This post is linked up to Jennifer Dukes Lee’s #TellHisStory:
This morning, the sermon took us to a Scripture that I have struggled with. No, more than that. It’s one, if I’m truly honest, I’ve hated. Especially, when I’ve been reminded of it in my deepest points in life. But in its unraveling today, God gave me an incredible gift, as the scales fell off my eyes.
The Scripture reads (Philippians 4: 8, NIV):
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Seems harmless, doesn’t it? Encouraging even, doesn’t it? Then, what was my struggle?
In my generation, most Christians believed that children’s wills needed to be broken to be bent toward God. Physical punishment (smacking) was a tool to these ends. As an already extremely sensitive and deeply feeling young girl, I quickly learnt to behave, to “be good”. If I was outwardly “good” then I needn’t fear. And yet, precisely in trying so hard to “be good”, I carried a deep shame within. Because deep inside I knew I wasn’t good. Like every human, my thoughts weren’t perfect and my hidden actions weren’t angelic either. And yet, I couldn’t admit this, because it meant that I was “bad”. So, instead I lived in fear, the fear of being found out. So, slowly and surely I learnt to both numb and flee the shame of hypocrisy. Church became a place to avoid. Christians became a reminder of my shame. God became someone who was constantly dissatisfied with me and eventually someone out to hurt and punish me.
And each ache of rejection only exacerbated this shame within.
Every time other parents compared my friends with me to express disappointment at their own children. Every time my attempts to communicate my feelings weren’t heard. Every time another person or child excluded me through their silence, body language, words or actions. Every time a teacher expressed their concern at me being “different” and that I was “going to struggle later in life”. Every time I noticed that others did not share my deep feelings. Every time I noticed or was made to notice I was different because of my kiwi or later German accent or way of doing things. Shame grew. And gradually it became so suffocating, the only way out was to flee: to flee who I saw as the source of all shame: God.
So, coming back to the above Scripture. Why did I hate this verse so very much? Because I thought it confirmed my shame before God. You see, try as I might, I could not always, “think about such things”. I reasoned that this verse meant I had to be Miss Proverbial Sunshine and not the deeply feeling, sensitive girl I truly was. “Admirable” thoughts, you see, weren’t thoughts that revealed deep sadness, I thought. And I also reasoned this meant I had to perpetually think of everyone “admirably”, rather than with envy, jealousy or even meanness.
Finally, today, the scales fell from my eyes. No, this verse calls me to seek after: “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable”: in other words, Christ! Only Christ is truly true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable. I am not. I am called to think upon such things because I am called to think upon Christ: to listen for His quiet, still voice leading me into all that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable.
In and of myself I cannot do so. But in and of Christ I can. So, how can I be in and of Christ: as a child of God who leans into His arms of grace, a child who confesses when her thoughts are not true, noble, right, pure, lovely and admirable and upon receiving God’s grace, takes these impure thoughts captive and bends them to the will of Christ, clothed as she then is, through restorative confession, in His power of righteousness. And often, very often, the grace of God will also lead to further restorative healing, as God opens our eyes and hearts to suffering we have not allowed Him into to comfort and heal. And through this Comforting Embrace, Christ is made bigger within us, and the battle to take thoughts captive easier.
And, what about the shame? In Christ there is no shame. None. And neither is there fear of punishment. For, in Christ we are made perfect in His Love and restoration through the grace gifted us at the Cross.
Punishment and shame are not of God. Conviction, grace, healing and restoration are.
And what about my deeply sad thoughts? My natural propensity to feel deeply? If these thoughts are of Christ, if they are opening me up to His Love, to His healing for deep wounds inflicted, to His calling to see, hear and love the broken around me, to offer them Christ’s comfort through me, then they are “admirable”, deeply so. For if anyone feels deeply, it is Christ. If anyone seeks to heal deep wounds, it is Christ. If anyone loves others deeply, it is Christ. If anyone wept and still weeps in anguish at the suffering that awaited and still beats upon the humanity He loves, as they let themselves be led astray, it is Christ. So, the shame attached to my deeply sensitive heart is not of God, but rooted in the rejection and fears of my childhood, rejection and fears I am given the power as a child of God to break in Jesus’ Name.
We all like sheep have gone astray, and yet, He keeps pursuing us, to the very end. All we have to do is lean. Lean into His outstretched embrace. Accept the Love, Grace, Healing and Restoration He stretches out to us. And then, in letting Him embrace us, turn to embrace Him every single time we let ourselves be led astray, in thought or deed, resting in the assurance that He stands there waiting for us, eagerly awaiting our return and healing restoration.