Almost four years since we arrived, Jordan still doesn’t quite feel like home. Right before we left to come back to the US for the summer, it was finally feeling like it. I could feel roots growing deeper and a sense of hope about living there.
But over the past few weeks since arriving in the US, I have noticed deep sadness every time I think about going back. It isn’t that I want to stay in the US but somehow I have found myself at different times wishing we didn’t have to return. Our first season in Jordan was marked by deep loss and unrelenting stress. It ended in horrific tragedy. I have felt a darkness there that at best, hurts my guts; at worst, it threatens my hope. And while we are no longer in that first season, the memory of it is still raw & fresh. Some of the loss is still there – painfully close.
While places are significant and it matters to learn to love where we live, what is comforting me these days is this- I am returning to a Person more than a place.
Though there is so much beauty in Jordan, it is not its beauty that beckons me back. It is my Savior. The deep love that flows within the Trinity has enveloped me and become my home. The safety of his nearness, the surety of his nurture, the generosity of his tenderness, the intimacy of his friendship & his profound delight – it is all so real, no matter where I am.
All of the Christian life is traveling to God with God. So, hiding in the warmth of the embrace of my Father, I face with Christ the grief about going back, instead of shoving it down in shame. The Spirit whispers, “We’ll hold you as you cry. We’ll be your safe place right here, right now. We are with you for as long as you need – from Eternity to Eternity, in fact.”
No need for tying this up in a beautiful bow. This is glory too- to know it is okay that Jordan (or any other place, really) doesn’t quite feel like home. Because my Savior does.
I often say that union with Christ is saving my life. But I don’t often share how. On this post I finally get to this.
After decades of experiencing religious OCD, anxiety and fear in my relationship with the Lord, I came to a significant turning point. If you remember, when I went through deep postpartum darkness I was really shaken because I thought it had revealed who I really was- a fearful, half crazy woman who had a really weak faith.
But union with Christ gave me a gift that seemed too good to be true. I am afraid this will all sound too heady, too “doctriny” and I will somehow lose you, my reader, especially if you struggle with religious OCD or have experienced spiritual oppression in some form. But, friend, there is nothing more liberating for people in this struggle than to begin to grasp what oneness with Christ really means for us. I say ‘begin to grasp’ because union with Christ is such an astounding mystery that we will never plumb its depths.
Union with Christ refers to the reality that we are joined to Christ in such a way that we are one with Him and He is one with us. When we put our trust in Christ, everything that was ours became his, and everything that was his became ours. Before we put our faith in Christ, we had been in Adam and the life of the flesh defined everything about us. But when we believed, we began a new life in Christ that redefined our whole lives (2 Corinthians 5: 17). Through union with Christ we now share Christ’s holiness, righteousness, sonship and every other spiritual blessing you can think of (Eph. 1).
Union with Christ is the paradigm in which all the New Testament writers lived and wrote and thought about the Christian life. Through it, the believer shares in all that Christ is and all that He does. It is what Paul refers to when, over and over again, he describes the life of the believer as happening in Christ and through him (Eph. 1 and Col. 3:1-4). Our oneness with the Risen Christ explains why when Christ died, we who put our faith in him, also died with him; and why, when he rose, we too rose with him as completely new people (Rom. 6). It is a reality that “extends from eternity to eternity.”
A crucial distinction that union with Christ highlighted for me was that in Christ my very being had changed. I had a completely new nature – Christ’s nature. Up to that point I functionally believed I had been given a new identity but at my very core I still remained the same Aylin somehow. But union with Christ doesn’t just give us a new identity. Christ gives us a completely new being – that looks just like Christ. That was the part that was too to be true.
Paul often addresses churches in light of their new nature. He sees the sin and deficiencies of the churches in the New Testament and yet addresses them as saints, as light, as holy (Eph. 5:1-10). His main framework, even as he challenges them toward holiness, is their new nature. He mainly talks to them as beloved children in Christ, not as sinners.
When I began to understand this reality, it reframed all of life for me. It helped me see that whatever had come out during that time of postpartum darkness wasn’t who I really was. My real, lasting self was already like Christ. I had spent so many years looking in the mirror – deeply introspective, trying to fix myself and never feeling confident of my efforts. I couldn’t enjoy a deep abiding sense of God’s nearness because I was too focused on my efforts to please him…and was never quite sure if I had done enough.
But union with Christ startled me by telling me when I looked at the mirror, Christ looked back. The real lasting me had been created in his image which meant the real me already looked like him! Over time, I realized that my deep introspection was an obsession with the life of my old self, with the flesh that had already been put to death. All that I was in Adam was left at the grave. Anxious, fearful, selfish Aylin died with Christ (Rom. 6:6). A new trusting, courageous Aylin rose with him and the life that she now lives in the flesh she lives only by faith in the Son (Gal. 2:20).
