"Truly God is good to Israel, to those whose hearts are pure. But as for me, I almost lost my footing. My feet were slipping and I was almost gone...
...I get nothing but trouble all day long; every morning brings me pain...So I tried to understand...Then I went into Your sanctuary, O God, and I finally understood...Then I realized that my heart was bitter, and I was all torn up inside. I was so foolish and ignorant--I must have seemed like a senseless animal to You.
Yet I STILL belong to You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, leading me to a glorious destiny. Whom have I in heaven but You? I desire You more than anything on earth. My heart and flesh may fail and my spirit grow weak, but God remains the Strength of my heart; He is mine forever."--Psalm 73 (edited)
Some people have called me stubborn...Maybe they're right, but maybe not so much...Ok, so they ARE right! This past week an acquaintance made a statement that I'm one of those people who can't or won't be vulnerable--implying to me that because of my inability or unwillingness to show my vulnerability to others, I'm less or not worth the effort. I was offended and my first thought is "Seriously, does this person even know me?! " but I realized that maybe her statement got to me so much because there was some truth to it--or at best, I'm only vulnerable before a very few and it makes me so angry with myself when I let even that much show. Then I began remembering another very good and honest friend telling me, "Sheri, if we talk about being real, you have to be real and open about your struggles..."
So yeah, maybe I do put up a front sometimes--that I'm strong when I'm not or that I'm more when I'm less, or brave when I'm afraid. Being vulnerable opens me up to be hurt or judged, exposes those areas of my heart that have been hidden most of my life, and shows people that maybe I'm not as tough or strong as I want to be. Maybe I just feel like I need to prove myself to others or even more to myself--that I can be strong or productive or successful or unafraid when I really just want to hide or run far away. Sometimes I really don't think I can or want to make it another day but I can't let other people see that. I'm just so tired of being pathetic or needy. I guess I'm just too afraid that I won't measure up to other people's expectations or worst of all, to my own. In my mind, I'm never quite good enough or strong enough or worthy enough. Sometimes I'm just really afraid I can't be what people want me to be so I make up for what I'm not by being the protector or defender of the weak or comforter of the hurting--not that it's wrong to be either but sometimes I'm too much. Maybe I'm so determined in those roles because when I'm consumed with the struggles of others, I can ignore my own or even pretend they don't exist. My heart truly grieves over the wounds and brokenness of others. Even when I can't stand up or pray for myself, I can be a Rottweiler when it comes to standing in the gap for people whom I love and those who have been shattered by violence or injustice.
But there are times even in those roles when I'm feeling most vulnerable that I unconsciously put a "distance" between myself and everyone else. I still function; I still serve; and I still accomplish good things--maybe even to the extreme. I make myself sointent on "fixing" that I don't let myself fully "feel" their hurt because it draws me toward my own pain and I don't want my pain to showor feel so much. Sometimes I seem more callous and cold to tragic circumstances when it goes against my very nature...all because I'm afraid of getting in so deep that I let it get to me so much that I expose my own wounds for what they really are.
Logic and years of being in ministry with both kids (my ancient past) and women (my ministry today)should tell me, "Sheri, that's just stupid. You don't have to be any more or anything other than who or what GOD wants you to be." All so right and true. Seriously, my "stinkin' thinkin' " goes against anything I teach or expect of others. I would never speak to women I reach out to the way I speak to myself. I tend to have a whole different set of impossible standards for myself than I do for everyone else. I always want God's very best for them and I will do anything to be used by Him to bring them to that place of healing. I love them just the way they are, and continue to love them whether they choose Him or walk away from Him. I have spent many hours showing women and convincing them that they are beautiful and so very precious in His sight. It's so easy to see that truth for others yet so hard to believe for myself sometimes.
