– it was a family name from his dad’s side that just seemed to fit. Emmett. I started writing notes in my little commuter notebook to Emmett- I wrote love letters each week, poems and observations about the world in 2012 when he was growing in my womb. I fell in love with this baby, and my heart took the full nine months to get ready to be his mama. But when they placed him on my chest, right above my swelling, full heart, I knew he was a gift. He was a straight up blessing from the Lord.
The first year was a blur. I tried to be “mother” but really didn’t know what that meant. Postpartum depression felt like I was moving towards my crying baby in a fog. My exhaustion amplified his colic, and I don’t think I showered much that year.
My afternoon walks on the farm where we lived were my sanity savers. I tucked Emmett into a little carrier, and he cozied into my chest each day. As we walked in quiet, I often felt stinging tears in my eyes, but also peace that God was with me. God was with us. I breathed in the air of our Virginia mountains and whispered to Emmett about the robin flying by, or the way the ground felt beneath my feet. I thought that being a mother meant completely dying to myself– denying all of my wants, needs, and dreams. I thought it meant sacrifice at my own expense, 100% of the time. I stopped caring for myself as I tried to care for this sweet little boy. In the midst of that (and in the midst of other hard circumstances), I think I just lost myself entirely. Or maybe, I didn’t really know who I was to begin with.
– – –
God Loved Me Into Motherhood
The postpartum depression didn’t go away on its own. I visited a Christian counselor to seek help climbing out of the pit.
She helped me to discover much bigger work that I needed to do. As I started to uncover more over the next year or two about my identity in Christ, I looked at some deep wounds buried deep beneath a facade of perfectionism. I realized that if I was not well, I could not be well for my son. I could not transform magically into a mother, caretaker, and homemaker, if I did not know who I was first and foremost in the Lord. I could not show unconditional love to another until I fully accepted the unconditional love of Christ myself.
God poured healing balm into the holes in my heart and showed me that this baby could not fix my breaking marriage (that was way too much pressure for a child), and a marriage could not fix the holes from past trauma or wounds (that was way too much pressure for any human being). It was time to do some work with God to fill in those holes, with God as the Healer, Fixer, Redeemer. And He did fill in the holes– but first He tenderly unearthed the pain of the past. He waded through and weeded up my selfishness and pride. He helped me to see how my perfectionism was holding me back in motherhood. He planted seeds of healthier new thoughts about myself, and gave me a firm foundation in Truth to replace the lies I had memorized about who I needed to be to please and love others well. He brought community in my life to surround me when I felt lost. And mostly, He showed me so much love. I learned to accept His grace, and came to see Him as a loving, good father instead of a judgmental, condemning or apathetic figure. I learned how to parent from the ultimate Parent. He loved me into motherhood.
– – –
A few years ago, in the midst of my divorce, my best friends from college convened in Minnesota for a wonderful reunion weekend. It was amazing how we were able to pick up right where we left off. It was also a gift to be with one another in person in the midst after years of major life transitions in each of our lives.
We laughed a lot, went for walks, drank afternoon tea on the porch, and held space for each other to fill in the details that we miss when we live hundreds of miles away from our dear ones.
We talked about jobs, moving, new marriages, and a marriage ending. We talked about missions and motherhood and reminisced about college memories. Our sweet friend hosting us for the weekend had her boys with her, and we took turns playing cars on the carpet with her toddler and holding her youngest baby. Two of our girlfriends there had bellies round with their first babies.
Where I once feared being a mother, I had by that point come to embrace it. Where I once had no clue what to do with a baby in my arms, my heart now ached to hold another of my own. As sweet as it was to be with these five beautiful girls, there was also an aching reminder that life had not turned out the way I had expected. They showed me so much love in that space, but it was bittersweet. I looked at the growing bellies friends expecting their first with simultaneous joy and sadness. And when it was my turn to hold the baby boy of our host, it was overwhelming.
Holding him brought up a surge of unexpected emotions. As tears welled and I choked back tears, I gently passed the baby to another friend and went to a room to cry by myself.
