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.

How to Talk to Your Heart

We often have this false idea in the Western world that the battle’s all in the mind, that it’s all about how we think. If that were true, why do people smoke, do drugs, drink excessively, eat excessively, and do all sorts of things they know is bad for them? There must be something else going on.

The problems in our mind often lead to bad fruit, but the root of our problems is often not in our mind at all, but in our heart.

So often in the church we minister to people’s behavior, because that’s the low-hanging, bad fruit. It’s visible. It’s obvious. It’s clearly a problem. But that just leads to sin management, not real transformation. We have to minister to the root.

The root is often at the heart. In Western culture, in our arrogance, we’ve exalted our intellect at the expense of our heart. Yes, our thoughts are important, and we want to develop the skill of taking every thought captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). There is a battle in the mind for sure. But that’s the effect, not the cause. The foundational battle is in the heart, and often it shapes our behavior and our thinking more than our mind does.

Jesus agrees with me. He says in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

You catch that? Those are all behavioral problems he just mentioned, and he didn’t say they came from bad theology or wrong thinking. They come from the heart. The bad theology and wrong thinking is just our brain rationalizing what’s already in our heart.

And again, Jesus says in Luke 6:45, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Jesus thought the heart was pretty important.

Ever have a mile’s worth of negative reaction over an inch of offense? Ever been like, “Where’d that come from?” And then we’re all embarrassed and ashamed because we reacted so strongly when we know that strong of a reaction wasn’t merited? I’ve done that, been there, got the tee-shirt. That’s a clue there’s a heart issue going on.

Often when we’re hurting, or addressing bad fruit in our lives, the most important conversation we can have is with our heart. We have so played-down our hearts and dishonored our hearts, while they are so wounded. A good way to start healing is to honor our heart by learning to listen to it.

So how do you talk to your heart? It may look different for you, but this is how I do it. I ask these four questions:

  1. Heart, why are you hurting, what wounded you?
  2. Heart, how did that make you feel?
  3. Heart, what did you come to believe? About yourself? Others? God?
  4. Ok, Heart, then what did you vow to protect yourself?

I put my hand over my heart, just because it helps me focus. Then I say (preferably out loud if I’m in a safe space like my car or some other private place), “Heart, why are you afraid?” or “Heart, why are you hurting?” And then I listen.

This is listening, so you have to protect the quiet. My brain, always trying to help, jumps in with all sorts of answers, “because of this,” or “because of that.” I have to tell my brain, “Shut up, I’m not talking to you.” Then I go back to quiet, listening to my heart.

Sometimes answers are immediate, but sometimes I have to wait anywhere between a few minutes or a few days. Sometimes even a few weeks, but I keep asking. It’s not that my heart’s not answering, it’s that I’m hard-of-heart-hearing. Sometimes it’s hard for me to hear my heart. For some of us, this is a completely foreign concept.

To talk to our heart, we have to unlearn a bunch of stuff we’ve learned. Like, “all meaning can be expressed in words.” Not! Our heart learned to talk a long time before our brain did. And when our heart learned to talk, we didn’t have verbal language yet. That’s why 90% of all communication is non-verbal. It’s heart-speak.

So our heart doesn’t always talk in words. Sometimes a memory will pop up. Your heart is telling you the answer is because “this” happened.

Our brain can help if we train it to. For example, I’ve dealt at various times with different levels of self-hatred. I had a very good Christian childhood and my parents loved me. And my siblings, two brothers 10 years older than me, also loved me and were very good to me. I had no trauma growing up. But because of a deep-rooted self-hatred I didn’t even know was there, I made some poor choices in my life because I didn’t think I deserved any better. So I recently was trying to figure out where that came from.

So I asked my heart, “Heart, what’s your wound?” Crickets. I was having trouble hearing my heart. That’s not a question it necessarily wants to answer, and hearing your heart is hard anyway. So I let my brain help, giving my heart a multiple-choice question instead of an essay question.

“I was bullied.” Nothing. Nope that’s not it.

“My parents weren’t proud of me.” Nothing. I know that’s not true, that lie has no power over me.

“I was a mistake.” Sudden strong emotion! Where’d that come from? I had to fight back an audible cry in the car. Bingo! That’s the wound. My two brothers were 10 years older than me, and I thought I was a mistake.

Now I was onto something. So I probed deeper, and now the answers came quickly. “Heart, how did that make you feel?” Unloved.

“Heart, what did you come to believe?” No one will love me.

“Heart, what did you vow to protect yourself?” I will make everyone happy so they love me.

That explains so much! My mom told me as a baby I’d cackle or coo or do whatever made the person holding me smile.

My dad told me, as a 2-year old, they only had to tell me once to not touch the expensive figurines on the coffee table, and I wouldn’t. He said he’d never seen another child like me.

These sound like good things, but they were a child trying to earn love because he believed a foundational lie. It lead to some bad choices later on.

Since I’ve learned what the wound was, what the foundational lie was, it’s been much easier to deal with. Now when I have thoughts of self-hatred, I call out the lie and replace it with God’s truth. “No, I’m not a mistake. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. God’s works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (That’s Psalm 139:14, BTW. If you struggle with self-hatred, internalize Psalm 139. It’s the anti-self-hatred psalm.)

So what about you? Talk to your heart lately? Do you need to? Try this out and let us know how it goes in comments or shoot us email. We’d really love to hear from you. And please share this if you think it would help someone else.

