Has your heart ever ached? I’m not just talking about feelings of sadness. I’m talking about that indescribable throb of a barely beating heart as your mind races to try and grab hold to any semblance of clarity. And your body? It’s stuck, waist deep in a sloshy, frozen mud pit with no leverage to pull yourself out, completely paralyzed to act on any of it, numb to feeling anything else. For many of us, that emotional state is not a foreign concept. Yet, it is one that we often pretend doesn’t exist. When I try to summarize it into one word, I follow the trail down to the very bottom of what I am feeling, finding myself at the bitter end of disappointment.
I’ll be honest that I’ve never experienced these feelings before now. At least not on the more mature side of my life or to this level or depth. When I was young, and now looking back, I can identify seasons throughout my childhood where maybe I had felt something similar but was too young to understand or process. So to me this all feels unfamiliar and unnatural.
Life on Display
I am a self diagnosed “church junky” and growing up I usually felt pretty safe there. As a kid, I knew my parents loved me, I had friends who cared about me, and I knew in my mind that God had a plan to make all things work out for the good of the those who love him. Throughout the majority of my upbringing, I always felt like I had a grasp on who God is and who I am. Church and community were constantly on loop in the background of my life keeping me from ever really spinning too much out of control in my teenage angst. But being a church-aholic pastor’s kid also means that nothing is secret, privacy is a joke, and I often feel like everyone else knows what’s best for me except for me. Everyone’s in your business… like all the time.
Seriously, growing up in a fishbowl taught me how to be the best at playing the “community” game. Whenever something unpleasant happened in my life, I learned how to control the flow of information and how much people really knew about me and whatever situation I found myself in. I knew the right words to make people stop asking probing questions while still portraying a solid outward image so they could continue to trust and admire me. I even learned how to spin and reframe any negativity in such a way that it could be perceived in a more positive and acceptable light. Not only was I fooling everyone else, but also myself. “Real” was not a thing for me.
Bad at Being Broken
I think this all came from a fear of wondering if people would still love me, think highly of me, and want me, if they knew that I actually have no idea what I’m doing and am really just a little better at “faking it as I go” than most. I made “good” choices not just in life, but also with the people I spent time with so that I didn’t have to experience the consequences of heartbreak and feeling broken. There were those moments here and there, as every teenage girl has, but I’ll be honest that my big oopses in life feel pretty lame. I NEVER have a “something interesting” to share at our production team pre-service roundups, or a crazy story of “remember when…?” My stories are, “remember when we almost got sent home from church camp that one year for stealing grapes from the communion cart? Crazy, huh?” (insert eye-roll emoji here).
And I feel like maybe I should be a little more proud about that, but I actually feel disgusted because my issues were deeper than what I lied about and my heart was really so self-righteous and prideful. I was… scratch that… I am really happy with being the good kid that everyone wants their daughter to grow up to be. But more so, I am afraid that they will reject me if they see the real me. Whatever that looks like.
Better at Being Good
To this day, I carry that with me. My understanding of self is slightly better and I’ve moved a little more into the “real” category of folk, but I still love being the good girl. I was talking with a woman on a Sunday after leading worship as she thanked me for being so authentic on stage. It was a weekend where we as worship leaders were challenged with taking our vision of being real and actually doing it (insert applause here) and in front of thousands of people (bust out the party poppers). I shared from stage that I struggle with being afraid, which is true, but I didn’t really go into the depths of what that means for me. As this woman walked away from our conversation, I heard her whisper to her husband, “Oh she is so sweet!” And guys…I literally had to keep myself from fist pumping the air. I was so stoked that she thought I was good! I felt like I accomplished something, nailed it, knocked everyone’s socks off with how wonderful I was and found my satisfaction in a moment of pleasing this random woman I had never met before.
But what I didn’t tell her, or you, or really anyone else, is that deep inside my heart was shattered into a million pieces. It had been one of the worst couple of weeks that I had experienced in a long time. So much stress and confusion. The emotional roller coaster and pressure of uncertainty was so intense that I felt like I was going to crumble underneath it any second. It was a series of weeks filled with overwhelming conversations, painful unknowns, and some big girl decisions that needed to be made, ASAP.
