Tag Archives: struggle

My body is not who I am.

1 Oct

 

Last Tuesday, I went to the second meeting of our women’s book study at church. The study I chose is Love to Eat, Hate to Eat by Elyse Fitzpatrick. Even though I had found peace with food back in December of 2009 and I like to think that I have healthy eating all figured out, food and body image are still a struggle for me, and have been for a while.

It started the summer after I graduated from high school. I was bored because I only worked 20 hours, my boyfriend was gone for the summer and all my friends were busy. So to pass the time, I started exercising intentionally and counting calories for the first time in my life.

I took a detour my freshman year of college, when I became a pothead and gained 20 lbs from the munchies. By my sophomore year, I was back down to my previous weight, but more obsessed about diet and exercise than ever.

After becoming a Christian the summer after my sophomore year, things got better but this struggle continued to be a roller coaster.

I tried to dethrone my idol of thinness in 2008.

I swore off counting calories in 2009.

I talked about accepting my body shape in 2010.

I thought I had discovered the solution to emotional eating in March of this year.

But here I am, still struggling. That’s why I signed up for the book study. In all the years of my dealing with this, I had never talked to another Christian woman about it. I advocate vulnerability and transparency in all areas of life. I have been very open in talking about my life before I became a Christian and the body struggles I had then. But I have always conveniently glossed over my current trials.

Because I’m ashamed. This is an ugly sin. It’s judgmental and critical and harsh and unforgiving. It makes me feel superior to some and inferior to others. I have really good days when I think, “Oh, I must be over that struggle.” And then there are bad days when I think, “I’m so fat and disgusting and I feel like a blob.” Then there are days when I wake up and feel good about what I see in the mirror but after eating a little too much at dinner, I swear to never eat again.

I have tried almost everything I can think of to conquer this demon. I’ve reminded myself of truth – that God created me this way and I’m beautiful to Him. I’ve tried to be inspired by other women who are confident in less-than-perfect figures. I’ve ditched the clothes that make me figure-conscious and instead donned clothes that I can feel comfortable in. I’ve traded in my bikini for a tankini. I’ve sworn off sweets for months at a time. I’ve sworn off having rules about eating at all.

And here I still am.

I think this book study will be good for me. I know God wants to change this area of my life (because it is nas-tay) and I have long been trying to fix it myself (like I always do). I think it will not only be good to have other women to talk to about this, but also to have a meeting every two weeks to keep my mind focused on this. And this time, I am not expecting any quick fixes. I am not expecting this problem to be solved overnight, or for me to able to remind myself of truth one morning and have my struggles vanish into thin air. This will take time. This will being reminded of truth over and over and over and over…

The truth that is helping me refocus right now came from John Piper’s sermon called Staying Married is Not About Staying in Love Part 2: Our bodies do not represent who we really are. All along, I have been operating under the purview that I am only as good as I look.

But that’s not the truth – about me or any other person. The truth is that our bodies don’t have the glory they were supposed to have. We lost that glory in the fall. These imperfect bodies remind us that God will someday give us new bodies – bodies that are perfect and beautiful and free of sin. These bodies are vessels that house our souls, which cannot be seen but are precious.

“Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:4).

Trials in our lives remind us that we don’t belong on earth and someday, we will be with Christ in perfect joy. In the same way, imperfect bodies can remind us that we will be glorified one day – but not today, and not here. Instead of chasing peace and perfection on earth, I can let these trials redirect my gaze to the greater reality of heaven and a new body.

I’m sure this is just the tip of the eating/body issue iceberg so there will be more to come.

What truth helps you accept your body the way it is?

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Blaming God for what I did.

14 Mar

I had a momentous realization on Friday morning of last week.

It started Tuesday night at my women’s book study. We’re reading A Praying Life by Paul Miller and the chapter was about viewing every event of our lives through the lens of God weaving His story. There was a little chart with two columns – one for not believing there was a story and the other for believing there was. With no story, we would be bitter, angry, cynical, and hopeless. With a story, we would be waiting, watching, hoping, praying and submitting.

The question was, Which of these do you see manifest in your life? My initial instinct while preparing for the meeting was that there was a story. Even though I didn’t really understand why God had used the things He had to tell His story in my life, I believed that there was one. But then during the meeting when we were discussing this, I all of a sudden had the thought that I struggled with seeing God’s story in the early years of my marriage. I had struggled so much with my own sin and being a person I didn’t want to be, that it was really hard to see how and why God had chosen that struggle to accomplish His purposes.

