When my outside world finished falling apart, God allowed my inside world to fall apart. Not as a punishment, but for freedom. The walls I didn’t even know I had needed to be torn down in order to let myself be loved.
Who would you be if you had never been told who you should be?
This is one of many questions posed in the beginning of a bible study I am doing this summer based on the book of Ephesians. One reason I love studying scripture is that it forces me to slow down. My mind tends to move and process way too quickly, especially when I read. A good bible study can dive deeply into the meaning or intention of just a few words. The main theme of the lesson I just covered is a powerful word in my life: CHOSEN.
The word CHOSEN is one I have been chewing on for many years in my heart and in my healing. Three years ago, I bought myself one of those trendy “My Intent” bracelets that features a metal-stamped word of your choice on a washer. My word was BELOVED. This is the word that, both then and now, I want to imprint deeply in my soul. I am the BELOVED. And if so, I am definitely chosen.
In the last few years, I have been at the brink of really embracing this. My head is stuffed full of every intellectual reason and scriptural passage for why I am God’s beloved daughter. I have read book after book and heard talks and GIVEN talks on how much God loves each one of us, no matter what.
The Lord has blessed me with an incredibly loving husband who adores me. Who showers me with affection and affirms daily how beautiful he thinks I am, inside and out. He tells me several times a week that he is the luckiest man in the world. This should be enough for me to accept deep in my soul that I am truly loved.
John Paul Raphael is at work here too. When we were thinking about having to plan a funeral for our baby, before he was even born, I wanted Ralph and I to try and speak. After all, very few people in the church would ever have even met John Paul Raphael. I wanted us to try and capture something of the grace of God and talk about our love for our sweet baby and the gift of his life. The problem was, at 11 pm the night before the funeral, I still had written nothing and had no clear thoughts. I was 5 days post C-section with hormones and unspeakable grief surging through me. Speaking now seemed impossible. Ralph kept saying we didn’t have to do it. Everyone would understand if it was too hard. It wasn’t just that the programs were printed; I felt this deep and profound conviction to share. I just didn’t know what to say. Ralph and I went to our regular adoration hour in the chapel at St. Theresa on Tuesday night from 11 pm to midnight, 4 days after John Paul died. I took my laptop and sat in front of the Lord and just asked the Holy Spirit to come and give me His words. What can I possibly say about this powerfully short perfect little life? What purpose am I meant to impart? You can read the full text here, but the phrase came that inspired this blog and is changing my life. It is my new battle cry: Let yourself be loved.
There are many reasons why this phrase is deep and profound for me. There are also many different ways to read it and interpret it. However, I have felt so strongly convicted in these 28 weeks since John Paul died that in some way, those words were spoken from the heart of Heaven to my heart. Whispered from my baby into my deepest soul. Mommy, please let yourself be loved. From the heart of Jesus and his own mother. Betsy, my daughter, let yourself be loved. THIS is what I have wanted for you from the beginning of time. The freedom and joy and peace of eternity can be lived RIGHT NOW on Earth if you will just let me love you. And believe you are loved. And that you are chosen. And let these words change everything about how you think and feel and react and love and serve your family and your community. Let these words help you change the world one heart at a time.
Wow. These truths should enflame and empower my heart and fill it with peace and joy! Why do I still struggle? What is wrong with me? Why is that version of me, the beloved chosen girl, why is it so challenging to accept her? Why can’t I just claim this identity? Why is it so hard?????
Because of the BIG LIE.
I didn’t always know about the big lie. Lisa Brenninkmeyer, author of the bible study Fearless and Free, talks about a “counterfeit identity”, one always imposed by the enemy of our souls in such an insidious, believable way that we maybe don’t even know it has happened (1). It has taken all this work in my heart, all this rumbling --as author Brene Brown would put it (2) -- to figure out why I think and act and react and feel many of the things I do. I had to reckon with myself and my own emotion and be honest about the ways I was kind of losing it. It was really a gift from God. When my outside world finished falling apart, God allowed my inside world to fall apart. Not as a punishment, but for freedom. The walls I didn’t even know I had needed to be torn down in order to let myself be loved.
