Living into discomfort

While this piece can stand alone, it does follow on from the previous two. Find them here and here.


‘Potential’ is a loaded word for me. It was used a lot around and about me as a child, always with the implication that I wasn’t living up to it. If I had been, they wouldn’t need to use ‘potential’ at all, they would just be able to say I was doing great. ‘Potential’ says there’s room to be great, to be better, but that you aren’t living into it. The unspoken ‘yet’ at the end of that implies that I will or should, it says I am able, but not exercising that ability. It suggests I am unwilling. Most of all it says I am not enough as I currently am.

That ‘not enough’ is like a spectre hanging over my life, cutting me down in good times and bad, insisting again and again that I should be able to do better, to do more, even attacking my feelings of (poor) self-worth as not good enough. I am well educated in both psychology and faith, I am well-loved and know it, yet it still hangs over me, pressing me down.

God, you wanted me to write about not feeling good enough? Here it is. Here’s me ripping open my chest to find the black seething mass within.

It taints everything, even my attempts to confront it, to shift it. They obviously aren’t good enough either, or it wouldn’t still be here, wrapped tight with sickness around me heart.

I try to tell myself that my worth is not in question, but it doesn’t budge. I try to tell it that I’m the daughter of the King, beloved daughter of the One Who Made the Universe, and it doesn’t flinch, just continues to mock me with its presence. Even looking at my potential in Christ, the possible futures, the freedom, they’re tainted too, because I’m not living into them now, I’m not doing what I know I need to do today to make those tomorrows possible. Today I’m sabotaging any hope I hold for the future, stabbing myself in the foo just in case I might, just may be in pain tomorrow. Avoiding the unknown of living, breathing into my potential, for the comforts of today’s pain and known anguish.

And it’s like self-harm all over again. But not against my body, against my tomorrow, against what I’ll never fully be able to live into, so can never fully feel the pain I’m causing, never fully realise the damage. Being content to live in my broken and breaking today, rather than risk for a better tomorrow.

And yet…

I have been gifted the word ‘discomfort’, invited to lean in gently. And I find that it is a salve on the burn of ‘potential’, the willing choice to step towards discomfort, to not expect sunshine and rainbows, means I can breathe more easily. Knowing this awkward contortion is not forever, it is just a stepping-stone to something else.

And this discomfort, this twisting, this being tugged against sharp edges, it doesn’t speak to my worth, it doesn’t have a say about who I am, because I’m choosing it, I’m outside of it, allowing it for a time. It is limited, I am still the one in control, I am using it to get somewhere better, it has no power to use me.

I remember watching my daughters learn to walk. It’s not an easy or comfortable process. Sitting still was comfortable, they’d already mastered that, but the desire to move, to get somewhere or something else over-powered the desire for comfort. It didn’t matter if falls happened, because they were just a by-product of the process. With my youngest, I joke that she never really learned to walk, that she went straight to running (and hasn’t stopped since). Her early, stumbling steps would have her leaning, falling forward, so that the only way to stay upright was to keep stepping and keep stepping, faster and faster to keep her legs under her torso. She was leaning in to the motion so far that her legs could barely keep up. She so much wanted to move that it kept her moving, propelled her forward.

I’ve gotten used to the sitting still, too worried about the fall, too shaped by fear, that I’ve forgotten to worry about staying still, about not getting anywhere or anything. My fear of not being enough has paralysed me into not trying, to be content to remain stagnant. But God is calling me out, inviting me to move, to welcome a bit of discomfort. And I do, I want it, the discomfort of change, of shifting from what I know is not enough, that it is beginning to overpower the fear. Embracing the discomfort is taking the question of my worth out of the equation. Leaning in to the discomfort is chosen freely, not motivated by fear. It is an invitation extended in love: “Come, see who you can be. Breathe deep into the expanse that is You.” Breaking open, pushing through the hard shell that has kept me bound for decades is not comfortable, there are sharp edges I have avoided so long I am no longer even aware of them, but the promise of freedom is worth some discomfort, I think.

