Needy by Design

No one wants to be needy. But this one thing makes us needy and there’s nothing we can do about it, no matter how hard we try. And we try really hard. We pretend really hard. But the one thing that makes us needy against all our best efforts to the contrary is… God’s Design.

God created us, like it or not, with basic human needs like being loved unconditionally. Like being welcomed and wanted. Like being touched in loving, respectful ways. Like being known, heard, and understood.

God created us needy to draw us into community. We are his image-bearers, after all (Genesis 1:26), and the Godhead himself lives in Community within himself.

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” the Bible says in Deuteronomy 6:4. The word translated “one” at the end of that verse in the Hebrew is a plural oneness we don’t have in English. It is only used for God. The point is, the Trinity lives in community with himself. So if we’re his image-bearers, shouldn’t we live in community also? If fact, we reflect his image more when we’re in healthy community with each other than we do individually.

God created us to long for community with every fiber of our being, because it’s only with others that we find our completion, the fullness of our own identity.

But something’s gone wrong. We’ve been hurt by others. So we often decide we don’t want community. It’s too risky. It’s not safe.

So we hide from what we desperately long for. Hide ‘n’ seek is only fun when someone comes looking for you. If the person who’s “it” counts while we hide but then goes inside for a snack, leaving us in our hiding place, it’s no fun at all. It’s downright hurtful. It’s no fun hiding for long. Yet some of us have been hiding all our lives.

We hide with all our might while desperately yearning to be found. Sometimes we hide behind controlling everything and everyone. “They will only find what I want them to find.” Sometimes we hide behind perfectionism, behind being the good boy or the good girl. “I’ll be good so they won’t see who I really am.” Sometimes we hide behind bad behavior we know is wrong. “They’ll never come close enough to see the real me in here.” Sometimes we hide behind addictions to medicate the pain. “I won’t even see me in here. I won’t feel the pain.”

The only problem is, none of it works. And that’s the grace of God in our lives. He won’t let it work, for long at least. He keeps engineering situations and circumstances that undermine our best efforts to hide.

Like a loving parent playing hide ‘n’ seek with a child, he knows where we’re hiding. But instead of violating our hiding place, he’s standing in the middle of the yard saying, “All-y, All-y, all come free!” It’s safe to come out now. It’s safe to run to his loving arms. We have a choice to leave the false safety of our best hiding places, engineered to keep us safe by our own efforts but failing miserably. We have a choice to run to the true safety of his arms, a truly safe, but vulnerable, place where we’re not in control, but neither is our fear.

And that’s our choice, between fear or vulnerability.

So often God brings healing in the context of community, when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, to be loved to life by imperfect people whom we are called to love to life in return. Yes, these imperfect people will still hurt us, but what we do with that hurt is different. We embrace it and give it to Jesus, rather than hiding from it. And he heals it. Occasionally we need to change communities to a healthier one. But more often God gives us his heart for the other person, and shows us how to love them to life.

How about you? Are you hiding in fear? Or have you embraced vulnerability in a safe, loving, community? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share if you think this post would bless someone else.

Fearful Control or Loving Confrontation

There’s a world of difference between controlling someone out of fear and confronting them out of love.

When we have to deal with someone else’s bad behavior, we have a choice. We can try to control the other person and manipulate them into doing the right thing. Control is hypocrisy because we’re trying, by sinful means, to get them to not sin. How do you think that’s going to work? God won’t bless that. The ends do not justify the means.

Or we can loving confront them, speaking vulnerably from our heart. We can say what needs to be said, as lovingly as possible, but still as directly as needed. Then we trust God to speak to their heart, and we give them the grace to be in process while they work it out with God.

Here’s an example.

Thomas had an issue with his wife, Miranda. She would spend hours venting to him about people in their church. It was affecting his relationships with those people. He was afraid it would make him look bad. He was afraid she’d vent to someone else and her toxic spew would get back to the pastor, or worse, one of the church gossips. He was afraid she’d embarrass the family, and him most of all. He knew he had to do something about it. He had to take control, and out of his fear he tried to.

“Miranda, stop it!” he demanded the next time she started to spew. “I’m not going to listen to this! It’s wrong for you to spew like this about everybody! How can you even claim to be a Christian woman when this is what comes out of your mouth? You need to repent and stop talking like this right now!” Thomas knew he was in the right and his self-righteousness demanded instant change.

How do you think that went over? Miranda was angry with Thomas. She knew the way she spoke about her brothers and sisters at church was wrong. But she was incensed more that Thomas didn’t even try to hear her heart. She wanted to change how she spoke about people, it didn’t make her feel good at all. But she didn’t want to be bullied by his control either. He made it harder than it already was for her to deal with her sin.

Ok, now, stop. Rewind. Replay.

