Tuesday, February 10, 2015

NBA #10: Get Real

New Believer Advice #10:  Speaking of love . . . No masks!
            You cannot make God love you any more than He already does.  And nothing you do can make Him love you any less.  So you do not need to hide all the bad parts of yourself and put on some “good Christian” mask.  You don’t need to polish yourself up to make Him love you more or care more about you. 
            He doesn’t want your “good Christian performance.”  He wants your heart.  He wants a genuine relationship with you.  He wants to heal the broken parts.  But this cannot happen if we lock them deep into our hearts so that no one – not even God – can touch them. 
            If you want an authentic, genuine relationship with Him, you need to be authentic and genuine with Him.  You need to come before Him humbly and take off the mask and present your real self to Him.  He can handle the honesty, the ugly and broken and faulty parts of you.

            But what He does not want is distance between your heart and His.  Jesus died to bridge the gap between us and Him so that there would be no distance, so that we could freely and humbly enter into His throne-room and fall into His arms and let His love complete us. 
            Hiding the bad parts won’t make Him love you more because He loves you as much as He ever could . . . as you are . . . right now.  It will only bring distance and heartache!  So get rid of the mask and get real with Him.  It is too exhausting and discouraging to keep that mask on anyway!  And we were never meant to wear it! 

(New stuff for this post)
            This one was really hard for me.  One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do in my walk with the Lord. 
            Having grown up with a biological dad who had almost nothing to do with me and two ex-step-dads who I lost contact with eventually (one after a really, REALLY messy divorce) and a current step-dad who . . . well, I am just too old for a new dad, I have never really felt like I belonged to a dad, like I really mattered to one. 
            I grew up always feeling like the outsider, a step-child who didn’t quite fit in or have a place to belong.  I never felt like I could be myself with a dad, like I was fully loved for who I was.  It was always just a matter of time before they left. 
            And this caused a terrible fear of abandonment and a fear of being a burden to anyone.  It caused me to lean only on myself and to polish up my outside so that I earned love and approval and acceptance.  And I always kept my distance, kept walls up around my heart to protect it from being vulnerable, being hurt.
            And I didn’t know that I was doing this with God, too, until a series of trials crushed my confidence in myself and taught me that I am not as strong and capable as I think I am.  I learned that I couldn’t do it all on my own, like I was used to doing.  I really needed God.  Not just wanted Him, but needed Him.  Desperately needed Him.  I wasn’t used to needing a father.  I tried not to need a father.  Fathers let you down.
            But those trials made me realize that my polished-up outside and chipper attitude and "Can Do" spirit wasn’t enough.  Hiding my doubts and fears from God and acting like I could “do it all, and with a godly, agreeable attitude” wasn’t helping my relationship with Him.  It was hurting it - because it kept me from trusting Him enough to fall fully on Him.  It caused me to keep Him an arm’s length away from the broken, hurting parts of my heart.  I made me rely on myself and not on Him.   
            All along, I guess I was trying to please Him, to make Him happy with me so that I didn’t offend Him or earn His wrath or disapproval.  I just wasn’t used to being real with a dad.  I wasn’t used to knowing that I was accepted no matter what and that I was loved just because I was theirs.  I had to earn my way, my worth.  And part of that was being pleasing, being polished and agreeable. 
            But the trials broke me inside.  My heart and my spirit were breaking into small pieces and I couldn’t keep it together.  I couldn’t wear that polished “good Christian” mask anymore.  It became too heavy to carry around.  I was so exhausted and broken and weak that I had to put it down.  I was so tired of trying so hard that I couldn’t even stand on my own anymore.  All I could do was fall down in despair at the feet of God.  All I could do was say, “I can’t do it, God.  I am tired.  So tired.  I am afraid.  I am failing.  I have no idea what to do.  And I need You.  I just need You to hold me for awhile because I can’t even stand anymore.” 
            That was new to me.  It was scary to admit to the brokenness inside, the weakness and pain and fears and doubts.  But I had exhausted myself trying every other way to manage on my own.  And through that, I learned that God doesn’t want my pleasing efforts and polished front.  He wants me to be real with Him.  To lay my heart before Him, naked and vulnerable.  To fall on Him and say, “I can’t do it.  I need You.”
          It’s okay to fall apart in front of the One who can put you back together, to bring your chains to the One with the key to free you, to be weak when you are leaning on the One who is strong, and to not have all the answers when you know the One who does.
He wants to be let into all areas of our hearts and lives and pasts.  He wants to be able to come in and heal them.  He wants to heal the heart wounds, the fears, and the doubts with His love and truth.  But that can’t happen when we lock them in a little, protected room in our hearts with strong walls meant to keep everyone out, even Him.  Meant to protect us from being vulnerable and risking getting hurt again.

