Monday, July 26, 2010

The "Maybe" Phase

Every once in a while I read something surprising that describes my journey with Christ with jaw-dropping clarity. I see things in a new light that breathes into my soul fresh hope and vision for the dark road beneath my feet. Today it came from the book "Soul Repair" by Jeff VanVonderen, Dale Ryan and Juanita Ryan, a profound work describing the process by which God rebuilds the soul.

The authors take some time in the first half of the book discussing various "Distorted" spiritualities, spiritualities that have at the center of their practice wrong views of God. Abusive, Anorexic, Addictive, and Codependent spiritualities are described with great detail. I found myself resonating with each of these destructive spiritualities, which are mostly driven by shame and fear.

The second half of the book discusses the re-building process under the heading "Tools for Reconstruction." I have just been working through the first chapter of this section entitled, "Beginning to Rebuild." Some highlights: All relationships (including our relationship with God) flow on several continuums: between face-to-face intimacy and cautious distance, and between shame and loving respect. The healthiest relationships are those with intimate respect, the most unhealthy are those with both shame and distance.

The route from shame/distance to intimate respect is not quick and easy. It involves what the authors lay out as a 3 step movement that generally holds true to this journey (they never imply that it is an easy and clear cut progression; rather we often inhabit all 3 movements at different times and in different ways). The three movements are:


"No" involves saying no to our false gods at the center of our distorted spiritualities. We say no to the gods we have fashioned in our own images (or in the image of others), because we have come to the end of ourselves in their wake. We become tired of serving these false gods and decide, often in desperation, to turn our backs on them.

Saying no is not easy, for it can result in gut-wrenching emptiness and confusion. Our foundations are rocked to the core, and we are, quite literally, broken. There is also great shame here, when we realize that saying "no" doesn't immediately result in the whole-hearted "yes" that we long for. Others often add to this shame, questioning our commitment to spiritual things. We often wander for a while, wondering if we've ever really heard God speak or seen His true face; we question everything. I would say I've been in this phase for the greater part of the last 8-9 years.

The next step is what I mostly want to write about here, the "Maybe" phase of this rebuilding process. This is where we have said "no" in significant ways to false gods, our own self-hatred and shame, and begun to desire to trust God again, the true God. Over time, we find that the true God revealed in Jesus is gracious and patient with us in this process. He is not angry with us for "wasting time," but eagerly desires our fellowship. He doesn't force himself on us (what false gods do), but waits for us to calm down from the frenzy of living a false life.

We are not yet able to say an unequivocal "yes" to God; we are only able to say "maybe." We are testing the waters out, to see if this God is any different from the abusive gods that we have known in the past. We are just like the man who said, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mk 9:24 NIV). There is also shame here, in this place of maybe. We mistakenly feel like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:14ff who were neither cold nor not, disgusting to God. In reality, our brokenness is an offering of worship to Him (Ps 51:17) and is making space for His Spirit.

Two components of the Maybe stage are what the authors call Hypervigilance and Dissociation. I would add that these are two sides of the same coin of self-protection.

Hypervigilance is the side of self-protection that is active and aggressive. It is the state of always being on alert, surveying the horizon for any possible threats and where perceived, attacking with full force. This is very tiring! We are never really able to rest or relax. For me, this results in frequent anxiety, a feeling of impending doom that is just over the horizon.

Dissociation is the bunker side of self-protection, where we retreat and our hearts turn numb and cold. We stop taking risks and "play it safe." We only wade in "safe" relationships, and we avoid seeking new ones for fear that we will be hurt again.

In this place of maybe there is great hope, because God meets with me there. He is not impatient with my "wasted time" between No and Yes, but eagerly desires my heart wherever it is found. I am beginning to grow in excitement again as I consider this soul renovation project that he began (not me!). I can see myself cycle back and forth between No-Maybe-Yes more and more frequently in the last 6 months. Tendrils of hope, faith and trust are beginning to emerge, gently but unavoidably leaning me toward more open-hearted trust in God.

As I allow myself permission to dwell in this maybe place, despising the shame, I find myself more open to saying Yes to God. He has proven Himself to me time and time again, that he is not out to "use" me and then throw me away, but he longs for my heart to be one with His. I need to be more at home in this "Maybe" phase, not just so I can get to "Yes," but so that I can be at home with God.

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Hidden Waters of Life

We were in Central Oregon recently visiting my family. Besides catching up on relationships, we were surrounded by what I call "epic geography," geography that exudes mystery, wonder and awe. Geography that comes along my soul and quietly but powerfully expands it, making more room for its Creator.

