It is no secret that the past few weeks have been difficult. Moving forward seems to require looking back sometimes, even going back. Unresolved memories of my abduction surfaced recently, and I have been required to revisit old places. It feels like touring an old battleground or an ancient ruin. There was blood shed to be sure, and there was ruin. There was a great fight, and something died there. Good and evil were at work, and a life was at stake. I’m not, however, visiting the site of another’s battle or ruin; I’m visiting mine. I have, therefore, felt vulnerable, shaky, and a little needy as I have set forth on the healing journey once again.
I do not like to feel vulnerable and needy. I do have some trusted allies; nonetheless, I prefer self-reliance even though that opposes my own creed and approach to community and friendship. How can I process what I am going through with a trusted friend if I lock myself in my house? So, I ventured forth in spite of my own fears, and I had two distinct experiences. My first experience thwarted me by only reaffirming my fears of vulnerability. I allowed myself to be transparent with someone and came away feeling distinctly “broken”. I cannot think of another word to describe my deep feelings of shame and regret. Nothing was said overtly, but sometimes it isn’t what is said–it is what is not said. It’s body language, a small criticism, an attitude, a look, a lack of empathy, a sigh. At the end of the day, I regretted leaving the house. I remember driving home, and I was talking to myself as I made my way home. Actually, I was talking to God. I said, “You know, I’m sick of feeling this way. Broken. Damaged. I’m so tired of being “that woman”. That woman with the problem.” It isn’t often that God talks back to me. Oh, I’m a big believer in God speaking to us through nature, other people, even bumper stickers, but when you hear that still, small voice so distinctly answer back in your mind (and you know undoubtedly that it’s not you answering back), it is very important to stop talking and listen. This is what I heard–“You are not broken. You are awesomely and wonderfully made. I made you. How could you break?”
Let me back up here for a moment. I took a hiatus from the American church experience about five years ago for myriad reasons. I left the church, but I did not leave my faith behind. At the time of my exit, the use of the word “broken” was very popular among Christian Evangelicals. To speak Christianese fluently, one had to use “broken” often. It might look something like this: “Oh God, we want to be broken before you.” or “We bring our brokenness to you as an offering.” or “We are broken and weary people.” You get the idea. At times it seemed that the more “broken” a person felt, the holier and more sanctified he was. What does it mean to be “broken”? Google.com has searched many online dictionaries for me, and this is a list of definitions for the adjective “broken”:
Obviously, there are a few definitions that apply to the spiritual life of a human being. The church at large does not necessarily have it wrong. We certainly want to bring crushing grief, financial ruin, spiritual lowliness, infirmities, broken promises, and physical brokenness to God. We do not, however, want to wallow or label ourselves or others as “broken”. When I said I felt “broken”, however, I meant the last definition on the list. After all my life experiences, sometimes I just feel like I don’t work anymore. Like I’m kaput. What’s more, sometimes I have a feeling that other people think the same thing. I feel this way when well-meaning people say things like, “How can you have been through so much and still be so normal?” To me, they are really saying, “You must be really screwed-up underneath your veneer of normalcy.” Should I just have ‘Out of Order” tattooed on my forehead and call it a day? Can a person just go through too much? So, when I heard that still, small voice tell me that I am awesomely and wonderfully made, I was forced to reconsider my own opinions.
Psalm 139:14 tells us that we are awesomely and wonderfully made. I did not just fabricate that. As I meditated on this new idea that I was not a broken person, but I was, on the contrary, a whole and working person, I began to wonder what that might mean. This is what I’ve come up with, and I’m going to use images to explain it.
