How to Have A Happy Heart

love-tree-1077047-mI’d been at my new editing job for less than a week, and already I’d offended someone. No matter that I’d prayed over every single article, prayed for my attitude, humility, comments and thoughts–still, somehow I’d allowed an author to feel as if her work wasn’t good enough. It was an accident! I want so much to honor the writers I edit.

A brief email. She wasn’t rude, but I could read between the lines. I’d hurt her feelings, maybe overstepped my bounds with the changes I’d made to her article.

It took a few hours, a few emails; finally we seemed to resolve the issue. Surely, I could carry on with my evening–just let it go. But my heart was still stuck in my feet. I hate to let someone down. I hate to hurt someone’s feelings. Back to the computer, I kept reading, kept typing, kept working.

Ding! A new email, but I was hesitant to check it. Bravely, I clicked through to a message from another author. She wrote, “Hi Abby, Rough day? Feel free to do anything you want [when you edit my articles]. (They are His articles-not mine!) Rewrite, edit, change, etc.”

My spirits rose. As I whispered a prayer of thanks. Proverbs 12:25 came to mind, “Anxiety in the heart weighs a man down, but a good word makes him glad.”

Whose heart can you buoy with a good word today?

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Shame’s Sneaky Relatives

Shame: “The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, etc., done by oneself or another:”

That’s what dictionary.com says shame is. And, being the lover of words that I am, I knew that. So, I really didn’t think I had a shame problem. But that was before I knew that Shame has a half-sister and two evil step-daughters.

I first met False Humility, Shame’s sneaky half-sister when I was a young teenager. I’ve always been average—not excellent or super smart. I’m not super athletic, super talented or super funny. I’m just plain-jane average. Cast beneath the spotlight of my brilliant younger sister, I quickly discounted anything positive about myself. She was everything I was and more; everything I did she could do better.

When we were kids, I quit playing softball and became the bat-girl for her team. I quit learning piano and quit the swim team because she did those things better, too. I played the martyr at home, always the one to give in, defer or tap-out.

It kind of looked like humility when I stepped aside and applauded her successes while mumbling something like, “I’m okay, just not awesome.”

Next, I was introduced to Shame’s step-daughter, Pride. She raised her ugly head in the middle of my battle with anorexia. For fourteen years I excelled at starving. No one wanted to compete with me, but I competed with everyone. In my malnourished mind, I “won” every time I was thinner than another girl, every time I turned down food that another person simply couldn’t resist, every time I went for a long run in the rain while others pulled the sheets over their heads and enjoyed the warmth of a cozy bed. I was an excellent anorexic. All the while, shameful thoughts about my body and personal value swam circles in my mind.

Fear arrived shortly after my recovery from anorexia as I began to share my testimony for the glory of God and the encouragement of others. Fear is Shame’s other step-daughter. When I wrote my book, got a publisher and saw it appear on Amazon, Fear started to mock me. No one is going to buy or read this book. You are going to let down your agent, publisher and family. Everyone has had such high expectations of you and believed you could do this—they are going to be so disappointed. 

I felt sluggish and demoralized for several days, muddling through the successive concussions of fear following the publication of my book. But fear forced to me look to the God who loves me, because “perfect love casts out fear.”

One morning, I opened my Bible to Psalm 25. This single chapter has a lot to say about shame in the life of a Christ-follower. As I read, hope and renewed energy flooded through me. Shame has no place in my life and no power over me.

“I trust in thee: let me not be ashamed…no one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame…O keep my soul, and deliver me: let me not be ashamed; for I put my trust in thee.”

The 3 “P’s” of Shame

It all started with shame. I was ashamed of who I was. No, I wasn’t a terrible person and I never endured much of what other women have that evokes shame. But I wasn’t super smart or super pretty or super athletic or super funny. I was simply plain, run-of-the-mill average. And I was ashamed.

For fourteen years, anorexia allowed me to excel at something. No one wanted to compete with me, but I competed with everyone. In my malnourished mind, I “won” every time I was thinner than another girl, every time I turned down food that another person simply couldn’t resist, every time I went for a long run in the rain while others pulled the sheets over their head and enjoyed the warmth of a cozy bed. I was an excellent anorexic.

Finally, I surrendered. I quit trying to make myself into someone I could be proud of—someone with a strong self will, a perfect figure and uncompromising strength. I finally relinquished the my pursuit of “excellence”. But then, shame reared its ugly head again; this time, he had a double-edged sword.

You’re still average—average weight, average strength, normal temptations. Did you just have seconds? You’re pathetic.

I can’t believe how much of your parents’ money you wasted. It’s shameful the emotional toll your behavior took on your sisters and friends. I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian and you couldn’t even summon the faith to get “healthy” in less than 14 years. You’ll always be pathetic.

