Extending Grace that has Not Been Extended to You

i_forgive_youContinued from here.

The final piece of the challenge of trusting God amidst deep emotional pain is to keep doing things God’s way, even when you see no results whatever. This includes forgiving the people who judge you in your brokenness. Perhaps one of the most difficult of God’s commands is to forgive someone as he or she continues to inflict pain on you, and yet that is what Jesus did. While suffering and dying on the cross, he prayed for his enemies:

Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” ~ Luke 23:32-34

When people judge you in your woundedness, they truly do not know what they are doing. They don’t understand the iron in your soul. They have no comprehension of the energy it is taking you simply to get out of bed in the morning and put forth even a mustard seed of faith that God will come through for you in your pain and brokenness. While it is natural to want to hate them – or at least resent them, choose to forgive them instead. Do this even as they continue to inflict pain on you, just as the soldiers continued to inflict pain on Jesus as he was dying on the cross. I know this is not easy, but it is the way through the pain.

This season of pain will eventually end, even though it feels eternal. The choices you make during this season of pain will determine the degree to which you are refined through this fire. Learn the lessons God is teaching you through this extremely painful season. Some lessons can only be learned through suffering, such as patience and perseverance. These lessons are leading you to maturity and completion and are the very tools God is using to lead you to a state of not lacking anything. You are already paying the cost, so learn the lesson. Let “I will trust you, Lord” become your battle cry – your lantern shining the way out of the pain. When you can see nothing but your own pain, make the decision to trust God, and you will find your way out.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a halo and angel’s wings saying, “I forgive you.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

I Will Trust You Lord

sinking_shipContinued from here.

I have been struggling for several weeks to find my way out of a deep emotional pit that has both physically and emotionally worn me out. I have earnestly prayed throughout this time. I have sought God’s leading. I have steeled myself for following God, no matter what. And I have gotten back up again and again to follow God in the midst of emotional pain that runs so deep that I cannot put it into words. I have looked for a way out, and God led me to it through an oldie but goody – Twila Paris’ song from the 1980’s entitled Do I Trust You, Lord?

The bottom line is that either I trust God, or I don’t. If I trust God, I will keep getting back up and following Him, no matter how many times that I am knocked down. I will keep believing that He will restore me, even when I am so blinded by the pain that I cannot see the blessings. I will keep forgiving the people who are unknowingly pouring salt into my wounds as they judge me in my brokenness. I will keep extending those people grace, even as they continue to hurt me. I will keep loving them. And I will keep loving and giving to others, even as I am tempted to withdraw from everyone to lick my own wounds. I will continue to prioritize what God cares about, not because I feel like it but because I trust God.

The cry of my heart has become the climax of Do I Trust You, Lord?:

I will trust You, Lord, when I don’t know why.
I will trust You, Lord, till the day I die.
I will trust You, Lord, when I’m blind with pain.
You were God before, and You’ll never change.

I will trust You. I will trust You.
I will trust You, Lord.
I will trust You. I will trust You.
I will trust You, Lord.

I will trust You. I will trust You.
I will trust You, Lord.”

Trusting God, even while blinded with pain, is the way out.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace in a tuxedo playing the violin on the tip of a sinking ship. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Do I Trust You, Lord?

shrugContinued from here.

While I can choose not to judge the wounded and broken, that does not prevent others from doing this to me. I have been reeling for weeks as God is healing my post-traumatic stress at a deeper level. God is allowing the iron in my soul to surface so he can heal it, and it’s a painful process. Being judged for falling short of others’ expectations when it’s taking everything within me to stand upright (or even to stand at all) has been extremely painful, and I have been struggling with how to hold onto my faith and keep believing that God is working all of this pain for good.

I am spiritually mature enough to know that there’s no Plan B – either God will come through for me, or I’ll spend the rest of my life flattened. At this stage of my relationship with God, it’s not an option to walk away from Him, nor is it an option to stop following Him. And yet the weight of the emotional pain has been unbearable for weeks, with some Christians in my life heaping judgment on me when it’s taking everything within me simply to keep getting back up. How do I keep pressing on and following God amidst all of this?

God blessed me with KLOVEclassics.com, which has me listening to Christian songs that blessed me all the way back in the 1980’s. One particular gem has become my anthem during this incredibly painful season in my life: Twila Paris’ Do I Trust You?

I will be graduating soon with my Master of Arts in Christian Ministry, so I particularly relate to this lyric:

I know the doctrine and theology, but right now they don’t mean much to me. This time there’s only one thing I’ve got to know: Do I trust You, Lord?”

