Thursday, February 15, 2018

fear and faith

Sometimes God waits for me to come to Him to ask questions, read the Bible, and dig for answers, and sometimes He initiates the conversation. I’ve had an ongoing conversation with Him about anxiety lately, and it has been bothering me. In the Enneagram work I’ve been doing, it has become abundantly clear that my primary sin struggle is anxiety. I’ve been working to unpack that, notice it without judgment, and examine it. In the video I watched last week in my Enneagram Journey class, Suzanne Stabile listed each personality type and the corresponding passion/sin, as well as the remedy for that passion. For my personality type (a 6 on the Enneagram), she said that fear (anxiety) is the passion, and the remedy is not courage, but rather, faith. As I’ve thought about why she made that distinction, I’ve realized that courage is what is needed in circumstances that are frightening, potentially dangerous, or difficult. In contrast, faith is what is required in relationship with someone who is worthy of trust.

I read recently in Priscilla Shirer’s The Armor of God Bible study, “You don’t need more faith; you need a more comprehensive and accurate view of the faithfulness of your God.” Like everything, the most effective method for growth in the area of faith is to get to know Jesus better. To know Him is to love Him, and the more we understand His true character, the more our faith will grow because we will find out through relationship with Him that He is faithful (worthy of our faith).

During the same week, I read in Beth Moore’s The Quest Bible study that, “The same soil that has been fertile for fear is fertile for faith. If you can find your fear you can always know where to send your faith.” This helped me to realize that as a fearful person, I actually have a great capacity for faith, but I still wasn’t sure how to transform fear into faith. 

As a young child, I frequently had unexplained stomach aches, which became less abstract anxiety when I was a teen. From a young age, I have known I was a worrier and have read and memorized scriptures about not being anxious. I always saw the scriptures as something to read over and over in my attempt to will myself into not being afraid. Honestly, it wasn’t very effective because my focus remained on circumstances outside the context of my relationship with Jesus. As I have come to fall more in love with Jesus, I see the admonishments not to worry less as a stern chastisement and more as compassionate, gentle encouragement from a loving father who is pained when He sees His children wrapped up in fear. 

The Lord has pretty obviously been speaking to me about the connection between fear and faith, but I was still didn’t understand how to move from one to the other. Yesterday, He seemed to initiate the conversation with the eagerness of a child excited to share a new discovery. When I woke up, the voice that I have come to recognize as His—a thought that seems to come from outside of myself—said, “I want to show you something.” I pulled up the verse of the day on my Bible app and read 1 Corinthians 13:13 in the Amplified version:

And now there remain: faith [abiding trust in God and His promises], hope [confident expectation of eternal salvation], love [unselfish love for others growing out of God’s love for me], these three [the choicest graces]; but the greatest of these is love.

My mind zoomed in on the explanation for “faith” given in the scripture: “abiding trust in God and His promises.” Suddenly my struggle with anxiety, caused by a lack of faith, made perfect sense in light of what I have learned through the Enneagram. Faith is essentially trust. Enneagram 6s are skeptical, struggling first with overwhelming self-doubt and then with trusting others as we turn our self-doubt outward and onto others. My anxiety will never go away as a result of me summoning up the courage to do difficult things, though that can be a good and noble pursuit. For me, the way to peace will always and only be found in deepening trust in and intimacy with Jesus. 

I thought of the many times God says to “be strong and courageous” in the Bible, which is often followed by some variation of, “…for I am with you.” When the Lord tells us to be courageous, He is doing something more beautiful than I realized—He is validating us while simultaneously calling us into greater faith. As a parent, I would not tell my child to be brave if she were not facing a situation that warranted bravery. I am well acquainted with her fears because of my relationship with her, and I know when she is about to attempt something that will be particularly difficult for her because it will require her to face one of her personal fears. When I encourage her to be brave, I am acknowledging that she is about to do something that she perceives as scary or difficult. However, I encourage her to not allow her fear to keep her from doing something that will be good for her. 