Even when I don’t feel peace, I now differentiate between my experience in the here and now and my lasting reality. When I give in to fearful thoughts, for example, this doesn’t change anything about the new nature Christ has given me. My reality in Christ does not depend on how well I trust my Father. Those fearful thoughts just go to show that the seen/temporal side of me is still catching up with the unseen/lasting side of me. Union with Christ is sharpening my faith eyes so that that which is unseen is far more real to me than anything else.
I can honestly face the ways in which I fall short and fail, and still rest, because in my oneness with Christ, my Father is always for me, in the exact way the Father is always for the Son. I am not as good as my last victory. No, I have something better! By faith, I am as good as Christ’s complete obedience (Romans 15: 14). This isn’t wishful thinking. It is true and has been true since Christ saved me as a young child. I just hadn’t consciously taken hold of it.
As I began to grasp that I am in Christ and that He is in me, I began to see I didn’t just have the power of the gospel at my disposal, but the very life of Christ in me. I had life -LIFE! -not through obeying the law but through Christ. This is why union with Christ is saving my life – because every time I am tempted to give into an anxious or shame-filled spirituality, the Spirit reminds me, “Christ is your life, your only life.”
I have been on this journey for a few years now, learning to breathe in the safety of my Father and to live as one with Jesus. The nearness of my Father is truly my good.
Hidden in Christ, I am tasting a freedom and joy that perfectionism could never give me. I am learning to differentiate its voice from the voice of the Spirit. Perfectionism drives me to obsess over questions like, “have I prayed long enough today? did I meditate on the Word enough? did I say the right thing?” Perfectionism is driven by the functional belief that my safety with God depends on how well I perform. And yet, it fails to deliver that nearness. Perfectionism is actually the voice of the flesh, trying to motivate my old self by shame. It wants me to trust my efforts to get close to a god that is not really my God. But the voice of the Spirit reminds me I don’t have to work so hard to get close to God. It reminds me, “you are safe, the Father is tenderly holding you in his lap, Christ is strong enough for you right now in all the ways you are weak.” I am hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3: 1-4). Always. Even when my enjoyment of my Father is interrupted because of my sin, He remains near.
While I can’t say that the battle with religious OCD is gone or that I never struggle with intrusive, obsessive thoughts regarding standing with my Father or that doubts never come, I can say that the fight looks very different. The Spirit helps me recognize when I am reverting to thinking that my current struggle determines who I am and who I am becoming. In other words, I am learning to differentiate between my struggles and my Spirit-led self. I am retraining my heart to come in faith to my Father as his beloved daughter in whom he is always well pleased. When I start feeling despair over my weaknesses and limitations, the Lord reminds me that ALL of Christ’s resources are mine by faith, and so I truly can do all things through Him who gives me strength (Phil. 3: 14). Christ is a shield around me – I could never be safer than I am in him. He is my glory and the lifter of my head when it hangs down in self-condemnation (Psalm 3).
My obsession now is more and more with Christ himself. Beholding his glory in his word is a consistent place of hope and deepening joy. Whenever I find myself starting to navel gaze, the Spirit gently scoops my face and reminds me to look at the Son. Every single time, I find him willing and able to rescue me.
His perfection is not an oppressive standard but the source of my hope. United to the perfect one, what is true of the risen Christ, is true of me. This place of freedom, my friend, “is the only starting point.”
Soaking in the goodness of the gospel, I started dating my husband. He too had grown up in a similar spiritual community to mine, and he too, through other ways, had been awakened to the gospel in his mid-twenties. Together we rejoiced in all the ways the gospel was changing everything for us.
Still, I experienced a lot of anxiety in our long distance relationship. We got married and I relocated to the US to live with him (I had been in my home country up till that point). We joined a new church, and I brought a lot of the old patterns I had had before, into this church relationship. I pursued being in good relationship with spiritual authority and I think in the stress of transition and change, some of my religious OCD flared up. Intense fear and anxiety dominated a lot of my relationships with leadership. I read a lot about humility and fear of man. In many ways, the entry gate for all my problems at the time, was sin. I was struggling, and I didn’t even consider whether this was the result of suffering and brokenness. Mostly, I only saw my sin. And I did everything to put off the pride that led me to experience so much fear of man. And while it may have been part of the problem, now I see it went deeper.
Among other things, I had a dysfunctional view of spiritual authority, I don’t know that I could name it that way then, but it was functionally true. In some ways, especially related to spiritual authority I very much lived as if my good standing with them depended on me.
At that time, my first daughter was born and intrusive thoughts regarding her safety started to become the norm. At first they were more white noise than anything. I tolerated them and didn’t identify how much they were ruling me. Five months after she was born, many things collided to create a perfect storm: postpartum/breastfeeding hormones, walking with a friend through a terrible tragedy, and an infection and the antibiotics that followed. I began to feel darkness engulfing me and hopelessness was very near.
