Pockets of Paradise

God desires our communities to be safe places where one can live in intimate relationship with God, with self and with others. Genesis 2:25 describes the quality of such a fellowship beautifully and poetically, “And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.”

A gathering of God’s beloved children should be characterized by people who are “naked and not ashamed.” Wow! Of course I am speaking metaphorically and spiritually, but consider with me the definitions and implications of what it means to be naked and not experience any shame in the context of community.

Although Adam and Eve were literally naked, the Hebrew word translated naked also means a person without pretense or uniform. Police officers wear uniforms so they can easily be identified. A police uniform tells you how to relate to the person wearing it and what you can expect from them. The uniform defines the role they’ll play in your life and how you should interact with them. You don’t know the person behind the uniform, you don’t even care about the person behind the uniform, your relationship with them is defined by the role they play.

When physically naked, there is nothing covering your body, your beauty and your flaws are seen by all. To be naked spiritually and relationally is to be yourself, without pretending to be someone you are not, or hiding within the safety of a role you play. It’s “what you see is what you get”, no pretense, no hiding, just guileless authenticity.

And (here’s the kicker) this person, in their absolute nakedness feels no sense of shame. Shame is the feeling that follows disappointment of opinion, hope or expectation. They are purely themselves and have complete confidence that who they are will not disappoint in any way. There is no shadow of doubt cast on their personhood, they live from a place of sufficiency, value and acceptance.

I think of my grandkids when I think about this type of unashamed nakedness. Eliza and Jack both jump out of the bath and run around in naked exuberance, unaware of their bodies, conscious only of joy and life. This is the experience God desires for us in our communities. To live with one another in the freedom that unselfconscious nakedness would allow. Imagine outposts of Eden where God’s kingdom is realized, where brothers and sisters can live together Naked and Not Ashamed. This is paradise!

What are your thoughts about this concept? Do you have any place where you experience the type of community described in Genesis 2:25?

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Who you are!

You are made by God and you are called good. You are made in the likeness of God and you reflect God’s image. Although this image has been distorted through sin done by you and to you, God has not forgotten who you are and whom God made you to be. God knew you before you were born, named you before you were even formed in your mother’s womb. In love, God has chosen you and the Holy Spirit works ceaselessly to restore the unique God-image you alone can reflect. – The Mentored Life 

At his baptism, Jesus was named

  • beloved
  • child of God
  • God’s delight

When you follow Jesus into the anointing waters of baptism, you also are named

  • beloved
  • child of God
  • God’s delight

Every person will express his or her God given identity in a way that is unique to them, but these three names form the essential truth about our identity.

Growing into this identity is the “stuff” of our life of discipleship.

“What God’s voice tells us is the true story of God’s incredible love for us. No other storyteller, however gifted, can paint for us the full, living portrait of who we are and have been and who we are becoming. Let us listen attentively, lest we forget and try to remake ourselves according to some other image.” from Magnificat

“God is who He says He is, and I am who God says I am.” Anonymous

Who are you? You are God’s beloved child, in whom God delights. Enough.

Facing Truth

truth road sign arrowReorientation toward truth 

God made you you on purpose, and God needs you to be you. In order to live from the freedom of your God given identity, you will need to replace the lies that you have come to believe about yourself with God’s truth concerning you. As Jesus said, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

So how does this happen?

  1.  Identify the lies that hold us in hiding. See herehere  and here for help in identifying these lies. 
  2. Replace with lies with God’s truth. For more help read this post  A Return to Trust.

In my last entry I shared some of the lies that have held me captive. “I am powerless, there is no hope.” Here is how these lies can be replaced with truth. It’s not an easy process, sometimes it helps to have a trusted spiritual director who can walk through this with you. I’d be honored to walk with you through this exercise. Contact me if you like.