We’re told that butterflies must squeeze their way out of their cocoons to be able to fly, the process can’t be made easy or it fails. It’s a cliché metaphor, but an enticing one.

Come, see who you can be in my freedom, whispers God. And it can reach my heart, now that I have exposed cracks in my shell. And I breathe in deep, despite the pain of hard edges against tender lungs. This pain has purpose, I can use it to propel myself forwards, to move towards Love and away from fear. One chosen step, one chosen breath, at a time.

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Choosing Love over fear

This post follows on from last week’s, so if you haven’t, you might want to read it first.


Choosing Love over Fear sounds so simple and easy, tied up with a pretty bow, finished, decision made. But it’s not a decision made once, it’s a decision made again and again, over and over, sometimes multiple times in a single minute. Often multiple times in a single minute.

Changing automatic thoughts is not easy, changing fear habits of a lifetime is not simple. Even when it seems logical, straight-forward, my brain has wired for self-protection now, not in the long-term.

And that is why it is so hard to shift out of fear. It promises comfort now. It promises safety in the moment. God doesn’t promise easy. In fact, the Bible virtually promises suffering (see 1 Peter 4:12-16, 2 Timothy 1:8, Philippians 1:29, among others). God’s yoke may be easy and the burden light (see Matthew 11:30), but we are still burdened, we are still yoked.

Our culture tells us to seek our own ease, our own well-being and comfort. And God asks us to do the opposite. God asks us to lay down our own desires, our own comfort, even our own lives, that others might be shown God’s love and goodness. God asks us to welcome in the Other, to make room for them even when it discomforts us.

Yes, our own needs are important and valuable, but not at the expense of others. We are asked to balance our needs with the needs of the people around us.

One of the two commandments Jesus leaves us is to love our neighbour as ourselves (see Mark 12:31). I struggled with this for a long time. Not because I did not want to love my neighbours, but because I did not love myself. I knew that if I loved others in the same way I loved myself, if I was as critical of others as I was of myself, if I valued others as little as I valued myself, if I hated others just like I hated myself, I was not loving as God loved.

I have spent years trying to learn to love myself as I love my neighbours, learning to be compassionate and gentle with myself as I would with someone else. I have learnt how important self-care is. Sometimes it is okay to sacrifice part of it for others, but not all the time, not all of it. If we do, we risk learning to despise others for what is seems they are taking from us. It risks turning away from love and towards fearful self-protection.

And Fear does not leave us alone to make these choices. Fear tells us if we give we might not get. And it’s true, we might not get, but that is not reason to not give, to clasp tight instead of living open-handed. God is with us, Emmanuel always, and if our satisfaction, our measure of success, our desire, all we need is in God, then Fear’s arguments are less persuasive. If we can answer Fear’s arguments with the word of God, just like Jesus answered The Enticer in his temptations (see Matthew 4:1-11), if we can remind ourselves again and again why we should choose to risk, choose to love, choose to step into the fear anyway, then we can keep moving towards Love, towards unity, towards wholeness, not retreating in Fear, not separating myself from others, from God.

Walking in Love is not the easy path, walking in Love and towards wholeness is something we must choose over and over again, especially when we are used to being guided by Fear. But when we can see with God’s eyes, understand with God’s mind, then we can see that it is worth it, we can see that long-term it will bring more security, more comfort, than living in Fear could ever hope to. Day by day, moment by moment, we can choose to move towards Life, towards El Shaddai – the All-Sufficient One. That is the promise we are given, that is the hope we can chase. It is not comfortable, but our faithful God promises the chase is worth it.

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Turning fearward

Lord, what would you have me write about today?

“Not being enough,” whispers into my mind.

That’s a painful topic. I don’t know if I want to go there.

Last night I was thinking and writing about the need to narrow myself, not hold on to ‘keeping options open,’ but to deliberately dive deeply into one specific area, to become a specialist, or at least focused. I thought I had. Doing a PhD has to, by definition, be specialist, unique, deep into one idea. But I feel like I’ve held myself back, not diving all-in because I didn’t know what would come after, and I was scared to block potential paths that might be needed later.

