Category Archives: Christian life

Escaping guilt-driven living

Why did I torture myself all those years? Why did I beat myself up so often? Why was I so motivated by guilt and shame?

You know those days when you just can’t get everything on your “to-do list” done (the one in your head that has 37 items)? While making dinner, you think back on your day: meal plan for the week (check), grocery shopping (check), two loads of laundry washed, folded (check – but still need putting away), dog walked and fed, baby fed and changed (numerous times – check), one chapter of bible study read (check – but still need to answer questions).

And then you sigh, kicking yourself that you didn’t get to the other 30 items. You look around the house and see some groceries still sitting on the counter (oops, forgot to put them away when the baby needed a diaper change). Dinner is going to be 15 minutes later than you hoped and you never even had a chance to take a shower today. You must not be a good wife … mother … friend … Christian …

Really?! What a way to live! And yet, I did that for so many years!

Last week, I was thinking back on my early adult years and remembering those nagging thoughts and guilty feelings. Wow! How I’ve changed!

I reached for my bookshelf and pulled down, “12 ‘Christian’ Beliefs That Can Drive You Crazy: Relief From False Assumptions,” by Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend. I turned to that chapter that made a huge impact in my life about 10 years ago. “Assumption #8: “Shoulds” are good.”

The word should expresses obligation, compulsion, duty. It implies that we have no choice; that if we do other than we should, we are bad or condemned … The problem arises when we do things in order to be good, instead of because of the blessings we will gain by doing them. The problem is doing good things from a sense of obligation instead of out of genuine love.

The book goes on to explain how, even as Christians, we can get stuck emotionally “under the law”, and how to move into living in Christ’s freedom.

That was the beginning of my renewed understanding of the “shoulds” in my life.  I realized that I was constantly condemning myself and never quite felt “good enough”. I had many accomplishments – living on my own starting at age 17, gaining employment and putting myself through college, buying cars, graduating summa cum laude, starting my own private music lesson career, and the list goes on. I had a strong work ethic and many friends. Yet I was still secretly unhappy much of the time due to unreal expectations for myself.

Thankfully, I had a breakthrough and God slowly began to change my heart and mind. I learned that being motivated by guilt is based on “wrath at self” (ouch!) due to being under the law of sin. But being motivated by love is based on Godly sorrow and embracing God’s grace and acceptance of me.

How is it that a woman raised in a Christian home can get stuck in such a pointless, painful cycle of self-loathing? Well, we all have imperfect families and imperfect lives.

It’s been a gradual process to unlearn my previous ways of thinking. I began to accept that I could never jeopardize God’s love if I failed his expectations. I began to embrace my positive qualities and not worry so much about the “negative” or “less-than-perfect” ones. I began to live in God’s grace and freedom. I also started setting more realistic expectations for myself.

What a relief!

I believe that escaping my guilt-driven living allowed me to make the choice to step away from a job eight years ago that I had worked so hard to gain, and thought would make me very happy. Unfortunately, that job became my nightmare and my dream was shattered. But instead of continuing on, thinking I had a “duty” to put to good use all the education and hoops I had jumped through to get the job, I released myself and chose to live a life driven by my true desires.

As I sit here typing, I’m looking around our condo. It’s a little messy, I admit. There are many things I could do. But what I choose to do are the things that will contribute to making our home one of joy, peace, and love. My relationships are much more important than things.

I no longer constantly tell myself that I must always be doing or “being” more than I am. I smile (most of the time) and think of all the ways that I am loving life.

I still have some “shoulds” in my life that creep around occasionally, but they have almost faded away and are easily recognizable to me now. Mostly, I am directed by the “want to’s” that are motivated by a desire for God and the life of freedom that He has already given me.

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

I’d like to know, what have you been set free from, or what are you working to escape from?

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Mending a broken heart

“I can’t tell you what is right or wrong for your life.

That is between you and God.”

I was almost disappointed by those words, spoken to me by a Christian counselor after my first meeting with her. The previous hour had been spent with my now ex-husband and myself. After a very brief separation, I had decided to tell my husband that I wanted to get divorced. I also wanted an unattached third party to be present as a witness, to make sure I could get through what I needed to say in a safe place (emotionally).

I spent some time with the counselor alone after our hour together was finished. She made other comments and asked other questions, but the comment above is what I remember the most. After living in a struggling relationship for many years, I had no hope left for renewal. I had no hope of any change taking place. I had no hope for reconciliation. My heart had been broken too many times and my hope had been extinguished.

In an effort to justify my choice, I wanted the counselor to side with me. I wanted to hear that my decision was not wrong, or at least that it was not for the wrong reasons. I wanted confirmation that I had tried the appropriate number of interventions and was now free to let go of a dead relationship. I wanted to hear, “It’s OK, you can get divorced now.”

