Why I Love the Enneagram

Gina Butz growth, personal 4 Comments

Why I love the Enneagram

photo by Michael D. Beckwith

I have a love/hate relationship with personality assessments. I enjoy learning more about myself, but most assessments leave me thinking, “You don’t know me at all.” And then I found the Enneagram.

About 8 years ago, when I was coaching a leadership program for our ministry, the other coaches began pulling out their Enneagram books. I was intrigued. I skimmed one of the books, saw myself in half of the 9 numbers, and came to the quick conclusion that the Enneagram is a crock.

But those other coaches were wise people, so I persisted. I narrowed myself down to 1, 3, or 4. My friend, Iris, who is an Enneagram 3, suggested that I was also a 3. Secretly, I wanted to be anything other than a 3.

So I decided that I was a 1. I texted Iris this news, and she texted back, “if you say so.” Apparently she was unconvinced.

A few weeks and several conversations with close friends later, I came to the conclusion that I am, in fact, an Enneagram 3. This was devastating to me. I called Iris, in tears, “Iris, I’m a 3!”

She said, “Oh honey, I know . . . when I realized I was a 3, I was up all night. And in the morning, I thought, ‘if I’m a 3, it’s cause God made me a 3, and that’s a good thing!'”

“Ok,” I choked.

Now, I can guess what you’re thinking. What’s wrong with being a 3? And where’s all this supposed love for the Enneagram?

Well, since that conversation, I have not only embraced my 3ness, but the Enneagram itself. So what do I love about it?

  1. The Enneagram doesn’t just tell you what you do; it tells you why you do it. And if we want to grow or change at all, we have to know the motivation behind our behavior.
  2. The Enneagram doesn’t just tell you where you are; it tells you where you could be. This isn’t a static assessment. Each of the 9 numbers has levels of maturity, so although you’ll never be a different number, you have a vision for growth within your type.
  3. The Enneagram is nuanced. While there are 9 types on the Enneagram, there are subtypes and wings and integration and disintegration on top of the levels of maturity that all reveal our uniqueness. So you and I might both be 3s, but we can still be our own people. It captures our complexity.
  4. The Enneagram helps us see our depravity. Yeah, I know that doesn’t sound like much fun, but it’s necessary. Because if I can’t see how I’m trying to save myself and bring it to God, then I miss redemption. You know why I didn’t want to be a 3? Because I recognized the depravity of a 3, and I didn’t want to own it (guess what-every number has depravity. We can’t escape it).
  5. The Enneagram shows me how to love the people around me. It’s revolutionized our marriage by helping us both see the deeper motivations behind our behavior. Recognizing our kids’ numbers helps me understand what drives them and how to speak into it. Knowing my friends and co-workers on this level helps me see life from their perspective and speak their language.
  6. The Enneagram can lead us back to God. Each number has a root fear that drives it. I have learned that the more I let God speak to my root fear as a 3, the more rested and free I am to live my best self. When I see myself acting out very typical 3 behaviors, it gives pause to say, “What am I trying to get from others that I should be looking to God for instead?” It opens my eyes to my self-saving strategies.

They say that our Enneagram type is the lens through which we see the world. Our lens will never change, but the more we understand our own lens, the more we will recognize how we are trying to do life on our own, and how God is calling us to live more freely and expansively. And, we can develop compassion and grace for others who see the world through a different lens.

So that’s why I love the Enneagram. If you’re interested in learning more about it, I encourage you to check out The Road Back to You, by Cron and Stabile, or The Wisdom of the Enneagram, by Riso and Hudson. Or check out The Enneagram Institute.

Or just talk to me. Give me a little time, and I’ll have you loving the Enneagram too.

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On Waiting Well

Gina Butz dependence on God, faith, hope, prayer 0 Comments

waiting on God

photo by Ales Krivec

I might be the most impatient person in the world. I hate waiting for anything. This video’s going to take a minute to load? Not worth it. I have to wait how long for this to cook? Not if I turn the temperature higher.

Don’t even get me started on the big stuff.

Like waiting to see my book published. It seemed like the process was going quickly, like, “other authors might hate me if it’s this easy” quickly. And then it wasn’t. The process is still moving, but oh so slowly. I’m still waiting to see what God will do.

Or this decision we have to make. Our family has prayed about it for months. It’s door 1 or 2. That seems simple. Waiting for an answer is agonizing. We want to know now.

Unfortunately, God seems uninterested in our timelines. He doesn’t usually do fast, especially when it comes to spiritual growth, character change, answering the big prayers, or making the dreams happen.

