Sunday, December 19, 2010

Stepping Out of Denial

**Reader warning...brutal honesty ahead...

I have spent the majority of my life living in denial.  If you want to know what that feels like, read over the following acrostic (courtesy of Celebrate Recovery's Participatory Guide 1, pp 17-19):

Before we can take the first step of our recovery, we must first face and admit our denial...God tells us, "You can't heal a wound by saying it's not there!" (Jeremiah 6:14, TLB).  The acrostic for DENIAL spells out what can happen if we do not face our denial.

D isables our repressing our feelings we freeze our emotions...understanding and feeling our feelings is freedom...(2 Peter 2:19)

E nergy lost...a side effect of our denial is anxiety...anxiety causes us to waste precious energy running from our past and worrying about and dreading the is only in the present, today, where positive change can occur...Psalm 146:7-8)

N egates growth...we are "as sick as our secrets"...we can't grow in recovery until we are ready to step out of our denial into the truth...(Psalm 107:13-14)

I solates us from God...God's light shines on the truth...our denial keeps us in the dark...(I John 1:5-7)

A lienates us from our relationships...denial tells us we are getting away with it...we think no one knows--but they do...the answer is found in Ephesians 4:25, TLB, "stop lying to each other; tell the truth...when we lie to each other we are hurting ourselves..."

L engthens the pain...we have the false belief that denial protects us from our reality, denial allows our pain to fester and grow and turn into shame and guilt...God's promise is found in Jeremiah 30:17, TLB..."I will give you back your health again and heal your wounds."

Instead of facing things that happened to me when I was growing up, I stuffed and denied...and then I had no idea why the roots of my self-image were rooted so deep in shame and guilt or why there seemed to be so much darkness growing inside me.  About a year ago, in His mercy, God allowed me to begin the process of stepping out of denial and into God's grace.

The truth is that I am a victim of childhood sexual abuse.  I knew it happened, it wasn't like I denied that it happened...what I denied is that it had any affect on my life in any way, shape or form.  I was so steeped in the tradition of denial that I could actually hear stories of other people who had been sexually abused as children and feel sorry for them, all the while thinking that I could not relate to them because I had nothing like that in my own background.  Is that crazy or what?! 

One of the major reasons that I lived in denial of the abuse is that it was not perpetrated by some family member or other adult, the abuse came in the form of sexual games played by other children while my family lived in a remote location without other coworkers.  I was allowed to spend time alone with these other children and depravity was rampant in that culture.  So in a way, I didn't see that as abuse because it was something that I willingly participated in (I now know that is a common thing among victims of abuse, minimizing the abuse).  I think I knew that it was wrong, even though I was very young, but I did not have the ability to refuse or I was curious or something.  And yet it was abuse, just the same, and it twisted and warped and damaged something inside of me that I didn't know how to fix.  I didn't even know how to tell anyone what had happened or that I should tell someone. 

So from that time on, I lived with secret shame and guilt over what I had done.  I pushed it into the recesses of my mind, thinking that if I forgot about it then it wouldn't affect me any more...and yet the reality is that sexual abuse seems to permeate the very core of your being and has to be dealt with or it continues to grow in insidious power as it takes over the different parts of your life...I found myself a grown adult, sometimes barely able to look other people in the eyes because of the deep shame I felt about who I was as a person.  I didn't understand myself at all and instead of getting better, felt myself slipping further and further into darkness.  I found myself completely controlled by my coping mechanisms, turning to food and other things in a futile attempt to satisfy and fill the emptiness inside (this is, in fact, the biggest thing that I have repented of...while I was not responsible for the abuse, I am responsible for the ways that I responded to that abuse as an adult and I have repented for trying to find life and satisfaction in anything other than in knowing God). 

I wore a mask for many of those years, just pasting on a smile and hearing myself live and laugh and yet feeling so dead inside...I wondered if this was all there was to life and my only hope became that someday I would spend eternity in heaven, free of the pain and the darkness.  I realize now that I did not have much hope that life on this earth could be fulfilling or even all that enjoyable...I didn't seem to be able to receive much enjoyment from my life, even though there were moments of fleeting happiness. 

