Sunday, October 21, 2012

COM Ch 15: From "Good, Adult Step-Child"...

Chapter 15: From “Good, Adult Step-Child”. . . 

            When I was about eighteen years old, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom looking over some old letters from Bill, my biological father.  Letters from my early teens, the first letters that I ever got from him.  And for some reason, a thought popped into my head out of nowhere:  I never got to go to a Daddy-Daughter dance.  Without expecting it, a sense of loss and sadness swept over me that I had never felt before.  (And I had been doing so good before that.)
            This was a turning point in my life, a turn toward emptiness and longing.  Before that, I was so happy-go-lucky, but this was the first time that I felt the pain left by the divorce.  For the first time, I realized that I actually had a desire for a “daddy.”  And that’s when it hit me that I had never even called anyone “Daddy”. . . Ever!  And suddenly, there was a tangible ache in my heart.  Having a relationship with several dads could never equal one whole daddy.             

            I’m sure that my step-dad, Bob, would have taken me to a dance if I had asked.  But it wasn’t about the dance.  And I know that it wouldn’t have ruffled him much to call him “Daddy.”  But I couldn’t do that, even if I ever wanted to.  It was just too personal of a word for me to use.  Kind of creepy feeling!  (Isn’t that sad?)  And I wasn’t comfortable using it with anyone. 
            I’m sure it’s different with a biological father, more natural.  But Bob became my dad a little too late in my life to bond totally and naturally like a daddy and a daughter.  Step-relationships don’t feel completely relaxed and comfortable.  They feel more cautious, more contrived. 
            I think that there is (at least there was for me) an unconscious need to “prove yourself,” to keep the relationship good by “doing it right,” by saying the right things, behaving well, and accomplishing good things, thereby making a step-father proud.  It’s not about just being you; it’s about earning your place in the family.  You’re always an outsider, and so it’s about learning to be content being on the outside, looking in - thankful for whatever attention and favor you do get, but expecting nothing more.  (I’m sure that there are many biological children that feel this same way, too.  Families just aren’t what they used to be.) 
            So, consequently, I was always a bit reserved with my step-dad, a bit guarded.  I never really felt like I belonged, just for being me.  I was always hyper-aware of my step-child status and my “performance” as a step-child.  The littlest indication that he was disappointed with me was crushing.  In fact, I remember getting so upset once when he yelled at me about something that I began to pass out.  I was just always so concerned with being pleasing and acceptable.  (No offense to him.  It’s not really about him, it’s about me.  He was a great dad and he did what he could to make it as natural and comfortable as possible!  God bless him wherever he is now!)
            As all these fears came to the surface, God was showing me that this was how I was relating to Him, also.  I never enjoyed the security, peace, joy, and blessings of being a child of God because I was too busy being a step-child!  I was too cautious with Him, too reserved, too guarded.  Never felt like I really belonged.  I had to earn my place, and so I was always working so hard at being pleasing.  And I determined how acceptable I was to Him by how He responded.  So His complete silence was crushing!   
            Until that night in prayer, I was always so concerned with “doing it right” that I couldn’t be transparent and completely open with Him.  I couldn’t be honest with all the doubts and fears and ugly feelings inside - with myself or Him.   I couldn’t admit that anything inside was broken, incomplete, or unpleasant.  I couldn’t admit that I failed, that I felt like I let Him down and that He let me down, that I felt worthless and unlovable and weak.  (There’s a beautiful song out there by Amy Grant called “Better Than a Hallelujah” about being honest and pouring our hearts out to God, even all the ugly things.  And just as I was struggling with learning to pour out my pain, this song was right there when I needed it.  Thank you, Amy!)    
            I was afraid of being hurt.  I was afraid of being a disappointment or displeasing to Him.  I guess that I was afraid of . . . Him!  What would He do to me if I didn’t do it right?  If I whined too much?  If I doubted?  If I admitted fear?  I’ve read the Old Testament, I’ve seen the things He’s capable of doing in His wrath.  And I feared that. 
            But this lack of transparency with Him prevented me from drawing close to Him as His child.  I wanted to be pleasing to Him, so I did my best to be what I thought He wanted me to be.  I tried to be content with whatever He wanted to give me.  I felt bad asking for things, for disliking my situation, for questioning Him, or sharing (and having) any negative thoughts and feelings.  I’d do my best to righteously and bravely take whatever He dished out, without complaining or questioning or doubting.  (And yet, oh, how there were complaints and questions and doubts inside!)  I was the silent sufferer, the martyr, the “good step-child.”   
