Over the past few months, there’s an idea I’ve been trying to articulate. It’s the idea of “becoming Real” — that, somehow, embracing “who we really are” is critical to being happy and healthy, and that it is God’s love that facilitates this. I’ve written about it in one form or another here, here, here, and here.
I finally got some clarity on it a week or so ago. During my 12-hour drive to our new city, I listened to portions of a book called Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. Oddly enough, it’s a book about masculinity (why I’m reading it is a long but unrelated story), but there is a section that resonated with me as profoundly universal for both men and women.
The concept is basically this…
In C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce, there is imagery that haunts me.
The damned arrive via bus at a meadow on the outskirts of Heaven. They are ghostlike, translucent, fading away. But Heaven is Real — blindingly, agonizingly so. The grass feels like knives. The stream like sharp shards of glass. The flowers are too heavy to lift.
It is unbearable for most of the damned. They return back to hell. They cannot face what is True. And so they are held captive in a prison of their own making.
Jesus said: “The Truth will set you free.” But I don’t believe that the Truth of which He spoke has much at all to do with complex theological systems or abstract authority claims, as we tend to assume in modernity. Instead, the Truth of which he spoke is much simpler…and much more robust.
It is Him.
He is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He is what sets us free.
He allows us to be who we are.
We are human beings made in the image of God. This means that, fundamentally, “who we are” are creatures built to love as He loves (and He is love). In other words, we have the capacity to be so filled with the Love of God that we melt into Him; we become One with Him. This is the essence of the Great Intercessory Prayer of John 17. This is what He meant when He said that Life Eternal is to know God and Christ. He didn’t mean some rudimentary head-knowledge of God’s characteristics. He meant an experiential, Holy Union, the way we know our most cherished loved ones; a relationship between God and us and the people around us.
Yet so often, we choose not to be who we are. We choose to be who we think we should be. We choose to be who we think others want us to be. We put pressure on people around us to do the same. We pile on layers of deceit and shame, anger and judgment, lust and vice, fear and control. We think we’re doing right, but every layer takes us further and further from Truth, from Him, until we’re wasting away like the ghosts in The Great Divorce.
But here is the miracle of it all: we can be who we are just the way we are. We can choose Him this instant, whatever our circumstances, and He will set us free.
What does it look like?
Freedom in Christ means seeing our best qualities without boasting and our worst qualities without shame. It means seeing others’ best qualities without envy and their worst qualities without judgment. It is being able to change and repent without fear or hesitation, because even when we make mistakes, we know our worth. It is forgiving others before they apologize (or if they never do), because even when they make mistakes, we know their worth.
Freedom in Christ means embracing folks who are as flawed and floundering and foolish as we are (though perhaps in different ways) with the same open arms we’ve found in our union with Him. It is letting those around us be free to experience their own transformations in their own way, trusting that God will do as well by them as He has by us. It is knowing that whatever happens, however painful, He will use it for our good, for we are in Him and He in us.
Freedom in Christ means being transformed so that when He appears we shall be like Him. It is knowing Him even as we are known. It is being who we are — who we really, truly are — and knowing it is Enough.
In a few days, my family is moving from a small town in northern Idaho to a much larger city in the western United States.
It’s hard to believe that we have to move on, yet there’s a sort of completeness that fills me as I think about it. I have no doubt that it’s time for the next phase of our lives…and that we’re ready for whatever comes our way — thanks, in large part, to the preparation of this phase.
And my, what a phase it’s been! My husband was in graduate school for Acting. I think I was in graduate school for life. I’ve learned seriously important lessons over the past 4 years. And since new beginnings are always a time to reflect, I thought I’d share some of them here…
1. The only way out is through.
2. All I’ll ever have is a small glimpse into what is eternally True.
3. God is good.
4. Love means honoring people’s freedom…then giving them all kinds grace when they use it to screw things up. MOST IMPORTANT PART: this goes for me, too.