What to Do when the Pain Won’t Go Away

None of us want to admit it, but we all have it. Or have had it at some point. Emotional pain that just won’t go away. Sometimes we think we’ve stuffed it, but then – bam – something seemingly innocent happens and it all comes crashing back.

Daniel was so past his divorce. He’d made his peace with it. Until he went to his nephew’s wedding. Emotions he thought were long gone were really only hiding. They rose up and slammed him out of nowhere. He drank way too much at the reception. And every night after that.

Melanie was over her abortion, or so she thought. No one knew, and she’d moved on. Until her best friend invited her to her baby shower. And it all came crashing back. She went and put on a happy face. No one knew she was dying inside. But she was.

Sometimes we can’t even begin to stuff it, and we just learn to live with it. Or better put, survive with it.

Lisa cannot remember a time when she wasn’t battling depression. She lives in a box, behind a mask, trying desperately to keep the outside world at bay, to stay in control. Where is the joy all the other Christians have? Are they just faking it, too? Or is there something wrong with her? She suspects the latter. She desperately hopes this next relationship will fix it all. Again.

Somehow we learn to cope. Maybe we self-medicate. Maybe we control. Sometimes we put on a face and pretend, hiding the real me. We’ve coped with it for so long we think it’s normal. But it’s not. Although it’s very common, just coping forever is not healthy.

God has something for us so much better than coping. He has a new-normal for us, without the pain. It’s called healing. But how do we embrace it? How do we move into that place?

The short answer is, Be the buffalo not the cow. Dude, what are you even talking about? What to bovines have to do with deep emotional pain? I’m glad you asked.

When there’s a thunderstorm on the plain, buffalo and cattle both panic. Both herds stampede, and you don’t want to be in the way! But there’s a major difference.

Cattle take off running away from the storm as fast as they can. If the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede east. This is the obvious, no-brainer thing to do to avoid the storm. The problem is, they’re running the same direction as the storm’s moving, and the storm always moves faster. So it eventually overtakes them anyway. And since they’re running the direction it’s moving, they actual maximize their time in the storm.

On the other hand, buffalo run straight at the thunderstorm. So if the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede west, right into it. This seems really dumb at first glance, but it’s actually brilliant. Since they’re running the opposite direction the storm is moving, they minimize their time in the storm. And they get rewarded with the yummy, just watered, fresh grass on the other side. Bonus!

Most of us run from our pain, like cattle running from a thunderstorm. But avoidance just maximizes our time in the pain when it catches up with us, and it always does.

John Sanford, founder of Elijah House Ministries said, “We need to embrace the fireball of pain.Wow. Seriously, dude? Yeah, seriously. We need to go where it hurts, not avoid it.

Ok, you sold me. How do we “embrace the fireball of pain?”

I’m glad you asked. There’s 3 steps to start this process.

1) Start the journey with God.

Be honest. Don’t hide it or pretend it’s not there. Honestly tell God how you feel. It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to not feel joy. Read the Psalms. Many of them are written from places of extreme pain. They are examples of God meeting people in the middle of extremely painful circumstance, doubt and fear. For a start, look at Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 17, 22, 28, 40, 120, and many, many more.

What gets scheduled gets done, so schedule time to pray and meditate each day with God, even if it’s just 10 minutes during a break. Stopping, unplugging, and getting alone with him, even if just for a few minutes, makes a huge difference.

2) Start the journey with someone else.

You don’t need to tell everyone everything. But you need to tell someone everything. So often the pain’s power over us is rooted in shame. Shame protects itself by isolating us. We think we’re the only one. But we’re not. Often, sharing our pain with someone else breaks the shame and that’s 80% of the healing right there.

So often we the church do such a disservice to people by forcing them to either hide their pain or face our rejection. I know someone who, in a vulnerable moment, shared the pain in their life. They were actually told by their Bible study leader at church, “Well, Christians are supposed to be joyful, so if you’re not feeling joy, are you even saved?”

What rubbish! Jesus does not deliver us from pain, he delivers us through it. He never promised we wouldn’t have trouble in this world (in fact just the opposite, see John 16:33). He promised us he’d be there with us in the middle of it. So we should be there for each other.

If your church shames you for having pain in your life, find a different church. There are many churches out there that get this right. Find someone you trust that you can share your journey with, and who is willing to share theirs with you. You’ll find that, no matter how perfect they look, they have pain in their life, too.

3) Recognize the season.

Healing is a season, it doesn’t happen overnight. The season can be weeks, months, years, or even decades.

Sometimes, for whatever reason he alone knows, God doesn’t heal at all. I know some very strong Christians, men and women of deep intimacy with the Lord, faith and power, who have battled depression their whole life. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them or their faith. It means God is choosing to use that for his glory in their lives (see John 9:3). He is meeting them right there in the middle of it, just like he did the Apostle Paul, who, by the way, he also didn’t heal (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). So if this is you, you’re in good company.

I can’t promise God will eventually heal your situation. Often he totally does. But I can promise God is always good, and will meet you in the middle of it.

Personally, a moment of vulnerability here, I still struggle with self-hatred. But I’m getting stronger and it’s a lot weaker than it used to be. I’m learning how to not agree with it and instead agree with what God says about me. Jesus has been my deliverer in the middle of it. And continues to be.

So what about you? Where do you come down in all this? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share if you think this would bless someone else.