There was once a time when living into space outside my comfort zone sent me into panic attacks, freaking out because I couldn’t cope.
That fear is still there, that I will one day step too far and fall, let others down, let myself fall apart.
That fear is justified, that very result happened again and again, driving me deep into myself and my safety margins.
It has been a hard job pushing out to my edges again, even harder to risk a step over them.
Just a look outside, beyond myself, my beliefs about what I am capable of, has my body tensing, constricting in on itself, as if daring to dream risks my very flesh as I sit safely on my couch.
But I don’t want to let this fear rule me anymore, I don’t want these old shells I built to protect myself digging and cutting into my new being. I hear God calling me out beyond them, inviting me into a life greater than I could even imagine to fear.
My fears are small, and I am tired of their binding.
These old scars feel so hard and immovable when I push against them, when I try to crack through and open space. Butting against these old shells of my self is exhausting and futile work. They don’t move. Not with all my efforts.
I try to remind myself not to focus on my obstacles, not to get so frustrated at who I used to be.
I can see, just beyond, lies fruitfulness, lies ease and lightness. And sometimes I even catch myself living in that space.
Yet for all my strategizing and theorizing, all my persuasive self-talk gets me nowhere. My efforts leave me stuck behind, walled in by old fears.
Tensing up for battle does no good, because this is not a fight. I cannot win against a ghost of myself. And even if I did, what would be left of me? How would beating myself into submission help me flourish? Wouldn’t it just leave me, once again, inside tight walls of my own making?
The response to the tensing must be one of softening, one of love, acceptance and loosening. Until I can accept that, yes, I did need these walls, that old-Me bound by panic and fear was trying her best to protect herself, I can’t release them, I cannot loosen my grip.
But in softness, when I move with love towards who I once was, I can ease around them, I can move beyond them, so I am free to live as I now know myself to be: capable, strong, supported. By being grounded in and sure of my worth, outside and beyond my actions, I can breathe into that larger self because I already know myself to be beyond these old shells.
It’s not so much a living-as-if these things are true, but living-into them. I know them to be true, so I can live them without question.
Living-as-if leaves us faking it until we reach an arbitrary point of ‘made it’, just endlessly waiting for our true status as an imposter to be unveiled. It leaves us living in fear, waiting for someone to notice we have stepped beyond ourselves, claimed too much, and be slapped back down.
Living-into is an act of trust, a claiming that who and what God says we are is true. It is an act of love, yes, back to God, but even more to ourselves. We invite ourselves into fullness, into wholeness, into living out our hopes of who we could be.
When we embrace God’s love for us, and hold that same love towards ourselves, we can live, no longer fighting against old barriers, but confidently knowing we are already beyond them. Living there teaches us we can trust our own worth, value, and lovability.
And those old shells? They are dissolving as they stand consumed by a fuller life, as they soak in the love God and I share for my past self. But they no longer restrict me, they no longer get in my way. Yes, they remind me to be careful and take care of myself, but they do not bind me or hold me back from the Me God is inviting me to be. I am free to live in my true worth.
It’s easy to read posts like this, agree, but then fail to make any changes in your own life. So, here’s some ideas for small action steps you can take to start living beyond old fear-boundaries, and into the life you were meant for:
- Practice making a better choice in your diet or exercise. Keep it small, easy to succeed, and even when you mis-step, keep practicing until it comes more easily.
- Setting aside just 5-10 minutes a day to do something towards a dream, or something that the “ideal-you” would do.
- Plan a get together with a friend to discuss the results of something you’ve been putting off (e.g. discuss a chapter or two of the bible). In order to be able to talk about what happened, you have to do it first.
What small thing will you do today? I’d love to hear in the comments below, or message me on Twitter.
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Those who know me well will know this, but acquaintances who only see me blending in, conforming to expectations, might not see it: I have a strong rebellious streak.
