Open With Prayer (specifically that God opens your eyes to the truth about yourself, that He reveals to you if there are any walls around your heart that are blocking Him.)
But God doesn’t want our performance as much as He wants our hearts. Jesus didn’t come to earth and die for us so that we would put on a good Christian performance for Him. He died for us so that we could have a genuine, close relationship with Him. He wants our hearts, full access to our hearts. And this requires transparency on our parts, a willingness to open up ourselves to Him completely: our thoughts, fears, doubts, past pains, broken hearts, hidden sins, expectations, misconceptions, etc.
He wants us to come to Him as we really are, to need Him and to let Him care for us, love us, and heal us. We can’t fool Him anyway, so I don’t know why we keep trying to act like we can do it all on our own. It is only when we open up our hearts to Him in all vulnerability and honesty that He can come in and correct misconceptions, heal old wounds, forgive sins, fix doubts, etc.
But it’s up to us.
But when I finally found someone worth taking a risk on – someone who had been a friend for a long time and had proven that he was a faithful guy - I began to fear more the chance that I could miss this opportunity with him than the chance that I could get hurt. So I said “yes” when he asked me out. (After saying “no” first . . . several times.)
But once we started dating, all these ugly fears came out. Fears that I didn’t know were there because I had kept them down for so long. I had no need to see them or face them until they bubbled up when I finally let myself care for someone and be cared for by him.
Over time, I learned that I had a fear of being abandoned, a fear of being not good enough, a fear of being a burden to someone, a fear of rejection, and the fear of not being worthy of love. I’m sure there were more, but these were the ones that were the biggest and most identifiable.
It was quite a process to work through these fears in my relationship with my now-husband. And after many years, I thought they were gone. But it wasn’t until I went through a “furnace of trials” time period (when I learned how not in control I was and how much I needed the Lord) that I learned that they were still there. And they were so deep down in my heart and mind that they were interfering with my relationship with God. (Actually, they had been interfering for years, but I didn’t realize it.)
Because of these fears, I couldn’t relate to God out of love – His love for me and my love for Him. Fear is what defined our relationship. Fear is what drove me to perform well. Fear is what made me keep the broken parts of my heart wrapped up and safe from everybody – even God.
But in order to have the kind of authentic, open, loving relationship with God that we were created for, I had to deliberately work on identifying the fears that interfered with my relationship with the Lord and to work through them (with God’s help, of course). I had to explore what started them, why they remained, what damage they were doing, and God’s response to them, what He wanted to replace those fears with. And this was another long process. But it was so worth it, because God’s truth and love and healing were able to slowly replace the fears and misconceptions that I had grown up with.
It’s the truth that sets us free. And so we have to be willing to face the truth about ourselves. We have to work to identify the walls around our hearts, the fears and the misconceptions about who we are and who God is, the things that have caused us to protect ourselves from pain and to keep others at a distance (or to run to unhealthy relationships, as some of us do in response to old wounds).
And that is what we are going to do today. It’s a self-exploration exercise, trying to help you get a clearer picture of what’s going on inside you, in case there is something that you need to bring before the Lord. To help you become transparent with Him and with yourself, to help you identify the walls around your heart.
(The first and best thing to do is to take a moment to pray and ask God to examine your heart and mind and see if there is anything blocking Him from your heart or any walls up between you and Him. And then take the time to listen, even during the following days.)
Unhealthy ways we relate to others and to God:
People who have been hurt in the past tend to spend their lives trying to protect themselves from being hurt ever again, even by God. Except we don’t always know we are doing it. We just don’t let people get too close. We’ve learned not to expect too much from others, not to cling too tightly, or desire too much from them. It would just hurt us anyway. And so we sabotage relationships with other people in many different ways.
Ways such as these:
1. Sometimes, we sabotage ourselves from the beginning by reaching out to the wrong people. We pursue people who are unavailable. That way we never have to risk a real relationship where we might get our hearts broken. (This was my way.) We settle for superficial relationships and small talk, so that we don’t invest too much into other people and they don’t have to invest too much in us (especially because we don’t feel worth their time or their attention). We make it easy to leave. We don’t want them to feel like they have to be bothered with us. We don’t get too close or real with others because they might become disappointed with our real selves and then they would reject us. Or because we think they are destined to leave eventually. It doesn’t hurt as bad to lose someone who we never let get too close.
