Thursday, February 19, 2015

When "Dying To Yourself" Doesn't Mean What You Think It Means....

Jesus didn't come to make bad people good, He came to make dead people alive.
-Jefferson Bethke

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 
-Galatians 2:20

I first heard the term dying to yourself in Bible College. It was a Church of Christ bible college with a rule book the size of the dictionary, and the two were often referenced in conjunction with each other. In my view, dying to self began to mean something along the lines of, God wants you to stop having fun, to forget about those dreams, and give up anything you want in light of following the rules.

Sound familiar?

Now, not everyone went to bible college, and even less have probably had dying to self so misinterpreted by religion, but I want to challenge even the most amiable of views of this phrase because I think--in some cases I know--that we're skewing this important concept into something it was never meant to be.

If you've been a Christian longer than five minutes, you've probably heard some form of dying to self. Other variations include, crucifying your flesh, putting of the old man, and my favorite taking up your cross. These all insinuate death in some form or fashion, and let's be honest, it doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun. And many of us, myself included, have taken this to also mean death to our dreams, desires, and hopes, in light of pursuing "what God wants for us."

But what if we're dying to the wrong thing?

2014 will go down in history as the hardest year of my life thus far (which admittedly, I'm only 30, but still.) So many things were lost, and the pain of that year still stings me now. Through all the trials, I kept asking God for direction, and every time I did, I'd hear some form of this:
Let death take it's toll.
Now, that's not exactly what I was expecting to hear, nor did it sound comforting, so I asked for clarification. It was one of my precious prayer intercessors that answered this for me and shifted my view of the phrase "dying to self" forever.

She began to explain a vision she'd seen of a swimmer who was drowning. They were thrashing about, trying their best to keep afloat, striving with all their might not to let the waves take them under---but as we know---one can only do that for so long. Eventually the swimmer succumbed to the fact that they couldn't keep doggy paddling and gave in to the waves, but something miraculous happened! The swimmer began to float! And the waves that they were so afraid of took them home to safety.

She said firmly, sometimes you've got to give up your right to survive, in order to thrive.

I sat stunned.

I'd been fighting to survive for a long time. I'd been striving since I was a little girl to survive my famly, my circumstances.....I'd been doggy paddling to stay afloat for as long as I could remember, and it hadn't exactly been working for me. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, then I was insane.

Finally, I began to understand what that phrase finally meant. God didn't want me to die to my dreams and desires. Death had to come to my skewed lenses, my drive to keep paddling myself. I had to give up my right to survive the way I had been--with unhealthy relational patterns, coping mechanisms, and self protection.

I had to die to doing and seeing things my way. And in God's upside down Kingdom, life always come after death.

Paddling to stay afloat was exhausting and I was burning out (and taking everyone else down with me). God was showing me a new way to live. He was helping me come alive.

Religion skews the concept of dying to self, twisting those words just enough from the truth to be believable. And alot of Christians have believed the deception that dying to self means dying to the very things God created in you and who you are. The enemy is sneaky like that.

But God says that what He created was and is good, that you are made with those hopes, dreams, and desires. What has to die, is our self-sufficiency, the belief that we can paddle our way to safety ourselves, when the truth is if we'll just lie back, the waves of God's love will take us home. 

Sometimes we have to give up our right to survive, in order to thrive.

Sometimes we have to die, in order to really live.

What about you? How do you view dying to self? What has it meant to you? What does it mean to you now?

Friday, February 21, 2014

How to receive vulnerability...

Vulnerability is trending right now, thanks to Brene Brown and a few other courageous writers who have championed the subject. It's made it's way through the blogosphere, into board rooms, and even (and thankfully) into the church. Everyone's talking about it, and I love it!

But what nobody's talking about is what to do when someone actually is vulnerable. It's just as foreign for us to be vulnerable, as it is to receive it. We have a nasty habit, especially in the church, of trying to fix people, or give silver linings to hard issues and deep pain. I know this well, because I do it too. I catch myself often trying to pull others up, shouldering burdens that aren't mine and taking on perspectives that can leave me jaded and compassion fatigued.

So what does it look like to respond to vulnerability in a healthy, appropriate, and most importantly, loving way?

