Thursday, September 20, 2012

How to Never Get Burned Again


Earlier this year, I had an intimate worship experience with God one morning over some scorched hash browns. I had been struggling hard to “embrace” my incredibly-limited (medically-necessary) food plan, and that morning, He tenderly and tangibly reminded me that I can worship Him in my sorrow – right in the middle of life’s ugly, grueling, and despairing places.  

My perspective improved that morning, but my propensity for burning those blasted hash browns sure didn’t. Then during a grocery run one day, I spotted some “southern” hash browns in the freezer section. They’re the same as what I was eating except that they’re little cubes instead of shredded, so I decided to try them. And guess what. I discovered that they don’t burn nearly as easily as the shredded ones! When I made the switch, I smiled with delight as I was cooking them because I was so pleased with myself that I had found a way to reduce my chances of burnt-food-induced frustration. {pats self on back}

I made a similar strategic shift when my laptop died this summer. I was so disheartened that we had to fork over 100+ bucks to have my picture memories extracted from my dead laptop that I decided I wouldn’t put any files on my new laptop’s hard drive. None. It was just too risky. So I’m outsmarting it this time. Because this time, I have an external hard drive permanently plugged into the USB port, and that’s where I have been storing everything.

Oh yes, I am all about preventative measures to spare myself recurrences of pain and agony. My list could go on and on. Take a look inside my fridge when I’m thawing meat, and you’ll see that package of meat sitting on top of a plate. That’s because I’ve had more nasty meat juice messes than I care to count. And how about spending a ton of time composing a long e-mail, and then an evil fluke makes it disappear right before your eyes the moment you hit the send button?? {I heard you echo my growl.} Anyone else copy the text before pressing the send button now to avoid that? I do!

As I was standing at my stove proudly tending to my well-managed hash browns, I thought, “It’s all about not getting burned, isn’t it? . . . "

Because that’s largely how I approach life.
And sadly, my relationships.

I walk through life as if I’m living on a mine field, ever navigating around what appears to threaten my emotional survival. Consciously and subconsciously, I strategize to minimize all risks: the uncertain, the uncomfortable, and the downright painful. Because in my mind, they’re explosives that promise only shrapnel. The agony of relational hurt can be too excruciating, so I tell myself that I’ll never let THAT situation happen to me again. Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice and shame on me, right?

And so I put preventative measures in place to assure that I won’t get burned like the last time. I don’t even care if the measures are terribly awkward like my external hard drive that perpetually dangles from my laptop. As long as I perceive my feelings as safe and secure – inside that hard, unbreakable enclosure – I feel protected.

So here’s the secret for how to never get burned again:
Build a self-protective fortress around your soul.
It works like a charm.

And the more frequent the attack, or the deeper the burn, the taller and broader my fortress becomes . . .

Here’s the problem:
In doing so, we become isolated prisoners chained to the darkness of our own cold, concrete walls.

Rather than taking deep breaths in the fragrant fields of freedom and forgiveness, we construct impenetrable walls that surround us only with the oppressive stench of bitterness.

And it chokes us.

Inside castle wall
This is how Beth Moore describes it in BreakingFree:
“Life's way of reacting to a crushed heart is to wrap tough sinews of flesh around it and tempt us to promise we'll never let ourselves get hurt again.
That's not God's way.
Remember, self-made fortresses not only keep love from going out; they keep love from coming in. We risk becoming captives in our own protective fortresses.”

In other words, when we focus so hard on avoiding the explosive mines in the field,
we create them in the process.

“the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer,
because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you
in proportion to your fear of being hurt.” 
~ Thomas Merton

The reality, my friend, is that we live in a fallen world. And Jesus assured us that we will have trouble. And we can either try to manage that trouble on our own by stacking cinderblocks around the chambers of our heart – living life as a bitter fortress. Or we can place our bleeding souls in the tender hands of the Healer. And let our pain breathe, rest, and heal in the arms of Trust. Isaiah tells us that this is why Jesus came – to bind up the brokenhearted.             

“Only God can put the pieces of our hearts back together again, close up all the wounds, and bind them with a porous bandage that protects from infection . . . but keeps the heart free to inhale & exhale love.
- Beth Moore, Breaking Free

I don’t want to be consumed with the mines anymore.
I want to be consumed with Jesus.

So I’m inviting Him to tear down the walls in my soul.
Will you dare join me?

