Our “factory mode”—Loved Into Being (6)

The woman bent over double for 18 years had a certain image of herself. She was the woman no one cared about. The one no one knew what to do with. The person people talked over, or around, but rarely did anyone speak directly to her. She was the woman for whom there was no hope for a cure. Everything she had tried had failed. Maybe she thought she was a failure, that her life was wasted.

When Jesus called her over to him and she straightened up at his word, able to stand up and see and return to the community, she regained her identity. She learned who she was directly from Jesus. His was the first face she saw and his eyes told her that she was respected and loved. When Jesus spoke to the Pharisees who complained about his having cured on the Sabbath, he didn’t refer to her as “this cripple,” or “this woman.” He called her, “this daughter of Abraham.” He restored her to her place in salvation history, one of the children of Abraham promised to the great Patriarch when God took him out and, directing him to look at the sky, said, “As many as the stars of heaven and the sands of the seashore shall your children be” (cf. Genesis 15:5). He had bent over in mercy because he loved her. He tenderly reached out to her because she was precious.

At this moment this daughter of Abraham discovered that all she had thought about herself had had no truth in reality. This concept created from patched together thoughts and memories and fears and sorrows was simply a product of the coming and going of her thoughts and emotions. Only in Jesus’ face could she see who she truly was. Only in his love for her could she have an experiential discovery of the preciousness of her life.

Similarly, the fearful prospect of Angie’s divorce, of being alone, began in her a spiral of thoughts. What will happen to the kids? How will I find a job in my condition? Why didn’t I see this coming? I’m not good enough for him. What should I have done better? What could have made a difference? Angie’s thoughts were the building blocks of the self-image she was beginning to create. We are all like children. Like children we believe what we think. If a child thinks she is ugly she believes it to be true. If a child thinks he is superman, he believes it to be so. That’s why it was important with Angie to break through her swirling thoughts with the light of Jesus’ face.

You can speak directly to Jesus about your feelings triggered by the situations you are in. You can tell God what you think about yourself as a result of what you have lived. When you have finished, it is important to watch Jesus. Our eyes do not fool us. We can think that God doesn’t hear our prayer because we can’t “hear” his voice, or he doesn’t “do” what we asked him to. But if you simply watch him, Jesus is free to do the unexpected, to surprise you with something only he could think of. So Jesus played chess with Angie. Such a remarkably intimate gesture said more to Angie about Jesus’ love for her, than imagining him saying this to her, or reading about God’s love in a book.

Jesus wants to get very personal with you. So get personal with him and give him that chance.

How to Start Resetting Your Life (5)

I used to think that if I did one more thing, took one more step, made one more resolution toward a new goal I would eventually arrive there. Radicality, instead, has become my new approach. It is true that we take one step at a time, that the law of graduality means we will develop in spirit much as we develop physically—slowly, but if we hope to touch the sunrise by deciding to make micro changes in our life, it will not happen. In the darkest mid-night we could decide to light a match or we could choose the eventual promised dawn, and the sunrise that dispels the night.

If you are suffering the effects of not being able to forgive yourself, you will get nowhere by deciding to forgive yourself again. Instead, like Angie start resetting your life. For the moment, let’s not worry about the issue of your self-forgiveness. Instead let us take a step back and start from the beginning. Reset to factory mode is the quickest and easiest way to return a computer to normal, cleaning it of viruses and temporary files so that it can run at optimal performance.

We can also “reset” our life.

A very easy way to start is to simply breathe. Take a few deep breaths. You may not realize how shallow your breathing has become as you carry around your secret shame. Breathing brings you home, while shame causes you to disengage from yourself. What do you feel as you breathe? Breathe in. Breathe out. Focus on just breathing for about eight minutes.

What do you hear in the room around you?

What are the thoughts that you are thinking? Take some time to begin to be aware of them. Are they life-giving thoughts? Are they harsh? Are they fearful?

Turning within, what do you hear within yourself? What do you see? What do you taste?

In coordination with your breathing, say this simple reminder to yourself that only this moment is yours: I am here. I am now. That is all. I am here. I am now. That is all.

Do you perceive any shift in your awareness of yourself? What are you feeling? Whatever you feel is alright. Some people feel a great inner peace. Others experience an inner agitation or anxiety. The agitation and anxiety are probably closer to the truth of what is most deeply going on within most people.

I often tell people I work with about the time I was helping to upgrade a building before moving our apostolic department. We were pulling up carpets, scraping up glue, stripping and waxing floors, moving furniture. After a while I wasn’t sleeping at night at all. I moved to the living room one evening and started doing the simple breathing exercise outlined above. Within seconds my feet started to “scream.” I looked down and there were open blisters on the soles of my feet. I soaked them in epsom salts and soon my insomnia passed.