Intrusive thoughts became loud and persistant. I was terrified of them. If you have ever experienced post-partum darkness you might know what I mean. More than anything, I longed to keep my daughter safe and it seemed like thoughts with ways she might get hurt, (sometimes even me being the cause of her pain) kept coming like a flood. I started to fear I was going crazy. Literally. I feared one day Child Protective Services would come and deem me unfit to care for my daughter and take her away.
At that time, I also started questioning my salvation. I hadn’t struggled with assurance for about 19 years, and yet, here I was at 30 years old, so rattled in my faith. Up to this point I had still had confidence in my ability to live as a believer. But this struggle? Man, it undid me.
I started having panic attacks almost every night right as I was about to fall asleep. I would wake up with my heart racing and have this awful sense of doom. At one point, a well meaning mentor told me she thought I was depressed. And that sent me to a spin of more anxiety and shame. I was ashamed of what I thought was my weak faith.
It all seemed to be revealing who I really was. I despaired of myself.
The Lord sustained me in so many ways during that season through my husband, friends who cared for me and my baby, and meals from sisters in the church. The Word was my lifeline. And while I realized I was too weak to fight – I could hide behind Christ and let him fight for me.
Psalm 3 was a special comfort to me then. He was my shield and the lifter of my head. I would later understand why that resonated so much with me.
Eventually, the storm subsided. One day, I woke up and the panic I had felt almost every day for three months, before I even opened my eyes, was gone. The struggle had lifted.
But I was really shaken. Where could I find strength to live with joy and confidence? What would I do with all that I thought this fight had revealed about who I really was?
I believe that this profound post partum darkness and all it entailed was the gateway for me to experience a life-saving reality that I desperately needed to begin to grasp. It was mine already, I just didn’t know it. My warrior was intent on rescuing me and I was about to discover just how complete and mind-blowing his rescue was.
It has been 15 years since the Lord started me on this journey of knowing his nearness and consistent rescue when fear runs amok, and anxiety attempts to overwhelm.
I really don’t want to downplay the role that therapists and counselors have in helping with mental health disorders like OCD or religious OCD (I have received so much help from them). Medication, too, can be a saving grace because the more entrenched some of these behaviors are (they are often survival techniques), the more enfleshed in the brain they become. My story, though, highlights how much I needed the good news of who my Father is for me in Christ.
I don’t think I realized how spiritually oppressive it was to live on the treadmill of religious OCD (I didn’t even know it had a name!). Perfectionism is an abusive task master. It is painful to be have so many intrusive thoughts and to always wonder how your standing with the Lord is. It is nerve racking to live as if it mostly depends on you. I like how Mike Emlet describes on this talk how, for some people, there is this sense that “you are only as good as your last good deed.”
When we functionally live experiencing God as detached, distant or punitive, we really have no good place to stand. God made our brains to always scan for cues of safety, and in an ironic sad twist, my persistent sense was that God wasn’t emotionally safe for me.
Our Father hates oppression and his heart is for the oppressed. I am so thankful the Spirit groaned deep inside me where I didn’t have words or understanding to fully name my distress and real need (Romans 8: 26). But the Spirit knew. He translated my anguish, and my Father – guys, my Father came to my rescue. He wasn’t angry at me, nor did he shame me for not knowing his heart better or trusting him more. No, my Father was angry at the brokenness of this world. Like a mighty warrior he came for the one he had committed himself to. He fought for me, and surrounded me like a shield. His humility and his gentleness toward my story, toward my brain, and toward my soul have been a balm (Psalm 18:35).
The first thing he did was to introduce me in my mid 20’s to very intentional gospel centered writing. Through it I discovered how much the gospel was good news for me as a Christian. You see, up to that point I didn’t quite know how much I needed the gospel as a believer. I thought the gospel was a truth that new Christians believed and that we passionately shared with others so that they too could be saved. I didn’t know that I never really moved on from the gospel to “deeper things of God.”
I had huge law/gospel confusion – often living as if I was still under the covenant of the law. I knew I would experience blessing when I obeyed but if I displeased my Father, I was really scared of the consequences. As Sinclair Ferguson describes in his book, The Whole Christ, I experienced the law as an abusive husband who is constantly making demands that I can’t meet, and threatening to punish when I failed. I feared the hammer of the law – thinking God himself wielded it.
I still remember the day I realized that constant self condemnation wasn’t a sign of sound spirituality. I had become so used to thinking that the way to draw near to the Lord was to mainly come to him from my identity as a sinner, unworthy, always falling short. It was as if I thought that the only way I could be near to God (as a believer) and accepted by him was if I constantly agreed with him about how weak and sinful I was.
