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From D.A. Carson’s book, Love in Hard Places (bold and italicized emphases mine):
Not all Christians face persecuting enemies, but all Christians face little enemies. We encounter people whose personality we intensely dislike—
– an obstreperous deacon or church leader
– a truly revolting relative
– an employee or employer who specializes in insensitivity, rudeness, and general arrogance
– people with whom you have differed on some point of principle who take all differences in a deeply personal way and who nurture bitterness for decades, stroking their own self-righteousness and offended egos as they go
– insecure little people who resent and try to tear down those who are even marginally more competent than they
– the many who lust for power and call it principle
– the arrogant who are convinced of their own brilliance and of the stupidity of everyone else
The list is easily enlarged. They are offensive, sometimes repulsive, especially when they belong to the same church.
It often seems safest to leave by different doors, to cross the street when you see them approaching, or to find eminently sound reasons not to invite them to any of your social gatherings. And if, heaven forbid, you accidentally bump into such an enemy, the best defense is a spectacularly English civility, coupled with a retreat as hasty as elementary decency permits. After all, isn’t ‘niceness’ what is demanded? . . .
In many instances, what is required is simply forbearance driven by love. No one puts it more forcefully than Paul:
‘Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Col. 3:12–14)
To bear with one another and to forgive grievances presupposes that relationships will not always be smooth. Most of the time, what is required is not the confrontation of Matthew 18, but forbearance, forgiveness, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, or patience. Christians are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice (Rom. 12:15). . . .
That brings us to three reflections.
First, this loving of awkward people, first of all those within the household of faith but then also outsiders, is sometimes grounded not on God’s providential love (as in Matt. 5:43–47), but on a distinctively Christian appeal. . . . ‘Forgive as the Lord forgave you’—a frank appeal to the Christian’s experience of grace.
Second, in practical terms this love for ‘little enemies’ is sometimes (though certainly not always) more difficult than love for big enemies, for persecuting enemies. . . .
Third . . . there is a frankly evangelistic function to Christian love …
Preach it, Dr. Carson!
And here’s one more link that might prove helpful/encouraging for any of us who are facing some “difficult people” in our lives:
(I think this is my all-time favorite CCEF article. If I could staple it to my head—or better yet, inscribe it on my heart, I would!)
Angry people are sometimes sinfully angry; and sometimes angry people are fearful people who have no idea how frightened (and frightening) they are.
Avoidance of duties may be sinful laziness and sloth, but sometimes it can be genuine exhaustion that comes from our trying (consciously or unconsciously) to stomp down and avoid deep grief and pain.
Some of us are sinfully proud and foolish re: receiving criticism; but some of us want to listen to criticism and want to be readily teachable and growing in wisdom, but the graceless criticism of today sometimes presses on a shaming memory with such ferocity that even we are shocked by how quickly and high we “jump” or “kick” emotionally in response.
Like the shock of having a deep bruise or fresh surgical sutures knocked into, sometimes a color. A scent. An image. A touch. One specific word may tip us into a valley of despair and darkness that has very, very little to do with our present circumstance. Sometimes, our seemingly out-of-proportion reactions are God’s gracious way of helping us to understand and address complex pain in our complex hearts (i.e., what the Bible describes as our mind, soul, or inner man).
For me, this week, I have had repeated opportunities to turn to the Lord with intimate cries for help, gratitude for his covenantal love, and increasing hope and assurance from his Word, because wow! Did I initially overreact to my daughter’s suffering tied to high fevers.
Yes, yes. Our family is currently dealing with the gunk of a bad virus, just like so many other families in our community. No, this is not “terrible suffering” like the “real suffering” of people in much-more-serious circumstances. But yes, this is “terrible suffering” and “real suffering” for our life circumstance, for this day, for this season. It’s exhausting to have high fevers day after day, night after night. It’s miserable to be sick and it’s miserable to be the mom who can’t protect her child from being sick.
But for me, Tara Barthel, this normal, not-too-dramatic, suffering-related-to-a-child-having-a-little-virus/bug has a layer of pain related to it that has absolutely nothing to do with 2016 and everything to do with specific memories from my childhood (in the 1970’s). Why does this matter? Because as soon as my husband and I recognized that I wasn’t just exhausted from being up all week with my sick child, I was also grieving anew a past suffering, we—Fred and I—could take a few extra steps to be sure we were not only ministering to our child, we were caring for me, too.
