The Real You

We live in a world where words like “authentic” and “transparent” have become oh, so popular. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I remember power-suits, flashy cars, and huge mobile phones being the status symbols that demanded respect. But these have been traded in, and now we admire the celebrity who confesses weakness. We distrust politicians who have never shown their imperfections, and we value counselors and therapists as much as regular MDs.  

We are hungry for connection. We are crying out for real relationship where there is no transactional exchange, only heart-to-heart communication. We are aching to find a safe place to rest our souls where we are seen, heard, and known.

We are craving love. 

But despite craving love, despite craving authentic, transparent relationships, we still fear people seeing the real us.  And when I mean the real us, I am not just talking about our emotions or likes and dislikes. I am talking about the ‘us ‘that doesn’t quite have it all together. I am referring to the  ‘us’ that lives with older cars, ill-fitting clothes, or a home that is certainly not Pinteresty.

As I mentioned last week, Brene Brown talks about “scarcity” and how we are wired in our culture to be hyperaware of lack, rather than success or plenty. So we look at our homes, and we see what we need to buy in order to make our houses ‘perfect’. Then we look at our cars that don’t have a Bluetooth phone connection and we want to upgrade. Then we look in our closets and we decide to forsake our boots from last winter and buy the new sassy ones we saw in Nordstrom. 

But fixating on our material possessions means we are missing the mark. In our authentic and transparent world, we are truly hungering for something deeper than the latest farmhouse table or a 2019 Honda Odyssey (I am about to be a mum of 3. Yes. I dream of a mini-van!!!) 

And this is not just limited to our material possessions. We treat our own spiritual giftings and anointings in the same way. Instead of sharing honestly about our weaknesses, we like to show people that we are eloquent speakers, musicians, or leaders. We like to inform people that God has gifted us and therefore, they should listen. It’s as though our accomplishments, as well as our possessions, give us authority, worth, and significance.

But the Bible says something quite different. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul explains that, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV, emphasis mine)

So basically, no matter how talented you are, no matter how well you can hear God, or how amazingly you move in powerful miracles, IF YOU DO NOT LOVE, YOU ARE NOTHING. If you have a massive house, a brand-new car, and a closet full of gorgeous clothes, but you don’t love, you are nothing. If you have the ‘perfect’ life, but loving people is not your thing, you are nothing but a loud, annoying cymbal.

So what is love? Love is taking off the mask of perfection and inviting people to gather around your table. Love is letting go of your fixation with your lack and allowing people close, even if they see the dirt on your kitchen cabinets. Love is saying, “You are worth the real me, not the fake, plastic version of myself”. That is love. 

Just as Paul wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”. (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV, emphasis mine) 

So today, embrace your life. Whether you are rich or poor, leading in your dream career or following a boss in a dead-end job, may you love those around you. Don’t boast, don’t be proud, don’t seek to look perfect - just love. Take off the mask, let people see your home with the broken chairs, let people come close. Because people don’t want plastic, they want you, the real you.

Ministry or People?

As I talk with people and hear their stories, there is something that many have in common; as people have grown in their faith and served their church communities, many have been rejected, criticized or burned by Christian leaders. Some have experienced ministers that were proud, some leaders have a violent temper and some leaders have gone to bed with someone else’s spouse. I, too, have been wounded by those in ministry. I experienced control and manipulation, I was pushed to my emotional limits and received immense pressure to perform ‘perfectly’.

I’m not sharing this with you to be negative or to give permission to criticize the Church, but in the midst of my pain, I experienced hope.

I think in many ways, ministry has become an industry where ‘success’ is judged. We are obsessed with growing our churches, blogs or social media following. As Christians, we have focused on advancing our groups, gaining influence and becoming recognized as a great leader. But sadly, this means we have lost sight of what ministry is supposed to do… serve God and serve others.

Jesus never taught His disciples a 10-point plan to build their ministries. He never instructed them to work until they dropped. He never said, “Hold it all together because there are people in your church depending on you and you can’t afford to put one foot wrong”. He never said, “Grow your group by 10% each year.”

Instead, He spoke of loving God and loving the people around you (Matthew 22:37-39), He included those who were looked down on (Mark 2:13-17, John 4:1-26) and He showed us that we are to grieve with those who are grieving (John 11:35).

He simply loved and put people first - not a plan, or an agenda, but people. Before the words of 1 Corinthians 13 were ever penned, He showed that prophecies will cease and knowledge will pass away, but love never fails.

We see this when Jesus told the story of the prodigal son. We are familiar with the story; a son foolishly takes his inheritance early, leaves home, totally screws up and loses everything and then comes home with his tail very much between his legs. But the father never scolded him. The father never said, “I am done with you! You have failed this family business and you are now labeled a screw-up.” No. As soon as the father saw his son returning home, he “saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 20:15)

The father simply loved his son. The father didn’t pressure or abuse his son. He forgave and received his son. He loved him.

