Family

Familiarity can breed contempt, but it can also give birth to the level of affection we are created to experience. The difference is whether I let fear or love lead the way. 1 John 4:18 says it best.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Families fall apart when fear forces them to fuse together. They connect beautifully when love allows them to be who they are. God created us to connect, and our hearts cannot survive without those connections. The most valuable thing the homeless have lost is not their addresses; it is their family connections.

The family systems theory concerning differentiation of self makes a great deal of sense, and I believe God is the ultimate example of how it works. He makes it clear that He is the Great I AM. That isn’t as much about being all powerful as it is about being exactly Who He Is. I believe He wants each of us to be the amazing individual He created us to be, so we can  connect and live in community as He desires.

The Bowen Center has this to say about the negative effects of unhealthy interdependence:

“The more intense the interdependence, the less the group’s capacity to adapt to potentially stressful events without a marked escalation of chronic anxiety. Everyone is subject to problems in his work and personal life, but less differentiated people and families are vulnerable to periods of heightened chronic anxiety which contributes to their having a disproportionate share of society’s most serious problems.”

You can read more at https://www.thebowencenter.org/theory/eight-concepts/differentiation-of-self/

Family brings a sense of belonging, and Christ made it very clear that His family is open to all. That doesn’t mean He sanctions abusive behavior. Abuse is the worst form of fusion, and it breaks God’s heart to see His children hurting. Parents and children alike understand the pain of such breaking. Society suffers alongside broken families. God has the power to make us love any way or any one He wants, but He knows better than to force love upon His children.

Family isn’t an easy word to define; but like love, I know it when I feel it. God has helped me see myself as He sees me, and I am so very thankful for a birth family who loves me just as I am. I can’t imagine life with my three sweet sisters and their families, my son and his wife, or my three adorable little grand daughters; but I also thank God for brothers and sisters who are related beautifully by the common thread of love. I am thankful for connections that surround me like a warm, cozy blanket and melt my heart into a sweet, still pool of peace.

Reaching out isn’t easy; it is much simpler to fuse into small groups who share a common love. It is easier still to form groups with a common hatred, and we all know examples of how that destroys families, churches, communities, and countries. It is easiest to simply stay out of sight and not connect at all. That lets you off the hook when it comes to grieving over the loss of a loved one, but it also leaves you with a deep sense of longing that is the worst pain of all.

God loved us enough to send His only Son. I haven’t reached that level of love and doubt I will understand it until I am with Him, but I have learned that God will provide connections that are good for my heart when I relax into faith and trust Him to know what is best for my heart.

Jesus was born into a beautiful family, but I’m sure His earthly family was filled with individuals who were far from perfect. This morning, I was imagining what a large family gathering might look like when He was a young boy. I bet He had a crazy aunt or uncle who made Him smile, and I’m sure there were squabbles and even a feud or two. That didn’t stop Him from loving them, and it doesn’t stop Him from loving us. I also know with all my heart, that He must have looked around when all were gathered in one accord, smiled, and said to Himself, “This reminds me of Home.”

Take a Deep Breath….

I’ve been getting therapeutic massages for the past month to alleviate the stiffness and pain that has plagued me all winter. I have arthritis in my hip, knee, and shoulders, but walking and exercising have always been enough to keep my joints flexible and pain free. The pain began to spread in January, and my body felt like rusting metal left out in the rain. By the end of March, I knew I had to do something, but I didn’t want to go the pain killer route until trying other options.

My daughter-in-law in a wonderful massage therapist who is in business with her dear friend Braden. I decided to give massage a chance before heading to the doctor’s office. I’ve had massages in the past, but I always opted for the “feel good” Swedish or hot stone massages. I had one deep tissue massage years ago and decided it was far too painful to have another. I suppose I wasn’t ready to give up those knots 🙂

The tough winter left me desparate to be rid of the stiffness and pain, so I went to Braden and asked if she could help. She listened lovingly to my concerns and said she believed she could relieve the pain and the stiffness. She warned me that it would not be pain free or easy. I would have to be willing to endure the discomfort, stretch, and relax. I agreed, and we began the treatments the last week of March.

