“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.
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.
This is the ceiling light in my living space. The room where I spend the most time, when I am actually home. I am constantly on the go, and I don’t leave much room for margin. My apartment, where I have lived for almost 3 years, has felt often times like a holding space for what I thought might be a temporary arrangement. The season has stretched on, and sometimes I neglect this little space because it’s easier to just keep moving than to sit… be still… to accept and call this home.
This holiday season was a bit of a hard one for me, and this particular light fixture needed its bulb changed for the past 2 months. I have let my fake Christmas tree and its tiny bulbs light my evenings, making frequent mental notes that I should put a new light in so that the room could feel a little brighter. But sometimes it felt better to sit in the cozy darkness, with just the corner lit up, my sweet little tree with my favorite ornaments looking back at me.
Today, I take my tree down. I made space today to write. I’m folding 5 loads of laundry that have been piling up. I’m prepping healthy foods for this week to be intentional about what I put in my body instead of eating for comfort or convenience as I have been the past few months. And I changed the light.
Because I’m making space in this season for more light, more hope, for establishing what it looks like to make this place actually “home.” I’m working on a gallery wall for the living room, finishing projects that have been in limbo for a while, and I’m letting light in, so that hopefully I have more to pour out.