Posted in focus on faith

One Good Reason…

Finding Tim Knapp was akin to finding a child I had given up at birth decades ago. I felt an uncanny level of connection when we met, via email, five years ago. Tim’s mother had seen me in an interview on 100 Huntley St. in which I talked about my lengthy season of spiritual dryness. She emailed me with a link to her son Tim’s blog.

When I finally clicked in, I found a soul mate. A fellow struggler. An overcomer. A gutsy, honest, back-from-the-grave Christ follower who didn’t have it all figured out. Yet. Or ever. Like me, he was tired of glibness, formulas and pat answers. But he wasn’t tired of Jesus.

I emailed Tim, introduced myself and said, keep writing! After you read Tim’s soon-to-be released book Dry Bones: a crisis of faith, you’ll understand why.

Tim got off to a great start in life. When he was a teen, he had to be up early to deliver newspapers. “Every morning as I crept down the hall before sunrise, I would find my father on his knees. With elbows on the couch and his face buried in his hands, he physically and spiritually pressed into a place of communion with the Lord. His consistent pursuit of the Father modeled for me a life of grateful surrender. I didn’t realize it at the time but each morning as I tiptoed past my kneeling father a little bit of Jesus rubbed off on me.”

But, as we all know, many runners start the race and only one takes home the prize. Typically we read the winner’s books and gobble up their secret(s) in three keys or seven habits or 12 steps or 50 ways and believe them when they assure us, “if I can win, you can too!”

The truth is a few of us “can” but lots of us “can’t”, not to mention those of us who won’t even try because we already tried and failed and are dragging along too much baggage, or barricaded behind walls of self protection, or paralyzed by fear.

So what about the rest of us? The ones who start the race and come in third or 25th or dead last? The ones who stumble and fall and are not able to get up and continue running? What we need is one good reason to keep running. We know the odds are against us so we need encouragement to stay the course, or to get back up, rejoin the race, and finish well.

Dry Bones holds that one good reason and that encouragement. A runner who was sidelined by some unfamiliar terrain, tripped up by fellow runners he thought were on the same team, and flattened by unexpected storms writes it. Thanks to a pursuing God, a loving family that never lost faith in him, and fellow runners who refused to leave him in the ditch, Tim found one good reason to get back on track.

“Before my journey into disillusionment my lifelong desire was to be used of God in ministry. That’s was my hunger, my heart’s cry. And I won’t lie…I wanted to be the guy up front. I wanted to be a ‘man of faith and power’ that everybody looks to with wonder and respect. I wanted to be a powerful leader who slayed giants and commanded armies. I wanted to be a David. God had other ideas.”

Tim reveals that his journey through wilderness had a refining, redemptive, and re-directing purpose. He discovered that while he tried, and failed, to become a David, God was calling him to be a Jonathan. That was his real purpose. That was his one good reason. His role as a Jonathan is to find disillusioned “Davids” and help restore them.

The world could use a lot more Jonathans! I have a few Jonathans in my life and without them, I could not have accomplished anything. They pray, they encourage, they come alongside when needed, they love, they support, they meet me when I am in hiding and lead me out, they are a friend in good times and bad, they have influence and put in a good word for me, and so much more.

Dry Bones is the best book I have ever read on spiritual wilderness, including mine. It has forehead slapping insights that made we wish I had thought of that, the main one being Tim’s unpacking of the true meaning of disillusionment. He starts by differentiating between disillusionment and discouragement. As a 10-year veteran of spiritual wilderness (while married to a minister) I greatly appreciated this differentiation. “Disillusionment is something deeper. Stronger. More sinister. [It] does not let up. It does not yield to reason and it does not respond to social media memes. Disillusionment cannot be outwaited or outwilled.” Amen!

Tim discovered three precursors to disillusionment, two of which I had never thought of: hunger, illusionment, and adversity. Hunger is “a deeply rooted desire for purpose and significance.” Yup! I certainly had that! Adversity is “the experience of a setback.” Oh yeah! Been there, done that, still have the stretch marks. But illusionment? Besides the fact that it’s not a word in the English lexicon, what is that exactly? Are you saying God was, is, an illusion?

Tim’s dissection of the word disillusioned holds profound insights. It means “to be dis-illusioned, to be delivered from an illusion.” Tim explains that in order for one to be delivered from an illusion, one first has to have an illusion. What is an illusion? In short, it is a lie. “God is not the illusion people fall for…. It is in the development of our understanding about God and ourselves that illusions begin to form.” In other words it is not God that is the lie but it is my understanding of Him and His ways that is flawed.

