As an artist, you are taught to use contrasting colors to define your positive and negative space within a work. Normally, you want to highlight the focus of the piece and shade the non-focal areas. You want to draw attention to the positive. I realize artwork is not always positive in the way of subject matter. That is not exactly what I am talking about. I am talking about the area to which your eye is drawn. In the picture to the left, there are two images, one in negative space in one in the positive. Do you naturally see one before the other? Usually it is the positive space. But the same is not true when I think of myself.
My husband and I were having a conversation while sitting on the couch yesterday morning. I mentioned some things I was struggling with emotionally. It seems I have had many struggles lately. Nothing overwhelming, just many small things that make my mind whirl. Specifically, I was talking about a hearing test I had recently that revealed I have low-frequency hearing loss. I guess my husband had had enough of my whining because he said, “Holly, I want you to think about something. You are letting all these negative things define you–whether it is your bipolar disorder or hearing loss or whatever else is wrong. I want you to think of the good things about yourself and let them define you.”
I was suddenly fighting back tears. The sad truth: I couldn’t think of anything positive about myself that defined me. I feel like I fall short on everything. I feel like I am failing my children because I don’t spend enough constructive time with them. I feel like I fail as a housekeeper because there is usually enough dust on my ceiling fans to plant corn. I fail as an artist because I have no time to invest. The same goes for being a writer. Other than knowing I am God’s Child, Redeemed, I can think of nothing.
This is something I desperately need to work on. I don’t have a resolution or a happy how-to ending for this blog post. Rather, I want to ask you, “What positive things define you?”
I haven’t blogged in a long while. But on this early morning, I am troubled. I am troubled because I am someone who cares about others. The troubling part is telling the difference between helping someone and rescuing someone. You see, if you help someone, then they should learn to do for themselves. But when you rescue someone, they do not always understand the gravity of the rescue or how to change the behavior which landed them in trouble in the first place. I am thinking in particular about a friend I have. She is so emotionally broken right now and therefore not functioning very well in society. I think back to the time when I was so very broken, and wanted someone to rescue me. In the end, there were some things I had to learn and believe in. It was an excruciating process. I don’t think anyone could have sped that up for me.
Let me be more specific. One of my friends is homeless. She has off and on for the past 6 years. As Christians, or just someone who cares about humanity, we think, “Give her a place to live, get her back on her feet, some sort of job with an income and her life will start falling into place.” I have learned that problems go so much deeper than the physical problems of homelessness. The problem is being broken–downright shattered. The problem is believing that you are not worthy of a home, love, or the happiness that this world offers. How do you fix that?
I am not sure that you can fix that. Learning to accept love is a process that you must learn to believe on your own. No one can gift you “learned to accept love.” No one can make you accept love or make you believe you are worthy of love. That is a journey one has to make by themselves. They may even know intellectually that they should receive what life has to offer, but emotionally they just can not. This is the position my friend finds herself– believing she is worthy of nothing. That could not be farther than the truth.
We can clothe her, give her food and shelter, but that does not fix the problem. People have stepped up and really tried to mentor her and meet her needs. And it looks good on paper for a few weeks. But the cycle repeats itself because she has not learned to accept love. Her emotional needs are more than I can fix. It will take the Great Physician’s touch before she learns to accept love.
So then, how do I help her and others like her? For now, I can only meet a few of her needs: a few physical items and to walk along side of her whispering words of encouragement, truth and love. She does not know it, but she has already touched so many lives with her story. If she were to disappear (which I don’t want her to do), her legacy would live on because she has left a fingerprint on society–she is that important that God uses her, and by using her, is trying to get her to see He loves her. Oh, sweet one, do you not realize you are radically loved or believe in the words of Jer. 29? God whispers love to you, yes you.
Christianity is not about perfect people. It is about broken people who have a hope in being restored. A few years ago, a former Islamic woman turned Christian, spoke to our church about her conversion. I remember how animated she became when she spoke of the hope that Jesus brought her. It is a hope she had never had before she was Christian. She spoke of trying to be “good enough” yet, never being able to obtain the level of perfection to which she was held. Whether that sense of perfection was from her family of origin or something to do with the religion in which she was raised is something I can not attest to.
In John 3:18 Jesus says, “There is no judgement awaiting those who trust Him [the son of God]. Paul, in Col 1:22, states, “As a result [of what Jesus did], He has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”
There is no spiritual judgement for those who believe in the sacrifice of Jesus. We have been made blameless and pure through Jesus. That is our hope and our salvation and the thing we should stand on as Christians. Sadly, even in Christian circles, this point is overlooked. Somehow, it is lost between confessing and repenting.
A few years back, before I understood this truth, I was trying so hard to be perfect. And I was failing miserably. I was emotionally punishing myself, thinking if I could just flog myself a little harder, then my plight would be noticed and God would receive my offering. I thought I could be made pure and atoned for through my self inflicted emotional pain. I felt like I was unworthy, and should be punished as such.
One evening after classes I tried to explain my brokenness to another woman. I was hoping for comfort and insight. But as I explained my theology she simply asked, “So, what you are saying is what Jesus did wasn’t good enough? ” The words were not spoken harshly, but they had an edge to them. That edge cut into me. How could I not think that what Jesus did was good enough? It was me, I tried to explain, that was not good enough. Those words cut me, but they were so true.
What I had missed out on is that Jesus had already made me pure. No judgments could ever be held against me because I claim salvation in the name of Jesus. I claim that I am one of His. I didn’t need to punish myself. He had already taken the punishment for me so that I can have hope to see the beauty of heaven. It is more than a hope, it is a security. Spiritually, I am blameless and pure.
