We all know that, since the beginning, sin is a pernicious condition endemic to our race. No one can escape its effects, there isn’t a single soul who hasn’t sinned; evidence of it is everywhere. Into this sin-darkened world a light came, proclaiming a new way.
A way to be free.
But as stated above, sin is pernicious, and doesn’t want to let us go. We don’t always choose that freedom. And the Bible itself says “there’s pleasure in sin for a season.” It feels good–so we don’t want to let it go. Or in letting it go, we don’t replace it with something else, and fall again into same old same old (wondering how we got oursleves here).
Jesus said (I’m paraphrasing), of demonic harassment, that having found the house [soul] swept and in order, it returns with seven spirits worse than itself. Now the context may be possession, but the application is further reaching. You it isn’t enough to just repent, and cut a sin out of our lives–that activitity must needs be replaced by something positve.
If you know you need to stop doing x, pray, confess, and put y in its place. For instance, if you’re struggling with pornography, make sure you have the accountability of a trusted same-gendered believer. Moreover, don’t put yourself in the situation where you’re going to be tempted. Don’t have a computer in your house where you can be alone with it, but rather out in the open. Moreover, don’t take your tablet/smartphone/what have you into the bathroom.
Beyond this, when temptation arises, call your accountability partner and let them know what’s going on. Have them pray with you. Flee that sexual temptation by:
Going for a walk
Going to the gym
Going for a drive.
Writing, journaling, painting…
In short, some creative (rather than destructive) endeavor.
Whatever it takes to replace that sin in your life with something good.
The same goes for any sin. If it’s overspending, over eating, whatever. Do your best to avoid the situation, and fill that void with another healthy, God-honoring activitity. It may take time, but don’t beat yourself up for your stumbles.
I don’t want you getting the wrong idea–I wasn’t beaten as a child. The spankings I got, I earned (helping your buddy try to burn down his grandmother’s garage, anyone?). I wasn’t a battered child, but I’ve got come to the conclusion that abuse is never just physical.
There are psychological, and emotional, abuses, too. And if I was abused, it was in this way:
I was ignored. One of my earliest memories is being told to go away, relax, unwind, watch T.V. And then later, when she checked on me, my mother was aghast to find me drinking a beer in front of Sesame Street. Why? “Because it wat daddy do.”
When I fell, got hurt, got a boo-boo, there was precious little soothing; instead, I was indoctrinated with the mantra “I’m alright.” Even though I most decidedly was not alright. They say the lessons learned earliest go the deepest. And are hardest to overcome. I’ve been alright far too many times when I shouldn’t have been. Been okay in places I never should have been…
If my mother’s chiefest failing was practiced indifference–emotional diffidence, my dad’s was indifference followed by the bitter wash of sarcastic chasers. I would go from being ignored to verbally masticated, spit out, left to put myself back together…
And I had to be alright.
After their inevitable divorce, the neglect only deepened. My mom, of course, didn’t share her pain; instead, losing herself in work, she hoped (I think) to give others something she couldn’t give herself: an intact family.
And my dad? Our relationship was as defined in the divorce decree: I saw him twice a year. His second wife hated my brother and I…
Divorce touches millions of families. And my life, seen from the outside, may have appeared to be, while perhaps less than ideal, a privileged one. I was white, lived in Scottsdale, had a roof, clothes food. In short, the basics.
It has taken me years to pin down just exactly what I didn’t have:
A sense of love.
Part and parcel with growing up latchkey was, I guess, a sense of parental guilt. There were precious few boundaries, and even fewer consequences. I was left to my own devices, to indulge in whatever I wanted.
It’s a wonder I just got into smoking, and not drugs. My interest in porn was labelled “healthy curiosity.” If my childhood was defined by anything, it was these three things:
And Stephen King
I turned inward because there was nowhere else to go, no one to go to. My mom eventually had a live-in boyfriend, who’s example, and idea of culture, consisted of pizza, cigarettes, and “martoonis” in front of the T.V. This was my exemplar of manhood.
I wanted to escape, but had nowhere else to go. My dad didn’t want me, my mom was too busy, and this is “white privilege?”