In all honestly, I have been struggling a lot the last few weeks--physically, emotionally, and spiritually--and I've been sinking deeper and deeper into those old damaging thoughts but I've tried my darnedest not to let anyone know. I'm ashamed of it. It's an all too familiar pit. Circumstances, and admittedly, my own stubbornness won't allow me to share my real struggle even with those I most trust--I've come too far and I don't want to be a disappointment if they think I'm slipping. If or when one of those I trust and respect so greatly show the least frustration when I falter, I'm even more determined to handle it myself and not let anyone know or see that I'm falling. I've "pretended" life, caught up in the "doing" for so many years, that it's like second nature when I feel like my back is against the wall. My greatest desire is to be real but when I feel least acceptable, I fall back in that same pattern or pretense. It's like a mindset that believes if others don't see it then I'm not broken--as if I can just pretend it away.
Serious chronic depression and self-rejection have plagued me most of my life even though I couldn't see it or know what it was. I couldn't even begin to admit my depression until the last 5 years. And I'm sure that many people in my past had absolutely no idea how often I wanted to escape from life. For the last year or so, God has provided me with and used a trusted and wise friend and counselor to tremendously influence my life and help me examine and change my way of thinking. He has often courageously but compassionately confronted me with hard truth and wisdom when I didn't want to hear it or accept it. And he's the one person with whom I have been able to share my recent thoughts and personal battles. Yesterday he asked me how often I pray for myself. I had to admit that I rarely do--not for my deepest needs or flaws anyway--or even sometimes the smallest of physical needs...thinking I guess, that it's beneath God to meet my needs...as if I'm afraid He would breath out this exasperated, impatient sigh if I need one more thing from Him--like I do sometimes when the phone rings too much or my computer doesn't behave correctly...again. I can be a champion prayer warrior for others but a coward in really praying for myself. Except for one trusted personal friend, I have a hard time even asking anyone for prayer and lately, I've been unable to bring myself to ask that one to pray for my real need. (Maybe I'm afraid I'll hear that frustrated impatient sigh from him!)
Putting all logic aside, too often I convince myself that asking God for anything more is selfish. That He's done too much already--that He doesn't really care or have time or even want to deal with MY chronic issues--other people's needs are so much greater. And most of all, I remind myself that I got myself into this mess so no one else should have to get me out of it--least of all, God. After all, He's carried me this far--how much more do I expect Him to do for me? I have no right to expect anything from Him or anyone else for that matter. How many times must He rescue me from the pit? And how frustrated He must be that once again, we're at the same place that we've been so many times before.
So while all this rattles through my head in the seconds or minutes after he asked his first question, my intense friend matter-of-factly commented on my unwillingness to pray for my own needs, "So you glorify yourself..." Well I'm thinking but saying much less empatically, "Well, heck no! Of course not--I'm nothing to be glorified at all. That's the whole point: I'm nothing!"
Well, you would think my friend would speak up and argue or at least back me up or say something compassionate or understanding...But no, he just sits quietly waiting, probably secretly aware of my inward argument. And in his quietness, suddenly I realized that I'm doing before God exactly what I do before others and even before myself. I'm trying to prove myself to Him--that I'm not so pathetic and that I can handle whatever is on my plate or in front of me. And it hit me that I'm even more afraid that I can't measure up to His expectations either--that I can't do or be what He wants or that I have to fix all my faults before I can go to Him. So if I don't pray for my needs, I don't have to live up to His plan....right? How obnoxious and ironic that I think I should be able to improve on what He created or escape His plan for me.
All this rambled through my mind in the next minutes but then my friend finally put the spotlight on his whole point: If I don't ask God to help me with my deepest needs especially when I'm most ready to give up on life, then I'm doing just that--glorifying myself. I'm putting myself above Him. I'm telling God I don't NEED Him...And if I don't "need" Him, then I'm not glorifying Him. And the truth of it hit me like a lead balloon.