Tim illustrates this concept with the very illusion (he calls them mirages) I once held so dearly; the illusion that knocked me out of the race and mired me in sand for many years: “If I serve God faithfully I will not suffer.” That was a lie (illusion) I believed, so when adversity struck and I suffered, I became disillusioned. “Help! I’ve lost my faith!” I cried to my pastor husband from my wilderness position. Speaking a powerful truth I did not understand for years, he was agreeing in principle with Tim Knapp when he replied, “You haven’t lost your faith, you’re finding it.” In other words, I needed to shake of the illusions and lies I believed and find the real God and base my life on His truth.

Tim is honest, transparent, and real. His writing is beautiful, words laser-focused to convey exact intent. Tim’s willingness to share his failures, fears, and flaws make him, his God, and His truth so accessible to all of us, not just the “best” runners. His humility sprinkled with humour will keep you reading and hi-liting and tweeting and sharing. Maybe, like I did, you will discover your inner Jonathan, and the one good reason you needed to get you going again.

(the above excerpt is the Foreword I was honoured to write for Tim’s upcoming book Dry Bones.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in focus on faith

Come out with your hands up!

None of us like to surrender. The very word suggests defeat. We want to win, not give in!

However, in God’s paradoxical economy, what we see as “winning” might be “losing” in the long run. Spiritual winning only comes through the gateway of surrender. This is one of the valuable lessons learned in the wilderness of spiritual dryness.

The wilderness wanderer has to admit that she has lost her way, then to further admit that the most probable reason for it is because she stopped following God and followed her own heart, her own mind, her whims, her best laid plans….

There is a big difference between the way I thought when I was in wilderness and the way I think when I am surrendered to Christ (a place I still stumble in and out of on a daily basis!). Perhaps you can relate to one of these ways of thinking:

Surrendered thinking is the opposite of wilderness thinking.

  • Wilderness thinking says, “Maybe there is no personal God. I haven’t seen Him or heard from Him in a long time.”
  • Surrendered thinking says, “I choose to believe in the God I can’t see or hear.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “God can’t love me because I have wasted so much of my life in this wilderness of unbelief.”
  • Surrendered thinking says,” I choose to believe that the God who sent His Son to die in my place paid too dear a price to give up on me yet.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “God will hold me accountable for my wasted potential and I will never be who I could have been in Him.”
  • Surrendered thinking says, “God is the one who orders my days, perhaps He has brought me through this experience in order to prepare me for a ministry I never would have chosen on my own.”
  • Wilderness thinking says, “I am unfit to serve Him in ministry.”
  • Surrendered thinking says: “God is in the redemption business and He will send me out to minister to other wanderers, to point them to Christ and to give them hope. Broken people minister to broken people.“

Trust is essential to surrender. Choosing to believe that God loves you is the first step in learning to trust Him. “Surrender is hard work. In our case, it is intense warfare against our self-centered nature,” writes Rick Warren. He adds “surrendering is never a one-time event. …There is a moment of surrender, and there is the practice of surrender, which is moment-by-moment and lifelong….It will often mean doing the opposite of what you feel like doing.” As we surrender, by choice, over and over, we change the way we think.

For every message of defeat that Satan sends into the heart of the recovering wanderer, there is a message of hope from God. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Posted in focus on faith

What’s the difference between dead and dormant?

My husband and I were in California in the late 1990s and we took a drive down memory lane. The last stop would be an acreage near Modesto where we had lived more than a decade earlier. That property had been covered with fruit trees of every description. Delicious fresh fruit was available to us every day of the year. For people from a northern climate where fruit was scarce and small, this was paradise.

A six-foot high chain-link fence enclosed the entire property but another wooden fence divided the grassy area around the house from the orchard and outbuildings in the back half. Those fences were heavy with grapevines.

The orchard produced everything from figs to kumquats. Pears, cherries, peaches, apricots, plums, apples, oranges, lemons, grapefruits, persimmons – you name it, we had a tree for it. Beside the house was a rose garden that provided a fresh bouquet of vibrant color every week of the year. Wisteria vines covered the veranda, offering their heady fragrance in summer. It was idyllic.

When we returned, more than a decade later, we arrived at the tiny rural settlement where the acreage was located and turned onto the street where we had once lived. But something was different. We didn’t recognize anything. What we recalled was not there. Thinking we were on the wrong street, we idled one block over and tried again. Nope. The house wasn’t there either. Eventually we drove through the entire community and returned to the street where we had begun.

Driving up to the place where our old Eden should have been, we got out of the car, camera in hand. We had planned to take a photograph to show our kids who were too young at the time to remember much of their years there. The property in front of us had no security fence. There was no vine-draped veranda. The rose garden was gone. The outbuildings were gone. There were no citrus trees in front of the house. No orchard out back. No lawn.

