I’ve seen this quote popping up in my feed a lot lately and I’m not feeling it.
A few years ago, I probably would have adored this quote. But now….not so much.
Here’s why: Much about the way this is worded implies that “she” (a symbolic “she” with which all Christian women are invited to identify) “she” is not lovable, is not worthy of forgiveness, and is not good enough to be a child of God. And people…especially women…often accept that as truth.
There was a time when I would have agreed with this quote and not without good reason. God created us, loves us, and forgives us because of who He is. There is nothing we can do to secure our right to exist, earn His love, or deserve His forgiveness. We are a people who found ourselves separated from God by our sin and without any means to close that distance between us, except for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Everything we are and have is because of Him. That is true.
Along the way, however, that truth often becomes twisted: ‘I can’t earn God’s love’ becomes ‘I’m unlovable.’ ‘I am a sinner saved by grace’ turns into ‘I’m not good enough.’ ‘I can’t earn love or forgiveness’ becomes ‘I am not worthy of love or forgiveness.’
See how that works? Take the truth, twist it just a little, and you’ve got yourself a powerful lie. Typical, and oh so very destructive. That’s how the enemy rolls.
Over the last several months, God’s been speaking to me a lot on this subject. Here’s what I believe He has to say: You are enough. You are good. You are worthy. You belong here.
I hate being weak. I hate that I am not enough. I want to be more. To do more.
God, so much of what I want to do is for You.Why do You keep holding me down beneath Your mighty hand? You say You will lift me up in due time. When will that be? Can You point to a date on a calendar? Or give me a general idea? If it’s a long way off, my iPhone goes ahead like 20 years. And Due Time has got to be within the next 20 years. Right? God? Are you there?
In Jesus Calling, I’m instructed to rejoice in my weakness which, like a lodestone, draws me ever closer to God. Once upon a time those were encouraging words, but lately they sound a lot like this: blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
What happens when I am aware of my desperate need for the Lord but I don’t feel any closer to Him?
What happens when He doesn’t answer my prayers? When I ask for strength and yet have so little? When I beg to feel Him, plead to hear from Him and yet…nothing?
I go to His word for nourishment but everything tastes like dry grass. Parched, I drag myself across burning sands only to find an empty creek bed. I wrap myself in the love of friends and family but my heart shivers through the sunless night.
And I recollect a truth carved in the walls of my soul…but it’s like recalling the lyrics of a song without remembering the melody.
I know He is with me but I can’t feel Him.
And so I recite the words, even though I can’t remember the tune:
Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand. Isaiah 41:10
And I believe…even though I don’t feel. And I hope even though I can’t see. And I choose trust instead of fear – trust in the God who promises to uphold me with His right hand.
His right hand – a symbol of strength in the scriptures. Not His left, but His right hand. Because God only gives us His best.
And I keep reading:
For I am theLordyour God who takes hold of your right hand
and says to you, Do not fear; I will helpyou. Isaiah 41:13
The Lord my God who takes hold of my right hand. Not my left, but my right hand – my strength. My best.
And I consider what life would be like with God holding my right hand. I imagine cooking without my right hand and typing without my right hand – and the imagining comes pretty easily because with chronic pain and tendonitis, I am sometimes forced to rest my hands, and wow…even in those brief hours, I hate it.
(Did I mention I hate being weak? Because I do. I hate it.)
Honestly, God taking hold of my right hand doesn’t sound particularly helpful. Surely, it would be easier if He held my left hand.
But then…would He even be helping me at all? Or would He just be something I hold onto to make me feel better – like a security blanket or the cross I wear around my neck?
Like an unsteady toddler who cries for help after falling down and then pushes her father away as soon as she’s back on her feet, I want Him to help me do it on my own.
But that’s not quite how it works, is it? God is not raising us to be independent. Rather, He’s calling us back from independence, into the freedom that comes in total dependence on Him.
And that means that sometimes He must take hold of us at our strongest places, limit us, slow us down.
Perhaps it’s the only way He can get me to stop trying to do it all on my own. In taking away the things I rely on – my endurance, my abilities, my intellect, my creativity, my spiritual insight, my energy, my confidence – He reminds me of the one thing that really matters: Him.
And I remember His strength that called light out of darkness, igniting the fire of countless suns and flinging them across space and time.
