this post is part of the march synchroblog, multiple bloggers writing on the same subject. this month’s topic is in the spirit of lent–the wilderness experience. you can check out links from other bloggers at the bottom of this post.
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“our level of belonging can never exceed our level of self-acceptance” – brene brown
this past saturday night at the refuge we talked about the season of lent & what it means for us. it’s just a weird coincidence but our 40 day theme at the refuge is “into the wild”. in our community, there’s a wide range of feelings about God, from angry to ambivalent to passionate to loving to a whole long list of expletives. i love people’s honesty, but it is so different to so many other church-y experiences i have been part of over the years where there’s a general assumption that most everyone there is somehow excited & looking forward to “connecting with God more deeply and intentionally.” i shared that my one hope for each of us during the next 40 days is some how, some way, we’d become more comfortable in our own skin and in our relationship with God.
to me, lent is a stripping away season to get to more of the essence of who we are, who God is. i don’t think this is the only time it happens, hopefully we are always in that process. to me, that’s sort of the purpose of “the church” no matter the shape or form it takes–to help us grow in love for God, others, ourselves.
i love what joan chittister says about lent:
“It is a call to remember who we are and where we have come from and why. the voice of lent is the cry to become new again, to live on newly no matter what our life has been like until now and to live fully. it is even more than that. it is the promise of mercy, the guarantee of new life. it is the resin that keeps our souls melded to the Spirit within–despite the pull of chaos and waste and superficialities on our spiritual moorings. lent is our salvation from the depths of nothingness. it is our guide to the more of life.” – from the liturgical year
today is also international women’s day. i’ve written about it before here & here & here. every time i think about the injustices against women across the world while we are here haggling over a few bible verses that entire oppressive systems have been built on, i go a little nutty. it always reminds me that the church of Jesus Christ, which in my opinion should be the free-est, wild-est, most-grace-empowered group of people on the planet, is somehow one that has taught an awful lot of people to never feel fully loved, fully accepted. we are good at teaching about rules & things people are supposed to believe, but we are really cruddy at helping people–men and women–feel loved, valued, accepted in the deepest places of their heart.
knowing it in our heads is one thing. knowing it in our hearts and experience is quite another. brene brown, in the gifts of imperfection, says: “belonging is innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it…our level of belonging can never exceed our level of self-acceptance”. i have come to think this issue of belonging & self-acceptance is one of the primary issues that people struggle with. there’s so much loneliness, disconnectedness, shame, self-hatred & anger-toward-ourselves floating around in the human experience. it’s the root of every addiction, whether that be to drugs, alcohol, work, church, porn, food, people, unhealthy relationships, you name it. underneath all our numbing mechanisms runs a strong current of not being able to love and accept ourselves.
i remember years ago when i first read brennan manning’s book abba’s child and how deeply it touched my soul. he put to words what i was feeling inside; i often felt like an imposter, a fraud, and that any minute i was going to be found out. i had a lot of friends but no intimate connection. i wanted the deep parts of me to be loved by myself & others & God, too, but i was too scared to open myself up to that possibility. self-hatred was a lot more comfortable than self-acceptance. i never felt like enough. or like i was too much.
now, after a lot of years of healing in community, i do feel a deep level of self-acceptance that i have never experienced before. i feel more comfortable in my own skin, more accepting of my paradoxes, more kind toward myself & more kind toward God. as part of the refuge & in my marriage & my friendships, i can say that i feel like i truly belong and can bring the real me to the table. in some other circles, though, i don’t have that freedom yet. i have this weird sense that i’m supposed to be something other than me so i often end up feeling disconnected & insecure. it reminds me that there’s still a need for greater healing and transformation in me, more soul work to be done so i can be more free.
the reason i bring this up here is that my heart for people is that we would all feel more loved and accepted and we would be able to live out of a place of freedom and hope instead of insecurity and fear. part of entering into the wilderness for the lent season is opening ourselves up to be strengthened and transformed by God. we get in touch with the reality of our souls & let God’s spirit in to deep places that need change.
this isn’t self-indulgent. we love our neighbors as ourselves. no wonder the world’s so messed up. the more truly free, loving, kind, and grace-filled people we become, the more others around us will be touched by that love, too.
i don’t think there’s a magic formula to self-acceptance, but i know for me, it starts with grace and accepting my humanness, with all my strengths & all my weaknesses. not expecting everything to be gone in a rush but rather, coming face to face with the reality that continual, ongoing transformation was always the idea. Jesus, in the wilderness for 40 days, was tempted with an easy way out and he could have taken it. but he stayed the course, felt the feelings, and came out on the other side strengthened for the next leg of the journey.
there’s a part of me that says “i don’t want to go into the wilderness for the next 40 days.” i’m tired of stripping, strengthening, and transforming. i’d much rather watch modern family on hulu plus and down a big bag of salt & vinegar chips and a diet coke. but i know, somewhere deep down, that i need to explore another layer about myself, about God and what it means to belong…
so that’s the direction i’m heading into the wilderness this lent. how about you?
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other stories from the wilderness so far:
- patrick oden at dual ravens – musings
- katherine gunn at truth makes freedom – a voice in the desert: what is wilderness?
- wendy mccaig at view from the bridge – a voice calling in the wilderness
- emma nadine at life by list - life in the wilderness
- tammy carter at blessing the beloved – put down the axe
- jeremy meyers at till he comes – the gaping chasm of suicide
- Steve Hayes of Methodius – Anatomy of exile
- Marta Layton at Marta’s Mathoms – On Sabbaths, Mountain-Tops… and Brothers’ Keepers