Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I Give Up

I enjoyed the most delightful privilege this past Sunday of standing before a congregation that I love and proclaiming God's truth - which I also love :) Below is an excerpt of what I shared with them - maybe there's something here for you, too?

Do you have anyone in your life who’s a perfectionist? Or maybe you’re one yourself? Or even a recovering perfectionist? Maybe you’re not an across-the-board perfectionist – but maybe there are certain areas of your life where you strive for perfection? I have a confession to make: I’ve lived most of my life as a self-professed anti-perfectionist. (Maybe because I live with 2 of them? We’re not sure about Jake yet... ) I’ve been pretty outspoken about the issue of perfectionism, and never thought that it was a problem in my life at all. In fact, in most areas of my life, I’m very much a “good enough is good enough” kind of gal.  However, I’ve recently discovered 2 things about myself that did not impress me in the least: 1) that I’m a perfectionist in my writing…I’ve been writing a blog (this blog!) for a few years now, and it takes me FOREVER to dare to hit the publish button after I’ve written and re-written and re-re-written and proofread and corrected and thesaurus-ed  and proofed again...yeesh! And 2) In general, I’m a lazy perfectionist – how’s that for an oxymoron?! All my life, I would only attempt that which I could do very well very easily. And this caused the appearance of a sort of shiny perfect veneer over my life – it looked GREAT to the casual observer, and I did everything in my power to keep it looking that way!  For example, you might be familiar with the mad dash to clean up before company comes over? And while that may be a necessary dash in some cases so that guests can enter my home without tripping over half a million pairs of shoes or have a place to sit down without being pierced by Lego and light sabers, I took it too far, even getting out my scrubbing toothbrush to clean around the baseboards (and yes, it was only the imminent threat of company coming that would coax that scrubbing toothbrush out of hiding). Trying to look like one has a perfect life can be very tiring!

 It was today’s Scriptures that got me thinking along these lines.  In 3 out of 4 of our passages this morning, we are confronted with a list of rules, of do’s and don’ts, of resolutions to keep the law. (Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119:33-40; 1 Cor 3:10-11, 16-23; Matt 5:38-48, in case you were wondering) And we encounter this chilling command: “be holy because I am holy” in the OT reading, which is echoed in the Gospel: “be perfect, because I am perfect”. Now we perfectionists know better than anyone just how impossible it is to actually BE perfect, and how very stressful it is to keep trying and failing. Is this really what God requires of us? And if so, is it worth the effort, knowing we’ll just end up failing anyway?
Yes, it’s true that God calls His followers to a high standard, and yes, we’re to live holy and righteous and God-honouring lives. And we might look at that, count the cost, decide that it’s worth it and say, Ok God, I’ll give it my best shot. That’s what the world would tell us to do: try harder, work more, keep striving, do your best, never give up…it’s all about being independent and self-sufficient, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and clawing our way to the top.

 And if that was how God intended for us to live, there would be very few who would hang around in the long run. It’s exhausting to try and live a perfect life for any length of time – exhausting and discouraging and ultimately pointless, really; because we know it’s impossible! We can never measure up to the standard of perfection on our own.
But the good news is (you knew I was getting to this, right?) The good news is, God didn’t leave us on our own. It’s our New Testament reading  that offers us this astonishing hope: “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” After Jesus had died and been raised to life again, he appeared to his followers several times. These were some of his last words to them before he went up into Heaven:

 “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised,
which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water,
but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit...
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you;
and you will be my witnesses..."
(from Acts 1)

The promise of power – power to do and to be all that God requires! To be His witnesses – to live a life that brings glory to Him, that points the way to Him. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit has several functions in the life of the believer, from comforting to convicting of sin; from teaching to reminding to producing fruit; from gifting to empowering…And not one of these depends even a speck on the effort I put in, the work I do – it’s all about God’s work in me, through me. (And we don't have to wait any more! As Billy Graham puts it, "This is the good news: we are no longer waiting for the Holy Spirit - He is waiting for us! We are no longer living in a time of promise, but in the days of fulfillment!")

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened
in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you,
the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people,
and his incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted
when he raised Christ from the dead...!
(Ephesians 1:18-20)

Did you catch that? The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is available to us! Because the Holy Spirit is in us, we can dare to be brave and bold and authentic and take risks for God that in our own strength would be downright impossible! And I’m preaching to myself as much as to anyone else here – I have this amazing, life-changing, terrifying ministry opportunity in front of me right now, and as much as I believe this is the path God wants me to take, there are times when my doubts and worries and fears take over. What if I can’t do what’s needed? What if I try and fail? What if let everybody down? Very early on in my conversations with God about it, I confessed this to Him, and said, “God, I know myself – I can’t do this!”.  And He said (not audibly, but this is the sense I got) “That’s the whole point. I don’t want someone coming in to this who by the sheer force and weight of their personality and leadership skills will force the thing through in their own power. I need someone who can’t, so that I CAN!”