I ended up getting really emotional and asked the other women what they thought. One woman said that God never causes us to sin – we choose to sin. Another said that God disciplines us for our own good and that seeing our sin is a form of discipline. The whole time they were talking, I wanted to interrupt and say, “Yeah, but you don’t understand.” I felt like my problem went deeper than that.

After the meeting was over, I had no desire to even attempt light-hearted chit chat so I left abruptly. As I drove home, I wondered, “Why does this still bother me? I mean, I felt like I was over this. It was a hard time but God used it to bring me here.” I could see how my struggle with sin and my consequent accusation that God wasn’t helping me led to my decision to take control of my life. I could see how taking control of my life led to disillusionment and depression, and how that led to my realizing my dependence on God. I could see how it all worked together. Maybe that was all.

I mentioned it to Travis when I got home. He asked the same question I had – “Why does this still bother you? I mean, it’s in the past.” I started giving him an answer, but realized that I had none. I explained the sequence of events to him but it didn’t seem like the answer as to why it still bothered me.

The next morning, I was surprised to find an email in my inbox from a woman I had met during the book study. She said that she had an encouragement for me from the Lord and wanted to confirm my email address. I replied, saying it was the correct one. When I checked my email later that day, the woman said that she knew what it was like to struggle with God’s purpose when your own sin caused the situation. She wrote about how she had been angry with God after her parents died and had slipped into sin out of rebellion and anger. Even though she should have ended up “divorced, miserable and broke,” God’s grace had been “undeniably present” right “in the midst of the situation” and redeemed the situation.

I was again unsettled. I felt like the email signaled that God wanted to say something to me about this situation but why? I had dealt with this… I understood that God used it for my good. That was enough, wasn’t it? I wrote back that I could see how God had used the struggle in my life but that since it was relatively recent, I was just beginning to see that I was still mad at God for putting me through that. I felt like singing the song by The Fray, “Where were you when everything was falling apart? Why’d you have to wait?”

The next morning, I read the reply from the woman to my email and that got me thinking again. I still felt unsettled about the issue, like I was restless and wanted to go shake off the stiffness. I had to get dressed for my coffee date with my friend, Cathy, so I walked into our bedroom, still thinking, and I said, “Well I guess I’m wondering why You had to use my marriage. Why couldn’t You have used a problem at work or something, instead?” I felt God say, “It wouldn’t have broken you enough.” My complete brokenness had been God’s plan and purpose. I needed to come to the end of myself. I understood that I had been accusing God of abandoning me during that time, when He had been there all along. I re-read the woman’s first email, where she talked about God’s grace being undeniably present in the midst of the situation. God had been there. He had seen and gone through it all with me. I cried a little, thanking God for the insight.

Then during coffee with Cathy, I shared my realizations with her but didn’t get the reception I had expected. She said that she didn’t believe God used our sins in order to teach us lessons, that sins were part of living in a fallen world, and that He redeemed and freed us from our sins. She shared about one of her experiences of not seeing God do what she had wanted and how she had realized that she needed to first let go of the bitterness and anger she felt toward Him before she would feel release. She was the one who had been holding on to sin. I told her that in my first year of marriage, I had cried out to God for Him to help me, for Him to sanctify me and give me love for my husband, but that He hadn’t. And then one day, without any correlating realization or experience, things had gotten better. I couldn’t explain it. Why would I have gone through that if He hadn’t planned on using it? Why would He allow me to continue to struggle with sin if He didn’t have a purpose behind it? I don’t think Cathy and I ever really got on the same page—more just like we agreed to disagree. When she left, I felt unsettled again, like something just wasn’t right. I felt that way all day.

Friday morning, I was praying and thinking about what Cathy had said. The unsettled feeling returned. I tried to think through what I meant about God using it for a purpose. I understood it was my sin that caused it, but I kept thinking, God allowed it to happen; He could have stopped it if He had wanted to. Since He didn’t stop it, He must have had a purpose in it. That answer didn’t satisfy me—I still had the unsettled feeling—but I was sick of thinking about it. My brain hurt, I felt like I was going in circles. Finally, I asked God, “Why does it matter how I feel about the situation? What happened, happened, right? The situation is what it is. I mean, does it really matter?” I felt like God said, “Yes.” So reluctantly, I continued to think.