Thankfully, it only took us a few days into our daughter’s illness to recognize that her sleep disturbances were reminding me of some of my worst childhood night terrors, sleeptalking, sleep-moaning-and-crying-out-for-help-weeping, and sleep walking right out of my childhood home.
(I can still taste those nightmares from 35+ years ago! Adrenaline really does have such a searing effect on memories.)
Every time my daughter’s fever went into the 104 range this week, I wasn’t just trying to determine if the ice-pack on her forehead was sufficient or whether we should put her into a tepid bath, I was also vividly flashing back to the hard metal tubs with the clanging latches that were both the instruments of my torture and my rescue in the emergency rooms of my childhood.
(If you haven’t had bags of ice poured onto your 105+ degree’d body, it may be a little hard to understand the confusion and terror of being a five year-old shaking uncontrollably from being SO hot and SO cold at the exact same time—and wondering why the grownups in the room “weren’t helping.” They were, of course, helping. But it sure didn’t feel like it at the time.)
No, I wasn’t undone by these memories this week. They were mostly just revving in the background of my days and nights of typical maternal concern and care. But last night, Fred wisely urged me to tuck into the bed in our tiny basement (far away from our daughters’ room), entrust the every-two-hour-medicine schedule to him, and sleep. Cry if I needed to. Pray. Turn off the hypervigilance-momma-meter and just rest.
I am grateful that Fred was sensitive to not only the normal difficulties of this week, but also the deeper layers of pain related to my past experiences. I truly think that we would all be wise to try to remember that people’s actions and reactions may have elements that are tied to complex, past pain. To quote a passage for Peacemaking Women:
We often experience suffering on two different levels. The pain from the current situation may ‘tap into’ our past experiences …
When our experience of pain seems disproportional to the actual situation we are in, we need to look deep into our own hearts to see if a life-forming trauma might be surfacing in the current conflict. Sometimes we may even need help to do so because our pain may cloud our vision and make it difficult to see clearly. Grief and despair, while rooted in past hurts, can be reflected powerfully in current circumstances and present suffering.
Of course, even as we seek to gain wisdom and insight about our complex pain, our suffering never gives us an excuse to sin. God calls us to honor him regardless of our past or present circumstances. As David Powlison reminds us, ‘Knowledge of a person’s history may be important for many reasons (compassion, understanding, knowledge of characteristic temptations), but it never determines the heart’s inclinations.’
Amen & Amen!
What JOY there is in knowing that one day, in Glory, there will be no more tears and no more grief; no more sin and no more unbelief. No more pain! When we see the Lord with unveiled faces (2 Cor 3:18), we will be like him. Oh, how I long for that day!
But in this life, God has sanctified us (definitive sanctification) and he is sanctifying us (progressive sanctification). One aspect of our growth in grace is learning to lament — to grieve with hope. For complex, deep pain? This grieving may feel like the peeling of layers of an onion … in his perfect timing (which we often don’t understand at the time), God lovingly helps us to peel back the layers of our sorrow or grief so that we can experience an even deeper sense of His presence, goodness, wholeness, and Shalom.
One day, in Heaven, the “onion” of pain will be gone forever and completely because our suffering will be over. But in this life, we grow and change. This life is often a life of complex grief. Fear and faith. Risk and pain. Risk and love. “Not health, but healing; not being, but becoming” to use the language of Martin Luther.
Please know, friends, that I am praying for you great hope and great comfort as you grieve and lament the complex pain of your lives.
God really is always working together all things for his glory and our good. Even—nay, especially—the painful things. Oh, that we would have eyes to see and ears to hear! That we would “understand with our hearts, turn, and be healed” (Matthew 13:15) by the One True, Triune God.
Sending my love—
There is a wonderful book coming out on this very topic in just a few short weeks now: “A Heart Set Free – A Journey to Hope through the Psalms of Lament”, by my dear friend, Christina Fox.
I was SO excited to learn from my friend, Deb W, that Amazon currently has a huge sale going for the e-version of my first book:
Only $1.99! I’m not sure how long this will last, but if you’re interested, I hope it is still going when you click on through.