It is not our striving toward perfection or goodness that makes us good. It is not the commandments that make us behave ethically. It is the love that the Father has shown to us. It is the light which radiates from us because we have an understanding of what has been done for us.
In her book So Long Insecurity Beth Moore states, “We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”
Sounds like a good theory in concept. The problem is, is that sometimes, we do not know what truth is in regards to who we are. A few years back my belief was that I was a most heinous individual. I hated myself with such a great intensity that it was physically nauseating. The song I listened to over and over again was “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been.” I wanted to be beautiful, for there to be a grace about me that radiated, alas, it didn’t. I believed that no one could really want to even talk to me. I had nothing of value to offer. I was too much of a disappointment to everyone in my life. I felt I was a detriment to those around me.
So I holed myself up. I could not look up at anyone, afraid I would see disappointment in their eyes. I wanted to have an emotional beauty about me, to minister, to be an artist and a writer. Could I dare define myself by such things? The fear of failure during these years kept me in a silent jail. I was only one who was unworthy of anything. I allowed every negative action to affirm my beliefs.
Worse yet, during this time I had a woman who I thought was going to mentor me separate herself from me. I was devastated and her actions confirmed every negative thought I had ever had about myself. It was my ultimate confirmation.
Even now, years later, it is hard to believe and write anything to the contrary. I believed the lies so long, they are ingrained into my very core.
How is it that I had every believed such things to begin with? Who knows why I have such worthiness issues, but they plague me.
At some point during those years I decided I had to determine what truth was. People are fallible. Always remember that. The things that come out of someone’s mouth are often flawed because of their own perceptions. The only place to turn was to scripture and I had to believe it as if scripture were speaking directly to me.
So what is the truth?
1. I am worth rescuing. (My theme Psalm is chapter 18)
2. I am a reflection of the Creator. (Gen. 1: 27)
3. God has plans for me. (Jer. 29:11)
4. He rejoices over me. (Zeph. 3:17)
5. I am holy and without fault in His eyes. (Eph. 1: 4, Col. 1:22)
6. My story can be used for His Glory. (Eph. 5:14)
I can only allow God to define me. It is His truth that sets me free. If I start defining myself based on what others think of me, then I become paranoid and lost in the insanity of it all. I have my doubts and setbacks. My last blog entry can attest to that. But I know that God knows my name, and regardless of who I am in relationship with humanity, I am precious to Him.
What truths do you base your life on? What lies have you believed? How do you allow those things to define you?
The pool of Bethesda was probably beautiful in its day. With its grand columns, and open air, at one time I bet it was a much sought after pool for relaxing. The name Bethesda literally means “house of mercy.” It is at the Pool of the house of Mercy that Jesus is at during a festival. (See John 5:1-15). The Pool had five covered porches. Whether it was because of the festival or an ongoing thing, the pool of Bethesda was covered with those who were ill, lame, poor and blind. Now there was a legend about the Pool of Bethesda that occasionally an angel would come down and stir the water. Whomever made it into the pool first received healing. It was there that Jesus met a man who had been sick (some translations say lame) for 38 years. When Jesus saw him He asked him, “Would you like to get well?”
You would think the man would say yes, but instead he gives excuses. “I can’t sir. For I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred up. While I am trying to get there, someone else always get in ahead of me.” He never once said he would like to receive healing. Many scholars refer to this as a story where we get to comfortable in our brokenness and continue to live there instead of seeking the healing hand of God.
I have a friend who is like this. Her life is in quite the mess, yet instead of taking the steps to get well, she waits for it to happen. But isn’t that all of us to some degree. Isn’t that why AA says you have to hit rock bottom and get sick and tired of being sick and tired before you are willing to make progress?
We find perverse comfort in wallowing in our own wounds. To read out for healing is a scary thing indeed. The end of the story is that Jesus healed the man. Jesus simply told him to “get up and walk” and he did. He no longer had to wait on an angel to stir the water.
We are often comfortable in our day to day lives. I take medication for being bi-polar. Although my symptoms are well controlled, it is the goal of my dr and myself to get my medicines the best they can be, so that I can enjoy life to its fullest extent. Together we do a pretty good job.
I don’t know that our wounds are there for a reason. But I do believe that overcoming our wounds can have healing power for others if we allow it. I think Brennan Manning explains it best in his book Abba’s Child. He too talks about the pool of Bethesda.
“Thorton Wilder’s one-act play “The Angel That Troubled the Waters,” based on John 5:1-4, dramatizes the power of the pool of Bethesda to heal whenever an angel stirred its waters. A physician comes periodically to the pool, hoping to be the first in line and longing to be healed of his melancholy.
The angel finally appears but blocks the physician just as he is ready to step into the water. The angel tells the physician to draw back, for this moment is not for him. The physician pleads for help in a broken voice, but the angel insists that healing is not intended for him.
The dialogue continues–and then comes the prophetic word from the angel: Without our wounds where would your power be? It is your melancholy that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men and women. The blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service, only wounded soldiers can serve. Physician, draw back.””
If that is the case then I am definitely a wounded soldier. Today I am glad I am a wounded soldier, but there was a time where I spent my days by the pool of Bethesda comforting myself and believing that I didn’t deserve all that life had to offer. I want to tell you think about the ways your life resembles the Pool of Bethesda. Do you need healing, but have given up on receiving healing? Do you have an excuse every time the water is stirred?