I started typing my thoughts. And the realizations started pouring out of me. I was blaming God for my sin. I was saying that my life would have been fine if God hadn’t caused me to go through that struggle, that I would have been fine without His plan. But the truth was, I was denying that I had desired for my marriage to go my way, to fulfill my own expectations, and for Travis to be the exact husband I wanted him to be. I was denying my selfishness and unbelief in God’s promises and plan.

I had tried to solve my marital problems on my own. I had run to God, yes—but only after all of my own efforts had failed miserably. Once I was done crying, what had I done? I went back to living in my own strength, only to fail again and wonder why God wasn’t blessing me. That’s the real story. It wasn’t that God had abandoned me—He just wouldn’t bless my efforts to live apart from Him.

And why would God bless my efforts to live apart from Him? That wouldn’t be for my eternal good. He would only be reinforcing my natural propensity for self-sufficiency and independence. It was God’s grace to me in that time that I was not successful in sanctification, because I wasn’t seeking Him in the midst of it. I was only seeking the solution to my situation, not the Solution for my soul.

The truth about walking in dependence on God showed up in my journals for the entire three and a half years of this struggle – God was trying to teach me that lesson the whole time. He was telling me the truth. But I refused it. I refused it. I said that it was too easy. Surely there was more to the Christian life than that. God stuck with me, through all of my sin and my misery and my refusal to believe the truth. And finally, I got to the place where  I was so broken, exhausted, and disillusioned that I could finally accept the truth. I had to try out all the solutions I could think of to life. I had to test out all of my theories, everything I could think of to be the meaning of life, before I could accept God’s definition and meaning. I would not accept God until I had proven everything else wrong. I was SO pig-headed! God was SO faithful and patient!

As I realized all of this, I started crying. This awesome truth humbled me to the core.  Even the way God revealed it to me had His fingerprints all over it. I am absolutely amazed at the way God works in the lives of those He loves. Amazed. This discovery further proves that God’s glory is our joy. The more I think about the situation, the more I am convinced that it could be no other way than this: me being humbled and God being exalted. I need to be needy and God needs to be sufficient. I need to admit my sin and see God in all of His shining, brilliant holiness. I am fickle, finite, and wretched; He is faithful, forgiving, and loving.

It’s funny – it seems counter-intuitive that such release should come from understanding that the whole situation was my fault. I think my flesh was resisting the discovery of the truth for that very reason – it puts the blame squarely on my shoulders. But that is slight compared to how it magnifies God. I had been tarnishing His character and reputation. I had been questioning His goodness, faithfulness and wisdom. I had been doubting His love for me. But now, I see God’s character, reputation, goodness, faithfulness, wisdom and love for me utterly magnified and shining in all its eternal brilliance. There is no reason to doubt His character or purpose – God is even MORE amazing than I could have fathomed! Not only has He used my struggle to bring me into a deeper relationship with Him, He demonstrated utter faithfulness and patience to me when I could not have deserved it less.

This realization has had implications that reach even farther into my Christian walk but I will save that for another post. For now, I will just say Praise the Lord for revealing my sin to me!

The big picture

31 Dec

Since it’s New Year’s Eve, I figured I might as well do the quintessential blog post: reminiscing about 2010 and looking forward to 2011.

2010 was a hard year for me but because of that, it was also life-changing. From March until last week, I had a job that constantly pushed me beyond my comfort zone, challenged me in ways I have never before been challenged, and forced me to run to God every day to maintain my sanity and character. I can look back on this past year and see God’s faithfulness and steadfast love everywhere.

I learned that I rely on my own ability to get things done instead of trusting in God and His timing and plan. I found that I often “feel responsible” for things and that prevents me from letting God be responsible. God showed me that my claiming responsibility is what stresses me out. I need to be faithful in what I can control but the overarching theme and thought of my life needs to be trust in God for all of the mundane, practical details, as well as the big picture items.

Work-wise, I learned that I do not do well working from home. I like an office. I like interaction with people. I like unexpected interruptions (self, remember this when they happen!). I also learned that I like change but only in the context of routine. I am much more happier doing tedious administrative tasks than I am managing big picture things. I am a details person. The job I am doing in the church office right now is exactly what I enjoy doing. (As such, I am really hoping that they hire me full-time! But more on that another time.)