In fact, there was neither tree nor grass on the entire property. What remained was a rundown house, badly in need of paint and a new roof. Where the veranda should have been was a sagging front stoop. The shabby house stood in the middle of an acre of dust so fine it was like dingy baby powder. We still could not believe this was the place we had once lived and thought we were mistaken until I saw something.

A little boy was sitting in the dust in front of the house, watching us with vague interest. He was pushing a toy truck back and forth along an imaginary road. His truck had scraped away just enough dirt to reveal a small patch of pavement — what was left of the circular drive in front of the house – hidden under the powdery dust. I felt sick. This was the place all right but it looked like it had been hit with a 10-year drought or a tornado or both.

“Let’s not take a picture,” I said. “I don’t want to remember it this way.” Gerry agreed and we drove away, our day suddenly cloudy and dull. We didn’t talk for a long time as we retraced our passage back through the Silicon Valley and over the mountains towards the Bay area.

We felt wounded. …

When my husband and I were finally able to talk about how such a complete transformation could take place, our best guess was that after we left, the new tenants must have stopped watering. In Modesto, where it does not rain for half the year, grapes, almonds, tomatoes and a bevy of other produce are grown in abundance due to a system of canals that provide the needed moisture. Without irrigation, very little can survive the long summer drought. But the soil is so rich in nutrients that one can grow almost anything – as long as it gets water.

We knew that within the dusty wasteland of our acreage was the potential for great abundance. We knew that the entire place could be restored to its former beauty. God knew the same thing could happen to me in my wilderness by the addition of life giving Water and the tender care of the Gardener’s hands. The potential was all there but for lack of water, it was invisible.

There is a difference between dead and dormant. Take heart, fellow wanderer, what seems like death is only a season of dormancy. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Why is this good news?

Dead means done. Over. Kaput.

Dormant means asleep. In waiting. At rest. Will rise again.

After several years of thinking my faith was dead I felt hopeless. When I began to experience tiny urgings from God, I was surprised to discover that my “dead” faith was coming out of hibernation.

Yes by yes, I came out of dormancy and the fruit began to grow again. Every yes was a decision to trust God and to do what He asked.

 

Posted in focus on faith

What does true love look like?

Tammy called in the middle of the night. She was hysterical. Her husband had abandoned her and the baby. I went over to her house and made tea. She wept as we talked and prayed. Just over her shoulder, on the mantle, was a gilt-framed portrait of the couple on their wedding day. They were astonishingly beautiful – like celebrities. Four years later, Tammy was still gorgeous even though she had gained some weight. When I asked her why her husband had left her, through her tears she repeated some of his last words to her: “You don’t look like you did when I married you.”

The night Tammy told me her husband’s shallow, spiteful comment, my thoughts immediately flew to another couple I know. A couple whose marriage, now more than 25 years old, stands as a beautiful example of undying love.

Kyle and Cheryl started dating in high school. Their first date was when Kyle asked Cheryl to be his grad escort. Four years younger than him, this was Cheryl’s first date. Kyle’s too. She was the only girl he had ever been interested in. She finished high school while Kyle was away at college. One year after she graduated, they celebrated a summer wedding. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Connie, Caroline and Lisa, three (of seven) sisters, sharing some laughs in March 2007

The story of Kyle and Cheryl is really the story of Kevin and Caroline. Caroline was my little sister.

[Kevin] joined [Caroline’s] father in business in their hometown and they bought a house next door to Caroline’s parents. They took to married life like it was second nature. Caroline worked [at the bank] and kept up with her old friends. Kevin played ball and hockey with the men’s teams. Together they camped and fished, went to movies and ate Chinese food at their favorite café. One year later, in the middle of the night, their future changed forever when Caroline had a grand mal seizure.

The tests began and the diagnosis came in. Caroline had a brain tumor. It was inoperable. The specialist told Kevin that Caroline had between two and five years to live. But he added, “I have one patient with a tumor like Caroline’s. She’s still here. It’s been 20 years.” Kevin grasped that hope like a straw and held it.

The doctors recommended surgery, then radiation and chemotherapy, as much as she could stand. Twice, Caroline’s hair fell out and returned. The first time it came back curly. The second time, it came back wispy and thin. Caroline was taking so many drugs to control her ongoing seizures that Kevin had to keep track of them for her. It was all so confusing and very frightening.

The years began to roll by. Caroline stayed home and Kevin arranged his work schedule so he was home for lunch every day. Caroline always made his lunch – a tuna sandwich – by herself. It took her 30 minutes. After they ate, they played a hand or two of Rummy before Kevin went back to work. He made supper when he got home around five. They ate together, watched their favorite television shows and went to bed early.

