Believers Are Not Prey Animals

My mouse is dying, and I guess sometimes I am too.

Cougar is an adorable little fancy mouse I bought from a pet store over a year ago, and she’s determined to live up to her name. All my daydreams about holding her in my hand or carrying her in my pocket Mr-Bojangles-style ended when she refused to have any sort of physical contact with me that didn’t involve her teeth.

And now she’s dying–literally killing herself with a form of OCD that involves chronic scratching. It hurts me to see her so weak and in so much pain, knowing that at this point all I can hope to do is make her comfortable.

Fancy mice are prey animals. Prey animals such as these will hide any sickness or weakness as long as they can so they won’t be weak targets for predators. Often, when their weakness becomes too much for them to hide, they’re too far gone to be saved. Once their weakness shows, it’s too late.

I suppose it makes sense if you’re a prey animal living in the wild. It makes a lot less sense for humans, and yet so often we act the same way.

We were meant to live in open community. We were meant to share our concerns, our joys, our sorrows, our fears, and even our sins–not only with God, but also with one another. Yet our instinct, at least in the West, is to put on a happy face or a Christian face or a perfect face while we’re killing ourselves on the inside. We keep pretending we’re fine while we scratch ourselves to death with fear of someone finding out the truth.

For the greater part of this year so far, my family and I have gone through a hell so terrible that words cannot describe it. I reached a point where I was sitting on a bed in a hotel room, completely immobile in my weakness. I literally didn’t know how to survive the next five minutes of my life. I didn’t know how to stand up or walk or shower or get dressed. And I was deeply hurt that no one in our church small group had called to check on us. But here’s the thing: we didn’t tell them what was happening. We had put on a happy face that everything was fine, and we’d hidden our weakness until we were at the absolute bottom of a dark pit, scratching ourselves to death in sorrow.

So I sent a message to some of our small group friends, and they began praying. They shared the request with our leader and others, who also began praying. And somehow our family was able to take one more small step, and one more small step. Hiding our weaknesses weakened us. Sharing our weaknesses strengthened us.

In times of severe weakness, one verse always comes to mind: “We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead. And he did rescue us from mortal danger, and he will rescue us again. We have placed our confidence in him, and he will continue to rescue us. And you are helping us by praying for us. Then many people will give thanks because God has graciously answered so many prayers for our safety.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-11, emphasis added)

Note the communal aspect of his statement: that he was completely honest about his struggles, that many people have helped him by praying for him, and that many people will share in glorifying God as a result of those answered prayers.

The good news is: unless you’re dead, it’s not too late. You’re not too far gone to be saved. It’s not to late to share your weaknesses and sicknesses in a safe community. There are predators out there who will take advantage of your weaknesses. But there are also communities of believers who thrive when weak people are honest about their weaknesses. If you don’t have a safe place among genuine believers, I encourage you to seek one out. You are not a prey animal. You are not meant to go through this alone.

Is there a weakness you’re struggling to hide? Do you have a safe community of believers you can trust with your weaknesses?

about blessings and curses

Paul, in Ephesians, talks about not giving the devil a foothold by going to bed angry. True, of course, but the idea of a foothold goes beyond that. I’ve noticed in recent months how easy it is for negativity to snowball in my mind or heart when I give the devil a foothold, so to speak.

Anytime I take my focus off of Christ and put it on myself, the world, or others, I start to slip like Peter in the ocean. Each sin not only injures my relationship with God at that moment, but also manages to give Satan a foothold with regards to the time after the sin. The devil uses it to tell me that if I sinned once in a certain area, I’m bound to do it again. I might as well just face it and give in, acknowledge my sin and give up. He uses it to cause guilt and condemnation and shame, none of which are in any way godly. I beat myself up over things for days, weeks, even years knowing how my disobedience to God has hurt him, unable in my human mind to forget the sins Christ has already forgotten and Satan has just begun to use against me.