But to be honest, I think we already were divorced – we just didn’t have the legal paper.

When a marriage contains falsehoods, secrets, sexual immorality, fantasies (ones about how real life works), selfishness and brokenness, is it really a marriage? Isn’t marriage a covenant between two people – one that includes faithfulness and love? And so, in the midst of continued faithlessness and withholding of love, with no desire for repentance or effort to change, can a relationship really be called a marriage? Or is it perhaps just a remnant of what could have been? Tattered threads from the beginnings of a life together, that never made it beyond the immaturity of newlyweds.

Thankfully, there is hope in God. He can restore broken marriages and broken hearts. Sadly, my story does have the pain of divorce woven into it. But He has given me a new life and a new marriage.

I believe that the Holy Spirit cried many tears of sadness along with me during my first marriage, and especially when it ended. But I also received His grace and forgiveness. We all have pain and brokenness in our lives. It is the curse of being human and living in a fallen world. And quite honestly, it sucks! But I am rejoicing today that God has healed my scars and restored my hope!

I was reminded of my counselor’s words today while chatting with a friend regarding judgement from other Christians related to divorce and remarriage. The Bible does address divorce, adultery, immorality, and many other difficult topics, including judging others (and sharing Truth with others). We all have sin in our lives. And yes, some sins have different earthly consequences than others. It is my desire to live a life that is sanctified by God, knowing that He has sent a redeemer to stand up for me on the final judgement day. And that day is when God will judge me, not man.

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Feelings vs. Truth

I haven’t felt really close to God for awhile now.

Are you shocked? Or are you nodding your head and thinking the same thing?

Maybe that seems hypocritical to say, but I’m just trying to be real. It’s not that I feel like I don’t know God, or that He’s pulled away from me. I just haven’t felt super close to Him like I have in the past.

Is it because of inconsistent personal time with God? Have I just not been reading the Bible enough? Is my prayer time a one-way conversation where I do all the talking?

Or maybe, it’s because I’ve been so happy that I haven’t needed to rely on God as much to heal my hurts. I finally know what it means to have a happy marriage – one in which we are partners in life! And for years in my previous marriage, I didn’t think I could get pregnant. Well, we just celebrated my son’s first birthday and will be celebrating the birth of our second child in March! I have wonderful friends and a fantastic church. I’ve been involved in worship leading and directed the choirs for our Christmas and Easter Cantatas. We’ve had amazing adventures – traveling, sailing, outdoor activities, family visits. Honestly, my life has been absolutely incredible the last several years. So, why do I feel distant from God?

A few weeks ago, I decided to try to get more consistent in my time with God. I like to read Christian-authored books along with the Bible. So, I chose a book that I’ve had on my shelf for almost a year, “Disappointment With God,” by Philip Yancey. I chose that book mostly because I really enjoy Philip Yancey, not because I feel disappointed with God. Along with reading a few pages a day, I’ve been reading Galatians. That is where our sermon topics come from and since I’ve been leading worship, I wanted to keep focused on the topic at hand.

I started journaling again today (it comes and goes in my life) to try to get more focused. I like to journal different things – my prayers to God, my thoughts about what I’m reading, my thoughts about my life or life in general. Today, I did a bit of a recap on what I’ve read in Yancey’s book. The last few chapters of his book have been a recap of the Old Testament which tell “amazing stories of [God’s] continuing personal encounters with humanity.” p. 63

Originally, God was very intimate with Adam and Eve before they ate the forbidden fruit. Of course, everything was downhill from there. But, God never gave up. It seems that He just continued to try different tactics. A customized punishment for Cain, a clean slate with Noah after generations of rejection from humans (along with the promise to never do it again!), starting a new race set apart from everyone else through Abraham, sending angels down for a chat, dreams (think Jacob and Joseph), major displays of divine power with the plagues, speaking audibly to Moses, pillars of clouds and fire, direct instructions on how to live (Ten Commandments and Leviticus), miraculous food out of thin air, kings (by request) and prophets (the kings didn’t work out so well).

A lot of these tactics brought out fear in the people He was trying to reach. (Remember, “Fear not!” was a common greeting when dealing with God and those He sent.) Then He tried something totally different. God allowed Jesus Christ, His Son, to be lowered to the status of mere human. And not only that, He had to grow up to end a perfect life in complete agony! I really can’t imagine allowing my beautiful baby boy to be killed so brutally! And after Jesus left the earth, he assured us that we would have God’s Spirit with us and living in us, if only we accepted him.