            Now, wanting to be pleasing to Him isn’t necessarily bad.  To work hard to be righteous and godly is a good thing.  A great thing!  But being pleasing becomes a “wall” when it takes the place of being honest with Him.  When I cover up anything that I feel is disappointing or unacceptable to Him - when I hide my pain, doubts, questions, desires, and fears - I am being less than fully honest and transparent with Him.  And this creates distance.  If I couldn’t be completely open with Him then I wasn’t completely open to Him.  Was I?
            Being pleasing is good when it comes from a place of love, when I feel so loved by Him and when I love Him so much that I want my life to be sweet and pleasing to Him.  But being pleasing is not healthy when it comes from a place of fear, when I am driven to please Him because I am afraid of what will happen if I don’t.  Because, in that case, I’m not really living in His love and goodness.  That kind of relationship creates unhealthy insecurities, self-protective walls, paralyzing fears, and distance between the Father and His child. 
            Oh, sure, I had a good relationship with Him.  But a “good” relationship with Him is not enough.  It’s incomplete.  I had spent my life trying to be whole on my own.  I tried to be self-sufficient.  I tried to keep all the balls up in the air.  I didn’t really need Him like a child needs a father.  I was just a step-child.  I settled for the scraps of love that fell from the table where the rest of the family ate their meal together.  And I wasn’t just a step-child, I was an adult step-child who was responsible and self-sufficient so that I didn’t become a burden.  A good, adult step-child!   
            For years, I think I felt like I should just be happy that my physical needs were met and that I could do good things for Him.  I mean, my step-dads were always good at providing for my needs.  But a deep emotional connection with a father?  A deep emotional connection with my Father?  Enjoying each other’s presence?  Knowing His love as well as His care?  Knowing that He accepted and loved me no matter what?  That was just too “fairy tale,” wasn’t it? 
            But this was what I was really wrestling with that one night in prayer.  If I couldn’t do “more” or be “better” than who I was, would it be good enough?  What if I “did it wrong”?  Could He really accept me for me? 
            My relationship with Him all these years was based on fear, not on love!  And so I chose to be pleasing over being honest.  I was asking Him to settle for my good behavior and most of my heart.  I couldn’t just enjoy His presence because I was always concerned with my performance.  More than loving Him, I feared disappointing Him in all the ways I could do it wrong.  I was so busy trying to be “good enough” that I couldn’t just enjoy Him . . . for Him.  And I couldn’t let Him love me . . . for me!  I couldn’t let Him too near for fear of being hurt.  And so all this time, He was on the outside, looking in.
            Putting out there all the ugly things that I kept inside meant risking rejection.  And this is terrifying: to reveal all the thoughts and fears that you lock up inside so that you can keep up a good front.  It’s terrifying.  It really is.  And that’s why it took me thirty-plus years to be able to face all of the fears and insecurities that I held inside.  To be able to sit all alone before the Lord, crying in the dark, and to admit to Him all the things that I tried so hard to hide from myself and from Him.  I mean, come on, when we are called to such high standards in the Bible and when God is capable of dishing out some pretty hefty discipline, is it really okay to honestly reveal the ugliness inside?          
            I noticed something a little while ago that I had never really noticed before about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Jesus knew that He was to go to the cross and die for us.  He knew that He loved us enough to do it.  And yet, in His humanity, He still didn’t want to.  In fact, He cried out to God with blood and tears saying, “If it be possible, take this cup from me.”  And He didn’t just pray once.  He was there all night, pouring His heart out to God and wrestling with what He knew He had to do.  But in the end, He decided “not my will, but Yours be done.” 
            Okay, now, we all know this.  But what struck me was that even though Jesus knew that He wouldn’t bail on us - that He would go to the cross no matter what - He still felt that it was necessary and important to pour His feelings and His pain out honestly before His Father.  He held nothing back, not even the ugly side of what He was feeling.  Even if it looked like He was unhappy with what God was asking Him to do.  Even though it meant admitting that He felt too weak or scared to do it.        
            I have never been able to do that.  I have always been so controlled and cautious with what I say, always considering how the other person might take it, and how it might offend or hurt them.  I’m always aware of how intelligent or foolish I sound, and how it might reflect on me and on God.  Always concerned with what kind of reaction it might get.  Not that these things are bad, but they can get in the way of honesty. 
            And so, I have been shocked and horrified at times by the bold honesty in the Psalms.  To be able to be so forthright with God is baffling to me.  What about the lightning bolts?  The earth opening up and swallowing you whole?  Could He really want us to pour out that kind of “honesty” all over Him?  Didn’t it pain Him to hear the doubts and fears and faithlessness?  What good can really come of that, other than getting it off of our chests?  Isn’t it more righteous to just take what God gives you and march bravely forward?  After all, He is God! 