It used to be that once you chose a career you followed that path until retirement, it was incredibly challenging to change, to start over in a different area. Maybe that’s why midlife crises were such a big thing. But that’s not the case anymore. I think I heard that people shift lobs, on average, every two years, often shifting field or area at the same time. Heck, I’ve done it myself, that’s why I’m still a student at 33, because I chose to start over in a completely different field.

Shutting doors or following one path doesn’t make others unavailable in the future. But staying still, staying in the shallows, not risking a change to the self for more satisfying work, that’s life driven by fear, not hope.

Aren’t I meant to be standing in the perfect Love which drives out fear? (see 1 John 4:18)

Does that make my choice to stay in the shallows disobedience because I am letting fear rule me, I’m letting fear be more important to me than God, I’m willing to break unity with my God rather than risk in the places it is asked of me, where it is promised that my God is holding me, where it is promised to be working for good (see Romans 8:28)?

My fears have long ruled me, long controlled my choices, am I willing to stand aside and let it make another choice against God’s desire? The Bible says I cannot serve two masters (see Matthew 6:24), I cannot serve both God and Fear. So which will I choose?

Fear promises to keep me safe, to keep me sheltered and protected, but I know living with Fear is not enjoyable, no matter how safe I might be. Fear is never satisfied, I can never withdraw from this world enough, from my own mind enough, for Fear to say, “Enough! You are safe now.” Fear will keep pressing until my mind splinters and my family is broken, and death has come over us all.

And God? God asks me to risk, to step towards fear while holding faith, to cling to hope not despair, to seek change for both myself and others, that God’s love might be better known, better lived in. God promises to always be with me, in all things (see Psalm 139), not that I will always be safe, but that I will not be alone. I will have God’s arms supporting and carrying me, God goes both before me and comes behind me, and will supply for all my needs as I live in God’s way, as I choose to move towards love and wholeness, unity and hope.

And my answer seems obvious – it is better to risk! But fear has such a hold of my heart, my mind. Such an automatic reaction, fear. The Bible tells us that we are able to renew our minds (see Romans 12:2), that we can take thoughts captive and act to change them (see 2 Corinthians 10:5), to remake our lives into ones which look like God (see Ephesians 4:24), that tell of Christ, that spread love and seed hope. This is what I want, what my heart yearns for.

So I stop, and I breathe deep, finding once again the Sacred who dwells within me, recentring myself once again in God’s love, letting the one who is Love be the force which casts out Fear, I cannot do it myself, I cling too tightly, afraid of what my life might look like without it. But Love is here. Love will carry me through, whatever comes next, however I might change. I know that Love brings wholeness and fullness of Life (see John 10:10 and Ephesians 3:19), far beyond anything Fear could offer.

So to this I will cling, this hope, this faith, this love (see 1 Corinthians 13:13). I will not let Fear rule me, rather, I will turn fearward, I will turn into Love.

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On worth

As a student of both psychology and theology it concerns me when churches speak of us as unworthy of God’s love, leaving repair work for psychology to do. If we were not worthy of love then God, who is perfect, would surely know this and not love us. ‘But we are sinful creatures,’ they say, ‘unable to be loved by God because of our sin, our fallen state, that’s why Jesus had to come.’

I’m paraphrasing here, obviously, but it is a real concern of mine. I have spent years working to repair my own sense of worth, both inside and outside the church and inside and outside of psychologists’ offices, and I don’t need to be cut down again, just as I am learning to stand up as who God has made me, gradually gaining confidence in being that person in fullness and not just in safe space. Nobody needs to be told repeatedly that they are unworthy, and yet I see it in the church all too often.

As my understanding of what sin is develops, I am also gaining understanding of what sin is not. At this point I understand sin to be whatever gets in the way of unity with God, unity with others (particularly the God-design and Spirit in others), and unity with myself (particularly the God-design and Spirit in myself). But even knowing that as a Christian I, all too frequently, act in ways which inhibit God in my life, which inhibit my own God-given nature, I know that my sin doesn’t dictate my worth.

