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SHE'S GOT ISSUESseriously good news for stressed-out, secretly scared control freaks like us
By NICOLE UNICE
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Nicole Unice
All right reserved.
Chapter OneCHEAP PLASTIC SOULS
I'm a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world. AQUA
The moment of truth on the front porch passed, and I stepped back to life, back to whining babies and tired toddlers and mediocre dinners and brain-dead evenings on the couch. But the door had been flung open, and there was no slamming it shut. And so I did what I do best—I argued with myself about the question that wouldn't leave me alone: Am I changed because of Jesus?
First I told myself why I was qualified to decide if I was changed: I'm a counselor, for heaven's sake. I'm a supposed expert on how to be a healthy person.
Then I told myself why I was qualified to be a Christian: I rock at Bible trivia games. I am so legit. I can even pronounce a few Hebrew words, and I know the four different Greek words for love. I've gone to seminary!
Then I told myself the truth: I can't really handle ordinary life with a constant peace or lasting joy. I do okay loving when it's easy. I don't love much when it's hard.
I was tired. Tired of pretending that everything was fine, that I had this whole good-Christian thing figured out. Tired of worshiping on Sunday morning and yelling on Sunday afternoon. Tired of knowing the answers but continuing to deal with the same ol' ordinary problems that have been around since middle school.
Maybe it was the scandal of the ordinary that kept me there, thinking mundane, everyday problems were too small for God. Maybe I had bought into the lie that I have the power to deal with any shortcomings myself—other women I knew struggled with the same things and seemed perfectly fine.
Chalk my unease up to postpartum hormones or new house adjustments or fatigue. Perhaps if you and I were sitting together, sharing the frustrations of our lives, we would attribute it to circumstances like these. Maybe I'd tell you it would get better in a few weeks. Maybe you'd tell me I just needed a nap. We'd laugh, maybe. We'd call it ordinary. We'd tell each other we'd be okay.
Control issues, comparisons, insecurity—commonplace issues of the soul that I finally faced on my front porch—lead to a form of bondage. But because the chains of these issues are so thin, because we don't talk about them much or take them very seriously, we hardly notice their combined effect. We are unaware that these issues hinder us from walking free in the path God has laid out for us. The stuff that affects your inner and outer world might be ordinary, but it's certainly not innocuous.
Take my friend Rachel. I met Rachel when she was a bobble-headed sixth grader, full of chatter and bad jokes, when her most pressing concern was whether to invite one of the girls from Bible study to her sleepover. Friendships and sick uncles and bad quiz grades were her issues. I watched Rachel grow from a frivolous middle schooler into a brooding teenager, wrestling with boundaries and absolutes and the truth about who she really was. And ten years later, Rachel is still wrestling. She's twenty-five and beautiful now. She doesn't ask me to pray about her sleepovers or sick pets anymore, but some of the same issues that first wrapped chains around her in middle school—the ones we call commonplace—are still at work in Rachel's soul. Rachel's getting tired of the insecurity that plagues her, the always-present voice that tells her she's not pretty enough, smart enough, or loving enough to obtain the life she craves. She recognizes the voice and would love to silence it. But she's not sure how.
You may admit that there are some things in your life that hold you back, but you won't hear much about them anywhere else. Ordinary isn't sexy. Ordinary doesn't make headlines. It's not the stuff of e-mail forwards or YouTube videos. Ordinary transformation doesn't send us up to the front of the church to give testimony. "I used to struggle with comparisons, especially when it came to the size of my jeans ... but now in the power of Jesus' name, I'm free!" I want to be free of comparison, but it's not exactly a moving testimony.
Sometimes I wish I had a story more like my friend Jen's. She lived life to a whole different kind of "full" in college. She ran fast and wild. Our senior year, my friend group called her "the vampire" because she would slide into our dorm from a night-to-morning party when we were slinging on our backpacks and leaving for morning classes. But she lived her wild life with panache, embracing her party-girl reputation while simultaneously earning a double major. When she, out of nowhere, embraced Christianity, I wanted to hold a pep rally for Jesus. Jen's in full-time ministry now. Her dramatic story is real. She became my hope that Christianity actually did work; that Jesus was real; and that people could change. I clung to her story because it helped me believe in a bigger God—probably because when I, the "good" one, talked about my relationship with Jesus, I was about as convincing as a hostess on an infomercial.