Through numerous coffee dates with my good friend Cathy, I have also learned a lot about what it means to be victorious in Christ. I have made huge progress in my long struggle with loathing myself and constantly seeing sin. Through talking with Cathy, reading books, and insight from the Holy Spirit, I have seen that resting in the cross doesn’t mean I ignore my sin – it means the cross is bigger than my sin. Enjoying who God has made me to be doesn’t mean I enjoy the sins I commit – it means that I am able to trust God to conform me to Christ and unveil to me and others who I really am.

In short, as I look back on 2010, I praise God for His work in my life. I struggled, I failed, I didn’t believe, I didn’t trust, I handled situations poorly. But God brought me through it all. I honestly can say that I wouldn’t have made it without Him. The thing I love the most about going through struggles like this is very simple: when I have a good day, when I feel joyful and peaceful, I know that is from God. He is the source of that feeling. And I feel so immensely blessed by Him. I wouldn’t feel that way had I not gone through a very rough year of a lot of bad days.

As I look forward to 2011, I have to admit that I hope it is easier than 2010 was. But I also hope that God does just as much work in my life. So I will, with His help, joyfully accept whatever means God employs to bring about that sanctification.

I am hoping to find a job (whether at the church or elsewhere) that fits me well. After having a job that I pretty much hated in every aspect, I no longer underestimate what a job can do to your entire well-being. Right now, though, I am very content with working part-time at the church. I got a lot of things crossed off my To-Do List this week!

I am also hoping to write a lot. Being a writer is my dream. I just read in John Eldredge’s book Walking With God, “More often that not this awakening of desire is an invitation from God to seek what we’ve given up as lost, an invitation to try again.” So I’m going to respond to God’s invitation and try again.

Spiritually, I want to pursue an even deeper, more intimate relationship with Christ, as described in Eldredge’s book that I just read. I want to be so close to Christ that I can hear him speak to me. That I seek His opinion on every decision, that I walk with Him all day, every day. It’s a lofty goal. But a very rewarding one. And even a little progress is better than none! I also want to be more intentional about reading – I have averaged about 15 books a year for the past 3 years. I want to increase that to 25 or so. But I also don’t want to burn through books so fast that I don’t remember anything. Kind of defeats the point of reading. So 25 is a loose goal.

Emotionally, I want to be more open and vulnerable in my marriage. I just recently realized that a lot my spiritual battles this year I fought alone. I didn’t let Travis know that I was struggling so much. And when I think about why, I see pride everywhere. With God, I can admit that I’m weak and pathetic. With Travis, I can’t. I think this emotional withholding from Travis has bigger implications and effects than I can even recognize right now. So I want to grow in being vulnerable and humble with Travis.

And finally, blog-wise, I think I am going to change my blog title again. When I changed it from Learning and Loving It to Joy in Being Broken, I was in the midst of my struggle with hating myself because I was so focused on my sins and failures. I thought that God was teaching me to find joy in Him even despite hating myself. As I’ve grown and understood more truth this year, I believe that we don’t find joy in being broken – we find joy in God healing us. We are broken as sinners – we are healed as God’s beloved children. We find joy as we see the cross conquer our sinful natures, as we find freedom from the things that bind us, as we anticipate heaven and perfection.

I haven’t yet decided what my new blog title will be. I’ve thought about something like “More Than Ordinary” to reflect my desire to live a life that rises above the status quo to glorify God. I’ve also thought about something incorporating the idea of being healed through the cross or discovering truth. I’m totally open to suggestions!

All that to say, I’m excited for a new year! Happy New Year to all of you!

reminiscing

This Puritan Poet

12 Sep

I went to the library during the last week of August and picked up a book about dog care (since I’m pretty much starting from square one there). While I was there, I perused through the books near the front that had been selected by the library as part of a certain theme for the month.

One of those books was Mistress Bradstreet: The Untold Life of America’s First Poet. I’ve also been quasi-interested in poetry and I love biographies. Since we were heading to Minnesota on vacation, I picked it up for what I call “fun reading” (books that don’t make you think too much). 