I’ve learned to play by the rules in order to not receive negative critique, to avoid being shamed for my behaviour, for being myself. But there is something in me which longs to stir things up, to challenge the ways people thin, to provoke reaction.
I try not to, I try to have grace enough to keep the peace, but when someone insists on something ridiculous being true for all time, like to be a godly woman one must have long hair, well, it just makes me want to cut my hair even shorter.
I’m not saying that women with long hair can’t be godly, I’ve seen otherwise (for both long and short hair), my point is that hair length has nothing to do with godliness, and I refuse to be shamed over my haircut.
If anything, I feel more secure in my identity as a woman when my hair is short; I feel more confident in being true to myself and my values when I have my locks cropped close to my skull. I find I am more confident being who God made me and following God’s ways when I have short hair.
And in this short-haired rebellion, I’m discovering that I can use my rebellious tendencies to draw me closer to God, to push me into Kingdom acts. I can rebel against the ways of the world and my own sin-nature, flaunting the freedom of life in the Spirit. I can rebel against the life Shame has created for me, rebelling all the way into the freedom of God.
I’ve spent years of my life squashing down who I really am, what I’m really like, silencing my voice; shamed into silence and conformity. Recent years have found me deliberately transgressing the boundaries I had set for myself, or had allowed to be set on my life, relishing in allowing myself to live into my fullness.
But it has been an up-hill battle against shame.
I was shamed for being different, for being strong, for being opinionated and vocal, for being emotional, for relaxing and being myself. I was complicit with Shame in disparaging myself for my body, for being both too much and not enough.
Claiming back that fullness of self requires acting in the face of that shaming. Every time I choose to act true to myself I risk being shamed all over again. But God has been inviting me into this space, God has been emboldening me to rebel against this life-history of Shame.
Not living out of shame means chasing the feeling of expanse, the stretching and growing, to breathe life into dormant parts of myself, not flattening myself to fit, not shrinking down and hiding. It means loosing the chains of my bondage and setting myself free to truly live.
It is slow, and often tentative, work.
Some days I want to scurry away and hide, others I want to yell in the face of Shame, “COME AT ME!”
Slowly I have felt my life filling out, a sense of living embodied and in full-colour, rather than flat and mono-tone.
It’s not a matter of moving away from shame-filled areas, it’s boldly moving back in, claiming them back, rebelling against Shame’s restrictions.
Yes, I still see and feel them; yes, fear often grips me and I question whether acting in my fullness of self is a good idea; but I am growing stronger in my rebellion, and I hear God cheering me on.
If God created me, designed the traits I carry, then God put this rebellious streak in me, cultivated it as I grew, and God can use it for God’s own glory.
In the fight for the Kingdom, for justice and love, we need the rebels, we need the ones who will stand against unjust laws, against shame and insistence on conformity. Our love, like God’s, invites us out of shame, it gives us space to be our true selves, just as God made us to be. Love for ourselves and for others leads us into rebellion against shame, against cookie-cutter humanity, against injustice, and leads us into the upside-down and subversive kingdom of God.
It is in God’s kingdom where the weak are strong, the poor rich, the shamed lavished with love and lifted up in their uniqueness.
Shame has no place when we stand in God’s love, when we so firmly know our identity based in who God made us. I remind myself daily that shame does not have the final say, that I can choose to step beyond Shame’s bondage and into Life. My choice to love myself is in direct rebellion of Shame’s attempts to shut me down, to squash me until I have flattened all the “me” out.
Love does the opposite of Shame: it invites me into fullness, into uniqueness, into relishing the dance of my self in this world.
And my rebellion against Shame invites others out too, shows them that freedom is possible and so very good.
So, come join me in rebellion, and let’s lead the world into fullness of Life, into the One who is Love.
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I’m not pursuing happiness. Not directly, that is. Happiness by itself is not an end-goal, it cannot be an end-goal.
Pursuit of happiness, regardless of what else is going on in our lives, leads us to seek our own ease, our own comfort, to prioritize ourselves over everyone else, to prioritize our feelings over what is good and right.