Identify an inciting incident – Prayerfully recall a specific incident from childhood that typifies how you began to believe the lie. My lie was a sense of powerlessness, yours will most likely be something different. On a family camping trip, when I was around seven years old, I was holding my mom’s hand as we walked on a small dam across a tiny creek. It was a hot day and the pond the dam created looked so inviting and cool. My mom kept saying, “Don’t go in the water” as she would push me toward the pond with a smile on her face. It was very confusing for me. I kept trying to not go in the water because that is what she told me to do. Her words said one thing, and her actions said another. I didn’t know which to obey.

Experience the feelings related to that incident – Revisit the scene in your imagination, let it come alive and get in touch with what you felt at the time.  I felt confused. I wanted to do what was asked of me, but I couldn’t determine which demand I should obey: to stay out of the water or to let my mom push me into it.

Messages/tapes that play – As a result of such incidents what messages does your subconscious hear and live by? Any decision I make will be the wrong one. I’ll get in trouble whatever I do. 

Vows I make (beliefs I hold) – What is your response to these messages? How have you determined to act in response to their demands?  I will not make any decision on my own. I will keep still and let others decide for me. 

Impact of vows – How has keeping this vow, holding these beliefs impacted your life? – I’m indecisive, passive, untrusting. I don’t know myself, I blame others for my failures. 

Relive incident with Jesus – Prayerfully re-imagine the inciting incident but this time Jesus is there with you. What does he say/do? How does he act? Notice your feelings as you re-experience the event. How does what you learned of him in your scripture study impact the outcome of this scene? Jesus walks behind us on the dam as I cross it with my mom. I know he’s there. When my mom begins to tease me by issuing conflicting messages, I hear Jesus behind me saying, “You are not crazy for being confused. Your mom is teasing you, she’s trying to be playful. She’s not trying to harm you. Relax, you can trust your instincts.” Jesus then comes between us, puts his arms around our shoulders and we all jump into the pond with surprise and laughter.

Jesus’ (re)formation activity

Jesus is committed to (re)forming you. It will take a life-time, but the sooner you cooperate with the Holy Spirit in this work, the greater the opportunity for healthy and joyous life. We need to learn how to live from our God-given identity. Jesus models this perfectly. He knew who he was and why he existed. His baptism identity held him through his life. He knew he was the beloved son of God, that God was pleased with him and that he had the authority of God in his life.

As we watch him interact with people, we see him interrupt the pattern of their life and give an opportunity to live from their true self rather than their pretended, assumed self.

I suggest you complete an assignment. It involves looking at specific encounters Jesus had with people and observing how his intervention gave them a new identity. Here’s an example from my prayer journal.

Soon afterwards he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went with him. As he approached the gate of the town, a man who had died was being carried out. He was his mother’s only son, and she was a widow; and with her was a large crowd from the town. When the Lord saw her, he had compassion for her and said to her, “Do not weep.” Then he came forward and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, rise!” The dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. Fear seized all of them; and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has risen among us!” and “God has looked favorably on his people!” Luke 7:11-16

Jesus observes a funeral procession. He sees a woman weeping. He realizes that she was a widow, torn by sorrow, bereft of intimate relationships and left without means of support. Perhaps she felt her life was over, or maybe she wished it was. Her tears and the testimony of the whole town confirm her loss. She is ever after without hope.

When Jesus saw her he had compassion on her; he desired her tears to stop and her sorrow to end. He used his power to resuscitate the man and returned him to her, alive and well. He restored her hope.

I relate to the woman’s sense of hopelessness. I often feel that my identity, or means of being acknowledged in the world is connected to another’s ability to provide it for me. Without this connection to power, I am lost and forgotten.

Jesus sees me; he knows I am afraid. He doesn’t condemn my lack of trust and he doesn’t want my fear to swallow and paralyze me. He comes along side of me and touches the place of my hopelessness; the progression into self-pity is stopped. He resurrects my hope and gives a voice to my dreams. I receive the life he gives.

