Five years ago, I was emerging from the fog of healing after a hurtful church experience. It was a long time ago and I am not going to rehash anything or name any names, but I will say this: I’ve changed. God changed me. I am not the same woman I was before. During my healing process, which spanned nearly two years, I did three things:
I took a step back and looked at the situation with fresh eyes with others who were safe and could walk with me through it. I allowed myself to see it exactly as it was—warts and all.
I took a deep breath and sunk into the arms of Jesus and allowed myself to feel the feelings, no matter what they were, knowing my feelings would not ultimately be my guide—Jesus would.
I took a hard look at myself in an effort to see the areas in my own life that needed to change. I recognized that it was beyond my ability to change others, but rested in the reality that it was not too much for God. So instead of pointing out the speck in their eyes (Matthew 7:3-5), I focused on the log in my own eye—and I let Him in.
This is that story.
I took a step back.
Honestly, five years ago this was the the most challenging part of the process. You know the feeling when you’re telling someone a story and you just know you were right? That’s how I used to tell my church story because in my mind, I was right and they were wrong. To be fair, it was true—I was treated badly, but I was choosing not to see the full picture. I had no desire to accept any responsibility for the events that transpired. It took me a while to step back far enough to notice my own sin.
Acknowledging my part in the situation does not excuse anyone’s behavior. They wounded me and I will never try and explain it away or place the blame solely on myself. Neither of those actions are helpful or right. As the hymn lyric goes, “Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow” (Elvina Hall, 1865). There is enough forgiveness to go around—I neither need to assign all the blame nor accept it all.
Once I had a more complete understanding of the situation and could name my own part in all that transpired, I could forgive the people who hurt me. (We can talk about that another time). More importantly, choosing to see things from a proverbial thirty-thousand foot elevation, I could repent of my own wrongdoing. Repent literally means to change your mind. I needed to change my mind about my attitude, my actions, and my thoughts, but I couldn’t just change my mind. I had to align my mind with the mind of Christ. That was going to take significant work.
Though I could explain why I responded to the situation in the ways I did, I couldn’t justify my own actions or the consequences that arrived as a result. I distinctly recall feeling compelled to enter into a season of humility. In that time, I was not seeking my own gain, blaming others for my lack of understanding, or pretending to know things I did not. Instead, I leaned into the arms of Jesus and, at God’s leading, I also leaned into the wisdom, experience, and comfort of a very small group of women who loved me and wanted the best for me.
I took a deep breath.
I felt all the feels.
As I experienced each emotion, some more frequently and more intensely than others, and at the urging of my friends, I acknowledged them and took them to Jesus. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” This practice of taking my struggles to God is something I continue to practice even today. It will never lose its power and I will never master it. This is just one of many disciplines developed during this time. I’ve talked about the power of naming things in previous posts. This is just one example of how naming something—an emotion in this instance—removes some of its power and returns God to his rightful place of power.
Recognizing that my hurt ran deeper than one isolated incident, I began wondering why I felt some of these emotions. Why would a disagreement—even a fundamental disagreement—leave me feeling disillusioned and inadequate? This intentional step back and deep breath allowed for some deep reflection and increased communication with God. The results have been overwhelmingly formative in my walk with Jesus.
I took a hard look.
Once I got through the facts and the feelings, I could start in on the flaws. I saw my own sin for what it was and for the first time, I didn’t attempt to mask it. There were areas in my life that sucked—bad. Bitterness, unrighteous anger, pride, entitlement, etc. As I mentioned earlier, I felt justified in feeling and acting the way I did, but now it was clear. I really didn’t know how God wanted me to live because I really didn’t know what God said or even who I believed God to be, really.
With the help of a friend, I started reading my Bible intentionally, learning to trust that God would reveal himself to me in the pages and that I would learn something about his character and how I ought to live in response. We read 1 & 2 Samuel—I found healing in those books. I read about flawed people, God’s faithfulness, and complete redemption. I saw myself in those books, though they were not written about me.
Before then, I had never truly read my Bible except maybe devotionally. Or I would do the Bible roulette and flip open to a passage and read the first one my finger landed on. I relied on the annotations or study notes in my Bible to explain a difficult passage rather than settling in with my questions and some basic study helps. I was afraid of my Bible. I didn’t understand it, I didn’t know how to interpret or apply it, and I honestly believed that only priests were really capable of doing it right. That is what I grew up believing.
I don’t think I got skipped over on “How to read your Bible training day,” I just didn’t think we got that kind of training so having someone show me how to read, understand, and apply scripture in my life was significant. I felt free. I felt empowered. I felt connected. I didn’t need someone else to tell me who God was (though it is good to have those people in your life). I learned how to connect with God personally through scripture. It’s like I learned how to tune my radio frequency to God’s channel. Things started making sense.
In addition to reading through the book of 1 & 2 Samuel, I learned to sit with God in the quiet. Like in actual quiet. Like library quiet. Being a woman of many words, I had to work hard and learn to quiet myself and listen to God—for his still, small voice. It should have come as no surprise that he spoke to me in those times. I could ask him “Why?” and “How could you…” and it was okay. When I asked the same question of others, I was told “Have more faith,” “Trust God,” and “You didn’t read that correctly.”
As I dug deeper, I recognized that some of these feelings stemmed from the reality that I didn’t believe my faith was my own. I mean, my FAITH was my own, but I didn’t know how to DO my faith on my own. I relied on others to tell me what the truth was, tell me what to do, how to do it, and why. I developed no skill by which to discern the truth or the will of God for my life by the power of the Holy Spirit on my own. There was so much room to grow into my faith—it sparked something in me.
So God sent me people and with the encouragement of some of my (now) most treasured friends, I learned several truths:
I can read, study, interpret, and teach the Bible. I am smart enough.
I can submit to God’s leading and the wisdom of those placed around me. I am a student.
I can teach and equip others to do the same and if they desire to hear the voice of a very real God in this noisy world, they will follow my lead. I am a leader.
I can find scripturally supported answers to my theological questions within the larger context of the body of Christ, not just from one person. I too am a theologian.
I know what it means to love my neighbor. I also learned who my neighbor is. I don’t need permission from anyone to love people how Jesus would.
I know I’m cherished by God exactly the way I am because God made me this way. I have a calling and purpose.
And I also know I’m invited on a lifelong journey of sanctification (which is just a fancy-schmancy way of saying becoming more like Jesus through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit). Jesus lived his life—I must live mine. As I endeavor to live my life as an act of worship—to love God, serve God, and enjoy God forever—I know that God is faithful to equip me to that end.
Five years ago, the old me died. Though change might have been inevitable on the outside, it was a choice to change on the inside. I’m grateful to God who offers me the gift of his very real presence and transforming power, which has enabled me to grow in my knowledge and love of him.
The world is changing rapidly and I am daily faced with the struggle to live as a woman who has been changed, called, equipped, and sent by God to relentlessly pursue His change in my little corner of this world. The real challenge is knowing what that change looks like. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers, but you can trust that every day, I’m asking this question, as I learned from Dallas Willard (through my friends David, Brad, and Kelsey): How would Jesus lead his life if he were I?
This post is a tribute to those women who acted as the loving hands and heart of God for me in that season. You know who you are—thank you (especially k + e). My life is changed because you said yes to Jesus and (in the famous words of Eugene Peterson), yes to “a long obedience in the same direction.” You’re a treasure. Love you.