I felt gratitude for my friends. Joy for several of them as they also entered into motherhood. Awe for the growth God brought into each of our lives, not just in parenting but in other areas too. And then a deep, deep ache.
I had been ignoring it for a while, but the smell and softness of her baby boy brought it all to the surface. Along with the ache to have more children was a keen awareness that it may not be possible for me to have another. Then, guilt washed over me since I had already become a mother when others feel this ache for most of their adult years. Then, gratitude for Emmett and the chance to be his mama.
Grief for my breaking family. Gratitude for the family God HAD gifted me with. Gratitude and grief in the same moment, wrestling around in my heart in Minnesota.
Thus began a long season of reconciling the desires of my heart and the aches of my heart, and placing them in God’s hand. I began praying for His will for my family and acceptance of the season where He had me right now, but it still hurt.
– – –
This Sunday in church, a sweet little girl in a tutu skirt babbled and smiled from the row of chairs in front of us.
When she made eye contact with me, she smiled even bigger and nuzzled into the arms of the woman holding her. I smiled back and we played a subtle game of peek a boo.
A few minutes later, I looked over at my fiancé, who was smiling in the little girl’s direction. I followed his gaze and saw she was playing the same bashful game with him. It made my heart happy to see.
It made my heart happy to see the pregnant mama at the grocery store last week, cradling her belly.
It makes my heart happy to get the video messages from another one of those dear college friends, snuggling her new baby and telling us about life with two kiddos.
It makes my heart happy to check in with myself and recognize that envy is not there. The aching is no longer resident. I can smile and know that God knows the desires of my heart, but also place those desires back into His hands and say, “Thy will be done, Lord.”
It makes my heart happy to know that God loved me into motherhood, but He also loves me in every single season of my life. He has loved me as a creative independent, as a new and overwhelmed mama, a broken-hearted and aching woman, and in the beautiful present season where he has me right now.
– – –
If you struggle with contentment in the right now of your life season (whether you have a deep dream, an aching desire, or questions about your identity as it relates to your dreams and roles), here is a prayer I want to share with you:
You know what’s best for me, You have a design for my family, and You have a good and perfect plan for my future.
I know that You know my deepest longings and desires of my heart. Thank You for seeing me– for really seeing me– and loving me when I sit in unrest, longing, or questions about who I am. Help me to remember first and foremost who You are. Help me to remember who I am in YOU, beyond any earthly role, responsibility, dreams, or relationships (whether those roles and dreams are fulfilled or not).
And if Your plan does not include the fulfillment of these desires, I pray that I can genuinely say, “I praise You still.”
I want to honor You in the attitude of my heart as I live the life You’ve blessed me with. Help me not to envy others, but to trust Your plans for my life, Lord. Help me to be content and present in the season where You have me, right now.
P.S. I am deeply grateful to my friend Kristin Dunker of Kristin Dunker Photography for taking these beautiful family photos of Emmett and me in 2017. Thank you, friend!
My body holds memories of its grief.
Sometimes it manifests as anxiety, bubbling up as a slow simmer. Sometimes it is triggered by the news, or hearing someone else’s story that brushes up against mine. That is the pain that feels sharpest. Sometimes it comes out as anger, when I haven’t taken time to just feel sad and I’ve pushed it down and down and down and then it lashes out with an angry tongue. But more often than not, it is an unexpected wave that comes over me–a surprising sadness on an otherwise normal day or week.
And then I look at the calendar and I realize what is happening. Every February, heartache swells over missing my grandfather–my dear Poppy. Sometimes in April, the anxiety of a particular trauma rises up in my chest as my body recalls an event that changed the course of my life. And in early October, there is a sadness over a wedding anniversary that is no longer celebrated, and a painful heartbreak that occurred years later in the same month.
One morning this week I woke up with a dull ache, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I received a message from my cousin, letting me know she was thinking about me this week. Her validation that this might be a hard time for me was so comforting, and gave me space to grieve. The tears that had been lingering below the surface finally came out. I let my body just feel the pain and grief it had been holding.
