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.]

 

Staying Out of the Hell Well

no_thanksContinued from here.

Now that I have experienced life outside of a hell well, I refuse to go back in. However, I remain vulnerable to falling into a pit and the temptation to start digging again. Thus, I remain vigilant about engaging in spiritual disciples that protect me from falling into pits and turning them into hell wells. When I do fall in, these spiritual disciplines help me climb back out much faster. You can read about these specific spiritual disciplines in more detail here.

I spend the first hour of my day with God – no exceptions. I don’t care if I am traveling around the world or sick as a dog: I still start my day with God. Being sick is my Achilles’ heel and when I am most tempted to sleep through my quiet time with God. However, I do it, anyhow – not because I want to but because I am committed. It’s simply not optional. There are days when I am very sick that I might spend the entire hour sobbing about how miserable I feel, but I’m still spending that time with God. This is when I am most vulnerable to falling into a pit, so my commitment to spend my first hour with God ensures that He joins me in the pit. Spending focused time with God is my best insurance against turning a fall into a pit into another hell-well-digging experience.

Another important discipline is expressing gratitude, especially when I am feeling ungrateful. Each complaint digs another shovelful of dirt. The antidote is expressing gratitude, which invites shovelfuls of dirt back in. Even when I am sick and feeling sorry for myself, I am always grateful for the bathroom, so that’s where I start. I thank God for indoor plumbing, running water, hot showers, toilet paper, and anything else I can think of. I also thank God that I do not have to walk outdoors in my illness to use an outhouse. While I know this is still focused on myself (on my own comfort), it’s a bridge to recognizing how blessed I am, even when I do not feel blessed.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding up her hand and saying, “No thanks.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Believing God will Work this Pain for Good

amazingContinued from here.

No matter what you are going through in your life … no matter how painful it is … no matter how broken you are … God is BIGGER! I know this because I have seen what He can do. The same God who was able to heal me from the suicidal urges, self-injury, eating disorder, anxiety disorder, insomnia, and nightmares is the same God who is able to heal you. I had a mental health professional tell me that I needed to be realistic about my goals for therapy, and a book written by someone who endured a similar level of child abuse and brokenness advised me to accept my limitations: to become comfortable in an emotional wheelchair. However, God had other plans! God has no limits. If He can heal me from an “incurable” mental health disorder, then He can heal you as well.

While I have my moments (as everyone does), I am generally not an anxious person anymore. I experience much joy and peace in my life. I am no longer anger or bitter toward anyone. I am generally patient with other people. I feel excited, passionate, and even grateful for my life. My history has not changed, but my perspective has. While I would never wish child abuse on anyone, I am grateful for mine – not because the child abuse was good but because God is good. The backdrop of the child abuse has helped me see God’s amazing love and power in ways that most people don’t experience to the degree that I have, simply because few people have been broken to the degree that I was.

If you haven’t been deeply broken, thank God for sparing you the pain. If you have, hear me as someone who has been in a similar place: God is bigger. If God can healed my shattered heart, then He can heal yours. If God can lead me to a place of gratitude where I once felt nothing but bitterness, He can do the same for you. There is NOTHING so big that it overshadows God – He is simply that amazing!

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hand on her head and mouth agape under the word, “Amazing!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Greater Dependence upon God

ice_creamContinued from here.

One of the challenges of being human is the deep-seated desire for independence and control. The reality is that we don’t control a thing – even the air that we breathe is provided by God in His goodness. The sooner we learn dependence upon God, the sooner we get to experience the many blessings that come from staying connected to the Vine.

The child abuse warped my brain to such a degree that I am incapable of making a healthy decision apart from God. During the decades I tried making my own decisions and living by what I saw as “right,” I repeatedly walked myself into one emotional pit after another. I used to be so angry about this because I blamed the child abuse for this: “if only I had not been abused, then X would not be happening.”

Once I accepted the reality that I do not have even one emotionally healthy bone in my body, I stopped making decisions based upon what looked “right” to me and, instead, depended upon God to show me the right way. Since I have been doing that, so much in my life has turned around for the better. It has become a habit to pray for God’s wisdom and discernment, even in the little things that shouldn’t be a big deal to do on my own. I have no illusions about my ability to make good decisions. Either I depend fully on God to guide me, or I know I’ll find myself in another emotional pit.

This was a painful lesson to learn, but considering that the goal for every Christian is to learn to connect the Vine and depend upon God to lead us through life, the child abuse has actually been a blessing. If I could get by even half the time on my own strength, I would be much less likely to connect with God and seek His wisdom in making decisions. Because of the child abuse, whether or not to seek God’s wisdom is very “black and white” for me: either I follow God’s leading, or I will find myself in another emotional pit. There’s no gray in this area of life for me, which has empowered me to walk more faithfully with God.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace’s head inside a scoop of ice cream that has fallen off the cone. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Greater Empathy for Hurting People

hugsContinued from here.