None of this was talked about. I had to navigate a broken family, adolescence, on my own.
Habits developed then have not always been conducive now to building healthy attachments. I’m almost 45 years old, and still bitter about what I didn’t have. Why couldn’t I have a normal, loving family? Why don’t I have meaningful relationships with my parents, brother, etc?
For years, as a growing Christian, I thought it was my job to put up, shut up, keep the peace. I allowed so many unhealthy things to happen, so many hurts to go unaddressed. I want to let my parents off the hook, say they did the best they could…
But I don’t believe it.
That’s why I want so much to be done with them. I can’t seem to get past the things which they’ve done, or I’ve done in relation to them. I want to say there’s too much water under the bridge. I don’t feel listened to.
I want to be done, but can’t. Because…
He’s the God of second, third, thirty-third, and seventy-times-time chances.
Because He’s given me chance after chance, though I’ve blown it time and time again, I can do no less. I have to try.
If there’s a lesson I’ve learned in life, it’s this: the things we like least in others are usually the things which dislike about ourselves. That hurts to admit.
I’m not perfect (far from it), and neither are they. They dealt with their own demons, as I’ve dealt with mine.
It’s not bad to feel ashamed when we’ve done shameful things. There is such a thing as a healthy regret. We’ve all done things we wish we hadn’t.
This post is not about that kind of shame. But rather about the shame that we, the culture, and church project. The kind that makes us worry more about our reputations, than about getting the help we need.
Friends, we have have recently been through some deep waters together. I had a purpose in sharing those stories with you; it wasn’t to shock you, wound you, or crush your spirits.
It wasn’t even to evoke sympathy. No, I simply wanted you to share in my journey; in order to do that I needed to authentically represent the things that happened. After what you’ve done for me, I owed you that much. It was because of you that I got to go to bootcamp. So it is as much your story as it is mine.
I could have broken down each session, given you what I heard, and learned, but I wanted you to partake instead in my internal journey. Each of the stories I shared last week represents a stage in the process Jesus led me through during bootcamp. Like an onion, He gently, lovingly peeled away the layers.
Showed me where I’d been hurt the deepest, wounded the most.
But allow me to back up a little bit first. Going into it, I had an idea, a dream of healing, but I was frightened. The only thing I clung to heading up to Colorado was tale of the woman with the issue of blood. Like her, I told myself if I could but touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, I would be healed.
Never did I expect Him to reach down, and touch me the way He did.
But He did, friends–O! how He did. The weekend began with John Eldredge repeating two refrains:
“You have a heart, and it matters, ” and “You were born into a world at war.”
As a man, and this is not meant as a reproach, merely an observation, I can’t recall the last time I heard either at church.
From there, John and the team laid the foundation that my heart–every man and woman’s heart, really–has been wounded in that war. In the process of uncovering those wounds, I was forced to confront the “Poser,” or the false self, I’d constructed to hide the wounded boy within. What were my fig leafs, and why didn’t I want to be known?
That is a deeply personal journey for each one of us. Suffice it to say, God was faithful to show up, blow down my house of cards. The truth came diamond-hard, and slug-ugly (God the diamond, and I the slug). And I got something from each and every session. Where before I lived with rejection, He gave me a new name:
Loved and Accepted.
As surely as the sun rises in the east, and sets in the west, He spoke that to my heart. But He wasn’t done with me yet. He wanted me to know that I was “loved and accepted” before He dove deep in my heart to wound me to the depths of my soul.
What do I mean?
I mean that for me, and for you, too, there is a theme to our wounds. And that God is faithful to wound us in our deepest woundings to bring those things to light.
Because He wants to heal them.
First, He knocked out my foundation, which was this:
Nearly everything I have done in life up until now has been for a singular purpose, namely my dad’s approval–his affirmation, his validation. Despite clearly getting the message from him, and others, that I didn’t have what it takes (who did that message really come from, who worked so tirelessly to take me out?). This explains why I continued for so long to allow him to wound not only me, but my family as well.
I wanted him in my life.
What boy doesn’t?
But that rejection, that craving for approval, wasn’t the deepest thing about me. No, Jesus went past that to my deepest heart.
