“Jesus came to bring you out of the shadows. He sees you and He loves you-just as you are, not as you should be. Let him love you just as you are.” -Sally Lloyd Jones
I read this quote today and it really ministered to me. Sometimes I feel defeated by the areas of my life that are broken, including my constant struggle with anxiety. I am frustrated by how my anxiety limits me and causes me to miss out on so many things. I’m tired of feeling like a slave to fear. And at times my anxiety causes me to even feel unworthy of God’s love and acceptance.
But this is not God’s heart towards me. God’s love for me is not based on who I “should” be. He sees me just as I am. Anxious. Stressed. Unsettled. Restless. Unsure. Afraid.
I woke up feeling especially tired this morning after a long, exhausting week. I also felt acutely aware of my limits and the ways that I pushed too hard this past week. I regularly ignore my limits. I say yes to too many things, work too late, and keep going when I know I need to stop and rest.
My natural inclination is to view my limits in a negative light. However, I’m learning that my limits are actually a gift. God has graciously created us with natural limits. We need sleep. We need food. We need rest. We need help and suppport. We were not created to be self-sufficient. We were created to need God and to need others.
I’m learning that I have a lot of limits. First of all, I have physical limits. As the teacher of a very busy class I’m learning that I need 8 hours of sleep each night and a good breakfast just to make it through the day. I have emotional limits. Sometimes the needs of my students and the people around me feel very overwhelming and I need to take time to journal or process my emotions with someone I trust. As an introvert, I have major limits when it comes to people. I love spending time with people, but I also need long stretches of alone time to recharge and feel like myself again. My age and lack of life experience are limits as well. When I encounter difficult situations as a teacher or even in my personal life, I need wisdom and advice from others.
I’m learning that these limits really are a gift. They remind me that I can’t manage life on my own. I need God. I need others. And that is something to be thankful for.
“May we never lose our wonder. May we never lose our wonder. Wide-eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child, staring at the beauty of the King.” –Bethel Music
There are moments in life that inspire child-like wonder. Just the other day I had such an experience when I was walking from my car to my apartment. In the span of just a few short seconds, I became keenly aware of the beauty of Fall- the crisp air, the changing leaves, and the wonderful sense of coziness I felt wearing my scarf and sweater. It was like I was experiencing Autumn for the first time and I felt an almost giddy, childlike excitement.
This same sense of wonder overtakes me when I drive in my car at dusk, blasting my favorite music. Or when I walk behind a waterfall. Or when I see sunlight coming through a thick grove of trees. Or when I dip my toes in the ocean. Or when I listen to beautiful harmonies. Or when I experience a moment of connection with someone I care about. There are so many moments in life that inspire wonder.
However, I think that the older we get, the more we lose our sense of wonder. We become too busy and the pace of our lives is too frenetic. We succumb to the cynicism and pessimism that is such a natural part of our culture. We become overwhelmed with the anxieties of life. And we miss the daily wonders that are all around us.
As a child, having a sense of wonder was a natural part of who I was. Now it’s something I have to fight for. In the midst of the chaotic busyness of life, I have to make conscious choices to keep my sense of wonder. Sometimes it means stopping to fully experience a beautiful song, going on a spontaneous waterfall hike, or simply choosing to fully engage in the present moment with someone I love.
I recently took the Enneagram for the first time. The Enneagram is a personality test that examines your core fears, desires, and motivations in life. Reading about my Enneagram type was a very enlightening for me. I learned that I am a Type 2 in the Enneagram system which is known as the “Helper” type. This type posses many strengths. Type 2s tend to be warm and caring people who love encouraging and helping others. They are good at understanding people and helping people understand themselves. This resonated with me and these are some of the traits that I value within myself.
However, as I kept reading, I also learned some things about my Enneagram type that hit a little too close to home. For example, helpers have a core need to be needed. They tend to base their identity on the approval of others and need a lot of validation. While this type loves taking care of other people’s needs, they struggle to let other people help them. And can you guess the sin that they ten to struggle with the most? Pride.
This description really resonated with me. I hate asking people for help. Maybe it’s because I’m worried that I’ll inconvenience them. Perhaps I fear that they’ll be annoyed with me. However, if I’m really honest with myself, the root is pride. I don’t want to admit that I’m struggling. I want to appear like I have it all together and can manage just fine on my own.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading a lot of Brene’ Brown’s work. Her perspective on asking for help has really got me thinking. The following quote comes from her book “Rising Strong”:
“When you judge yourself for needing help, you judge those you are helping. When you attach value to giving help, you attach value to needing help. The danger of tying your self worth to being a helper is feeling shame when you have to ask for help. Offering help is courageous and compassionate, but so is asking for help.”
She suggests that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is actually one of the most vulnerable and courageous things a person can do. It’s also a key component of healthy, mutual relationships. I’m also realizing that when I don’t let people in, I’m not fully loving them. Loving others means giving AND receiving. When I refuse to let people help me, I’m actually robbing them of the joy that comes from helping others. Just like helping others makes me feel good, letting others help me makes them feel good.