(I don’t receive any revenue for you clicking on the link to Amazon. This is truly just a heads-up to hopefully be a blessing to you.)
I am so very sorry to have to report that my website apparently had a technological hiccup that lasted for weeks. !
If you would please re-send your inquiries or contact me directly (my email is contact “at” tarabarthel “dot com”), I would be ever so grateful.
Thank you! Can’t wait to see so many of you in just a few weeks at the 2016 PCA Women’s Leadership Training Conference. Please stop by the LiveBlog for a hug and (if you’d like to participate) for a photo to share with your friends and family back home.
Sending my love,
Thinking about New Year’s Resolutions? Please do NOT read this article by Ed Welch: Self-Control – The Battle Against “One More”
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, then you know that I am a huge Ed Welch fan. I think he is one of the most important and wise contemporary authors of our day. I have recommended at my events and personally sold thousands of his books. So why would I encourage you not to read this article by him if you are thinking about making New Year’s resolutions?
The answer is simple: it is too accurate. Too Scriptural. Too insightful. Too spot-on re: why the vast number of us make resolutions, but then fail to change:
- Our reckless indulgences, excesses, and greed all reveal hearts of wrong worship (idolatry). Regardless of our confessional theology (what we claim to believe), our practical theology (how we actually live) is clear: We want what we want when we want it.
- We like sin. C’mon, friends! This is an easy one. If we didn’t enjoy our excesses (at least at first), we wouldn’t do our excesses. But oh! There is some enticing, ensorcelling pleasure associated with the disordered affections we are trying to order/tame. If that weren’t the case, we wouldn’t need our little “resolutions”! We would just wake up one morning (usually a Monday for most of us, right?) and change.
- The more we indulge, the less pleasure we experience. God loves us too much to allow us to be satisfied with anything or anyone other than himself! And so he graciously allows us to descend into misery, pain, and even disgust and crippling shame regarding our sin—so that we might repent (remember truth!), believe (epignosis, not just gnosis), and change (change is the norm for the Believer). Our misery is is a sign of God’s covenant-keeping care!
- Our Three Enemies (Satan, the World, our Flesh) love to keep us in bondage. Our problem may have physical characteristics—especially those of us who struggle with overindulgence in mind-altering substances such as alcohol and/or drugs. But even so, our primary problem is spiritual.
And that, my friends, is why I do not want you to read Ed Welch’s article. Or Kris Lundgaard’s book (The Enemy Within: Straight Talk about the Power and Defeat of Sin). Or C. Plantinga’s breviary on sin, Owen’s Mortification of Sin. And for goodness’ sake, don’t listen to Keller on Sin as Slavery.
If you do, you may find yourself tracking right through my new retreat on disordered affections (which is based on a study I have held repeatedly at my local church because I need it so badly!):
Week 1: Admitting how out of control (depressed, anxious, desperate, belligerent) we feel and wanting to change (on one level), but not really wanting to change (because we want to “protect our private cache” of sin). Feeling so stuck and so discouraged by our failures in the past (self-reproach, confession, resolution, failure—REPEAT!), that we really don’t really believe it’s even possible to change. So we keep sinning in order to relieve the distress caused by our sinning. We are caught. Trapped. In bondage.
Week 2: Deceived into believing that disobeying God and keeping God on the periphery of our lives will somehow bring us happiness and freedom, we develop a destructive tolerance to sin because the amount we needed yesterday just doesn’t satisfy today. We become liars. Bigtime justifiers. Defensively able to prove at any time why we don’t have a problem, even though our relationships and private lives are descending more and more into isolation, deception, and misery. Our experience of our relationship with God is practically non-existent. We are living as functional idolators and thus, we love the darkness.
Week 3: We admit that the problem is not the thing (the addictive substance); the problem is us … our hearts. When we are overindulging and giving into our wrong worship and greed, we are loving ourselves more than anything or anyone else in the world. What hope is there for us?! Chalmers calls it “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” Melissa Kruger beautifully describes it as contentment in a covetous world. But I love the language of Powlison the best: we need innocent pleasures.
Oh, friends! So many of us have forgotten what real pleasure tastes like. We are in terrible bondage to distraction because we have not learned how to face and address our pain—we live life just trying to dull our pain through things that leave a “residue, an oily stain; contain a quality of obsession, guilt, anxiety, and disappointment.” But we can change. We can learn how to feel our feelings again! We can grieve, wail, and mourn—and not be afraid that our weeping will have no end.