I know the “go to” Bible verses for suffering and pain. I know that God will work this all for good. I know that God’s ways are higher than mine and that He is good. However, knowing all of this “doctrine and theology” isn’t much comfort to the wounded child inside – the little girl who experienced so much trauma and who, even after many years of therapy and healing work, is awash with deep-seated pain as God surfaces the iron in her soul to heal her. And that “doctrine and theology” isn’t helping as some Christians in my life – the very ones who should be extending me grace and praying me through this pain – are instead judging me in the place in my deepest vulnerability.

So, in the place between knowing what the Bible says and experiencing pain that threatens to break me … when the “doctrine and theology” aren’t making a difference … where is the way out? It’s found in a simple question: Do I trust you, Lord?

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace shrugging her shoulders with a thought bubble showing an emoticon shrugging its shoulders. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Extending Grace to the Wounded

blowing_heartsContinued from here.

Jesus told us not to judge lest we be judged and then went on to point out that all of us have blind spots that keep us from seeing someone else’s actions clearly. Here’s the thing that most people fail to realize: we tend to judge other people by their actions while extending ourselves grace because of the brokenness driving our actions. The reality is that we are ALL broken – that’s part of the human condition.

Let me give a specific example. When I hit puberty, I developed binge eating disorder to help me manage the emotional pain of years of severe childhood abuse. I could consume an entire bag of family-sized Dorito’s in one sitting because the act of binge eating “stuffed down” the emotional pain, giving me temporary relief. People who experienced no trauma in childhood and were raised by parents who taught them healthy eating patterns may not be able to relate to binge eating disorder. They may believe it’s just a PC way of justifying lack of self-control over food or ignorance about healthy eating. When I was 30 pounds overweight, they might have snickered as I walked by, making unkind remarks behind my back about how lazy I must be since I clearly don’t care about my body. Rather than seeing the whole picture of how my extra weight revealed very deep emotional pain, they judged my body size against their own experiences that did not include childhood trauma.

Conversely, I have never used illegal drugs. My compulsion was food, and while it made me fat, it provided me with ongoing, temporary relief from very deep emotional pain. Because illegal drugs are not a temptation for me, I could judge someone addicted to crack cocaine or meth, believing that illegal drugs should not be a temptation for them because it is not for me. When they are arrested and imprisoned for drug use, I could believe they deserve it, never realizing that the only reason I am not sharing a cell with them is because it’s not illegal to binge eat. We may share the same underlying brokenness from childhood and the same compulsion to harm our bodies to manage the pain, but because they are in prison while I am not, I could judge the same brokenness that others judge me for.

One lesson I have learned over the last month – after much pain – is that I must never judge the wounded … and we are ALL wounded. Instead, I must extend grace, even when I don’t understand. In fact, I’m frequently NOT going to understand, but I don’t need to understand the specifics to extend grace. I simply need to know that when people behave in unhealthy, unkind, or destructive ways, they are acting out of their brokenness. Brokenness needs grace, not judgment.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace blowing lots of hearts. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Judging the Wounded

judgeI apologize for not blogging last week. My schedule for Father’s Day weekend was overstuffed, and I had to choose between blogging and sleeping. Here’s hoping I can get back on track this week.

God has been teaching me a particularly painful lesson over the past few weeks that I hope you can learn by reading about it rather than have to learn it on a “field trip” (as Beth Moore puts it) as I have. It’s a lesson about grace and why Jesus told us never to judge other people. I am learning this lesson by being on the receiving end of being judged during a particularly vulnerable season that most people simply cannot relate to. It’s one thing to be judged when you are being intentionally obstinate. However, when you are judged in weakness, vulnerability, hurt, and brokenness, the lack of grace heaped on top of that vulnerable season can seem unbearable.

Casting Crowns has a great line in the song, Jesus, Friend of Sinners:

Nobody knows what we’re for, only what we’re against, when we judge the wounded.”

And you know what? We’re ALL wounded. Your wounds might looks quite different from mine. In fact, your area of wounding might be in an area that’s a strength for me. When I judge you in the area of your deepest wounding, I can compound what’s already painful for you as I heap judgment upon you rather than grace. Not only do I squander an opportunity to saturate your wounds with God’s loving grace, but I actually rub salt into them, which can lead you to question whether you even have a place in the family of God. After all, we expect judgment from the world as “peculiar people,” but judgment from others in the Body of Christ can actually deepen the wound, that’s what I have been experiencing on this “field trip.”