It was the penultimate session of the retreat. Already I was struggling to remain present, my mind and heart drifting to home, and its cares. Despite this, worship really moved me. God was there. I belted out the words to Tim Hughes’ Everything harder than I’d ever sung anything in my life (I’m very much a joyful noise person).
And then Morgan Snyder got up to share. I realized–God showed me via Morgan’s story–the deepest thing about me wasn’t a life lived balanced on the knife’s edge between a fear of rejection, and a desperate need for a approval.
No, the deepest thing, the thing that felt truest of all, was that I believed I was alone. This was brought powerfully to my attention by:
Yes, that is the much-seen video of Derek Redmond losing out on his last chance for Olympic gold, but rising anyway, choosing to complete the race. God showed me three things, spoke them indelibly into my heart:
1) I believed I was the man running the race alone, the watching world waiting for him to fall. That I was essentially fatherless.
2) All I had longed for from my father, I already had–had had–all along. He so gently rebuked me of this.
3) Like Redmond’s father in the video, Jesus has got me, His arm already around me.
He told me “Son, you’re not alone. You’ve never been. This race that you run–life? I’ve carried you all along. We will finish together.”
I was shell-shocked, stunned, hadn’t dared hope God would speak in such a personal way. But He showed up in the midst of my fragile faith anyway.
At this point, we were dismissed to an exercise, a time of silent reflection and prayer. We were to get alone with God, take these questions to Him.
I couldn’t do it.
I went back to the bunkhouse, locked myself in a bathroom stall, and just balled.
For half and hour, I cried. I grieved all I never had, but had had all along, I grieved how I had spurned my Father. I cried in great heaving sobs so hard my chest was sore for days afterwards.
I cried tears of joy, because for the first time in my life I knew who I was:
My Father’s son.
How about you? Do you know who you are? More importantly: do you know Whose you are?
By way of introduction to this post, there’s something tyou need to know about me. On the one hand, my childhood was quite worldly: I knew the word “motherf***er,” and had used it in a sentence by the time I was five. On the other, despite knowing the the “granddaddy of all swears,” it was quite sheltered, as I had ever heard of sex, or of “lovemaking.” No one ever had the talk with me. I found things out on my own.
Heatwaves shimmered on the pavement as students filed onto the bus. Inside, it smelled of preadolescence–sweat and nerves and uncertainty. There were kids of all types, and stripes, on the bus that day: the self-assured, the shy, stoners, posers, jocks, and ones like the red-haired boy: latchkey–living in a single parent home, leaving everyday from an empty house, and returning to the same.
“Do you want to make love,” asked the boy of the friend beside him on the bus.
As a sixth grader, he should have known what the phrase–“make love”–meant, but he didn’t. In his mind, it–although he wasn’t certain–connoted a pact. He thought he was saying something like “Do you want to be blood brothers,” or, “Can we be best friends?” This is what he thought the phrase, make love meant–let’s make an oath.
No one had contextualized it for him. His dad checked out, and subsequently left. The boy’s mom was busy–as a counselor–healing the hurts of others, but missing those carried by her son.
It’s likely she threw herself into her work to assuage her own pain.
Oh, by this point he had seen porn, this boy, and heard the other word; he knew what “f**king” was, but made no correlation between it and lovemaking. In fact, he was quite enamored of the beauty, would soon have pictures of her on his bedroom wall.
So he said what he said on that school bus, not knowing that to “make love” was to have sex. As all he knew of sex came from magazines, videos, peers…
No one told him about the love of lovemaking–he was adrift in the sea of culture, a twelve year old De Leon, exploring these depths on his own.
Thus it was that the boy himself became the fount of the most vicious rumor about him. A question asked in innocent ignorance became a declaration:
The boy–Chad–is gay.
But it wasn’t true.
So Chad died a little more inside, hid himself–his true self–away. Again, no one was really there to help him navigate the murky waters of adolescence. Dad was gone, and for all intents and purposes, so was mom. Though he didn’t have the words at the time, he medicated the pain away with a drug already known to him:
How about you? How have you medicated your pain? How do you medicate now? How has God shown up to redeem that pain?