2. Or maybe we go to the other extreme, and we seek out those who will hurt us because it fulfills our self-view that we are destined to get hurt, no matter what. If we’ve always been the victim, we are comfortable with staying the victim. It may not feel good, but it’s familiar. So we stay in unhealthy, abusive relationships because we don’t feel that we have a right to seek out someone who will respect us and treat us well. We don’t feel worthy of a good spouse or a good friend. And a healthy relationship scares us because we’ve never known one and because it means being vulnerable, being trusting. We can take the physical or emotional abuse, but we can’t take the risk that comes with a genuine, vulnerable relationship where we have to be real and where we have to trust another person. We’d rather take the risks that come with an unhealthy relationship (unconsciously, of course).
3. Or maybe we have actually found a good person, but we don’t realize it or can’t believe it because we don’t see ourselves as someone deserving of a good person or a healthy relationship. So even if it is (or can be) good, we sabotage it by finding “unhealthy characteristics” and “faults” in the other person. We look for only the negative things in the other person and in what they do (or we reinterpret everything to be negative) so that we can build our case against them. We see ourselves as someone who is being hurt or mistreated (even when we are not) because we don’t know how to see ourselves as anything else. If we don’t feel worthy of a genuine, loving relationship, we don’t recognize the possibility for one and we never see ourselves as part of one.
4. And then there are those of us who end up falling for the same kind of person every time - the kind that doesn’t want a commitment, the kind that just wants the free milk and won’t buy the cow, the kind that only wants us for what we give them. We are desperately searching for the real love that we know must be out there somewhere. And to earn or keep this love, we give away a piece of ourselves to whoever comes along, hoping that they find something in us worth staying for. We want a commitment, but can’t seem to find someone else who does. And we die a little more inside with each person that leaves, as we are left wondering “What’s wrong with me?”
5. Or maybe we’re the ones who can’t make a commitment. We are so afraid of settling down with one person that we make sure to never get too close or too serious with anyone. Maybe we’re afraid that they’ll find someone better down the line, and we want to spare ourselves the pain of being kicked to the curb later. So we don’t get too attached and don’t open ourselves up too much. Or maybe it’s that we’re afraid that we will find someone better down the line, so we don’t want to choose anyone now and limit ourselves later. The grass is always greener on the other side, right? And we’ll wonder why we are just not happy with what we have. (It’s because the longer we stare at the grass on the other side, the greener it seems to get. We can’t enjoy the yard we have if we are busy staring at and coveting other yards.)
6. Or maybe we are indifferent to relationships. We just don’t need one!
All of these ways, among others, are ways to protect ourselves from the risks that come with real, healthy, vulnerable relationships, with genuine love. We are hurt people who desire to be loved, but we fear the risks. Maybe it’s that we don’t trust the stick-ability of relationships because it’s never been modeled for us, so we pull away suddenly when it gets too close for comfort. Maybe we’re terrified of rejection, so we go on the attack or make ourselves unlovable to push others away before they have a chance to reject us.
In high school, I had a very hard time around people, not just the guys. Oh, I wanted to be near others, but I didn’t want to take the risks of seeking others out. It was much safer to keep my distance and to wait on the outside until others called out to me. I didn’t like to burden other people with having to care about me or to be my friend. So I often ate lunch alone, instead of asking to join anyone’s table. Or I tagged along with my cousin, Keith, and borrowed his friends. It was easier to be the nice, quiet loner or the “extra” than to risk putting myself out there and get rejected.
And as I said, I would only like the unavailable guys. And if someone that I was attracted to showed any interest in me, I freaked out and pulled away and developed an amazingly cold shoulder. I’m sure it was very confusing to the poor guy that I was just fawning over. I wasn’t playing games, though. I was just really afraid of rejection, of abandonment. I just didn’t know it.