Inside, I was drowning.
I’ve always been afraid of letting people down. I have often made decisions out of the fear of “what if?” What if my parents, my boss, my friends, my leaders, find out that I’m not the girl they think I am? I’m afraid to look past what people think of me because I’m afraid that I’m not the girl I always thought I was. It is in this season of life (present tense because it’s still happening) that I have discovered so much of these truths about myself:
I am dysfunctional.
A prideful mess of self righteousness.
And I place my hope for the future on what others think of me today.
Feasting on Approval
I don’t think the root of it all is pride and I actually don’t think it’s even really fear, either. When I let God lead me to the bottom of it, I realize that it’s ugliest issue of all, gluttony. It’s the overconsumption of the praises of people that I feed on, and I’ve become fat. I’ve turned so piously fat on what others think of who I am, what is best for my life, and the “good” decisions that people applaud me for making, that I don’t even know what I look like anymore.
Who am I? Better yet, who does God say that I am? I don’t know. I don’t know how to cope and manage without pleasing others because it has become my identity. I need to face my disappointment and make my own choices, and understand some people might stop telling me that they think I am “good.” They have to be my choices where I endure whatever the consequences are and stand firm in the decision I have made, right or wrong. And in my sensibility, I will knowingly deprive myself of what was once my sustenance.
A Real Form of Praise
Remember those feelings I talked about before? All that is still here and I just want so badly for it to go away, for God to take a magical wand and wipe my mess clean. But I believe that this is my offering of worship, in the midst of pain. It doesn’t look like dancing because I often just want to crawl under the covers and cry. And it’s ok, because Jesus usually finds me there. It’s not about slapping a silver lining onto my problems tagged with a Bible verse from the most quotable section. That gets me nowhere. And it’s REALLY not about raising my hands in church and singing every line at the top of my lungs. Sometimes it can be, but it’s usually in those moments when I need to kneel, say nothing and let the Lord sing truth over me.
My worship through disappointment and fear is allowing God to teach me more and more about who I am, the brokenness and the beauty, and about what he gave up so that I don’t have to die for anyone’s approval.
I don’t want to quickly fall into the lie that everything’s ok when I know it’s not because it hinders me from being real and vulnerable with the people I love. More so, it keeps me from a connectedness with God who is standing there with grace-filled eyes, just waiting to hold my disappointment, confusion, and pain.
It’s in these moments when I let Jesus carry my sadness that I feel the closest to him and hold hope that things won’t always be this way.
Transformation and healing only happen when we choose to hold with an open hand our regret, defeat, anger, pain, failure, and focus our attention on the God who has seen every moment of our lives up to this point and will never fail to take his eyes off of each moment going forward. He is faithful to show himself to us and bring to light the places in us that need a little work. But it takes a posture of complete surrender to trust and not do it all on our own.
Worship is transformational because God is passionate about being kind and faithful to us and not allowing us to stay in the mess that we came in. He is the most trustworthy heart-handler, so I can give it all to him even if it’s delivered in pieces. And my sacrifice is letting others in to see the real me that’s not masked by what I want to be.
I believe that worship is the willingness to look God in the face, confess our humanness and ask Him to reveal more of his Godliness to us. Because when that happens, when he shows us who he is, the only appropriate response is to fall onto our knees out of an adoration and gratitude for his goodness and glory. There are no words to explain it and nothing we can do to compare, so we must worship.
We must worship.
We must worship in the joy and celebration, but desperately in the pain because that is when we need to see more of God.
Reflect on this…
It’s easy to praise God’s name, sing and clap when life is going well and we can tangibly see and feel God’s faithfulness. But what does worship look like in the middle of your worst day? In disappointment and fear; when everything is falling apart?
When you ponder the things of your life, those things that might naturally drive you away from worshiping God, and you place them in light of who God is (loving, merciful, gracious, etc.) how does that cause you to worship Him?
What does it look like for you to take a posture of surrender and trust Jesus with whatever disappointments, frustrations, sadness, etc. that you might be experiencing?
Who can you reach out to this week and ask for prayer with what you may be struggling with and need to release to God? Ask the Holy Spirit to keep your heart sensitive to those in your life who may need your prayers as well.