His strength that hurled the planets into motion with perfect precision, summoned beings out of the earth and rushed the wind of life into man. His strength that bore the crushing weight of humanity’s doom and under it, through it, forged a new way. His strength that ruptured the tight and binding prison of flesh, birthing new life in a dry and barren wasteland.
His strength. Which has always been….will always be…enough.
And so, confused and frustrated, weak and exhausted, I stop tugging and pulling and fighting and trying to wrench my hand away from His.
And in this moment, I surrender my best – which is never enough – so that He can give me His best. Which has always been….will always be…enough.
The morning after I completed this post, Leroy Case preached about our God the “Star-breather.” His message was incredibly relevant to me, to this post, and at the end he shared a song with us. And now I am sharing it with you.
Last week a friend emailed me asking to borrow some books for her vacation. In her note she wrote something like this, “I want good, enjoyable fiction. I don’t want another book on how to live a good Christian life. I already have more of those than I can count.”
I thought, “Preach it, sister!”
Self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.
I have books stacked on my bay window, books lining the shelves in our basement, books piled on my nightstand, books overflowing onto the floor and books creeping under my bed…oh yeah, and books on my Kindle. And while some of them are fiction and poetry and science geeky kind of stuff, a whole lot of them are “how to live the good Christian life” books.
Which is interesting, because I’ve never liked how-to-be-a-better-kind-of-anything books. Actually, I may be the only parent in the history of modern parenting that hasn’t read a book on how to be a better parent. (“Ah, that explains it,” you remark to yourself. I can hear you!)
Despite my disdain for such books, they’ve still found their way into my home, like sugar ants crawling over the countertops in the springtime.
Sure, books like that can be helpful. Sometimes. But I can only think of twoorthree that have genuinely impacted my life. (Admittedly, my avoidance of such books may affect the odds.) Most of the time self-improvement books, even the Christian kind, wear me out. With every turn of the page, every latest idea, next step or new plan, I feel a heaviness descend upon me, and I am weighed down by could-haves and should-haves and have-tos and want-tos and before I know it I’m carrying 10 times the weight of the book on my back.
Books weigh a lot – just try moving a box of them – but self-improvement books are burdensome. Because somewhere deep inside I know the truth: I can’t improve myself.
None of us can. We can’t fix the brokenness we inherited nor mend the brokenness we cause. That’s why we need Jesus. Yesterday. Today. Every day.
I know there’s some verses out there on this topic…let’s see:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5
Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain…Psalm 127:1
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matthew 23:27-28
Sadly, many self-improvement books are just instructions on how to whitewash ourselves. No wonder they’re burdensome! Any attempt at righteousness is more than we can bear.
I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that.
I can’t fix myself. I can’t improve myself. And I can’t even pretend very well. Because deep inside, I know…I know what’s deep inside. I know what I’ve done and I know how I think and I know what I fear and I know what I hate and I know that sooner or later, I’m going to screw up again. (And chances are it’ll be sooner.)
I’m not saying that every “how to have a good Christian life” book is worthless or that you should never read them. But if my friend feels this way and I feel this way, well, chances are that some of you feel this way too.
Last week, after reading my friend’s email, I realized just how much this self-improvement mentality was once again weighing me down. I felt not only burdened but trapped, caught in the sticky web of do this and be that. And I wasn’t even in the middle of a self-improvement book.
What does that tell you?
This self-improvement/life-improvement mentality pervades our atmosphere. It’s runs through the veins of our culture. There’s almost no escaping the madness. And yet there’s a way. There’s always a Way. Which leads me to my next point: self-improvement mentality keeps my focus on me and off of Jesus. And “me” is a small, murky, unpredictable place to be.
So while I’m not suggesting you throw out all those books, I do encourage you to throw off the weight of self-improvement, or life-improvement or whatever you call it. Just let it go. (Oh gosh, now I’ll be singing that song all night – by the way, a post on that movie is in the works.)