But these kinds of fears and self-protective ways, stemming from childhood pain and hurts, do not just affect our relationship with others. They affect our relationship with God, too. I’m going to speculate that if you noticed any of those unhealthy relationship tendencies in yourself, along with any others that I didn’t mention, then you may also have an unhealthy way of seeing or relating to God.
And here are some of the unhealthy ways that we might be relating to God:
But we don’t live authentically. We live the way we think we “should.” We are “good Christians” who never admit to the fears, doubts, questions, or shortcomings that we have. We try to overcome them, instead. We don’t admit that we are weak and can’t do it on our own. We just try harder.
2. Instead of accepting His love and forgiveness as the unconditional gifts that they are, we punish ourselves for being unworthy. We beat ourselves up over our shortcomings and sins, and we live self-degrading and self-debasing lives - because that’s all we deserve. We are serving our self-prescribed penance, yet we never really embrace His freeing - and free - forgiveness and love.
I once counseled a woman who would punish herself whenever she got upset with herself. She would take things that she loved and destroy them. She just couldn’t believe that there was anything lovely or good inside of her, and she couldn’t just accept the unconditional love and forgiveness of God without punishing herself further. She didn’t understand why she would do these things, but they made her feel lower and lower every time she did. Which, of course, kept the vicious cycle going.
I’m sure that the answer for “why” laid deep in her past somewhere. And if she could pinpoint it, she might be able to realize that she herself is not some unexplainable, worthless, irrational mess. She developed these tendencies because her past created a damaged self-view. And instead of allowing herself to accept God’s love and forgiveness as gifts, she remained a prisoner of her past and of her damaged self-view.
3. We don’t even seek God anymore. We have fallen too far for Him to be concerned with. We have snubbed His gift too many times that He couldn’t possibly care about us anymore. And so we don’t even try. We are going to go to hell, and that’s all there is to it. We are just that bad.
(Well, you know what? You may have given up on you, but He hasn’t given up on you. Until the day you die, He will pursue you and He will wait for the moment that you take even the tiniest step toward Him. And then He will come running. Read Luke 15. But the first step back needs to be yours. And if all you can take is one tiny step, let it be this prayer: “Lord, I need You. I really need You!”)
4. We look at the Bible as rules to be followed, and that’s it. And we do our best to zealously hold to those rules. But that’s all that Christianity has become to us: Rules! Rules! Rules! And we are missing out on God and freedom and life. In fact, we are not even aware that we can have a relationship with God. So we settle for “religion.”
(If this is the case, we are so close but so far away. For we have something that looks like God, but isn’t. Don’t let Satan blind you and convince you that the Bible is a great big “To Do” list or that we can work our way to heaven or into God’s good graces. The way I see it, religion is man’s attempt to get to God and to heaven; but Christianity is about God reaching out to man, seeking an eternal relationship with us which is only possible through Jesus. One is about us making our own way; the other is about God making the way. One is about trying to earn it; the other is about reaching out, opening up your hands, and accepting it.)
5. We have one foot in both camps: the world’s and God’s. And we think that it’s okay. We seek God and serve God and love God, but we go about living our lives sitting comfortably in the driver’s seat. And we don’t feel the need for anything different. We are content this way. We have enough God to feel okay about ourselves, but not enough to give up the control. It feels like the perfect fit.
(If this is the case, life is probably controllable and predictable, yet possibly exhausting at the same time. But it lacks the deeply-fulfilling, awe-inspiring vibrancy and peace that come with wholeheartedly following and relying on God, as opposed to leading and being self-sufficient.)
6. We are just plain indifferent to God. We don’t need Him.
Generally, I think that our earliest experiences, particularly with our parents, affect our views of God and how we relate to Him. But we can be unaware of these problems, of the walls and fears that make our lives “less than” they are supposed to be.
But we ache for more. And our relationship with God is stunted and shallow, lifeless and dim. We ache for a full, vibrant, powerful life with God. We want to know real security and peace and joy. We want to know what it’s like to be really loved for who we are, to know that our Father is looking down on us and smiling.
