Ragamuffins Living with a Tilted Halo

tilted haloContinued from here.

As a ragamuffin, I love my tilted halo. It’s such as relief not having a constant headache from a halo that is too tight on my head. I’m never going to be able to live perfectly, and that’s OK. What God is looking for is imperfect progress, which I am making.

Christians who obsess over doing everything “right” are missing the point of grace. Our attempts to “be perfect” are nothing more than filthy rags, which I have heard actually refer to menstrual cloths in the original Hebrew. No matter how “good” I am, I’m never going to be “good enough.” Praise God that I don’t have to be! God loves me – and He loves you – exactly the way we are. He loves us in our imperfection, and that’s the way He calls us to love another.

I believe the reason that most people struggle to love those who are different from themselves is because they have not yet tasted the grace that God has given them. Yes, they know about the grace of God in their heads, and many can even recite Bible verses that reference God’s grace. But until you have tasted God’s grace for yourself, you will find yourself continually frustrated and God’s joy eluding you. Why? Because grace cannot be earned.

Someone who has never known grace is easy to spot. It’s that person who is never satisfied, no matter how hard someone else tries to please him or her. The music is not to his liking. She doesn’t care for the topic of the sermon. He constantly compares himself to others, judging other people for not doing something as well as he does. She feels the need to correct others and point out their faults. Praise God that He never treats us like this!

If you have never tasted the sweetness of God’s grace, I encourage you to loosen and tilt your halo. God loves you as you are, not as you ought to be. Why? Because He chooses to.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a tilted halo over her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Ragamuffins are Rigorously Honest with Themselves, Others, and God

truthContinued from here.

I’m continuing a discussion of the concept of the sinner with the tilted halo from Brennan Manning’s book, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out:

The saved sinner with the tilted halo has been converted from mistrust to trust, has arrived at an inner poverty of spirit, and lives as best he or she can in rigorous honesty with self, others, and God.

Being honest with oneself about oneself is one of the most difficult, and yet one of the most freeing, things you can ever do. Manning points out that people who are rigorously honest with themselves, others, and God are nearly impossible to offend because they are already acutely aware of their shortcomings.

For example, if you point out that I am not hospitable or thoughtful, I won’t be offended – I’ll actually agree with you! While I have grown much in both areas, they remain shortcomings of mine, which I don’t deny. I know in the marrow of my bones that God deeply loves me exactly as I am. He is well aware of my tendency toward selfishness and isn’t surprised or offended when I am thoughtless or inhospitable. He gently nudges me toward being more considerate while loving me even when I am not.

Our natural tendency is self-deception, making us easily offended when someone speaks truth to us. I lived this to the extreme. For example, I knew I was overweight because of my binge eating disorder, and I was deeply offended if anyone mentioned it. My being overweight was simply a fact, but I reacted as if someone had intentionally plunged a knife into me if they said anything that I could possibly twist into meaning, “You are fat.” My poor husband was sometimes the recipient of my wrath for simply inviting me to go on a walk around the neighborhood with him. I would hear, “You are fat,” when what he was really saying was, “I love you and would like to spend some time with you.”

I used to believe I had to be “perfect” to be loved. I now know that I am perfectly loved in my imperfection. That’s the heart of the ragamuffin’s authenticity.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace like the “X Files,” saying, “The truth is out there.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Ragamuffins have an Inner Poverty of Spirit

thank_you1Continued from here.

This week, I’m discussing the concept of the sinner with the tilted halo from Brennan Manning’s excellent book, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out:

The saved sinner with the tilted halo has been converted from mistrust to trust, has arrived at an inner poverty of spirit, and lives as best he or she can in rigorous honesty with self, others, and God.”

Jesus said that the “poor in spirit” are blessed because the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (Matt. 5:3). What does it mean to be poor in spirit? It means that we know we are mere beggars in the throne room of grace. We aren’t invited into the Kingdom because we earned it – our invitations are sealed with Christ’s blood and extended solely through grace.

Manning points out (and I have observed this dynamic myself) that the richer someone is, the more susceptible he becomes to ingratitude whereas the poor often express overwhelming gratitude even toward the smallest of gifts. For example, a rich person may pitch a fit at a five-star restaurant when the food is not exactly as he wants it while a poor person may gush with gratitude over receiving one simple meal. The difference is a matter of expectations: the rich believe they deserve to have their expectations met while the poor have no expectations of grace. Thus, the poor in spirit are the ones who most appreciate even the smallest of gifts.