Henry Cloud says that shame has three characteristics that distinguish it from God’s gentle correcting voice. He says shame is always personal, permanent and pervasive.

I ran the diagnostics on the voice that kept accusing me. You are pathetic. Pretty personal. In 1 Corinthians 6, even as Paul points out the Corinthians’ shortcomings, he also reminds them whose they are. “Do you not know that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit, whom you have from God? You are not your own.” (1 Corinthians 6:19)

Pervasive. It’s shameful the emotional toll your behavior took on your family and friends. I can’t believe you call yourself a Christian. The enemy’s accusation encompassed my whole life, my faith and all of my relationships. However, Colossians 3:3 says, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” If sin and shame pervaded my life before, they do no longer because I have Christ’s life.

Permanent. You’ll always be pathetic. But the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17 “…anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” No sin or mistake is permanent. God holds nothing against me.

Today I walk free of those specific lies, but I know that times will come when I feel ashamed again. But I have learned to recognized the voice of truth and I choose to listen to what my Father says about me: “You have made [me] a little lower than the angels and crowned [me] with glory and honor.” Psalm 8:5

(This was first published at http://www.findingbalance.com)

The One In Whom

At 18-years-old, I stepped onto the sandy, Arizona soil in the driveway of an inpatient treatment center for the second time. Even after numerous counselors and previous inpatient treatment for anorexia, I still struggled with an addiction to exercise and food restriction. “Shipped off” to get well, I felt completely alone, unloved and abandoned by God and my family. My life didn’t appear to be “working out for good”. Circumstances seemed to belie the promises of a good God.

Many years later, my husband walked the sandy soil of Afghanistan, leading a company of infantry soldiers. Back home, I received one of the calls that every family member of a solider dreads. “We lost some.”

Patrick was the commander of Bravo Company 4/23. They had only been in theater a little over two months, when one of their strykers hit an IED (improvised explosive device) killing three men and maiming another. Hell broke loose on earth.

I watched my husband grapple with the agony and guilt of knowing he had been responsible for the men’s lives as their leader in combat. I felt like a mindless mist, moving through the motions of coordinating phone calls to the families, assisting to arrange the memorials and comforting the widows. Nothing looked like what I would expect from a good God. A few people voiced this.

“How can a good God let this happen? If God is in charge and powerful and loves us, why would He let these children lose their fathers?”

I didn’t know then, and I don’t know now. I don’t know how all this “works together for good”. I don’t know how this matches up with God’s Word, “I am the God who heals you.” I don’t know how lingering illness and addiction connects with, “It is for freedom that Christ set you free,” and “I have given you the power to tread upon snakes and scorpions and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”

God, how does this work?

If anyone ever had a right to pray that prayer, it was the apostle Paul. He spent almost six years of his ministry in a jail cell, he was whipped, shamed, ship wrecked and abandoned
(2 Corinthians 11:23-27). Finally, near the end of his life, he sat again on the cold damp concrete of a cell and wrote to the man dearest to his heart—Timothy. How desperately he wanted Timothy to be able to hang on to what Paul had taught him. He agonized over how to impress upon this young pastor:

Do not give up! Do not be dismayed by what appears to be. It may look like God has lost control, that perhaps He isn’t all that good—but Timothy—don’t give up. I haven’t. (paraphrase)

This kind of tenacious faith is exemplified in an Old Testament story:

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stared into the fire as flames leaped higher and higher.

“You have one more chance,” the Babylonian King told them. “You must bow down and worship my statue, or I will have you thrown into the fire.”

I wonder what raced through their minds. They had been faithful to God; they had not worshipped the idol. Surely God would rescue them! Surely, God wouldn’t allow them to be killed!

Their words in Daniel 3:16-18, teach us something amazing about faith, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God whom we serve is able to save us. He will rescue us from your power, Your Majesty. But even if he doesn’t, we want to make it clear to you, Your Majesty, that we will never serve your gods or worship the gold statue you have set up.’”

The three men believed that God could save them! But even if He didn’t…

How do we have faith when the things we believe for aren’t happening? How do we have faith that God is good when bad things happen?

Hebrews 11 is often called the Faith Chapter. It lists many heroes of the faith, men and women who believed God against all odds, who had faith in God even when it looked like God wasn’t faithful.

Verse 39 says this, “All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised.”

Have you ever felt like that—like God hasn’t fulfilled His promises?
Have you had faith that God would do something, and then He didn’t?
Maybe you prayed that a loved one would survive cancer, but they didn’t.
Maybe you were sure it was God’s will that you find a job, or keep your job—but you didn’t.
Maybe you don’t understand what’s going on, or why God allows some things to happen.