            You know, I think of the woman who pestered Jesus for her daughter’s healing from demonic possession in Matthew 15: 21-28.  Jesus kept brushing her off.  He even basically referred to her as a dog when He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”  (Meaning that He didn’t come to serve the Gentiles, but the Jews.  And she was not a Jew.)  And yet, she pleaded all the more, even on the grounds that she was a “dog.” 
            “Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table.”  She wouldn’t take no for an answer. 
            And in the end, Jesus said, “Woman, you have great faith!  Your request is granted.”  And her daughter was healed.   
            Now, I have always struggled with this story.  Of course, I have always struggled with Jesus’ initial responses to the woman, how He rebuffed her.  But more than that, I have struggled with knowing that I would not have responded the way that she did.  She pursued, she pleaded, she begged, and she used her position as a “dog” to strengthen her plea.  And she was called a woman of great faith. 
            I wouldn’t have done that.  I would have asked once.  And then after being rejected, (especially after being referred to as a “dog” - a damaging blow to my pride) I would have hung my head and said, “Okay, Lord.  You know best.  I will respect Your decision.”  And I would have walked away crushed . . . but determined to do my best to smile and accept Jesus’ answer.       
            Now, I have to wonder . . . Wouldn’t my response seem to be the one that is more honoring to God, more respectful of His authority?  And yet, I doubt Jesus would have said, “Wow!  What great faith!  I will grant your request because of your humble submission.”  I don’t get it.  I really don’t.  But I have to conclude that my way would have been wrong.     
            In fact, if I was in the Garden instead of Jesus, I know the kind of prayer that I would pray.  Because it’s kinda how I’ve been doing it all these years.  It’s the “Just suck it up, hold your head high, and walk on” kind of prayer.  Something like this:
            It’s okay, Father.  Whatever You want.  I mean, yeah, it hurts and, yeah, I don’t really want to do it, but if it’s what You want me to do, well, then I’ll do it.  I mean, You are God and You know what’s best.  And so if this is what You decide, then it’s going to be okay with me.  I’m okay, I’m okay.  I really am.  I can do this.  But be with me during the incredible, unbearable pain as I pay a penalty that isn’t mine.  Help me have the strength to face the cruel nails and the awful suffocation that comes with hanging on a cross.  Even though I really did nothing to deserve this.  I mean, not that I’m complaining or anything.  In fact, I want my life to shine brightly for You . . . if this is what You really want me to do.  But if You don’t, if You want to change Your mind, I’ll be right here, waiting.  The choice is Yours . . . Hey, are You there? . . . God?  I said that if You want to change Your mind, I’ll be right here.  Waiting!
            But Jesus didn’t pray that way.  And I don’t think that’s what God wants.  And this is the message that I am getting from Jesus in the Garden and the story with the woman: He doesn’t want us to be doormats.  He doesn’t want us to be self-sacrificial martyrs that stuff our feelings and march bravely and obediently forward after facing seeming rejection or hardships.  He doesn’t want us to silently, compliantly “accept” whatever He says when our hearts are breaking inside.    
            Yes, He wants our obedience.  Yes, He wants us to trust in His sovereignty and to abide by His decisions.  But more than that, (and what I have been missing out on this whole time) He wants a deeply genuine relationship with us, one that is built on honesty and transparency.  He wants a relationship where we don’t settle for distance and hide our real feelings from Him, but where we fight to stay close and be His child.  He wants us to draw even nearer, especially when we feel like throwing in the towel because life got too hard or our pride took a blow. 
            He doesn’t want us to hide our broken hearts; He wants us to run to Him with the broken pieces, the fears, and the doubts.  He wants us to pursue Him, to plead with Him, and to pour out all the ugly feelings inside - until we can get to the point of genuine acceptance, immersed in His love.  And this takes faith.  Great faith!
            It’s easy to walk away defeated, to give up on God.  But it’s hard - it’s, oh, so hard - to hang in there and to cling to Him or to wrestle with Him until the end.  And sometimes, I think that (like the woman of great faith) He puts us in hard situations to force us to dig deeper, to force us to develop a “warrior” spirit that doesn’t fold easily, and to force us to tap into this deeper well of faith. 
            He pushes us to find a stronger faith that is beyond the pain and the doubts and the confusion.  It’s not a faith where we let the sting of silence or rejection crush us, and then we walk away cradling the tiny, little bit of shattered faith that we have left.  The tiny, little bit of faith that says, “See, I knew He would let me down!”   