So the first step in my Father’s deliverance was to open my eyes to what the gospel meant for me as a Christian; it truly rocked my world. He awakened me to the gift of Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension – and how it changed my life hour by hour, day to day. I was relieved to know the Lord knew that even as a believer I couldn’t live rightly for him and that is why he had given me the gospel as his power for all of life. His love for me in Christ became more real, and a place of consistent rest. I didn’t have to wonder all the time how much I pleased him, because through Christ’s death and resurrection, I had the Father’s delight. There was no more punishment for me to fear from him because Christ had taken it all on the cross.
I started making intentional connections from the gospel to my daily life. I wrestled with questions like, how do Christ’s life, death, resurrection and ascension make a difference when I struggle with chronic pain and fatigue; or, when I don’t know how to deal with my student’s difficult behavior; or, when I long so much for a husband and it seems like my prayers were going unanswered? The cycle of guilt and condemnation I had been in for most of my life started to break more and more as I rehearsed the gospel day after day, night after night. I started to see the sufficiency of Christ’s rescue for me.
The Lord took my obsession with my performance and slowly, slowly started to retrain me so that my obsession was with Christ’s performance on my behalf.
I had lived as if God’s nearness depended on me. That had brought intense fear and anxiety in my life. Awakened to the gospel, the Spirit of the Lord started to clear my eyes so that my blurry vision could get clearer, and I could see how my Father had been moving toward me all along. His nearness was my good – He was objectively, resoundingly for me (Psalm 56:9). Not because of how good I was or how able to obey, or how much I confessed my sin and weakness…but because of the grace of Christ.
I often say that my story is like the blind man who Jesus cured slowly. This gospel awakening was the first step in my healing journey. I needed something else and my Father, intent in rescuing me, wouldn’t stop there. There was more coming.
In my childhood and teen years I developed a disorder that involves persistent or sticky thoughts about morality and religiosity. It is driven by intense anxiety and fear in our relationship with God and moves us to engage in compulsive behaviors to calm the anxiety. This is called scrupulosity or religious OCD.
It is a suffocating way to live. I would go to sleep every night for years going over my day – thinking through what I had said and done, trying to figure out who I needed to apologize to or what I needed to clarify to family and friends the next day. I didn’t feel safe in relationships with others unless I knew we were okay, and they didn’t think I had failed in some way or sinned against them.
My compulsive behaviors were: evaluating myself at the end of the day, apologizing and clarifying, seeking reassurance, confessing sin and struggle, and spending time in the word and prayer filled with self-deprecation and shame. I would feel anxiety about my anxiety because Christ came to give us an abundant life and somehow I didn’t know how to do that.
I truly enjoyed a lot of what I did in my spiritual community – the Lord had worked a genuine love for his word and for his people. But there was an underlying restlessness and even oppressiveness in the way I experienced my relationship with the Lord. How can you have peace if you are never quite sure if you are pleasing the Lord and your over-scrupulous conscience condemns you constantly? You don’t know how to have peace with God and so somehow spiritual authority becomes a sort of mediator between you and God… if they are happy with you, God must be happy. If they are not, God must not be either. I didn’t realize how often I was living under their conscience, not my own.
Even though I knew God is good and holy, I didn’t truly enjoy safety with him. I was in a constant quest to grow, to be better, to be godly. Some friends would joke that I was a “saint.” Others would call me “pastor Aylin.” I think they thought I was close to God but I don’t think they realized how much anxiety drove my desire to be close to God, and how often, if I was really honest (with myself and others), God felt impersonal.
I often gave in to self righteousness because, functionally, my standing with God and others depended on myself and my ability to be in relationship with them. I felt superior to others because of how much Reformed theology I knew, and for how much I upheld truth and valued sound doctrine. A pastor I respected once told me I was one of the most serious minded young people he knew – I loved that. My confidence came in large part from what spiritual authority and others I respected, thought about me. I was mature, older people trusted me – what more could I want?
I didn’t quite understand, though, at what cost it all came and how I was on a constant treadmill trying to be enough. Shame (“I am not good enough”) and anxiety (“my good standing with God and people depend on me”) were deeply ingrained. They were well worn paths I traveled on the road to what I thought was Christ-likeness.
Our Father hates oppression and his heart is for the oppressed. He heard my cries and the groans of the Spirit within me, and he came to my rescue. In my next post, I will share more about how he has been doing that.
…in knowing all the ways you’ve sinned against your kids & failed in parenting?
…in the sting of the brokenness you feel in motherhood that seems to be affirmed by the lack of appreciation from your kids?
…in the insecurity that comes from remembering childhood hurt & wanting tangible affirmation that you are doing better than your parents?
We long for, and sometimes even demand, special gifts, lavish expressions of love that make us feel seen, and words of affirmation because they help cover guilt over real sin and sense of shame that we are not good enough.