And the years passed. Eventually, Kevin stopped playing sports and fishing as it got harder and harder for Caroline to leave the house. He taught her how to use the computer and she spent many happy hours playing Solitaire and other simple games. He built her a tray on which to do puzzles and she did hundreds of them. Kevin did all the shopping, even for his wife’s clothes. Years later it was discovered that Caroline’s cancer was completely gone. However the residual scar tissue in her brain required continued seizure-control drugs. These drugs changed her physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. She became forgetful and repeated herself. She had a hard time understanding plots in movies and books. She seldom cried but sometimes laughed inappropriately. She forgot the names of her nieces and nephews. And everything she did was at a snail’s pace.  

After 23 years, Kevin had to put Caroline in the local nursing home when she fell and broke her hip. It was an excruciating decision. She did not want to go but he could no longer care for her at home. He felt like a traitor but he had no choice. The drugs had swollen her body to twice its normal size and she needed the help of mechanical lifts and professional caregivers. Over the next few months Caroline almost slipped away. Kevin thought he was losing her; he was despondent. She could not speak or move, was fed by tubes, and barely recognized him or her family. Every spare minute he had, Kevin was at her side. Slowly she began to rally as her new home became more familiar.

A year later, she was up and around in a wheelchair, joking with the nurses and teasing the staff. She became the classic “teacher’s pet” of the nursing home. Kevin no longer had to spoon-feed her so they ate all their meals together in the dining hall with the other residents. After they ate, Kevin pushed Caroline back to her room or to the common room if she had visitors. Seldom sitting, Kevin hovered near her chair. He would brush her wispy hair, gently caress her arms and every few minutes, kiss her somewhere on her face. Always laughing at her silly comments – some the result of drug-induced confusion, some truly funny quips – Kevin brought sunshine into her world. Careful always to guard her dignity, he answered her every question, no matter how often repeated or how simplistic, with kind clarity and a smile. Caroline knows she is loved. And she is grateful.

Kevin is one of my heroes. He is the best example I know “with skin on” of God’s undying love. Caroline isn’t the girl he married if you compare photos. But she’s every bit the person he fell in love with on the inside. And he has never once forsaken his promise to love and to cherish, in sickness and in health. As God promised the Children of Israel, and us, the children of the new covenant, through His prophet Jeremiah: I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore, I have continued to extend faithful love to you (Jeremiah 31:3).

Undying love. It is the kind of love that looks past our outward self and sees our inner beauty. Undying love does not abandon us in our wildernesses. (end excerpt)

Caroline took her last breath almost two years ago, held by Kevin and Chelene (their miracle child, now grown and married with two children of her own). She was loved with an undying love.

True love not only looks different, it sees us differently than we see ourselves. Jesus promises us He will love and cherish us, in good times and bad, in sickness and in health, and not just “until death us do part” but beyond the grave. Caroline is being held and caressed in the arms of Jesus now. Kevin did a good job of preparing her.

If you have drifted away from God, lost touch with God, feel abandoned by God, are disappointed in God, or just royally ticked off at God please think about this love story. It is both true (factual) and real (possible) and it is a beautiful picture of God’s true love, His undying love, for you.

Posted in focus on faith

When things happen out of the blue, look up.

After I had prayed the “I will say yes to You God but You’re going to have to come after me because I don’t know where to find You!” prayer, I trudged home and forgot about it.

Meanwhile, without my knowledge, my friend cut a small piece of blue glass into a triangle shape about four inches high and two inches wide at the bottom. She stood the triangle in her east window. When the sun shone through it in the morning and she espied the little patch of blue in her living room, she would pause to pray for me.  

 Months passed. One day, out of the blue, I got a call. A friend of a friend had heard that I might be a good speaker so would I fly to Ontario and speak at their women’s retreat several months hence? I was stunned by the request and my first inclination was to refuse. After all, what could I possibly say that would be worth the expense of my travel? Suddenly I remembered my “deal” with God and with great fear and trepidation said, “Yes.” I hung up the phone and wondered if I had lost my mind!

The event organizer sent me details via email over the ensuing weeks. The first email I received was short and obviously rushed. “I don’t have my Bible or my notes in front of me but I think the scripture is Psalm 56:1.” I turned to that verse: Be merciful to me O God for men hotly pursue me… I grinned at the humor of the obvious misquote. I knew in my heart that she had mixed up the numbers and the scripture was Psalm 51:6: Surely you desire truth in the inner parts. Just a coincidence, I thought. 

