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.]

 

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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.]

 

Overcoming Despair: God is Bigger

mountain_full_perspective

Continued from here.

Please know that I do not take the subject of despair lightly. I am not a proponent of minimizing pain or the human condition and balk at the advice to compare my situation to someone else’s so I can gain perspective that my situation isn’t that bad. Sometimes it is “that bad,” and your situation is the one people compare against to feel better about their own.

Being repeatedly raped as a child was “that bad.” My father’s sudden, unexpected death was “that bad.” Being unable to conceive a child was “that bad.” The Bible does not shy away from “that bad” life situations, nor does it minimize the depth of the pain. Instead, the Bible assures us that God is bigger. Jesus said,

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” ~ John 16:33

Worldly trouble is to be expected. It does not mean that God has forgotten you. Instead, it means that God is going to show you that He is bigger. I have lived this truth, so I know firsthand that it is so. God was bigger than my childhood abuse, grief, and infertility. He was able to heal my pain and bring me joy and peace. He was even able to heal a post-traumatic disorder condition that experts said was incurable. I am not minimizing your problem: I am encouraging you to recognize that your problem is dwarfed by the size of your God.

If you are ensnared in despair, you have zoomed your lens onto your problems so that they take up the entire screen of your focus. It’s time to zoom out so your focus includes not only your problems but also your God. As you do this, you will gain perspective: not that your problem is not big but that your God is even bigger … much bigger! Shifting your focus back onto God is the key to removing the shackles of despair and restoring you to a place of joy and peace.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing in front of a large cube with “Problem” written on it and a huge triangle behind them with “God” on it. The huge triangle makes Grace and the “problem” cube appear small. Courtesy Bitmoji and Grace Daniels.]

Overcoming Despair: Praising and Worshiping God

dancingContinued from here.

One of the most powerful ways to restore hope when you are mired in despair is actively choosing to engage in praise & worship, especially when you do not feel like it. If you let your feelings of despair drive your choices, you will spiral deeper and deeper into the emotional abyss. The fastest way to change direction is to make a conscious choice to praise and worship God. This works because it takes your focus off your yourself and places it squarely onto God.

While praise & worship do not require music, that is my preferred way of doing this. I am musical by nature, so combining praise & worship with music enables me to shift my focus from myself to God more easily. I also find it helps to engage my entire body in the process, such as by singing praise & worship songs to God while standing rather than sitting and raising my hands upward.

If you are not musically inclined, you can accomplish the same thing without music, such as by reading the Psalms aloud. For example, read Psalm 42 and Psalm 43 aloud while standing to engage your body. The Psalms provide a wonderful blend of expressing the human condition while redirecting the focus back to God.

No matter what is going on in your life, you have something to be grateful for: your relationship with God, which can never be taken away from you. You are not walking through this painful season alone: God is always with you. Whatever you are feeling and experiencing will come to an end, just as the seasons end. The one constant that never ends is your relationship with God. He is walking alongside you through this challenging time and even carrying you, when needed. Shift your focus from yourself to God, and the despair will transform into hope.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace dancing, surrounded by musical notes and lightning bolts. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Overcoming Despair: Doing Your Part

forgive_youContinued from here.

While God is perfectly capable of healing your deepest pain, He isn’t going to do His part until you do yours. You cannot passively pray for God to wave a magic wand and heal your emotional pain while you make no changes whatsoever. As I shared in my last blog entry, holding your thoughts captive to Christ is a critical part of this. In addition, you need to do whatever God commands in the Bible to invite God’s healing in.

The first step is to pray. Pour out your pain to God, just as David did throughout the Psalms. Be 100% honest with God about how you are feeling: He already knows! The point isn’t to get God up to speed. God knows that you need an outlet for pouring out your emotional pain, and prayer is the best way to do it. Pouring out the poison leaves room in your soul to invite the healing in.

Ask God to show you what you need to do to make changes in your life so God will then do His part to heal you. For a large number of people, including myself, the obstacle is unforgiveness. People (including me in the past) want God to magically heal their emotional pain, but they are unwilling to do their part by forgiving those who have wronged them.

