Celebrating Weakness as a Key to my Identity

 

Wow, this is making me feel inadequate!
I’m still shocked that these words came out of my mouth, but they did, before I even had time to think.
I was talking to a friend about owning property. Like me, they’d been very circumstantially blessed in this area and, despite the humble way that they spoke about it, it was clear that they were sitting on some very valuable investments. My instant feeling, when faced with someone in a ‘better position’ to me was inadequacy.
This was further highlighted to me this week as I realized how often I do a self-appraisal of how ‘successful’ I am at life. Ironically much of this centers around how I think my life looks to other people.
Here’s some embarrassing examples of what goes through my head:

Ok, so I’m single. I’m basically failing at the most significant thing in life, so I need to make up for it somehow. I need to prove that my life is still awesome enough to justify being alone.

How am I going at life? Actually I’m doing okay. I have property. Lots of people my age don’t, and I’m going to nail this whole mortgage thing.
I have a career that I enjoy and I’m in leadership now and…
I’ve traveled…
I have lots of friends…
I give to missions and charity…
I have…
                        I can…
                                                I do…
                                                                        I am…

Successful.

I have a decent personal resume. Most of the time it’s enough to make me feel okay about being alone. Most of the time I feel that my strengths are outweighing my weaknesses.
But.
Sometimes they don’t help at all. They offer no answer when the ugly question rears it’s head ‘Why, despite all this, does nobody want me?’

Most of the time I also know that the successes I’m counting aren’t actually the things that matter; that they’re all superficial things that can be lost in an instant.

It really hit home the other day as I was crying out to God to speak into my life and He took me to James 1:10-11.
“[Let the rich boast] in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away… So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.”
What does it mean, I asked, to boast in my humiliation? I was reminded of the way in which the Apostle Paul boasted in his weaknesses and counted everything he had gained in this world as loss for the sake of knowing Christ, and I knew… it is in my weaknesses, not my successes, that my true greatness lies, because my true greatness does not come from me.

I thought of my ‘humiliations’ in life and discovered that in each of them lay a truth about my identity that was far more significant than any house, or job or travel. Here are some:

I am single – I am pursued and loved by God
I am dust – I am a new, eternal creation
I am weak – I have the strength of the Almighty
I am sometimes socially awkward – I am safe in God’s sovereign plan
I am alone – I am hid with Christ in God and am never alone.
I am sinful – I am forgiven and made righteous
I am overlooked – I am found and known and cherished.

So there are my greatest weaknesses; the yucky parts of who I am; the ones I try to cover up with the more glamorous looking list. But there also, in Christ, are my greatest strengths. As I reflect on who I am, and how I’m going in life, may I always remember that my boast is in these things, not the other list to which I cling so tightly. Because the other list? It is as fleeting as a spring flower.

I don’t ever wanna be caught on the wrong side

When I read the Gospels, why do I automatically assume that I belong alongside Peter, or that I would have been Mary Magdalene? Why do I rarely see myself in the Pharisees or the Rich Young Ruler?

Yesterday in church I was convicted to examine my life. What do I value? What am I pursuing? I saw so clearly the allure of worldly things, which easily captivate my heart. I saw how self-righteous I am in my judgement of how the world should be – what is good or right. I saw how proudly I stood amongst a multitude of people who defined success, then boasted in their achievements.double-exposure-illustration-woman-with-city-in-her-hat_1020-442

I saw a great battle line drawn. On the right were those who were glamorous, popular, wealthy and so successful that they are proud to define themselves by material things. And I saw myself with them, desiring to be one of them, pursuing the things they loved. And then I looked to the other side, to those who were poor and lowly, and cared not for this world. And Jesus was on the other side.

How often do I claim to be a follower of Jesus, then busy myself with things that are not on His agenda? How often do I scorn things he loves, or delight in things he hates? When he comes back I sure don’t want to be caught swanning around in Prada shoes and sequins, or clamouring wildly up the corporate ladder, so I’d better stop pursuing them.

You’re not as good as anyone thinks

If any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be copyI care a lot what people think of me, which is why this quote by Spurgeon hit home so much. When you care what people think, much of your pride can get tied up in having a good reputation.

How often do we find ourselves annoyed, angry or even crushed when we discover that somebody thinks badly of us? It reflects a lot about how we view ourselves.

First, we are all prone to believe that we are, on balance, good people (and we defy anyone to suggest otherwise.)

Second, we value so much what others think that we work hard at portraying an image of ourselves that is even better than what we know ourselves to be.

We are quite happy for people to think more highly of us than they ought, but are indignant if they think less of us.

Spurgeon flings aside our flimsy façade and dashes our misplaced pride. Someone thinks badly of you? Don’t be angry, they’ve got it wrong. You’re actually far worse.

Don’t we forget that this is such a key aspect of the Gospel? Yes we have incredible value, but our standards for measuring our own ‘goodness,’ aren’t even close to the mark. In fact, we fall so far short of the actual standard that it is only by a phenomenal act of grace that we have attained any righteousness at all.

Truly we are not as good as we, or as anyone, thinks. But Jesus is far better, and, praise God, he’s got us covered.

 

 

Sometimes you need to know how insignificant you are

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Ever been told you’re awesome? If you’re Gen X probably; if you’re Gen Y, definitely; if you’re Gen Z, daily.