When God tells us to be strong and courageous, He acknowledges that He is asking something of us that will require bravery based on His intimate knowledge of our unique fears and insecurities. However, He also invites us to view our circumstances through the lens of our relationship with Him. We may be weak, fearful, ill-equipped, and inadequate, but He says of Himself, “Take heart! For I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) and “with God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). We must acknowledge our fear before He can help us move beyond it, and this glorifies Him because it prevents us from diminishing the greatness of what He does in and through us. When we become too enmeshed in the shame of being anxious, we miss out on witnessing the miraculous work He can do in delivering us into peace and deeper faith. If we can admit our anxiety and bring it to Him, we can then shift the focus from our circumstances to our relationship with Him. Through faith, or “abiding trust,” in Him, we find peace. Ironically, the anxiety that indicates a lack of trust in Him can be the very thing that increases our faith if we develop the habit of bringing our struggles to Him. 

When we let go of the assumption that He is as displeased with us as we are with ourselves, the real work of healing can begin as He calls us into deeper faith and trust. As my faith in Jesus has begun to grow, He has taken me on greater adventures than I could have imagined for myself. I am grateful for new adventures and the abundance of life in Him, as well as the moments of anxiety that draw me swiftly back to Him. Maturing in our faith may simply be “shortening the leash,” so to speak, so that we never get very far away from Jesus. In your weakness, behold His unfathomable might. He turns water into wine, sorrow into joy, and, blessedly, fear into faith.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

too much

I have been feeling overwhelmed by life lately. I am sorry to say that it is an all-too-familiar predicament: I find myself smack in the middle of too many commitments and then feel bad that I can’t give my best to all of the things I’m doing. After a long, difficult season of anxiety and postpartum depression, when I was isolated and had such a limited capacity to do anything outside of survival, I have emerged feeling energetic and ready to get back to thriving instead of just surviving. In my zeal, I have become involved with many good things for the purpose of self-improvement and growth as well as to assist others in their personal growth. 
Priscilla Shirer, in her Bible study called “The Armor of God,” talks about our tendency to focus on changing ourselves instead of spiritual health. She articulates my predicament so clearly and accurately that I have been turning this over in my mind. I am so excited about what God has been doing in my life that I have taken it and run with it, trying to chase after personal growth at an accelerated speed without pausing often enough to check in and seek God’s guidance and discernment.

In one of the video portions of the study, Shirer compares our sins to a Whack-a-Mole game, where we keep trying to swat at them even as more are popping up because we are not looking at the deeper root cause. Instead of chasing after self-improvement, which is a good thing, we do better to cooperate with sanctification, which is the better thing. There is a subtle difference between the two. In self-improvement, we are driven to try to make ourselves better, but in sanctification, we partner with the work the Holy Spirit is doing to conform us to the image of Jesus. Both require effort and discipline, but sanctification is driven by the leadership of the Holy Spirit rather than the wisdom of men. 

As adults, we are all drawn to some form of excess—too much food, too much dependence on others, too much independence, too much pride, too much fear, too much anger, too much of an addictive substance, and on and on. I’ve noticed that I get caught up in a pattern of getting involved in too many activities and commitments, becoming overwhelmed and exhausted, pulling back from everything so I can rest and refocus, and then jumping back in again. Often after a season of withdrawing and reprioritizing, I emerge refreshed and more in tune with exercising discernment in what I say “yes” to, but in my excitement, I quickly fall back into saying “yes” to too many things.

In Luke 4, Jesus spends all night performing miracles of healing and casting out demons. Exhausted, He withdraws to a deserted place, presumably to spend time alone with God. The crowd comes after Him and entreats Him to stay, but He refuses, saying that He must preach to other cities, “because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43). We have no one-size-fits-all answer for most of our decisions; sometimes God calls us to go, sometimes to stay, sometimes to reach out, and sometimes to pull back. Staying connected to the Father helps us to stay connected to our purpose, set by God, who steers us away from the mediocre and even the good in order to redirect us toward the best. 

Recently I was pondering my overwhelmed state during the worship time at church. Surrounded by brothers and sisters in Christ, I leaned into the familiar intimacy I find with the Lord when I join the congregation in singing worship songs. I prayed earnestly for sanctification, feeling hopeful and refreshed to remember that the Holy Spirit is at work in me continually. As I was praying, thinking about the Whack-a-Mole image, I pictured my heart with sins like tree stumps popping up all over. Then I saw Jesus come and level them all, pulling up all the roots in the process. In this mental image, my heart was laid bare, smooth and shiny and exposed. The pain of the leveling was like a wound from a life-saving surgical operation. Then I saw Jesus on His hands and knees, using His hands to smooth a healing salve onto my heart. I was overwhelmed by the tenderness of Him tending to my vulnerable, hurting heart. This is a picture of the painful process He allows in order to save me from the deeper pain that comes to an untended heart. Like a doctor sewing up the sutures after a surgery, Jesus provides the comfort I need while I wait for the healing wounds to heal. 