Discrimination pissing you off? It doesn’t make you happy. If you wanted happy you would just avoid hearing about it, bury your head in the sand. But your anger and frustration? They lead you to act to change things, to make things better, to make yourself better, to do what is good and right.
I think I’ve mentioned before that God doesn’t call us into a comfortable life, God doesn’t even call us into happiness. Joy? Yes. But that is a deeper level of satisfaction with life than happiness. Where happiness is light and bubbly (and fleeting), joy is deep-seated in our bones. Joy comes out of and to the dirt of our being, the depths of our souls. It can persist through anger and pain. It can be present with happiness and without.
Joy is a consequence of living well, living with purpose and meaning.
But it is those deeper things of life which God calls us to shape our lives around: the deep joining of our being to God’s, the knowledge of Love bone-deep. And from there we can live and move, when our roots are grounded in the Divine Source.
We can start by asking God what part of the Divine we can reflect through our lives. That might be a way of being, a skill, a message; explicit or undergirding our actions. We are each unique. Trying to copy the way someone else reflects God might give partial light, but you living in your own fullness, by the Spirit, will give it clearer and stronger. There is a part of God which only you can bring.
You don’t have to change the world, but you will find joy in making it a little bit better, in bringing a bit more of God’s kingdom to life.
It’s not that God doesn’t care about our happiness, but rather God knows where sustainable joy comes from. It’s deeper than just waking up on the right side of the bed, or getting good vibes from walking in the sunshine; deep joy comes from moving in our true being, centred in God. It comes from living a purposeful live, a useful one, where your actions having meaning beyond “because it feels good” and the satisfaction of a temporary itch.
The seeking of comfort or happiness has us taking what feels good in the moment, regardless of how it makes us feel later. Often the things which are good for us we don’t want to do, but they feel good later to have done them.
The lasting happiness of joy cannot be found in an impulse reaction, it is built up with sustained practice, dedicated action in the same direction. It needs to be a way of life, not a 5-minute fix. It comes from chosen mindsets of seeking the good and beautiful and lovely (Philippians 4:8), deliberately focusing on those things, the life-giving, not the life-draining. It is to shape our whole lives around the ways of God.
God wants us to chase after Him with all of our being, all of our strength, just as He pursues us.
We are not to seek joy for its own sake. Our focus, the target of our pursuit must be God. The Bible doesn’t just tell us to turn to God when we are in need because God can provide, it tells us this to have us turning again and again back to God Herself. God must be our focus, not our lack. It is in Christ when can do all things, not by the aid of Christ. In and through.
If we try to cling to our life, shoring it up with ease and fleeting pleasures (or even just seeking less pain), it fritters away, day by day, until we look back and ask where has the year gone, and what do we have to show for the time we have spent alive?
But if we spend our lives, paying out day by day on meaningful work, on living true to our core being, honouring our values and heart’s cry, when we feel free to give our lives in this work, knowing that this purpose is worth the cost of days, months, sleepless nights, then we can reach a point where we look back and say it was spent well, the cost of our lives has bought goodness to this world, enfleshing God’s kingdom in the here and now.
Is that not true living? Does that not quicken our spirits into joy far more than any Facebook notification, chocolate bar, or hour on the couch watching the latest tv series ever could?
So, what are you willing to spend your life on, when there is no guarantee that it will pay your bills or give you personal success? What matters more than personal comforts and a full wallet? Yes, the dream is that you can have both, that living your passion and deepest dream for this world will also sustain you with on-going income or a bank account so large you don’t need it, but what would you do anyway?
What would you do even if it never promised happiness? When you are soaking wet in Living Water, what does your heart compel you to do? What will feed you with deep joy and satisfaction even if it can never make you happy?
Emotions are easily swayed, shifted by simple things like our posture, our place, the person who passed us in the street. Seriously. Try sitting slumped for 5 minutes and then standing up and holding a strongman pose for 5 minutes and see how you felt in each. Try sitting or walking in the sun for 5 minutes and see if your mood changes. Did the last person you saw smile at you or tear you down?