One day I realized that I'd become someone who was toxic...highly insecure, deep in despair, unloving and unkind to my children, a hypocrite because the mask that I wore really didn't reflect the truth of who I was inside.  I rarely allowed myself to feel all of the pain that I held inside because I was afraid that if I did, it would be too much for me to bear and I would fall into complete instability.  Afraid of losing control, I kept a tight rein on my emotions and very few people suspected that there was anything wrong...the only problem was that keeping such a tight control over my emotions just numbed me so that while I couldn't feel the painful emotions, I couldn't feel the good, positive emotions either. 

There are other things I have lived in denial over, other issues from my childhood, emotions and feelings that I had never processed and all of these things just kept building up an incredible vacuum of pain and emptiness inside me that have done a lot of damage to my life and those around me. 

But now I can look back and see that in the last few years God has been bringing me to a point where the desire to heal was greater than the desire to hide.  God has done an incredible healing work in me to give me the courage to face the reality of my life and learn how to heal, grow and live for His honor and glory.  Celebrate Recovery has been a place where I have found healing...I have discovered that I am not alone and that my story isn't all that different than so many others.  In fact, God has been gracious to me because I have not experienced the half of what others have gone through...sometimes my heart breaks as I hear others share what they have had to heal from.  How it must break God's heart to see how his creation treats each other sometimes! 

I recently reviewed my healing progress and I was amazed to find out how far I've come...the shame and self-contempt are gone...I no longer battle darkness and despair and depression every day because I have hope in a real, honest and intimate relationship with my heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ.  The roots of my self-image and identity are rooting themselves deeper and deeper into the soil of God's grace, Christ's love and delight in me and the truth of His Word.  I am free from the negative recordings playing in my head telling me that I'm dumb, stupid, bad, inadequate, unspiritual, immature or a bother.  I can hold my head up high and look people in the eyes when I speak to them because I know that I am a valuable child of God...if I mess up, I confess it, make things right and move on.  I have peace with God through my Lord Jesus Christ because I have been justified through faith (Romans 5:1).  This freedom is a powerful thing and as I experience it, I can sense that I am finally enjoying a true, emotional attachment to God.  For some reason, the things that happened to me had given me a sense of abandonment and had not allowed me to form the attachment to God that I needed to experience intimacy with Him or with others, including my family and my children. 

I still struggle with  leftover habits that need reforming and with other issues, such as emotional reactions when I get triggered or with second-guessing myself and my decisions...I still find there are things I need to grieve over...I spent years in denial and it would be unrealistic to think that complete healing will happen overnight.  But even if it does take time, I'm learning to give myself grace and I know that things that will get better with time as I learn how to handle life on this side of healing.  I am learning to respect my limits, how to set healthy boundaries, and how to resolve conflicts in a godly way.  Life is good and I feel clean and free to live out my faith in Christ in a real, honest and transparent way.  My deepest desire is to know God so that His life and grace will trickle out of me to others sometimes.  I am thankful that God loves me so much that He is patiently walking with me through this healing process and I long to see Him face-to-face, thank Him for His grace and experience fully His delight and enjoyment in me, His creation.  For now, however, it feels pretty good to enjoy this new life in Christ right here on earth. 

In Celebrate Recovery, we use the Serenity Prayer a lot and I have grown to love and appreciate the words of this prayer as I apply it to my life.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the widsom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace;
taking, as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it;
trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your will;
so that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Reinhold Niebuhr

Wash Away

My heart's desire...that all but Christ
in me be washed away...I just
want to know God...

Stepping into the Story

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to attend a retreat for ladies where we listened to a missionary to Thailand share some thoughts about getting more intimate with God.  I wasn't sure what to expect but I certainly wasn't disappointed!  Either I'm listening with new ears or I'd just never heard these particular thoughts before, but it was such a refreshing time to hear this woman speak to my heart in such a meaningful way.  At one point, she handed out journals for some writing time and to take notes...I picked one with pretty floral patterns and went to work, I love to write! 

We were encouraged to gain fresh insight into familiar Bible stories by stepping into the story, putting ourselves in the place of a biblical character to see if we could see anything differently.  This looks like...reading the story, imagining myself there hearing the sounds, smelling the smells, feeling the grass, the dust, the tears on my cheeks...and asking, What are the emotions I feel as I 'see' Jesus?  What is Jesus saying to me in the story? 

