My Word Had Something Left to Teach Me

In the last days of 2014, posts about #oneword365 took over my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Everyone seemed to know what they wanted to focus on for 2015. I, on the other hand, was stumped. A few words had come to mind, but nothing with staying power. I wasn't sure why. I thought perhaps it meant I should refrain from choosing a word this time around.

Turns out my word paralysis wasn't about 2015, but 2014. I couldn't move onto my next word because my current word still had something left to teach me.

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I chose be as my word for 2014 because I knew I had a lot to learn about being the true me, not the people-pleasing me. I also understood that the shadow side of my achiever nature meant I sometimes thought my value was based on what I did, not on who I was. I wanted to learn how to fight that.  

That idea sunk into me so fully that when I took a strengths-finder exam in 2014, I received a false result. Achiever has always shown up as a strength or personality trait for me when I take these types of tests, but it was absent this time around. It surprised me at first, until I thought about my response to the test questions. Everytime there was a statement about feeling worth based on what I accomplish, I answered with whatever response was closest to, "No! My worth is not based on what I do but who I am!" 

Interestingly enough, my efforts to lean into being me meant my personality test didn't fully reflect who I was. Pendulums swing from one end to the other before they settle down into a calm center.

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After a year of difficult lessons and even harder choices, the last few days of 2014 were upon me. I was ready to move on, longing to get into the space of new life and growth God has for me next.

But instead, I was sick. Nothing severe. Just a sore throat and tired body, weary from fighting off whatever virus was trying to make its way in.  

It wasn't what I would have chosen. But it turned out to be the perfect classroom for one more lesson from my word. 

To be honest, I'm a little embarrassed to share this as a post about a new lesson learned.  Many of you may read it and think my revelation quite obvious. For other people, and other personality types, this would hardly require reflection. It's just what you do. 

But for me, this was a new epiphany, about myself and about the world.

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While I was feeling sick, my husband was asked me to help with someting around the house. I did it, but only while grumbling and playing out an argument with the imaginary voices in my head.

All I wanted to do was take a nap, and there I was, painting a bathroom wall instead.

Why couldn't I ever be the person who struggled? Why couldn't I just be sick? When would people let me take a break? 

It felt ridiculous to type that last sentence, and I am bewildered that it took me so long to notice the problem as I thought through the sentiment.

My final lesson of how to be was one that has been written on posters and bumper stickers for decades: that I was free to be me. Free to embrace who I am when that means success and when that means failure. Free to be me when it means helping others and when it means taking a break.

No one needs to let me lay down. When my body tells me I need it, I just have to let myself lay down.

Learning to be sometimes means learning to be sick and still be okay

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These first days of 2015 I'm feeling healthier in more ways than one.  


How Authenticity Falls Short

Authenticity is a gigantic buzzword these days. We are all trying to be authentic all the time, and we are all judging everyone else for how well they are doing at it. For some of us, authenticity comes naturally. For others, it is a learned skill, and one that we struggle to put into practice.

It is a worthwhile pursuit. Authenticity holds hands with vulnerability and walks us down the path towards our true selves.

But I wonder if it is enough.

We treat authenticity like we are pirates on a quest for treasure. Like the pursuit of finding it and spending it is ultimate purpose of our personhood.

I am coming to believe that authenticity is only one a portion of our longing. It is not the treasure, but the map. It is the thing that can lead us to what we are really searching for, deep down in the pit of our souls.

Intimacy.

There’s an important distinction between authenticity and intimacy. Authenticity is about me. Intimacy is about us.

authenticity and intimacy
authenticity and intimacy

They are connected, to be sure. True intimacy cannot come without authenticity. But intimacy also requires more than that.

Intimacy asks not only that I trust you with my authentic self, but that I provide space for you to trust me with your authentic self. Which means I will sometimes be the one put my stuff out for you to see, and other times, I will put out empty hands so I can hold onto your offering.

Intimacy requires not only authenticity, but also humility, love, and sacrifice.

Intimacy does not come easily. It is cultivated by energy over a long period of time. It involves failures and frustration as we engage in the messiness of life together.

Yet isn’t intimacy what love looks like? To know and be known? To lay down our lives for each other? To push away fear with compassion? To be truly with one another? To trust and forgive and encourage, over and over and over again?

People will fail us and we will get hurt. The cultivation of intimacy will not be easy. But let’s have the courage to try.

Giving Up... Control

Lent Series ButtonWhen I was in 5th grade, I brought the Chronicles of Narnia series with me on a road trip to Yellowstone National Park. Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Susan, and Eustace were my companions as the South Dakota landscape traveled through my car window, and the sounds of New Kids on the Block traveled into my ears from my Walkman.

I read and reread the series many times in my childhood, adolescence, and even my adulthood. Their bindings are worn and falling apart from the years of keeping me company.

I have been on a journey this year of learning how to BE, my One Word 365. The way this word is embedding itself into my life and soul has been more difficult and more beautiful than I ever imagined. I have searched for metaphors and comparisons to describe it, and have come up short.

Until a friend compared me to Eustace.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Eustace makes a choice that leads to him becoming a dragon. He had a bracelet on at the time, which is too small for his thick dragon arms. The arm ring cuts deep into his skin, and gets more and more painful over time.

Eustace is miserable. He was never meant to be a dragon.

One night, Aslan, the Lion, the Creator and Savior and Lover of Narnia, finds Eustace sitting in his pain. And leads him to a well, a clear and beautiful bath, which he knew could heal him.

But Eustace couldn’t get in the pool until he got his dragon skin off.

He scratched and some scales came off, then he scratched again and a whole later came off, then he scratched again and another fell to the ground. But it was never enough.

Eustace tried and tried and tried, but he couldn’t take off his dragon skin on his own.

If he wanted to become himself again, he needed help.

He needed Aslan.

“I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…

He peeled the beastly stuff right off- just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt- and there it was lying on the grass: only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly looking than the others had been. And there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me- I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on- and threw me into the water.”

This is the picture of the painful grace of my life right now. My heart is sore from the merciful peeling God has been doing to my heart. But the sting is absolutely and completely worth it.

I have always been an achiever. So for years I have been trying hard to be different. Striving to be authentic. Working to be vulnerable.

I know these characteristics are important. And I really, really want them to be true of me.

So I have been scratching and pulling and working to peel back the layers and find my true self underneath.

But the solution isn’t to try harder. The solution is to give up.

I needed to learn to give up control.

Only Aslan has the power to clear the dragon skin from my heart. But it is so so scary, to lay down, back to the ground, in full trust of whatever He needs to do to make that happen.

But I am learning to give up my fear, give up my control, and lean into the trust that my God loves me, my God is with me, and my God is leading me to the wellspring of healing.


Giving Up… is a Lenten Series asking a question: What if we gave up more than external things for Lent? It’s not a belief that we can get rid of our baggage as easily as we can write a blog post. But, it is a belief that admitting those things that keep us from deeper intimacy with Christ is a good start. {Please note, this isn’t in any way meant to be a critique of those giving up something external. Often that is connected to the internal in a powerful way. In my case, though, I realized that the external sacrifice was hindering me from dealing with what was going on below the surface.}