You haven’t heard as much from me on my blog lately. I have been on a personal journey. I’m growing in a new way and it is so exciting! You see, throughout my blogging history I always maintain a few filters before posting an article. There are goals and ways I wish to convey myself to you. I will share them briefly here with emphasis on the last one, which is where my journey is going right now.
All creation leaps with Joy!
First of all I want you, my reader, to receive a message that resonates within your heart. I want to relate to each of you in a way that is real and genuine. It really irritates me when people spiritualize everything in life. I went through a period where every struggle I went through was accompanied by the phrase “God is good all the time, though!” Sure, that statement may be true but that doesn’t deal with the reality that life can be hard and difficult to work through. I feel it kind of trivializes reality and betrays our right to have heart feelings. It even sets an undertone of bitterness and disappointment (if God cared he would do more). In my writing I want to be real and tell you when life sucks. I want you to hear and connect with your own heart when you hear mine. This is a journey we are on together and it is not my job to boss you around or tell you that what you are going through is or isn’t devastating. It’s not my job to tell you how to be a better Christian, if there is such a thing. My job is to walk alongside you. Christians ARE the church. We don’t “act like the church” any more than I can try to “act like an Ashly”. I simply AM Ashly. Likewise, we ARE the church and I seek that through relationship and development in my love for Christ and each of you.
Secondly, I seek to educate and inform, as well as provide tools and framework for real life scenarios that you may be facing. A lot of what I use will contain examples from my own life. (I don’t think my loved ones would appreciate me posting their dirt here so that resigns me to using my own.) There have been a number of folks that have mistaken my writing as a way for me to work through my own problems. That is not true. I write only about things that I have worked out and thought about, written in my journal, and then compiled into an article. The articles I write sit on my desk for sometimes months at a time before being published. It isn’t fair for me to want to bring you closer to God in ways that I haven’t walked yet myself. Dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has pushed me to continue educating myself in tools for dealing with life. This includes counseling, reading, following bible based scholars, and lots of trial/error in my own life. The things I learn and implement, I pass along to you so you may draw in closer to your first love, Jesus.
Lastly, I have found in my own journey that shame and guilt and directives do NOT accomplish or reflect God’s heart. Having had absolutely NO success with those things being pushed on me I work diligently to be sure my writing does not reflect shame or guilt or directives. Do I write appeals to the heart, pleading for growth? Yes, sometimes I do. Do I bring reassurance and God’s word into my articles? Yes, I do. But I do not ever want to use shame or guilt as a motivator or as an undertone. I want you to see the unconditional and unending love that Jesus has for each of us. I want to help show you what receiving that love looks like on a day to day basis and the breakthrough/heart changes that will undoubtedly and unreservedly result from it.
So having had these filters and parameters set in my writing for the past few years, I have found myself on the peculiar journey I am now. I felt the Lord nudging me at the beginning of the year to look at the amount of shame and guilt that was in my own life. Shame and guilt are everywhere and our culture sure isn’t shy about shaming us into bigger homes, more education, higher incomes, and better bodies. But so do many church institutions use religious shaming. A lot of our relationships result in tension and shame, so do our commitments. Brene Brown wrote a book called “Daring Greatly” about being free from shame, but still I didn’t seem to find what I was looking for. Shame still resonated in my life, I still was anxious a lot, tense over relationships, guilty over commitments, ashamed when I wasn’t at church. While I strove and attempted to keep shame and guilt out of my own life I read a book that completely turned my current thinking upside down on the matter. The book is called, “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore” by Wayne Jacobson. It is a short and simple book that was written in simple conversation format and was handed to me by my sister. My expectations were zero to nil as I sneered at the title. But this book flipped me upside down as I found it was not about church at all and rather about shame and condemnation being motivators.
See, in my journey of ridding shame and condemnation from my life I set a few standards for myself. I wanted to take this seriously since I felt God put it on my heart. So I started to do all the right things. I had an “accountability partner” and a checklist. Each day at the end of the day I would check off and make notes about whether or not I fell into shameful thinking that day and how I should have prevented it. Did I eat something then feel bad about it? No check-off today! Did someone say something that made me feel overly obligated to them rather than God? Shameful thinking! Little did I know, the creation of this “law/standard” in my life to help me be rid of shame, coupled with a task-oriented system actually set me up stronger under the very system of shame I was trying to break free of! I was writing each night about how I fell into shame and guilt during that day and all the while I am making these notes I am feeling…you got it….SHAME and GUILT! Can you say counterproductive?