When I feel this way, I am comforted by 2 Timothy 1:12, “That is why I am suffering here in prison. But I am not ashamed of it, for I know the one in whom I trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until the day of his return.” (emphasis added)

One weekend, my husband and I were driving through downtown Washington D.C. We were supposed to meet some friends for a baseball game, but as we wound through construction and down one-way streets, we got hopelessly lost—at least I did. I had no idea where we were going and I could see the lights of the stadium behind us. But I know my husband. He’s an incredible navigator. I knew he would get us there safely even if it looked for all the world like he was going the wrong direction. And sure enough, he got us to the baseball game on time!

You see, the secret is not what we believe. The power of our faith is not that we simply have faith, or even that we have hope. There will always be things we don’t understand and things that don’t seem to match up with what we believe about God. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have faith in who God is. We, like Paul, know who we believe, and that He is faithful.

Most world religions require faith. Most world religions have morality as their hallmark and eternal life as their goal. But, as Christians we do not merely have faith—faith in a reward for good behavior or faith in life after death. It is not mere faith that gets us through our troubles, sustains us in prison, or allows us to stand in the flames. The good news is not that you and I have faith, but that the One in whom we believe is faithful.

Naked no more: Clothed in Strength and Dignity

I doubt I’m the only woman who finds the Proverbs 31 woman intimidating. Last year, I wrote a post about this, a paraphrase of that infamous chapter.

However, when I read the chapter in light of my One Word for 2013, a tiny segment of verses stands out. Verses 25-27 seem to skip away from her laundry list of to-do’s and been-done’s. Instead those three little verses give me a peak at her personality, what she’s really thinking and feeling. And surprisingly, in the midst of her busyness, she seems genuinely happy.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity,
and she laughs without fear of the future.
When she speaks, her words are wise,
and she gives instructions with kindness.
She carefully watches everything in her household
and suffers nothing from laziness.”

While many in my generation revel in the greatest comfort our word has ever known: myriad conveniences, technology, progress and wealth, there are not many of us who Laugh at our future. What would it take? Where can we find the inner peace and joy to look forward and laugh? I want to laugh even when the stock market crumbles, even when I disagree with political decisions, even if I am unemployed, even if my loved ones die. I want to laugh at the future.

The Bible says this woman is clothed with strength and dignity. The Hebrew words strength and dignity can also be translated “to be fixed (strength) and to claim honor (dignity)”.

Those words remind me of Hebrews 12:2-3

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

If I were to resolve in this new year to be more like the Proverbs 31 woman, I would start here. I will fix my eyes on Jesus, becoming steadfast and immovable –  strong. And I will claim honor by despising shame. I will not accept defeat, shame or discouragement. Instead, like my Savior, I will claim the honor that is rightly mine as a child of God and I will laugh at the future. 

Good and Naked

I’m pretty glad we wear clothes, and not just because they cover up a lot of things I’d rather not see.

However, if Adam and Eve were created naked, “and it was good,” why do we get dressed every day?

Adam and Eve were created in God’s image. All of their nakedness was perfection to Him and mirrored Himself. It’s a little strange to consider, but when Adam and Eve looked at each other relative to the rest of creation, it was obvious that they looked like their Father, their creator.

We often recall that the immediate consequence of their sin was clothing. They scrambled for fig leaves until God gave them a more permanent dressing of animal skins. But they had been naked all along. How could that have been sinful in itself?

I image that Satan curled slippery around the trunk of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. “You won’t surely die,” he whispered. “But God knows you will become like Him knowing good and evil.” There it was, Satan told Eve that God had lied, He really hadn’t made them like Himself. He really wasn’t a benevolent Father offering to them all that they could ever desire. 

Adam and Eve had been naked all along, nakedness wasn’t a sin. How did identifying their nakedness become the shame inducing moment that sent them running to hide from God?

“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.”

In the seconds it took them sink their God-given teeth into the skin of a sweet fruit, the gravity of their choice hit them, painfully. The serpent had lied, they really did look like God. God really had made them in His image. It wasn’t that being naked was evil and they simply figured it out all of a sudden. No, the evil that they instantly became aware of was their decision to believe someone other God. They doubted the goodness and truth of their best friend.

Jesus calls Himself the Way, the Truth and the Life. Adam and Eve denied the very essence and nature of their Father.

He isn’t truth, they thought.

Adam and Eve first clothed themselves. They used it to cover their shame. And so, I believe that it was out of mercy that God clothed them.