***

Listed below is a list of  encounters Jesus had that illustrate this type of intervention. Here’s the assignment: Prayerfully, read the following stories and answer the questions. You’ve just read one of mine. Please let me know what you discover.

Scripture:

  • Woman with alabaster jar Matthew 26:6-13
  • Gerasene demoniac Mark 5:1-20
  • Rich young man Mark 10:17-22
  • Annunciation of Mary Luke 1:26-38
  • Widow at Nain Luke 7:11-16
  • Woman at the well John 4:4-26
  • Woman caught in adultery John 8:1-11
  1. Observe the person’s sense of self, how he/she felt about him/herself, from where did he/she draw her identity?
  2. What evidence of struggle with pain/sorrow/pride caused by his/her sense of identity do you see in the passage?
  3. As Jesus interacts with this person, what do you learn about Jesus’ desire for him/her through his actions, words, commands toward the person?
  4. In what ways do you relate to his/her struggle, pain or strength?
  5. If this passage were the only text you had to inform you about being God’s person, and God’s desire for your sense of self, what does it tell you?

What do you contain?

Others give us pictures of who we are and then we dutifully live into their ideas.

Others give us pictures of who we are and then we dutifully live into their ideas.

Picture yourself as a piece of molten glass, your form determined by the movement and the pressure of your maker. When your maker is done, you are crystal clear and uniquely shaped. Beautiful to behold and created to contain and display what has been placed within you.

Your family values, spoken and unspoken, your God-given temperament and personality determined the shape of your container; but what do you contain? What information have you stored away? What messages have been absorbed into your identity? Who tells you who you are?

The feedback we receive about who we are and whether or not we are valued has a large influence on the contents of our container; maybe I should say it has a large influence on how we feel about the contents of our container. Others give us pictures of who we are and then we dutifully live into their ideas.

One of my favorite illustrations of this is a story told by Guy Doud, teacher of the year in 1986. He says he didn’t know he was fat until he entered kindergarden. Up until that time, he knew only what his family had told him about himself, he was loved, smart and handsome. In school his classmates told him he was fat, called him chubby and constantly teased him about his weight. These messages were more influential in forming his self-identity than the words he received at home and in church. When he felt bad about always being the last person picked for the kickball team, he would comfort himself with a bowl of ice cream. Told he was fat, he became fat.

For those of you who know me personally, you may be surprised to learn that I was a talker when I was in high school, non-stop chatter was my hallmark. (Please forgive what I’m going to say next, remember it was a long time ago in an era much less politically correct than today.) My Sophomore class raised funds for a school trip by having a “slave auction” (I warned you.) When purchased you had to do whatever your “owner” told you to, within reason of course. I was bought by my science teacher, Mr. Greenberg. As his “slave” he put a piece of duct tape over my mouth and made me wear a sandwich board that read “Supermouth is silenced.” This got me a lot of attention. People expected me to talk a lot, when I did I got noticed, so I committed myself to constant blabbering.

This pattern continued into college, when two popular girls from my church college group quoted their version of Proverbs 27:15 “A talkative woman is as annoying as the constant dripping of a leaky faucet.” They were going to “help” me squelch my talkativeness by simply saying “drip, drip” whenever they thought I was talking too much. Boy, did this shut me up. The world wanted me silenced. I grew quiet and afraid.

God’s voice, speaking of our beauty and belovedness, often gets buried by the influx of images, information and expectations coming at us. But God’s love does not abandon us. God’s inextinguishable spark of life burns within us and by God’s grace burns away all the falsehoods that have entered our souls.

This post continue to answer the question Who Am I? which begins here, and is part of a series The New Old which explores six old familiar topics God wants to make new. Join me each Monday for a new installment. I pray our God, the ancient of days, will make a new day for you to enjoy in God’s presence through this series.