I felt the Lord release me from this checklist and this standard I set. Gently I felt lead to read back through my journal for the year and right in January I wrote to myself about receiving grace and deleting shame “find freedom from the law by just being ME with Jesus this year”. (Like in Romans 8, the “law” is sin and death, clouded in shame and condemnation which we are set free from because of the cross.) And there my journey truly began with me laying down my agenda for ridding my life of shame-based thinking and embarking on a new path. I found that path impacted every area of my life.
We have these ideas of how “church” should be operated. We have these ideas of how other people need to live to be healthy and free. We think it is our job to tell people how to live. We know church is a building and that requires commitment. We have these ideas of how leadership should lead and how often we need to have meetings. We believe if we just stop sinning our lives will be great. All of these ideas breed disappointment, expectations, shame, guilt, and condemnation. It is wrong. Suddenly in order to be loved and accepted by one another and by God we believe have to be x, y, z. This is simply not true.
In my last article I wrote about God setting me free from over spiritualizing things that are out of control. The example in the article that I gave was the freeing realization that having a disability and not having insurance coverage for a fake leg to walk on does not mean that God loves me less. I discussed how so many people (including myself) express that if I were in a better place spiritually, prayed more, had more faith, that God would bless me with a fake leg. Since I now don’t have one because insurance doesn’t cover what I need there must be something wrong with my faith and me; or to state this more bluntly: God loves me conditionally.
No, friends. God loves us unconditionally. He loves us right where we are. Sin isn’t the issue with God. Sin is dealt with on the cross. Once and for all! God is not obsessed with our shortcomings (or perceived faults) like we are. God is not obsessed with giving us what we think we need in order for us to love him. He gives us enough for today, every day. He gives us the perfect amount and we need to trust him to know best. God is also not obsessed with the shortcomings we see in others! I will go so far as to venture and say when we are trying to fix or change the shortcomings of others we are simply trying to avoid the emptiness we feel in our own hearts.
We have to be comfortable and trust God enough to let him work his process in others. We don’t need to step in and give directives and tell someone else how to change. I know this to be true because I have a very personal experience with this from long ago. When I was self-medicating PTSD symptoms with drugs and alcohol I went to see a counselor that operated in the true love of Christ. She said,“I am not here to give you directives. I am not here to tell you to don’t do drugs and steer clear of alcohol. If you want that, there are meetings for that. Keep doing whatever you are doing. My job is to help you recognize the system of drugs for what it is, destructive self medicating,and to know your own heart and God’s love to find why you turn to them in the first place. You will be free from drugs and alcohol, of that I have no doubt.” Within a few months I was free from my addictions without a single rehabilitation effort or extreme withdrawal symptom. I simply slowly stopped turning to drugs and alcohol because I did not need them. I wasn’t shamed into quitting. I wasn’t condemned for using. Fern from Discovering MErcy helped me to recognize the drugs and alcohol for what they were: destruction. Then she helped me find self-worth in God’s love to want to choose what is best for me. That was true freedom for me. Being in a place where I was journeying alongside of someone that showed me God’s love and never once did she (or God) keep tabs on my shortcomings.
Fern taught me to take the moral load off of things. I never understood what she was doing until the past few months. She was removing the shame and condemnation. By not focusing on the fog of sin and the moral weight of my behavior I was free to get in touch with my own heart and turn to Jesus. I could see there were underlying reasons for my choices. But she ignored my behavior and went for my heart. Like Bryan Post says, “Ignore the lie not the child” (when a child lies, he explains, it is fear-based and to ignore the behavior to get to the heart of the child and figure out the fear will help the child regulate. He advises to completely ignore the behavior of the lie. Fix WHY they lie not the lie itself.) Jesus was given the authority to fill the holes and heal my heart; once the shame and condemnation fog was lifted I could receive that healing and I didn’t do a single thing to make it happen! I was just being me! Without the weight of the shame and self condemnation .