So I’m learning to ask for help when I need it. Because it’s actually a very courageous thing to do.
“The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessings. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness… the voice that calls us the Beloved will give us words to bless others and reveal to them that they are no less blessed than we.” -Henri Nowen
Henri Nowen is one of my favorite authors and this quote from “Life of the Beloved” is one of my favorites. This quote speaks a simple but profound truth that has been turning my life upside down. In order to fully love others, I need to discover my identity as God’s Beloved.
As an immense perfectionist, I tend to be very self critical and harsh in the way I view myself. I’ve always thought that I could be hard on myself and at the same time graciously love others. However, I’m learning that this is just not the case. There is a direct correlation between the way I view myself and the way that I love others.
In order to show authentic kindness to others, I must be kind to myself.
In order to extend grace to others, I must fully experience and be transformed by God’s grace.
In order to act compassionately, I must practice self-compassion.
In order to fully delight in others, I must be confident that God delights in me.
In order to affirm the uniqueness in others, I must see my own uniqueness as a gift to be shared.
And in order to truly love the people around me, I must know at the core of my being that I am God’s Beloved.
A couple of years ago I took the Strength Finders assessment, a personality test that measures your ability in 35 key areas and then determines your top 5 strengths. One of my top 5 was the “restorative” strength. I learned that people with this strength have a strong growth mindset. They are great at identifying flaws and finding ways to solve complex problems. While I do think that this strength can be used for good, it also comes with some frustrating baggage. From my experience, restorative people also tend to be perfectionistic people. This is very true in my own life. Although externally I can seem positive and optimistic, inwardly I can be critical and fault-finding. It’s easy for me to see all that’s wrong and needs to be fixed, while glossing over all that is good and right. As a result, gratitude does not come very easily to me.
Recently I’ve been devouring the work of Brene’ Brown. She is a research professor who studies concepts like shame, vulnerability, and courage. I recently finished her book “The Gifts of Imperfection” and I can honestly say it’s the best book I’ve read all year. I especially gleaned a lot from her chapter on gratitude. She suggests that gratitude is not an attitude, but rather a practice. This idea is so simple, but is also deeply encouraging for me. As someone who’s very personality is to see all that is wrong, mustering up an “attitude of gratitude” feels nearly impossible. However, I love the idea of viewing gratitude as a practice, something that can be developed over time through daily action.
A practical way that I’ve been doing this is through journaling. I’ve started making daily lists of “evidences of grace”. I chose the term “evidences of grace” because it helps me to thank God for even the smallest blessings- an act of kindness, making it through a challenging situation, or even just a moment of connection with someone. This practice has been changing the way I encounter my everyday life. I’m realizing that God’s grace is all around me. I just often neglect to see it. I’ve started to look forward to this practice and often find myself making mental lists of God’s grace throughout the day, storing them up in my mind so that I can write about them later.
Most importantly, I’m discovering that gratitude brings joy. Perfectionism breeds anxiety and negativity, but gratitude results in a deep sense of contentment and peace.
I’m learning that gratitude is the best remedy for a critical heart.
Recently I was reflecting on my friendships. As a definite introvert, it takes a while for me to warm up to people. I tend to be a very private person and have trouble letting people in. However, the relationships that I have with my closest friends tend to be very deep, meaningful, and authentic. As I thought about how each of those friendships developed, I noticed a key theme: vulnerability. All of my closest friendships deepened through mutual sharing of struggles, fears, pain, and disappointments. From my experience, vulnerability is the glue that cements deep and authentic friendship.
However, I think that our culture is especially terrified of vulnerability. We tend to present ourselves as idealized versions of the people we truly are. Our social media profiles show snapshots of all the best moments of our lives, but fail to show our disappointments, anxieties, and insecurities. Most of our relationships only reach a surface level, stopping just short of true intimacy and closeness. I think that pride is the biggest culprit. We want people to be impressed with us, so we carefully construct idealized but false images of ourselves that keep people from discovering who we really are. Our pride makes us lonely-unseen and unknown.
Fear is another culprit. Vulnerability is dangerous. When we authentically share ourselves with others, we risk rejection and disapproval. I think that most people have had these experiences at some point. The Enemy tries to use painful memories of rejection to keep us from risking vulnerability again.
The Lord has recently been chipping away my own fear of vulnerability in a surprising, but simple way. I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, but the reality of God’s love for me has often been more of a mental understanding than a practical experience in my life. As I’ve experienced more and more the reality of God’s unconditional love, I’ve had greater courage to risk vulnerability with the people in my life. God sees me as I truly am. He knows ever insecurity, understands every anxiety, and mourns with me over every disappointment in my life. He knows every sinful thought and impure motive. He is intimately acquainted with every aspect of my life that I carefully hide from others. Yet he loves me deeply and unconditionally.