If we allow our hearts to split open and pour out, we will find at the deepest part of our loneliness and pain, not a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with us (Hebrews 4:14) … but instead, we will find Jesus. Our Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who knows our pain (and knows a pain we will never know!), cares deeply for us, and who makes a way for us to “with confidence draw near the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Our right worship of Jesus is the foundation for our turning away from our guilty, exhausting, stained “pleasures” and instead, discovering anew the innocent, real pleasures of life that truly comfort, nourish, and help us find rest for our souls.
Oh, man. This blog post is already wayyyyy too long, so I’ll just let you click through to week 4 and week 5 if you are so inclined. And I’ll begin to conclude by quoting my second favorite contemporary author (tied with Ed Welch, whom I obviously really DO hope you will read and read and read)—Kevin DeYoung—in his excellent book, The Hole in Our Holiness:
“Among conservative Christians there is sometimes the mistaken notion that if we are truly gospel-centered we won’t talk about rules or imperatives or moral exertion. We are so eager not to confuse indicatives (what God has done) and imperatives (what we should do) that we get leery of letting biblical commands lead uncomfortably to conviction of sin. We’re scared of words like diligence, effort and duty.”
“The reality is that holiness is plain hard work, and we’re often lazy. We like our sins, and dying to them is painful. Almost everything is easier than growing in godliness.”
How true! Growing in godliness is hard. But for the Christian, it is also guaranteed (Romans 8:29).
So get in the battle (Ephesians 6)! As you rest (Psalm 62:5). Make war to put to death (Colossians 3) that which has already been defeated (Romans 6). Work hard! But remember that it’s not you who works hard, but God (1 Corinthians 15:10).
And always, always, always, remember the true character, the true heart, the GLORY of the One True God (from Exodus 34:6-7):
God is “the Lord, the Lord; the compassionate and gracious God.
Slow to anger, God abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness.
God maintains love for thousands and forgives wickedness, rebellion, and sin …”
We may tire of forgiving people, but God never tires of forgiving his covenant children. We may get sick of showing mercy to people who don’t deserve it (the very definition of mercy, right?), but God never tires of showing mercy.
I’ll give Ed Welch the last word, since I used his name in the title of this blog to emphasize the opposite of what I really hope (his works are excellent and among the few books that I re-read often!):
“Your struggle is a common one, but we have a God Who delights in showering an abundance of mercy on those who ask for mercy. Those who ask for mercy receive an abundance of mercy.”
So go ahead. Ask for mercy and help. Again. (And again and again.) Don’t be afraid! Your Heavenly Father loves you and he will never give up on you.
With so much love and so many prayers—
If you’re more of an auditory learner, so my zillion links contained in this post feel overwhelming (rather than encouraging), I hope you will disregard all 1,300 words of this too-long post and simply listen to this one sermon:
Yes, yes, yes! A thousands times, yes.
In 2015, at age 45, I can honestly say that I truly enjoy the holidays. I love celebrating Advent; I think icing sugar cookies is fun. I even like the chaos and clutter of the tree and decorations, etc. etc. But it is the quiet of the holidays that I love the most.
I know that may sound strange to many of you because your calendar’s cup overfloweth in a whirling dervish of concerts, parties, crafting, shopping, hosting, etc. But for our little family of three introverts + Ella, we gear down over the holidays because we are so happy to have me not traveling for speaking events and so grateful for any and all vacation time that Fred can take off from work. We are pretty much a caricature of a nerdy family sitting around in our Christmas jammies doing a thousand piece puzzle while carols play. Mmmmmm. Happy, safe, relaxed Christmas fun.
This has not always been the case.
Most of my childhood holidays were rife with unhappy, drunk people yelling (slurring) unhappy, ugly words as doors slammed, items were flung, and wayyyyy too much alcohol was imbibed.
Even after my parents divorced and I escaped living in either of their homes (I lived with friends from age 16-on after I rescued my mother from a suicide attempt), the holidays were still a strange, stiff mix of visits wherein we tried to be something we were not (loving, united) while exchanging obligatory gifts we either could not afford or did not care about … sometimes in locked down wards of mental asylums or detox centers (for my mother); sometimes in new apartments for my dad with the latest “girlfriend” he picked up in a bar, pawing him and glaring at us. (“When will those kids get out of here so we can go back to having our fun?!?”)
This is no longer my reality, but its legacy remains, and occasionally rears its ugly head. Especially at the holidays.
Even just this week, old emotions splashed up from my heart in such raw and real ways that I wept and prayed for every single one of you who isn’t dancing a happy jig on your way home to a Folger’s Christmas Commercial family time. I am so sorry for your loneliness! I grieve for the trauma and abandonment you have experienced. And I long to point you to the Living God who alone can comfort you—ultimately comfort you—and help you to grieve, risk, trust, forgive, and love again. (Even if, for certain relationships, forgiving and loving means wise distance, including even the protection of prison glass or no contact at all between you and your former abuser—remember: Justice can be grace!)
Yes, if I could, I would comfort each and every one of you—from a non-touching-distance if that was what felt most loving to you; or tucked entirely under my plus-sized-grandma-arms, as I wiped your tears and stroked your hair and told you over and over again how glad I was to see you and how special, wanted, precious, and beloved you are. All of the words that seem so natural to so many of us, and to our children (praise God!) … but words that many, many of us never heard from our own parents. That is our story and it is worthy of grief. It does not give us an excuse for bitterness or hatred—or a lifetime of lovelessness!—but it is worthy of tears. And I would bawl a bucket of tears just for you.
I would also offer you a little bit of advice, if you would indulge me.
- Even as you approach that childhood street corner or tuck under that dining room table that puts knots in your stomach even before you take one bite of jello with shredded carrots and lettuce in it (true story—BLECH!!) … Before you slip into those mental ruts you’ve pretty much mastered from childhood on, remember who you are in Christ. You are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17), a city no longer deserted (Isaiah 62:12), forsaken by your parents but never by the Lord (Psalm 27:10). Your old name may have been “Stupid” or “Worthless” or “Incapable of Loving or Being Loved.” But now your name is Hephzibah: The Lord’s Delight is in Her (Isaiah 62:4). All of those voices of shame?! Screaming at you from your flesh, the world, and even from satan himself? Tell them to HUSH! Be silent. You may feel that unlovely and unlovable, and influential people in your life may even say that you are unlovely and unlovable, but the truth is—because the Truth says it (!)—you are a friend of Jesus (John 15:15). And there is no depth you can plunge or height you can scamper into in order to miss the love of God in Christ for you (Ephesians 3:14-21).
- Truth #1 is especially important to remember when (probably not if) you blow it. Really blow it. Fail to be the super-duper-GOSPEL-living-light-for-Christ-good-guy-or-good-gal around the people you actually care about, possibly the most, but who just KNOW HOW TO GET YOUR GOAT and bug the living life out of you like no other people on the planet. Yup. That’s family. Just when you think you’ve taken a few steps of sanctification forward, BAM! You are reminded with great specificity why the doctrine of sinless perfectionism is a heresy and why your only boast is in the sinless perfection of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21). I know it’s mortifying! But don’t fight your appropriate regret over any childish sins you commit—admit them all and mortify them all as you express again how grateful you are for your Savior.
- It may be too late for this year, but for future holidays, I encourage you to consider listening to the excellent advice Fred and I received from our Elder and Mrs. F. many years ago. They loved their extended families, but the obligatory family get-togethers at major holidays were a drag. They were not God-honoring; there was much unpleasantness; and they pretty much regretted them from the moment they started planning the trips until the moment the visits were over. Until. One year, they decided not to be present at The Major Family Holiday Get-Together. Oh! That did not go over well. But they continued to prioritize the relationships and always made it a point to see the family each year on dates that did not coincide with major holidays. This allowed them to celebrate Christian holidays as their family deemed best and it actually strengthened their relationships with their extended families because all of the pressure and stress (normally associated with a major holiday) was absent from the visit. Fred and I were shocked when we first heard this! How could it be? Just not go on the actual holiday?! Yes! Just not go. 20 years into our marriage, we think there is great wisdom here for some family situations. You may want to consider it.
