I learned something today. You know how people always say that your perception of God often times is based on your perception of your parents (often, your father)? I never really believed that. I’ve had a pretty broken relationship with both of my parents for most of my life, but my walk with God has grown steadily stronger and stronger. I always figured I was the weird exception to this rule; maybe because I’ve been a believer since I was 6 years old. Maybe because I’ve been walking God for quite some time… But, through that intimacy, God showed me that I am not the exception.
For the past 6 months I’ve been helping with my church’s youth sunday school, which pretty much means sitting in with them and trying to facilitate discussion. And, of course, I’ve been learning like crazy during this “teaching” experience; every week, God convicts/encourages me somehow through our lesson. Recently, we’ve been going through Francis Chan’s “Surrender” series, in which students are challenged to surrender every aspect of their lives to God. This week we watched the last video: Surrender Self. As the video was ending, the narrator asked us a very simple question: What areas of your life are you clinging to? In what aspects of your life are you resisting surrender? Nothing immediately came to mind, and so I prayed that simple sentence: God, where am I not surrendered to you? Is there anything I’m clinging to, any place I’m resisting you? And He answered me. It was a beautiful moment; only a few times in my life have I “heard” God’s voice so clearly. I can’t really describe it, other than to say that if it were any more obvious, I would have heard a spoken voice. Almost instantly after praying that simple prayer, a thought popped into my head, and I knew it was from God. It was so unexpected, so out-of-nowhere, I knew it couldn’t have come from me.
My mind flashed back to multiple experiences these past few weeks, all with the same thought-process. Those spare evenings or spaces of time I’ve had recently, times I knew I spend with God, but chose not to. “I don’t have enough energy,” I’d tell myself. “I just need some down-time. I’ve been going and going and going.” And that may be true; everyone needs down-time, especially over-doers like me. But this morning, the Holy Spirit gave me some insight, His perspective on this situations; that soft, clear voice whispered in my head: Jessi, you aren’t vulnerable with me.
Lightbulb. And then I got it. This is one area where my childhood is affecting my walk with Jesus: vulnerability. I did not grow up in an emotionally safe environment, so I developed a “survival mode” in which I lived for many years: ignore the feelings of injustice, anger and pain I have inside me, and dismiss them by telling myself, “You’re over-reacting”, “This won’t help anything”, or “You need to respect your parents”. Throughout this year, I’ve started to realize that even though I may think I’m not angry anymore, simply dissmissing my hurt feelings does not make the pain, or the root issue, dissappear. The healthy way of dealing with those feelings is to face them, not hide from them. I don’t have to hide anymore. In the past, I suppressed those feelings for fear of them overwhelming me; the situations causing those feelings weren’t bound to change, so I was afraid that if I acknowledged those feelings, I’d be stuck in them, just like I was stuck in my situation. But things are different now, and it’s time to start peeling off that “survival mode”. With the Holy Spirit’s empowering, I’m gonna start cutting those strings and leave the old habits behind.
God showed me my own reasoning in those moments these past few weeks. “For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires.” Hebrews 4:12. My “I don’t have enough energy” was really “I don’t want to put the effort in to fight my natural inclinations and be real with God. I don’t want to take the time and energy to present what’s really worrying me to Him and actually leave it at His feet. I’d much rather continue in my ‘survival mode’ and try to distract myself.” And that dissatisfied feeling I”d have after spending that hour “relaxing” I’d just dismiss by telling myself that I must be tired from working so hard. I now see that I was dissatisfied because I was choosing the easy route instead of the challenging, fullfilling route.
One of my favorite bands, Tenth Avenue North, wrote a song about this same issue:
Father, help me to be vulnerable with You. Help me to fight the good fight, to war with my normal and choose to surrender myself to You. Help me to be honest with You and myself, knowing that You long for me to be real with You. Thank You for speaking with me so clearly. Thank You for calling me deeper into relationship with You. Keep calling me, Lord.
(for the music video, check out The Song in My Head…)