Another reason I am grateful for the ongoing and severe childhood abuse I suffered is that my experiences taught me empathy for those who are in severe emotional pain. Miserable people are not fun to be around because they are incredibly self-absorbed. I know because I was one. The natural response to pain is to lick your wounds. I was severely wounded, so my focus was on myself for decades, which wasn’t much fun for the people around me. All I saw was my pain while all they saw was my self-absorption. Most people eventually removed themselves from my life, and this only exacerbated the pain. It reinforced my deep-seated belief that I was fundamentally unlovable and that I needed to hide the “real me” because I was so repulsive.

I understand miserable people in a way that most people don’t because I was once one of them. This gives me compassion for them far beyond what most people are willing or able to tolerate because I see past the self-absorption into the pain. I know what it feels like to live in a prison of pain, and my empathy for those who are still there drives me toward them while others are being driven away.

Another reason many people avoid those who are hurting is that they simply don’t know what to say to them. People seem to think they are responsible for saying the “right” thing, and since they don’t know what that is, they avoid being around those who are hurting the most. Because I have been the hurting person, I know that there are no “magic words” that are going to take the pain away. What hurting people need is for someone to listen, not to talk, and to reassure them that they are loved, which is communicated better by presence than by words. We must resist the urge to try to “fix” people and, instead, gently lead them to God, who is the only one with the power to heal their brokenness.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding out her arms and asking, “Hugs?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Greater Experience of God’s Healing Power

epicContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, I am grateful for the ongoing and severe childhood abuse I suffered for many years. No, I am not a masochist. Nothing that has happened to me in my life affected me more profoundly than the child abuse except for one – experiencing God’s healing power! God turned out to be bigger – so much bigger – than my child abuse. Because my child abuse was soooo bad and soooo big, I have a much greater appreciation of the size of our God than most people do because of the child abuse.

People talk about having a broken heart, and you can see how, in time, God might be able to knit the two parts back together. However, my heart was not broken – it was shattered into thousands of tiny pieces. I saw no possible way that anyone – even God – could knit that mess back together because there wasn’t much left to work with. I don’t know how God did it, but He gave me a new heart. It took a lot of time and a lot of tears, but He somehow took the shattered pieces and made something beautiful out of it as only He can do.

That leads me to my first reason for being thankful for the child abuse: only someone who has been as broken as I have gets to experience this degree of God’s healing power. Someone who breaks a bone can marvel over the restoration of the restored bone. Someone else who shatters a bone with multiple fractures is even more grateful and awed by complete restoration of that bone. My bone was run through a wood chipper with nothing but slivers of bone fragments scattered all over the yard, and yet I stand before you showing you my restored bone. That’s nothing short of a miracle.

Because my bone was run through a wood chipper, I have a perspective that is different from most people. I know that I know that I know that there is N-O-T-H-I-N-G that God cannot restore because I have experienced the height, depth, width, and breadth of that healing power in an area that mental health professionals said was beyond repair. I learned firsthand that God is bigger than A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G that you, I, or anyone else will ever face. Learning this came at a heavy price (ongoing and severe child abuse), but it was worth the price to develop this kind of faith and trust in God that I can now share with others who are hurting and fear they are beyond God’s healing power.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking wide-eyed under the word, “Epic.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Being Thankful for Extremely Painful Circumstances

Televangelist and Christian speaker Joyce Meyer has a particularly power testimony, which you can listen to here:

She shared some of the details of being repeatedly sexually abused (raped) by her father throughout her childhood and youth. At the end of her testimony, she said something that is probably shocking to most people after hearing her testimony:

I cannot explain this to you, so don’t even ask me to, but for years I said of course I wish that I would have never been abused, but God has helped me recover. And about three years ago, I said that of course I wish I wouldn’t have been abused, and God stopped me. He said [to] stop saying that. And then I thought about it, and I know this sounds crazy, but I’m glad it happened.” ~ Joyce Meyer

How on earth can someone who was repeatedly raped say she is glad it happened? The answer is simple – God. I know because I am in the same position as Joyce in that, I, too, was repeatedly raped (NOT by my father – the circumstances of my ongoing and severe child abuse differed from Joyce’s), and I am also thankful that it happened.

In this blog series, I will share some of the reasons why I am now grateful for something as horrendous as child abuse – something that wreaked havoc on my life and caused all sorts of misery, including suicidal urges, self-injury, an eating disorder, panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, and intense self-loathing. The aftereffects of the child abuse tainted every single aspect of my life, including every relationship – with my family, friends, church, coworkers, and especially with God. Like Joyce, I repeatedly wished I had never been abused, but like her, I am now grateful for it. If I could go back in time and change it, I wouldn’t. I’ll explain why in this blog series.

Let’s give Joyce the last word. Here are some of her reasons why she is grateful for the child abuse (from the YouTube video):

You know why? Because I’m a better person now than I ever would have been. I don’t know how to make any sense out of that, but I know that I know that I know that God has received me and he has taken what Satan intended for harm and worked it out for good, and I’m a better person than I would have been . . . I’m stronger. I know God better. I understand people’s pain, and I believe . . . that it’s made me able to reach out to you in your pain and your need and to tell you with all passion: God is alive. He loves you. He’s got a good plan for your life, and don’t you ever doubt that. Don’t ever doubt that can you recover. You’re looking at somebody who did.” ~ Joyce Meyer

To be continued…

[Graphic: Link to YouTube video. Courtesy YouTube.]