The phone rang a few weeks later with another invitation. Would I be the keynote speaker for a national women’s event to be held in four provinces over four months? Let me say again, I had spoken only rarely up to this point – once per year at most. Suddenly two requests one after another arrived — out of the blue. Remembering my promise, I said yes, and again, wondered if I should have my head examined!

The event organizer called me and told me the theme: “Restoring Joy.” The scripture was Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me (Psalm 51:12). This was uncanny, but I had heard of lightning striking twice in the same place so I was still skeptical. Can you believe it?

As the time approached for my talks, I grew desperate and called out God. “We’ve got a deal here,” I railed. “I said yes. I did my part. You’d better come through with a message!” Silence. I read Psalm 51 over and over and over. Hearing no clear direction, I sensed that God probably wanted me to tell the truth about my wilderness. This scared the liver right out of me.

At the first event, I spoke four times. The first three talks I just kept them laughing. Finally on the last day, I tagged on the truth about my wilderness journey. I told them I had been there for several years, that I wasn’t sure how I got there, or how to find the way out. Then I told them that God was pursuing me. He hadn’t abandoned me. There was hope. (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

And that was the beginning of my journey out of wilderness and into a new experience of walking with God, a journey of continued learning, change, and surprise.

What can you do if you are in the same dry place? 

  1. Talk to Him and ask Him to come after you. (He already is but you can’t see it until you open yourself to it)
  2. Tell Him you will say yes to whatever you think He might be saying (very scary but He will help you)
  3. When something happens out of the blue, realize it is no coincidence. It is God throwing you a lifeline. Grab it and go forward. (and stay tuned as we continue this blog series about spiritual dryness) 
Posted in focus on faith

When you can’t find God

A pivotal moment in my wilderness experience began with a cup of tea with a friend, a stained-glass artist who wishes to remain anonymous. Little did I know that God was reeling me in.

As much as she loves her art, stained glass is not the passion of this woman’s life. Jesus is. Her primary ministry is intercessory prayer. She informed me years ago that she prayed regularly for me.

In the winter of 2000, she ushered me out of the bitter cold and into her quaint cottage. After a few steaming sips she paused, placed her hands reverently on her Bible and told me something that would eventually change the course of my life.

“I prostrated myself before the Lord this morning,” she began. This was her custom; she never entered her glass studio unless she first humbled herself before God and stayed there until He released her. “And He gave me Psalm 51,” she continued. “But He told me this scripture was not for me (pause, sip, gaze intently) but it was for you, Connie.” She watched to see if I had fully comprehended the enormity of this spiritual transaction.

I nodded and smiled, acting duly impressed even though I was skeptical that anything she had to say could impact my stone-cold heart. After all, I was a wanderer. I wasn’t so sure there was a God any more. She opened her loved-to-death Bible and began to read. She took me through all of Psalm 51, stopping here and there to exhort me with certain words or thoughts. The first passage she parked on hit me right where it hurt: Surely you desire truth in the inner parts (Psalm 51:6a). Boy did I! I hated my hypocrisy but could not seem to change.

 Create in me a pure heart (10a), was the next place that grabbed me. Oh how I longed to be pure. Everything had been so simple in my early days of faith, so black and white. But a lot of water had passed under the bridge; my heart and mind were so twisted that I despaired of ever finding peace. Then she asked me to listen carefully because what she was about to say was her message to me from God. She read: Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me (v12). “Isn’t this what you want Connie?” she asked with heartbreaking earnestness. It was exactly what I wanted but was convinced would never again be mine.

She continued: Then I will teach transgressors your ways and sinners will turn back to you (v13). She stopped, locked onto me with her steely gaze and said, “This is what you are called to do, Connie dear.” She was dead serious. If she hadn’t been I may have burst out laughing. Teach transgressors? I was a transgressor!…

I felt terribly empty and guilty and hopeless (because I had lost touch with God years ago).

After more tea and a lengthy time of prayer, I bundled up and was sent on my way with a warm hug. As I trudged homeward, a faint glimmer of hope, an ember of possibility glowed somewhere deep in my soul. Without knowing I was praying, I mouthed a prayer — it was more like a challenge — to God. “Okay God. If what she says is true and You are calling me to speak up for You, I will do it. But I won’t go looking. If someone calls and asks, then I will say yes.” Unknown to me, I had played right into the hand of a pursuing God! (Excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

If you have lost touch with God, like I did, would you consider praying that same prayer? Basically you are saying: I want to follow You God, but I don’t know where to find You. I give you permission to come after me.

The fact is, He is already pursuing you but you are blind to it because your spirit is closed. Once you open your heart/mind/soul to the possibility of His involvement in your life, you may actually catch a glimpse of His activity.

Posted in focus on faith

Do you have a toxic relationship with God?