My big lie started young. You are too much trouble. I am not sure I can pinpoint the root cause of this lie, other than that as far as I can remember, I have felt like “too much”. Too emotional. (“Stop crying!”) Too sensitive. (“You’re being dramatic.”) Too needy. (“I don’t have time for this.”)
These early messages, whether explicitly stated or inferred by me based on the human failings of those around me, led to a core belief of unworthiness. The big lie told me that I am hard to love. With this false truth as my guide, I set out to work really hard to make people love me and to hide my failings and defects with perfectionism. This strategy was meant for everyone – family, friends, love interests, and strangers on the journey.
My parents’ divorce when I was twelve and the subsequent decade were incredibly traumatic for me and my heart. At a time when I was beginning to search for my own identity, another part of the big lie took root: You are not wanted. I spent these formative teenage years living in a separate state from my father and brother. It was easy to believe they did not want or need me. I lived with my mother and a manipulative and emotionally abusive step-parent who, over time, was less and less subtle at delivering her message, one that was already familiar to me: You are too much trouble. We wish you were not here. For several reasons, neither of my parents were emotionally available to help me during this time. Without a voice of unconditional love speaking truth to me in a voice louder than the accusations, the lies took off like a rampant vine sending creeper roots into every part of me.
These lies had a profound impact on how I lived my life for a very long time. Afraid of being further abandoned and rejected, I worked hard at being a really good girl and making people happy. Afraid of being “found out” (remember, I’m too much trouble, hard to love, not really worth fighting for – can’t have anyone finding this out!!) I learned to hide my fears and fell prey to perfectionism, thereby crafting another lie: You can only rely on yourself because everyone else will let you down. I was often overly controlling as I tried to build a safe place for myself and then my family. A fortress of good works, manners, the right choices, the right faith, and the right marriage. I had no margin for error. No room to make mistakes and no tolerance for criticism. I held myself to an impossibly high standard in order to be good enough and this expectation flowed naturally to my first husband and my children.
Shockingly, this all worked for a really long time. I began to trust that the dark parts of my past were long gone. I was happily married and adored by my husband. We had 5 beautiful children and the family life I had always dreamed of. I had planted the garden of our beautiful life over all those lies so convincingly that it was like they never existed. My faith and spiritual life were real and sincere and I had indeed been praying for healing for many years. I believed that healing had been granted and that all was well with my soul.
The façade came crumbling down in 2010. My first husband had spent the last 9 months having some kind of mid-life crisis that I could not understand. For 15 years he seemed to adore me and our life together but now claimed to want something, and apparently someone, else entirely. I was drowning in anxiety. I felt the edges of my heart and soul unravelling. The fortress was beginning to crack.
Part of the slippery slope of living the big lie, even one you think you have covered up, is that once it takes root in your heart, all the hurts of life, big and small, are filtered through the big lie and reinforce it over and over. I became hyper-sensitive to anyone else’s bad day or an insensitive comment or a funny look, certain that I deserved this inconsideration because of, well, just who I was. I rejected my very self, day in and day out. When my husband of 15 years began to reject me as well, I had no ability to see this as HIS problem, HIS crazy. I blamed myself and thought it was all my fault – because after all, that is what my husband was telling me and what the big lie had convinced me of long ago. Henri Nouwen writes about this phenomenon in his book Life of the Beloved. He calls it living under the curse. He writes on page 97: “When we have cursed ourselves or allowed others to curse us, it is very tempting to explain all the brokenness we experience as an expression or confirmation of this curse.”(3) The facts of my childhood and now this explosion in my first marriage proved every lie that lived in my heart.