Here’s the secret: forgiveness is the antibiotic that God uses to heal your emotional pain. Like an antibiotic, this is not an instant fix. In fact, the pain might get worse when you first start focusing on forgiving the person who wronged you. However, as you take your ”antibiotics” daily by praying for the person who wronged you and replace your bitter thoughts with thanksgiving for the many ways God has blessed you, God will gradually heal the pain. In my case, my well of bitterness ran so deep that I had to do this day after day, week after week, and month after month for over a year

Whatever God tells you to do in the Bible, you need to do, even if it makes no logical sense. Don’t worry about how you feel: your feelings will eventually align with your choices. The greater the sacrifice to obey God, the greater the blessing you will eventually receive. Trust that God knows what He is doing. Do your part, and then He will do His.

Continued here.

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

Overcoming Despair: Holding Your Thoughts Captive to Christ

hmmmmContinued from here.

Whenever you find yourself sinking into despair, press the “pause” button in your head and analyze what you have been thinking about. What you feel is a byproduct of what you think. This is why Paul told us to hold every thought captive to Christ. In other words, you need to take ownership for your thoughts and choose to align them with God’s Word. If you will do this, you will fight your way out of despair. Although this is not easy to do, it really is that simple.

If you will let him, the Enemy is happy to push all sorts of negative thoughts on you that do not align with God’s Word. Here were some of mine: “I am fundamentally unlovable. I’m a lost cause. Nobody cares about me. I’m too broken to be healed.” Most people are passive about this and simply allow those negative thoughts to fill their heads. They then turn to alcohol, drugs, busyness, self-injury, or other negative coping strategies to briefly escape those negative feelings for a while.

You must choose whether to believe those negative thoughts or God’s Word. Whichever you choose to align your thoughts with will drive your feelings and resulting behavior. If you are not intentional about your thoughts, your default setting with be agreeing with lies, which will then become your reality. So, even though God promises you a life filled with joy and peace, you will live a life filled with despair, not because God has not made joy and peace available to you but because you are choosing to believe Satan over God.

The key to holding your thoughts captive to Christ is meditating on Scripture. Whenever you have a negative thought, replace it with Scripture. For example, if you have the thought that you are fundamentally unlovable, replace it with meditating on Jer. 31:3. If you are thinking that you are a “lost cause,” meditate on Ezek. 36:26. Whenever you believe nobody cares about you, meditate on Rom. 5:8.

God’s Word is truth, and anything in contradiction is a lie. Whenever you are sinking into the depths of despair, you are choosing to believe lies over truth. Challenge your negative thoughts by researching what God has to say about the topic. If they don’t align, change your thoughts to align with God’s Word. This will heal you.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with a “thought bubble” around her saying, “Hmmmm.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Overcoming Despair

sad_puppy.pngOne of the most difficult parts of my Christian journey has been overcoming despair. The more you have suffered in your life, the easier it can be to believe that you are a “lost cause:” that there is no hope for you. That is a lie the Enemy will use to lure you out of God’s joy and peace and back into emotional bondage. God is our anchor of hope, always pulling us back to Him if we will chose to believe His truth over the Enemy’s lies.

I had many legitimate reasons to sink into despair. I was severely abused for years as a child and struggled with intense self-loathing as a result. I did not love myself, so I did not trust anyone else’s love for me. I had an eating disorder, panic attacks, and nightly nightmares. The urge to die was “background noise” in my head for decades: I longed to die and be released from the daily struggle of living with the aftermath of the abuse.

My despair grew worse after entering therapy because I finally faced the severity of the abuse I had suffered. The intensity of my emotional pain grew so strong that even the eating disorder was no longer enough to manage it, so I turned to self-injury. I would bang my head against a pillow repeatedly (I wanted a wall) as hard as I could, to the point I gave myself whiplash at times.

People who have never self-injured are often perplexed by why someone would do it. It actually makes more sense than you might think: self-injury provides immediate relief. When the waves of pain and despair threatened to drown me, self-injuring was like flipping a switch that immediately shut it all down. In the moment, I did not feel the physical pain because I was so focused on the immediate release from the emotional pain. However, after the crisis passed, the emotional pain would return on top of the physical pain from having self-injured. This was a miserable way to live.

I have not self-injured in years because God healed the emotional pain driving the behavior. Unlike self-injury, which is a temporary fix, God’s healing runs deep and removes the pain instead of temporarily masking it. As long as you have God, you have hope. You do not have to live your life miserable if you will invite God in to heal you and cooperate with Him by doing what He tells you to do.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace and a dog looking very sad. Courtesy Bitmoji.]