I started this year with a theme/verse that God had given to me: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) The theme was freedom from self.
Let me tell you, when you know you are called to a place of dying more to self so that you might live more in Christ, the battle is not going to be easy! This entire year so far has been full of many wonderful God-moments, but it has also held some huge attacks against my identity.
I have written numerous blog posts about identity because this topic is so incredibly important and is very dear to my heart.
You might be asking, “What does identity have to do with feeling like I am not just running on empty but I am dried up, cracked, and brittle?”
Talk about busy!!! We are down to 5-6 weeks left in the school year. The end is in sight, but there is so much to accomplish at the end. Summer sounds like a “breather,” but for those of you who have some or all of your kids in school, it’s a different kind of busy.
In the 21st century, “busy” is such a common description that if you ask someone how they are doing, 95-percent of the time, they will answer, “Busy!”
I understand that we can’t ignore busyness all together and live. I have five kids. I home-school two of them, two are in private school, and I have a 3-year-old who desperately needs to be potty-trained. I have a side business. I try to stay connected with people. I am a soccer-mom, basketball-mom, and swim-mom, during the typical seasons. I run to allergy shot appointments every 3 weeks, orthodontist appointments for three people regularly, and at least 22 other medical appointments in a year that are just for regular maintenance (optometrist, dentist, gynecologist, dermatologist, and ophthalmologist). I run to fix retainers and glasses that seem to constantly be getting bent or stretched.
So, if busyness comes with the territory of living, how can I avoid the never-ending feelings of emptiness that result so often?
Is the issue the busyness, or is it something else? Is busyness the root cause of my emptiness or merely a symptom of the root cause?
To start to answer these questions, let me share a little of my recent experiences with you.
I knew I needed a spiritual “re-alignment” recently. When I started to feel those old feelings of insecurity rearing their ugly heads, I knew I was it was time to come in for a “tune-up.”
Feeling hyper-sensitivity, feeling really “low,” feeling jealous, feeling insecure, feeling a desperate need for validation and affirmation? Those are dead-giveaways that there is a core problem that can’t be fixed with more pats on the heads, a platform, a position, a vacation, a new outfit, a horizon, a new vocation, or a new decoration. In fact, those very things will continue to feed the feelings of emptiness and discontent. They will satisfy fleetingly, but there is a never-ending need for more…
The other day, I took the kids to a nature center/park. My 5-year-old daughter was immediately drawn to the shiny appearance of Pyrite (Fool’s Gold) that they had for sale. I decided to purchase the large rock because I knew it would make a great object lesson and also would be a good reminder to me.
Pyrite has the appearance of something of value, but the reality is that it doesn’t hold the core qualities that distinguish it from the similar appearance of real gold. See the following article on differences: https://www.thermofisher.com/blog/mining/pyrite-the-real-story-behind-fools-gold/ and http://www.minerals.net/mineral/gold.aspx.
It is interesting that Pyrite is brittle and can’t bend like real gold. The mineral structure of Pyrite is mostly sulfuric. The appearances of gold and Pyrite is similar, and they can be found in similar rock-beds, but the structure is different and thus is their use.
Pyrite reminded me of how we often search for the value of something, based on its appearance. Does it look like success? Does it look like prosperity? Does it look like affirmation? Does it look like security? Does it look like beauty? Does it look like fame? Does it look like comfort?
What if the value of something isn’t in its appearance but in its core? What if it’s the structure of the thing itself that determines whether it will hold up or whether it will crumble under pressure?
During part of my “re-alignment” time, God was showing me that I had been following after fulfillment based on the appearance of things: their appeal. What He reminded me is that the most important things — the real blessings are not out there. Rather, they are always right in front of us.
God doesn’t dangle His blessings on a string and then keep pulling them back further the closer we get to them. Rather, His blessings are often the gems hidden in the foundation of our every day lives. God places His most priceless treasures in the framework of our daily lives — within the gritty, dull, hard surfaces of our lives. It’s mixed in the hard grind of our daily and in the muddy, messy of authentic ministry.