If that is you today, if the sting of fresh tears is in your eyes, can I sit by you & take your hand?
I know maybe you want to pull away. Shame wants us to hide and disconnect. We hide from ourselves, failing to recognize what we truly feel. We disconnect from others: we can’t tell them what we are wrestling through… and functionally, it feels God is shaming us too. So we don’t talk to him either about the shame we feel in motherhood.
So we just shove it all down. And we hope appreciation & gifts will help cover our shame, will soothe our fears, will make us feel that God is close.
But dear fellow mama. Your Father ::is:: close. He sees you fighting off shame in all forms and he is giving you His Son. In Christ, he has covered your shame in ways that appreciation, gifts and lavish expressions from your husband and kids can never ultimately help. Christ died and rose again not only to take away any real guilt but also to deal with our shame. The shame of our sin and the shame of sin committed against us. The shame of failed expectations that we put on ourselves or that others have piled on us.
He is not covering shame in the way we cover something up but it is still there under the covers. He covers our shame by melting away all unworthiness & dishonor, giving us the worth and honor of his Son. Christ is good for us and in us. This is not wishful thinking: Christ has truly made us good and faithful (Romans 15: 14; Ephesians 1:1).
When we feel overwhelmed by our true failures or when we wonder if our family thinks we are good enough mothers, our Father comes close and soothingly reminds us that our accomplishments or failures are not the source of our honor. His Son is.
So whether or not you get that special gift you hoped for, breakfast in bed or a meal out with your family- your shame is already covered, my friend. Breathe in a little deeper. Receive your Father’s lavish generosity and delight. Feel him holding you today, and hear his voice whispering in your ear, “Well done, good and faithful one. I love you, I see you and I know.”
It has been a season where I have been tasting paradox so tangibly. Feeling displaced and yet also rooted more deeply in Christ. Being shaken in my faith just to see how, in Christ, I am always standing in grace. Being really limited by circumstances but also freed up to have margin for the things that matter most. Having my heart so tender yet also discovering the strength of Christ. Grieving for the Church yet tasting its unwavering hope. Feeling lost and confused in one level, and yet so wisely guided by our Shepherd on another.
As I have been living in this dance of loss and gain, joy and sorrow, grief and hope, the Lord has kept my attention on…birds. Yes, friend. On birds! It started last summer, really. I could almost hear him saying, “Pay attention to the birds.”
On every early morning run, and when I watched our kids play in the playground at the park, on 24 glorious hours away by myself, and when I went on walks by the lake, birds kept my attention.
There was one bird, in particular, that made me literally laugh out loud. It loved to stand under a fountain in a man-made lake for hours, getting terribly wet. I would walk past it back and forth during a conference, and no matter what time of day, I would find the bird just sitting there, getting a shower. It felt like a joke between me and God.
And I kept asking him, “What do you want me to see? What are you teaching me?” My mind went to passages like Matthew 6: 26, about how my Heavenly Father cares for the birds, and how that means he is caring for me too. But I think he wanted me to see more.
One day, as I sat outside, and watched how playfully they flew, and as I listened to them sing, I was struck by how birds were just being birds. In all their “birdiness”, they dug for worms, sang, danced in flight, followed their instinct, stayed in flocks, and hunted for food.
They glorified God and made me glad with their beauty and their song (and their love for showers) but they were not really performing for me or anyone else. They were just doing what they were made for.
It made me think about how I live. And how stuck I can get on wanting to be productive. And while productivity is not a bad thing, it is not an end in itself. Our Father doesn’t want us stuck in performance and goal-achieving mode because when setting and achieving goals is what drives us, we easily miss our purpose.
A few months ago a friend asked my husband and I, “what if the chief end of man is to be loved by God as Father? What if that is how we glorify God? Knowing all that God is for us in Christ and enjoying that manner of love?” (1 John 3:1) I think my friend is on to something.
Think about Christ for a minute. He really delighted in doing God’s will (Psalm 40: 8). But where did that delight come from? His Father’s love and delight in him. The gospels record 2 instances where the Father proclaimed his love for the son. Right before Christ begun his ministry, before he had accomplished anything publicly – the father publicly declared his approval, commitment, and love for the Son (Matthew 3:17). And then at the mount of transfiguration, as the disciples watched Jesus with both Moses and Elijah (representing the law and the prophets), the Father affirmed his love for the Son and charged them to listen to his beloved Son (Matthew 17: 5). In the gospel of John, if you listen carefully to Jesus’ words, he repeats often how much the Father loves him – it was the guiding conviction of his life.