I got relief after our first session, but I soon learned that my muscles weren’t the only things getting a workout. Some knots were rooted in my poor posture, lack of stretching, arthritis, and an injury from an accident a year ago; but more of them came from hidden hurts that needed to come to the surface. I experienced weeping during a massage years ago and was told it was perfectly normal for massage to bring emotional pain to the surface. I went into the treatments determined to let go of all my knots and allow the healing God had in mind take place.

Braden and I prayed that God would use her hands to help me heal and that I would be able to relax and not get in the way. I have a hard time relaxing, and I’m finding that keeps me from fully experiencing much of what God has in mind for me. It is, and always has been, hard for me to be still. I realized yesterday that the choice is mine. I can relax into obedience or let fear stiffen me into stillness. With the Spirit’s help and a loving massage therapist, fear is losing its hold on me.

If you’d had a deep tissue massage, you know the level of pain released when knots are untied. Braden knew I was hurting and felt my muscle tensing when she hit a particularly painful knot in my neck. She quietly told me to take a deep breath and continued pushing on the sore spot. I wanted to tell her to stop, but I wanted healing more. I realized I was holding my breath and bracing for the pain, something I’ve done all my life. I let go of my breath and took in a long, deep breath. I was shocked at the difference it made as she worked the tension out of the twisted muscle.

God never ceases to amaze me with His powerful lessons, but the sweet message that came during my massage yesterday was one I will not soon forget. Relaxing isn’t possible in the presence of fear, but God’s love banishes fear once, and for all.

1 John 4:18 says it best.

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.” NLT

Love, breath, and spirit are all one. I knew that but didn’t fully know it until that deep breath helped me relax into healing on that massage table. I have been holding my breath expecting punishment all of my life. I’ve felt unworthy of love, especially God’s. I have no problem loving God and loving others. I do love and love completely. I just cannot seem to take in the love as deeply or fully as God would like. He knows love and breathing go hand in hand, so He bids me to take a deep breath and fully experience His perfect love and the love of those around me.

I am struck by the image of the bride in Revelation 21:1-6 and heard two very beautiful messages on that passage last week. My heart was broken when I saw myself as less than a beloved bride, but God made it clear to me yesterday that I have been, am, and always will be His beloved bride. Nothing can ever change His perfect love for me, but I can miss it by holding my breath and believing fear’s vicious lie that I am not a beloved bride. I plan to relax, breathe deeply, and fully experience all the love God has in store for me.

Loving Without Fear

The air conditioning in my new apartment was shutting down each time the temperatures outside went above ninety degrees. For four months, my landlord and the men who installed the unit tried in vain to fix the problem. They replaced parts, put in a new transformer, and tried everything they knew to try with no success. They asked me to send a text the next time the system shut down, so they could see what was going on when it wasn’t working. We were all getting frustrated, and I was giving up on a quick fix of any kind.

The system shut down again last week, so I sent a text and hoped for the best. The solution turned out to be a simple one that left all of us relieved and smiling. The door on the electrical box has a safety feature that shuts the power off if it’s opened while the breaker to the unit is on. The extreme heat was causing the cover on the door to expand and bow out. That created a tiny crack between the door and the box that shut down the system until the attic cooled down in the evening. The guys sealed the door shut with tape, and the system has worked perfectly ever since.

No one understands the danger of opening a door that should not be opened better than an electrician because their lives depend upon it. God used the repair to teach a powerful lesson. Opening a door that is best left shut can create havoc in my heart, as well. I’ve opened doors I should not have opened, and my heart has suffered as a result.

God provides safeguards that keep my heart from being hurt. I can override those safeguards and warnings, or I can seal off my heart the way those men sealed off the door in my air conditioning system. God and I both know that isn’t the best solution. It’s best to be mindful and heed the warning signs if I want to avoid being hurt. Like an electrician’s life, my heart’s safety is at stake if I don’t.