Surrender to Him your feeble attempts at making yourself better, making your life better. Lay it all down. Again. But not because I say so. After all, this is NOT a self-improvement blog. In case the previous two paragraphs weren’t evidence enough of my questionable methods, let me just say it outright: I can’t make you better. I just happen to know Someone who can, Someone who will. Which is why I write a drive-my-readers-into-the-arms-of-God kind of blog, and hopefully make you smile while doing it. (Contrary to what you may think, my goal is not to drive you into His arms screaming and crying…but hey…if it works…)
And feel Him slip the burden off your back and free you from the tangled web of lies and wash you clean. Let Him hold you in his arms and quiet you with his love and rejoice over you with singing. (Zeph. 3:17) And let His song heal you. He’s the only one who can.
When I was little, my mother used to wince at the sight of it. 42 stitches from my scalp to my eyebrow. There are others…smaller ones…including the one inside my upper lip. Sometimes, I still run my tongue up and down the jagged ridge that cuts from the edge of my lip to where the skin meets my gums.
The memory is my mother’s, not mine. An empty aquarium shattering over the hard skull of her 14 month old daughter. Blood. Deep red. Heavy.
Washing glass from her little one’s hair while she waited for the ambulance.
“No time!” the police officer shouts. “I’ll drive you in my car.”
My father screaming, blaming. The officer leaves him behind.
Doctors whisking her baby girl into surgery.
“Will she be okay?”
“We’ll have to wait and see.”
Wait and see…and be questioned by protective services. It’s the standard protocol, they tell her.
Wait with empty arms as her little girl sleeps a dreamless sleep in a cold, sterile room down the hall. Wait as they pick glass splinters from her baby’s soft skin, as they stitch the broken, delicate flesh together. Wait and see the new face. The face of a memory she can never forget.
A memory I can never remember.
In the mirror, I see the only face I’ve ever known. Scars from a memory I own but cannot find.
I don’t remember my father screaming or the officer leaving him behind. I don’t remember my father much at all. But he left a scar too. Sometimes I can feel it – running along the outside of my heart -the jagged edges I sewed together to close up the cavity he left when he left us behind. It’s not a pretty scar. I was only a child, not a surgeon. But I needed to stop the bleeding…to keep the life from spilling out of me…to stop the world from getting in.
Like the scars on my face, this heart-scar is a part of me. It’s the only heart I’ve ever known, shaped by so many memories: memories I love and memories I loathe, memories I can’t remember and memories I never made at all, but could have, had he stayed.
Scarred hearts beat funny sometimes. And they ache…for what was taken and what was never let in.
Looking in the mirror, I ask The Surgeon, “Will she be okay?”
He gently rests a hand – a hand carrying scars of his own – on my heart. Knowingly, his eyes smile into mine as he whispers, “We’ll have to wait and see.”
My name is Nichole and I am a Library Book Hoarder.
Why am I telling you this? Well, first of all, there are apparently no support groups for this condition. (Actually, seems like there may be a bit of discrimination going on here. I’ve already tipped off the NYT, so I’m pretty sure you’ll be reading more about it any day.) So you’re my therapy. Plus, I think it’s time I just put it all out there. You guys have gotten to know me pretty well over the years so I’m laying it on the line. One more glimpse into the life and mind of me.
Now, I know you’re tempted to think I’m making a big deal about nothing, but when a person hasn’t stepped foot in her local library for over six years because she owes over $55 in fines, you know she has a problem. And when that problem starts to affect her family, her children, then you know for certain.
The last time my 13 year old borrowed a book from the library was when she went with a friend in 3rd grade. Imagine this little peanut of a girl, long dark brown hair, clutching her library books to her chest, looking up at the librarian with wide, brown eyes – which look even wider behind her royal blue, plastic-framed glasses. Poor little girl, she’s nervous already, because she knows – even at this innocent age – she knows what’s coming:
“Oh my! Your mommy owes a lot of money to the library,” says the librarian.
“Uh…ok,” she replies meekly.
“Well, I’ll let you take these books today….but tell your mom, she needs to come in and pay these fines.”
She told me, alright. It’s the first thing she said when she walked through the front door. On and on about how embarrassed she was, how ashamed. And let me tell you, she wasn’t kidding. Now, if I so much as mention the library, she practically starts shaking all over. I think she might be scarred for life.
Great. Now I need to find a support group for my kids: Children of LBHs.