Believers seem to fall into two camps in terms of the character of the God they follow. He is either a jolly old soul full of good things for them if they behave or, on the far swing of the pendulum, he is stern, demanding, vengeful, judgmental, even harsh. The “Gods” are different but one thing is constant — you! You are trying to earn the love of a God who wants to give you that love for free.

What kind of God do you believe in? Lynne Hybels’ God was toxic.

Lynne grew up in church. Her desire to help people led her to college, initially seeking a degree in social work. However, once there, she grew disillusioned with the idea of helping people with their physical needs while ignoring their spiritual needs. She veered away from social work. But, she was also disillusioned with the church of her childhood for although it did much to address the spiritual needs of people, it did virtually nothing to address their physical needs.

At the age of 21, “as a last resort,” she began to read her Bible seriously for the first time. She was completely captivated by what she read in the gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. She became enamoured with the vision of what the church could be. Not long after that she visited a friend who had an exciting ministry in Chicago. This young man had a vision for church and a zeal for the Lord that matched her own. They fell in love and she married Bill Hybels, Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago. 

Together, they threw themselves into ministry, devoting their lives to the growth of the kingdom. Lynne tried very hard, and succeeded, at being a “good” pastor’s wife. She took care to look and act and be the model Christian she thought a pastor’s wife should be. Rebellion was the furthest thing from her mind because she sincerely wanted to honour God and her calling to ministry. Every day she would call out to God, “Tell me what you want me to do today. Anything! I’ll do anything.” Frustrated, she never seemed to hear a clear answer to that plea. She redoubled her efforts, working harder than ever in an attempt to earn God’s favour. Over time, she began to suffer the effects of physical, emotional, and spiritual exhaustion.

She slid into depression. After 15 years as a pastor’s wife, Lynne awoke to the reality that something terrible had happened, and she didn’t know how to fix it. She still loved the church, but she hated her life. Desperate, she walked into the office of a Christian counselor and asked for help. “When I go to bed at night, I pray that I won’t wake up,” she told the counselor.“ If not for my two wonderful children, whom I adore, I would not want to go on living. Can you help me?”

She was 39 years old and she “felt like a complete failure.”

With the help of counseling and the full support of her husband, over the next 10 years, Lynne embarked on a journey of self discovery, spiritual renewal, and healing. Eventually, she found freedom in Christ. Piece by piece she had to dismantle her unhealthy, imbalanced life and build a new life based on the truth of who God really is – not who she always thought He was.

Without blaming, Lynne admits that the view of God she had developed growing up was faulty. “I had a toxic relationship with God,” she says. She was a sensitive child who grew up hearing messages of hellfire and brimstone. That teaching formed in her impressionable mind an erroneous picture of who God was. She thought of Him as a hard-hearted taskmaster. She believed that she would have to work very hard and be very good in order to please Him. So that’s what she tried to do, because she truly wanted to please God. Eventually, her determination to earn God’s love in order to feel His love left her completely exhausted. After a decade and a half in ministry, what she needed most of all was rest, but, “my God wouldn’t let me rest,” she says.

In 1991, Lynn realized the only way she was going to get the rest she needed in order to survive, she says, was to “get rid of my God.” Staring up into the endless blue of a hot summer sky as she dd1-2stretched out in the prow of her husband’s sailboat, she told God she was done with Him: ”I can’t do it anymore. I can’t keep striving for your love.” At that time, God felt like a horrible weight and she knew she could “no longer carry the burden of a harsh and demanding deity.”

Her world didn’t stop turning and let her off. Lynne’s life was still full of responsibilities. But instead of continuing to work and strive and push herself, whenever possible, she collapsed into a recliner and stared out her family room window at the changing seasons. “Although I felt guilty, I had no energy for anything else,” she says.

Lynne Hybels came to a point in her faith journey where in desperation she decided that, to survive, she had to walk away from God as she understood Him. Thankfully, the God she walked away from wasn’t the God she later came to know and love. It was her toxic view of a harsh and demanding deity that was crushing her under the weight of its demands. As she rested in her recliner by the window, she “watched squirrels chase each other as the leaves turned to gold, and an amazing thing happened.” As she yielded to the beauty of God’s creation, she began to long for “a God” again. But not the God of her childhood.

“It’s me,” she whispered into the void as she opened her heart’s door just a crack.

“I love you,” the Whisperer replied. “I want you to rest, to listen, to watch. All those years you worked so hard, I was trying to get you to slow down.”