I used to have a haughty spirit. I believed that “my way” was the only way, and anyone who was different from me was inferior. I had a judgmental spirit and often spoke harshly against others – typically behind their backs. Today, I have much more compassion toward those who are not like me. I don’t have to relate to someone’s specific form of brokenness to understand the pain of brokenness … and let’s face it – we are ALL broken.

Gratitude was the vehicle God used to transform me from behaving like a spoiled child in my plenty to experiencing gratitude even when there’s little to be grateful for, such as when my son spent five nights in the hospital after major back surgery. I don’t have to be comfortable to feel grateful. The poor in spirit are grateful and compassionate because they know they are richly blessed in ways they don’t deserve.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying at someone’s feet and saying, “Thank you!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Ragamuffins Trust God

trust_meContinued from here.

This week, I’m discussing the concept of the sinner with the tilted halo from Brennan Manning’s excellent book, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out.

The saved sinner with the tilted halo has been converted from mistrust to trust, has arrived at an inner poverty of spirit, and lives as best he or she can in rigorous honesty with self, others, and God.”

I used to be a distrusting person. As an abused child, I learned early that the world is not a safe place and that people are not trustworthy. I told my therapist that I was incapable of trusting anyone, but he said this was not true. I trusted the waitress to bring me what I ordered and that the food would be safe to eat. I trusted the bridge I drove over would hold. He pointed out different aspects in my relationships with different people that I did, in fact, trust, such as for my husband to provide financially. It was a slow process for me to recognize that I did, in fact, have the ability to trust, and I grew to realize that the issue was not what other people did. Instead, my issue was a lack of trust in myself to be OK if someone else broke my trust.

Today, I trust God with my whole heart and soul, which means I don’t need to trust anyone else. Once I understood at a heart level that God’s got my back, I let go of the need to control what anyone else did that affected me. If someone breaks my heart, God will heal it. If he harms me, God will vindicate me. If she breaks my trust, God will remain faithful. God is all I need. Anything else good that I receive from someone else is gravy. God is the main course.

But what about not trusting God? That’s where I was for decades. I was a people-pleaser and twisted myself into a pretzel trying to be what others wanted me to be, but they were implacable. Because of their own self-interest, I would inevitable displease them. I saw God as the same way – as this being who had a list of rules I could not possibly follow and who I could never fully please, no matter how hard I tried.

Today, I fully trust in God’s love. I know that He loves me no matter what I do and no matter how badly I mess up. He loves me for who I am, not for what I do. In fact, whenever I ask Him why He loves me, His consistent response is, “Because I choose to.”

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing over the words, “Trust me.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

The Ragamuffin Gospel

I’m a big fan of Rich Mullins’ music and enjoyed watching his biography, entitled Ragamuffin. Through this movie, I learned about Brennan Manning’s book, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out, which I am currently reading. I’m blown away by the wisdom in this book and find myself wanting to yell out, “Yes! Yes!” Considering I’m reading this book at the gym while working out on an elliptical machine, I might get some puzzled looks if I do this!

A ragamuffin is someone who knows he’s nothing but a pauper who has been invited into the presence of the King solely by grace. He has nothing to offer but his brokenness. I am a ragamuffin. I’m acutely aware of my brokenness and how inadequate I am. I’m so grateful that God does not treat me like I deserve. I’m a beggar kissing the feet of the King and simply grateful that He let me in the door.

I just finished a chapter on the “tilted halo,” which will be the focus of my blog this week. The chapter opens with a story – A man goes to the doctor for a headache. The doctor asks if he drinks alcohol, smokes, or parties. The patient indignantly responds that he would never do such things. The doctor diagnoses him with wearing his halo too tightly. In other words, the man is so focused on “being righteous” that he has choked out all the grace. Some of the most miserable people I know are Christians who fixate on doing everything “right” while also demanding this from others.

Manning says that ragamuffins wear a tilted halo:

The saved sinner with the tilted halo has been converted from mistrust to trust, has arrived at an inner poverty of spirit, and lives as best he or she can in rigorous honesty with self, others, and God.”

I’ll be discussing these three aspects of the ragamuffin this week.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cover of The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out. Courtesy Amazon.]