1. Thank them. It's hard to be open, to risk being vulnerable. When someone opens their chest and shows you their heart, they feel as if they are risking everything. "I'm so honored you shared with that with me" can go a long way in alleviating the anxiety and panic that comes with vulnerability.
2. Empathize, don't sympathize. Empathy is the ability to enter into someone's story and sit there awhile without feeling the need to fix, silver line, or give advice. We'd do well to cultivate this in our churches. Empathy relieves the person receiving from having all the answers. For a powerful video on how to empathize, click here!  Romans 12:15 Rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn..
3. Resist the urge to fix. (See number 2)  Fixing assumes there is something wrong with the person, and it can create an environment of shame. Many times when we have the urge to fix, it has more to do with our anxiety, than theirs. It's hard to see people in pain---it creates anxiety in us if we aren't sure how to process it. But if we rescue people out of pain, we're doing them and ourselves a disservice. Pain and processing pain, are natural and healthy parts of the Christian walk. Just look at David's Psalms. If they teach us anything, it's that God doesn't mind our anger, sadness, anxiety, depression, or despair. 
4. Validate. It's common in the Christian world to feel like if you are angry, sad, mad, or any other negative emotion, you are somehow failing or dishonoring God. But that's simply not true, and the Bible actually has multiple passages to help support the fact that he doesn't expect us to keep a happy face all the time. Unfortunately scripture can be manipulated or taken out of context so that the end result sounds something like "only think about good things." Remember we must take scripture in context with both the surrounding passages, as well as in the over arching themes of the entire text.  Something like "I can understand how you'd feel that way..." relieves the guilt and shame that can come with expressing the more negative emotions. 
5. Me too. These are the two most powerful words in the English Language. If someone is sharing, and you've felt or feel the same, tell them. It's nice to know we're not alone. (CAUTION: If someone is hurting, this is not the time to rehash your story. "Me too" is more than sufficient for this situation.)
6. Don't Speak. No, I'm not talking about the No Doubt song. Sometimes the best thing you can do is...well...nothing. Not every vulnerable encounter needs a response. Sometimes the best thing we can do is listen. Really listen. Most people aren't looking for advice or guidance---they are looking for someone who can handle their story. 

Most importantly, let's remember that it's not about you--your hang ups, your anxiety over seeing someone in pain, or your opinion of what they should do next. This is not the time for silver linings, advice, or any phrase that begins with "at least..." This is a time to hold another's heart carefully. View it as an honor, and treat the information you receive accordingly.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Honesty in the most unlikely of places....

We were out in the cold waiting to eat at the newest "hipster" place in Deep Ellum, Tenoshi Ramen, when he approached us. Small and shaky, a man sauntered towered us, his hands fumbling his oversized jacket.

"Ma''am. I just got out of drug rehab and I'm real messed up. I need money for the night shelter and some's so cold out tonight."

He held out his hands where a few coins and a dollar bill sat.

"I have this much, I only need four dollars.."

Only. The word struck me like a ton of bricks.

At least he was honest. He didn't have to mention drug rehab, nor did he have to tell us he only needed four dollars. That was barely enough to buy a happy meal, much less any kind of drugs or alcohol. He wasn't shisting us, he was simply asking for his most basic needs to be met. 

Tears welled up and a sigh of relief escaped my lips. His honesty was like healing balm to my cynical heart. No fronts, no masks, no gimmicks. If I'd had a million dollars I would've handed it over, because it was worth the price of his real-ness.

I wish more people talked like that, I thought to myself.

Because let's be real, there aren't a whole lot of places that are safe to say we're struggling. People lay out their struggles in my office all the time, bracing for the lecture or disapproving look they are sure will follow. Like Pavlov's dogs, they've been trained to brace themselves for a certain outcome, and it's this, that brace for the disapproval, that I wish would change.

What if instead we could all be transparent about our struggles? What if we stopped giving people easy answers to their problems and simply "mourned with those who mourned?"

What if we stopped trying to "pull people out" of their muck and instead climbed down there with them and shared our own?

It only takes one person.  

One person to drop the act to let others know it's safe, and we could create a ripple effect, a revolution of sorts.

We could make it safe to be honest.

This is my dream--for the world, and more importantly for the church. But I can't change it by writing this post. I can only change it by doing it myself, and by hoping that you'll join me in taking off the mask.

As the man in my story put it, "I'm real messed up."

Ain't that the truth.