I tell this story because it is a simple way of explaining what emotionally/spiritually happens to us. We are in pain–even spiritual or emotional pain–all the time, but we often aren’t even aware of it. It is when we stop and do an exercise that helps us become present to the here-and-now that we suddenly touch what is here-and-now. Then we say OUCH!

The pain you are living with as a result of not being able to forgive yourself hurts. You may be able to keep going, put on a smile, take care of others, but inside you hurt.

To reset your life, you first need to begin by coming home to yourself. The easiest way to do that is to breathe.

Reconnecting to Our Origins (4)

Angie turned over in her bed and faced the wall. She was recovering from her treatment for breast cancer and worry for her family consumed her. As she thought of her two teenage girls her heart sank. How was she going to tell them that their father wanted a divorce. “I’ve not been happy for a long time,” he had told her the night before. “I’m going to be leaving. You and the girls will be fine now that you are getting better.” Over and over again the words “will be fine” ricocheted across her brain. “Fine.” She didn’t feel fine. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She didn’t know how she would make it on her own.

I met Angie shortly after. As she told me her story I realized how alone she really was, since she had moved away from her family into the area for the sake of her husband’s education. He was leaving her now for a student he had met while working for his doctorate. How could she have been so stupid to bring her girls here, far away from their grandparents…and now this…with no support. How could she have done this, she asked herself over and over again.

As we explored how this situation made Angie feel about herself we noticed a pattern across her life-span of feeling unworthy, powerless, and no good. A memory from her childhood surfaced of her father telling her she couldn’t do anything right. She had brought home a report card with two Bs. She had been sent to her room to study, while he took the rest of the family to the movies. That sense of isolation and worthlessness had eaten away at her self-confidence. Timid and fearful, she seemed to always have been waiting to discover again that she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t wanted.

I led Angie through a very simple practice of prayer. After she became present to herself and aware of her breathing, I asked her to relax her body from her head to her toes. Quietly she looked at her thoughts. She noted her emotions. She observed her judgments of herself, others, situations.

“You are not your thoughts or your feelings,” I told her. “Often our judgments are like tall stories…. They are not based on a whole lot of fact. To get unstuck, we need to first separate ourselves from them.”

I taught her a simple prayer she could say quietly, each phrase on a breath: I am – here – now – Yours, O Lord.

Before Angie left, we invited Jesus to be with Angie when she was a little girl, left in her room alone to study. She told Jesus what she was feeling, how angry she was, how powerless, how unworthy. I asked her just to watch what Jesus did. I prayed quietly as she allowed Jesus to come into her heart in this very special way.

After a while I asked what Jesus was doing. Angie wiped her eyes. “Jesus sat down next to me and took out a chess board (Angie loved to play chess). He had all the time in the world just to play with me, to make me happy!” I asked her how that made her feel. “I can’t believe someone could love me. It feels warm. Beautiful.” Over the next few months we began to explore this image, to strengthen her roots in this ground of her being where she discovered herself to be shaped by and protected in the hands of a loving God.

What is always so awesome, is that this process of reconnecting to our origins, as simple as it is, powerfully changes the practical situations of life without a person even trying. Angie’s husband didn’t change his mind, but Angie began to find herself again, and that began to make the difference.

The Woman Bent Double (3)

Invitation

Live into the image of the woman bent double! Feel what she felt. Experience her loneliness and sadness from within her experience. See what she sees as she shuffles down the ancient dusty streets. What does she hear, touch, taste. What does she feel about herself? Does she hope for anything? Has she given up hope? Experience on every level of your being her desperation, she who couldn’t find anywhere relief or cure. What is she thinking? What is her attitude? How does she live her illness? Has she gotten used to being sick? Adjusted her sight to the horizons of her illness? Is sickness her new health? Is her sickness the measurement of a good day?

Hear the words of Jesus said over you: “You are freed of your disability.” What is it that you need to be freed from? What is it you haven’t told a single soul, but carry locked in the deepest closet, hidden even from yourself? What is it you desire?

Merge with her, for this woman is you in some area of your life.

Jesus saw in the woman bent double all of humanity in the devil’s captivity, fallen humanity, humanity separated from God and unable to unite itself to him. After the fall, the human race manifested manifold illnesses, unable to find a remedy or cure.

I—a member of the human race—I too am sick, spiritually ill, suffering from an illness that casts me into the darkness. I have made friends with something I regret in my life—resigned with being ill and expect nothing different, nothing new, nothing more. This is just the way it is. I couldn’t even begin to imagine anything different. The woman bent double and seeing only the earth is an image of me, I, who like all of fallen humanity, feels far from the warmth of the Father’s tender gaze, afraid of his love, of the cost of entrusting myself wholly to his dream for my life.

Like the woman bent double, we can find ourselves living content or resigned to our illness. The world created by our sickness becomes our only world, our hopes and dreams no longer able to break through the barriers of discouragement.

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