Friday, January 17, 2014

The Sweet Song of Being Known

I think, as human beings, we all have this intrinsic desire to be needed and wanted and known and deeply loved. At our core, it's what drives us, what fuels our thoughts and passions. Wanting it or lacking it fuels our anger and sadness. Who we are, or who we become, or why we perform as we do is pushed by this burning need to be needed, to love and be loved, to exist for a purpose and to have a place.

And we have that because we were made for it. We were made for companionship, for community.

We were made to be known.

And as the old adage goes, we want what we don't have.

We were made to be known, made to be loved, yet in an imperfect world, far too often we lack this thing that gives us life and hope and joy.

That's me again and again. Desperately wanting to be truly known, yet also terrified of really being seen. We're afraid of our true selves being revealed, because what if the real self isn't acceptable? I'm afraid of my true self being seen. But at the same time, I know I am made for vulnerability,  I know that as a human being I am made to love and be loved.

But living in this imperfect, broken world, sometimes the risks seem too high. There should be no heartbreak, no pain, no rejection, no suffering. But there is. And sometimes that is so hard to handle, so hard to grasp and acknowledge and then move forward from.

But living in some state of fear, locked away and "safe" behind closed walls and barred doors is no way to live.

Here's what C. S. Lewis (aka best author ever) has to say on the matter:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

Yes. To love is to be vulnerable. And in being vulnerable we can be known. And in being known and loved in a place of vulnerability and truth and realness is to be fulfilled because we were made for that.

But how do we get to a place of shedding the fear and unlocking the casket and letting our hearts and lives live in a place where they could be hurt and they could be broken? How do we conquer this petrifying fear of baring it all and risking it being broken so it can be redeemed?

I read another quote this week that legitimately brought tears to my eyes with the simple, complicated, stark truth and beauty of it.

"When we first realize that God did not create us and does not need us for anything, we could conclude that our lives have no importance at all. But scripture tells us that we were created to glorify God, indicating that we are important to God himself." (Wayne Grudem)

It sounds harsh at first. I'm not needed?

I'm not needed. And that's actually the most beautiful thing, because despite not being needed, I am wanted. I am wanted and I am loved and I am known, and that is far better.

I love to help people. I love to serve and give gifts and say nice things. It's definitely a way I love on people. And generally that's a good thing, but there can be times where my desire to serve people has another purpose.

See I'm afraid of not being good enough, of not being wanted if I'm not needed. So I make myself useful, helpful, necessary...invaluable. That's the goal. Be invaluable. So they can't function without me. Because then if they need me to survive then I'll be wanted, and somehow I've twisted that in my mind to mean I'll be loved. They need me, so they'll keep me around and they need me so they'll want me.

But that's not healthy, that's not truly loving on either end of the spectrum, and that mindset has inadvertently and unintentionally caused me to hurt both myself and other people.

And so this understanding, this beautiful revelation, that I am not needed, but I am wanted is the sweetest music to my frightened ears.

I am important to the God of the universe. Not for anything I have done or am doing or will do. Not because of talents I possess or ways I can serve. Just because He wants me. Just because He loves me, just because He knows me.

That's an amazing amount of grace. That I have great importance and value to the God of the universe. The great, powerful, loving, wrathful, sovereign, omnipotent, merciful, just, strong, gracious, beautiful King. The Great I AM. The Lord of Lords who is majestic and unimaginable.

He wants me. Me.

A small, broken, me.

It's beautiful, and it's deeply humbling.

It's easier to think I could do something that would deserve the love. Because that's the sort of world we live in. A get and give, a earn and barter and trade. A be good enough and you'll get good things, work hard enough and you'll succeed. That makes sense. We can wrap our minds around that.

But knowing that I have absolutely nothing that God needs, that I can offer Him nothing He does not already have, that He loves me without me doing anything, that is far more amazing and far more life changing.

That sort of love makes me want to sing, to dance, to write, and to live. To live a life that deserves that sort of love, not because I have to in order to keep the love or to earn it or pay Him back for it, but because I want to live a life that loves Him back.

We all want to be loved. That's why movies and books search for it, that's why we listen to the songs and ooh and aah at love stories. We shape our lives around that innate desire to be known and loved. And our hearts are so often broken because that need cannot be filled by anything or anyone else but God.

And when we learn of the greatest love of all, and accept that we are truly known, then our hearts can freely sing as we dance with the One who made us.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Telling a Chapter, not a Story

I have a love-hate relationship with convictions, with realizations about myself, with seeing and sensing my brokenness, my humanity.

I love the opportunity to grow, the privilege to become a better person, to serve more, to love more deeply.

I hate realizing how broken and messed-up I am. Even more, I hate admitting how messed-up I am, which is precisely why I must admit to these broken, ugly areas of who I am more often.