So why do we trust these fickle feelings to guide us into a good life? Couldn’t they just as easily lead us into sitting on the couch all day watching tv? Why would we think to trust them over God?
I’m not saying that emotions don’t tell us important information, but they can be shifted by our own actions. This is about loving ourselves more than giving us what we think we want, giving sacrificially to ourselves by doing the right thing which will bring deep satisfaction and joy, not just the temporary fix.
Our society disdains those out doing anything to get their next fix of drugs, or the bum picking up cigarette butts because he’s so desperate for a smoke. We ask, “Why don’t they just stop? Why can’t they see the bigger picture of what this craving is doing to their lives? Why can’t they just deny themselves in the short-term so they can get to a better place in the long-term?”
And yet we do it to ourselves: when we vege out on the couch instead of doing the dishes, when we muck around on social media sites instead of doing the work due tomorrow, when we choose to eat a big bowl of chocolate ice cream because it’ll make us feel better, safer, comfortable now, never mind the tummy cramps that’ll happen at 3 in the morning because of it, or the promotion we don’t get, or the stress we will feel when we get up in the morning to a bench covered in dirty dishes again.
And I’m writing this even more to myself than to anyone else.
Yet living a life with God, one of meaning and purpose, is living with the large picture in mind, is living in full integrity with our values, with the words which come out of our mouths. That’s one of the reasons I started writing daily affirmations: because if you tell yourself you are a certain way, sooner or later you either need to change what you’re doing or what you’re writing so they match. Every morning I write my affirmations, I remind myself again that this is the life I have chosen to live, this is the direction I want to be going, this is the me I want to be.
And it’s always better than I am, more than I do, but it urges me on (see Philippians 3:14, 1 Corinthians 9:24). I tell myself every morning to keep going in this direction, this is the way I have questioned and challenged and sought after, and it still rings true and right and honest to who I am and who my God asks me to be.
So, who will you be today? And will you be spending your time chasing happiness (and comfort) or the deep-abiding joy of living in tune with God and yourself?
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I don’t know how to write this, Lord, about learning self-control, or not learning, struggling to learn. It’s one of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), one of Peter’s layers of maturity (1 Peter 1:5-7), but I sure seem to be having a hard time developing it. At least in some areas. I’m getting pretty good at making my bed.
It seems like it should be a simple choice: to choose to act rather than procrastinate, to choose to act in God’s ways and not my own, to choose to move towards Love and not away.
But maybe that’s where I’m wrong.
I’ve spent the last week mustering motivation, determination, seeking out quotes to spur me on in obedience, but only finding myself more discouraged when I find ones which say that procrastination in our calling (or God-given tasks) is a sign of disbelief. They seem more of a guilt-trip than a loving encouragement. And I don’t believe God works like that. Yes, use guilt to bring us to repentance, but not to obligate our obedience.
So instead I have been praying over my purpose, in this work I’ve been struggling to focus in and in my wider calling, asking God what it should look like, where I should be pressing forward.
And I think self-control, like procrastination, is a habit, a pattern of behaviours, which we can shape to serve a purpose – at least when we consciously shape them rather than just letting them be shaped by the world around us. Habits can be changed, piece by piece, choice by choice.
And now I have circled back around to my choosing it again. Is it really this simple? Because living it out seems so much harder.
Peter seems to tell us to choose to add self-control to the exercise of knowledge, which has been added to virtue on top of diligence.
So, it seems on one hand it is our choice to grow in self-control, and on the other, that it flows from the Holy Spirit.
Maybe I’m looking at this wrong. Maybe as we grow practiced at living from the Holy Spirit these things flow, and when we are living from our natural, human, ungodly desires it doesn’t.
