Molding a lump of clay

Molding a lump of clay
I am a work in progress, molded by my Maker, refined by His fire, shaped with His love. Walk the journey with me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Wilderness Lessons: 2 - Brokenness

The distilled essence of brokenness is simply this…

apart from God I can do nothing
(John 15:5).

Nothing of any lasting value. Nothing that will go through the test of fire and survive (1 Cor 3:13-14).

In my own strength, with my own wisdom, I am simply building castles on the sand. One minor storm washes them away.

Brokenness is the place where I realize all my efforts without Christ are futile. My ‘great intellect’, which I once prized and believed was somehow better than many others (this idea highlighted by years of winning contests, receiving scholarships, etc.), really IS foolishness in the Kingdom of God.

Towards the end of last year, God led me down a path towards this revelation, but instead of seeing it for what it was, I strove harder, pushed myself more, gritted my teeth and will-powered my way through, refusing to ‘give up’, refusing to concede defeat. Sheer stubbornness, that was.

But my strength gave out, my emotions capsized, my mask of capability melted into streams of tears running unchecked and unexplained. I was finished.

And then God showed me the most frightening thing I’ve ever seen…He showed me my heart apart from Him. It was as if He lifted my covering of grace and held a mirror to my face and let me see the depth of depravity in my soul. No love, hard heart, selfish, hateful, vengeful, bitter, critical…utterly petrifying.

I found a description of this experience in R. Loren Sandford’s Renewal for the Wounded Warrior. He called it the ‘holiness mirror’ and, referring to St. John of the Cross’ ‘dark night of the soul’ said:

“The dark night of the soul will expose everything about you as defective. You will appear stripped of every virtue. The dark night enables a complete and accurate assessment of your own total depravity that sharply accents the depth and magnitude of God’s grace to cover it.”

Oh, so that was what that was all about. Well, scary as it was, I felt relief that God had a purpose in showing me the nastiness of my heart…brokenness.

“The dark night of the soul brings you to the cross where you cannot escape until you learn that you have nothing in yourself and that He has it all. The dark night burns away the flesh until you know that only the Spirit makes you live."

Until that point, you can do little more than hold your heart open to the searingly bright light of His presence and choose to endure the pain and brokenness his purity creates in your flesh. When you know your condition and understand God’s grace in relation to it, nothing remains to be threatened. You can fully rest in Him only when you have despaired of yourself.”

Watchman Nee said, “Anyone who serves God will discover sooner or later that the greatest hindrance to his work is not others, but himself. He will discover that his outward man and his inward man are not in harmony…his outward man is unable to submit to the spirit’s control, thus rendering him incapable of obeying God’s highest commands.”

There is only one process that can enable man to be useful before God: brokenness.

But going through this process isn’t easy. At first, the person being led into brokenness doesn’t know what’s happening; friends and family struggle to know how best to respond.

Sandford explained:

“Profound loneliness fills the dark night. No one understands. No one hears. Well-intentioned fools give shallow advice based on hurtful misunderstanding and shallow theology. To avoid the sting of their misguided wisdom, you begin to hide from people. Friendships gradually erode. In the face of their own powerlessness to help, people flee.”

Alone, misunderstood, avoided…finally I got a little piece of understanding about what it means to share in the suffering of Christ. Just a little, tiny piece.

Sandford says:

These people have been driven into the wilderness while everyone else was having fun. They have worked through a personal depth of sharing in the cross of Christ and His resurrection, becoming more one with Jesus both in His death and in His life than they had ever before understood or experienced.”

Madame Guyon wrote, “The true land of promise always lies beyond a vast wasteland.” In this wasteland of loneliness and confusion, God does the purifying work of brokenness.

Yes, it’s painful. Yes, it’s scary. But without this process, our spirit will not fully yield to the Spirit of God within us. We will not produce the fruit of righteousness we so crave. We will always be doing what we don’t want to do, and not doing what we want to do.

Watchman Nee says, “It is vital that we be broken by the Lord. It is not that the life of the Lord cannot cover the earth, but rather that His life is imprisoned by us. It is not that the Lord cannot bless the Church, but that the Lord’s life is so confined within us that there is no flowing forth. If the outward man remains unbroken, we can never be a blessing to His Church, and we cannot expect the Word to be blessed by God through us.”