It is a great book. While I admit that I not only find the typical history lessons boring, I can’t remember them to save my life, this kind of history is just fascinating to me. I love hearing about what life was like back in “the old days,” regardless of the age. I love hearing about people’s lives in times ranging from Biblical times, to the 1600s (during which time Anne Bradstreet lived), all the way to the 1950s. It’s not that I don’t like history; I can’t get into historical political happenings but I can get into people’s lives.

Anne Bradstreet (author of famous lines such as “If ever two were one, then surely we. / If ever man were loved by wife, then thee; / If ever wife was happy in a man, / Compare with me ye women if you can.”) was born in England in 1612. Raised in a Puritan household, she was taught to be submissive to men and her parents, to never speak her mind or ask questions, and to aspire to be a godly Puritan mother, the greatest achievement for a woman.

Whereas Anne could hold no radical ideals, her father and husband did. It was these radical ideals (the idea of creating a new Puritan nation, free from the sin and evil that characterized their native England during that time) that prompted their uprooting to start a new life in America, a land that at that time was still very undeveloped and uncivilized. They would have to endure cold winters, hard labor, near starvation, unknown diseases, and attacks from new enemies once they reached land–if they even survived the journey there.

The strength of Anne in the face of moving against her will and literally starting a whole new life in a new, undeveloped country is undoubtedly representative of the majority of Puritan women. Their faith in God, though somewhat radical at times, was unshakeable and penetrated every single aspect of their lives. Everything had spiritual significance and everything was viewed in relation to God. They prayed constantly, about everything from the most practical matters to the most spiritual ones. Because for them, there was no such distinct. If your milk curdled surprisingly early, it must have been God’s way of showing His displeasure. Everything revealed the state of one’s soul.

I admire their constant prayer and commitment to their faith. I admire their work ethic and bravery. I also admire Anne’s courage to venture out as a women writer, especially as a poet. The author of this book, Charlotte Gordon, makes the point repeatedly that Anne was being very audacious in her ventures as a female poet. It had never been attempted by a woman, as the realm of poetry was strickly the territory of men. But Anne, through her own family’s wealth and other fortunate opportunities she had during her childhood, was not only extremely bright, she had also received an education, something very rare for a woman in that day.

Besides it being obvious that I find all this information captivating, it has had implications for my own walk with the Lord. I see my old paltry prayer life in contrast with Anne’s and am chastized for not striving to deepen my relationship with Lord through that avenue. I see her dedication to research, writing, and studying the Scriptures on top of her immense, never-ending list of duties and wonder why I can’t find the time to dedicate even 30 minutes some days to my own studies? I see her life-encompassing view of God and am saddened by how much of my life I live in ignorance of Him and His ways.

But then I read about her doubts, her weaknesses (perceived by none other than herself), her worries and fears and unwomanly emotions (though she had the self-control to channel them exclusively through her poetry, instead of the outbursts I am prone to). And I see that often times, how people see us externally doesn’t often match how we see ourselves internally. It is easy to portray having it all together on the outside when everything is in shambles on the inside. For all the Puritans strivings toward purity, they were still sinful humans when they left this earth, just like all of us. What great assurance it is that we are all human, all in the same boat of needing a Savior! I often get down on myself because I feel like I’m not doing as much as “others,” like they’re making use of their lives and I’m wasting mine.

What really matters is our relationship with God, not how we manage our time or what we achieve. I finally finished my study of Romans today (only took me 8 1/2 months!) and Paul reminded the Romans at the very end that God is one with the ability to strengthen us for the obedience of faith; we are not. We are utterly and totally dependent on God for our lives of faith; there is nothing therein that we can or have accomplished ourselves.

This comes as an immense relief to me, for I often struggle with doubt, uncertainty, angry outbursts, indifference, laziness, and guilt. It is great knowledge that I can run to God in those moments of struggle and rely on Him to restore to me what I am lacking, so that I am able to glorify Him through all aspects of my life, even when it feels that I am a horribly lost cause.

Paul also reminded the Romans that this strengthening for obedience happens through the gospel, through the knowledge of what Christ has done for us on the cross and what our relationship with God now is as a result. Time and time again, God will lead us back to the gospel as the truth by which we live. Without the gospel, there is no hope. Without Christ, there is no life. Without God’s love, there is no meaning.

Whatever question may be circling through your mind, even if the answer seems very far off and totally indiscernable, the solution is always Christ and the truths within the gospel. God brings you through the bogs of confusion so that you may reach the open meadow of understanding.