            Through the pain, I have learned to break down those walls, to let God in, to be real with Him.  (Maybe not with others, but at least with Him.)  I think that it’s okay that we have fears and doubts, as long as we bring them to Him honestly and vulnerably.  We need to live transparently with Him if He is going to be able to heal us and help us on our journey. 
            He doesn’t want our good performance.  He wants our honest hearts. 
            He doesn’t want pretty and polished and proper.  He wants real and ugly and raw.
            He doesn’t want us to just want Him.  He wants us to need Him and to know that it’s okay that we need Him. 
            He doesn’t want us to try to earn His approval, love, forgiveness, grace or mercy.  He just wants us to accept the approval, love, forgiveness, grace, and mercy that He already offers freely to us. 
            And the only way this can happen is to get real with Him!  I was a Christian for over two decades before I learned to do this, before I learned to take off the “good Christian mask” and vulnerably open my heart to Him and get real and fall on Him in exhaustion and let Him hold me.  This might be one of the hardest parts of the Christian journey!  And it really does hurt.  But there is so much healing and love and peace on the other side.  So don’t fear Him.  Don’t fear being real with Him.  It might hurt, but it will be worth it!
            Along with being real with God, we also need to be real with each other.  Why can’t we Christians just admit that we are broken, hurting people too, that we are sinful and need help?  Why do we act like we can do it all on our own and like we can handle everything with grace and style and a smile on our faces?  Why do we spend so much time and energy polishing up our outsides?  To earn approval?  To make God happy and proud of us?  To impress others?  To feel better about ourselves?
            Honestly, all we are doing is hurting everyone.  When we are not real, we miss out on a genuine relationship with God and others.  We don’t get the help and the healing we need.  We exhaust ourselves.  We keep others and God an arm’s length away.  We make others feel like they are “less than” because they struggle while we “have it all together.”  We are “unsafe” because people feel judged, condemned, and shamed in our “glorious, perfect” presence.  Why would they confide in us or seek our help when they feel like we couldn’t understand, like we are “above” them, like they have to feel ashamed of their brokenness and their struggles?
            Why can’t we just be real about our heartaches, doubts, fears, shortcomings, weaknesses, and pain?  Why can’t we admit that we, too, are human?  Why can’t we even admit that to ourselves?
            We cannot reach lost, hurting people if we set ourselves up above them and act like we don’t have struggles.  (And ultimately, we are not impressing anyone, especially God.) 
            Being a Christian doesn’t take away the pain and struggle.  It doesn’t make the journey easy.  It just gives us some real help - Someone to walk this life with us and help us through it.  It give us purpose and meaning and value.  It gives us joy in something outside anything this life offers.  It give us a destination that brings real hope and makes the journey worth it.  It gives us life! 
            We cannot reach broken people if we do not show them our own brokenness, too.  We help them not by showing them how perfect people do it, but by showing them how broken people do it.  And we do it not by trying harder or doing more or polishing ourselves up nice and shiny.  But we do it by falling down at the feet of Jesus and saying, “Help me, I can’t do it myself.  I need You. I am a mess.”  No masks!  No phoniness!  No “holier than thou” pedestals!
            I don’t know about your Jesus, but my Jesus came to die for the lost and the hurting and the broken, not to criticize or scold or condemn.  He picks us up when we are down, not kicks us.  He carries us when we are weak, not lets us fall flat on our faces or struggle along on our own.
            We don’t need to put on a polished mask for my Jesus because He loved us enough to die for us, even when we were still messed-up sinners.  He loves us as we are, not for who we try to be.  He knows that we are weak and in need of a Savior, so it doesn’t surprise Him that we can’t do it all on our own and that we are hurting and broken. 
            In my Bible, my Jesus had no harsh words for the hurting and broken.  He only had harsh words for the religious snobs who thought they were better than everyone else and thought they could do it all on their own, earning their way to heaven because of their good works and proper attitude and polished outside.  The ones who felt that they had no need to fall down at His feet and admit their weakness, neediness, and brokenness like the rest of us. 
            The world is skeptical and untrusting of church as an institution, of religion as a merit system, a ladder that we climb to reach heaven.  Well, so was Jesus.  He never joined the holy huddles.  He didn’t like the religious, hoity-toity, “we are better than you” snobs who looked down on “sinners.”  They did more harm than good.  They ruined His message of free grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. 
            While He never went soft on sin or coddled sinners, He never looked down on the hurting and broken and those who knew they were sinful.  Instead, He looked down on those who elevated themselves too high and who thought they didn’t need Him.  But He reaches out to the hurting and broken, to anyone who will take His hand, His help, His grace and mercy and love and forgiveness and healing. 
            His church isn’t an institution.  It’s people.  Hurting, broken, needy people.
            His religion isn’t a bunch of impossible standards and strict rules.  It’s “Believe in Me.  Trust Me.  Let Me love you and heal you.  And live accordingly.” 
            He’s not about condemnation and shaming and criticizing and judging.  He’s about grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love. 
            That’s my Jesus.  And that’s why I choose Him.  It’s why I love Him. 
            We can take off the masks and be real with my Jesus.  And we need to do that with each other, too, if we want to reach other hurting people and show them the love of our gracious, merciful, forgiving Savior.  A Savior who came to die for the broken and the hurting, when we were still sinners. 
            We don’t need to polish ourselves up for Him before we can approach Him.  We just need to come to Him as we are, and then He’ll help us grow and change as we mature in our faith.  But don’t let your fear of being “not good enough” stop you from coming to Him.  He already loves us and values us as much as He ever will simply because He made us and we are His!  No masks needed!