So as much as I love the dramatic story of my college friend, what matters in our lives, in the way we love, is the story we are all living right now. My story, Rachel's story, your story—not the YouTube viral video or the e-mail forward or that great testimony in church—is the place where Jesus wants us to demonstrate what "life to the full" means. And our story is deeply affected by everyday issues because they impact every aspect of our lives—our understanding of God, our own emotional and spiritual health, and most certainly our relationships.
SO WHAT'S THIS "ORDINARY"?
We all have roller-coaster-mood days, lapses in judgment that lead to bad decisions, and moments (or months!) of self-centeredness. My front-porch moment was all of that, but more, the culmination of consistent and well-worn patterns popping up like a jack-in-the-box in my life. On further inspection, perhaps what I considered "ordinary" was closer to crazy.
When God laid my heart out in full relief, I was shocked enough that I not only wanted to change but realized how desperately I needed to do so. There's a simple exercise that can help you determine the full reality of your own heart condition. Imagine reading a printout of every thought you've had this week. Now picture yourself taking that printout to your best friend, your small group, and (gasp!) your pastor for them to read. Would you be okay with living that transparently? How different would your inside reality be from your outside persona?
Most days, we filter this "ordinary" existence, hoping to leave the dirty stuff on the inside and put forth the cleanest version of ourselves. But on a bad day or in the dark stillness of interrupted slumber, have your thoughts ever wandered to a startling place of general unease? Have you ever thought, Is this really all there is? Is this as fulfilled as I can be in this life? Will I ever be who I'm truly meant to be? These moments are the true revealers of our hearts, showing how puny our "abundant life" really is, how dependent our faith and joy are on feelings and circumstances.
I'm guessing this isn't any surprise to you. I think you want more. We all hope the promise of abundant life is attainable in our lives, but we keep stubbing our toes on obstacles and joy-stealing, love-sucking issues that we don't know how to change.
Sound familiar? It certainly does for me. And after years of living like this, it's not surprising that most of us give up on actually changing. We give our issues cute titles. We shrug off our issues as just "our personality." We call our stubbornness or pride just being a "control freak." We call our anxiety our "concerns." We call a bitter place of unforgiveness a "grudge." We call our insecurity—well, insecurity. Being secure in yourself as a woman? The exception, never the rule!
When we believe that life is as good as it's gonna get, we make an expensive trade in our souls. We stuff away the raw and messy and put forth a nicer but cheaper, plastic version of ourselves. Our story is clean and easy—but also fake. We aren't seeing a true image anymore—the image God made and is making of us—we have built our own "acceptable" image. This is what living with ordinary issues does to us. It slowly kills what is beautiful and unique and turns us into half-dead versions of what we were meant to be.
FINDING REAL ABUNDANCE
If your normal Christian experience is about a fleeting peace, some emergency prayers, or relief that you have an insurance policy for heaven, I can't wait to introduce you to so much more. Although Jesus does offer you eternity with him, he is just as concerned with another aspect of living—the part that happens right in the mess of your ordinary life.
But even the people who walked behind Jesus while his sandals kicked up dust, who shared the same loaf of bread and touched his hands, and knew what his voice sounded like when he first woke up—even they were confused about Jesus and what he offered to them. Near the end of his earthly life, Jesus and his disciples shared a special meal—the Passover. Imagine them reclining around the table, talking about the many things they'd seen through the last few years of doing life together. Imagine how their ears perked up when Jesus, the miracle worker, the interpreter of the law, the center of all the action, looked intently at them and said, "A new command I give you."
Don't you think they leaned in even closer to hear what he would say next?
Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35, NIV)
It's not that Jesus was proclaiming something new: he'd been all about love through the last three years of healing and teaching. But ... well, is that what it's really all about? That the way we love each other is the way we are to be known to the world?
Author Brennan Manning says, "Contact with Christians should be an experience that proves to people that the gospel is a power that transforms the whole of life." Being a disciple when Jesus walked the earth meant following a radical call—not of rebellion but of crazy love that defied earthly expectation. And that hasn't changed. Being a Christian isn't just about going to heaven. It's about a power that transforms your whole life. Your thoughts. Your behaviors. Your relationships. Your love.
SO ... HOW'S LOVE GOING FOR YOU?
If the grocery store cashier or your kid's teacher or the last waiter who served you described you with complete honesty, would loving be the first word he or she would use? Or would you be known by some other nicety, like control freak or frazzled or scared?