The lies reached a dramatic climax one night in September of that year. I had confronted my husband the month before with proof of his adultery. He was breaking down emotionally and said he needed time and space away from me and the other woman to figure out what he really wanted. He left to spend 2 weeks hiking alone in New Hampshire. He was very loving and sorrowful by text during his absence and I couldn’t wait for his return, hopeful that he was prepared to recommit to our family and repair the damage he had done. We indeed had a joyful reunion. He was devastated by how much he had hurt me and wanted to take a trip to Jamaica, just the two of us, to reconnect and begin this long road of healing together. We spent a fortune booking flights and a resort to leave in just a few days and flew his mom into town for the week to watch the children. We even had to pay for a rush-passport as mine had recently expired. The night before the trip, we were up late in our bedroom packing. He had been living in the basement for months and his presence in our room still felt tender and tentative – I was skittish and scared, nervous that if I made one wrong move or said one wrong thing, this happy ending might burst. And sure enough, soon I could tell something wasn’t right. He was acting uncomfortable – pacing and then sitting down and not packing anymore. Suddenly the air in the room felt painfully charged. He got up and he quickly finished packing and zipped his suitcase. He stood on his side of the bed holding his luggage. There were not even tears in his eyes as he delivered his final words and then walked out of the house: “I am sorry. I know I have to choose. And I don’t choose you.”
I. Don’t. Choose. You.
Have you ever had a wound that felt like it was perfectly crafted with precision to deliver the greatest possible pain? Here it was. I had been discovered. My attempts to hide my ugliness from my husband had failed and this man had finally seen me clearly. I was thirty-eight years old and yet in that moment I was every age. I was every forgotten, unloved, rejected, scared, unworthy, broken, accused, abandoned moment of my whole life. I was every lie. I was not wanted. I was too much trouble. I was too hard to love. I was not worth fighting for. Unequivocally not chosen. I was brutally too much and not enough at the same time. I had failed to protect myself and failed to protect my children. And it was all my fault. I shrank smaller and smaller from that terrorized wife to a lost and lonely teenager to one small little girl, curled up with her Winnie the Pooh and wondering why no one will love her. I wanted to die.
I am so thankful that is not the end of my story. I have made millions of mistakes in my life, but I have one thing that makes all the difference -- a faithful and glorious God. Despite much family brokenness, as a child I was offered the gift of faith and I took it. God allowed me to believe in Him enough to turn to him and cling to him in the darkness, even at a very young age. I have not loved the Lord perfectly over the years by any means – He got the same controlling, perfectionist, bound and armored-up and conditional love that everyone else got. But He is merciful and kind and ever-patient. He is close to the broken-hearted and he wept with me as my first husband walked out the door. He began a good work of redemption in me that day that is still underway.
When all my own efforts to keep my life and my family together failed, shame slithered out into the open. It had always been there, but now I had eyes to see it and could feel its burning pain. The tombs where I had buried the lies cracked open and the demons I had tried to bury began to hiss again loudly and fight boldly for their place in my life. I felt exposed. Found out. Naked in my unworthiness. My panic and fear were primal. I needed help.
The process of getting help has been spiritual, medical, psychological and physical. It has been social and reflective and personal and communal. God’s good work in my heart and soul has taken many different forms, but it IS working. As the lies are losing their power and the voices of accusation are being silenced in my soul, the truth is being uncovered -- the truth that has ALWAYS been there, planted by the God of the universe in the moment I was created in love and for love. I am chosen. I am beloved. I belong to Him. I do not say these things lightly or with a Sunday-school-girl faith. I say them with the faith of a warrior who has FOUGHT for these truths most of every day for the last 8 years and has the scars to prove it. I have waged battle with the enemy of my soul to claim them for myself and renounce the big lie. I will head deep into some of these areas in coming blog posts to share a bit more about the process and how I have made my way through. It has not been pretty or easy. Just worth it.
If you find you are not living with peace or joy or contentment on a regular basis, you may also have a big lie that has shaped and formed you in a way you don’t even understand. Maybe you too have some counterfeit identity that keeps you from living in total freedom. We only get this one life, this one chance to live a full, whole-hearted journey. Don’t settle for anything less than fighting for the truth. Don’t wait. You deserve to be free from fear, lies, and shame. Let the One who is the deepest lover of your soul be the only one to tell you who you should be.
You are chosen. You are the beloved.
Let yourself be loved.
1 Brenninkmeyer, Lisa. Fearless and Free: Experiencing Healing and Wholeness in Christ. Walking with Purpose. 2017. Print.
2 Brown, Brene. Rising Strong. Spiegel and Grau, 2015. Print.
3 Nouwen, Henri. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. Crossroad, 1992.