To get there, though, most of us will need to go through the furnace: the refining process when God exposes the true condition of our hearts, when He burns off all the unglorifying fears and attitudes, when He reveals all the ways we are hiding from Him and being less-than-honest, and when He exposes the walls that we have put up to keep Him from getting too close, to protect ourselves from vulnerability.
But too many of us avoid that process because it means letting God bring up past hurts and negative, painful self-views. But He brings them up so that He can heal them. And I want to challenge you to do that hardest thing you can do: Let the Holy Spirit examine your heart and bring up any walls, fears, misconceptions, expectations, or whatever that is hurting you, hurting your relationship with others, and hurting your relationship with God.
This will not be easy. In fact, it may be the hardest part of this whole journey. Coming face to face with our true selves is a very scary, difficult thing. (Anyone else thinking of The NeverEnding Story right now?) It’s the thing most of us avoid our whole lives. And sometimes, because we are avoiding it, God allows trials into our lives that force us to deal with it. But hopefully, this exercise can help you uncover some of what’s deep down inside you before the trials do it for you.
Unhealthy fears we have about ourselves:
being not good enough
being a burden to others
letting others down
being vulnerable or taking risks with my heart
being out of control (or controlled by others)
needing or relying on others
being left alone
being with others
being an embarrassment
not being taken seriously
letting people see the real me
letting people know I have shortcomings
being a failure
being a loser
being a nothing or a joke
not being special
having no role or purpose
having too big of a role or purpose
that God just doesn’t care
that God is displeased with me
that I will disappoint Him
that I’ll never measure up
that I really don’t matter
that God will reject me or that I am beyond His grace, mercy, and forgiveness
that I am beyond hope
Or maybe we go the other way. Instead of having fears and thinking too little of ourselves, we think too highly of ourselves. We are big and God is tiny. We think we are super special (more so than others), beyond God’s rules, and in control of our lives. Maybe we think that we have God all figured out, that we have an “in” with Him. He listens to us, our prayers have power, and people come to us for our great wisdom and godliness. And we think that God is so pleased with our “Christian performance” that we don’t have to worry about humility and seeking righteousness and all that. Maybe we think God “needs” us and leans on us. Or that all He wants for us is that we are happy and fulfilled in this life. It’s all about us.
Unhealthy views of God:
a. The Harmless, Old Man/The Weakling/The Observer - This god has his rules, but doesn’t enforce them. He just sits in his rocker and watches life go on and is uninvolved in the world down here. And so we have to live life in our own strength and wisdom. And since this god doesn’t enforce any rules, we get comfortable, all focused on our own little life with little regard for seeking righteousness. We just don’t see or feel the consequences. Or maybe we accept his forgiveness and payment for our sins, but we don’t respect him enough to live a life that is worthy of it.
b. The Smiling Grandfather - This god winks at sin, gives us treats whenever he sees us, lets us bend the rules, and allows us to get into a little harmless mischief now and then. If we live with this view, we don’t take our sins seriously enough. We are out for fun and we feel like God likes it that way. It’s all about our happiness, right? We have little concern for the building of God’s eternal kingdom and the souls of others, because we are enjoying the temporary too much. We are just happy to get away with whatever we can get away with. Live it up while you can!
c. The Fluffy, Lovey Adorer – This god loves me, loves me, loves me. Nothing I do disappoints him. And he would never think of disciplining me. He just thinks the world of me and everything I do impresses him and earns his approval. This god lets us be completely self-focused and self-absorbed, with little regard for him or anyone else.
d. The Controlling, Harsh, Demanding Father - This god is just waiting for us to step out of line so that he can - Wham! - smack us with a ruler. He’s all about rules and keeping tight, strict control. He doesn’t smile, doesn’t laugh, and never, ever, hugs. And we are always so careful walking this Christian-life-tightrope that we are exhausting ourselves. There is no joy or peace or life, only fear. And so many rules to follow.
e. The Absent Father - This one just isn’t there. But we are always looking for him. Always looking for someone to heal our heart, to carry us through this life, and to love us for who we are. But there’s no one there. No one to catch us when we fall. No one to hold us when we hurt. And no one who cares about what we are going through. And, oh, how it hurts!