Whenever we need any kind of book or want to borrow a museum pass, I send my husband or oldest daughter with their cards. (I think that sometimes they go together for moral support.) And while they’re checking out, they wait with bated breath – will the computer cross check their last names or address with their fugitive mother/wife? Surely, alarms will start blaring at any moment, rotating beams of bright red lights will flash around the room as bars slide over all the windows and exits and members of the Overdue Library Fees Enforcement Squad, fully armed and dressed in black, emerge from the walls shouting, “Down on your knees. Hands on your head. We have you surrounded.”
By the time they get back to the car, beads of sweat cover their foreheads and I half expect them to say, “Got it…drive!”
And I have no excuse. None, whatsoever. On a snowy day, in heavy traffic, our local library is, at most, 10 minutes from my house. We have two cars (three if my daughter’s home from college). And I probably drive by the building at least once a week. So getting there is not an issue.
And, if I am laying it all on the table, then you should know that my next door neighbor and dear friend, God bless her, is a town librarian; and she has offered to return my books for me whenever she goes to work – which is four days a week. So I literally could walk 40 feet out my front door to return my library books on time. No excuse!
But you see, what happens is, I forget. And then, once the books are late, I’m embarrassed and ashamed, (maybe that’s the issue I need to take to the psych’s couch – seems a bit dramatic now that I’m typing it all out), so embarrassed that I don’t even want to tell my neighbor and the longer I wait the worse it gets. So that months later, I find myself driving to the library under cover of darkness, stuffing the evidence in the night drop, hoping to high heaven there’s no cameras on me. (Yeah, I know they’ll know it’s me when they scan in the bar codes, but there’s just something about being seen…sooo…yeah, I’m basically acting like at toddler.) Anyway, that’s pretty much what happened the last time my books were late. You know, six years ago.
A couple years later – let that sink in – a couple years later, I was cleaning one of the girls’ bedrooms and came across a Spot the Dog board book.
Wow, this looks an awful lot like that book I convinced the librarians I had returned, I thought.
Slowly, with trepidation, I turn to the back cover and there it is, in big letters: “Property of the Simsbury Public Library.” Shame, fear, dread and embarrassment wash over me and I can’t help but think, I am the worst person in the world! I have stolen a library book. What kind of a person steals a library book? Sure, I didn’t mean it. I really, really believed I had returned it. I didn’t mean to lie to the librarian. Is it a lie if you think it’s the truth when you’re telling it?
That’s when I knew that I couldn’t go to the library anymore. I had tried to reform, to change my ways, but I couldn’t break the cycle of failure, guilt and shame. Finding that book was the last straw.
At first, buying books instead of borrowing them wasn’t so bad. I owed $55 after all. But the cost added up quickly. Imagine having to BUY all your youngest child’s summer reading books. I know I don’t have to. She could use her own card. But after her traumatic encounter with the dues enforcing librarian, I couldn’t risk putting her through that again. It’s just too cruel.
Last year, my husband bought me a Kindle Fire. I love my Kindle Fire. But even the cost of these e-books adds up after a while (kind of pricey for books that don’t have to be printed, bound or shipped, but what do I know).
Then, somewhat recently, the libraries in Connecticut significantly expanded their e-book selection. (Sure, I may be 17th on the waiting list for The Great Gatsby, but I can instantly download Sophie Kinsella’s I’ve Got Your Number!) So now I can borrow books for free and the best part is…..they automatically take them back from me after 21 days!!!AU-TO-MATICALLY! No guilt. No shame. No overdue fees. This is better than a support group. It’s medicine. It’s a solution.
Well, that was enough motivation for me to suck it up, go down to the library and pay my bill. I was half-expecting to find my photo plastered on the wall behind the check-out counter, along with the rest of the Library’s Ten Most Wanted. Good news! That didn’t happen. Nor did the librarian on duty take it upon herself to chastise me. She was rather quiet, actually, which makes sense; she is a librarian, after all. And even better news!!! If you wait long enough and let your library card expire – which mine had – you only have to pay a maximum fine of $40. So I actually saved a little over $15! That was a week ago, and I’ve already read two free, library e-books!
I know, it’s kind of sad that I have to rely on someone else to discipline me because I can’t do it myself, but at some point, a person just has to accept her limits, right?
Now, if I could only find a similar system to take away the Nestlé’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips after I’ve eaten half the bag in one sitting……..
