#IAmNot: The lens of conviction versus condemnation

For this week’s blog post for the A Confident Heart OBS, one of the choices is to “Describe a time when you felt condemned (by yourself or someone else), and answer two key questions: What would the difference have been if you had processed the situation through the filter of conviction instead? and What steps can you take the next time to usher in restoration instead of condemnation?

For the last 2 1/2 years, I have been riding a roller-coaster of emotion and behavior with consequence. I made a mistake in leaving a fairly secure position to take on a title. In the last year alone, I have dealt with the ups and downs associated with caring for a loved one who is undergoing significant medical treatment (open-heart surgery, followed by two major cancer surgeries, and all kinds of follow-up treatments); in addition, I lost a loving cousin and was unable to attend her funeral and grieve with the rest of the family; further, I nursed my beloved pet through toxic shock and surgery, pneumonia, and cancer until her death 4 months ago; and right before her death, we suddenly lost a wonderful friend who had done much in our lives. Finally, I lost my job — and I am really not entirely sure why; but with this latest loss, there was an undercurrent of personal failure, voices of accusers implying that I should be condemned for my actions (or lack thereof). Somehow, it seems that I was entirely at fault that I could not cleanse the toxic environment in which people operated long before I entered, and will likely continue to operate in after my departure.

As a result of all of this, I have felt like I was madly treading the waters (filled with sharks) simply to keep going. I grew to not like myself very much — at least not the me that I had become, wallowing in self-pity, blaming God and others for my misery and condition, and standing mired in the quicksand of my insecurity to the point of being unable to take the steps necessary to move forward.

About two months ago, as my job search seemed to hit a dry spell, I knew that I had to do something — and as I have always done in the past — my first step was try to find my way back to Him. If nothing else — from returning to prayer, reading and reflecting on the Scripture, and joining an OBS — I have begun to take great comfort in the fact that no matter what, there can be redemption — for He loves me! Through research and reflection, I have learned more in the last two months about the precepts of the Church that I was baptized into, along with the depth of my faith and the power of the Divine Truth than I had in the last 55 years. For that, I cannot even begin to express my gratitude!

So to view my situation in the lens of conviction versus condemnation, I sought to understand the difference between condemnation and conviction, and note the following:

Condemnation is not constructive — it is accusatory and critical, and judgmental. It affirms guilt, and perpetuates feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. Conviction, on the other hand is constructive and specific in its revelation. Conviction points out sinful actions and attitudes and ways to mitigate negative results and consequences. We have the opportunity to reflect and to change harmful behaviors that impede our relationship with Him and with others.

It gives me pause to think that I have been acting in accordance with my free will, with complete disregard of His — but also hope that I can turn it around and use it to create a better me as I move into the next phase of life.

On p. 129 of A Confident Heart, Renee notes that when we feel like a failure, we should ask ourselves some questions:

Did I do something wrong or make a bad decision that led to this failure? YES — I relied on my own free will and ignored His plan and Will — seeking validation of my worth through position and others — I moved without doing due diligence, from a perfectly good job to one in a very volatile environment, simply to attain the next rung up a ladder.

Am I acting independently of God? YES

Is there anything I am not doing to fulfill a commitment I made? YES — this haunts me, as I vowed to do everything within my power to make things better for all around me. I am not sure however, that I could have done more — because as I noted, the toxicity was deep-rooted, the climate not conducive to positive change — and yet, I know from their own lips and actions, that I did make a difference in the lives of some people.

Did I pray about this or just do it because I wanted to? NO, I did not pray about the decision to make the move, and YES I simply did it because I wanted to — I wanted the title.

Was I responsible for the outcome? Given what I know now about the environment — I could make a case that I was not entirely responsible for the outcome, but did play a role in it.

Did I over-commit myself in agreeing to do this? Again, given what I know now — I would have to say YES, because at one point, I had an inflated sense of my capability. In hindsight, I am not sure that anyone could have done much more than I did or have enjoyed a different outcome.