Why do we rush after the appeal of appearances?
What drives the empty to pursue the empty?
A friend recently gave me the book Uninvited by Lysa TerKeurst. I want to share a few powerful quotes from her book:
Indeed, the world entices your flesh but never embraces your soul.
We run at breakneck pace to try and achieve what God simply wants us to slow down enough to receive.
Imagine a little girl running with a cup in her hand, sloshing out all it contains. She thinks what will refill her is just ahead. Just a little farther. She presses on with sheer determination and clenched teeth and an empty cup clutched tight.
She keeps running toward an agenda He never set and one that will never satisfy. She sees Him and holds out her cup. But she catches only a few drops as she runs by Him, because she didn’t stop long enough to be filled up. Empty can’t be tempered with mere drops.
There’s no kind of empty quite like this empty: where your hands are full, but inside you’re nothing but an exhausted shell.
He’s into the slower rhythms of life, like abiding, delighting, and dwelling — all words that require us to trust Him with our place and our pace.
Why do we run to agendas, people, things, and appearances? What is the draw?
The answer is you look for fulfillment out there when you are empty inside.
Remember, the verse I mentioned at the beginning? …the one about Him increasing and me decreasing?
You know what truth came to me as I was getting my “tune-up”? It was that I had been trying to find my worth again in myself.
You see, it’s not about the agendas, people, things, fortune, fame, and appearances out there. What we are really seeking is to find something out there to satisfy me, to validate me, to fill me, to secure me, and to give me a sense of worth.
That’s why it is so dangerous to pursue those things from a place of emptiness. You are not after those things necessarily because of the thing or people themselves. You are after what you hope to get from those things or relationships.
Look at relationships. Know what happens when we try to pull from people our sense of worth? This is what happens: rejection, shame, pride, insecurity, judgement, selfishness, comparisons, jealousy, labels…
As Christians, the deception is even more subtle sometimes. We look to ministries and service for our fulfillment. It is so hard to see through to the truth of our motives because we can cover them in so many “right-sounding” words.
I believe this: I believe that God’s invitation isn’t to serve Him. I believe the invitation is to be loved by Him and for Him to love through us. The focus really isn’t on serving; it’s on being loved by God and letting His love flow through us to others in tangible ways. Otherwise, we’ll attach “strings” to people so that we can attempt to pull from them what we lack and which only God can fill. This kind of “love” isn’t really love but selfish manipulation of people to ultimately feed my sense of worth.
This profound truth recently “struck” me: Authentic love produces authentic righteousness. If we try to live righteous lives to find worth, to attempt to prove our worth before God, we will only produce self-righteousness, which isn’t righteous at all. When we are still trying to figure out our own worth, we will bury ourselves under layers of ministry, “righteous” labels, and appearances, but the core motivation is once again an attempt to persuade ourselves, others, and God (we think) that we are worthy of His love.
The truth is this:
“God’s love isn’t based on me. It’s simply placed on me.” — Lysa TerKeurst in Uninvited
And this… Authentic love that comes from a place of being filled by Him will always flow out. It’s like a stream. There’s a continual reservoir of being filled and pouring out but never running dry because the source of the water is from deeper and higher up. By pouring from a place of abundance, there’s not a need to be concerned with running dry.
The place of abundance — the abundant life — is God Himself!!!
Living loved isn’t deciding to be loved… it’s settling in my soul, “I was created by God because He loved me.” — Lysa TerKeurst in Uninvited
You don’t have to win God’s love. It was poured out on a cross for you. It ran down in rivers of blood from a crown of thorns and spikes driven into His hands and feet. It gushed out from His side, where a spear was thrust to determine His death was real. It revealed itself in a myriad of colors, shapes, sounds, and fragrances at Creation. It reveals itself in an eternity that is planned just for you to experience the fullness of life, love, joy, and peace like you have never known before. Even now, it shows itself in the daily grind where He offers His Presence to be the “Gem” that is found in the midst of the hard and muddy of life.