 

Dealing with Particularly Annoying People

c'monContinued from here.

The more selfish someone else is, the more difficult it is to spend time with him or her … not just for you but for everyone else! That means the more selfish someone is, the more miserable and lonely that person is likely to be because other people are going to avoid having to interact with that person. As you grow in humility by deferring your preferences, you will find it easier to be in relationships with people that others find particularly annoying. This means you will be in a unique position to shine God’s love into the lives of people who might not otherwise be recipients of that love.

I have found that some of the most selfish people are those who have been deeply wounded. Boy, can I relate to that! When we are wounded, nothing seems more natural than to lick our wounds, which places our focus on ourselves. We don’t even realize the repellant effect our selfishness has on our relationships because we are too self-absorbed by our pain. The deeper the wounds, the more difficult it is to take our focus off them.

The key to healing our deepest wounds is not focusing on them – it’s shifting our focus to God and inviting Him to heal our wounds and deferring our preferences to others while we wait on that healing. God’s method of healing is not appealing to the selfish because it involves giving grace – extending forgiveness – to those who hurt us, and that’s really tough to do. I know firsthand because I lived in selfish hatred and unforgiveness for decades!

When I encounter a particularly annoying person, I remind myself that this person has likely experienced deep pain. I remember that I was once that person – deeply focused on my own pain and oblivious to the ways my self-absorption repelled other people. I ask God to fill me to overflowing with His love and to enable me to love this selfish person out of the overflow of His love for me. I am not responsible for generating the love – I would be in deep trouble if I was! My job is to love God, receive His love for me, and share the overflow of that love with the people around me. As I do this, God enables me to see past the selfishness and into their souls through His eyes of love.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hands on her hips and saying, “C’mon.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

What Does Deferring Your Preferences Look Like?

u_rightContinued from here.

For me, the word “humility” was difficult to wrap my mind around. I had trouble understanding how to take this concept and put it into practice. C.S. Lewis got me pointed in the right direction with this quote:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

I used to believe I was a humble person because I had very low self-esteem, but I learned in Beth Moore’s Breaking Free: Discover the Victory of Total Surrender that having a low opinion of yourself is just as prideful as having too high of an opinion of yourself. Pride is simply having yourself on your mind (or being selfish, self-absorbed, or self-focused). I was constantly on my mind as I meditated upon all of the things that were “wrong” with me.

So, I understood that I needed to get myself off my mind, but I did not know how to actually DO that. This is when the Holy Spirit “whispered” that I needed to start deferring my preferences, which is replacing thoughts of myself with thoughts of others. For example, I’ll defer the nicer chair to someone else or defer my preference for where to eat dinner to the other person. While this is something I used to do to manipulate the other person’s approval as a people pleaser, my motivation is now completely different. I love God enough to want to obey Him, and he told me to defer my preferences, so I choose to let the other person have his or her way because I love God. A huge difference is that the other person’s response is irrelevant whereas it was all that mattered in my people-pleasing days. Whether or not the other person notices or cares that I deferred my preferences, God notices.

Interestingly, even though I no longer get my own way most of the time, I am much happier. More specifically, I experience joy and peace that eluded me when I was selfish. I used to believe that getting what I wanted would make me happy, but I have actually found more happiness by choosing not getting what I want as I defer my preferences to the people around me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking and saying, “U Right, U Right.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Deferring Your Preferences to Develop Humility

do_you_like_meContinued from here.

Now that we understand the problem, what is the solution? Just as I have found that having difficulty interacting with other people is a red flag for a pride problem, I have conversely found that easily getting along with other people is indicative of growth in humility. When I no longer expect everything to go my way and, instead, make a conscious effort to help things go someone else’s way, people are much easier to get along with.

Keep in mind, though, that I’m not talking about being a people pleaser, which was a problem for me for decades. I was the world’s biggest people pleaser, which from the outside might look like humility, but it was actually another form of pride. People pleasing is seeking to manipulate others to approve of you whereas humility is deferring your preferences out of love for God. The motivation is the key difference. People pleasing ultimately leads to a flare up in pride when the manipulations don’t get the results you want. With humility, you are simply seeking to please God, so the other person’s reaction does not matter.