Sometimes it is a lot easier for me to extend grace and kindness to others than to myself, so my counselor and I have been working through a series of letters that I am writing to myself. Letters to baby Heather, little girl Heath, the Heather who has made mistakes in the past that needs to be reminded of grace. So this week, I wrote my body this letter. And I thought it might be helpful for someone else today too, so I am sharing it here.
To my body,
Hello sweet girl. I want to tell you something. I haven’t always been kind to you. I want to whisper kindness over you today. You’ve been so strong, and you’ve endured so much. You have danced across stages and smiled at strangers, but you’ve also been bruised and scarred. You ran a half marathon and bring me nourishing rest each night, but there have also been seasons where I neglected or criticized you. You once withstood trauma, but at another time you also birthed a beautiful baby boy into this world. You carry me to work, sit in the car for road trips, savor new foods, offer hugs to loved ones, and lead others in worship with strong breath against vocal chords. However, in the times when grief has arisen, I have not always given you the space you have needed.
So today, I am making space for you. I’m slowing down for a little while to just listen.
Is today hard for you? How are you feeling? I’m here and I am listening.
I have tried to rush you past those very feelings. I have gotten wrapped up in justifying thoughts or trying to be further along in processing your grief. There have been so many times when I have used busyness or slapped on a mask of “happiness” to try to push past what you were feeling. I’m so sorry for that.
To the days when you feel echoes of trauma… I trust you. I believe you. It breaks my heart to think of what you went through, and I’m so sorry it still hurts at times. It’s okay to still be angry or scared or sad when you think of that. It’s not okay that that happened, but you are not broken because of it. You are compassionate and tender-hearted, and it has given you a sensitivity to others in their pain. You are able to share your story with others and let them know they’re not alone.
To the seasons where the grief rises to the surface… I’m here. There is healing in tears. When the tears burn just below your eyes, let them come. In survival mode, I know that I have pushed those tears down or moved quickly past. But I’m making a safe space for you to let it out. I will try not to numb those feelings with busyness or other coping mechanisms. I will try not to minimize those feelings and brush quickly past. Today, I will let myself feel sad if I need to let sadness come.
I know you’ve heard me say things like, “I should be further along in processing this,” or “I shouldn’t feel sad right now when I have so many blessings!” Those simply aren’t helpful phrases, Heather. Grief takes time and space. And it is possible to feel joy and sadness at the same time. Yes, there are things to be thankful for and blessings to count, but they do not negate the parts of your life that carry wounds.
But Heather? Even though these parts of your story and your life and the wounds you carry are true, there is another TRUTH that stands with you in all of this. You have a Savior who is with you in every experience, every joy, every sadness, and every ounce of pain that occurs. I want to remind you of these words today, even in the midst of feeling your grief.
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 38:4)
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 38:17-18)
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:26)
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)
The Lord is WITH you in this. He can handle the grief. He can handle the sorrow. Bring it all to Him.
I’m proud of you. I love you. I’m here for you.
P.S. Special thank you to Lex Sirikiat, Autumn Mott Rodeheaver, and Aaron Burden for the beautiful autumn leaf/tree photos that accompany this post (all three photographers generously share their work via unsplash).
“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” -2 Corinthians 12:9 (NIV)
Here is one of the biggest lies I have ever struggled with. And one that I see others wrestle with all the time….
That thing that I carry? The wound, the scars, the memories, the propensity for a certain sin, the part of my story that is hard to speak out loud?
It makes ME too messy, broken, wounded, scarred, weak, and messed up to ever be well again. Or to be used by God. Or to be loved by others.
But here also is what I know from 4 years of walking in recovery with an incredible community of others who recognize their weakness. Before sharing the thing (you know– THE thing) out loud, it has SUCH a powerful grip of shame, fear, or even denial over us. It keeps us in darkness. There is such a clear humility to saying “I can’t do this on my own anymore.” And I’ve seen over and over again that once we voice our weakness or brokenness, amazing transformation can happen.