I imagine this is not a popular concept. Most people don’t pray to be broken…actually, we pray quite the opposite. Like the prayer of Jabez. We don’t like pain. And brokenness necessarily involves pain…that’s just a fact.

But don’t forget the Promised Land waiting on the other side of that pain. We must lose our life in order to save it.

If we truly hunger and thirst for righteousness; if we seriously seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, the only way for His Kingdom to fully come in our lives is to allow Him to break down the things in us that are contrary to His kingdom.

Those who retreat from the refining fire will wander in the wilderness, griping and complaining and wishing they were back in slavery.

Those who surrender to the process and allow God’s gentle hand to lead them through this wilderness will rejoice in the joy and abundance of the Promised Land. They will be set free from striving, competing, and manipulating, and will be a tool in the hand of God, set apart and useful for noble purposes.

May God give us the grace to trust His tender hands.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Wilderness Lessons: 1 - What it means to care

Towards the end of last year, I lost my vision.

Not physically, but spiritually.

I felt no love towards anyone. I didn’t really care anymore. I had reached the bottom of whatever well of compassion there was in me, and nothing came in to fill it back up.

I was just empty and dry.

And then I became angry. I don’t know why exactly, but everything made me mad. Or irritated me. And I couldn’t be bothered to work up the patience and tolerance to deal with people or problems.

I was finished.

People call it a wilderness season, a time in the desert, a mid-life crisis…whatever the name, the symptoms are the same…depression, doubt, angst, exhaustion, grief.

I cried easily for no particular reason...rather embarrassing, really.

The only possible way forward was to withdraw…take time out with God…

go into solitude.

So I pulled out
of the leadership team, out of ministry, even out of team meetings. The only commitment I held onto was being a mom and a wife, but every other thing I put on the back burner for about 2 months.

One of the things I am most grateful for during that time was the nearness of God…I never felt like He wasn’t there. He didn’t go quiet on me. Rather, He was the One who called me to ‘go up the mountain’ and spend time just with Him.

I learned many things during that time…God was extremely faithful to teach me His truths on multiple levels. Some of them I will share on this blog in the days/weeks to come,

others are for Him and I alone.

But one of the first things I learned about was ‘caring’. Our society is programmed to cure, not to care. We want quick fixes. We want people to try this or try that to get over their depression, be free of their anger, come out of their slump. We find it hard to wade through pits of despair with people…we just want them to pull up their socks and get on with it.

And yet, sometimes God has a purpose for those pits that won’t be realized unless the pit-dweller remains there for a season, embraces the darkness and confusion and pain, and allows God to minister to her in that place. There is a refining process that can take place in the pit if we will surrender ourselves to the Lord, trust Him to do what He needs to do, and allow Him to bring us out of the pit in His perfect timing. It’s a tricky balance between wallowing when God says, “Come out,” and climbing out before His sanctifying work is done.

And the key lesson
I learned about ‘caring’ as it relates to 'the pit', is that the people who really care are the ones who climb into the pit with you and just sit there, holding your hand, assuring you with their presence but refraining from fixing it all and trying to pull you out. I just read a passage from Henri Nouwen’s Out of Solitude which summed it up best:

“…when we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief or bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness,

that is the friend who cares.”

This pic says: "To be with you is all I can do."

I am blessed to have friends who, although having their own challenges in life, willingly agreed to walk through this wilderness with me, to read my rantings and ravings, my musings and doubts, my questions and ponderings. They held me up with their prayers, they didn’t shy away from the dark places I wandered, they didn’t judge or criticize the ugliness of my heart as I laid it all out there. They were safe, faithful, present. They were the friends who cared.

I’ve learned from this walk in the wilderness what those suffering in the dark places of their souls need most…a caring friend to share in the fellowship of suffering with them. Not one of Job’s unhelpful advisors, not abandonment… just the simple presence of a fellow sojourner who acknowledges her own inadequacy to fix the problem, but trusts God’s unfailing love and is ready to stick with her aching friend through the long haul as God works out His good purposes in her life. After all, God's Word says that sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. However long that night is, the friends that are with us in the darkness will celebrate with us that much more in the joyful morning.


It’s really rather simple when you experience it.

And now having experienced it, may God grant me the grace to extend that same level of care to whichever hurting friend may need it next.