When I was seeking to please others to gain their approval, I was the central focus of my thoughts. I knew that someone wanted X to be happy, so I twisted myself into a pretzel to make X happen for that person, hoping that by bringing X about, the person would approve of me and love me. Unfortunately, bringing about X was never enough. Once the person had X, s/he then needed Y to be happy … and then Z … Because I am not God, I could not make everything happen as that person wanted. My motivation was purely selfish, and people pleasing was exhausting. I ultimately could not fully please anyone, and I would feel sorry for myself that I was not receiving the love I sought, even after all the work I put into trying to manipulate the world for the other person.

Ironically, people tend to like me more since I developed humility and am no longer seeking their approval. Only God’s opinion of me matters, and this shift in perspective has radically changed my relationships and my view of myself. My self-esteem is no longer based upon what anyone else thinks of me. God loves me exactly as I am, so my needs are met, regardless of anyone else’s opinion of me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace asking, “Do you like me?” with check boxes for Yes, No, and Maybe. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

People’s Innate Selfishness

pay_attention_to_meContinued from here.

When I was driving through South Carolina, I heard a fabulous sermon on the radio, but I lost the signal before I could find out who was preaching. The pastor was talking about marriage and said, “If the person you married was bad enough that Jesus had to die for him, he’s going to annoy you from time to time.” I literally laughed out loud because this is so true! And this comment does not only apply to marriage – it applies to every interaction we have with any other person, whether it’s a family member, friend, or the sales clerk at a store. Every single person you encounter was “bad enough” that Jesus had to die for him or her, which means we can expect them to do things that annoy us from time to time. The things they do to annoy us, in most cases, stem from their pride, which is the Bible’s word for selfishness, self-centered, or self-absorbed.

I don’t remember where I heard this observation, but someone pointed out that pride is something we are blind to in our own lives but that we instantly recognize (negatively) in other people. All of us are naturally selfish. On her television show, Joyce Meyer advised that if you believe you are not a selfish person, pay attention to your own reaction the next time something doesn’t go your way. Unless you have worked with God to grow in humility in a particular area of your life, I can guarantee you are selfish because that is everyone’s default setting, mine included.

Now, if the other seven billion people on the planet would simply bend to my will, then my selfishness would not be a problem. The issue is that seven billion people are prideful, wanting things to go their own way, and that simply is not possible. So, as we interact with one another, our areas of pride bump into one another, and we react by viewing the other person as the problem, blind to the role our own pride is serving in the conflict. In fact, I have learned that when I find it difficult to be around other people, my own pride is likely the problem. I need to go before God in repentance, deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus as I make a conscious choice to defer to other people’s preferences.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding symbols and yelling, “Pay attention to me!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Being a Horizontal Christian by Loving Other People

lovedI finished reading Daniel B. Clendenin’s Eastern Orthodox Theology: A Contemporary Reader last week and feel like I now have a much better understanding of Eastern Orthodox theology. One notable difference from Protestantism that I have pondering is the heavy emphasis of the role of the universal Church as THE Body of Christ. While I know that Christians collectively make up the Body of Christ, I have been guilty of viewing Christianity as my relationship with God (vertical relationship) without much emphasis on my relationship with others (horizontal relationship). Tony Evans wrote an excellent book on the horizontal relationship of Christians with other people entitled Horizontal Jesus: How Our Relationships with Others Affect Our Experience with God, which taught me a lot about the “one anothers.”

Until the last few years, I believed I could live as an effective Christian alone in a cabin off the beaten path – just God and me. However, I have grown to realize that I cannot be an effective Christian if I am not interacting with other people. After all, the cross is both vertical AND horizontal. If all that mattered was God’s relationship with each individual with no connectivity among one another, then Jesus could have stayed in heaven and not have bothered to come to earth. After all, his relationship with God was just fine. He inconvenienced himself (to put it mildly) to connect horizontally with people, and Christians are supposed to follow his example, so Christianity involves interacting with other people … and that’s a big part of what makes the faith so challenging!

I have heard Joyce Meyer share the same story multiple times, and it never fails to elicit a chuckle out of me because I so deeply relate. She shared that she would be doing such a great job at being a Christian when she woke up – loving, thankful, etc. – until she had her first interaction with another person. Then, it all went downhill. The people are the hard part!

In this blog series, I will be focusing on some of the lessons I have learned – and continue to learn – about applying the Christian faith as we interact with the flawed people around us.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling with a heart on her head. Courtesy Bitmoji.]