I am weird and I really like charts/graphs/visual tools to explain things, so I made you a chart of three of my THINGS. I included a few bullet points/symptoms of what happened when I tried to cover each of those things up in my life, and what happened when I finally let those parts of myself and my story be seen:
If you think about the people in the Bible who made a huge impact for God, a lot of them had their own THINGS. But God doesn’t see those as the definition of who we are. He is able to use us, and even those heavy or hard parts of our lives, to tell a greater story. Of redemption, of restoration, of how His power is made perfect in our weakness. Remember Jacob who was a manipulator and a liar in his youth (to trick his father into giving him an inheritance that should have been his brother’s)? Or Joseph, whose brothers hated him so much that they sold him into slavery, upon which Joseph also encountered false accusations and imprisonment for a crime he did not commit? What about Ruth and Naomi? Naomi lost her husband and two sons, and Ruth lost her husband and moved to a new nation to become a foreigner. David, a man “after God’s own heart,” who committed adultery and murder? Paul (formerly Saul) who persecuted Christians in the new church? Gosh… what would have happened if any of these people decided that they were too broken for God to use them? But, amazingly, each of them persisted in faith that God is who He says He is, even when our lives on earth don’t turn out the way we expected. The God that each of these people served, and the God we serve today is this kind of God:
“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair…
…I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:1-3, 10-11, NIV)
Friend, your past does not define you.
The present struggle you are wrestling does not define you.
Your wounds and scars and baggage do not define you.
The brokenness you feel when you think of yourself? THAT does not define you.
God says that in our brokenness He can bring beauty. That He will restore the years the locusts have eaten. That He binds up the brokenhearted. He proclaims freedom. He SETS THE CAPTIVES FREE.
When we come out of hiding, we are set free, sweet friends. There is nothing too dark or too heavy or too broken for Him that He cannot redeem. And in the present, while we are waiting to see how it will be restored? In the waiting for that beauty and redemption, we get to wait with open hands and humble hearts to know that HIS power is made perfect in our weakness. We get to offer our weakness up to Him to watch how He will fill us with His power and reach others in our lives through it.
We get to be like Jacob with his sinful past who was newly named “Israel” and blessed by God as the father of a nation. God re-defined Jacob and used him as the foundation of a favored people.
We are able to stand firm like Joseph, who said “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20). God sustained Joseph and rescued others through him.
We can comfort those who mourn and stand by their side, like Ruth did for Naomi. God restored Ruth’s broken heart and brought her a sweet redeemer in the form of Boaz, and even used her in the lineage of Jesus, a true Redeemer for the rest of us.
We can cry out to God in our shame, our pain, our brokenness like David throughout the Psalms. God forgave David in his repentance, and still used David’s story and his heart to show others how to walk through the light days and the dark.
We can be like Paul, who stepped into humility after he met the Lord and brought truth to others. God transformed Paul’s heart and gave him a powerful testimony that allowed him to speak to others from a place of true awareness of his NEED for a redeemer.
What if instead of praying away that weakness or brokenness, we instead prayed that God would transform the way we look at it? If we prayed for Him to use it, however He can, to bring hope to others and bring glory to HIS greatness? What if instead of covering up those parts of our story, we shared with others to let them know that they’re not alone? In your honesty and vulnerability with yourself, God, and others, I pray that you might be released from shame, darkness, and feeling like you will never be free from those heavy burdens. Because, dear heart, when you set those things into the light, the darkness cannot have as much power here.
A prayer for you:
Lord, I know that I cannot do this on my own, so I don’t want to hide anymore. You are a God who redefines, sustains, restores, forgives, and TRANSFORMS lives. You have been faithful to do so for others, and I pray that you would help me to trust that You have restoration for me too, Lord. I pray that in the midst of my weakness or brokenness You would allow me to see others who are hurting too, so that we can come together and realize we are not alone. Lord, I pray for your comfort and for reminders that you are with me in the midst of my pain, my battles, my darkness, and any brokenness that I experience. I do pray Lord for Your work of restoration and healing, but in the meantime Lord, I pray that YOUR power would be made perfect and known to others in my weakness. Thank You for loving me and helping me to step into Your light and healing.
*This post is the final installment of an IDENTITY series for the month of August. Here is the introduction (Who do you think you are?), followed by a post about our new-found purity in Christ, how to fight the lie that you are unworthy of love, and the 5 things that happen when we don’t believe that we are enough. Also, special thanks to Aaron Burden, Ibrahim Rifath, and Blake Cheek of Unsplash for the beautiful images to accompany this post.