My biggest struggle is anxiety. I once heard a powerful sermon that anxiety and fear are doubt in God that he’s capable of working things out. Henry Blackaby would say that my anxiety says more about my faith in God than about myself. If I was to be completely honest, I’d say it’s a pride issue. It’s faith in my own ability to get things done or work things out. God routinely checks me on this, and I’m thankful for the humility but only after I’m through the lesson. In fact, this is not at all my point in this post, but he’s used sickness and other unforeseen circumstances to show me again and again that our church is God’s church and not Rebecca’s church; our small group is God’s small group and not Rebecca’s small group; my life is now the life of someone with Christ living inside her, not Rebecca’s life. The church still functions even when I’m not around, the small group still functions when I’m not around, and as for my own life? It’s so much better when I focus a lot less on myself and a lot more on Christ.

But I digress.
Example time. Last week, I hadn’t done my quiet time first thing in the morning like I usually do because I had so many other things that I “needed” to get done first. Focus on the I. I realized it was just over a month until our wedding, and instead of being excited, I was overwhelmed. Like I mentioned in the previous post, I flat-out hate this mono crap because I spend a lot of time lying down, thinking about everything that needs to be done. So getting stuff done for the wedding, getting stuff moved in and settled and cleaned in our new house, and getting stuff done for work were all these foreboding clouds of doom I couldn’t get out from under. And it was the foothold issue again. As soon as I let anxiety about one very small thing–in this case trying to afford groceries for both the house I live in and the house I will live in next month–sneak into my mind, the devil shoved his foot in there, pried open the door of my mind, and took off running into my head. I ran one more errand and drove home, already in tears and only half-praying because I was too busy feeling sorry for myself.

I sat down, pulled out my Bible and journal, and said, “Okay, God, let’s start this over. I can’t do all this.” And, without missing a beat, the Holy Spirit instantly brought to mind one of my recent memory verses, John 15:5: “Apart from me you can do nothing.”

Eek.
All of these things–wedding/marriage, house, work–are things God has given to me as gifts, as blessings. But when I took him out of the picture, or at least let him blur into the background, they were quickly becoming curses.

I often thank God repeatedly for my fiancé, knowing that (next to that whole free gift of salvation thing) he’s the greatest gift God has ever entrusted me with. We have kept God a prime focus since before the start of our relationship, both individually and as a couple, and his blessing is all over our relationship and our upcoming marriage. Same thing for our house. God blessed us with a house that is perfect for us, a house we love, and a house that worked out so flawlessly for us from the beginning that it could only be a supernatural gift. My job has always been, since Day One, God’s very specific plan for me at the moment, to both use me and grow me, to minister to me and through me. Each of these things, these huge blessings in my life, are all intended to glorify God AND to work together for MY good.

And of course I can’t do everything or anything to make these things thrive, to make weddings and houses and churches run successfully. Of course I can’t be effective for them, not apart from him.

I’d like to say that the past two weeks since the nice Holy Spirit wake-up call have been smooth, anxiety-free sailing. They haven’t, of course, but there’s always improvement. Gradual, baby steps, but improvement all the same. And when I do screw up, and I do allow the devil that foothold into my thoughts, I at least have ammo to respond to the lies he tells me and the lies I tell myself. Apart from Christ, I can do nothing. And to be honest, after knowing Christ the way I do, I don’t want to do anything apart from him.

about that empathy with paul

I love the epistles, the letters that compose a good chunk of the New Testament. I love them because they’re so applicable, so much more in reach at times than the Old Testament prophets and commandments and sacrificial laws. Don’t get me wrong—I love the Old Testament. I love the whole Bible, reading it, applying it, watching it continue to work itself out around me. But there’s something about the Old Testament that is either too vague or too specific. For too vague, read some of the prophets who speak of impending doom and a coming Savior with a lot of code and double-speak and, by the way, anytime the Old Testament mentions a “whore,” it’s usually talking about a country. Or a town. Or foolishness. It’s never about the skanky girl on the primetime TV show. For too specific, read through Leviticus and parts of Numbers and Deuteronomy and see how doing this one action on this one day of the year deserves this one method of punishment for seven days outside the city. And that’s probably what they needed then, but in America right now, cutting off the hand of a woman who grabs some guy’s junk while he’s fighting with her man is not exactly legal.