Tears poured down my face as I found myself again overwhelmed by the tenderness of Jesus toward me. The more I experience intimacy with Him, the more overwhelmed and in love with Him I feel. As I reflected on this feeling, I realized that it has become increasingly familiar. When I feel overwhelmed by life and by my own brokenness, taking time to pull back and reconnect with God shifts everything. Instead of being overwhelmed by circumstances, sin, and brokenness, always striving to prove and improve myself, I am overwhelmed by His tender love and kindness toward me. Ephesians 4:22-24 says we ought to “put off the old self” and “put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” When I let go of a destructive behavior or attitude, the letting go is not enough; I need a positive replacement behavior or else I will return to my old ways of doing and being. 

Perhaps we become overwhelmed easily because we were made to be overwhelmed. God created us to be overwhelmed by everything good in Him: His love, grace, righteousness, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, compassion, mercy, gentleness, power, and justice, to name a few. Our limitations give us an appreciation for His boundlessness; our need points us to His sufficiency; our scarcity mentality positions us to receive from His abundance. We become overwhelmed by life because we are small, fragile, broken beings, living in a broken world. We have a choice to make. Will we be overwhelmed by life, by our sin and brokenness, leading us to try to cope through our own ineffective strategies? Or will we let ourselves be overwhelmed by the love and goodness of God? We cannot conjure this up on our own; we can only experience this through the intimacy of relationship with Him, by our cooperation with His Holy Spirit.

My mom has a bank of stories about her children that we have heard repeatedly as we’ve grown into adulthood. In one of them, she says that as a little girl, I would often ask her to buy toys at the store and she would respond, “No, Lindsay, that’s too much,” meaning that it was too expensive. One year for Christmas, she asked me what I wanted for a present, and I responded, “I want something that’s ‘too much!’” 

God delights in our desires for “too much” because He is the only one who can meet them. In an old journal from several years ago, I wrote and asked God for “more,” and wrote that I wasn’t even sure what that meant. He took that prayer and exploded my reality, my understanding of who He is and who I am in relation to Him, and I will never be the same. C. S. Lewis says it this way:

     It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are     
     half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite 
     joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum 
     because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are 
     far too easily pleased.
     -C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

Let us allow the goodness of God to pull us into an intimacy with Him that explodes our preconceived ideas and opens us up for healing, freedom from bondage, and abundant life through our intimacy with Him. When we feel overwhelmed by the cares of this world, instead of returning to our dizzying attempts at coping with brokenness, we can begin to recognize that feeling as an indicator light that points us to Jesus. He longs to overwhelm us with Himself. After all, the gift He longs desperately to give to us is decidedly “too much.”

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

inhabiting His delight

Every once in a while, you find someone whose mere presence makes you a better person. One such person in my life is a missionary friend and mentor I get to see a couple times a year. Though she is the first one to confess her imperfections, I always have the sense that she is with and aware of God so often and so intentionally that I hear from Him more when I’m with her, as though He has rubbed off on her. Of all the time I have spent with her over the past few years, my most consistent impression is that regardless of where she is on her spiritual journey, she talks to God and asks Him questions with the expectation that He will answer. I’m trying to practice moments asking a question and waiting to see if the Holy Spirit will speak, and I have loved discovering how readily He often answers.

I had the pleasure of attending a women’s retreat this past weekend. I led a session on goal setting, which was a first for me. The retreat center was close to home but felt surprisingly rural with beautiful woods and a tiny chapel on the property. We had a chunk of time when we could choose from among several activities, including going outside for quiet reflection. I kept thinking of a retreat I went to several years ago when I felt like God spoke to me through scripture I saw in a chapel, and I felt again the tug to go by myself into the chapel. I was so eager to get there that I practically ran out of the room as soon as our free time began, hoping I didn’t seem rude in my pursuit of solitude. 

I walked quickly on the gravel path, reminded of my dad as I always am when I hear the sound of shoes walking briskly through gravel. That sound and rhythm has been etched into my memory from childhood, when we used to visit my grammy in rural Pennsylvania and take family walks down to the creek to skip stones or to the local ice cream shop. For some reason, my dad’s steps are the ones my ears were always attuned to on these walks. 