Dear friends, I have a new post on our church’s 40 Days blog. Here is a taste, then you can keep reading at their site if you like:
Recognizing God’s voice…that’s a phrase packed with will all sorts of potential reactions. Here’s some that come to mind:
Oh, so now you think God is speaking to you. Great.
I don’t hear God. I pray. I meditate. I sit in silence. But guess what? Crickets.
Umm…does this mean I’ll hear a voice? Or have a vision? Or fall down on the ground and start screaming and hollering? Because I really don’t want to cause a scene. Just sayin’.
God has already spoken. The Bible is His final word.
Are you hearing voices in your head?
How do I know if what I hear is from God?
I’m actually kind of afraid to hear from God. What if He’s angry with me? Or worse…what if He doesn’t say anything at all?
And of course there’s the unspoken fear of many comfortable Western Christians:
What if He tells me to sell all my belongings, shave my head and move to Zambia? ‘Cause that happens…like all the time…right?
Listening for the Lord, hearing from Him and then understanding what He’s saying can be scary and frustrating. But it can also be exhilarating, freeing and life-changing. I am grateful that some of my first experiences as a Christian included Listening Retreats. At those retreats...keep reading this post
I am not enough. I will never be enough. I am inadequate. Completely, desperately inadequate.
I sit at the counter and feel the weight of those words pressing down on me, pressing me into the counter top. I am unable to push back.
Why do these thoughts oppress me when they are true? The truth sets me free. But this…this is hopelessness and shackles and life draining from my limbs and air leaving my lungs. Somewhere deep in my thoughts, this truth harbors a lie. What is it? What am I thinking?
I search my mind. God, help me search my mind. I think about how I think about me.
I AM not enough. I am NOT enough. I am not ENOUGH. I never will be. I never was. I learned that long ago. I remember crying out to God to rescue me…to fix me. I knew there was something wrong with me. As a child, a teen…I did not wonder…I did not ask. I knew. I was deficient, defective, Less Than…
Less than what? Less than what I should have been. What I could have been. I failed. I am a failure. Should have been what? Could have been what? Enough. I should have been enough. I should have been adequate. I should have been complete. Strong.
But I know…deep within me…in the cold, dark place…I know, I couldn’t have been enough. Because I am broken and I am a sinner.
Oh, but I should have been! I should have been enough. I should have been Good. Strong. Complete. Independent.
That last word almost slips by. Out of the corner of my eye I see it…drifting off into the distance…trying to sneak away…but I caught it. My mind draws that word back and lays it out before me. Because that’s a word that doesn’t belong. Independent. That word doesn’t live in the space I share with Jesus. That word has no place here.
But I feel it: my desire to be independent; to be good; my anger at having failed. I hate that I need help…that I need to be rescued. And I begin to untangle the lies from the truth.
I am not enough.
Finish that sentence, Nichole.
I am not enough…on my own. Truth.
I never could have been enough. Truth.
I never could have been enough…because I am defective. Lie.
How is that a lie? My sin, my brokenness, my failures and misdeeds clamor and clang down the streets of my life like a Mardi Gras parade…refusing to be ignored. I should have gotten it right. But I am a failure. I am defective…a disappointment…weak…
You never could have been enough because you were never meant to be enough…on your own.
I feel the freedom. The pressure easing off my back, my chest. I breathe.
I need God, not because I am defective, but because I was never meant to live without him. I was made to need Him. We were made to need Him. And yet we come into this world thrashing and gasping for air…desperate to survive. Selfish…to keep the breath for which we struggle, to hold this life..to own it…to be something…on our own.
On my own, I am not good – not because I failed – but because I could never be good apart from God. I was not created to be on my own. On my own, I am nothing…maybe something worse than nothing.
I am not a failure. I just am. Truth.
I am needy. Truth.
I am weak. Truth.
I am broken. Truth.
And that is exactly what He wants me to be. Truth.
On my own – like independent – those are words that have no place between Jesus and me. His Spirit and mine. We are one. I will never be on my own. I cannot be on my own.
I am His. Truth.
Everything He gives me, which is all of Him, is endless. I don’t need enough – I have everything. I have more than everything.
I am complete. Truth.
I breathe in this truth. I am light and hope finds its wings. The truth sets me free.
I am free. Truth.
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:9-11
One of my all time favorite songs. Hey fellow Scots, dig these bagpipes: