Last week I had one of those amazing evenings with two of my favorite girlfriends where we opened up about our past experiences and current challenges, provided mutual encouragement, and simply gloried in the strength and solidarity of each other’s sisterly presence. (I can’t even express how grateful I am to have that dynamic back in my life on a regular basis after enduring a season mostly without it.)
At one point, specific difficulties faced by one of us were addressed with reassurances she accepted, not quite reluctantly, but with the slightest tinge of skepticism. But later, when she brought up her own encouragement toward another friend, I stopped her and said that she needed to record those words and replay them for herself. They were so applicable to the situation we’d discussed earlier that I was struck anew with how often we tend to believe all the best about others and only the worst about ourselves.
This irony has been a major (John Williams-soundtrack-level) theme in my life.
How many times are the positive things we think about or say to others taken for granted as true for them, but dismissed as fantasy for us? Why are our insights so clear when we’re dealing with them and so murky when we’re dealing with ourselves?
We all have our own painful sources for the impulse to elevate others and denigrate ourselves, but the spirit of unworthiness is often at the heart of it.
This was one of my own biggest struggles for the first 19 years of my walk with Christ. Because it didn’t really affect me prior to that, I truly believe this battle came from a place of spiritual attack – which may explain why so many of us are susceptible to this dynamic once we find ourselves in God’s grace.
Grace . . . yeah. Now that’s a hard pill to swallow. On the one hand it frees us from the burden of saving ourselves and on the other it chains us to that very same reality: we suddenly know it’s not even possible to earn our salvation and that just kills us on some level. Our obsession with control (a Matrix-worthy illusion) gets set ablaze and we desperately fight to extinguish the flames.
In fact, the harder we try to compete with the grace we’ve received, the more unworthy we feel . . . and sometimes, as in my case, it takes one or more powerful encounters with the presence of God to forever end our ceaseless striving.
It was the Spring of 2006. Through a tricky little maneuver by God, I joined the recovery ministry at my new church and was embracing deep fellowship with the mending broken. Having so many others with various backgrounds and issues come together in an honest and vulnerable search for true freedom in Christ was life-changing. I was not alone . . . not by a long shot . . . and I no longer had to face what was left of the struggle by myself.
While I quickly became close with a number of people, one new friend in particular burdened my heart to a degree that I have not felt again until very recently. Having had such similar experiences – though I was further along in my journey and had not faced the same level of consequences – we shared a natural bond. But it was more than that.
God had supernaturally loaded me up with His own love for this precious child of His and I couldn’t have gotten away from it had I tried. The tragic beauty of the soul in crisis; the unyielding hope of the freedom to come: by Divine gifting my spiritual eyes suddenly perceived this friend the way God’s did and I was broken for him.
But no matter how much I tried to be an encouragement, what I got reflected back to me most often was unworthiness, self-condemnation, and self-loathing.
Following the hardest and most despairing conversation we ever had, I drove home in frantic tears. Finally accepting that I was wholly incapable of making a difference where only God could bring healing, I went to Him in the most intense intercession of my life.
With my entire being, I begged Father, Son, Spirit, and angels to powerfully intervene on my friend’s behalf.
Somewhere in the midst of these fervent prayers, God spiritually transported me into His glorious cosmos to experience the vastness, beauty, and grandeur of both His Creation and His personal presence. Floating in the middle of the Universe, stars and galaxies and nebulae slowly swirling around us, I basked in the glory of the Lord and drank it in to the depths of my soul.
Once I was sufficiently filled up with silent awe and reverence, God spoke: This is how big my love is for him.
Suddenly overwhelmed with both the love itself and the truth behind it, I started bawling again – this time for joy – as I took in and fully assimilated this expanded understanding of God’s eternal reality. After the sudden surge of emotion had calmed somewhat, God unexpectedly whispered:
And this is how big my love is for YOU.
Immediately I was back in my bedroom. Whatever portion of me that had been with the Lord was smashed back into the rest and what I can only describe as the invisible hand of God pressed me forcefully into the mattress for several minutes.
Having already been so completely overwhelmed on behalf of my friend, this was enough to destroy me outright. I firmly believe that this revelation of His love was too powerful for the human body to survive without help – that His heavy, but gracious, hand kept my very atoms from flying apart.
While the pressure was merely firm, the revelation was excruciatingly painful. My atoms remained intact, but those lingering addictive impulses, feelings of unworthiness, and many related issues were spiritually vaporized.
I was in such utter shock that I couldn’t even move or cry until His presence gradually lifted and my freedom was finally and fully wrought by the Refiner’s Fire. Then, of course, I completely lost control of my emotions once again.
I may never know in this lifetime how effective those prayers were on my friend’s end of things, but I can say that we never had another conversation that matched the negativity of the one that inspired them. And, from what I can tell from afar so many years later, he seems to be approaching life from a place of hope and joy that is a blessing to witness.
Given the way it all turned out, I’d like to think there were some major answers in both our lives that night.
Thinking back on this experience brings an indescribable amount of gratitude and joy, but there’s also a tiny bittersweet side to it that relates to the opening vignette: it took my heart fully embracing the truth about SOMEONE ELSE to fully embrace the truth about myself.
Once I was completely convinced about the scope of God’s love for my friend, my heart was out of options: it HAD to believe that same level of love was mine as well. No more denial; no more deferral. The truth ultimately became too obvious to ignore.
And once the heart believes, there’s no going back.
Be encouraged: all those things you automatically accept that God says about other people – He says them about you as well. So record and replay, my friends, record and replay . . . and, PLEASE, learn to believe the truth about yourselves from God’s perspective.
His love for YOU is as big as all of Creation. Trust me.
Artistic Kudos: Pirated from here (no info available)