            Instead, maybe God pushes us (by His silence and His apparent “rejection”) to get to the point where we say, “I don’t know where You are and I’m hurting!  But I can’t possibly believe that You would let me down and abandon me.  I won’t believe that You are that kind of God.  And even if I don’t get the answer I’m looking for, I will wait and plead and pursue until You prove to me that You are a loving, good Father that cares!  Show me Your greatness.  Show me Your glory!  Show Yourself to be the God that I know You are!”  This is great faith based on who God really is, and not a fragile one based on our own misconceptions and fears. 
            This, I believe, is what the woman illustrated for us.  She wasn’t going to walk away easily, giving in to the idea that Jesus was the kind of Messiah who didn’t care.  She knew that He was capable of so much more, that He loved people immensely, and that He cared about the things that she was going through.  She trusted Him to be a good, loving, powerful Messiah.  And she knew that He was the only real hope that she had.  He was the answer! 
            She believed in Jesus enough (and knew that He was what she really needed) that she was willing to pursue Him, to pour out her heart honestly to Him, and to hang in there.  She clung to her faith in who He is - and wouldn’t let go - until He revealed Himself to be who she already knew He was.  No wonder He called her a woman of “great faith”! 
            And I think that this needs to be our approach when we have a concern.  We need to pursue Him passionately, honestly, and transparently, as the only real hope that we have and the only real thing that we need, until He shows Himself to be the God that we know He is.  The God who listens and responds and cares.  The God who, in His wisdom, says “yes” or “no” or “wait” or “change your request.”         
            I think that Jesus praying in the Garden was the ultimate example of the kind of relationship that God wants us to have with Him.  Jesus lived in transparency before His Father.  He poured His feelings out honestly and held nothing back.  Even though He wouldn’t bail on the cross, He still pleaded with God to take the cup away.  And He did this for hours with sweat and blood and tears.  But it wasn’t about getting the cup taken away; it was about maintaining an honest, close relationship with the Father, especially when He was hurting.  Anything less would have been dishonest.  And dishonesty leads to distance.         
            After considering Jesus’ example, I realize that it’s not wrong to struggle with God’s Will or to have my own preferences.  It’s not wrong to have doubts, fears, questions, and pain.   What matters here is the relationship with God, that I come to Him honestly with all that is within me, the good and the bad.  That I am transparent with my God about everything.  (He knows it all anyway!)  This creates closeness. 
            Anything less is a door that blocks Him from our hearts.  Being a good, self-sacrificial, obedient martyr might just keep us from a close relationship with our Heavenly Father.  He won’t force His way into our hearts and lives.  It’s up to us to open the door through honesty, to let Him into our inner worlds because the relationship means more to us than just being pleasing to Him.  And it means more to Him than just getting a good performance out of us.  And I think this is what separates the children from the step-children.       
            During the years of house-hunting, there were times that family members would try to help us find one.  They wanted to help and I appreciated it.  “Oh, here’s one you could look at . . . We’ll get you into one . . . I could rent out to you one of the rentals I own.”  But I would bristle at these suggestions.  And I wondered, Why would I do that?  They are just trying to help, too.  But for some reason, I didn’t want whatever they offered.  Why was that?  Didn’t I just want to get out of this cramped mold-pit and find a house somewhere? 
            And then I figured it out.  This search for a house became more than just a search for a house . . . or a home . . . or even a search for stability.  It was a search for healing.  I didn’t just want a house anymore.  What I really wanted - no, what I really needed - was for God to come through for me.  I didn’t want someone else to fix it, someone else to answer my prayer.  (Unless we absolutely knew that God was using them as part of the answer.) 
            It wasn’t really about the house anymore.  I needed to know something . . . I needed to know that I mattered to Him!  I needed to know that He heard me and that He cared enough to answer, whatever the answer was.  I put this request at His feet, and I needed to know that if I relied on Him, He would be there for me.  I guess all along, I was begging Him to prove me wrong – to prove that He wouldn’t abandon me when I reached out for Him.  I was begging Him to show me that I meant something to Him! 
            I didn’t want the house so much as I wanted to take my place at the family table.  I wanted to know what a relationship based on His love was like, the love between a Father and a child.  I wanted to know that I belonged in the family just because I was His.  And that He would be there when I called on Him.  And I was going to wait until He showed Himself to me.  And like the woman in Matthew 15, I wasn’t going to walk away rejected!  I dug in my heels! 