My steps slowed as I approached the door, and I felt a little afraid. I had the strong sense that God had something to say to me in that chapel, and I wasn’t sure what it would be or if I would like it. I waited, fully aware of how ridiculous it was to be afraid of going into a building to hear from God when He is already outside of it with me. I thought of the first time my (now) husband asked me on a date after three years of friendship.  I was so nervous, I had had to tell myself, “It’s ok, it’s just Chris. It’s just your friend, Chris.” 

I used the same kind of self-talk again: “It’s ok, it’s God, the one who loves you dearly. No need to be afraid.” With that, I opened the door. I looked around, noting the few rows of pews, the light fixtures hanging from the ceiling, and the large narrow window at the back with the cross centered in it. I waited, remembering the other chapel I visited 3 years ago, when a framed scripture on the wall had stood out to me. 

“Words…words…I need words,” I thought desperately. I scanned the walls. No words in sight. I felt embarrassed by my need for things to be so obvious and literal, and I wished I could be more artistic and abstract, like so many people I admire. I felt a little ashamed, like I didn’t have enough faith to hear from God in some other, more sophisticated way. 

My eyes came to rest on the only words I could find, carved into the wood of a small altar in front of the window with the cross. They read, “THIS DO IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME.” I turned these words over in my mind, thinking of the last supper and of the importance of using memorials to remember what God has done. I wondered what He wanted me to remember at this moment, and then I thought about the words being on an altar. An altar. The words had brought my attention to the altar, a place to leave something, to make a sacrifice. 

I walked up to the altar to examine it more closely, running my hand over the ridges of the painted wood. 

“Let go of your fear and anxiety. Let go,” the whisper of a thought seemed to say. 

I’ve spent the past year learning about my true self and my false self and have found, particularly through the Enneagram, that my false self is wrapped up almost inextricably in anxiety. Romans 6:6-8 says,

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.

For me, to die to myself and to the “sin which so easily ensnares” me (Hebrews 12:1) means to die to my old way of being--anxious and fearful. I prayed for God to help me leave my anxiety and fear on the altar. I waited a moment longer and sensed that that was the end of what I was supposed to hear. 

As I turned to leave, I took a few steps and then turned around to look back at the altar, as though Jesus Himself were standing there. In my mind, I asked, “Is that all?” I wanted to be sure I didn’t miss anything else I was supposed to hear. Through the silence, the words came into my mind, “I like words, too.”

I smiled. I like words, too. Jesus, the Word that became flesh. I realized that He made me a lover of words, just exactly as I am, because that is exactly how He wanted me to be. I basked in His pure delight in me, releasing the shame I had placed upon myself. I thought of the words of Anthony DeMello, quoted by Father Gregory Boyle: “Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.”

The next day at church, the sermon was about the baptism of Jesus, when the heavens opened up and the voice of God said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). The pastor encouraged us to pray and ask God what He wanted to tell us about Jesus. I prayed and waited, and the response came: 

“I am the One who delights in you.” 

I am learning to inhabit His delight in me. If we could learn to inhabit the Lord’s delight in us, I am confident the world would change radically. In Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle writes, “We breathe in the spirit that delights in our being—the fragrance of it. And it works on us. Then we exhale (for that breath has to go somewhere)—to breathe into the world this same spirit of delight, confident that this is God’s only agenda.” 

If I could wish one thing for you, it would be the same thing that I wish for myself, that we would learn to inhabit the Lord’s delight in us, and that in doing so, we would delight ourselves in Him.

Monday, November 20, 2017

the real problem with perfectionism

Perfectionism has become a bit like humble's one of those qualities that would be an acceptable answer when we are asked to list one of our weaknesses during a job interview. It is not as beneficial as it pretends to be, though; it is an epidemic that is killing our emotional and spiritual growth. 

Perfectionism involves trying to be or to present ourselves as perfect or at least better than we actually are, and often this manifests as people pleasing. The Bible addresses the problem of people pleasing in many instances, both explicitly and implicitly as we see the consequences of actions born out of the fear of men rather than the fear of God. Proverbs 29:25 says, 

The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.