Having that deep belief in the Father’s love for him, how did Jesus live? He embraced his humanity and did what his Father gave him all authority to do: walked on dusty roads, ate bread, laughed with his friends, touched the sick, slept on a boat, was hungry, taught his disciples, rebuked the pharisees, carried a heavy cross, cried bloody tears, and finally entrusted his spirit in the Father’s hands. Jesus lived an incredibly earthly, human life because he had a perspective on it that went beyond what human eyes could see. And friend – in his oneness with us – Jesus has given us that same deep belief. It is the Spirit’s ministry to us to feed that conviction – that our Abba Father is for us.
Knowing our Father’s delight in us is what begets our delight in him. And it is that life – the believing, delighting life – that truly glorifies him. It is that belief in his goodness and personal love for us that shows to the world and those in unseen places the beauty of his holiness. It is only that belief that enables us to delight in his purpose for our lives season after season.
So back to the birds. They are so well cared for by God and because of that, they live out their birdiness every day….giving glory to their Creator.
What about you and I, friend? We are of far more value than the birds. We, unlike them, know our Father cares for us. This frees us up to be humans – embodied, limited, deeply flawed and terribly needy in beautifully “gospelly” ways. We are dusty yet tethered to unseen, glorious places because of Christ (Hebrews 6: 19-20).
And so we can live out our “humannes” just like the birds live out their “birdiness” and be confident we are showing the glory of our Father to the world around us. We are spreading his joy in all our human activities – baking bread, playing piano, going on nature walks with our kids, laughing at their jokes, picking up dirty socks, sorting laundry, reading a poem, drinking tea, getting interrupted, gazing at the sunset – when we do it all as beloved children.
So this is my encouragement to you (and to myself) – by faith in Christ, receive your Father’s delight and care. Open your hands to take hold of his unstoppable love for you in Jesus. The love that is holding you fast. He cares for all you are, not just your to-do list.
And then, embraced by Him, embrace your humanity – be creative, limited, needy, funny, ridiculous. Forgive, ask for forgiveness, laugh, mourn, rest, repent, write thank-you cards, say no to some things and yes to others, lament, ponder, sing. Live in the tension of very real loss and very real hope. Do those things that God wired YOU to do and that when you do them, you feel his deep joy welling up inside and overflowing.
By looking at the birds, I think the Lord was teaching me to enjoy being a wildly loved human who lives in Jesus and through him. Tethered to him and to the truer reality he bought for me with his life, death, resurrection, I can face my neediness with full honesty and still dance.
I wrote this article back in 2015 on another blog I had. Reposting it today.
Recently I have been poignantly reminded of the brokenness of this world. I have read stories that have made my mother’s heart tremble and weep. The story about a mom of four young children who is about to die from cancer (and is finishing so well!). Or the one about a father who had already lost a daughter and then died to brain cancer, leaving his wife a widow with two young sons.
Trials show up in our lives in so many ways: from the tragedy of losing a child to having to cancel our long awaited (and needed!) vacation due to illness; from the child diagnosed with an autoimmune disease to ongoing chronic pain; from relational problems to distance from our loved ones. What do we do with these reminders that this world is not what it should be?
When I was pregnant with my kids I experienced Braxton Hicks contractions that were preparing me for labor. During active labor, contractions intensified into sharp pain that left me breathless. Those contractions reminded me of Romans 8: 18-23:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with
the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the
revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly,
but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the
firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”
As I read this passage, several things struck me. The idea of eager longing and hope is repeated three times. Paul speaks with the certainty of knowing that glory will be revealed. We are hoping for something that we know is coming and not just that we desire.
Yet, it also struck me that even as we know that there is future glory stored for us, we still groan. All of creation is groaning. The certainty of glory doesn’t take away our suffering but it does impact how we groan. We are groaning knowing that our suffering will end, believing that something wonderful beyond belief is coming: we will inherit God!
Life on this side of Eternity is a rhythm of contractions. All forms of suffering are contractions getting us closer to starting our real life, to being fully adopted as sons of God. Each contraction is preparing us for glory. Each loss, pain, death-a contraction; weakness, temptation, sickness–a contraction; disappointment, unanswered prayer, conflict- a contraction. Waves of contraction after contraction, but because we are His each one is preparing for us a glory we cannot fathom.
When Paul says that we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons it applies to both men and women. In Hebrew society sons were the ones with a right to be heirs. But in the new covenant era, if you are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8: 1), you have received the Spirit of adoption as SON and you are heir of God and fellow heir with Christ. Stop for a moment. Please think about this. You, sister, will inherit everything Christ will inherit from God!
Your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col. 3: 4). Being united with Jesus is being united with his life, death, burial and resurrection. Yet suffering is the current experience of our fellowship with him now. It is part of the birth pains that creation is going through now as it waits for the sons of God to be revealed.
That is why as I thought about the brokenness of this world in the situations mentioned above, I was reminded the believer is actually being born through suffering. Each form of suffering that the Lord allows into our lives is a contraction that will bring us to life. Even as we are dying in this world, we are being born.