The (de)formed self

You were never inconsequential

You were never inconsequential

Your existence has never been inconsequential. God joined your father’s seed with your mother’s egg and you were conceived. News of the pregnancy brought various reactions, expectations, hopes and fears to your parents. And, even before your conception, God knew you and had a plan for your life. (Isaiah 49)

It was God’s intention for you to be loved perfectly; and if humankind had not taken a wrong turn in Eden, a child would learn his belovedness and competency from his family. But a wrong turn was taken and this detour left all of us without the ability to love purely and completely.

Even though your parents loved you the best they could, they fell short of perfection. Each of these violations of love harmed you. Some violations were minor and relatively reparable by forgiveness and good intentions. Some were tragic and caused extended harm and a disfigurement of some fashion, forcing a compromised physical or emotional posture.

We learned early on that there were expectations placed upon us. Even at birth, before a baby has done nothing but breathe on it’s own, there is standard that is applied to measure the child’s perfection. A ten on the Apgar scale is the hoped for score. Anything less alerts fear and/or disappointment in the new parents.

What if you were an introverted child, born to a set of extraverts, or an athlete born to scholars? Perfect and patient love would honor your uniqueness. At some level, though, parents see their child as an extension of who they are and hope the child will grow into a better version of themselves. Your love of dance could be a disappointment to your scientist mother. Unchecked, such parental disappointment harms and (de)forms the maturing child.

Some points for reflection:

  • How was the news of your mom’s pregnancy received by your parents? Is there a connection between their responses and the emotional tone of your childhood?
  • Recount the way your parents’ love taught you your belovedness; caused you to doubt it.
  • How was your uniqueness treated in your family? Were you honored, misunderstood, celebrated, silenced?
  • How can you honor your child’s God-given nature?

Next post, we’ll talk about the family rules, both spoken and unspoken, that teach us who we should be and how we should act.

The series of posts The NEW Old begins here. Join me each Monday as we explore how God wants to make old things new.

God gives God’s self a gift

Imagine, you are a gift God's gives the world

Imagine, you are a gift God’s gives the world

Recall the satisfaction you experience when you find the perfect gift for someone you love; the joy of knowing it will bring them delight. If we find joy in giving good gifts, imagine how much more God enjoys giving the perfect gift. And wrap your mind around this truth: You are God’s gift!

Everybody loves a gift, right? Even God! Jesus described you as a gift given to him by his Father. (John 17) You know the joy you get out of spending your birthday money on something you really, really want? That is the same joy God experiences over you. You are precious and honored in God’s sight and dearly beloved. (Isaiah 43) You are God’s gift to God’s self!

You are God’s gift to the world! God planned for you to inhabit earth at this very precise moment in history. You are uniquely created, there is no one like you. You have particular gifts, inclinations and skills necessary to bless your family, your coworkers, your neighbors. You are an essential means by which God shows the world God’s great love and generous compassion.

You are God’s gift to you! God created you to experience joy and delight as you follow your interests, use your good mind and enjoy exercising your body. Let yourself become friends with who you are. Sure, you’re not perfect, but you, the true you, is a wonder. Take a lesson from Evelyn Underhill, in her book, The Ways of the Spirit.

The true relation between the soul and God is the perfectly simple one of a childlike dependence. Well then be simple and dependent, acknowledge once for all the plain fact that you have nothing of your own, offer your life to God and trust Him with the ins and outs of our soul as well as everything else! Cultivate a loving relation to Him in your daily life; don’t be ferocious with yourself because that is treating badly a precious (if imperfect) thing which God has made. 

Imagine: you are God’s gift, this is your fundamental identity. (For more thoughts on your identity in Christ, read the paragraph Concerning your Identity in the Mentored Life Rule.)

But something has gone awry. Generally speaking we do not live from this sense of being celebrated by God. And we rarely recognize that our very self, with it’s unique temperament and talents is entrusted by God with the mission of bringing the gospel to the world in which we live.

With you on the journey,

Debby

P.S. I love gifts, hint, hint.

To be continued in my next post.

The series of posts The NEW Old begins here. Join me each Monday as we explore how God wants to make old things new.