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Uncovering and Celebrating God's Original Idea of You
By Sandi Patty Thomas Nelson
Copyright © 2008
All right reserved.
Chapter One So What Do You Need?
Pure grace and nothing but grace be with all who love our Master, Jesus Christ. -Ephesians 6:24 MSG
Our son Sam, then eleven, started playing football last year. One fall Saturday he hopped in the car beside Don, and off they went to the first practice. I dropped by the sports field a little while later, eager to see my sports-loving boy discover a new venue for showing off his athletic talent.
It took me a while to pick him out of the crowd of kids lining up head-to-head then charging at each other at full speed. From a distance they all looked alike because they were all wearing top-heavy helmets and enormous shoulder pads. Eventually, though, one of the helmets turned my way, and a few minutes later Sam came trotting over to me.
"Sam, is that you?" I said, my eyes wide in mock amazement.
"Mom, it feels like my head's gonna fall off," he muttered. "I can barely move! I feel like a giant hot dog stuffed in a too-small bun."
I laughed and patted him on the head-or, rather, the helmet. "I know it feels awkward, sugar, but you've gotta wear it. It protects you and keeps you from getting hurt."
"I know, I know," Sam groaned. "That's what the coaches say. They say we have to practicewith this stuff on so we're used to wearing it when we have a real game." He turned and lumbered back onto the field. Halfway there he turned and looked like he might be blowing me a kiss-but the face guard got in the way.
That conversation occurred several months ago, and let me just tell you that since that first practice, our Sam has become quite a dynamo out there on the gridiron. When it's his turn to run out on the field, he pulls on that helmet and tears off toward the action like a gladiator eager to face the lions.
Sam needs that protective equipment when he's playing football. As his mother, I'm glad to see his precious head encased in the helmet and his growing shoulders protected by pads when he's on the field and his opponents seem determined to run him down and flatten him. I like it that he's wearing extra layers when he's "doing battle." In fact, if I had my way, he'd probably be wearing a double helmet and triple total-body pads!
But when he comes home, I want my real Sam back-the handsome, slim, tenderhearted guy, now a sixth-grader, who snuggles up to me on the couch, wiggles under my arm for a back rub while I'm working in the kitchen, and smiles when I playfully rub his curly hair.
Sam has learned that out on the football field, he needs thick, hard layers of protection to keep from getting hurt. But he has also learned that when he's home, in the heart of his family, the best cuddling, greatest affection, and most rewarding experiences of feeling loved come when he peels off the layers and becomes real again, like he was before he started playing football.
Hmmm. I stand looking at the sweaty pads and discarded helmet Sam dropped beside his workout clothes in the laundry room and can't help but wish I could shed my own protective layers and become real again as easily as Sam does.
LAYERS? WHAT LAYERS?
When we're kids, layers may be protective sports gear or some kind of uniform or playtime costume that we can easily cast aside when we step out of our extracurricular roles and come home to our real lives, like Sam did with his football equipment. As children at home with our families, we can be ourselves, knowing we'll be loved and protected by our parents and siblings, no matter what. We don't have to pretend to be something we're not. We don't have to wear protective padding or costumes. We can just be ourselves.
At least, that's the way it's supposed to be. That's the way most of us start out. But inevitably, something happens that changes our blissfully vulnerable and honest existence. Something hurts us-something we may not even remember fully as adults yet can't quite forget-and gradually we build up layers of protection to keep us from getting hurt again.
The hurt may be caused by something small, like an obnoxious schoolmate loudly scoffing at the holes in our shoes or our poor grade on the math test. Or it can be something big, such as abandonment, physical injury, or sexual abuse. Whatever hurts us can cause us to pull on layers that we hope, consciously or subconsciously, will protect us or keep the hurt from happening again. These layers may be visible in our physical bodies (like layers of fat or fingernails bitten to the quick). Or they may exist as outward behaviors (like layers of compulsiveness or unprovoked anger) that push others away from us. Or the layers may exist invisibly in our innermost thoughts (when we tell ourselves we're unfit, unworthy, or unlovable), "protecting" us from others that we assume feel the same way about us.
Your story may be very different from mine, and your layers may be protecting you from other kinds of situations or scenarios or secrets you've hidden even from yourself. Maybe you're carrying layers of fear, hiding the false belief that you're not good enough, smart enough, slim enough, or interesting enough. Whatever layers are weighing you down, my prayer is that God will deal with you the same way He's dealing with me. Tenderly, graciously, lovingly, He's helping me peel those layers away to find and celebrate the original me He created. That's the journey I'm inviting you to share with me as we move from page to page of this book ... and from season to season of our lives.