It’s the catch cry of our culture. When you preach that God is dead, you need a heck of a lot of self-esteem boosting to make you feel like there is any purpose in life, so that’s what we’ve done. We’ve made it our job to ensure that young people know just how good they are; that they can do anything; that there’s no one better than them.

When I grew up I was shocked at how deeply I fell into melancholy when I found that mindset challenged.

I was flying by Mount Everest.

Those Himalayan Mountains are the biggest things I’ve ever seen, and as I flew over them I was conquered. For my whole life I had been the conqueror. I was human. I was the top of the food chain. The world was my oyster!

Those mountains weren’t.

As I looked at them, I knew with absolute certainty that I could never climb them. I knew that many who had tried still lay there entombed in the ice, and, more than ever before, I knew I was very, very small.

And I was gutted.

But what a good thing it was for me to be reminded that my glory is very small. I had to remember that there is One who is infinitely bigger than the mountains, and my identity must be found in Him.

Should Christians really ‘focus on the family?’

I don’t know the answer to this one, but I do have some questions, and I’m interested to know what people think.

If you’re like me, and you’ve grown up in the western church, you’ve probably noticed a huge focus on the preservation and upholding of the traditional, often nuclear, family model. We consistently have reinforced that Family is important; Family must come first. We even have a conservative political party named for this very idea.dollhouse-family-portraits_2749316

But I’m starting to question it. Maybe it’s because I’m 28 and single. Maybe it’s because I realize that the only reason I’m not alone at Christmas is because I live in the same city as my parents and siblings. Maybe it’s because my heart hurts on mothers day and fathers day and at Christmas when everyone goes off to celebrate with their neat little nuclear families and I see others left to feel the gap; to feel like they don’t really fit in a world made for poster-perfect families.

Don’t get me wrong, family is important. Marriage is sacred and children are a blessing, but somehow I feel like the Bible offers us something better than the nuclear family. I feel like maybe the New Testament wanted to change our focus to the Church family; to turn from the nuclear to the community; to cultivate ‘all together’ rather than ‘us separately.’

If ‘focusing on the family’ means that some just can’t fit in, aren’t we getting something wrong?

How ‘gay’ is killing creativity

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A while back I was horrified when one of my female students yelled across the classroom to one of the boys, ‘You should be gay!’ The boy, somewhat taken aback, asked her why.

‘Because you’re into music stuff and choir and all that,’ was her response, and a part of me cried inside for the ignorance and judgmental nature of teenagers.

A big part of my grief was this: that our incessant need to label people and define them by their sexuality is killing creativity in boys. Things that were praised in bygone eras, acting, music, composing and self expression through writing and poetry, have become defining symbol’s of a man’s sexuality. So many talented boys, growing into men, are afraid to express themselves lest their sexuality be called into question.

It is a tragedy for the arts, and a tragedy for humanity.

We’re reading To Kill a Mockingbird in year 11 at the moment, and Scout’s comment is really resonating with me: ‘I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.’

We need to stop defining people by their sexuality, and even more, we need to stop using these labels as a derogatory way to cut people down.

As Australians, we’re not great at celebrating talent, but we need to change that. Let’s start with letting boys be creative, lest we kill the passion of our future Mozarts, Shakespeares and Da Vincis.

Wondering if I really know my country at all.

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I’ve just returned from a road trip with three girlfriends. We drove all the way across Australia, from one coast to the other, south to north.

On our first day of driving, as we left our city and drove through the countryside, I felt an almost umbilical connection to this land. My love for my country and my sense of pride in it runs deep. It’s what I know, it’s my home, and it’s been good to me.

By the end of my trip, however, I began to wonder how much I know my country at all.

The face of Australia is so multi-faceted, that I began to realize how vastly different my experience of ‘home’ is to other people’s. Outside the cities we drove through rural farmland; country towns that have a lifestyle and culture of their own.

Beyond that, things change even more. Decades of bush lifestyle have been carved out in remote regions, where a run down roadhouse is the central social hub and isolation is a way of life.

Further on we came to Aboriginal lands; where children roam the dusty streets with vicious looking dogs in the middle of the day.

And I wondered about school.

And I realized how much I don’t understand.

And we discussed and debated what should be done, and realized that we don’t have the answers.

And we wondered if anyone does.

And I thought of the bright lights of Sydney…

…and it felt like another world.

Be Brave Little Piglet!

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As kids, we had the book Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. At some point in the book, little Piglet is swept away by the wind. Pooh cries out to him: “Be brave little Piglet!” as Piglet finds himself alone, high in the sky.

When we were young, mum often used this phrase on us as we were facing something we were afraid of. ‘Be brave little Piglet,’she’d say to us as we walked, with trepidation into the unknown.

The phrase stuck in my mind, and I found myself repeating it, even as an adult, during some of the most difficult times of my life. But, somehow, it didn’t help. Instead of feeling brave, I felt lost and small; a little Piglet in the midst of a storm.

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It was during a particularly rough time a couple of years ago that the problem with this mantra suddenly became clear. If I was seeing myself as a ‘little Piglet,’ I would feel lost, and small, like a child wanting to run back to the safety of their mummy.

What I needed to focus on was the truth of who I was. In Christ I was more like a warrior Princess than a small, weak piglet. I could be brave, because I had Christ in me; His power; His armour.

So now, when I face battles, I face them as a warrior, not as a defenceless Piglet. And the cry to ‘be brave,’ is much more achievable.