Is it as Paul says (Romans 7-8), that when we do what is good and right we are living from our new Spirit nature, and when we are doing what is against our Spirit-led desires, it is our old sin-nature, the one which has been put to death with Christ? Christ’s death and resurrection do not just rid us of our sins, but our whole sinful nature is put to death, that we might live by the Spirit.
And isn’t that how we should be going about our God-given tasks? Here lies the way to obedience, to ‘self’-control: by allowing the Spirit dominion over us, by planting our feet in the River of Life so our fruit will be good. That is where the fruit of the Spirit come from – directly from the source of Life itself. The Source of Life must go into us, to shape our very being, to form our being, our ways of being, our habits, our moment-to-moment choices.
The Spirit makes it easier to live by Spirit-ways, but it is still our choice to walk in them. The Living Water we belong to cuts a path through rock and soil, but we still need to choose to get our feet wet.
“Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” Galatians 5:25.
The more we walk with the Spirit, the easier any of these things become, the more habitual these ways are. So, fruit of the Spirit are both outcomes and choices, and the more in tune and practiced we are, the easier it is to choose that way.
We talk about exercising patience and exercising self-control, so maybe we can look at all the fruit of the Spirit as muscles to be exercised, worked at, built stronger. And every time we choose how we will act (or react), we can choose in line with the Spirit, and exercise those muscles, or we can choose in line with our sin-nature and not exercise them – take the easy and comfortable route.
Have you ever prayed for patience? (A word of caution before you do…) And suddenly you are getting red lights at every intersection, and your doctor is running late, and your usual hairdresser isn’t available and the replacement takes twice as long, and your child won’t stay in bed?
God isn’t magically doling out patience to you, rather events are being skewed (or your perception of them) in order to give you plenty of opportunities to practice patience, to exercise that muscle and make it stronger, i.e. able to lift more, hold more, cope with more.
God didn’t call us into a comfortable life, an easy way. No, quite the opposite. The New Testament is full of warnings that this way will be hard and uncomfortable (if not downright painful). The way is narrow, the risks are large, yet our love for God and God’s love for us make it worth it. We can nail our sin-nature to the cross with Jesus and live in his resurrection by the Spirit.
Paul makes a list (see Philippians 3:4-7) of his life’s goodness, his privilege, and then says, “I count this all as complete 5#!+, it is worthless compared to this life I am now living in Christ” (my paraphrase). That’s an amazing level of detachment from the easy and comfortable. But if it is the Spirit animating him, then he sees it as worth it.
“God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. He calls us to trust Him so completely that we are unafraid to put ourselves in situations where we will be in trouble if He doesn’t come through.” – Francis Chan, Crazy Love.
Is it really as simple as a choice, Lord? I can’t get my head around this, it seems almost too obvious.
Though it is not just a choice, it is also a leading, and it is also bending my will to God’s. If I want to change my life, reshape it, self-control seems a good place to start.
Living by the guidance of the Spirit in what seems like these small choices, helps keep the big picture in mind, helps the small actions count towards the big dreams we dream of with God.
In all my reading on motivation and goal-setting (and fulfillment of said goals), much of it focuses on making the environment better suited to the fulfillment of the big goals, making it easier to choose in line for the little choices. Because it’s the little choices which make us stumble on the way to the big goal, not that the dream isn’t attainable, but that in the moment (short-term), our comfort and ease feel more important. For spiritual things, the Spirit helps change that, helps keep the important things right in front of us. But we still need to choose to follow its leading.
One of my daily affirmations is “I choose to act in ways which move towards wholeness and Love,” to let the Spirit guide me in the small details, so they will align with the large-picture-desire. The Spirit knows the big picture better than I ever can. And God will not neglect to complete the work begun in us (Philippians 1:6).
And to make this possible, I also affirm that I am willing to be discomforted – therein lies the rub. But I will keep choosing to be willing, I will keep choosing to align my small ways with God’s big ones, trusting that God has the big ones handled. Being willing to be uncomfortable, being willing to deliberately choose discomfort, is an act of trust.