Psychology has done a wonderful job of giving us words and concepts such as vulnerability and the false or shadow self to talk about our weaknesses.
The AA or 12 step program starts with the admission of powerlessness.
The Bible starts (in Genesis) with two concepts of humanity:
- Original goodness
- Original sin
We need a way of looking at both our God given identity (of original goodness) and admitting our sins (the shadow self). It’s how we become most human and reflect a divine image in this world.
The appointed prayer of the week during the Advent season helps us to be vulnerable about our sins but also looks toward the coming of Christ in our lives so that we might reflect a new “original goodness” identity. We admit that our powerless to be this new type of original goodness person and need help from a Higher Power.
“Merciful God, who sent your messengers the prophets to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation: Grant us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins, that we may greet with joy the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.†”
“Revolution might sound a little dramatic, but in this world, choosing authenticity and worthiness is an absolute act of resistance. Choosing to live and love with our whole hearts is an act of defiance. You’re going to confuse, piss off, and terrify lots of people— including yourself. One minute you’ll pray that the transformation stops, and the next minute you’ll pray that it never ends. You’ll also wonder how you can feel so brave and so afraid at the same time. At least that’s how I feel most of the time… brave, afraid, and very, very alive. Rising strong is the final piece of this transformation.”
– Brene Brown
I’m thinking of the young man (it could easily be a woman) in his 20’s (maybe even 30s) who is trying to get his life together after making a lot of personal mistakes. He feels like a failure, alone, and abandoned. He may even be angry at the world for the bag he was given.
What you’ve been through is not fair. The upbringing was rough…it wasn’t your fault. And yet this is what you have to come to grips with. You’ll need a lot of support, care, and love. There will be days when you can’t make sense of the deep pain you feel in your heart.
Your greatest choice today is to live as one who is willing to rise strong, WITH all the anxiety and stress. The gift of strength is for you to reclaim who you long to be. It’s unsettling, uncomfortable, and necessary. You must remember that you are the beloved! That is your real identity and at the core of who you are.
You’ll need community, care, and courage. You’ll need a power bigger than you.
And as a friend once said, don’t waste the pain. I’m not sure what exactly that means. But I’m starting to understand that with each set of waves (of pain), there is an opportunity to keep rising, growing, and being transformed.
When I think about our work, I think of the God who listens. He hears our cries, petitions, longings, and hopes. In Jesus, we find the Good Shepherd making space for others to share their stories (i.e. Samaritan woman, the blind man at the pool). We see them share specifics as Jesus asks poignant questions.
When we listen to the stories of others, we entering into a dialogue that is already happening with the person and God. The Spirit is active, working to heal, save, and renew. So as the people share, we are being invited into the work of the Spirit in their lives.
- Be attentive to the specifics.
- Notice the words, pictures, thoughts.
- What feelings are you most present to?
- How might the Spirit be stirring?
We learn to listen in silence and solitude. We can only learn to listen as we take moments throughout the day to be still and know that He is God. God spoke to Elijah in the silence. Jesus got away to be with His Father…to listen.
We can deepen our ability to listen through contemplative prayer—the prayer of active silence. Try it for a few minutes in the morning. See how it changes the inner contours. See how you’re more attentive and able to listen.
In contemplative prayer, we silence the mind and heart of anything that is heavy, burdensome, and release it to the One who can carry it. We even release all thoughts of good intentions, our gifts, and words so that we might receive the Word. And it’s in receiving that we can then return to the world with a heart that is able to listen.
We must create spaces for us (and others) to kill our versions of God that are not coherent with life and scripture. In some ways, we must become atheists in order to confront ill-images of God. The Israelites did it through protest and lament (see the Exodus story and the Psalms). The hope is that once we can kill these images of God, we can find courage to see God’s redemptive goodness and have new operative images of God that convey healing and hope.
My client arrived at her conclusion that perhaps God was not who she had always thought God was only after a period in which I helped create space for her to “destroy” God with her complaints, groans and protests. And believe me, she had lots of legitimate reasons to be angry! When God didn’t strike her dead, or abandon her, and I didn’t leave or shame her (beliefs she had internalized from her faith community and her interactions with parents), there was space for her to begin to “find” God in new and different ways. Maybe God had not rescued her from a life of trauma, maybe God had not delivered her from the consequences of that evil, but maybe, just maybe, God was still at work and maybe she could get to know this new God without throwing him away or living with a false self and false God.