- (Hmmmmm. I’m shaking in my Keds as I type this one. I’ve actually typed and deleted it like five times now. But I’m going to go ahead and leave it in …) For some of you? I think the best advice I can give you is don’t go at all. Just stay away from your extended family. Maybe not forever, but certainly for now. There may be violence. Open use of addictive substances that will knock you off your track of wise and sober living. Just plain ol’ lost and mean people who delight in blaming you for everything bad, while acknowledging nothing good or lovely about you. Careful here! This is a tricky one and you’re going to need great wisdom from Heaven (James 3) and the counsel of the people who know you best (Prov 11:14) to keep you from sliding off of wisdom and into selfishness. As Christians, we are called to suffer. God loved us when we were his enemies (Rom 5:10)! So in view of his mercies, we offer ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12—read the whole chapter over and over again and strive to live it out). Yes, we do good—repeated, painful, costly good—to people who don’t deserve it. Isn’t that’s what mercy is? Undeserved? But even in saying all of that, we are wise. To paraphrase Ed Welch—we are not obsessed with boundaries but we strive to live by faith expressing itself in love because love and discernment are the constituent parts of wisdom. For some of us, for this season of life, and maybe for all of life, the most wise and loving thing we can do is keep ourselves and our children away from violent, abusive people.
- My final advice: Breathe. I know it’s over-said and over-cute-necklace’d, but it’s also totally and completely true. The “ABC’s” of emergency medicine exist for a reason—Airway First because if we stop breathing, we stop living. And in the crisis situations that some of you will be facing in a day or two? Adrenaline is going to flood your system and tempt you to take a fight, flight, or freeze position. That’s OK. It’s totally normal for people who were running for their lives when they should have been selflessly protected by people bigger and stronger than them. But start here: breathe. Get some oxygenating blood circulating. It’s hard to pray if you’re not breathing! It’s hard to remember Scripture if your brain has no oxygen! If you are prone to panic attacks, try to orient yourself to two or three grounded items in the room. If you need to, get outside, breathe some fresh air. Breathe and then remember. Remember truth! Try to clear the fog that has descended on your brain by taking yourself by the hand (to use D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones’ description) and speak truth to your emotions. What truth? See point 1. above. 😉
Please know that I will be praying for you as you navigate the holidays! Remember: remnants of shame still cling to us, but they are losing their grip!
With much love—
Your sister in Christ,
If any of these topics resonate with you, I strongly encourage you to consider the following resources:
- Shame Interrupted (by Ed Welch)
- Choosing Forgiveness (Nancy Leigh DeMoss)
- Loving Well Even if You Haven’t Been (William P. Smith)
(And I hear there is a fabulous book coming out from Crossway this Spring by an author named Heather Davis Nelson: Unashamed–Healing our Brokenness and Finding Freedom from Shame. I haven’t had a chance to read a pre-release copy yet, so I can’t say for sure, but someone I love and trust loves and trusts Heather VERY much—so that’s a hugely influential endorsement for me and definitely makes it worth checking out.)
I don’t receive any $$ from any of the links I’ve included above. I’ve simply shared them to bless you.
Well! Today I left my house for the first time in two weeks. I was finally cleared by my surgeon to start Physical Therapy (yay!) and I am looking very forward to the hard work of rebuilding my strength and mobility.
It was such a missing month for me—for all intents and purposes, I pretty much went “deep and dark”/”off the grid” re: contact with the outside world as I a) survived my surgery and the ensuing surgical complications; b) survived the one-year anniversary of my sexual assault; and c) cranked out my RTS (seminary) course that I thought I had until December 30 to finish but NOPE! November 30. Yeah. That was some seriously fast—and enjoyably HARD—reading and studying and writing I just did !
And so here we are. I actually have some current blog posts (contemporaneous to the life situations that I listed above) that I dearly hope to share with you all before too long. In the interim, here is a post I did a few years ago around Christmastime. Hope it’s a blessing to you!
Sending my love and care,
Christmas is a Vulnerable Time
I was almost knocked over this morning by a wave of extreme vulnerability.
