The following is an e-mail I wrote to several close friends of mine. I’m sharing it here also because I believe, as personal and raw as it is, that your heart is important–always, and during this time of isolation. You are loved!
I’ve been reflecting during this time in quarantine; I’ve had a lot of time for it. I’ve been thinking and praying about all the ways I’ve looked for affection and affirmation and comfort in my life: sucking my thumb, putting my siblings down and being unkind to them, putting so much pressure on myself to make straight A’s, letting my anger run wherever it wanted to, masturbating, reading porn, being sarcastic and spiteful, shaming myself (like that would fix anything), not eating/counting carlories and working out a lot (didn’t last long but def was a phase), judging others, being selfish with my time and possessions, body shaming, self harm, thoughts of suicide, and more. I reached out to all of these things for comfort, affection, the warm fuzzies, love, etc. If you also have a “Wanted: Affection and Affirmation” sign over your heart during these times of isolation, let me just save you all a lot of time: none of those things do it. Not a one.
Jesus is the only one that satisfies. A truth I frequently pass by when I don’t feel it. May I remind you all what I’ve been reminding myself this week? Feelings do not determine truth. Feelings do not determine God’s presence. His love. His faithfulness towards you.
If you have tried any of the above things (or something not on the list)—even if you keep going back to them—there is grace for you. There is forgiveness. Not out of pity or I-have-to-forgive-because-I’m-a-good-God-or-else-I’ll-lose-my-reputation. He forgives you because He still wants to. Because He still has hope in and for you. Because He still desires relationship with you.
Steffany Gretzinger released a new album this weekend that has been such a gift. I feel so exposed listening to it, as if she’s singing pages of my own journals. It’s that “it hurts so good” kind of feel. That “it’s so painful to admit I’ve had those thoughts or felt those feelings or done those things, turning away from Jesus, but wow am I grateful for your honesty in giving even that back to Him”. There’s one song in particular I have so fallen in love with that I wanted to share: “More to Me”.
I’ve been reading Annie Downs’ 100 Days to Brave devotional book this year. “Brave” and “courageous” have kind of been banner words over my life the past 6-7 years. Even writing this e-mail and being this raw with you—some of you who I’ve never even met before—is terrifying for me. I don’t tend to like to talk about myself and the ways I mess up—just about Jesus and how beautiful He is. But I need you to know there’s perspective here. There’s dirt. These words don’t come from a perfect church girl with both parents who says “life is perfect, God is good”. Nope. This girl’s been in the dirt (spiritually, mentally, and emotionally speaking. y’all know how I feel about the outdoors. jk jk I did actually go on two walks this week outside, even with the bees). But as I was saying—the truth I’m speaking about Jesus isn’t from someone who has it all together and says it’s all good, He’s all good. I’ve been through things that scared me, had panic attacks, anxiety, and obviously coped with it in unhealthy ways.
Quick side note here: “unhealthy”. adjective. things that do not turn your heart, attention, and actions towards God. things that prevent spiritual growth and maturity and breed passivity and complacency.
I’m not talking about what society says is unhealthy. Many things on that list are considered normal, natural, and even healthy! Or at least “just what teenagers do”.
The Kingdom of God is not run on “normal”, “natural”, and “healthy”. It doesn’t make separate standards for you if you’re a teenager—nor does it give you any less purpose or calling. Many things God has put strongly on my heart to do—both for my own heart health and for the Kingdom—have left me with diarrhea. Shaking. Feeling really left out from everyone else my age.
The Kingdom of Heaven ain’t just the easy stuff, y’all. It’s “sell everything you have and follow Me”. It’s “leave your mother and father and come with Me”.
It’s passionate, not passive. It’s humble, really, really, humble. It’s hard. It’s the most grounding, certain thing I know of. I feel anxious when I can’t hear Him speaking anymore. When the busyness or the shame or the self-doubt or the perfectionism or the orphan/victim spirit or the fear gets too loud to hear Him. That’s when I cope. When I’m living off of yesterday’s word. When I’m depending on someone else’s revelation to change my life. When I count on my mom’s faith to increase my self-control instead of putting in the work myself.
Y’all. God said early in the week to write this post, and I’ve been so scared. I’ve come up with so many excuses. But tears are filling my eyes at the thought that He wants to use me to say this. That He has found a place for redemption and encouragement in this, because He can and truly does turn all things for good to them that love Him.