            I remember talking to Jen one day.  And I was telling her that I felt like Jacob.  Genesis 32: 22-32 tells the story about how Jacob wrestled with God.  He wrestled with God all through the night, until daybreak.  And when God realized that Jacob was clinging so fiercely and that he wouldn’t let go, He said, “Let me go for it is daybreak.”  But Jacob would not.  Instead, Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”  And God, seeing his determination and his persistence, blessed him.  He gave him a new name and blessed him because he had wrestled with God and overcame. 
            This is the point that I had gotten to.  I had come so far in waiting for God to show up and I had lost all confidence in anything I had ever relied on (especially myself) that I could do nothing less than dig in my heels and wrap my arms around Him and say, “I will not let go unless You bless me.”  I had nowhere else to go.  I had to believe that God wouldn’t abandon me.  I had to believe this so much that I was willing to wait for Him as long as it took. 
            I couldn’t make anything happen.  I couldn’t force Him to reveal Himself to me.  I couldn’t make Him reveal the next step.  I could only cling to Him right now, refusing to give up until He blessed me with His presence.  Until He proved that He was the kind of Father that the Bible told me He was.  A good, loving, relational Father.  Nothing else really mattered to me at that moment, not even getting out of the moldy rental.
            You know, I have been thinking recently about the whole “David was a man after God’s own heart” thing.  I never really understood that verse too much before.  I used to think that it meant that his heart was the same as God’s.  That David was somehow extra spiritual, extra holy like God.  Like if I crocheted a blanket after a pattern that I found, they would be the same, identical.  But how does that jive when David sinned the way he did, when his heart was so human?  It didn’t make sense to me, and I knew that it could never apply to me.
            But a different interpretation popped into my head awhile back which made more sense to me.  (This probably just shows how slow I can be sometimes.)  Maybe it’s not that his heart was patterned after God’s, but that it panted after God’s.  David was a man running after God’s heart.  He desired closeness, just like God did.  Nothing short of complete closeness. 
            Even though he sinned as he did, he wasn’t complete until he was unashamedly honest with all that was within him, until his heart was realigned with God’s.  He couldn’t bear distance between him and God, so he held nothing back in his prayers and he was broken over his sins.  This brought him closer to God’s heart.  Pain, doubts, fears, repentance, praises, joys, everything.  He kept nothing hidden from God.  Complete, humbling honesty. 
            My whole life, I wasn’t a woman after God’s own heart; I was a woman insulated from God’s own heart.  I feared letting Him as close as He wanted to come because I could get hurt.  It was just too risky trusting others to make you feel safe, secure, and accepted.  I was okay with Him being a provider.  But a Father . . . a Daddy? 
            Of course, I did want His guidance and answers.  I wanted His presence and His blessings and His love.  But I didn’t want to need them because I was a helpless mess on my own!  It’s one thing to be able to choose His help and to enjoy His presence and love, it’s another to absolutely need them to get by!  Very humbling!  I had been abandoned by too many earthly fathers, I couldn’t bear to be abandoned by my Heavenly Father, too.  So for so long, I never risked it.  I tried not to need Him. 
            Like I said before, lower your expectations so that you don’t get disappointed.  That may be good advice when you have kids, but it’s not good advice for relating to the Lord.  But that’s exactly what I was doing!  Actually, as I think about it now, I was expecting things from Him, just not the most important things.  I expected that He would provide for me and that He would meet my needs: the trip to PNG, college, graduate school (I did feel bad about the school loans, but I do believe that I was following His Will when I got my Master’s.  Just to clarify!), food, healthy children, a roof over our heads.  I knew He could do that!  I knew He could care for me. 
            But I had low expectations that He could really care about me, no matter what!  That He wanted me to just be with Him, to relate to Him openly, honestly, with all that is within me.  The good and the not-so-good.  The pretty and the ugly.  The pleasing and the not-so-pleasing.  The joys and the sorrows.  The praises and the doubts.  All of it! 
            But through the pain, I was learning that He didn’t want my performance as much as He just wanted the honesty, the closeness . . . me!  And I was learning that I didn’t just want His performance or His blessings.  I was beginning to really want the transparency, the closeness . . . Him!  He didn’t want a step-child anymore.  He wanted me to lay my fears down and accept His healing and become His child!           
            And I was trying.  I really was.  I had come so far.  But despite all that I was learning about myself, He was still hidden from me in silence.  I kept thinking that if I just learned these lessons, He would immediately light up the sky with His presence.  But He didn’t.  Not yet, because there was still more work to be done.   
            But I was tired - so, so tired!  And I was at a point where I had no strength left to stand on my own two feet.  And so the only thing left to do now was . . . fall.  But despite all the silence, could I believe that God was there and that He cared?  Could I swallow my pride and beg one more time, pleading with God to catch me?

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