This gives so much hope to our suffering! All suffering we experience in this world has a purpose. It is not wasted. Just as you cannot stop labor when it has started, our suffering is pushing us forward, and it is inevitably, without question or doubt, bringing forth our life.
If you have been around this blog for a while you may know that I have a laser focus on union with Christ. It has become the framework in which I live. Lately, I have been pondering the beauty, goodness and truth of this reality. On this blog post I want to explore why union with Christ is a good thing. Why does it matter? How does it meet us in the nitty gritty of life? Is it just a doctrine that is amazing but somewhat irrelevant? How is it good for us today?
Why is union with Christ a gift when you recognize consistent and habitual patterns of sin in your life that seem to define who you are? How does union with Christ help you when you are, for the first time, naming the trauma you experienced as a child and start seeing how much your soul has been shaped by shame? Why does union with Christ matter after the 10th sleepless night in a row with a sick child, and now you have a full day ahead of you to care for that child and your other kids?
Think about your day to day life. Typically, what drives you or enables you to do what you do? Often, it is one of these three: your sense of identity, your felt safety or your sense of agency. You are able to live out your humanity more fully when you have confidence in who you are, when you feel safe in what you are about to do, or when you have a sense that you are free and able to do something.
When God first created man, he made him with innocence, power and honor. He made man and woman into his own likeness. He blessed them with goodness, gave them power over the earth and crowned them with honor (Psalm 8).
Enabled by innocence, power and honor, man was able to live in close intimacy with the triune God, live without shame together with his wife, and exercise dominion over creation.
But when man chose to disobey God, he lost it all. He was now riddled with guilt, shame and fear. He couldn’t live the way God intended. He had no way of reflecting the glory of God fully (Genesis 3 cf Rom. 3:23).
In Adam, we are all born with an utter inability to be humans the way God intended. And so when Christ came to rescue us, he came to rescue us completely. Not only did he come to forgive us from our sins and make us right with God, but he came to redeem humanity in a complete way. Which means, my friend, that he came to redeem us in the very nitty gritty of life.
When Christ died, we died too. All that we had in Adam died. And when we rose, we rose as completely and truly new. And everything we now have we have in Christ.
At the cross and upon his resurrection he took our shame and gave us his honor, took our guilt and gave us his righteousness and took our fear and gave us his life and supernatural ability to to live. He embraced us within himself, giving us the safest place from where we can live our lives.
That my friend, is the goodness of union with Christ. In giving us himself the Lord Jesus has given us theway, the newway, to be human. Like the Newsboys song says,
“There’s a new way to be human It’s nothing we’ve ever been There’s a new way to be human It’s spreading under my skin There’s a new way to be human Where divinity blends With a new way to be human New way to be human
You’re throwing your love across my impossible space You’ve created me Take me out of me into…
A new way to be human You’re the only way to be human”
My friend, Christ is the only way for us to be humans the way we are meant to be.
Please read on with me as I explore a little more each one of these gifts that Christ gives us through the goodness of his oneness with us:
The Goodness of Identity
Sometimes I hear Christians talk about how God sees us. “God sees you as righteous.” But friend, it isn’t just that he sees us as righteous. God is not a mom that first sees her newborn and sees it as beautiful even though the baby is all wrinkly. It isn’t that he sees what he wants to see. He sees what is true and real about us. Jesus completely changed us. He changed our very being. In him, we truly are saints, we are light, we are free (Ephesians 4: 24, 5: 8).
That is amazing good news for us. When we are really struggling with anger, or fear, or lust – we start feeling that is who we are: angry people, fearful people, lustful people. And a huge reason why we struggle to break free of those patterns of sin or to grow into Christ-likeness is because we think we will be Christ-like when we no longer continually give into fear, or anger or lust. But Paul’s logic in the New Testament is the opposite. “You are like Christ already,” he says. “Your nature has already been changed into his. You are no longer slaves. Be who you are.” We can only put to death the sin we trust Christ crucified.
Being who we are is not wishful thinking. It is the life of faith. Faith in who Christ is, faith in what he has done to make us like himself. I went to a bible study in Arabic recently and noticed that in Arabic Ephesians 4: 24 says we are to put on the new human that has been created into God’s image. I love that. We are new humans in Christ.
The Goodness of Agency
Are there moments, days, or seasons when you feel trapped? Paralyzed? Manipulated? Oppressed? With no real sense of true agency? Christ is the only one who gives us footing to live when the waves around us crash on us and threaten to drown us.
I am way too familiar with those moments. Recently it feels like wave after wave comes – paralyzing doubts, uncertainty, illness. I have felt lost, and have struggled to know the way forward.