My parents live in Sisters, Oregon, which is part of the Deschutes National Forest, a high desert region filled with Ponderosa Pine that are hundreds of years old. One of the paradoxes of this desert wilderness is that water is plentiful. It seems that there are large aquifers (probably made by large lava tubes) filled with water that are readily available for irrigation and home use. Here is a map of Oregon Aquifers:

One of these underground springs comes up continually onto the surface forming the beautiful Metolius River:

As I reflected on this beautiful country with seemingly endless underground water, I couldn't help but see parallels to my spiritual journey with Christ. The surface shows signs of life, but life that has to fight to survive; plants must send roots down deep to draw from these large wells of water. Places where it gushes up to the surface teem with life and beauty.

My life with God in the last 7-8 years has been largely dry, lonely, dark and confusing. I have had to sink my roots deep into the life of God to survive (Eph 3). What life there is on the surface is of a most hearty kind, having grown through the harshness of high mountain winters and desert summers. Even though there really is an end to the underground water supply of Central Oregon, the living waters of God, flowing under the surface of my life are in reality endless. It is the kind of water Jesus spoke of, which flows from God into the life of humans submitted to him and "rooted" in Him. May we drink deeply today and forever. I do not rely on the performance of life at the surface for my comfort and encouragement. I rely on the never-ending waters of God.

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Friday, July 09, 2010

The Prodigal

My heart is taken with this song from Sovereign Grace Music. The animation is amazing as well.

The Father holds out his hands; he is our true home.

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Carry On Baggage

We fly out tomorrow morning for our family vacation to Sisters, Oregon to visit with my family. I've been thinking about what I want/need to take in terms of books, journal, Bible, clothes, etc. But I'm also reflecting on what burdens I'm carrying with me, what my extra "baggage" is that needs to be left behind for me to enjoy and be present with my family as my true self. I was thinking of these verses (ESV):

Hebrews 12:1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

1 Peter 5:6-7
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Matthew 11:25-30
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

I wonder what the airlines would charge if they could charge us for emotional "carry-on baggage"? They might recoup all the last year's losses in about a week!

I am intending to leave behind the following burdens in the hands of my Abba:
- a need to be accepted and admired by my family
- a need to control the details of a big trip
- shame and fear that "who I am" is not enough
- the stick I use to beat myself up in self-hatred
- the orphan false-self that believes that I am forever alone and abandoned, on my own to make life work

By the grace of God, I will lay these things down on the security checkpoint at the foot of the cross.

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Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Enormous Leisure of God

A friend passed this along to me today. It's today's (July 6th) reading from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest.


"And the parched ground shall become a pool." Isaiah 35:7

We always have visions, before a thing is made real. When we realize that although the vision is real, it is not real in us, then is the time that Satan comes in with his temptations, and we are apt to say it is no use to go on. Instead of the vision becoming real, there has come the valley of humiliation.

"Life is not as idle ore,
But iron dug from central gloom,
And batter'd by the shocks of doom
To shape and use."

God gives us the vision, then He takes us down to the valley to batter us into the shape of the vision, and it is in the valley that so many of us faint and give way. Every vision will be made real if we will have patience. Think of the enormous leisure of God! He is never in a hurry. We are always in such a frantic hurry. In the light of the glory of the vision we go forth to do things, but the vision is not real in us yet; and God has to take us into the valley, and put us through fires and floods to batter us into shape, until we get to the place where He can trust us with the veritable reality. Ever since we had the vision God has been at work, getting us into the shape of the ideal, and over and over again we escape from His hand and try to batter ourselves into our own shape.

The vision is not a castle in the air, but a vision of what God wants you to be. Let Him put you on His wheel and whirl you as He likes, and as sure as God is God and you are you, you will turn out exactly in accordance with the vision. Don't lose heart in the process. If you have ever had the vision of God, you may try as you like to be satisfied on a lower level, but God will never let you.

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging much is because I've been in that "valley of humiliation," battered and, for the most part, discouraged and overwhelmed. I haven't felt like I've had much to say in the form of encouragement, but that in itself is evidence of my false self. Apparently, I will only blog when I feel like I can present a "glittering image," a somewhat polished self that will gain acceptance. I will allow a certain level of brokenness, but only so much that I can still maintain a sense of hope and courage. When I've lost all hope and am barely hanging on, I doubt anyone will want to hear from me, I doubt anyone will love me. In the past few days, God has been whispering a consistent drumbeat of love to my soul that lets me know once again it's okay to be out of control, to not have things figured out, to be in a place of obscurity.

My 40th birthday was a month ago (June 6) and surrounding that time was much "vision": vision that God initiated and I responded to and invested in, along with other beloved brothers and sisters. Maybe I'll write about it sometime, but I don't have the time right now. It's enough to acknowledge that the vision was real and is not disconnected from the valley of sorrow I quickly plunged into afterward. Though it felt like profound failure on my part to "sustain the vision," it is simply the reality in which I exist with God during this season. He will fulfill the vision he gives (Phil 1:6). In His compassion I trust, not my consistency or success.

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