I once worked for a magazine written for career-minded women. In every glossy issue, we offered tips and articles to help our readers find balance in their busy lives: Four Ways to get Hubby to Help… Finding a Caregiver who Cares... Dinners You Can Make in Minutes! We offered solutions to help our target audience keep all the balls in the air and jump through hula hoops while walking a tightrope. (Yes, like a circus clown—only in high heels instead of shiny red clown shoes.)
This fall I began the Walking with Purpose Bible Study Keeping in Balance. In its pages I expected to find helpful tips and tricks just like that magazine offered. Three passages from Scripture to evoke calm and promote sleep! Jesus said “no” sometimes; you can too! Instead, the first two lessons took me on a deep dive into authenticity. Like a scuba diver looking for treasure on the deep ocean floor.
To live authentically is to live the life we were created for—truthfully and purposefully; raw and real. But how many of us do that? When your Facebook friend shares pictures of her new dining room set or the red roses that were delivered to her workplace “just because,” is your friend showing her authentic, #nofilter self or the carefully-curated parts of her life?
I really shouldn’t judge. While I don’t post on social media, I’m guilty of doing plenty of things for the sake of appearances. Take my volunteer work. I served on the board of my son’s travel baseball league and didn’t even enjoy it (I was made treasurer—a role I am terribly unequipped for)! So then what did I do? I volunteered to be treasurer of my kids’ school PTA. I didn’t enjoy that either. But the two experiences provided admirable bullet points to spiff up my LinkedIn profile. My PTA work even earned me an engraved piece of lucite. (No clue where that award is now, BTW.)
But sisters, here’s the thing; there’s more to an authenticity deep-dive than exploring how authentic you are to others. Being authentic with ourselves and with God is equally important.
Here are some questions for us to think about: when you experience conflict or are hurt emotionally, how do you react? Do you express your feelings in a healthy way, or do you ignore or “stuff” them away? I’ll admit that I’m a stuffer. That’s what us major-conflict-avoiders do—we put on a mask and push our emotions way down deep.
There’s a quote in Lesson 2 of Keeping In Balance from Peter Scazzaro’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, that underscores the problem with burying or ignoring our feelings:
...To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well...When we deny our pain, losses and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.¹
This, my friends, is not what God wants. He wants us to be the authentic women He created us to be!
While I may not be totally authentic with myself or with those around me, I think I’m authentic with God. My prayers to Him are honest, unpolished, and at times, border-line puerile, but I learned in Opening Your Heart that not only is it OK to talk to God as a child might, it’s a good thing (and I blogged about that here).
Back to the magazine where I used to work: I now know it didn’t truly help women keep their lives in balance. It simply provided coping strategies for living life in a challenging way.
So, let’s remember that it’s OK for our lives to be imperfect. We don’t need to wear a mask or hide our struggles from others or from God, who really does like the messy versions of ourselves anyway.
But [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
¹ Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Keeping in Balance (October 2018), 20.
I thought I was going to throw up on my way to the first WWP board meeting. Reading Robert's Rules for Dummies had helped me to some degree, but a boatload of self-doubt remained. The only part of forming a nonprofit board that seemed doable and appealing to me was having a board retreat. So once the paperwork was completed, I talked four friends of mine into joining me for a weekend away to see if we could get this idea off the ground.
We crafted a mission statement, and set the audacious goal of launching five new Walking with Purpose groups in the next five years. Little did we know what God had planned. We began to grow at a rate of 100% every year, purely by word of mouth.
As we celebrate our 10 Year Anniversary, my heart is overwhelmed by God's faithfulness to us. We have just welcomed our 225th parish, and have over 16,000 women participating in the program. God has done “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph. 3:20).
From the beginning, our desire has been to give our very best to the women who have entrusted us with their hearts. When I add up the hours given by our leaders, I stand amazed. But even more than giving time, they have given their very selves to our mission. Early days of board meetings around my dining room table, the spirit of “all hands on deck,” and the creation of a pink and green revolution were some of the hardest yet happiest days I've experienced. My gratitude for that group of women will stretch into eternity.
One lesson that I've learned over the past decade is that what we offer to the Lord does not need to be perfect in order to be good. In fact, when we are weak and imperfect, that is when He shows up most powerfully. We bring Him the best we've got. Sometimes it's enough; sometimes all we see is the shortfall. But when God is pursuing His beloved daughters with the gospel of grace, He is never limited by our limitations. He breaks through barriers and gives us just what we need to press on.
In hindsight, it has been during times of brokenness that I have most fully seen God's goodness and blessing being extended to me. This has been the case personally and within Walking with Purpose, and often, the two experiences have been interwoven.
But in the middle of a season of disappointment or suffering, it's very hard to see the blessings. It's during times of brokenness that we are most susceptible to lies about the heart of the Father. We question His love, His goodness, His power, and His interest in us.
In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes about the two best responses to brokenness. The first is to befriend it- to “face it squarely” instead of trying to stuff our emotions or deny them. The second response is to put our brokenness under the blessing. In His words…
This putting of our brokenness under the blessing is a precondition for befriending it. Our brokenness is often so frightening to face because we live it under the curse. Living our brokenness under the curse means that we experience our pain as a confirmation of our negative feelings about ourselves. It is like saying, ‘I always suspected that I was useless or worthless, and now I am sure of it because of what is happening to me.'…When we have cursed ourselves or allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse…The great spiritual call of the Beloved Children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing.
“And now that you don't
have to be perfect, you can be good.”
It's our desire at Walking with Purpose to help women accept themselves as the Beloved in the very moments when they feel least deserving of it. Recognizing that lies about God make it hard for us to draw near to Him, we lead women to the truth found in Scripture. Jesus speaks to our hearts, quieting the clamor of the voices that cause us confusion and doubt.
I'm moved by John Steinbeck's words, “And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good.” When we can rest in God's grace, when our belovedness doesn't feel like it is perpetually on the line, we are free to love. Recognizing that God loves us in our brokenness frees us from the chains of perfectionism and allows us to extend that same grace to others. We can invite our loved ones to exhale and drop the mask. We can become soft places for others' hearts to land because we aren't so busy trying to prove ourselves. The unconditional love we have received is passed on to people who are desperate for a place to belong and call home.
Happy Anniversary, dear friends. You are a part of a sisterhood. This is your tribe. You are welcome here, as is. Not the cleaned up version of you, but the real one. In your weakness, in your brokenness, you are called Beloved. You can be good.
Founder and Chief Purpose Officer
Walking with Purpose