Is God using this to refine my character? YES — I firmly believe that to be the case — it has served as a giant “wake-up call.”

So, in the lens of conviction rather than condemnation, I cite the following conclusions:

I have been seeking validation through all other means than His provisions and promises. I can thus make a conscious decision not to continue to pursue this course of action.

I have pursued positions with wrong motivation. I can thus seek always to fully understand my motivations and if they are not in alignment with His Will — change course accordingly.

While I have soothed some, I have hurt others through my words and actions. I can thus make a commitment to watch my tongue, obey His laws, and act in accordance with His way — treating and serving others as I wish to be treated and served.

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#MovingForward: From self-serving to serving God

There is a big difference between the expectations and prayers stemming from a temporal and self-serving view of God, and those coming from an evolving spiritual understanding of the power of His love and promises.

psalm 4

Today’s Verses

Many people say, “We can’t find goodness anywhere, the light of your face has left us, LORD! But you have filled my heart with more joy than when their wheat and wine are everywhere! “(Psalms 4:6-7, CEB)

Exploration/Affirmation

The verses above come from King David’s musings on seeking happiness in God’s favor rather than through amassing riches, attaining honors, or reveling in worldly pleasures. Here he notes that while others bemoan the lack of earthly “goodness” — his reward is greater and longer-lasting than the yield or reward of those who are self-serving  rather than leading a life of service to God.

In 1632, Alexander Gross substantiated this, when he noted, “Where Christ reveals himself there is satisfaction in the slenderest portion, and without Christ there is emptiness in the greatest fullness.”

And in Romans 8:6, there is a strong  comparison and contrast of the value and promise of temporal vs. permanent happiness — “The attitude that comes from selfishness leads to death, but the attitude that comes from the Spirit leads to life and peace (CEB).”

I have a strong desire to move away from what isn’t working (temporal focus) to the promise of what will work (spiritual understanding) — from reliance on my own insight to reliance on His Wisdom, from chasing my own schemes and plans to following His plan and implementing His purpose and ways. This means making a conscious effort to move from serving myself to serving Him.

Inspiration

Thus, on this journey of faith, I seek to keep developing, and to fully embrace a practical understanding of the magnitude of His power and promise. The following are some key truths (reminders) to assist me in moving from a self-centered existence to a God-centered life:

Beginning with His promise of Hope for my future:

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me. (Jeremiah 29:11-13, CEB)

From my way/will to His way/Will:

There is a path that may seem straight to someone, but in the end it is a path to death. (Proverbs 14:12, CEB)

SO

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEB)

From selfish living to godly living:

Don’t love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them. (1 John 2:15, CEB)

 [You] shouldn’t trust in what has no worth, for [your] reward will be worthless. (Job 15:13, CEB)

From doubt and insecurity to confidence in God:

When I am feeling weak or inadequate:  He said to me, “My grace is enough for you, because power is made perfect in weakness.” So I’ll gladly spend my time bragging about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power can rest on me. (2 Corinthians 12:9, CEB)

When I am consumed by worry about day-to-day living:  “Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25, 32-33; CEB)

Strength and fortitude to weather the storms:

He is a refuge and a force — The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. (Psalms 9:9, CEB)

If I am afraid and depleted, my strength derives from His — Don’t fear, because I am with you; don’t be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will surely help you; I will hold you with my righteous strong hand. (Isaiah 41:10, CEB)

From despair to hope:

But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5, CEB)

From inward focus to outward focus:

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. (Philippians 2:3-4, CEB)

 From pride to humility:

And everyone, clothe yourselves with humility toward each other. God stands against the proud, but he gives favor to the humble. (Peter 5:5b,c; CEB)

From seeking validation through my own accomplishments to seeking validation through what  He can accomplish through me:

We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28, CEB)

 Romans 8-28

Asking Him for Help: #MovingForward

Today’s Verses

My whole body is completely terrified! But you, LORD! How long will this last? Come back to me, LORD! Deliver me! Save me for the sake of your faithful love! (Psalms 6:3-4, CEB)

Reflection

Being in the midst of  a lengthy period of adversity and trials, this Psalm speaks to my heart and describes some of my feelings. In some of my darkest days, the doubts become so overwhelming that I lose sight of the ways and means to endure and understand why things happen. Reviewing and reflecting on it, helps me refocus my thoughts away from myself and toward the fulfillment of the plan that He has for me, reminding me that things are occurring for very specific reasons, and ultimately that He is there to help me through it.