When I thought about December 20, 1993 (the day Fred “formally” pursued a romantic relationship with me—at an Illini basketball game at Assembly Hall, aided by the pep band cranking out, “Hey Baby, I Wanna Know if You’ll Be My Girl!”) … rather than my normal happiness (December 20th is usually an incredibly happy and romantic date for me), I felt shame:
- Why did Fred pursue me 20 years ago? Doesn’t he regret it? I bet his friends and family members were counseling him against a relationship with someone as messed up as me. There were so many beautiful, smart, godly, together women from happy, godly homes who would have loved to marry him. I wonder if he wishes someone much better than me was the mother of his children?
- What was I doing in a top tier law school anyway? I had no idea what I was doing there. I didn’t even really understand what it was lawyers did. I had absolutely no educational background that prepared me for the study or practice of law. Why was I there? I didn’t belong there. I didn’t fit in with all of those smart, together people.
Then I thought about all of the people in my life who are suffering deeply this morning. Intense physical suffering. Spiritual suffering. Relational suffering. I thought about my feeble efforts to help them—by just being present. Praying. Talking a lot / conflict coaching. Being completely silent and just weeping. Sharing substantive help. Doing “nothing” but just distracting and laughing. And again, I felt shame:
- What is WRONG with you, Tara? Don’t you KNOW that (she/he) just needs (a friend who is silent and present/more tangible, practical help and counsel)? Why can’t you ever figure this relational stuff out? You talk (too much/too little). You (give away too many resources/don’t give away enough).
- You are a bad friend and the people you think love you are only tolerating you. You don’t really have a place that you belong. You’d better pull back and just try to not offend people too much. There is no place for the real you.
Sad, isn’t it? And just a little melodramatic, to be sure. But I don’t think I’m the only one who has these waves of not-good-enough-ness, especially at the holidays.
On any given day, our society is rife with a disastrously fake, shallow picture of perfectly beautiful people living perfectly beautiful lives in perfectly loving and harmonious relationships. We are constantly bombarded by ridiculous notions of really (hip / socially-active / godly / witty / good-at-friendships / perfect-romantic-relationships / perfect parenting-in-laws-extended family relationships / great at cooking and change management consulting and decorating and volunteer management / more involved with our children’s education / more content as a single person / more and better at whatever it is we feel our LACK in) people. But never more so than at the holidays.
Oh, come on! Look around. It all kicks into high gear this week. Your Thanksgiving meal is not going to be (beautiful / perfect / gourmand / simple / social-action-conscious-organic / patriotic / ministerial) enough. Time to get out your decorations? They are (not beautiful enough / so beautiful that they are selfish and materialistic and detract from the REAL meaning of Christmas). It’s (make cookies / take care of orphan time)! Are you ready? Ready to create happy memories while NOT encouraging selfish, materialistic tendencies? Ready to feel the weight of the LUXURIOUS life we have because we have CLEAN WATER to drink every day and we’re not afraid of imminent imprisonment or being sold into slavery? And then we have the audacity to buy lifesaver booklets to stuff in our children’s stockings (rather than curing one more orphan of a dreaded disease)?
How lonely are you in your singleness? How scared are you in your physical pain? Your financial vulnerability? Your spiritual doubts?
Take just one glance around you during this season of (intense spiritual confidence in God’s gracious work through the incarnation of Christ / happy-intact-marriages-families-friendships / millions of people who either seem to be WAY more wise and godly than you re: NOT spending money or just SPENDING money and enjoying it without guilt) and let yourself be quiet with the voices bombarding you inside your deepest fears … and maybe there are one or two of you who are more like me than unlike me in my (occasional) battle with (unnecessary and un-Christianly) feelings of what Judy Dabler and I describe in Peacemaking Women as ungdoly shame. (Because of course there is such a thing as godly shame—but unlike the emotional and spiritual cancer of ungodly shame, godly shame is redemptive, leads to repentance and salvation and leaves no regret—2 Cor. 7:10.)
If you are tempted at all to go down a path of being overly self-critical, overly self-condemning, discontent, given over to fears and doubt especially related not just to what you DO but who you ARE (your core identity; your truest, most vulnerable definition of self), I encourage you to camp out on a psalm that Fred recently read to me in our evening devotions:
O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Here is our hope. Here is our confidence. Here is the only way I know that we can push back against any extreme feelings of vulnerability we may be struggling with: we calm and quiet our souls, like a weaned child with its mother, because our hope is in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.