That got me thinking about the many ways God has pursued generations of men, women and children; how He has given us a way to stay connected to Him every day, without all the crazy sacrifices and rules that the Israelites had to keep to try to stay righteous.

So, why is it that I don’t feel really close to God right now? I think it goes back to time. So, I’ve decided to have some God-dates. (Does that sound cheesy?)

I think we all go through various seasons in our spiritual lives. I want this next season to be one of treasuring my time alone with God. Being a stay-at-home Mom means lots of housework, lots of meal planning and prep, and lots of baby time! So, I’ve committed a portion of Ethan’s daily nap time to spending time with God. Thankfully, I’ve been able to meet that goal 4-5 days a week. (Sometimes, I have to take a nap first, but that’s OK!)

And I know beyond doubt that if God went to that much effort to show people His love, power, grace and mercy; then recorded all those stories for me to be reassured; and gave me a “personal assistant” for life (a.k.a. Holy Spirit) … then He certainly won’t give up on me just because I missed a few dates or got too busy to go for a walk with my Friend. I’m so thankful that He is still hanging around, eager to spend time with me!

Jeremiah, the prophet, sent a letter to the people King Nebuchadnezzar had taken as captives from Jerusalem to Babylon. He told them in chapter 29, verses 12-13, that the Lord said:

“You will come to me and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will search for me. And when you search for me with all your heart, you will find me!”

I’m holding onto that promise for myself. And I can honestly say, I do feel a little closer to God these days!

But really, “What matters is not what I feel is true about myself at any moment, but what I know is true about God at every moment,” so profoundly spoken by the Welsh preacher, Martyn Lloyd Jones.

(Ironically, our pastor spoke on this exact topic yesterday … and I started this post a week ago. Interesting how God works!)

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Let’s get real, people!

Our pastor recently shared about his personal life in a very transparent sermon. One that gets you thinking, “Wow! I could never share about my struggles with my church friends (who are, of course, always happy and perfect Christians). Not to mention, sharing about my problems in front of a whole congregation!” Sadly, many of us, myself included, have spent many years in Christian circles trying to keep up pretenses. It’s just not worth it!

Pornographic materials of all kinds had a grip on my pastor’s life for many years, starting at age 12. He shared his story of how those materials entered his life, how they affected him in teenage and young adult years, and even into his early married years. Thankfully, he continually went back to God to get those images, stories, and thoughts out of his mind. He also confessed to his wife and made a commitment to take specific actions to guard himself. Now, he is able to proclaim that those things no longer hold him hostage!

During his sermon, he told the story of a church leader who was so frustrated with people’s lack of “realness” that he wished one of the men in his small group would get up and say that he wanted to kill his wife. Of course, not that wanting to kill his wife was a good thing, but that he would be honest and open enough to say how he felt in order to embrace the healing process.

I think I was in the women’s version of that small group. For two years, I helped lead worship for a women’s bible study at a fairly large church in southern California. Our “small” group that met after the large group worship and speaking session consisted of eight to ten women, including two leaders. After the initial few sessions, you hoped that people would start sharing their hurts and struggles more intimately. There were many days when I simply couldn’t hold back my tears as I shared, yet again, about my disintegrating marriage. I felt completely alone among dry eyes, sympathetic nods and bible memory verses.

But know that I’m writing this, I wonder how honest I really was. Did I really lay it on the line and tell those women that I had thought of divorce? I remember crying a lot, but maybe more of those tears fell in my car when I was finally alone. I did talk one-on-one with several women and ask for advice. My summary of that advice: be a better wife, spend more time with God, do everything at home (mind you, I was working full-time) so he can focus on being the “man of the house”, and give him more sex. I tried so hard to do all those things and whatever else I could think of. Nothing seemed to help!

I tried to put on my game face for church – especially for the young marrieds group we attended – but it just got harder. We did meet with one of the pastors one evening during the young marrieds group. (Again, I couldn’t hold back the tears!) We also met with a Christian counselor for a time. Eventually, we did get divorced. A part of me will always be saddened by the brokenness of that relationship.

But going back to that women’s bible study … a few weeks after the study ended, I received a call from the leader. Not my small group leader, but the leader of the entire study. She apologized to me and said she wished she had talked with me sooner. She knew that I was struggling, but didn’t know how difficult things were. She told me she should have been “Jesus with skin on.” That took my breath away. Even now I can hear her saying that phrase. “Jesus with skin on.”

I just wonder … am I being honest enough with others to allow them to care about me and love on me? Am I reaching out to others who are hurting or confused and offering to be “Jesus with skin on?”

I think we can all be a little more honest, a little more vulnerable, and a little more real.

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