And like the father in this story, God the Father loves us and puts our hearts first. He doesn’t focus on our weaknesses and he certainly never pressures us to fulfil an agenda, hit a quota or succeed in ‘ministry’.

If you are a church leader, it’s time to put away your expectations, plans and job descriptions, and remind yourself that life is about PEOPLE. Your reputation, social media followings or church sizes will take care of themselves, but it all begins and ends with loving people.

And if you have been hurt by ministry, if you have been broken by leaders you thought you could trust, I am sorry. I know this pain and I know how hard it can be to find the Father’s love when you feel so rejected. But it’s time to forgive and see these people as they truly are. Most of these leaders are broken people who have not experienced the unconditional love of the Father. They are people who need to know they are accepted and they belong, whether they fail or succeed. They are driven by their insecurities and they need healing. And there are some ministers who were never trained to lead. They may know the love of the Father, but they were given responsibility without the tools to manage or take care of people. These leaders have tried their best but have ended up hurting and breaking people.

We are a family. We are fathered by the Father and we are in community with one another. This is what matters. Everything else will pass away; our riches, skills and achievements, but love never fails.

So, forgive the past and get into community! Grab a glass of wine with a friend and hear what’s going on in their life. Find the struggling mum and take over a dinner so she doesn’t have to cook that night. Treat your spouse to something they love. Call your friend and tell them you are thinking of them.

Let the hurt and disappointment go and love your God, your family and your friends (Mark 12:30-31).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga Pants

I have been thinking about yoga pants recently. I love my yoga pants!  They are so forgiving of my body, comfortable and cozy!  They don’t hold me in, squeeze my squishy parts or make me feel exposed in any way.  I have no muffin top whilst wearing my yoga pants and I feel great!

I think most of us are fans of ‘comfort’. We like what is familiar and what is known. In our comfort zones we feel safe and we are at ease. There’s no stress, no anxiety. We do not feel vulnerable. Life is good in our comfort zones.

But on the flip side, when I am at home, snuggled up in my yoga pants, life can get dull. Yes, rest is vital for a healthy lifestyle. But life in yoga pants robs me of many experiences. My life doesn’t move forward and I don’t grow as a person.

When Josh was serving in combat, he rarely saw a pair of yoga pants. Life in the Army, especially whilst at war, was about advancing. As a solider he was charged to bring peace to a war-torn country. There was an enemy and so he dressed appropriately. He wore layers of clothing, boots and headgear that would protect him, give him insight to defeat the enemy and bring him home safely. Josh didn’t know if he would make it out of the country alive so he did all he could to prepare. He wore such heavy clothing and equipment, that he thought his knees might blow. No… There was no comfort at war.

 
Josh in Army
 

And then I think of me on my wedding day. I loved my wedding dress. I felt like a million dollars walking down the aisle to my groom. But that dress HURT. The boned corset dug into my ribs and the heavy satin skirt prevented me from sitting down. I was so happy to take that thing off at the end of the day, and I am not talking for sexy sexy reasons!!! It was a relief to get that thing off as I could finally breathe and sit down!! But on June 23rd 2012, my life certainly advanced. I became a wife and my life moved from singleness to marriage.   

 
Wedding Day
 

Now war and weddings seem to be polar opposites but both involve advancement and preparation.  There was a cost to Josh serving in Iraq. There was even a cost to me wearing my dream wedding dress! If we had worn yoga pants, the outcomes for both of us could have been very different!

Right now I am facing my metaphorical wardrobe and I am deciding whether to wear my comfortable yoga pants or not. Sometimes I get confused on what God wants for me. Sometimes I think He simply wants me to be happy and I assume this means that life should feel easy.  But this is not the truth. God is a good father who sees the bigger picture for my life. God wants me to know and experience Truth in the deepest parts of my life (Psalm 51:6), He wants me to love people (John 13:34) and He wants me to grow in faith (Hebrews 11:6). These things are hard to achieve while living within my comfort zones.

Our comfort zones are unique to all of us. Sometimes we are content with our relationships and we don’t step out to talk to anyone new. Sometimes it’s our careers and the level of our financial income. Sometimes we find identity in our role within the Church.  Whatever it is for you, it’s scary to step out and put ourselves in a place of vulnerability.  Yoga pants feel nice while regular pants, not so much.

I look at the map of the Apostle Paul's travels and it's clear that he never stopped moving forward with his life goals. He didn't grow stagnant but keep moving on to new cities to meet to people to teach them about Jesus. Paul is also the one who wrote that he presses on to “reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” (Philippians 3:14, NLT).

 

Apostle Paul's journeys

I am challenged, but I see hope in the unfamiliar.  I don't think I will be galavanting around the Mediterranean, but I see my unchartered waters holding new experiences, people and places that will thrill me, stretch me and (more than likely!) cause me to ask God for help.

So today, let’s press on. Let’s advance. Let’s move forward, get out of our yoga pants and embrace the unknown! It really is so exciting!!!