Look at the image above. You can probably discern the subject. Can you find the two bees? Can you see the complexity of patterns? Can you discern color? I have filtered this image, removed color, altered exposure, saturation, temperature, and contrast. I have faded the image on the edges. This image is a metaphor for how we view ourselves. Our life experiences act as filters for how we view ourselves. What might a stinging remark from your mother before prom night alter in your self-image? What about an absent father? What about a rape or an incestuous relationship? Think about my abduction experience? Think about any kind of sexual violence or trauma? Could they remove all color from your self-image leaving you with only a black and white picture of yourself? It’s very possible. If we have been exposed to terrible events or events that left us feeling out of control and terrible about ourselves, then how might we “look” to ourselves? Overexposed, colorless, shadowed, and faded? It explains why I feel broken sometimes. Even being in a fallen world has activated our filters. We are surrounded by all forms of death, destruction, poverty, illness, and suffering. If we are able to live in the world without deactivating our empathy, then we will no doubt have learned to view the world through filters. We must if we are to survive. It is often too painful otherwise.
This is the same image filtered differently. I’ve filtered out the color red. This image looks very different from the other. The bees stand out, but the petals do not. The complexity of the seeds have become more visible, and the play of the shadows is more interesting. Your life with more color, more pattern, less filtering. Some trauma has been resolved. Forgiveness has been at work here. Forward progress. There is more balance between light and dark. Less extremes. More vulnerability means more safety. Better boundaries and more peace.
This is the image in full color with very little filtering. I took this photograph yesterday evening in my backyard. This is the flower of the Russian Mammoth Sunflower. Look at the complexity of the seeds in the fruiting body and their colors. Do you see all the details and the shadows in the petals? Do you see how the light reflects off the bees’ wings? These details were impossible to see in the other images due to the effects of the filters. It does not mean that these details were not there. The nature of the flower existed. The bees were doing their work. They existed. This flower is standing majestically at about 12 feet in my backyard at this very moment tracking the sun as it moves across the sky, but you could not know this because of how I filtered the two previous images. You knew that you were looking at a flower. You did not know the color. You may not have known the genus or species. You noted the bees, but you could not notice their gossamer wings or their black and yellow thoraces. You only knew what was allowed to pass through the filters.
In the unseen or invisible world, the eternal world which will never pass away but surrounds us yet, in God’s heart and mind, we are much like this sunflower. We exist in full color in rich complexity. Remember–Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it. (Psalm 139:14) We are not broken, out of order, lowly, violated, emotionally bankrupt, incomplete, separated, or crushed. Our journey in the physical or visible world is to learn to bring forth, if you will, bit by bit the invisible reality of who we really are into the visible. Essentially, step by step, we learn to see ourselves in full color and complexity rather than black and white, overexposed, and shadowy because that is who we really are regardless of what has happened to us or how we feel about ourselves. This process takes time, the help from very trustworthy allies, and an unwavering belief that you are so much more that what you currently see. You are strong, beautiful, powerful, gifted, majestic, capable, talented, complex, and so valuable.
At the end of the famous 1 Corinthians 13 there is this verse:
For now we are looking in a mirror that gives only a dim (blurred) reflection [of reality as in a riddle or enigma], but then [when perfection comes] we shall see in reality and face to face! Now I know in part (imperfectly), but then I shall know and understand fully and clearly, even in the same manner as I have been fully and clearly known and understood [by God].
This verse comes at the end of a chapter entirely devoted to the nature of God’s love. That is the perspective you must take when you read 1 Corinthians 13. This chapter is often read at weddings because we want to be able to love each other with the love that is described in this beloved chapter of the New Testament. What is profound is that God Himself loves us like this. This chapter could end in any number of ways, but it comes to a close with the announcement that what we see is only a blurry and dim reflection, a cracked and tarnished image, of what exists in the perfect reality. What’s more, as we are today, sometimes lost in the haze of an imperfect self-image often rooted in deep psychic pain, we are “fully and clearly known and understood by God”. This statement was made after an entire chapter devoted to the nature of God’s ability to love us. Human beings are never asked to do something which God Himself does not. This chapter is all about the nature of God’s love towards us. So, you see, we may not see ourselves clearly, but God does, and He loves us completely, entirely, thoroughly regardless of everything. Regardless. And, He understands you. You, my friend, are understood. That means that you are not alone.