My friend was on a roll now. As if that truth wasn't enought, he wasn't quite finished with me. And he seized the opportunity while he had my full attention. He stressed that, especially when I'm most ready to give up is when I need to live exactly what I teach in HOPE: to hold on to the 3 basic tenets of our foundation to finding everlasting HOPE. First, admit that I'm screwed up, I'm not God, and I'm powerless to fix my own mess. Second, believe that God is real, that I truly matter to Him, and that I NEED Him to restore all that's broken in my life. And last, surrender all of my life and will to His care and control--especially those suicidal or harmful thoughts. In surrendering, I must ASK Him to change the worst in me. All this I already know in my head and I firmly believe is true. I teach it and proclaim it for others with passion...But his next question pierced me like a knife, "Do you believe that you need Him?"
Surely my yes would be quick and ready, right? But the words stuck in my throat. I realized that my affirmation wasn't so easy to speak out loud...Could I admit to him or even to Christ Himself that I really do give up--I NEED Him to heal my deepest and darkest wounds? Suddenly there were all these 'buts' and 'what ifs' racing through my head. "But what if He can't? What if I fail? What if...but I can't...but I don't know..." I strive to be completely honest with this friend but I couldn't say what I couldn't feel...I don't know if it seemed long to my friend but to me it seemed an eternity before I could barely breathe the words, "Yes, I need Him." And even in saying the words, I braced myself against allowing my heartbreak or--God forbid--my tears to show in front of one that knows me so well. And in that very moment, I didn't like who I had become. I was everything that had been said about me.
PRIDE--it's such a paradoxical word. To be prideful is defined as being haughty, self-important, or arrogant--thinking that we're all that and a bag of potato chips. But isn't it sometimes in reverse or twisted somehow? Instead of thinking so much of myself, Pride whispers to me how selfish and how unworthy I am of Christ's mercy so much so that I determine to 'let Him off the hook' and do for myself what I should be letting Christ do for me and in me. Even in seeing myself as a wretch--as unbecoming and undeserving of Christ's grace and healing, I am ashamed and yet so absurdly prideful that I won't ask for or accept His help. In reality, I am denying my desperate need for all that He is and can be in my life.
Still with intensity, my 'wise guy' (I mean that literally) reminded me of Christ's words in John 15 that I already knew so well, "Remain in Me and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, it must remain on the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in Me. I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me, and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing."
He stressed the importance of praying that I remain in Him and I can only do that by letting Christ nourish me. Apart from Him, I can't be what He wants me to be....And maybe He wants to do so much more thru me or in me but I won't let Him. I limit Him because I won't fully surrender my worst to Him--my own sorry opinion of myself. I work so hard to meet some impossible standard I create so that I can be more than the nothing I feel that I am. And in reality, I make myself nothing by trying to make it on my own. I couldn''t deny the truth of it and it weighed so heavy on my heart. It was all I could do to get away before I broke in tears--still that pride doesn't want anyone to see me break.
This was not a new revelation. My "wise guy" didn't tell me anything that I don't already know and believe in my head. I know that I would never have survived this far without Jesus Christ--without grace. He has been faithful to me even when I haven't been faithful to Him. Yet even hours later, I still stumble over the words as I pray in solitude...
"Lord, I can't do this on my own anymore. I can't fix what is broken in me. I am nothing without You. I need You to do what I can't. I need You to take my destructive thoughts away and remain in me. I know Your Word and I believe it. Now take what I know and believe with my mind and put it in the deepest recesses of my heart. And when I can't see my way or when I'm too stubborn or filled with pride to admit it, whisper hope to me and remind me to let go and let You lead the way. I want to believe, not just with my mind but with my whole heart that You WILL heal and restore every wound and every damaging thought, not just for others but also myself. Take all that I am and all that I'm not and make me usable for Your glory alone....And thanks for putting a person in my life who is so aware of his own need for You and remains so much in You that he can see what I try so hard to hide. Thank you for giving him the strength and the wisdom to boldly speak truth to me...And when my heart and flesh fails and my spirit is so weak, Lord, be the Strength of my heart...at this moment as well as the next time I fall into that pit of 'stinkin thinkin' and forever."