It’s the letters that always grabbed my attention the most growing up, because I could take comfort in them and learn self-discipline from applying their wisdom. They’re easy to memorize and applicable in daily situations. It’s good, practical advice and, by the way, when the epistles mentions whore-like behavior, it’s not talking about a country or a town or foolishness. It’s talking about the skanky girl on the primetime TV show and what happens when we start acting more like her and less like Christ. See, that I can actually understand.

James was always my favorite growing up, the letter James wrote to Jewish believers of Christ. It, like the other letters, reaffirms the gospel. It encourages, “God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (1:12). It also corrects, “If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless” (1:26). For someone like myself who was born with the habit of talking before thinking, reading verses like that is lovingly correcting and, while I still talk way too much and pray about it more than you might think, I’m aware that it’s a situation that needs to be addressed. All of the letters are this way.

Many of them are Paul et al.’s letters to the people of Galatia or Corinth or Thessalonica. Sometimes Paul is commending the churches’ behavior. Sometimes he scolds them. Always he says how much he misses them, how much he longs to see them, how much he prays for them. He references hearing reports from people he’s sent on ahead of how the churches are doing and how encouraged or discouraged he is by their reports. He mentions bragging on specific churches and people, telling others how much God is moving in their lives. All of this takes up significant portions of each letter, and I always felt they were just formal niceties that didn’t mean anything, and I’d skip over them. Until last night, when I finally understood all these things Paul has been talking about.

Having mono has been one of the worst experiences of my life. I know that sounds dramatic, but it’s hard to put into words how hopeless the whole thing is. There’s no treatment, there’s no ETA for getting rid of the stupid thing, and there’s no way for me to work through it like I have everything else in my life. Normally my life is multi-tasking: eating while working while watching a TV show on mute and listening to music. And now I lie awake because I can barely sleep but I don’t have the strength to move, and I think over and over about everything I’m not getting done for work, for our upcoming wedding, for our new house, etc. But that’s another post for another time, because God has already shown me many things from this whole unpleasant ordeal.

Our LifeHouse is our small group of about twenty 20- & 30-somethings who aren’t married. We meet once a week to share about what God is doing in and around us and what we learned from the previous week’s sermon. We discuss how it does or doesn’t apply to our lives. We pray together and we leave. I’ve been participating in or leading a LifeHouse since probably September of 2007. But for some reason, this particular group we have now is seeing a move of God like I haven’t seen in a small group before. People are openly sharing their struggles and encouraging one another, building each other up, supporting each other through very serious problems. I love being a part of it. And then, suddenly, the mono strikes and so far I’ve missed about a month’s worth of meetings. I really hate it, but at the same time, I continue to hear about what’s going on through my co-leader or through my fiancé. They tell me stories from LifeHouse that, even though I wasn’t there, still encourage me. Because I know the people in that group and I have a deep love for them. I pray for them and I brag about them to everyone I can, and more than anything I marvel at the way God is moving in them.

The past two weeks I’ve sent out emails to the group with their prayer requests and keep feeling more and more like Paul. Finally, I understand all those things from his letters that I thought were obligatory comments and formal niceties. I tell them how much I miss them, how much I long to see them, and how much I pray for them. It seems a little silly, maybe, because I often feel a lot closer to the Saul-before-Paul than to the Paul who wrote those letters. But it’s an encouragement to me that God has used this time to help me understand the complete love, passion, and compassion Paul had for the people of these churches. It alters ever-so-slightly the way I view the epistles, as not empty letters filled with good advice from a spiritual authority, but rather as heartfelt outpourings of love and encouragement from an equal brother in Christ who genuinely wants to see the churches grow and wants more than anything to know how God is continuing to minister to and through them.

I love how those things Satan intends for evil, God works out for good. I feel like this whole stage of having a ridiculous, nonsensical illness is one of those things intended for evil. But, like I said, this isn’t the first thing God’s used to mono to teach or remind me, and I doubt it will be the last.