And I think that’s the whole point, the whole key to living for Him – acknowledging our weakness and inability and inadequacy and allowing the power of the Holy Spirit to do it all, by consciously, deliberately, regularly surrendering to Him and resting in His love and grace.

I asked God what words He had for us today. And I think I got an answer; you can weigh them for yourself and decide, but here is it: God wants you to give up. He wants you to stop trying so hard to do what you think you should do, to stop doing your best and hoping it will be enough, to stop striving for perfection on your own steam. He longs for you to surrender everything to Him so that He can begin to lead you in to His very best for you, to empower you to live the victorious, abundant, freedom-filled, risk-filled, joy-filled, satisfying life He has in mind for you. I can't, but He CAN!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shame on me

Well, I'm back. I have so much to say, I'm not sure where to begin...God has been dealing with me in the most loving and heavy and difficult and beautiful ways the past few weeks, and I want to share with you the amazing things He's been revealing.

I should start by addressing my last blog post. I was re-reading the things I had written over the past months and years, and marvelling over what God has done and continues to do in me. It feels a little wrong to be inspired by one's own writing, but I found myself so encouraged as I looked back over the miracles and break-throughs and lessons learned and insight gained over the past 3 years of my life. Alas, I also discovered lessons that I had completely forgotten and was in need of learning all over again. That's life, I guess - it's never a smooth, steady ascent to the mountaintop, but rather a jagged journey back and forth and up and down and all around...Well, I got to my most recent post and was struck by the language and tone of the first paragraph - it just reeked of shame, of all things. Just in case it's not fresh in your memory :), here's a recap: I was going to take a break from blogging to sooth my soul that had been rubbed raw by so much personal exposure, in addition to a variety of heavy things weighing on my heart. In short, I was ashamed of having revealed myself, and of the self that had been revealed. Upon later reflection, I realized that there was absolutely nothing upon which to base that particular feeling. Not one person who has commented or sent a facebook message or an email or spoken to me in person has made me feel that anything I have revealed was shameful in the least - on the contrary, I've never gotten so much positive feedback and encouragement from anything in my life! If that's the case, then I have to conclude that my sense of shame comes from within (dang-it). I am ashamed of who I am.

And so I've been trying to unpack it, but to be honest, I'm stumped. This is a brand-new issue for me; but it sure explains a lot, now that I'm aware of it! I've been looking back over my life, trying to pin-point the origin of all this shame - and I'm the first one to admit that my memory is more like an afghan than anything else (soft and hole-y) - but for the life of me, I can't figure it out. I can point to ever so many incidents, from as early as age 6 up until very present-day, where shame was quite obviously a factor in my actions and reactions and relationships. (In fact, shame is very much a unifying theme in this blog - but I was only able to see it after reading from beginning to end.) But I can't figure out why. (And that annoys me) Unlike so many people I know, I recall a very pleasant childhood, very strong and healthy family connections, great friends, a remarkably positive schooling experience, many opportunities to safely explore my gifts and talents and lots of support and encouragement. Now I'm not claiming that any of that was perfect, by any means, but I had a much better and stronger and less-traumatic start to my story than so many I've heard. I'm very thankful, but confused - so why the shame?

Well, I still don't know, and I'm not giving up trying to get to the bottom of it, but I do have the choice to start from right now to recognize it and refute it when it rears its' ugly head. And I'm seeing it now in the littlest of things - how I can't take a compliment, or look people in the eye after having revealed something of a personal nature, or not allowing time and energy for self-care or denying myself permission to dream and act on those dreams...etcetera, etcetera... Shame is the basis of my self-esteem issues, for sure. And not even shame for something I've done (though there's that, too, of course...) but for something I can't do anything about  - the essence of who I am.

If this all sounds familiar, I know - I've discussed the results of all this shame in other places here. And maybe you're sitting there thinking, 'Well, duh, Joy - pretty obvious!'. Well, it certainly wasn't obvious to me! In fact, after I had written my last post, one of my most vocal and wonderful supporters sent me a message and identified the issue for me - what a welcome wake-up call! I have always been ashamed to be known.  But the basic answer to the problem is the same - the answer to every question, just like in Sunday School :) Jesus! It's in Him and through Him and by Him and because of Him that I can get out from under this shame-cloud and live in freedom. He has made me who I am! On purpose, even! And the whole reason I started this blog was to discover/uncover (the) real Joy - to dig out from under that heavy pile of shame and be who He has made me to be! Man, how could I have missed it? How did I not see that it was shame that was calling the shots the whole time? Yeesh. No matter - now I know, and knowing is at least half the battle :) One more step along the path that not only leads to real joy but is real joy - joy in the journey, not just at its' end. May we all have the courage to take one brave step after another on our own joy-paths!