In the beginning, when layers are new, we may be able to lay them aside and still be our authentic, genuine selves when we're with those closest to us, the ones we still trust. Maybe we pull on our layers only when we're around certain people or in specific situations. But whenever we allow the protective layers to remain in place, they grow ever more strongly attached to us. Pretty soon they feel so familiar we may forget what caused us to create them in the first place. We start thinking they're real. We start believing what we see in the mirror or hear ourselves saying aloud to others or silently to ourselves. Eventually the layers become barricades, preventing us from feeling loved as we want and need.
Meanwhile, there sits the God of the universe, who created us to be His beloved children, longing to pull us into His loving embrace, rub us on the head, pat us on the back, and tell us how wonderful we are ... while we stand there, helmeted by stubbornness, padded by shame, armored by failure, and hardened by guilt, wanting with everything in our being to shed the layers and fall blissfully and unburdened into His everlasting arms.
But try as we might, we can't do it. We can't loosen the layers and step free of the protective barricade we've built around ourselves.
At least we can't do it alone.
THE DIFFERENT SOUNDS OF THE SAME DOORS, SLAMMING
Fifteen years ago, I found myself encumbered by so many layers of what I've come to think of as "false-Sandiness" that I no longer knew who the real Sandi was. The public knew my façade as a smiling wife, a devoted mother of four kids, and a successful Christian recording artist. But beneath those layers-some visible, some not-I was miserable. Separated from my husband and in love with another man, Don, I took a headlong plunge off the pedestal of Christian celebrity and eventually ended up at the front door of a mental health facility. I needed help, and I needed it badly.
I had expected the facility to be a rather exclusive spa, a posh country-club kind of place with thick terry-cloth robes and bedtime mints on the pillows. It was, instead, a rather bleak-looking hospital, where I had a two-weeklong appointment in the psych ward.
I didn't like what I saw, and I didn't want to be there. I stood at that front door a moment, deciding what to do. On that side of the door, I had a choice. But I wasn't sure I would still have a choice once I got inside.
After a while, I clinched my jaw, hardened my resolve, and walked through the door. I jumped as it slammed shut behind me. I walked through another door, and it, too, slammed behind me. I got in the elevator, and the doors closed. They're probably locked so I can't go back down, I mused to myself sarcastically. The elevator took me to the floor where my appointment was scheduled. The elevator opened, and there stood my therapist, smiling warmly. I fell into her arms like a child running to Mom with a scraped knee. We turned toward the psych department, and as we approached, I read the signs warning that the doors were to remain locked at all times.
I felt my blood pressure rising.
We pushed through the doors and they whooshed shut behind us. I flinched as I heard them locking. She led me into another area, and as we passed through those doors, they locked behind us too.
Finally we arrived in her office. By then I was agitated and wiping away tears. I felt as though I'd arrived in a prison. "Are you okay?" the therapist asked me, dropping her head to look into my downcast eyes.
"No," I answered, probably too harshly. "I'm not okay."
Then she asked me something that's now become a part of my everyday vernacular: "So, what do you need?"
Her question let me know she was sensitive to my feelings, but at the same time she was putting responsibility on me to find the words to express what I was feeling.
"I need to get out of here," I said bluntly.
"Okay," she said, nodding sympathetically.
"But I can't. The doors are all locked."
"They can be unlocked."
Incredibly, I argued with her. "No, they can't. It's a rule. They can't be unlocked."
She walked around her desk, stuck her head through the office doorway, and asked someone at the nurses' station to unlock the doors.
I said, "You're telling me I can just walk out of here?"
"Yes," she answered. "That's what I'm telling you."
So I left. I steamed out of her office, walked through all the suddenly unlocked doors, tapped my foot as I waited for the elevator and, a few minutes later, stepped outside into the cold air and the snow that was just beginning to fall. I was surprised to see that the therapist had followed me. We stood there on the hospital's front lawn, silently facing each other. I was out of breath and crying, worked up both by my hurried exit and by the tornado of emotions tearing through my mind.
"So, what do you need now?" she asked calmly.
I glared at her a moment, angrily wiping away tears. "I need to go back inside and get to work," I said.
She smiled and nodded. "Okay then. Let's go."
We walked together back into the hospital, back through all the doors that once again locked behind us as we stepped through. Amazingly, those same doors sounded completely different that third time through. What had felt and sounded at first like a prison now felt as welcoming as a refuge. What at first sounded like a trap now had the ring of tenderness as I heard those doors close in safety. And I had to ask myself ... what changed? The doors and locks certainly hadn't changed. The hospital was still a hospital. My therapist was still my therapist.