If I keep my failures under wraps, I can easily present a facade of a put-together, trusting, loving, generally nice person who loves Jesus and is a good big sister. But beneath the adorable Instagram photos, there are arguments and yelling-matches, bouts of great annoyance and frustration with the tiniest things, bossiness, and starting fights about things that should not matter (I've legitimately had arguments with my siblings about who sits on what part of the couch. Namely when they take the seat I want. I really don't want to admit to that level of immaturity...).

I suppose the point of all that is to say it's quite easy to put on a mask and build up great walls, merely presenting the person you want everyone to see, without allowing the true person beneath to ever be revealed. It's possible to exist this way, but it's exhausting. Never a moment to let your weary arm fall to your side because it is always holding a mask of put-together over your face.

You can't really live this way, you can exist for awhile. Tired and constantly surrounded by friends but never truly belonging.

That's not a way I want to live, I assure you. I may be addicted to what people think of me, constantly desiring them to see me at the best angle and never get a picture from my bad side, but the joy of being truly known trumps the quick fix of a shallow compliment that only sees an intricate mask or carefully crafted wall.

In the past year vulnerability has been a huge theme in the lives of me and my friends.

At a conference last year on New Year's Eve I heard a talk from a Coloradoan pastor, Scott Nickell (you can listen to the talk here, it's number 11). He talked about how we are all really broken people who can't save ourselves, how it is so easy to judge what other people have done and deem them "worse" than us, as if the things they have done make them a far worse person.

We put brokenness and messiness on a scale of not-really-so-bad to the-worst-thing-ever, and give ourselves the role of judge and jury.

But that's not reality, that's a construct of a broken and prideful mind.

The reality, Nickell reminded us, is that we are ALL broken, saved solely by grace. And so instead of standing up, looking around, and yelling, "look what she did! Did you hear what he said? At least I didn't do that!" We kneel, humbled and broken, at the foot of the cross, and as we look to our right and left and see the others kneeling there too we say, "Oh, you're a mess? Me too."

That talk changed my life. Through it I was deeply convicted to share areas of my life I'd never before been willing to let people see, and as I let light shine on the darkness in me, I could finally truly accept healing and grace. Which I'd never, until that moment as I knelt at the cross, realized could be possible. I got a glimpse of what it was like to be fully known and still completely loved and accepted.

Through the year the theme of vulnerability remained a constant. It came up in books, sermons, conversations, songs, movies. An inescapable part of life as I learned to be open and share my struggles.

I remember sharing my story with a friend, nervous as ever as to what her reaction would be. I'll never forget her response, some of the most beautiful words I've ever received. "You're the same Katy, I just know a little more about you." And the beauty is that my vulnerability gave her the freedom, later, to share her own story with me.

Someone once said, "vulnerability breeds vulnerability."

Yet I always feel like I'm still missing something. Like I try so hard to be open and yet come up short. I've been told too many times that I'm closed off, caged by huge stone walls I've carefully erected and tuck-pointed myself. I think I've taken them down, and I believe at least some parts are gone, but I have so much farther to go.

I heard something this past week, at the same conference I was at last year actually, that resonated with me and helped me understand this pursuit of vulnerability more clearly.

That transparency is not the same as vulnerability.

And I realized, maybe I haven't been getting better at vulnerability, but rather transparency. Which I think is a step forward. Make the walls invisible, then start tearing them down and letting people in.

I am open with my brokenness, my struggles, but generally only after they're "fixed." I identify an issue, and by that I mean God shows me an issue, then I say, "Alright, God, let's do this!" And, just me and God, I work through those issues, unwilling to really tell others about it until I can say, "I was _______, but now I'm fine!" Which is not vulnerability. I always end everything on a positive note. I'm willing to share what is hard in life, what I'm upset or angry or confused about, but I always end it with a "but I'm fine," or "but God's got it," (which He does! But when I'm honest, I don't always believe that in the moment, or at least live it).

I tell stories, I don't always share chapters.

Stories have a beginning, middle, and end. I don't like to let it go hanging. It's always, "I was struggling, but," rarely, "I am struggling."

This realization, and conviction, of a need to take the next step in living vulnerably, was encouraged by conversations with friends. I had the privilege of truly being vulnerable with a few dear friends, giving them chapters, and more importantly, asking for help. Admitting that I needed them, couldn't do it alone, needed to be built up and encouraged and asking them to be intrusive friends who didn't let me just give a surface-level mask-held-high answer, but to tear down the walls and let them into the real me.

And those moments were beautiful. Instead of telling them the already-finished story, I got to invite them in to the chapters that are currently being written and let them be part of the plotline. And the fear of being viewed differently or not liked as much was quickly dissipated, with the reminder that I'm still the same Katy, just a little bit more.