I can't recall many times in my life when I haven't felt very alone and very misunderstood. That feeling of being alone in a crowded room? That's my life. Every day.
And I'm not one who enjoys the feeling of loneliness (not that anyone really does). Being alone, I can handle. Feeling lonely? Not so much.
LUCKILY, Jesus has taught me a few things about that "loneliness" feeling. Spoiler alert: It's not actually loneliness. It's called being set apart.
He didn't call me to be like the rest of the world. He called me to lead others to Him and to reach the broken, but in order for that to happen I must be DIFFERENT from the world around me. Romans 12:2 very specifically addresses it, "Do not conform the the pattern of this world, but he transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will." And sometimes that doesn't exactly feel good. Because in most cases (everyone has their battles) you have to go through a process in order to come to a place where you can be around certain things without taking part in them. God has to literally SET you APART from what is normal and familiar to you for a while in order for you to be set apart from it. For me, one of those things just so happens to be alcohol. I would be lying if I told you that it was easy for me to stop drinking. Because it's one of the hardest things I've ever done. God tried time and time again to get me alone for a (pretty lengthy) period of time so that He could RESET my mind and my heart and PREPARE me with strength so that I could still go back out into the world and minister to my friends and anyone else who needed me without being sucked back into the lifestyle that I used to live. But I broke that process several times and went right back to it because I absolutely could not stand being alone and feeling left out of the fun -- I couldn't see the bigger picture of what He was doing for me. So that's where I am right now. Because I finally see it. And again, it's not exactly been fun. Hear me when I say that the enemy works SO hard when he knows you're trying to give something up that will allow you to walk in the fullness of your destiny. There are times when I have questioned if surrendering my life to Jesus is really worth all of this. Very rarely do I ever see my friends anymore, and of course I miss them. But I know that God has more for me than the things I used to think I'd never go without. I know He will use me to bring others out of what He has brought me out of. I know how good this process is for me even though it doesn't always feel so good.
So right now, I don't necessarily have people I talk to about my petty daily struggles or even the big stuff. I don't go out of the house much anymore unless it's to see my mom or go to church. I don't do a lot of things the world would consider "fun." But that's okay. Because what I do do is spend a whole lot of time at home, in my quiet place with God. I was seeking council from all the wrong people in all of the wrong places and God pulled me away so that He could teach me that He is my counselor. I was calling on the world and the things/people it offered me to fix my brokenness and He showed me that He is the only one who can. Sometimes when we don't recognize it ourselves, He strips everything else away because when you have nothing and no one else, you know exactly who to turn to. This is the time that He has spoken more to me than I've been able to hear my whole life. I've learned so much about Him and we've gone so much deeper into the intimacy that He desires with me. So even when it does feel a bit lonely at times, I am thankful because I know that I am not truly alone, I am only set apart.
When God calls you to things bigger and better than you could ever imagine, you are going to lose things and people you care very deeply about during that journey. Not everyone you love is going to make the cut to go where you're going and not everyone is going to understand why you're leaving where you are. In fact, most people won't. And I'll be the first to tell you: It hurts. Boy, does it hurt. BUT don't let that tempt you to turn around. Because I'll also be the first to tell you that where you're going is worth so much more than what you lose along the way. You will never reach the top of a mountain if you keep going back down to pick up what you've dropped along the way.
You're in the midst of one of your happiest moments, listening and sharing, laughing and crying, reminiscing days already gone and anticipating days to come. You're in a room full of beautiful women of God who were obviously placed in your life for very specific reasons. You think to yourself, Wow... I am so blessed. I love these people so much. Thank you Jesus for putting them in my life. I couldn't ask for better. You know that you are right where you belong, surrounded by exactly who you are meant to be with. But suddenly, it doesn't feel so good. The room shrinks and you feel your chest collapsing. Those women seem so far away and you seem to stick out like a sore thumb. They see you. They know what you've done. They don't want you here. You don't belong here. You aren't even worthy of being in their presence. You aren't "good" like them. All you can think about is getting out of there. In the blink of an eye, one of the happiest moments of your life turns into a horror movie in your mind. Shame takes over.
Or maybe you're getting ready for church on a Sunday morning and decide that you shouldn't even go because your thoughts remind you of that boy you slept with several months back and you tell yourself God doesn't want you coming into His church. You can't even pray because you feel unworthy of even speaking to Him. Shame takes over. Maybe someone asks you what your story is and your mouth suddenly becomes paralyzed because you can't imagine telling them the kind of life you used to live. Shame takes over. Maybe you see someone in need or you can tell they are struggling internally and God prompts you to pray for them or to speak life into them but you don't because who are you to try helping anyone with anything when you struggle too? Shame takes over. Or maybe you're alone in your bedroom and you come across those broken razor blades and that little voice inside your head says, "Do it. You're worthless." Shame takes over.
Ya know, the devil is not stupid. But he's also not a genius. As I have heard it said time and time again, his tricks do not change. Ever. Because he knows what works. He knows what will break you down the fastest. One of his favorite weapons? Shame. I have never encountered anything that forces its way into your mind and shuts you down more quickly than you can even see it coming, the way shame does. I have never experienced anything more crippling.