The speaker pointed out that all too often we read the Bible with our brains and don't really engage our other senses...but if we don't have an emotional experience with the story and truly enter into it, there will inevitably a disconnect between us and the Word.  And that's how it is, sometimes what I read in the Word is so familiar that it is dry and no longer fresh.  But the speaker pointed out that as we practice stepping into the story, it will become move alive...less about how we 'get it together' and more about how God reaches out to us. 

And right now, I'm all about that emotional connection to God...I've lived too many years with an emotional disconnect from God and I am excited not only about trying this with other passages, but sharing this idea with others as well.  Like with my kids. 

So here's what happened when I stepped into the story of the woman healed by Jesus in Mark 5:21-43.  It was a powerful experience for me, a precious one.  It still is, especially if I read it out loud.  I hope you enjoy it as well.

I am a woman who has suffered for many years...sick, tired and wasted.  I have spent so much time and energy and money in trying to find healing for my body. I have tried so many different ways to be healed and have suffered through so many different treatments from countless doctors.  It just seems so hopeless!  But then I hear about this man Jesus who heals the sick.  Could it be that he could heal me, too?  I go to where he is passing by just to catch a glimpse of him, but there are so many people!  I fight to get closer, but I know that even if I could approach him, I might not have the courage to ask this man to heal me.  Who am I but one poor, weak, insignificant woman?  They say that this man, this Jesus, is The Messiah!  He will never want to bother, then, with someone like me.  And besides, even if I did have the courage to ask him, he might just say no and I couldn't bear that. 

But then the thought occurs to me that maybe I don't need to ask him, maybe if I just touch his clothes, maybe that would be enough.  It might not work, but I have to try.  I'm that desperate to get well.  He'll never know, there are so many people could he possibly know that I've touched his robe?  I press forward in the crowd, but people are pushing on me from every side.  The noise from all the people shouting as they make their way through the street with Jesus is almost unbearable for me.  I use one last burst of my meager strength to surge forward.  I reach out my arm and my hand brushes the hem of his robe for just one second as he passes by.

And that is all it takes.  Time stands still and the world stops moving.  I feel a jolt of energy move up my arm from my fingertips and spread throughout my body.  I feel as light as a feather and I know immediately.  I am healed!  Everything comes back into focus and the sounds of the crowd reach my ears once again.  Full of joy and weeping with thankfulness I turn to go back home.

And then I hear the crowd go silent as Jesus asks, "Who touched me?"  I shrink back, hoping that he will not notice me and give up and move away.  But he doesn't leave and and his eyes keep searching the crowd.  He asks again, "Who touched me?"  What had I been thinking?  Of course Jesus would know that his power had healed me.  Trembling with fear, I push my way through the crowd.  I can't look at him and I just throw myself at his his mercy.  I expect him to rebuke me.  I am so afraid.  Will he take my healing away?

My story pours out of me through my tears, the years of suffering and the loss of my health and my life.  I beg him to forgive me for bothering him, since I know that he is so busy.  His hand on my shoulder stops the flow of words from my mouth and I dare to cast a glance up at him.  Jesus is looking down at me and to my surprise I see that he is not angry.  In fact, I can only see love and compassion in his eyes.  And then he speaks.  His voice rings out through the silence.  He says, "Daughter, your faith has healed you.  Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." 

Daughter?  He calls me daughter?  And no, that wasn't right, he healed faith is not enough, it is small and weak.  But Jesus said that my faith has healed me!  I don't understand...but I do understand that I am healed.  Jesus said it, too, I am HEALED! 

I don't get a chance to speak to him any more...messengers have come to tell him that Jairus' daughter is already dead.  I turn away in shame, thinking that if I hadn't stopped Jesus on his way to heal the girl then maybe he would have gotten there on time.  I return home sad, even though I am healed.  I weep over the death of that little girl, even wishing that she had been healed instead of me.  But then I hear the news, Jesus did heal that girl, brought her back from the dead!  My heart surges with joy again.  Surely Jesus is The Messiah, the Son of God!  And that means that it was the Son of God that healed me!  The Son of God cares about me!  A simple woman.  Surely he is a great God!  I bow my head in grateful worship. 

I know that I might never see Jesus again, but he will be a part of my life for as long as I live...for it is not my life that I live, but this is the life that Jesus gave to me.  I can do nothing less than live that life for him.