Elementary school. That was the first time I had that feeling of not fitting in. Specifically, third grade. I was tall and lanky with glasses and a bad underbite. I was shy and wanted to fit in with the group of girls who had emerged as “popular.” I remember feeling embarrassed on the first day of fourth grade that my new outfit, which had been considered “cool” in third grade was suddenly… uncool. Fifth grade, as the other girls in my class developed and moved into a new phase of bodies and boys, I was still secretly playing with Barbies. I was behind and on the outside.
Through middle school and high school, I started to realize that if I modified how I spoke, what I wore, and the jokes I laughed at, I would stand out less and could blend in more. I was consistently insecure that if others saw the “real” me, they would surely reject me. I became a shape-shifter to gain approval from friends, never really showing my authentic self. In actuality, I don’t think I knew who that was. But I knew that I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror, and a large part of that was that I didn’t feel loved and accepted. I thought I had to earn the love of others, and I never quite felt that I made the mark.
Another huge component of this growing lie that I was unlovable and unworthy came through the lens of romantic relationships. When the boy I had a crush on in my fifth grade class openly laughed at me for my flat chest, I went home early with a stomach ache–my first glimpse at rejection and unrequited feelings. But even more than that, I absorbed the internal message that who I was wasn’t worthy of returned affections. Over the years I heard iterations of the a certain message from our culture (from the someday-my-prince-will-come fairytales of childhood all the way to the more mature romantic themes of magazine ads, television shows, movies, and books)– that I would feel complete when finally I found someone who loved me in a big and sweeping way. I came to hope that being accepted by others would fill in the holes of loneliness. During my deepest times of insecurity, I took on heartbreak after heartbreak by opening myself up to relationships out of fear of being alone or thinking that when I finally found “the one” I would finally feel whole.
On the other side of divorce and deep heartaches, I still occasionally hear those old lies of “unlovable” or “unworthy,” and sit with the fear of rejection or abandonment. But the past few years, God has done some incredible work within me to bind up wounds and show me His sweet love. I want to whisper to you some words of encouragement today…
Friend, I don’t know what you’ve been through in your life that makes you wonder or doubt your worthiness in relationships. I don’t know what wounds you carry from childhood, or the heartbreaks, rejection, trauma in your life that have layered lies, insecurities and deep wounds into your soul. I know that at times you may feel lonely and rejected in rooms full of people, and even more achingly so when you’re alone with yourself. That these wounds may have opened you up to lowering your standards, settling for unfair or unhealthy relationships, or even enduring abuse because you didn’t believe you deserve any better.
But sweet friend, here is what I’ve come to know as absolute Truth, and sometimes have to remind myself of even now. Another person will never make us feel complete. If I’m waiting on that “perfect love that casts out all fear” (and casts out insecurity and self-doubt), it will never come through another imperfect soul on this earth. As we sit longing for a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love, we need to recognize that God IS LOVE, and lavishes that very kind of love on us. That He is a good and perfect father who can bind up our wounds. He abides in us and we can love others (and ourselves) more fully once we know that He is the one who fills us up and that we are made complete in Him.
As I’ve read my son the Jesus Storybook Bible this year, I have found myself holding back overwhelmed tears during the stories of Creation and Jonah and David and his small stones, and the mighty but quiet story of Jesus’ birth story. Sally Lloyd-Jones shares in such an accessible and simple form the beautiful and redemptive love story of God in a way that she describes as a “Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” This year, during my own prayer time after Emmett goes to bed, I’ve sometimes pulled his storybook Bible back out to re-read the story from that night and wonder how I’d missed it before. That in one story after another, this Heavenly Father has pursued us, just wanting us to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that He loves us and will never leave.
Honestly, THIS was the place that my heart shifted from seeking other places of self-worth and love and saw that the Truth of my being as loved and chosen and pursued by God was right in front of me all along.