People pleasing is a trap, a snare, that is harmful to us and incongruent with trusting in the Lord. We are so desperate for connection with other people that the fear of losing that connection (i.e., shame) drives us to think and behave in ways that prevent us from living as our true selves. However, as stated in Proverbs 29:25, “whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” People pleasing leads to dishonesty about who we really are, inauthentic connection with others, and perfectionism. When we are more concerned with pleasing others than with pleasing God, we give too much power to human beings who are just as fallen as we are instead of anchoring ourselves in the only perfect love who casts out fear and never changes. Our growth is stunted when we are not willing to face our imperfections and receive the healing that we need in our broken places. We are also less approachable to others who are just as imperfect as we are and crave the same authentic connection that we do. 

As I sit in my in-laws' beautiful backyard in Phoenix, Arizona, I have been watching hummingbirds flit from flower to flower. They remind me of people pleasers, (myself among them)-- darting here and there, full of anxiety and hyper-focused on performance, unable to land anywhere for very long. Our internal compass from the Holy Spirit and the Word of God has been traded for the fickle whims of other fallen human beings. God never intended for us to live this way.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not the only one who is weary of it all—weary of living for others or for my own flawed view of what God wants from me, or even what I want from myself. We want adventure and we want to grow and learn and thrive, but first we want to be safe. I find that I have hesitated to go to the Lord because I have feared His reaction. Just as my shame causes me to fear the loss of connection with people, it also results in a fear of loss of connection with the Lord. Ironically but perhaps unsurprisingly, the fear of loss of connection is what causes the actual (or perceived) loss of connection. When I am afraid of the Lord’s anger or disappointment in me, I try to hide and fix things on my own. 

If we will know things by their fruit (Matthew 7:16-20), the fruit of this attitude surely points to flawed thinking. My shame never results in growth, change, or risk-taking; people who are acting out of fear either do not take healthy risks needed for growth and connection with others, or they take foolish risks that needlessly harm themselves and others. We can see many instances in history when fear was used in whole communities and societies as the motivation for appallingly inhumane behavior as well as the avoidance of taking a stand against others who were committing such heinous acts. Fear in its most primal sense is a survival tool, moving us away from danger, but God means for us to thrive, not just survive. Perhaps because he knew the horrific things humans would do when motivated by fear, as well as all the good things they would miss out on, He tells us over and over again, in hundreds of scriptures, not to be afraid.

And yet, “…whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). When we trust in His goodness and in the truth of His word, we are safe. Reverence for the Lord’s holiness is appropriate and wise, but fear that keeps us away from Him is misplaced.  While we are instructed to fear the Lord, to revere Him because He is holy, Jesus came so that even in our sinful state, we could have complete access to Him. The veil that separated us from God’s presence (Hebrews 9:1-9) was torn in two when Jesus died on the cross (Matthew 27:50-51), signifying that Jesus bridged the gap between us and God. In case His death on the cross is not enough to convince us that He wants us to be with Him, look at His prayer before the crucifixion. (In the following scripture, “they” refers to all believers. See John 17:20).

Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.
John 17:24

I don’t think any verse in the Bible makes my heart flutter like this one. Something about Jesus praying that we may be with Him where He is nearly takes my breath away. He wants to be with us, and His desire for us to come to Him is not out of a blissful ignorance of our sins. He knows the intimate details of our sin and weakness, our darkest thoughts and most selfish attitudes. He knows because He knows us and because He experienced the physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering that should have been ours. He knows all of these things, and still He desires desperately for us to be with Him where He is. 

When we hide from Him, we act as though we do not truly believe this about Jesus. I can only conclude that for much of my life, my understanding of God’s attitude towards me was flat out wrong—a lie that kept me from delighting in His delight in me. I’ve tried testing this theory and thinking about the instances when Jesus seemed angry, annoyed, or exasperated with people in the Bible. He was repeatedly critical of the religious leaders, and sometimes critical of His own disciples for their lack of faith, but otherwise, I can’t think of a time when He was angry with someone because of their sin. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr says, “Jesus is never upset at sinners (check it out!); he is only upset with people who do not think they are sinners!” The woman at the well, Zaccheus the tax collector, and the adulterous woman come to mind as people who were living in sin but elicited Jesus’ compassion and presence. In Luke 11:46, Jesus says:

"Yes," said Jesus, "what sorrow also awaits you experts in religious law! For you crush people with unbearable religious demands, and you never lift a finger to ease the burden.