Sin is not the deciding factor of our worth. It is not that we are worthy of love, of connection with God, if sinless and unworthy if sinful. We have worth regardless of our sin status. What sin does is break the connection we can have with God, causing separation. Sin gets in between us and God, preventing us from seeing each other, from living in unity with each other. Our worth is completely separate.

If we were not worthy God wouldn’t have gone to all the effort that we read throughout the Bible, God wouldn’t have become human (see Hebrews 2:17 and Philippians 2:5-8). If we weren’t made and designed to live in unity, in communion with God (see Genesis 3:8 and this comment on it), then Christ wouldn’t have come, wouldn’t have died.

Our worth is not up for discussion, it was already decided by God in the beginning, in the very process of our design.

Sin prevents that design from developing in fullness, but cannot change our worth. God loved us while we were sinners (see Romans 5:8). God had compassion and mercy on us, while we were still sinners. We were worth it, we were worthy of that love and connection, while we were sinners; it’s just that sin got in the way, it blocked us from receiving God’s love, it convinced us that we were unworthy of receiving it. Christ’s death and resurrection made it possible for us to receive it again, to connect with God and live in unity again, but our worth was never in question.

This also means that all our efforts cannot change our worth. It doesn’t matter how much we behave as a ‘good Christian’, how frequently we read our Bibles or pray, how many works of our hands we do in service to God, how much we strive for holiness; our worth does not change. It is through Christ that we are made holy and faultless for God (see Colossians 1:22), not our own efforts. All the works of our hands could not make a difference to our worth.

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Our design as image-bearers of God (see Genesis 1:27) dictates our worth, not our sin, not our holiness. And when we accept Christ as our Saviour, the sin is no longer in the way, it is no longer a burden keeping us from God or keeping God from us, and we no longer need to strive for perfect holiness to justify our existence. We can stand in the throne-room of God as we were designed to be: image-bearers of God, children of the One called Love (see 1 John 3:1 and 1 John 4:8), and worth it all.

A beautiful forging – at The New Mystique

It’s yet again a battle to get the kids into pjs, teeth brushed, and have them safely tucked into bed (and willing to stay there). I’ve been cranky again, and I know it doesn’t help the process, but they seem to make it difficult every. single. night. As a mother who’s been out all day, trying to further my own dreams at the expense of time with them, the guilt of not being around after school makes me stay a bit longer by their bedsides, makes me answer one more question when I know they should be shutting their mouths and eyes for sleep, makes me sing yet one more song, not quite ready to leave them.

“She’s asleep, Mum,” whispers the eldest, leaning out of bed towards me to point at her sister. I know, I felt her fingers relax in mine even as I watched her eyes finally flutter closed and still. But I can’t resist the beauty of this moment, the preciousness of the child I birthed in my own bathtub, the peace that is this whirlwind-of-a-child finally still.
This peace sinks into me, too, washing away the anger and frustration, the guilt of not even enjoying these few moments with them, the burning shame of wanting to escape from my own children, and the sick dread that it will all just repeat itself again tomorrow…

Join me over at The New Mystique to read more of the beautiful forging my daughters bring to my life.

Discomfort

The word ‘discomfort’ has been weaving its way into my mind as of late, taking up residence in order to shape my life this year. I wasn’t really looking for a “word for the year”, but I do feel like a new season is starting, so a word to help guide me is not unwelcome (though apparently not necessarily comfortable).

I find that with my chronic pain I automatically seek physical comfort. Some days that takes the form of feeling cold, making me dress cozily in half a dozen layers (while my husband rocks a t-shirt), or encouraging me to snuggle up with a blanket and a book to escape into. Other times it has me seeking food (and usually not the healthy variety) in order to get that feeling of satiation, fullness, convincing my body that its needs are provided for despite the painful evidence to the contrary.

My anxiety also has me seeking comfort: willingly restricting my life to safe spaces, safely tucked into my comfort zone, with no possibility (or at most a carefully managed possibility) of the unexpected throwing me off-kilter. I cannot risk rebuttal if I do not open my mouth, if I do not let my opinions spill out, so I remain safely silent.