The verses are part of one of David’s lamentations. Written with the feeling of one who has been humbled and almost broken by an extended time of great troubles — questioning, perhaps whether or not the trials are part of a punishment and when it all may end.  My whole body is completely terrified! But you, LORD! How long will this last?

Moving to a plea for help — Come back to me, LORD! Deliver me! Save me for the sake of your faithful love!

Describing the feelings, emotions, and tolls of the worry prior to seeking intervention:  I’m worn out from groaning. Every night, I drench my bed with tears; I soak my couch all the way through. My vision fails because of my grief; it’s weak because of all my distress.  (Psalms 6: 6-7, CEB)

and exhibiting an understanding of the depth of His mercy: Get away from me, all you evildoers, because the LORD has heard me crying! The LORD has listened to my request. The LORD accepts my prayer. All my enemies will be ashamed and completely terrified; they will be defeated and ashamed instantly. (Psalms 6:8-10, CEB)

Inspiration

In reality, any pleas for Him to come back to me are ill-placed — for He has never left! Yet, it is often difficult for me to remember that He will not lead me to something without reason, nor will He abandon me in its midst —  and ultimately He will lead me through it if I maintain patience, and trust in his faithful love.

Particular verses that come to mind to buoy my trust and patience, include:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6, CEB)

Whenever you cry out to me, I’ll answer. I’ll be with you in troubling times. I’ll save you and glorify you. (Psalms 91:15)

Prayer

LORD, Your love is unfailing! You accept my prayers — always hearing and answering me when I cry out to You. You will always save me, and glorify me. So when I begin to become mired in doubt by relying on my own limited insight into my situation, let me turn my thoughts away from myself and unproductive emotion, and toward absolute trust in You.  In Jesus’ name, I pray, AMEN 

Turning Points: #MovingForward

Week 3 — it’s been tough — but I truly believe that my decision to join the Proverbs31 OBS for #AConfidentHeart  represents a BIG turning point for me.

There is, and has always been One that knew me:

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.  (Psalms 139:13-16, NRSV)

He has been waiting patiently for me to have that “V-8” headslap, or “Aha” moment, that led me directly to Him.

Given the events of my most recent past, that moment has finally arrived — and I am more than ready and motivated to #MoveForward.

One of the suggested topics for this week’s Blog Hop is sharing practical ways that I have begun the process of turning away from the shadows of my doubts and toward the light. While this takes me well beyond my comfort zone — forcing me to start to share my story and expose imperfections, ripping part of my mask away, I chose this topic.

I was baptized Catholic and attended parochial school to high school, I attended Mass faithfully, received all of the Sacraments. I have always had faith, and a little ray of hope, no matter what has occurred in my life.  Life events have been devastating at times — and when things occur, I always return to the Church for comfort, healing, and insight — yet, I have never been fully satisfied and fall away again and again, and bad things keep happening for no apparent reason.  I have blamed Him, because I have never had a strong, trusting relationship with Him, nor the full understanding of His promises and sacrifices on my behalf. I really want to build that relationship. I know that He’s not going to just wave a magic wand and make everything better — I need to work with Him so that he can work through me.

In working through Chapter 4, I have been forced to start examining how the combination of the absence of a full understanding of the depth and breadth of His love and the events of my past have influenced the course and path of my life to this point. In Chapter 5 of #AConfidentHeart, the focus is on using what I have learned to keep #MovingForward from the past.