Father and mother may reject us. We may blow it (again) with friends and need their forgiveness and grace (again). But relationships can be reconciled and we can learn how to love and be loved in this life. We can! All because we are loved with an eternal love that will last forever—into and throughout our REAL life in Heaven to come.
Think about it. Just for a moment as you start your busy Monday. Let your mind camp out here: on Heaven. That glorious place where every whiff of a scent of the safety and security of “Home” that marketers bombard us with at the holidays will be more than the scratch-n-sniff temporary experience of this life. When the best, most accepting, most honest, most loving, intentional, delight-filled, happy, safe, pleasurable relationship we have ever experienced in this life will be the NORM because we will see God as He is and we will view one another through unveiled faces; without all of the muck and mire of sin and self and life in this fallen world.
Isn’t that what we really long for this holiday season? And every season?
There is only one way to get there:
O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore (!).
(Emphasis added. I’m preaching to myself here more than anything else.)
Today is going to be a great day. Fevered children. Suffering friends. Simple pleasures. Simple ministry opportunities. Hard work. Relaxed cuddles. Ups and downs and fears and confidences.
The Lord never changes. So I don’t have to feel vulnerable. And neither do you.
I’m praying for every one of you who will read this blog. May God bless you and keep you in Him!
With love from your friend,
I really do stay MUCH more in touch via Facebook these days. So if you’d like to see photos and read updates from our little family and/or my various travels, and if you are interested in links to articles / research, etc. that I have found helpful, Facebook is really the best way to stay in (timely) touch! Please click here if you’d like to become Facebook friends. Thanks and g’nite—tkb
Earlier today, the girls and I had to run to our doctor’s office for a quick well-child check. The entire outing took less than an hour and everything went perfectly on time. But, in one of those “tell your children about your BIG GIANT FAILURE” kind of teaching moments … (Because wow! They sure do love to hear about when we’ve blown it, don’t they?!) … I told them about a visit to this doctor’s office that did not go nearly as well …
Years ago, I rushed and rushed to get through our morning, pack up the (much younger) kids, get them to my friend’s house, and make it to my appointment with this doctor by exactly 1:00. Only to be told that my appointment was at 1:30.
Oh. Sure. I could have just “been in the moment” and “relaxed” for 30 minutes. (I hear that’s something people know how to do …) But, instead, I was very frustrated and pretty much stomped out of the reception area like a spoiled little brat. Thankfully, the reception area was empty, so I only aired my Monster Want James 4 Idol in front of the receptionist.
Still. I was immediately convicted and I did not want to go back when the 30 minutes were up. In fact, I wanted to not only never go back to this doctor, I really wanted to move away from this city and change my name (so I’d stop being associated with “peacemaking women” and “living the gospel in relationships”), and, well, basically climb into a hole and hide away. Forever.
Instead, at 1:25PM, I went back to the doctor’s office, knowing full well what I had to do: I had to apologize. There was no other way out. I had sinned and I needed to confess my sin specifically and ask the receptionist to forgive me.
(Stupid ol’ Seven A’s of Confession pressing into my heart because of Matthew 7:5, Proverbs 28:13, and James 1, and 1 John and, well, the entire Bible!)
Of course, by that time, the reception area was full. And small. There was just no way for me to apologize to her without an entire room full of people hearing me. So that’s exactly what happened. Right there in front of everyone else, I apologized for being rude earlier. I told her specifically that there was no excuse for my behavior or tone and I asked her to forgive me.
She was extremely surprised at my attitudinal change and very gracious in her reply. I was appropriately mortified, but glad I had done the right thing. And glad, too, that years later I would have an excellent teaching illustration to use in my ongoing peacemaking discussions with my kiddos. (As Fred often says: “There are no wasted conflicts, Tara! Only excellent peacemaking illustrations to use one day … once you repent.”)
It’s hard, though, isn’t it? This whole “living in line with what we actually believe” thing. It’s so much easier to say we know and believe something in the abstract (gnosis) than to actually, personally, know and believe something (epignosis). But God really has given us “all things that pertain to life and godliness …” (2 Peter 1:3). So today, as always, I am grateful for forgiveness. But I am also grateful for confession too.
May we all be quick to get the logs out of our own eyes (Matthew 7:5)—
And quick to forgive “just as in Christ we have been forgiven” (Colossians 3:13)!
Sending my love—