What had changed was me. Now I understood that I had a choice-and I was choosing to view my world at that moment through different lenses. The place that at first had felt like a prison had, in an instant, become my protection. I chose to stay, knowing it was a place where I could safely begin to heal.
It may sound strange-after all, I had chosen to go to the facility for treatment in the first place-but knowing I could still choose to stay or go once I got there had made the difference.
THE IRONIC CONTRADICTION
Like the doors of that hospital, emotional layers can have contradictory sounds or functions. Let's face it. We all have layers that we hide behind at one time or another. They may feel imprisoning-or protective. They may start out as something good and turn into something bad. Or we may decide they're something that's always bad-and then find out they're sometimes necessary for emotional or even physical survival.
The thing about layers is we need to recognize them for what they are and learn that we can choose how we deal with them. Some of them need to be done away with entirely. Others are needed to protect us when we're genuinely threatened by physical, emotional, or spiritual harm. (After all, Ephesians 6:11 tells us to "put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes.") The important thing is, though, that nothing should stand between us and the God who created us. To enjoy His richest blessings for our lives, we must come to Him constantly as our real, authentic selves, even when it's not what we consider pretty or together.
It's certainly nothing to brag about, but I know all about layers from personal experience. In this book I'll share with you how God has penetrated the destructive layers I've created through my many failures over the years. I hope my story will encourage you to recognize your own protective and imprisoning layers and then to ask for God's help in unwrapping the wonderful, real person He created you to be.
Once you discover that wonderful creation, I think you'll also realize, as I have, that the layer all of us need most is the wonderful gift of His grace. That grace means He wraps our vulnerable, failure-prone selves in His eternal love and promises to forgive us, no matter what layers of sin and mistakes we try to cling to. And in that soothing, sustaining layer of grace, we find perpetual refuge.
Maybe we share some of the same layers. Maybe you've struggled with your weight for a thousand years, as I have. Maybe you've built up a layer of defensiveness in response to harsh criticism following devastating failures. Maybe, like me, you're the victim of some kind of abuse (in my case, sexual abuse by a female babysitter), and you've unknowingly developed layers of behaviors in response to that situation.
Or perhaps you struggle with other kinds of layers: alcohol or drug addiction, pointless busyness, poor choices in relationships, illicit sex, uncontrollable gambling, compulsive shopping, explosive anger, or unrealistic perfectionism. We layer ourselves with all sorts of things, whatever we can find that will ease the pain, embarrassment, excesses, guilt, and failures we've somehow accumulated in response to hurtful situations in our lives.
RECOGNIZING OUR LAYERS AND COPING WITH THEIR EFFECTS
We first need to recognize our layers. Then we can gather information and gain understanding about how those layers affect us-and how we can, with God's help (and perhaps professional help too) cope with them, either by removing them entirely or learning how to use them appropriately. Finally, we'll celebrate what we've accomplished and then move on to the next layer-because inevitably, there will be another one. But the more we get reacquainted with the original person God created us to be, the easier it gets to see through what's happening and shed those layers that prevent us from living the abundantly rewarding life He wants us to have. He told us that in Matthew 6:33: "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (NKJV).
That is where I realize I must begin-to seek Him first and foremost. Then the other things will fall into place. I desire to know Christ. I want to know Christ.
I want to know Him the way the apostle Paul did when he wrote to the Philippians, "I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself" (3:10 MSG).
If I begin there, partnering with Jesus, knowing Him personally and constantly keeping my eye on that goal, then everything else makes more sense. It is the cornerstone of who I am; it is the very foundation upon which everything else lays. If I don't begin there, with Christ, the rest of my world makes no sense.
It is a daily, sometimes hourly, decision, desire, and choice to say, "I seek You first today, Lord." It is a version of what Jesus Himself prayed: "This is the real and eternal life: That they know you, the one and only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you sent" (John 17:3 MSG).
<%TOC%> Contents Acknowledgments....................xv
Excerpted from Layers by Sandi Patty Copyright © 2008 by Sandi Patty. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
1. So What Do You Need?....................1
2. Outsmarting the Mirror....................20
3. Replacing Guilt with Grace and Coming to Peace with Yourself....................43
4. Reclaiming God's Perfectly Imperfect Creation: Me!....................59
5. Healing Hurts....................72
6. Un-Layering Loved Ones....................84
7. One Choice Away from Heading in the Right Direction....................104
8. Hard Layers....................130
Not the End: Every Day Is My Birthday....................149
No Turning Back Now!....................170
Appendix 1: Sandi's Resources....................171
Appendix 2: Sandi's Layer-Peelers....................175
About the Author....................183