Thomas had an issue with his wife, Miranda. She would spend hours venting to him about people in their church. It was affecting his relationships with those people. He got up half an hour earlier than usual (3:30 AM instead of his usual 4:00 for the commute). He fasted breakfast, giving that 15 minutes to the Lord. So he had an extra 45 minutes each morning to pour out the pain and fear from his own heart to the Lord. He was determined to do this for as long as it took to get God’s strategy for dealing with this, but it only took a few days.

Almost immediately the Lord gave him a concern about what pain was in her heart that she was medicating by talking like this. He knew he had to say something about it. He had to confront her, and out of love he tried to.

“Miranda, wait a minute,” he risked the next time she started to spew. “Can I say something? I want to be there for you; I’m so glad you talk to me. I want to listen. I want to hear your heart. But I know this isn’t your heart for these people. You like these people, they’re our friends, but you talk down about them for hours. It’s starting to affect my relationship with them, because I find myself seeing them through this negative lens. But help me hear your heart. What are you afraid of? What’s wrong?” Thomas then prayed silently and put her in God’s hands. He left her and her response to God’s process, knowing even if she responded negatively now, God wasn’t done speaking to her heart. His love allowed her to be in process.

How do you think that went over? Miranda was angry with Thomas. She knew the way she spoke about her brothers and sisters at church was wrong. And she was angry at him for bringing it up and calling her on it. It hurt. He was inviting her into dangerous vulnerability, which she desperately longed for but was also terrified of. But she knew he was right, that there was something deeper going on in her heart. Now Miranda had a choice. Would she go there, to that vulnerable place, or would she try to control and bully him back into listening to her vent without saying anything to her about it?

This post isn’t about Miranda. It’s about Thomas. The second Thomas above may not have done it perfectly, but he tried. He approached Miranda with loving confrontation, with the strategy he asked the Lord for, not fearful control. He left her response between her and God. He loved her enough, and trusted God enough, to allow her to be in the Holy Spirit’s process.

If something was wrong in your life, which approach would you prefer someone take with you? Personally, I’d prefer loving confrontation. I’ve had enough of fearful control to last a life time.

How about you? Have you been through this process on either side? We’d love to hear your story. And please share if you think this would be valuable to someone else.

The Power of Dropping Offenses

They could not have been more different. When Jack said “black,” John said “white.” When John said “black,” Jack said “white.” One drove a smart car, the other a hummer. One was rightly concerned about social justice, the other rightly concerned about government over-reach and losing freedoms. One loved the Washington Redskins, the other the Dallas Cowboys. What was God thinking when he brought these two men to the same church, working on the same committees? They both thought the other was really jacked up. They both passionately knew they were right in their convictions. They were both willing to die on their swords over being right. They could not have been more the same.

They were both offended. Offense is one of the greatest barriers to friendship in the church. Actually, offense is one of the greatest barriers to godliness in any sphere of life. For example, there is a huge Spirit of Offense operating in both political parties in America right now, playing us for fools against each other. But that’s another story. This story is about two men in the same church who can barely stand each other, offended, not over anything righteous like God would be, but over their own petty preferences, that only they valued so highly.

Whenever they got excited about something at church, darned if the other would show up too, and work on that same project. The other person sucked all the joy out of it for them, because they both chose to give the other that power over them. In fact, they ended up bumping into each other so often that they began to wonder what in heaven was going on. In fact, something in heaven was going on. Heaven had a plan.

God knew that one of these men was molested as a child by a family member they were taught they must respect. God knew the other had parents who demanded silent perfection. Neither had a voice growing up, and the pain of being treated as an object had traumatized them both. To one, something horribly bad had happened, and it shut down his heart. To the other, the daily lack of love, the daily lack of the necessary good thing, had slowly but surely sucked the life out of his heart. God knew these two stony hearts desperately needed each other.

Both marriages were about to collapse. Their wives were miserable, and neither of their wives respected them. One man was a servant with no boundaries, and his wife longed for him to stand up to her and lead. The other was oppressively over-bearing and his wife longed to be heard and have a voice herself. These men had much to teach each other.

In God’s economy, they each had something the other desperately needed. In such a friendship, they could speak hard truths to each other, within the safety of fraternal, brotherly love. God wanted to use those hard truths to work paradigm shifts in both men, bringing them into a new, exciting, and adventurous life they never dreamed possible.

There was only one thing standing in the way. Fear, manifesting as Pride, fed by Offense.

But God kept stacking the deck. John couldn’t worship without having Jack’s face pop into his thoughts. As God planned, it was beginning to drive John crazy. Jack couldn’t go to sleep without having some dream about John giving him something he desperately needed—the one person Jack didn’t want to be indebted to. God was on the move.

One day John bit the bullet and asked Jack for coffee after church. Much to his disappointment, Jack accepted. Jack wouldn’t let John be the righteous one by refusing the invite. Heaven cheated. God actually played their pride against them to bring them together. Whatever works.