In those times that we question or doubt our ability to be loved, we have to go back again and again to these Truths, as we up-root the lies of unworthiness:
- “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)
- “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:7-9)
- “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” (Jeremiah 31:3)
- “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6)
- “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness; He will quiet you by his love.” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV)
- “…so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 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, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19, NIV)
- “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” (1 John 4:16)
- “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:7-8a)
Our emptiness or feelings of unworthiness will never be satisfied entirely in human relationships, even the good ones. If I am seeking a big redemption story in a relationship here on earth, I will end up disappointed again and again. Don’t get me wrong- I believe that incredible healing can come within the context of healthy community and relationships. But until we recognize that the ONLY one who can fill up all of our empty spaces is God, we will always come up short.
In HIM, we can know that we are His beloved, that He chose us, that we are worthy, that He will never leave us. This is different than human love. Humans may reject or abandon us, they may put up walls or turn away. But not our God. This amazing Father, with loving arms, embraces us as His beloved children and fights for us. With Him, there is a precious guarantee- He is a God who keeps His promises and is unwavering in His character (Numbers 23:19).
In HIM, we are purely and perfectly loved.
*This post is part of a series about IDENTITY. If you want to read the series, here is the introduction (Who do you think you are?), followed by a post about our new-found purity in Christ, no matter how dirty we feel (I am clean, I am made new).
In this identity series, I will tell you a story of my own struggle with a particular lie/old identity, and then the Scriptures and prayers I’ve used to re-claim a new identity in Christ. Read the intro here.
I thought I was…. (here are the lies I wrestled with):
Unclean, dirty, impure, shameful, destined to repeat the past, defined by my sin/mistakes
Over the course of my 30 years of life, I have oscillated between different identities related to my status of clean, unclean, pure, impure. There have been seasons where I wore my purity like a badge of honor, an outward symbol of how pure I could make myself. Looking back I can see it was just that–a badge that could easily fall off, a self-proclaimed purity. My heart wasn’t necessarily as clean as my outward actions.
And there have been times when the actions of others or my own choices have left me in a pit of shame, chained down by darkness, covered in the grime of sin. Times when others called me “unclean” and I said, yep, that’s the truth. I took the words, actions, and fallen human choices that happened on this earth (either by myself or others) and let them define me as ultimate truth. No matter how much I prayed to feel clean I would not accept that God could really wash me and make me new again.
This past April, I helped lead worship at a women’s retreat for my church. The theme of the retreat was “Clean.” In preparation for the retreat, I prayed deeply and listened dozens of times to Natalie Grant’s song “Clean” (which would be our theme song for the weekend). That gorgeous weekend at a retreat center in a wooded area of West Virginia, our speaker poured Truth over us about our status as clean in Christ. We sang the words, “there’s nothing too dirty that you can’t make worthy,” and I spent a lot of time journaling and praying. I knew something deep and rich was stirring in me– memories were rising to the surface from childhood and adolescence and even recent months and I was seeing for the first time that what God had already CALLED clean I was still wrapping around myself like a cloak of shame. Although He had already released me from the chains of the past, I was dragging them around and wallowing in my own shame and self-condemnation.
I went for a run in the woods during the Saturday afternoon free time on the retreat. As I ran on the path down a big hill, I had this incredible feeling of innocence and childhood. With sunlight bursting through the trees and pouring over my head, I imagined a little girl running down a grassy hill into a field of wildflowers with her arms wide open to scoop up color. I laughed and felt like I could fly, I was so light and happy. And suddenly, I realized. Breakthrough. I let go of the chains I’d been set free from long ago– as I ran, I felt heavy weights falling off of my ankles and hands and my heart. I found myself running, wide open and free into pure JOY. Since that weekend, I have felt a sense of freedom I’ve never before experienced in my life– relishing in the fact that GOD has made me clean. There is nothing too dirty or shameful I could do that He would choose not to forgive if I asked in earnest for His forgiveness. Once He has washed me clean, I no longer have to sit and wallow in shame that I am dirty, unclean, or defined by my past. And there is nothing I can do to make myself worthy enough. I need Him to make me holy and pure.