I have been as Renee notes on p. 71, “Running from my past and my pain.” I REALLY didn’t want to revisit any of the past — I would have preferred that Renee had provided some sure-fire means to maintain the masquerade and to allow me to just keep #MovingForward.  She did however, provide the magic bullet for “looking back to move forward.” The suggestions, while painful to tackle, will keep me from “running from the healing work God wants to do in my heart (p. 71)” — and repeating the behavior and mistakes of the past.

I have begun the process of moving from “broken to beautiful (p. 79),” and beyond the stigma of “stained and ruined,” as Melissa noted.

I am taking steps to turn away from doubt and toward truth:

The first step I took was prior to joining the OBS and turning toward Scripture — beginning with reviewing passages that offered guidance on coping with adversity, dealing with loss, and working through various manifestations of my doubt. I also started looking at other peoples daily devotionals for insight on how to interpret the Word and use it to get through my most recent trials. I began to pray daily to Him, to the Blessed Virgin, and to various patron Saints.

This first step led me to signing up for the OBS.

While not necessarily step 3 (for there have been other baby steps) the next major step has been working through Chapters 4 and 5, cognizant of the messages contained in Chapters 1-3. As a result, with His guidance, I have begun to prepare a timeline of my life with key events, including painful memories, and resultant emotions. I then asked the Holy Spirit to show me the consequences. Everything is coming in bits and pieces, and it is going to take some time to fully process and work through what I am uncovering.

For example, understanding the full impact of the hurt that my mother inflicted on me at a very young age when her words or actions made me feel that she believed she had produced a poor, imperfect creature doomed to failure. This was particularly hard to process in a positive way at that time, because I knew, and have always known that she cherished the gift of both my brother and me to the day that she died. She waited a long time for us, and she almost lost me and her life in the process of bringing me into the world.

I am taking steps to turn away from self and toward God:

I still pray daily, but with the guidance of the Spirit, the tenor of my prayers have changed. I still review the Scriptures, but with a different level of insight.

Unfortunately, my inability to understand her motivations or emotions at the time, coupled with the cruelty of other children who gave me a nickname that stuck with me all the way to high school, caused some very regrettable decisions on my part and resulted in behavior that I am not proud of as well as lead to some very dark moments in my life. I constantly wear a mask — I don’t want anyone to see my vulnerability — I am driven always to excel in order to prove myself in every aspect of my life. I am also a survivor of a rape, and have used alcohol trying to escape pain and fear. I have suffered from bulimia, depression, anxiety, and tremendous fear and insecurity.

As I have started to work things through with Him, I believe that the reality is, that my mother may have been processing some of her childhood pain through her words and deeds. Like me, she struggled most of her life with a weight problem — so when it became evident that I was going to struggle with the same, she must have felt responsible somehow — guilty, and desperately wanting to spare me from hurt, and hoping that she could make my life different than hers.

I will keep turning from the darkness and toward the light:

One by one, with his guidance, I will tackle each of the things that I uncover.

For example, I have forgiven my mother — and have a better understanding of her motivation, which has caused a lingering regret about what our relationship could have been had we addressed some of this while she was alive. (I will work this through with Him as well)

I was particularly struck by Melissa’s story and the promises for the “stained and ruined,” particularly,

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.”     Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)

As a result, I will work to fully appreciate that through Him, I can finally overcome both the trauma of rape and the feelings and responses it triggered.

Simultaneously, I will be seeking understanding of the reasons for my recent losses — my job, my beloved canine companion; and our family trials — my other half’s significant health issues. All the while reminded, that the plan is in motion, and through increased wisdom, I will be better equipped to follow it:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12 Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, (Jeremiah 29:11-13, NRSV)

I will continue to turn away from the negative and toward the positive — praying — increasing the power of my prayer with the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and continuing to reflect on His promises in order to do my part in fulfilling the plans that he has for me.