f. The Checked-Out, Too-Busy Father - This god doesn’t care. He’s got his own things or so many other better people to be concerned about that we are just so far down on his list. If we want any attention, we have to earn it or shine brighter than others. And we have to maintain his favor or attention with song and dance and rule-following so that he doesn’t slip away from us. If we please him, he smiles at us. And if we don’t, he shuns us. We are always trying to earn his love, yet never resting in it.
g. The Dictator - We are here only for him, to do his bidding. We are worthless lumps that should just be happy to serve him. We are the doormats that he wipes his feet on, the clay that he smooshes and contorts just for his own amusement. And, by golly, we should just be thankful for that much. And there is never any hope of having a loving, tender, two-way relationship with him.
h. The Loyal Subject - God is only here for me, to do my bidding. He is just waiting there for me to ask for what I want so that he can give it to me. I can just focus on my life and do my own thing. And whenever I need him, he’s there for me. And he’s happy to do it.
i. The Walk Away - He gave up on me a long time ago because I just can’t seem to get my act together. I’ve lost any hope of ever feeling his love again because I’ve slipped too far away. He could never love someone like me. And I deserve it!
j. The Jokester/Scientist – This god is just messing around with us. He is a cosmic jokester that thinks it’s fun to mess with people’s lives. Just to see what they do. Or he’s like a scientist that tests us just for fun, poking at us until we cry. He causes unnecessary pain just to see what happens. We don’t mean that much to him. We are just his experiments or play-things. And there is nothing we can do about it. Why would I want a relationship with a god like that?
k. The Ignored/Non-Existent – Who cares about God? Don’t need Him. Never did! What has He ever done for me anyway? He’s never shown me that He’s real. And I’m supposed to just believe in Him? Sorry, not interested and never was. (We will not see Him if we don’t want to. He gives us that choice – at least on this side of eternity. But if this is your view, try an experiment. Suspend disbelief for one year. And say, “Okay, God, I don’t know if You are real. But I really do want to know. Show me if You are real.” And then watch and keep an open mind and see what happens and read the Bible. But you have to be willing to find Him. If not, you’ll miss Him every time.)
Self-sufficiency and Self-Protection vs. Transparency, Humility, and Needing God
The thing is, I didn’t even realize I was doing this until “brokenness.” But it was that long time-period of trials that taught me that I couldn’t do it all and that I wasn’t in control. And I was finally able to admit to Him that I had fears and doubts. About myself and about Him. And I needed His healing and His help. And more than that, I just needed Him to hold onto me.
And this is when I was finally able to move from all that exhausting self-sufficiency to falling down as a child in the arms of my heavenly Father. And this is what I believe that He wants for all of us. He wants us to fully open up our hearts to Him, to hand over the broken pieces, to admit that we need Him, and to fall on Him in faith. He wants us to become honest with Him about how we see ourselves and how we see Him - so that His love and healing can heal the old wounds. He wants to prove to us that He is a loving, good, faithful Father.
However, it’s scary to us to admit the things that we try to keep hidden. But oftentimes, the only way forward into complete healing is to go backward, to let God go with us into those past hurts. He doesn’t just apply bandages to old, infected wounds. He has to open them up again and clean out all the stuff that doesn’t belong there and apply His love and insight and healing to it. And it is only then that true healing can take place. And this is so scary for some of us that we would rather live with the deep, hidden pain than go back there again and risk that God might let us down.
So, how do you let others and God love you when you are used to protecting yourself from vulnerability and closeness? How do you open up a broken heart when you have spent your whole life trying to protect it? I’m not saying that we can do this all in one lesson, but we can start thinking about it.
Psalm 16:7-11: “I will praise the Lord who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me. . . Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, because you will not abandon me to the grave. . .You have made known to me the path of life; you fill me with joy in your presence. . . “
11. If we have shut the door of our hearts out of fear, how can we let His love in? What kinds of things might need to happen for that to be possible?
28. Are there any other thoughts or questions you want to add?