I am learning more and more this important truth about my identity:
EVERYTHING I am flows out of the Truth of who He is.
As I was on that retreat weekend, I remembered a strange phrase from the psalms… and I couldn’t get it off my mind for days. “Cleanse me with hyssop.” This was David’s cry in Psalm 51 to be cleansed not just physically, but spiritually after he was found out in his affair with Bathsheba. I know that feeling–wanting to feel like your insides are clean and pure and no longer charred by sin and darkness. I read that hyssop is an herb from the Middle East similar to mint, used for cleansing, medicinal and flavoring purposes (it resembles lavender in photos I’ve found). It was used throughout the old testament related to sacrifices, used as a paint brush to place blood over the door frames in Exodus 12, and in David’s heart-wrenching cry of wanting to be purified. The good news is that Christ became our sacrifice so that we COULD be called pure, worthy, and clean– so much better than any outer cleaning we could try to give ourselves. Our hearts are able to be new each day, and through Him we are called a NEW CREATION. I am praying that by remembering who God is, what He is able to do, and the new identities we can have in Him, you will be able to join me in walking in this status of being redeemed and set free from the past. I used Psalm 51, Psalm 103, 2 Corinthians 5, and Galatians 5 to walk through this exercise:
Because God is… (fill in adjectives that describe the character of God):
- Steadfast in mercy
- Abundantly loving (unfailing in His love)
- Slow to anger
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.” -Psalm 51:1
HE has the power to… (verbs listed with God’s actions for us/over us):
- Deliver me from bloodguiltiness
- Wash me thoroughly
- Cleanse me/create in me a clean heart
- Forgive all of my sins
- Heal all my diseases
- Redeem my life from the pit
- Crown me with steadfast love and mercy
- Satisfy me with good
- Renew my life
- Work righteousness and justice for the oppressed
- Remove our transgressions (sins) from us, as far as the east is from the west
- Reconcile us to Himself, through Christ
“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow….Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” -Psalm 51:7, 10
So, He calls us… (new identities we can claim for ourselves):
- Whiter than snow
- Ambassadors for Christ
- The righteousness of God
- A new creation
- Set free
“For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” -Psalm 103:11-12
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” -2 Corinthians 5:17, 21
To dig in further: read Psalm 25, Isaiah 43, Isaiah 44, Colossians 2:13-14, 1 John 1:9
Friend, no matter what you struggle with that makes you feel dirty or unclean (whether it is in your past or a present wrestling), my prayer for you today is that you could KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that in Him, you are a new creation. He is abounding in love and is able to cleanse you thoroughly. He calls you pure, redeemed, reconciled, and has set you free. Now, let’s spend some time scooping up those wildflowers of color and life, knowing that we are free indeed. Here is a prayer you can come back to when you are wrestling with shame:
Lord, I praise You– that You are steadfast in mercy, unfailing in your love, and that you are Truth. You have the power to carry me out of the darkness and shame and into Your light. Wash me, and let me hear YOU when you call me clean. I humbly ask you to help me to release the lies and chains I’ve carried around that say otherwise. Please help me to see myself the way You see me. I boldly ask for you to free me from the bondage of my past that has still been gripping me– the chains that I’ve heavily dragged around with me for all this time. As I step deeper into the purity of Your heart, I pray that I would not just define myself by outward actions, but that I would be cleansed at the very depths of my heart and mind. If there are wounds from my past that still linger, I pray for your healing touch that I could reach the fullness of the restoration that you have for me. I want to run freely into Your arms with joy, knowing that I am free indeed. I love you Lord.
There’s this word that I use a lot. On a pretty regular basis I talk to others about how my life has been transformed as I learned about my identity in Christ.
Oxford Dictionary defines identity as “the fact of being who or what a person or thing is.”
Do you allow yourself to take on the names that others have called you? Have you claimed labels for yourself that you’ve picked up over the years, perhaps based on things done to you, or things you’ve chosen for yourself? Those names and labels have power—they start to seep into the core of how we see ourselves, almost like indisputable facts.