That is what I learned last week. When I feel the temptation to feel “broken” or ashamed, I must think again. This is not an easy choice, but the question comes down to ‘who am I going to believe?’ Am I going to believe my father, my mother, my perpetrator, or even my wounded self? Well, I’m not going to believe my father, my mother, or my perpetrator. Hell, no. And, my wounded self is…well, wounded.
It’s something worth pondering as we continue to heal.
Very beautifully written. Thank you.
I had a dream last night-IN COLOR! that I had an evil typewriter which constantly typed mean untruths out to me. I took it outside and prayed for God to make it stop (I usually am not so direct) and rain came down upon it, washed the words off the paper and silenced the type writer. Then a brilliant rainbow appeared in the sky as the sun came out.
I had not read your posting until this morning. Your NON-Truths are being washed away as well and you will see the rainbow after these clouds dissipate.
That feeling of being out of order is something I’m very familiar with. The knowledge that I am complete in Christ and wonderfully made often sits in my intellect and does nothing for the stories my wounded soul tells me. The strongest is perhaps the voice of my grandmother snarling at me that I’m never going to amount to anything. In moments of vulnerability or unrest, or even when I’m feeling on top of my game, her voice sneaks out and steals my joy and chips away at my healing with the sharpest of picks.
You are not “that woman”. You are my sister and friend. You are amazing.
Thank you for your willingness to share. I am so familiar with your experience. That lie–“You are never going to amount to anything”–is so cruel and so unoriginal at the same time because so many people have been told the exact same thing! My stepmother told me that particular lie many times as did my father. It is blatantly untrue. We know that, but how can we internalize that? This is part of our journeys, and I do believe that this journey is easier and much more enjoyable when it’s shared. You are a gorgeous woman. Incredibly gifted with intelligence, wit, humor, discernment, ambition, and so much more. Look how high you’ve climbed!
Oh the lies we have believed and taken into ourselves! We have made them luxurious beds and cooked them delicious meals, putting the welcome mat out for them while we slam the door on the compliments, recognition of success and inner worth, and unconditional love standing on our doorstep.
I’m grateful that at times someone else has said one of those lies to me and it jolted me out of my passivity enough to light a fire. To take another step forward. Suddenly I would find myself angry at the lie, realizing that I don’t want to live with it anymore. It was making me hide my face from the world, bow my head in shame, cover up my true feelings.
When the lie sounded ridiculous and nasty and evil coming out of someone else’s mouth, I could no longer pretend it wasn’t there. And I could no longer tolerate it. I determined to get it out of my house. “Hell, no!” is absolutely right.
I have had quite a few of these revelations over the years. When people have said out loud my greatest fears:
“You cannot be depressed and be a Christian.”
“You will never be well. You’re sick because you want to be sick.”
“You wouldn’t have all of these problems if you were putting Jesus at the center.”
“You will never be successful because you will always be too sad and scared.”
“You need a nose job.”
“You don’t deserve that good job, husband, friends, etc.”
One weekend about 5 years ago, I wrote every lie I believed about myself into a scrapbook in big red and black markers. I took it to a new therapist and showed it to her. I told her that I didn’t want to believe these lies any more. And for a long time I was afraid to even open the book and look at the lies, because there were pages and pages of them. A couple of years of hard work later, I opened the book and realized that nearly every single one of the lies had been purged from my life.
I was free. My debilitating depression had lifted. I am now living in full, blazing, glorious, awe-inspiring color.
Persevere. Your beauty is radiant–I and others can already see it. Can’t you see it too? Your life in full color awaits.
It takes process to internalize truth, doesn’t it? I don’t know why we are able to discern what is truth from deception one day and live under the shadow of a lie the next. How many times have I believed that I was the broken one, the f*cked up one, the damaged one? How is it now that I do not? Stand in the rain long enough and your skin is bound to get wet even if you are wearing a raincoat. I think that long term exposure to the truth must be essential because these lies which somehow became so foundational to our self-image were pouring into us at a steady rate. It is incredibly encouraging that you have discovered authenticity, freedom, and joy. I am grateful that you have shared, and it only spurs me on. We will make it, yes?!
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