During that first cup of coffee all hell broke loose. Literally. Lies and deceptions that demons had spent years building fell to the ground in moments, smashed into a million pieces as each man realized the other was not who they thought. Hell was quite upset. It was like Heaven had no regard at all for the years of hard work it took to stand up that delicate, but powerful, deceptive house of cards.

Letting their offenses against the other go in that first conversation over that first cup of coffee wasn’t easy. It was a blow to the pride of both men. They each had to consciously decide to drop their offenses, starve their pride, and risk being vulnerable. But, on the other hand, their pride hadn’t been working out so well for them lately, so they gave it a go. After a year, they were both enjoying a deep friendship so much more than they had ever enjoyed being right. It was worth it and not nearly as lonely.

How about us? Does God have a friend for us, whom we desperately need, that we’re too offended at to ask for coffee? Can we lay down our right to be right and be friends instead? Have you had this experience, on either end? Tell us in the comments and please share if you think this would bless someone else.

Being Loved to Life—Authentic Christianity

Sarah was in church smiling, conversing with all her church friends. “If they only knew the mess in my life,” she thought every week, “they wouldn’t have anything to do with me.” So she kept pretending, and she was good at it. They all knew Sarah the Good Girl. No one knew Sarah the Alcoholic. No one could get close enough in a few hours on Sunday morning. If anyone offered to hang out for coffee during the week, she’d gladly accept, and then cancel because “something came up.” Don’t want people too close, they might see the real me. If only she could walk a victorious Christian life like her church friends, Rose, Tanya, and Beth. What is wrong with me?

Sarah thought she was the only one. Sarah didn’t know Rose fought depression and wore the same fake smile Sarah did. Sarah didn’t know Tanya suffered from post-abortive stress and was desperately trying to earn love from a God she believed she could never please. Sarah didn’t know Beth was on the verge of having an affair because of the pain from her abusive marriage.

In fact, Sarah had more in common with her church friends than they knew. The one thought all four had in common was, “If they only really knew me, they’d hate me like I hate me.” They all four thought the other three had it all together.

Then one day, quite by accident, the dam broke. Eating donuts in the kitchen before the church service started, Rose whipped out a picture of her day-old grandson. Caught unusually off-guard, Tanya burst into tears before she could get control of herself. Today was the due date of her son, 20 years ago, who was never born. They went out in the hall around the corner to comfort Tanya and get some privacy. As Beth hugged Tanya, Beth’s sleeve was pulled back just enough for Sarah to notice a bruise. As Tanya’s tears wet Beth’s cheek, Beth’s make-up ran just enough for Sarah to see another bruise the make-up was covering.

“OMG,” thought Sarah. “I need a drink.” What is happening here?

The truth was, the Holy Spirit was showing up in their friendship, and it wasn’t pretty. But it was good. The four friends starting meeting for coffee to support each other and share their struggles. They were all shocked at each other’s struggles, not with condemnation or rejection, but because they truly had no idea their friends were in such pain. They all thought they were the only one.

Shame is such a liar. It tells us we are uniquely and fatally flawed. Fatally, because there’s no cure for us, we’ll always be this way, so we’d better hide it the best we can and not let anyone see. And uniquely, because we’re the only one who feels this way. What a pack of lies.

Shame’s lying house of cards is built on a foundation of isolation. It came crashing down that day, when these four church friends shared their pain and fears with each other, all expecting to be rejected, but all finding loving acceptance instead. The four friends received that day the best gift from the Holy Spirit, true loving community. They let Authentic Christianity replace their fake religion, and they could never go back. And all it cost them was the risk of being vulnerable.

Their community didn’t change their situations, but it changed them, and it changed their response to their situations. It gave them something they didn’t have before—hope. They did not have to walk through it alone. And there was a fifth person there in all of their get-togethers—Jesus. “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20)

We receive healing when we let ourselves be loved to life by others in the Body of Christ. So often letting someone else into our struggle is 90% of the victory. Honestly sharing our sin, our pain, our fears, with a few trusted brothers or sisters in the Body of Christ so often breaks the majority of shame’s power.

Everyone doesn’t need to know your secrets, but someone does. Find that trusted person, a brother or sister in the Lord, and break shame’s isolating hold on you by confiding in them. We all desperately want to be known, and at the same time are terrified of being known. We hide with all our might, desperately longing to be found.

When the masks and methods we’ve used to hide stop working, and things are crashing around us, often it’s the Holy Spirit doing that, because he’s exposing something he desperately wants to heal. God is for us. We don’t have to earn his love, we already have it.

How about you? Does this resonate? Do you have a safe Christian community? We’d love to hear your story. Have you been loved to life? I have. And please share this if you think this would bless someone else.