- Picture a middle school girl, beloved by her parents but suddenly faced with comparisons or harsh criticism from her peers in the hallways and locker rooms. She no longer looks in the mirror and likes what she sees. She takes the negative comment of “ugly” and repeats it to herself each time she steps up to her reflection. Soon it affects the way she carries herself, the way she interprets her interactions with others, the way she herself in the world.
- I think of a man who has wrestled for years with substance abuse and addiction. Hurt at a young age by family wounds, he discovers the enticing world of alcohol and drugs at far too young of an innocent age. He finds that those substances bring him momentary numbness, where he can ignore his pain and escape real life for a little while. Through a series of choices and events, he eventually gets into trouble– in far too deep to get out on his own. He now looks at these choices and consequences, and sees himself as broken beyond repair, shameful, a disgrace. This affects the way he carries himself, the way he makes future choices (feeling trapped in this pattern), and the way he sees himself in the world.
- What about the executive who has built a life of success? While wrapped up in accolades and affirmations, pleased with performance and ability to control outcomes, this perception of self, based on external praise also affects interactions with others, and the way this person perceives his place in the world.
- Then there’s the woman whose heart has been broken over and over again. Whether through abandonment, rejection, heartache, hopes dashed, she has come to see herself as unlovable, or unworthy of being loved back. Soon that affects the way she herself, her security within relationships, the way she sees the world.
I’ll share with you my own list (this is not comprehensive… there are certainly others) of identities I’ve held onto for myself over the years. There are “good ones:” pure, hard-working, good Christian, popular, actress, singer, writer, mother, ministry leader, friend, smart, creative. Then there are the ones that have had more staying power– the ones I’ve pinned to myself like a scarlet letter: lonely, depressed, anxious, ugly, unclean, unworthy, divorced, broken, shameful, too much, not enough.
Wanna know where these identities came from? Let me give you a hint… not our God. These came from the world. From fellow humans (also broken and fallen) whose flippant words become etched onto our hearts as deep wounds. From the enemy who wants to see us climb back into the mud and roll around, making us fear that our junk is too dirty for God to truly forgive. From our own sense of pride. These are not the places He wants us to live.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” -2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV)
Over the past few years as I’ve thought and wrestled with identity, I realized that I was letting the words and actions of the world around me define me instead of the powerful TRUTH of an unchanging, always loving, steadfast God. The One who created me. The One who knows me better than anyone. The One who knows the number of hairs on my head, every thought before it enters my mind, the words I will say before they leave my lips. The One who has already forgiven my sins and washed me clean. I am finally learning to use the words He gives me to build my identity:
child of God
Friends, we can re-claim our identities… in fact we are called to do so! When we release the powerful grip of what the world has said about us and walk boldly into our identities in the Lord, it changes the way we see ourselves, the way we act, the way we live out our purpose. This for me has been a journey of understanding more about who the Lord is and what HE says about me, so that I can replace the waves of lies that wash over me with His unwavering Truths.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” -Romans 12:2 (NIV)
For the next four Fridays in August, I want to talk about how we can transform the way we see ourselves from the inside–the very core of who we are. I want to encourage you to join me in digging deeper to this identity stuff. While positive affirmations are super helpful, I think the work needs to be deeper than that. Finding the source of wound or where the lie may have originated, finding out more about the character of God, and who He says we are in His never-changing Word and Truth.
I would love to hear from you before we dig into some of these old identities– what is the loudest lie for you? The name you’ve carried around that you want to release for good? Send me a quick message through the prayer form. I’d love to pray for you, but also (anonymously) address some of the actual lies you struggle with in these upcoming posts. Grateful to be on this journey with you.
Thank you for your unfailing love. Help me to understand more of that love, as I draw closer to You and learn more about your nature. I want to know You more, and as a result know more about how You see me as Your beloved child. Allow that to transform in a deep and lasting way my interactions with You, myself, and the world. I pray that You will protect my heart as I learn more about the lies I’ve carried around for far too long, and I ask that You would give me the courage to let go of those names, insecurities, and lies that are not based in Truth. Lord, I want to live an abundant and authentic life, with my full strength and security in You. I pray for Your gentle and patient care as I step more fully into the identity and purpose YOU have for me.