But these practices of seeking comfort have me bound and inactive, they have me unwilling to push the boundaries of my comfort zone, refusing to seek new and better things, choosing the comfort of the known (even if it is in itself uncomfortable) over the risk and discomfort of change. They have me preferring the predictability of current discomfort over the unpredictability of change and growth, not matter what the potential.

But stagnation does not bring life and light. It doesn’t enable me to grow into the fullness of life God wants for me.

It is only because light is traveling, moving from the sun to the earth and then bouncing around that we can see. If light refused to move, afraid of what it might find or bump into, then we would live in darkness.

Years ago, God talked to me about being a lantern, yet how effective would I be as a lantern which refused to share her light beyond herself?

This word ‘discomfort’ is a gentle prodding into action, to not just stay comfortable, complacent, but to push my limits, to push back against my own resistance, to speak up when my fears say, “be silent.”

I have been relearning that I have something of value to share with this world, and one of my daily affirmations is: “It is safe to speak up and out. I have all the support I need.

If I am truly a child of El Shaddai – the All-Sufficient, then it doesn’t matter how inadequate I feel, how insufficient, how not-enough, because God’s fullness can come through my brokenness, my weakness can more explicitly show God’s strength.

Some days these things feel like platitudes, just stock answers to patch over a gaping hole. But God welcomes, embraces, affirms all that I am, my undivided self. There are no parts of me that must be left at the door, my poor self-esteem, my anxiety, my beliefs which run counter to the “official position” of my church, they are all welcomed in. I am welcomed in, in all my fullness.

God doesn’t require my brokenness to be left at the door, that only the holy parts can enter. No. God in Her all-consuming love envelops my whole, pours out loving salve on my broken parts, laughs with delight in my areas of fullness. And God invites me, with Her breath of life, to live more fully into my dusty corners, my ‘unacceptable’, ‘undesirable’ parts. Because these, these too are where She wants to bring life in its fullness, its abundance, the whole of my life to be Spirit-soaked and welcomed, celebrated.

But to get there I need to move, I need to be willing to be discomforted.

I think of my pregnant belly, as it swelled with the fullness of new life. It wasn’t comfortable, it stretched me into a new shape, squashed parts of my life, my body, which had previously insisted they needed more room, only to find that wasn’t true, that I could adjust and make room for this new life growing and blossoming inside me. But first I had to be willing to be discomforted, willing to prioritise the needs of this new life over my old comfortable, my old normal.

And so I’m trying to embrace this word ‘discomfort’, trying to be willing to shift and move from my ordinary, willing to let God nudge me up from my seat and to speak out some new life, abundant life; fullness and light where there has only been scarcity and darkness. It’s a bit of a prickly word, but it is weighty and potent with promise.

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Finding the start again

I spent some time in prayer last night, a lot simply without words, just a groping after God. A question rising from the depths around why I’m finding writing about my faith so difficult at the moment, why it all just comes out stilted and stale.

I have been journalling, writing for myself, writing through things for myself, but not worth others reading, not enough sense-making to share with anyone else. But I couldn’t figure out why, when in the past I have had many times when it flows so freely from my pen.

I think it was late last night as I was drifting off to sleep when God answered me, bringing to mind recent reading about learning to preach, how the first step is to seek God for direction on what to share, what to speak of.

Somehow this seems so obvious for speaking, yet unthought of for my writing and blogging. I have been struggling to write even a single post in the last almost month, not because school holidays and event have made life more chaotic than normal, but simply because I haven’t stopped and asked God what to write.

This is a good reminder for me, a reminder that this too is a work for God, not just my own journalling and sense-making. It is a reminder once again, that God wants to speak through my voice on the page (or screen), not just my spoken words. And it is this writing that is practice for future speaking, future writing, it is practice of stopping and listening to God and then crafting a message under God’s direction.

It seems so simple and obvious, but I lost some flow late last year, growing rigid as I tried to move away from suicide. So now I’m relearning to soften and be responsive to movement of the Spirit.

I have been spending time just soaking, just drawing close without any agenda.

And it has been good.

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