Imagine a master potter. His choicest piece of clay spinning smoothly beneath his fingers. When He finishes, he sets the masterpiece in the center of His daily table, pleased with its beauty. One day, a mischievous child intentionally reaches up and throws the beautiful piece to the floor. The potter is crushed. It saddens Him to know its intended perfection and to now see it in shambles. So He picks up the pieces and gently, lovingly covers them with his cloak – clothing the shards.

Maybe that’s what God was doing – until the moment when He restores all of His creation to its original goodness.

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears,a we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” 1 John 3:2-3

 

Naked Shame? or Very Good

There is at least one common picture in every family’s photo album. Or as many common pictures as children in the family. It is the inevitable bathroom picture.

imagesA pink, pudgy child, below the age of shame, plays in the tub, blissfully ignorant of Daddy’s camera. If not ignorant, simply unaffected by the potential shame in that microsecond flash of light. Bubbles cling to smooth, clean skin. A dollop of suds perches atop a curly head, like a white crown. The little girl is joyfully convinced that her royalty is unmarred by nakedness. Or, the tiny self-imagined cowboy remains undaunted by his immodesty. And Daddy grins with pride at the innocence and perfection.

It might remain that way. If the little girl were never exposed to any opinion but that of her father and mother. If the only people whoever judged her nakedness were those who created her together, who bore her in their loins and pushed her into this critical world. But it won’t be that way.

The boy might remain proud of every inch of his natural physique, if he only internalized his parents’ admiration. If only he was never told, “You should look like this…,” or, “You could be more perfect. You’re lacking something.”

When did naked become a problem? 

God created Adam and Eve in His own perfect image. He bore them, and brought them to life by His own exhale. And He thought they were perfect. He knew their frame. He knew they were dust and He knew they were good. They were exactly as He intended.

And what if they had never entertained the voice that said, You could be more? You are lacking.

When God entered the garden after Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they had already scrambled to cover themselves. Then they hid from their Creator, dearest Love, most Faithful Companion. The first moment earth knew shame. The first time a woman cowered in humiliation from the longing eyes of her lover. 

But they had been naked before. God had seen them naked. They had gazed at each other naked. It was obvious they had been made in God’s image. They looked like His children. So why were they ashamed? What were they afraid of?

Adam and Eve’s sin was not that they were naked. In fact, I think God’s greatest disappointment was that his children listened to, entertained and believed the serpent’s opinion of them over His own. Essentially, with their choice to eat the fruit, Adam and Eve were demonstrating that they did not believe God. They did not believe that He was a perfect creator. They did not believe that God had made them VERY GOOD.

Just like the child in the bathtub, they would have grown up seeing that they looked just like Daddy. And they would have grown in the assurance that they were VERY GOOD.

How do you overcome the shame surrounding your body, your failure, your insufficiencies? Is it possible to ever again be VERY GOOD to God? If so, is it possible to ever be convinced in your own mind that you are VERY GOOD? Can you ever return to the way it was?

“So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” 2 Corinthians 5:16-19

Through the means of a couple of pastors lately, unrelated and in their own sermons, God has posed this question to me, “Who told you you were fat?”

Quite a provoking question to ask a recovering anorexic. Who told me I was fat? Where did I get that idea? How do I silence that voice, turn and drink in the voice of a God who calls me VERY GOOD? Permit me a paraphrase of the verses above:

So, from now on, I will regard no one (including myself) as fat or ugly or worthless. Because I believe in Jesus Christ, everything bad about me is gone. He has created me all over, and again and made me VERY GOOD! All this is from God, who brought me back to Him, restored me to my original mint condition and to His favor. Because of Jesus, I am perfect in Christ and I am given this responsibility, no, this JOY, of telling the world that Jesus has restored us. Shame has no influence over those who believe their Daddy.

Sweetly Scarred

Scars! I cried.

Holes and Marks.

Wounds of shame,

Mar this tiny heart.

Daddy, I stretched my arms

Above my head, above my heart

and mind.

Pick me up, take me away.

I’m no good anymore.

Cocktail of fear, shame and pride

Sloshes willfully in my chest.

Overflows in tears.

Frustration paints my cheeks.

Daddy stepped close,

Stern love in His eyes.

He held out a robe.

Over my pleading arms it slipped,

Soft as silk against shame-flamed skin.

Every bruise soothed by its whisper-smooth trace.

He met my eyes, held my hands.

I see no scars.

No marks or holes.

I see beauty, perfection, exquisite, effective holiness.

No one will ever recognize you now.

You look just like Jesus,

Dressed in His raiment.

Walk your streets.

His cloak will heal you, keep you.

His righteousness will dress you.

Disguised, go out.

In our image, I created you.

For now,

For this.

I love you, you’re beautiful.