~ ~ ~
Come read what the Lord revealed to me about these walls in the follow-on post, Letting Go of the Need to Make Sense of the Pain

Saturday, September 8, 2012

six words

When You Want to Help, but Don't Even Know Where to Begin

"Man's extremity is God's opportunity." ~ John Flavel

In the middle of our pastor’s message last Sunday, I stepped out of the worship center for a few minutes. As I walked down the hallway, I noticed out of the corner of my eye three people seated on a step. A young man, young woman, and an infant in between. I was walking my usual quick pace, so it didn’t register until after I had passed them with a quick glance that the young man was crying. And crying hard.

It’s not often that you see somebody expressing deep pain through floods of tears in a public setting. Unfortunately, even in church. And I didn’t know him, but my heart was tugging at me, wondering if I should do something. In a matter of my minute or two walk back to the worship center, I toggled back and forth between reservations and the thought of turning around. My main concern was that I didn’t want to impose. Afterall, I didn’t even know the guy. {Okay, so the prospect of walking up to a total stranger in the midst of deep pain was intimidating, too.}

As I approached the doors to the worship center, I turned my attention to my pastor on the lobby monitor so that I could reengage with his message. And the first thing I heard, just steps away from opening the door, was the phrase, “Spirit led awareness.”
And right away, I knew:
I had to turn around and go back.
God had made me aware. And that tugging in my heart was Him.

As I walked back, God brought this thought to mind:
I don’t want to be a person who sees somebody hurting, and keeps on walking.
When I returned to the area, they had just dispersed. The young man was still in the same spot. But the young woman was now walking down the hallway toward the exit. And the infant was in another young woman’s arms several yards from him (in front of a side entry door to the worship center). Realizing that I had just walked up in a particularly tender moment, I parked myself near the woman with child, as if I were waiting for a discreet moment to step through the door of the worship center. But in reality, wondering what in the world to say or do. Again, I didn’t know these people, so the thought of breaking into a raw moment like that was intimidating for a non-assertive type like me. Not to mention the sensitivity that was at stake.

After standing there silently for several minutes, I turned to the young woman and asked, “Do you know if he’s okay?”
And she said, “I know him, so I’ll go talk to him.”

When she went over to him, I stepped closer toward them because I wanted to make myself available. Yet I also wanted to still offer room to breathe. But then I wondered if it may have felt like I was hovering, so I went and stood against the wall on the other side of a column.

I kept asking the Lord, “Do I stay? Do I go? What do you want me to do here?”I sensed Him leading me to go, telling me that I didn’t have to talk to the guy to fulfill His leading. And by a huge dose of grace from God, I was able to hear Him on that one. Because usually, that kind of u-turn direction is incredibly hard for my one-track mind to tune into. I haven’t yet developed an appreciation for life's change of plans, nor the scenic routes in life. I’m a planner, and when I do something, I like to bring it to completion. Because anything else feels incomplete, which I tend to misconstrue as irresponsible. {And if you’ve been hangin’ out with me here since this blog launched last fall, you know how I feel about the prospect of being irresponsible! And how easily I can buy into the lie that my identity is wrapped up in what I do, rather than Who He is.}

Those times when God says, “Go here, but only this far” or even “I want you to go here. Okay, now I want you to leave.” They can really throw me. They can make me question if I’ve heard Him right. Or if I even heard Him right in the first place.

But this time was different. This time, I followed His voice over my inclination. This time, I wrestled less, and listened more.
This time,
I trusted Him.
And it was liberating.

“This is the assigned moment for Him to move into the center, while I slip off to the sidelines.”
~ John 3:30

I don’t have a fireworks ending to this story. In fact, that’s actually the end of it from my stand-point. I still don’t know who those people are. I don’t have any idea what they were facing at the time (likely still are). I probably won't ever know. And I’m content with that – because that’s not the point.

As far as I know, the Lord wanted me to do an about face and return to that scene simply to utter six words. Six simple words that prompted the friend of a hurting soul to go talk to him. Six words that the Lord uttered from the mouth of a girl that by nature, wouldn’t be assertive {because what will they think?}, and would typically cycle in a paralyzing perfectionist preoccupation with “doing it right.”
Six words that offered my soul the thrill of embracing that He’s not limited by me.

How about you, my friend? . . .Do you get preoccupied with trying to figure out how to reach out to someone in need?
Have you ever had God lead you to an opportunity, then lead you away from it?
Or how about your “six word” story about a time when you said yes to God's still small voice?

(Photo thanks to Matt Gruber)

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