15 or so years ago someone gave me a word for my life - at a time during a devotional moment where we, as counselling students, were being blessed to be released into whatever was next for us. I was sitting working hard at thinking holy, devoted thoughts.
Outside it was raining and as I watched the rain pour down the window panes I thought of God cleansing my heart, making me clean - nice holy thoughts. But deeply-rooted thoughts in how I felt, how I saw the Christian life: I knew I needed to feel clean inside, I had been desperate to be clean inside, to walk from a place of being perfectly clean so that I could minister to others from my spotless position. Surely that is what was needed. All those years of feeling my sin, deeply rooted guilt and toxic shame over my inadequate life and now God was going to release me into a counselling ministry, into my calling.
God had other plans. God knows better the condition of our hearts.
I walked to the front, my turn I felt, didn't want to go first or last to be prayed over by the course leader. She waited next to me, praying and listening, then she said:
"God has given me a picture of an oyster shell. There are countless ridges which the pearl has to travel over, hard work and painful at times. The pearl starts life as a piece of grit and it grows, layer upon layer, over the ridges. It grows by absorbing the water around it in all its gritty impurity - that is life. In the end it becomes a pearl of great price."
Boom - God shattered my pathetic attempt at man-made, false-self devotional thoughts.
I understood the image, I understood the implications - I heard God saying I love you as you are, I accepted you as you are. But my self-image was deeply rooted and 15 years later I have thought of that picture often.
My stubborn refusal to relinquish the hurting parts of my heart has made, in my mind, for slow progress.
I still struggle, subtly often without seeing it myself, for the 'getting-it-right' image so God and man can look at my life and praise me for how well it looks. At home, in fathering, at work, in men's ministry, in anything I do. I just need to hear I'm getting it right. I've done a good job. Praise where praise is due - as in I earnt it, I earnt it. I did something right. Look at me - I got it right. I did good - tell me I did good, dad.
Well I am successful at making my life look good, and much of it genuinely is - but I still feel crap inside about myself.
This past few weeks agreement upon agreement has waged war in my mind: I'm past it; I've missed the opportunity to make it at work or in Christian ministry; I still don't know what my calling is; I've allowed fear to run my life; I'm such a coward, still, relationally - with men, with friends, with my wife and my sexuality; I'm not going to amount to anything as I'm struggling with the same stuff as I was 15 years ago, 20 years ago, 25 years ago...
I've been miserable - I don't hide it well.
In my desperation for approval (something I acknowledged a while ago but is rooted deep within), I never let myself feel joy, feel love, feel trust - there's always more I should have done.
I don't know how to receive...
We will always treat others as we treat ourselves. I hate myself. I'm no good. Nobody could really like me if they knew me - so I don't let them know me. I have an excellent façade of sensitive humility and honesty. Whilst trapped inside is a small boy desperate for love, crying out for approval, longing to hear the words: "I delight in you. I...delight...in...YOU!"
And as the tears fall down the windows of my soul, I cry to God, help me. I want to fight well. To run the race well. I am that pearl. I am. There are ridges to climb, pain is needed to root out the deep brokenness created by pain. This WILL take time. I need to stop rushing. I need to trust God's goodness. I need to hear him when he tells me he delights in me, I need to listen.
So I will cease being a temporary atheist who allows regret of the past and anxiety for the future to rob the present of God.
I will pledge to live in the day. To be present in the present with God, with my family, with my wife, in my friendships, at work. I will commit to rooting out my agreements and loving my younger self - setting him free to roam the mountains of life, to sit on my knee, to hug him, to let him know I also delight in him - for he is me.
I will own my new name: STEADFAST and I will HOLDFAST to God in becoming that man.
Everything is not as dark as despair makes it seem.
I am a work in progress learning to LOVE GOD and LIVE FREE.
I will willingly give all I have to grow to become that man in the kingdom of God.
Here's to the journey. Amen!