Joyce Meyer recently preached on Ps. 105:18, which literally says that iron entered Joseph’s soul when he was enslaved and imprisoned in Egypt. If that makes no sense to you, thank God for sparing you that experience. Sadly, many of us know the pain of experiencing something so traumatizing that we cannot find the words to express the agony of iron entering the soul – words do not exist that can communicate the depth of your pain to someone who has not walked in your shoes. Judging someone with iron in his or her soul exacerbates the pain in ways you cannot possibly imagine if you have not experienced it yourself. I hope that you never do.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting in a judge’s chair over the word, “Judging.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Focus on the Behavior, not the Motive

undoContinued from here.

None of us enjoys being reprimanded, no matter how gently it is done, but without any sort of reprimand, we won’t grow. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes, and we all have blind spots that we will never see unless someone else points them out to us, preferably in a gentle and loving manner.

If you believe you need to redirect someone else, first go to the Lord in prayer about it. God does not expect you to change everything that needs changing at the same time, and you should not expect that of other people. Pray for God’s guidance on whether you should say anything at all. If you feel the Spirit leading you to do so, pray for the Holy Spirit to speak through you so the conversation will be constructive. If you sense that God is telling you not to say anything at this time, pray for God to help you forgive your friend and let it go.

If you choose to have a conversation with your friend about something that needs to change, pray and think through how you would best receive constructive criticism from someone else. Use the gentlest words possible, with love as the framework. Most people accept constructive criticism best from someone who they know truly loves them. Often, the negative reaction to constructive criticism is not about the criticism itself but in reaction to feeling shamed or rejected. Thus, constructive criticism should always been spoken in a way that communicates loving redirection.

Also, communicate how the other person’s actions made you feel without making assumptions about the person’s motives. Personally, I receive constructive criticism well so long as people do not accuse me of motives that are simply not true, which is a childhood trigger for me. As long as someone provides constructive criticism in a loving way, I will consider that person’s viewpoint, even if I do not agree with it. I will pray over it and follow what I believe God is telling me to do. I recognize that each of us sees the world through our own filters, and sometimes constructive criticism is really more about the other person’s worldview than about anything I am doing.

However, if the person attributes a motive to me that is off base, I have trouble processing the criticism because my focus goes to why someone I respect has such a low opinion of me as a person. I certainly make mistakes, but I rarely intentionally set out to hurt another person. Calling a mistake to my attention does not hurt me, but accusing me of intentionally hurting another person does because it is simply not true.

Always remember that only God knows what someone else is going through and what is driving his actions. If you feel led to provide constructive criticism, stay focused on the behavior without making assumptions about the motives, and communicate the truth within the framework of love.

[Graphic: Cartoon of  Grace standing behind the computer keys of Ctrl and Z = “undo.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love Requires Love

drawing_heartContinued from here.

There is someone in my life who used to have the gentleness of a sledgehammer – she certainly spoke the truth, but she hit me over the head with it, leaving me with a splitting headache. That is the opposite of speaking the truth in love.

God is never initially harsh with people. His conviction is gentle and only grows harsh if it is necessary to bring about change, and He only uses harshness after repeated gentle attempts remain fruitless. Even then, his “harshness” is for our own protection, much like when a parent yells at a toddler who did not obey the gentle instruction not to walk into the street and is now about to run into traffic. The parent doesn’t start out yelling at the child – the harshness only comes after gentle reminders are ignored to the point that the child is now in imminent danger.

Jesus is gentle and humble, and as his disciples, we need to be the same way:

Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” ~ Eph. 4:2

When others have crossed your boundaries, speak truth, but do it in a loving way – in a way that is gentle and kind. Give them the benefit of the doubt that their behavior was unintentional. Let them know that you love them, and let love provide the framework for your gentle words of redirection.

For example, let’s say you have a friend who frequently cancels plans at the last minute. The sledgehammer response is to yell at her, telling her how selfish she is. A gentler response sounds more like this: “I love our friendship and cherish the time that we spend together. I was really looking forward to spending the afternoon together and am disappointed that you had to cancel. In the future, could you let me know as soon as it’s looking like you might have to cancel so I have time to make other plans? I hope we can get together again soon. I really miss you.” While both approaches are speaking truth, only the second one is doing so in love.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace drawing a heart. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love Requires Truth

real_talkContinued from here.

I used to be a huge people pleaser. I had no sense of self-worth and believed that if anyone ever saw the “real me,” she would run from the room screaming. To keep people in my life, I would twist myself into a pretzel to please them. I could put up with just about anything so long as the other person wouldn’t leave.

