“Dangit!” is our son’s new favorite word, because we are obviously parents of the year, and we are just thrilled when he shouts this in the middle of Target, church, or the street. His inflections in this one word shout, are perfection; I mean, for real, how does he catch all of that?
Over the years, I’ve learned the power of one word to sharpen my mind, focus my thoughts, change my habits, and reorder my inner world. During the beginning of my recovery journey from an eating disorder, drugs and alcohol, I worked hard to create new roadmaps in my brain, so that I could create healthy coping mechanisms to replace self-loathing and self-harm. Addiction had worn deep grooves into my brain patterns, and every time I faced obstacles, or lies about who I was, or pain from my past, I felt unable to unpack my struggles, unable to share honestly with myself, with God and with others.
I was in need of exit ramps, to help me get off that well-worn highway of thought patterns that led to destructive behavior – something simple that I could return to again, and again, so that recovery was possible. At the time, I saw everything through the lens of what I had done, and what had been done to me, but I so deeply craved freedom from shame, fear, control and addiction. A word helped me return to what is true. One of my first words, was love, and I spent a solid year with that one, because hate threatened a hostile takeover – hatred for myself, towards those who had hurt me, towards God for the dreams that felt dead to me. Directing my mind to the word love began to rescue and transform me, especially as my mind traveled down that familiar highway: You’re not good enough. You’ll never be enough, even though sometimes you’re too much. You’re ugly, and awful, and nobody likes you, not for real. You are your mistakes and failures; there’s no redemption or hope for you. If you show people who you really are, and how much you struggle, they will leave you. Honesty will cost you connection, so don’t do it.
Then, my body would respond to those thoughts. The familiar tightness of the chest, followed by an overwhelming sense of failure, then an inner surrender to helplessness and hopelessness, accompanied by an urgent need for relief. And in the final stage, panic would fill my body and mind, which almost always led me to act. Saying, or thinking, the word LOVE disrupted that terrible tension. Wait, I’d think, I am lovable. People like me. I like me. I am enough. I have been created with a purpose. I am God’s masterpiece. I am not the sum of my mistakes. Failure is not my future. Sharing helps me with my struggles, and deepens my connections. I am worthy of love, because I am made in the image of God, and I am not alone. We all have issues, problems and pain – that is the truth of the human story. I can reach out, and I am going to be okay.
One word disrupted my thoughts, created an exit ramp off the highway, and helped me build a new road internally to rest, and over time, I built new grooves of truth in my brain, new patterns pioneered until they were my consistent, daily habits, part of my way of operating in the world.
Sometimes, mercy is my word, especially when I am being a judgmental jerk, and need my eyes opened to others, to see people, to understand how context impacts character. Truth is another word, similar to love, that reminds me to get off the train of lies railroading my present and my purpose.
In this season, surrender is my word. I am not a dreamer; it’s not the primary way God speaks to me. But a few weeks ago, I woke up at 4:45am (bless), having had a dream of Cody and I in a boat, in the middle of a body of water, and so clearly felt I heard, “You’re between two shores, and I have already promised you the other side.”
Church has been part of my weekly practice for almost twenty years, which means I have heard the story of Jesus sleeping in the boat about 218 times, and what sucks about being in church, is that Bible stories lose their power to affect you. But when we’re in the messy middle of life, we need to be moved by truth, regardless of how many times we’ve already heard it.
One of the nuggets of wisdom I gathered from the dream, is that I can’t get out of the boat. If I do, what the heck will we do? Have an eternal swim? Get eaten by sharks as we try to retreat? Get lost trying to rush the process of getting to the other side? This is not Moana, for goodness sake.
Just stay in the boat, and remember.
Remember the promise that come hell or high water, you’ll get to the other side. So, when the high water washes over me, when I feel all alone, when I see no tangible evidence of a promise fulfilled, and then my chest tightens, I steel myself against the onslaught of anxiety, and whisper, “Surrender.”
The water will not kill us. We are not alone. It doesn’t matter what we see; it matters what God said. We will get to the other side. I yield my expectations, to be filled with hope again. I yield my discomfort, to render obedience. Surrender.
Friend, I don’t know what you’re facing, but I pray God would give you a word in due season, that will help you return to rest, to truth, to life, as you create exit ramps and roads that will reorder your life for the better, for good. And if you’re in the messy middle like me, you’re not alone, you’re going to be okay, and it’s going to be worth it. I don’t know how; it’s a mystery the way the Lord works out the worst of things for our good, but He does, over and over again. You are destined to receive all that awaits you on the next shore. Hold on to hope, as you resist the rush and the retreat. Surrender. Trust. Live. Love. Try. Give. Believe.
[Urged on] by faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed and went forth to a place which he was destined to receive as an inheritance; and he went, although he did not know or trouble his mind about where he was to go. Hebrews 11:8 Amplified Version