Many of us are crushing ourselves with “unbearable religious demands” in expecting perfection from ourselves before we are worthy of being in the Lord’s presence. We must ask Him to release us from these heavy burdens, whether they have been placed by ourselves or by others, that He might give us rest:

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Perfectionism involves trying to please people as well as trying to meet impossibly high standards that we impose on ourselves and incorrectly assume that God imposes on us. The revolutionary truth of the Gospel--that an almighty, perfect God wants to be with His sinful, fallen creation--blessedly releases us from the burden of perfectionism and frees us to find rest and healing in His presence. When we believe in our belovedness, we can enjoy the freedom of living honestly before God, others, and ourselves. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

you belong.

I recently finished reading Brene Brown’s new book, Braving the Wilderness. Perhaps for that reason, I have been thinking a lot about belonging. I remember having a conversation with my brother, years ago, about how in any given group of people, I felt like an outsider in one way or another. I’ve wondered since then if that was unique to me or if, as I suspect, most other people feel the same way. 

I’ve been reading the book of Ruth this week, and the word “foreigner” stood out to me. As the Moabite widow of an Israelite, Ruth made the surprising decision to forego returning to her homeland after her husband’s death in order to remain with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. Together, they returned to Bethlehem once the famine there had ended. Soon after, Ruth met Naomi’s wealthy relative, Boaz. When Ruth first met Boaz, who offered Ruth food and protection, Ruth asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10). 

The land, people, and God of Israel were all foreign to Ruth, and her question seems to indicate that her identity as a foreigner was at the forefront of her mind, as something that should have disqualified her from Boaz’s favor. Ruth’s identity and situation made her vulnerable several times over—as a woman, a widow, and a foreigner. The Bible speaks over and over of the Lord’s directive for His followers to care for the most vulnerable people in society: the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner, among others. Jesus Christ, Himself, seemed to go out of His way to spend time and build relationships with women, children, sinners, tax collectors, outcasts, the sick, the poor, and the unclean. He loves all of His children, but I think it’s safe to say that He has a soft spot for the most vulnerable. 

Boaz’s acceptance, praise, and blessing of Ruth eventually turned to his willingness to redeem her through marriage. This meant that her first husband’s line would continue, and provision would be made for Ruth and Naomi. After Boaz praised Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi (Ruth 2:11-12), Ruth began to refer to herself as “your maidservant” (Ruth 2:13) instead of “a foreigner.” Through his kindness and acceptance, her identity shifted from a foreigner to one who belonged. The son they had together would be the grandfather of David, and ultimately, part of the lineage of Jesus. As I thought about this, Brene Brown’s phrase from Braving the Wilderness kept coming to mind: “No one belongs here more than you.”

We are all misfits in one way or another, caught up in our own messes, each with our own vulnerabilities. Some of us are vulnerable through our very identities — our age, gender, race, socioeconomic status, or physical or mental differences, among other things. Like Boaz, the rest of us have a responsibility as followers of Christ to really see these vulnerable ones and to do what we can to notice them, to build relationships with them, to show them kindness, to educate ourselves, to listen to them without judgement, and to learn from them how we can be truly helpful. Psalm 85:3-4 says, 

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

This takes active, intentional work on the part of the privileged. Boaz, privileged as a man and as a wealthy person, saw Ruth, noticed her, inquired about who she was, and initiated conversation with her. He honored and elevated her with his kindness. He helped her with his offer of food and protection, but he also listened when she communicated what she needed through what was basically her very bold proposal of marriage (Ruth 3).

I’m not sure what parts of your identity, past, experiences, shortcomings, failures, etc. make you feel vulnerable, but God sees these parts of you clearly, knows them intimately, and cares deeply. He is the Father to the fatherless, the defender of the weak (Psalm 68:5). I believe that an important step in helping others is to experience our own healing so that we have the courage and security we need to take the risks involved in loving others well. When we are coming from a place of security, we can see others more easily and show compassion more readily. We are freed up to move beyond our own pain and enter in to the pain of others. We can listen openly, without offering judgmental or defensive responses. 

To be human and alive is to be vulnerable and capable of being hurt. Whoever you are, whatever identities you hold, the same thing is true for each of us: in the words of Brene Brown, “No one belongs here more than you.” You are the reason Jesus came. If you have any doubts about how He feels about the vulnerable ones, be encouraged. He came to defend, heal, bless, save, protect, and restore you. This passage from Isaiah 61 mentions just some of the groups the Lord came to defend, as well as His glorious plans for them:
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”
10 I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.

--Isaiah 61