Because my priority was the other person not leaving, I was often not truthful with them. I set no emotional boundaries, and when the other person stepped on my toes, I would not speak up because I feared they would leave. In long-term, emotionally intimate relationships, I would put up with pretty much anything … up to a point. About once a year, I would blow, and the other person couldn’t see it coming. For 364 days of the year, I would smile and act like everything was fine. Then, on the 365th day, the person would do the exact same thing, I would blow, and the other person wouldn’t know what hit her. This was my fault, not anyone else’s, because I was not being truthful when I said everything was OK.

Paul told the Ephesians…

Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” ~ Eph. 4:25

I did nobody any favors by bottling up my feelings and withholding the truth about what was bothering me. If I had simply been obedient to God and been truthful the first or second time a friend canceled our plans at the last minute, then I could have spared myself months of stewing over it as well as spared my friend the embarrassment and awkwardness of being told in a contentious manner how I felt about the behavior. Pretending that I was OK with behavior that bothered me was a lie – I was withholding the truth to manipulate the other person into staying in a friendship with me.

Today, I am much more gracious. I decide ahead of time what my boundaries are, and when they are crossed, I give myself two options: (1) speak the truth in love; or (2) let it go. As an example, I have a dear friend who often has to cancel at the last minute because of the season of life she is in. When I make plans with her, I know it’s a 50/50 shot whether we will get together, and I am OK with that. Thus, I have no truth to speak to her about this because I have already decided that I will let it go if it happens. However, if it’s something that I will be unwilling/unable to let go, I will speak with her truthfully in a gentle manner, which is the subject of the next blog entry.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting on a chair by a plant below the words, “Real Talk.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love Requires Speaking

zipped_mouthContinued from here.

While it might appear that I am stating the obvious, speaking the truth in love cannot happen unless we first speak. I have lost more than one close friendship without a word being spoken. For whatever reason, the former friend chose not to speak to me about what was bothering her, instead opting to pull away without telling me why. She would stop contacting me and either ignore or greatly delay responding to my attempts to connect. These were close friendships that fizzled out because the other person chose not to speak.

Many people (and women in particular) are so afraid of conflict that they refuse to speak when they believe their boundaries have been crossed. They would rather let a relationship die than have one uncomfortable conversation to address their concerns. This is not kindness. Jesus, Paul, and numerous prophets loved others enough to speak words of exhortation when they were needed. They did not expect the people to figure it out on their own without the use of words, and they loved the people enough to have the uncomfortable conversation rather than lose the relationship.

While not every difference of opinion needs to be addressed, the more emotionally intimate a relationship has become, the greater the responsibility you have to speak up if something is not working. Don’t assume that the other person can read your mind and knows that his or her behavior is bothering you. And don’t assume you know what is driving the other person’s behavior. Love the other person enough to have a conversation about your concerns rather than simply pulling away until the relationship dies. If the season of this relationship has ended, both will intuitively know it, and the friendship will fade in a way that if your paths cross again, you will experience joy upon seeing each other again, not awkwardness. However, when one pulls away without saying a word to the other, it leaves the other person confused and hurt as she continues trying to emotionally invest in someone who has left the friendship. That’s not kindness.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a zipper for a mouth. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Speaking the Truth in Love

two_centsPaul told the Ephesians that maturity in Christ and speaking the truth in love are interconnected. He went on to say that our words should be used “for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Eph. 4:29). Using our words to build up other people rather than tear them down is an area of growth for most people, myself included. In this blog series, we will explore what it means to speak the truth in love.

Our words have power. Here are some proverbs showing how powerful our words can be:

The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood,
but the speech of the upright rescues them.” ~ Prov. 12:6

“The words of the reckless pierce like swords,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing.” ~ Prov. 12:18

“The Lord detests the thoughts of the wicked, but gracious words are pure in his sight.” ~ Prov. 15:26

“Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” ~ Prov. 16:24

If you consider that God spoke the world into being and that we were created in God’s image, we should recognize the God has entrusted us with a heavy responsibility in giving us speech – a gift and responsibility he did not give to any of His other creatures. Our words have power, as you have likely experienced yourself. Harsh words can cut like a knife while kind words can instill hope and courage.

I experienced years of ongoing, severe child abuse between the ages of 6 and 11, and the verbal abuse was the hardest to heal from. Physical wounds heal, but harsh words can continue to wound for decades if the wounded do not learn how to forgive, which was my story for a very long time. As Christians, we need to take responsibility for the words that come out of our mouths and apologize & make amends when we don’t. Nobody speaks the truth in love naturally – it’s a discipline that we must learn. I hope this blog series helps with this process.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace sitting behind a desk that says, “Just my two cents.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]