God will not seal the door to my heart, and He doesn’t want me to seal it either. There are no easy solutions when it comes to love, and no one understands that better than God. His lessons leave me feeling disconnected at times, but I know disconnection and differentiation go hand in hand. Change is never easy, especially when it comes to matters of the heart. Like flying from one trapeze to the next, faith will carry me if I forget about fear and remember God’s love is there to catch me when I fall. That allows me to love without fear, and God knows that’s the only way to love.

1 John 4:18 says it much better than I can.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Photo Credit: US Hawks
Photo Credit: US Hawks

Hold On or Be Held?

Holding On
Holding On

As a follower of Christ, I have to give up my need to hold on and learn to be held. Christ didn’t cling to things or people; He rested in His Father’s arms. His life is a beautiful example of the strength found in being held. 1 John 4:18 reminds me of the power of being held in God’s loving hand.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (NASB)

Holding on is about fear. Being held is about love. Human nature and the ways of the world say hold on! Christ says trust God’s love to banish fear. It seems a simple choice, but I find myself holding tightly when I should be relaxing into obedience.

Holding people tightly leads to losing them. Love can only grow when let go. Possessions are more easily held, but there’s no joy in the ownership we think we have. All ownership is merely an illusion. Nothing valuable will be owned; that is particularly true when it comes to love.

No one holds more tightly than those determined to promote divisive doctrines. The body of Christ is a fragmented mess because of the holding and pulling that take place within it. Christ makes His will for His body beautifully clear in John 17:21

“I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one–as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.” (NLT)

I get very frustrated and sometimes want to head to the mountaintop and leave the messiness of the church. I know God enjoys our special time alone, but I also know He created me for community. He loves Christ’s body, and He wants me to love it too. Love isn’t about fixing or doing for; it is about living and loving honestly and with a whole heart. Sharing my story and my journey with others puts my heart in the perfect position to be held, and that’s exactly where God wants it to be.

Holding on is about my strength and endurance. Being held is about dependence upon God. I can choose either path, but God made it clear this week that being held is the best way to go.

Being Held
Being Held

Fear, Take a Hike!!

The peace of God can only be found in the present moment. He promises peace, but I lose it the moment I begin rehashing the past or rehearsing the future. I wrote about that in http://wp.me/p2G1u5-Ln, so I won’t rehash it now. God ended a difficult chapter last week and began a beautiful new one. I love a good ending, especially when it’s a surprise. The writer and reader in me loves leaving a chapter with a great feeling, and there’s nothing I like better than a new beginning. All endings lead to beginnings, and that was a big part of the learning this week.

I decided to rest instead of run this week, so peace caught up with my heart. I tore up the mountain in tears on Tuesday, but God brought me back down filled with the sweetest peace I’ve ever felt. I marvel at the difference in my before and after heart. I got something off my chest on that walk. I left the elephant that took up residence in my heart five years ago on top of that mountain. I came down feeling a thousand pounds lighter. Past regrets and future worries dissipated in God’s loving presence. His forgiveness gently lifted the weight of the world from my heart and left me transformed. I felt as though I had just lived through a year of Extreme Weight Loss in one hour. I literally jumped for joy because I was the me God created me to be.

Fear causes me to lose the peace God has in mind for me, and it was chasing love away. God made it clear that only love is able to cast out fear, and I had to choose whether or not to let it.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” 1 John 4:18 (NASB)

God showed me the root of fear is a need for punishment, and He made it clear that He is tired of me wallowing in that need. He is not, and never has been, a God of punishment. He is, and always will be, a God of love. He knew only I could let go of my need to be punished and embrace the love in my path. Love does cast out fear, and that’s a lesson I lived and loved this week. God showed me I was surrounded by love, and that allowed me to put fear and punishment aside and let Him begin perfecting my heart. The Holy Spirit’s perfect love isn’t about being perfect. It is about getting rid of fear. Love perfects peace as soon as I tell fear to take a hike. I did just that with the help of a sweet loving friend this week, and it changed my heart in a beautiful way.