I want to let you know that I’m real and you can talk to me and I will never shame you. I celebrate brave steps towards maturity and growth. The reason I listed the things I struggle/d with at the beginning is because it’s a comfort to know you’re not alone in your temptations, in your shame. And if that encourages you to know what I struggle with, that I’m real and you can talk to me, let me wow you: I want to let you know that Jesus is real and you can talk to Him and He will never shame you. He celebrates brave steps towards maturity and growth. The reason I listed the things I struggle with is because He has been tempted with all of these things too. He has felt shame—much weightier shame than you ever could. He knows what it is to be tempted, to struggle, to feel shame, and to feel it louder than you feel the Father’s presence. He too felt like God had forsaken Him in the weight of the shame—our shame!—He bore.
Jesus knows what shame feels like better than any of us—because He took it for all of us. Isn’t it interesting that He also knows, best out of all of us, the fullness of a good, good Father’s love? The One who felt the most shame knows the most Love. Because our Father is Love. Love that disciplines and pushes us to mature and grow, yes, but Love that comforts and affirms and shows boundless affection too.
I hear testimonies of people that have struggled with stuff and they say they prayed and God delivered them from it in an instant. I believe that and believe in that. That has not been my story—my story has been one of many a desperate prayer for God to take those temptations away from me, and of Him many times saying “Magnify Me above those things”. It is building my maturity—not to never be tempted by it again, but every time I am tempted by it, to say, “No. You do not satisfy. Only my Jesus can satisfy this desire.” It’s a spiritual workout. Many days my muscles don’t feel like putting in the work, and don’t. Many days, my muscles don’t feel like putting in the work, and I lean into grace, and take the way out of the temptation and turn back to Him. The key has been to magnify Him. Make Him bigger. Bigger than all of it—the situation, the pressure, the desire, the hole in my heart. I am human. Jesus did not take my flesh away from me, but He did free me from sin, shame, and the grave. He did free me from addiction and running to anything other than Him to fill me up. He did give me His Spirit. He gave me Holy Spirit—who is more powerful than my flesh, when I feel like He is and when I don’t. It’s a matter of choosing which reality to lean into. The seen or the unseen. The tangible or the revealed. They’re both real but only one has revelation truth in it.
So yeah. You’re probably at home this week and may have some extra time on your hands. Spend some time with the Lord (and keep spending time with Him, especially when you don’t feel Him—but don’t confuse not wanting to do what He’s asking you to do with not feeling Him). Ask Him what holes in your life/mind/heart/soul you’re pouring stuff into that He’s supposed to be filling up. Ask Him what you’re filling up with that isn’t Him. Ask Him to heal the root issue that caused the hole in the first place, and to fill it with Himself. Say “no” when you’re tempted to fill it with other things. Let’s get to the root of this together. I know deep deep down in my knower that He is going to be enough, when we put Him to the test. The trouble is, I haven’t put Him to the test in all areas—I’ve kept doing my own thing with my hands but saying with my mouth I trust Him.
If it’s confessing a sin, let’s watch Him be enough as He is faithful and just to forgive us. If it’s cleaning up what comes out of our mouth, let’s make apologies to the people we’ve hurt. If it’s cleaning up what goes into our mouths—because our bodies are His temple and what we allow into our mouths can be just as much of an unhealthy coping mechanism as what we let out of it—let’s do it. We’ve got the time. What are our excuses now? Now is the time for the church—the people, not the building—to show that we believe God is enough for us.
We’re supposed to be salty! But it’s Kingdom salt—not the seasoning of society. We’re supposed to look different from the world. We’re supposed to be light.
It’s not hard to follow Jesus.
It’s hard to stop following ourselves.
But I promise you—and now maybe you’ll feel like I have a little more “street cred” when I say this—He is worth it. He is enough. He will give you the courage. He. Is. Enough.
The verse of the day on the YouVersion Bible app today is Psalm 68:19. In the NLT, it says, “Praise the Lord; praise God our Savior! For each day He carries us in His arms. Interlude.”
In TPT, “What a glorious God! He gives us salvation over and over, then daily He carries our burdens. Pause in His presence.”
What a good God. Don’t be afraid of spending time in His presence today. There’s nothing to be scared of. He’s Abba. We were made to have relationship with Him—it’s the most normal, natural, healthy thing. He’s close to you. (Which reminds me, I also highly recommend this song from Steffany Gretzinger’s album.)
I believe in you.
I love you.
(God says to tell you “ditto” on both of those counts.)