Here's the craziest part of our ordinary issues: we often have no idea how these issues kill our ability to love powerfully and unconditionally. We all intend to be loving. We try to do a good job of it, but when we are living with a half-dead heart or a plastic existence, we aren't capable of loving the way we'd like. A withered heart just doesn't respond the way we want. And no power of will or self-talk or knowledge can change that.
I have a twentysomething friend who struggles with comparison. She intends to love well. She wants to be happy with her friends when they have a date or a job interview, but the issue of comparison has a hold on her heart. She is so busy evaluating what she doesn't have that she has no energy to be happy for what her girlfriends do have. Her intense preoccupation with self is just one example of how our ordinary issues cripple our ability to love—even our own friends!
Peter, a disciple of Jesus who had control and comparison issues in his early life, later admonished believers to "be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Peter 5:8, niv). As my friend discovered, even ordinary issues can create destruction in your life.
DO YOU HAVE ISSUES?
The ability to see yourself clearly is crucial in your relationship with Christ and in your subsequent ability to serve well. You cannot live more abundantly and love better without addressing the underlying issues. You are not after perfection in the way you love, but you do need to cultivate a growing dependency on a relationship with Christ that gives you the ability to love.
The first step, then, is assessing your heart condition. To do that, you need to look for the three signs of an issue-laden life. Think of the way fatigue relates to anemia, or sniffles to the cold, or fever to the flu. These symptoms are your first indicator that you've got something going on beneath the surface. Similarly, there are three overarching symptoms in your life that let you know you've got issues: blindness, lack of compassion, and convoluted conflict.
Symptom #1: Blindness
Let me explain how motherhood and triple bathroom mirrors opened my eyes to this condition in myself. When our oldest son started kindergarten, our family moved to a new level of crazy. A young man of rules, Charlie deals with a little fear issue, and every morning he was terrified of the dreaded possibility of missing the bus. That could be manageable, except for the three- and one-year-olds who ruled the house like little dictators.
One morning after we had narrowly escaped the dreadful missing the bus, I began helping my daughter prepare for preschool. Finally I stole away for sixty seconds of luxurious "me" time: just enough to hurriedly brush my teeth in peace. But as all mothers know, the click of the bathroom lock is the signal for a code-red emergency to break out. On this morning, it was my daughter's unsuccessful search for a pair of matching socks.
"Mama, I need socks!"
"Mommy, I can't find my purple and white socks. Mommy!"
"MOMMY, I need help! MOMMY, where are you? MOMMY!"
I spit into the sink and screamed so loud that my voice scratched as if it were coming from a blown speaker. "BEEEEEeeeeeeee PAaaaaaaTIENT!!!!"
At that moment, I caught a panoramic view of myself in the triple bathroom mirrors. With toothpaste on my lip, hair scrambled on top of my head, and a wild look in my eye, I screamed "Be patient!" like a woman possessed. The mirrors captured the irony of my statement in triplicate. I began to wonder how my own issues were becoming my kids' issues. Ouch.
Eye-opening experiences happen throughout Scripture. Jesus proclaimed that he came to bring "sight to the blind" (Luke 4:18, nkjv). He frequently preached about spiritual and relational blindness, particularly when talking to the so-called spiritual people, the Pharisees:
You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean." (Matthew 23:24-26, NIV)
Heavy words! Even—and especially—the religious leaders seemed prone to a malignant form of blindness. They could preach the Word. They knew the law, and they knew what to do to appear right and good. But Jesus knew the truth about their hearts. The religious show they liked to put on wasn't fooling him.
Our ordinary issues may seem so commonplace that we stay blind to the truth of our own condition. But it's in stories just like mine that we have a choice. We can shrug off reality and use circumstances, personality, or PMS to justify our behavior, or we can face the truth of just how damaging ordinary issues are in our lives. Without that truth, as painful as it might be, we aren't able to access the kind of compassion and love that should characterize our lives. We will be known by our love (see John 13:35). That morning in the bathroom mirror gave me eyes to see the reality of my heart: something crazy was lurking beneath the surface. (I also looked crazy, but that's another story.)
Symptom #2: Lack of compassion
This symptom may be the most obvious: the half-dead heart has no compassion reserve. The word compassion means "to suffer with," and when we are "suffering with" a bunch of our own stuff, it is almost impossible to offer ourselves freely to someone else. We all find it difficult to feel for others at times. Busyness, exhaustion, lack of boundaries, or painful life circumstances suck our compassion reserves dry. But I wonder how often something else is going on.
Excerpted from SHE'S GOT ISSUES by NICOLE UNICE Copyright © 2012 by Nicole Unice. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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