Here are some excerpts from the book “So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore” by Wayne Jacobsen to give you a nice screen-shot capture of what my journey of “just being me” is looking like right now:
“…respect the process God uses to bring people into truth. I’m not talking about different things being true for different people, but about people discovering that truth in different time frames. If we hold people accountable, they will never learn to live in love. We’ll reward those who are better at putting on a front and miss those who are in the real struggle of learning to live in Jesus.
…when are you going to get past the mistaken notion that Christianity is about ethics?
…walking toward him is walking away from sin. The better you know him the freer from it you will be. But you can’t walk away from sin, Jake. Not in your own strength! Everything he wants to do in you will get done as you learn to live in his love. Every act of sin results from your mistrust of his love intentions for you. We sin to fill up broken places, to try to fight for what we think is best for us, or by reacting to our guilt and shame. Once you discover how much he loves you, all that changes. As you grow in trusting him, you will find yourself increasingly free from sin.
…When we hold one another accountable we are really usurping God’s place. It’s why we end up hurting one another so deeply. When we make commitments that we can live up to only for a brief period, our guilt multiplies when we fail. Upset that God doesn’t do more to help us, we usually end up medicating our guilt with something like drugs, alcohol, food, shopping, or anything else that dulls the pain, or it creeps out of us through anger or lust.
…Paul recognized there are three roads in this life, when most of us only recognize two. We tend to think of our lives as a choice between doing bad and doing good. Paul saw two different ways we could try to do good—one makes us work hard to submit to God’s rules. That one fails every time. Even when he described himself as following all of God’s rules externally he also called himself the worst sinner alive because of the hate and anger in his heart. Sure he could conform his outward behavior to fit the rules but it only pushed his problems deeper. He was, you remember, out killing God’s people in God’s name.”
In this journey I am reveling in God’s love and learning how to trust God with every single thing in my life. He is teaching me to stop making commitments that my heart is not into and that will drag me into shame and guilt when I can’t keep them. He is showing me how to not beat myself up over my own shortcomings, reflecting and mulling over how to change them. Rather than wasting my time in a vicious cycle of obligations I haven’t been called to I am simply reading about His promises and His love for me. My shortcomings will be ironed out as God’s love expands in my heart. And you know what else I noticed? I don’t see other people’s shortcomings as much either. Why? I am focused on Jesus and how he is moving in my life and others’ lives. In love there is no such place for analyzing others, there is only walking with others without controlling them but pointing them to God’s love for them.
Moving out of shame and guilt also allows for vulnerability in a way that I have not yet experienced in life. I am free to be myself. More accurately, as I move into God’s love and assurance (and stop caring about what image I project and what others think) I am getting to know my own heart! Rather than conforming to what is the “right way” I can simply be me. Now that is something God can work with. He can’t work with illusions and with “right actions” because they are just that…illusions and fronts. They aren’t real. God can work with a broken soul and someone that doesn’t always make the right choices.
Am I there yet? Haha…nope. I’m not sure I shall ever arrive until Jesus returns. But during this time I am writing a little less on my blog as I allow some of these things to be ironed out within me. There must be less of my agenda and more of Him in each article and each moment of my life. My writing must come alongside each of you and bless you in your journey without stipulations.
In Revelations 2:2-4 Jesus says to the people of Ephesus:
“I know how many good things you are doing. I have watched your hard work and your patience; I know you don’t tolerate sin among your members, and you have carefully examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but aren’t. You have found out how they lie. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting. ‘Yet there is one thing wrong; you don’t love me as at first!’”
I want to love Jesus with a fire that blazes and a spark that ignites others the same way. I don’t care if my actions are not perfect or if I fail as long as I am being true to my heart and receiving his love and in love with him. My joy must be contagious to every one that I encounter because that is a fruit of the spirit. My trust must run so deep that I never encourage others with saying the right things that are empty like “we live by faith not by sight” when they are struggling. I desire to exhort and encourage from a place that aligns others with the majesty and love of God for them. Yes, this journey is still in process but it will be worth all the treasure earth can yield.