Last week, I wrote about being plunged into a dark valley and clinging to the revelation that He Who is light is always with me, even when I can’t see the signs of His presence. I’m still in the dark valley, and still facing bellowing giants, but my heart is considerably calmer, thanks to the prayers of many and the faithfulness of God.
We got a new puppy this week (the timing feels extraordinarily awful, considering our current trek through the Valley of Shadows). He is nine weeks old, and if you know anything about nine-week-old puppies then you know they cry – a lot. The first two nights have been nerve-jarring. I had no idea baby beagles could sound like dying chickens! I’ve tried to prepare myself for several weeks (possibly a month) of this excruciating noise, but tonight he has already become quiet. He is getting used to this, to us, to his new surroundings.
I definitely do not want to get used to this dark valley, but I do want to (and rejoice that I can learn to) get used to the power of God’s presence to quiet and calm me. I love that even the most scarring things fade with time spent talking to Him and walking with Him through the devastations…learning to see in them what He sees.
In all of this, I have wrestled deeply with the emotions I feel. I don’t like emotions. I know they are a gift from God, and part of our human experience, but I would prefer it if we could just have them cut out, like an extra ovary or wisdom tooth or something. I would say appendix, but I know that there is actually an identifiable purpose for emotions!
The emotions that come with shock and grief are terrible. They’re strong, and feel like they hijack your whole life. I’ve learned to respect the process of grief, because it is actually a healthy way to deal with pain. But I have to be careful, as a woman formerly in bondage to my emotions. I don’t ever want to return to the place of being unable to do what I know I need to because I can’t override the heaviness of what I feel.
That being said, while I am walking the tightrope of processing deep and heavy emotions, and giving them their due place, I also have to put some good boundaries around them. My feelings cannot dictate the course I am taking in this valley.
This has given me much to think about in the way of being human, and the peculiarities that come and do not come with our mortal, fallen identity. I have had to give myself permission to be human in all of this – feeling the pain and processing it without the expectation of perfection. Yet I have also had to sift through the question of what being human really means, before the God Who made us so. I don’t want to justify and settle for my own interpretation of it. I’m still pondering the thought, but here is what I’ve come to realize so far:
Being human means:
- I don’t get to skip over the painful parts
- I don’t really have control over much of anything
- Tears are allowed, and necessary
- Anger is a fact, because my instinct to protect and defend myself are real
- I have choices in how I respond to my intense emotions
- There will be a fight that comes with those choices
- Weakness is part of the package – I won’t always be strong or feel strong, and I’m not supposed to
- In my weakness, I can lean on God’s moment-by-moment strength
- I won’t and don’t need to understand it all
- I won’t get to see the whole picture up front…if at all (see Job’s story)
- The weakness and limited understanding of my humanity are invitations to trust the One Who made me and has promised to take care of me
- I am going to face hard things that sometimes threaten this frail life
- When crises come and giants roar, I will wrestle with doubt and fear
- When I doubt and feel afraid, I have a choice: run and hide or stand and fight
- The choice to run and hide will always lead me further from God, not closer to Him
- The choice to stand and fight will always produce growth – in me and in my relationship with God
- I am invited, in all the chaos I will ever encounter, to walk with God and talk with Him, drawing His wisdom and deepening the roots of my faith in Him
- I’m going to make mistakes
- Those mistakes are forgivable
- I need God’s help to ensure that whatever mistakes I do make are not made in carelessness or self-reliance/self-defense
- I will always be in a position of need: for my basic survival, for my emotional journey, for the companionship of like-minded people on the same journey, for connection with God
- I have been given a perfect place for my needs to be met, and can turn to God in all of them, and be directed by Him in the process of seeing them fulfilled
- I never have to feel abandoned because I am not alone
As I said, I am still pondering, so I’m certain there is more to discover about what it truly means to be human. What inspired me to consider the permissions that come with it (and, by implication, do not) was a thought/heart-cry that came when I was in a moment of anguish. In the anguish, I thought about my tendency to lash out and snap at the people closest to me, who often have no idea of what I am processing through in any given moment. Or of my propensity toward the intoxication of self-pity. I feel a sharp fence around my heart in this valley, however, preventing it from spilling out all over the place in a hopeless and helpless attempt for quick relief.
As I was doing my best to cooperate with what I know God is doing in me and in my situation, my heart was wanting to wrestle free from the confines it has been placed under. I heard the desperate question arise: “Can I just be human in all of this?”
But that request to be human was more the search for an excuse to stumble into familiar, pain-driven responses than anything else. I realized at that moment that this is more common than not for most of humanity. “Permission to be human” has become a synonym for sin. For rebellion. For self-medicating. For reaching for what we know we shouldn’t. For running from God. For distracting ourselves from the pain. For justifying what we know is wrong, and often detrimental.
In His goodness, God has derailed that train of thought, and repositioned me on a new track. The humanity that He created in me, He’s been reminding me, was made in His image and is now filled with His Spirit. As long as I am human and on this earth, I will have troubles. I will face the threat of death. I will feel deep pain and know great suffering. These are the unavoidable consequences of a fallen world and a fallen nature.
But I can commune with Him in all of it. I can experience a different way of living and responding than those who don’t know Him often settle for (and, sadly, many of those who do know Him often settle for, as well).
Permission to be human does not mean I have permission to join the throngs of men who choose to live godless lives. It does mean I have the room to discover more of God and His good plans through my submission to His ways. Glory came through a cross and a grave on earth, not a throne. And I’ve been invited, in my humanity, to walk the same path and discover the same miracle. So have you.
Dear Woman of Breakthrough, in your often frail humanity, are you learning to lean into the strength of the One Who lives within you? The One Scripture says is greater than the one who lives in this world? That means, especially in our weakest moments, that the compelling force of God’s loving presence is stronger than any pull toward some other source of false comfort or measure of self-protection. Being human is an invitation to become more perfect as we turn to the image of perfection that created us to look like Himself. This doesn’t mean your journey will be without sincere mistakes. It does mean that you will grow in wisdom, grace and maturity every time you face pain and hardship.
If that seems difficult to you today, I want to encourage you to pick up one of the strongest weapons against indulging in a false sense of your humanity: worship.
In moments when I feel weak, I intentionally fix my heart on worshipping the God I sometimes don’t understand, and sometimes fear has failed me. I worship by praying, by digging into His Word, by singing, and by dancing. Sometimes I worship by working – by choosing to do the things He has called me to do – even when I don’t feel like it – meditating on Him as I do. When I worship – choosing to remember and declare His goodness, His love, and His faithfulness – I am reminded that my fears are liars. They are shadows of the giants that lurk within my own heart, and those giants needs to fall.
Worship also reminds me that God is true. All of His ways are perfect, even when I can’t see or understand them. My heart is quieted within me and strengthened, and I am able to take a deep breath and try to live, being fully human and fully filled with the Spirit of the living God, once again.
May you discover for yourself all that it means for you to be human – a woman fashioned by God in His own image and filled with His presence to help you learn to live an abundant, thriving life. Even in the midst of a perverse and pain-filled journey. Be human, and let God be glorified in your humanity. Whatever is filled with the Spirit of God comes alive with new capacity and beautiful purpose. That’s you and I, dear Women of Breakthrough!