Lynne describes this experience as the pivotal moment of her life, where she was truly embraced by the love of God. I sobbed when I heard her say these words. Her poignant longing struck a chord within me. As Christians, we so deeply yearn to hear the Father speak words of love to us. We work and serve and knock ourselves out in order to earn His favour, all the while preaching the gospel of grace (unearned merit). But in our deepest place, in the hidden parts of our soul, we hunger for His tender voice. We thirst for His whispers of love. We long for His healing touch. I don’t think we will ever get enough of Him until we see Him face to face. This is why I cried, and why Lynne says she still weeps every time she tells or writes this part of her story. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Do you need to rethink your relationship with God? Join the conversation with a comment.

 

Posted in focus on faith

What happens when you believe in Santa-God?

9957573-santa-claus-with-a-bag-of-money-stock-photoThere’s something I call “Santa-God theology”: if we are good little girls and boys, Santa-God will reward us with everything on our want-list. But the painful realities of life in the real world don’t support this belief.

The wilderness school for the soul teaches that God will not always protect us from suffering and disappointment. No–in fact, God may wish that we experience suffering and pain so that we come to know Him fully.

When Santa-God doesn’t come through we ask ourselves:

  • I feel like I’m doing all the right things — I teach, I sing, I give, I bring a pie to everything — why don’t I ever sense His presence?
  • Was my conversion real? Or was I riding an emotional wave?
  • If God is in control of my life, why do bad things happen to me?
  • Where is this joy the preacher keeps talking about?
  • Other than an abundance of disappointments, what’s so “abundant” about my life?

Many believers ask themselves these questions. For the Christian who is experiencing spiritual drift, this type of thinking begins to take a foothold, opening the door to doubt that can shove its way in and start to take over. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

Many believers who find themselves in a season of dryness cannot pinpoint a date or time or reason for the beginning of their drift away from God, but most of them can relate to the problem of Santa-God theology. North American evangelical culture (it’s music and message) often supports this idea that God can be persuaded by our good behaviour to make all our dreams come true.

That’s Disney, not Truth.

Why don’t the people espousing Santa-God theology ever talk about the fact that every one of Jesus’ disciples, except John, died a violent death?

What happens when you believe in Santa-God? Life happens! Real life! Things go wrong. We lose–the game, the job, the relationship. We get hurt. We don’t get promoted. People die, even children. The poop of real life hits the fan of our illusion (Santa-God) and the resulting mess causes us to get scared, turn away, question God, and drift into the wilderness of doubt.

The journey out of wilderness is a journey into mature faith. Faith that is supported by Scripture; faith that works in the real world. In order to have a mature, workable faith, we must believe in the God of Scripture, not the God of our wishlist.

The real God is good. He loves you. So much, in fact, that He gave Himself in your place when He sent His Son to die on the cross as payment for your sin. (John 3:16) Sin?! What sin? The sin of thinking you don’t need God, that you can be our own god. (Game show buzzer sound!)

Maybe you believe in Santa-God but never realized it. Perhaps you are in a season of dryness and you don’t know how you got there or how to get out. If so, stick around as we explore spiritual dryness and mature faith in this series of blogs (go here and here for more). Join the conversation any time so we can travel together and help each other along the way.

Posted in focus on faith

Help! I’ve lost my faith!

Let’s get something clear right now. A believer never loses his/her faith. But you can fall into a seasonfree_imprisioned of spiritual dryness so severe that your estrangement from God feels like your faith is gone.

On the other hand, there is some truth in the wilderness heart-cry: Help! I’ve lost my faith! The truth is that you have lost the faith you once had and possibly for good reason. Logically, if your faith worked well, you wouldn’t have lost it!

The journey out of wilderness (spiritual dryness) involves finding a workable faith. That’s where we are headed, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s first consider why you feel like you’ve lost your faith.

Very few believers decide to turn their back on God and walk away. Some do and it’s not hard to imagine the reasons. Most of us simply drift away.

Spiritual drift can be triggered by tragedy or it can sneak up slowly, the result of many little irritations and wounds. That’s how it was for me. Within a year of my conversion to Christianity as an 18-year-old college student, I was baptized. I threw myself into the life of the church, soaking it up like a dry sponge. Before long, I felt called to fulltime Christian ministry. The way I interpreted that call was to assume I would marry a preacher. I went looking for one.

Fortunately, a young preacher was also looking for me! Before long I married Gerry, a recent convert and already in ministry. Full of hope and promise, we began our married life in a northern village ministering to First Nations People. And everywhere I went, I talked about my transformed life through the power of a living Savior, Jesus Christ. I saw many people believe and accept Christ’s offer of grace and eternal life just like I had. This continued unabated for more than a decade. Nothing prepared me for the spiritual drift into wilderness I was headed for.