Or, do you feel like there are well worn paths in your brain in the way you respond to specific circumstances? There sometimes are neural pathways that have formed over time in response to traumatic experiences, or to hurt that has been done against us. We have automatic, visceral responses to certain cues. Sometimes it feels as if they hijack our ability to respond in healthy, godly ways to stressful circumstances. Friend, even for this our union with our Savior is a huge gift.
Through the help of the word, prayer, counselors and therapists and maybe even medication, new pathways can form. The brain can be shaped and grow. We can develop new muscle memory. But we don’t do that in a vacuum. We draw on the life of Christ for that. Trusting in his ability to live through us, new neural pathways can form as we begin to consciously live in the safety of our “in Christness” in God. We draw on his life and his capacity. Because he has faith, trusts his Father, loves sacrificially, chooses holiness, we can too!
You may have heard someone say or even said yourself when faced with very real limitations, “I am only human.” And while it is true we are human – limited, weak, vulnerable – in Christ we are not just human. As Christians that live by faith, we are humans that live in and through the supernatural Christ.
A caveat: Even in Christ, we are still human, just as he is. So to know our limitations and honor them is a very Christ-like thing to do. He grew tired. He slept. He ate. He said no. And he did all that in dependence on the Father. We are meant to live out our humanity in and through Christ – limited, yes but also as partakers of his divine nature, owning all things that pertain to life and godliness in Christ (2 Peter 1). All of Christ’s resources are ours by faith. His wisdom, his humility, his love, his grace. By faith, let’s tap into all of his riches, which he gladly has given us.
Another caveat: There may be very real circumstances that make us feel trapped and oppressed. If you are experiencing abuse of any kind – emotional, physical, spiritual, sexual – your sense of agency has probably been attacked over and over again. In a twisted way, safety has come at the expense of your autonomy and independence. My friend – if this is you, please read Psalms 9 & 10. Your Father knows the hopes of the helpless. He surely hears their cries and comforts them. He brings justice to the orphans and the oppressed. This is true of all the oppressed – whether they are in Christ or not. The Lord has great compassion and is deeply stirred to deliver from abuse and oppression. But for us in Christ we have even more hope in the midst of abuse. We have a Father, and his great help to us is his very own son, who saves & enables us and takes away our helplessness. Through his strength, we have every confidence to seek protection, to walk away from oppression, to find safe people, and speak up about the abuse.
The Goodness of Honor
Oh friend. Do you struggle with feeling worthless? Unclean? Humiliated? Not good enough?
And I don’t mean, if you have ever felt that? But rather, do you often struggle with that sense of shame that somehow never seems to go away completely? Does it seem to color every experience you go through? Do you feel naked, or exposed somehow? Does self protection shape your decisions and actions?
Shame reinforces our negative view of self. If you have experienced abuse, it is likely that at a very deep level you feel unclean or unlovable. And it leads you to hide or at least hide what feels shameful. Maybe even reading this paragraph is triggering a faster heart rate, or a sense of sadness because you recognize yourself in this. Oh how I pray the Spirit comes to you right now and comforts you with the goodness of your Savior for this very struggle.
Dear friend, if you struggle with shame consistently, it is likely you have suffered a lot. You may be carrying on your body the hurt of sin done against you. Maybe you learned to cope with that suffering in ways that are not mindful of God. And so there is a sense of guilt over real sin you have committed. Which adds to the sense of shame of not only being less but also not good enough.
My sister – your Savior took all the shame. He really did. He saw you and me, friend. He saw our hurt, he heard our cries, he pitied our filth and he took us in. Not only did he pour out all his love on us, and completely cleaned us up…he really gave us his very being. He gave us his honor. When we died, all our guilt and shame died with him. It stayed buried with him. That is the very real unseen reality that he bought for us. And when he rose, we rose up with him….as royalty. He sat us down with himself in the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6). That is where you are today.
Because you are completely new in Christ, he takes not only the guilt of sin you have committed, but also the shame of it and the shame of sin committed against you. And then he gives you all that is completely true about him, so that it is true about you. We don’t have to hide behind all kind of fig leaves to pretend we are honorable or to feel worthy. We really are honorable through Christ. Through Christ we are able to have complete confidence, not only before our Father but also before others.
The Goodness of Safety
Lastly, my friend – union with Christ means we are hidden with him in God (Colossians 3: 1-4). We can’t ever be safer than what we already are in Him. You are at home with Christ in God. That at-homeness really changes everything. It enables you to love sacrificially, to repent, to endure, to have joy in the midst of suffering, to cast off guilt and scoff at shame, and, to have unfettered hope in the face of limitations and difficulty.
You have a Father, friend. A father who delights in you, who sits you on his lap, who invites you to weep on his chest. He knows our frame and so he gave us His Son. So that through his Son we may have sure safety, capacity, a new identity and his honor to be the humans he made us to be. He really is our life. Our only life.
May you and I live in the goodness of our oneness with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.