The bad news: Shame is pretty common. I'd be lying if I told you that those scenarios I described weren't direct anecdotes from my life. I have yet to meet one person who has never experienced shame.
The good news: Shame is not from God. Like I said before, it is a weapon formed AGAINST us by the enemy. Why would God ever make me feel like I was unworthy because of my struggles? Why would He ever tell me that I'm not qualified to be used by Him because of what I've done in the past? He wouldn't. John 10:10 says, "The theif comes only to steal, kill and destroy," it ALSO says (and this is my favorite part), "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." He will NEVER do or say anything that would do anything but benefit me, or you, or anyone (and sometimes it doesn't feel good, but that's a topic for another time). There is a vast difference between feeling conviction from the Holy Spirit and feeling condemnation, guilt and shame from the enemy. God wants us to recognize our wrong doings and to ask His forgiveness on those things but what He does NOT want is for us to dwell on them, allowing them to cripple us.
The better news: We have authority over shame. Every shameful thought that enters my mind, I have the authority to tell it to leave. I have it. You have it. Authority-- because of the Blood. In Isaiah 54:17 we are assured of this, "no weapon formed against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you." Typically I use this verse as a reminder about people in the natural who falsely speak out against me or when I'm in the middle of a tough situation and need to remind myself that it will not break me down. But often times I forget that it pertains to the enemy and his lies as well (because that's exactly what shame is-- a lie directly from hell).
The best news: We are not disqualified. I am not, and neither are you. The biggest lie that comes from a shameful mindset is the one that the things you did before you surrendered your life to Christ, or the things that you battle even after you've given your life, take you out of the race to be used by God. If that were the case, a huge chunk of the Bible wouldn't exist. Jacob lied, God used him. Elijah went through depression and had suicidal thoughts, God used him. David committed adultery and murder, God used him. Peter DENIED Jesus right in front of His face, God used him. I did a lot of things, God uses me. You've done a lot of things, God uses you.
I have wanted to share these thoughts for quite some time now but truth be told, God wouldn't let me. He brought me through it first so that I could fully understand it and understand how to fight it. Because up until just days ago I was a walking billboard with the word "shame" written all over it. I allowed it to overtake every part of my life and it kept me from stepping into the fullness that God wanted for me. But on Sunday, September 17th I was delivered from shame. Fully, completely. I answered an altar call (which is something I normally don't do because, ya know... too ashamed) and as I stood receiving the truth being spoken over myself and many other men and women, I felt the shame that once drowned me completely leave my mind, my heart, my body and my spirit. I fell to my knees overwhelmed by the glory of God and as I was there He said. "Now is the time. Write it down."
That's not to say that shame won't try to creep in from time to time. What it means is that when it does, I know how to destroy it. What it means is no more walking around feeling inferior to everyone around me because of my past. What it means is no longer doubting the power in my testimony. What it means is fully knowing that God can and will use me no matter how torn, beaten and broken my slate is. What it means is freedom.
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death." // Romans 8:1-2
One of the hardest battles I have ever had to fight has been accepting that I am unconditionally loved.
Sounds crazy, right? Let me explain.
I grew up learning that God was this untouchable power in the sky who ruled over all and watched our every move, and that our actions were judged and would determine whether or not we made it to Heaven. In my 19 years of life, I have made some really, REALLY terrible mistakes and because of the way I viewed God, I turned and ran as fast as I could. There was no way He still wanted me after all I had done... No way He would ever have any use for me now, right? I completely rejected the idea that He could possibly forgive me and still want me as His own and it destroyed the way I viewed myself. It became what seemed to be a never-ending cycle of trying to fill the enormous voids in my heart with alcohol and sex and then hating myself even more because I felt like I was disappointing God more and more every day. I allowed the enemy to fill my head with the lies that I was disgusting, I was a disgrace and useless to God, I was unworthy of His love and His grace. I allowed people to treat me like I was worthless, to walk in and out of my life as they pleased, to use me for what they wanted and leave, to make no effort to show that they cared at all while I gave them everything I had. Not just men but friends, family, everyone. I have always accepted much less than I deserve from people because I never truly knew that I deserved better. I took whatever I could get.
It wasn't until recently that I began understanding God's unconditional love and not just understanding it but WALKING in it. He broke down my walls and has poured out an abundant amount of love in recent months. Through song, through scripture, through His words, and through those little moments each day that I know He creates to romance my heart. Lysa TerKeurst puts it so well in her book Uninvited, "Live from the abundant place that you are loved, and you won't find yourself begging others for scraps of love." Once you feel, accept and receive UNCONDITIONAL love from a Savior who loved you enough to take your sins and die a brutal death at the cross before you even came into existence, it is so much easier to walk with your head held high daily, knowing that you are worthy of only the very best. I made a promise to Jesus and to myself to never again settle for less than I deserve from ANYONE. Why? Because I am loved. Fiercely, unconditionally, relentlessly. I am loved.