My journey into the wilderness of dry faith took many years. I’m not sure when it began. I experienced surprises, disappointments, and what I perceived as unanswered prayers that eroded my trust in the God I knew at that time. I began to doubt that He was really in charge and if He was, I wasn’t sure I still wanted to go along for the ride. I started to protect myself from Him because, frankly, He was scaring me. The more I withdrew, the further we grew apart. A pattern emerged:

  1. In the early days of faith bad habits are broken, new friends are made, prayers are answered and God seems near.
  2. Life’s natural disappointments and God’s failure to answer our prayers the way we expect catch us by surprise, wound us, and wear us down emotionally and spiritually.
  3. Our view of God changes and we begin to be afraid of Him.
  4. We try to protect ourselves from further pain by subtly reasserting control over more and more of our life.
  5. The wounded, fearful, self-protecting believer feels increasingly disconnected from God.
  6. We call out to Him in frustration but get no response. We no longer sense His presence, hear His voice, or see His activity.
  7. Losing hope and feeling forsaken, we grow cynical, put on a mask, and live the double life of a religious hypocrite imprisoned by the conspiracy of silence. (excerpt From Faking it to Finding Grace)

 Simply put, life got hard, I got scared, I put up a wall to protect myself, and one day I woke up to the reality that I was imprisoned. There was a barrier between me and the warm, friendly, loving, personal God I had once known. I thought I had lost my faith.

I spent many years there. But that’s not the end of the story. If this is your story, or the story of someone you love, join the conversation.  Together we’ll make our way to a brighter future.

Posted in focus on faith

What happens when you lose your faith?

prayer-2003386_640Palms sweating, heart thudding, I darted glances at the others in the room and quickly lowered my head. I had learned in elementary school that the best way to be overlooked was to evade eye contact with the teacher. Forty years later it was still an effective avoidance tactic. I hid my discomfort behind a well-rehearsed “poker face.”

There were only a dozen or so of us there, ostensibly all for the same reason. Only I knew different. I knew I was the only one there because I had to be. I was the only one who had no choice.

I waited, hoping against hope that someone else would take the bait and answer the question I couldn’t answer. Well, not truthfully anyway. No one did. So the pastor repeated the question with an encouraging smile. And waited.

“What has God been doing in your life this week?”

I began leafing through my Bible, pretending to look for that elusive scripture that had supposedly impacted me one day last week. If I could just locate that little gem, I would be happy to take the floor and tell everyone about the marvellous insights and life-changing tips I was daily gleaning from my personal devotions. It was a ruse, of course. There were no personal devotions. The last time I had opened my bible was one week earlier, same time, same place, same reason.

Relief washed over me as a woman spoke up at last. The group sharing time where the pastor asked the inevitable what-has-God-been-doing question was done. Now I just had to join a talkative group of fervent pray-ers and let them do most of the work and the toughest hour of my week would be over. I had survived another Wednesday Night prayer meeting with my secret still intact.

As I drove away from the church, it hit me once again how I had come full circle — from darkness to numbness with an exciting interlude in between. I felt hopeless and alone. If only I could just walk away from religion and quietly lead a hermit’s life of tending my flowers and decorating my home I would be so much happier, I thought for the millionth time. But I knew that was impossible. I was a Sunday School teacher. I played keyboard in the worship band. Church was a huge part of my life. Not only that, I was married to the church: my husband, once a pastor, was still in full-time ministry. I knew that in order for him to live out his call, I must be a supportive wife. If I didn’t share his living faith, I needed to pretend, I thought.

I kept coming back to the same thing: the only choice I had was no choice at all. Telling the truth was not possible. Because if I told the truth — that I had once been a fervent believer but had somehow lost my faith and didn’t know where to find it — my husband’s ministry would be over. If not over, then seriously hindered. The only way I could stop living a lie was to leave him and dissolve the marriage. That would kill his ministry even quicker! I loved my husband. I loved my family. Divorce was never an option. So I had to keep faking it, I thought. For my husband’s sake. Once again, I felt hopeless and alone.

And that’s how my story began in From Faking it to Finding Grace.  Married to a minister but so spiritually dry that I now doubted everything I had once believed; I no longer prayed, read my Bible, shared my faith, taught my children, prayed before meals, sang worship songs, or practised any spiritual disciplines.

How and why did this happen?

Where did I find help?

You know someone who is in this same condition. Maybe it’s you. Stick with me for the next several blogs and I will take you on a journey of grace where you will see the work of a pursuing God and His effect on the life of a dried up believer.

Are you with me? That’s the most terrifying question a blogger ever asks. What if no one is…with me? I know that 80% of believers experience spiritual dryness at some point in their journey of faith so whether or not you comment or share, I know you’re out there. This is for you.