5. From our greatest trials spring our greatest blessings.
6. It is more important to be authentic than liked. Of course, with few exceptions, it is possible to be both.
7. Wherever I am today is because I chose it.
8. At least 35% of the Avett Brothers’ songs should be canonized as scripture. Case in point:
9. The Kingdom of God is within.
10. I married the right dude. Just look at him.
11. The church is as true as the gospel. Especially because of its flaws.
12. God’s love brings freedom to live from what’s real.
The other day, I came across my old mission sketchbook — not my journal, but the place where I wrote a bit more creatively: descriptive paragraphs, recipes, and song lyrics, mostly. And I stumbled upon a song I’d forgotten about, called “Hiding Place.”
Now I’m not a great songwriter; I recognize that. I don’t know enough about music, or the piano, or poetry to put together anything truly excellent. Still, it’s a wonderful creative outlet I’ve enjoyed over the years. When I started playing this song again on the piano, some fascinating memories came flooding back. I remember writing it on a P-day in Pernik while I was companions with Sister R., and being a little bit baffled by it. I wasn’t quite sure who I was writing to. The other day, a good 7 years later (holy crap, I’m old!), I finally realized:
I was writing to ME.
This song is about faith, doubt, and finding the courage to tell the truth about yourself. Long before I had any idea what was really going on with me, I knew I’d have to face myself; and this little song, as simple as it is, was permission to do what I needed to do.
I was pretty stunned. So I opened up Garageband on my husband’s Mac and recorded it with the cheap little headset I use to Skype with clients. The sound quality isn’t great — there’s a bit of background noise (at the very end you can even hear a watch alarm go off) — and I just messed around a little with some harmonies, but it’s actually pretty special to me…so I thought I’d share. 🙂
My 20-year-old sister is in the process of deciding whether or not she should serve a full-time mission and sent me an email asking me about my experience. Of course, prayer and personal reflection are her primary decision-making tools; still, she feels that an important part of her process is gathering as much information as she can about what missions are really like.
Knowing that several of my readers are returned missionaries, I asked for her permission to share her questions on my blog. She jumped at the chance to get wider feedback. So here are her questions and my responses. If you’re an RM, please take a few minutes to respond to the questions as well (if you feel comfortable, you could even include where you served — not necessary though)! We’re happy to take responses from everyone, regardless of how much you enjoyed your mission (or didn’t!) or whether or not you are still an active Mormon.
Thanks in advance for helping her out. 🙂
I wonder if, at the center of a woman’s unhappiness, there isn’t an insatiable Want: to be accepted, to be known, to be loved.
In fairness, I don’t think this is exclusively a “woman” problem. I’m certain men experience similar longings. More likely, this is a human problem — perhaps among the most fundamental of our uniquely human urges. But I’ve never been a man, so I can only speak to my experience as a woman; and from what I’ve observed both in my own life and in my interaction with other women, it seems to be a core component of our collective discontent.
We seek to fill the Want in a variety of ways: relationships, hobbies, careers, motherhood, sex, power, chemicals, causes, shopping, interpersonal drama, food, entertainment.
Depending on the fill, it might work for a while — some more convincingly than others. The stomach-tingling excitement of new romance has filled me for weeks, even months. A good conversation for a day. A Jack-in-the-Box chocolate shake for a solid half-hour.
Eventually, though, the satiation fades and the Want returns — often much stronger than before.
I was planning to go somewhere else with this next post on why women are unhappy, but a recent conversation with a good friend convinced me that I should start here.
So let’s talk, shall we, about that familiar kill-joy for women everywhere: guilt.
Perhaps the most significant change in my belief life over the past several months is this:
I now take full, personal responsibility for my own beliefs.
That means I believe what I believe because I believe it — because it resonates with my soul, because I perceive that God has led me to a particular insight or truth, because it fills me up and changes me for the better in terms of my ability to love and be loved.
Of course, the flipside of this radical new change is that I no longer believe simply because a person, institution, or book tells me to.
Been reading and thinking lately about the Creation.
The other week, my sister called and asked me, “Why did you have a daughter?” And this launched a long discussion about the impulse to create. I asked, “Why does a painter paint, or a writer write, or a builder build?”
We decided there’s something about the creating, the painting, the writing, the building, that is inherently valuable. It’s about expressing life and expressing self. And as God’s creations, we are expressions of Him — which is really a beautiful concept when you think about it.
Anyway, I jotted down some thoughts on the subject yesterday and thought I’d share them here. They’re fairly disorganized, just a few scattered paragraphs, but I figured they might be worth exploring…