But Psalm 130:6 says, “I will wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning.”

A night of watching and waiting sounds like drudgery. Unproductive. Frustrating. It flies in the face of my impatience.

Waiting like this means we are helpless. We can’t make that sun come up one minute faster.

It begs humility from us. It requires us to relinquish control. It asks us to trust. It asks us to hope.

I’ve heard the word “wait” in scripture is often interchangeable with “hope.” This verse is asking us to put all our chips on God, all our hope in His goodness.

But hope is scary. Hope opens up our hearts to disappointment.

Yet this is the stance I want to take towards God. I want to be someone who waits well. Twitter I want to be a woman who hopes.

When I read this verse, I think of the watchtowers on the Great Wall of China. I imagine those watchmen putting all their hope in the dawn. Sunrise meant relief – the end of their watch. It meant rest, and rescue. It was a sure bet, that sun coming up. It was hope well placed.

Waiting keeps us dependent on God.Twitter

These months of waiting have tethered us to God. It has been a long night, but it has been a night spent watching and hoping, expecting that He will answer. The night is when we are tempted to doubt, to become anxious, to wonder if He really is paying attention, if He cares. We’re tempted to take matters into our own hands (as if we can rush the morning).

But the night is when our souls learn to trust.

Because morning is coming. Whether it’s the answer to prayer, or the heart change, or the character growth, or the dream fulfilled, He will come. As surely as the sun rises, He comes. 

No, not always the way we want. Often not the way we want. But the way we need, yes. He is worthy of our hope.

And, I’m learning, God seems more concerned with the process than the product. He’s more intent on our dependence than our destination. The night is not wasted. That’s where He causes hope to grow and trust to take root, where He wants to quiet our souls and fix our eyes on Him.

So let’s be people who wait well. The sun will come.

waiting on God

Me practicing watchtower waiting on the Great Wall

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When You’re Angry with God

Gina Butz faith, parenting, trials 3 Comments

What do you do when you're angry with God?

photo by Ben White

“Mom, what do you do when you’re angry at God?”

This was the question I had to field one night before bed (why can’t they ask these in the morning, when I’m fresh? Haven’t they learned by now that mama’s useless at night?)

The question came after a time of tears over unanswered prayer. He’d been exploring the idea that God cares about even the small details of life. He’d been praying about each of them, trusting that even though they seemed “silly,” they mattered to God because they mattered to him.

Until that one. That one thing that was more important than anything else. In that, he got the shaft. That question was accompanied by so many others, “Why is the answer no? Why this time? Why, when He knows how important it is to me? He could have said no to those other things and I wouldn’t care. Why this?”

And my answer to all those was, “I don’t know.”

But, “What do you do when you’re angry with God?” That one I’ve learned a little about.

When I was his age, I didn’t think it was ok to be angry with God (but I was). God is infallible, never makes mistakes, everything’s got a purpose, right? So we should thank Him and trust what we do not see. All true.

All hard to swallow when life isn’t what you thought it would be.

So I told my son that I tell God about my anger. I’ve told God at times that I don’t like Him, that I hated Him even. I have accused Him of abandoning me. I have refused to talk to Him.

He can take it. Like someone beating their fists against another’s chest, He patiently holds us and won’t let go while we vent. All our anger, our doubts, our questions – God can withstand them. And when I have poured it all out, then I can just collapse in His arms and rest.

After all, He knows them anyway. It’s not like we can pretend with Him. What is the alternative? As our son jokingly put it, “I could stuff all my negative feelings deep down inside into a dark place where I’ll never see them again?” Ha. Right. Except he will see them again. They must come out.

It was heart wrenching to witness this spiritual struggle. On the one hand, it was good for him to learn that God is not a cosmic Santa Claus, a genie in a bottle, a butler to ring for more towels. I am thankful that he was learning to pray, learning to make this faith his own.

On the other, it is hard and terrifying to see people teeter on the edge of doubt and frustration with God. I wanted to grasp our son by the shoulders and out of desperation cry, “No, really, He’s pretty great once you get to know Him!” But it was a necessary battle.

God can handle our anger. Rather than live a false faith, pretending we’re ok, trying to ignore our doubts and questions, we can bring them to His feet and know that He will listen, for as long as it takes. And when we’re done, we collapse in His arms and let Him be all that we need.

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The Sanctifying Work of Motherhood

Gina Butz faith, growth, parenting 0 Comments

The sanctifying work of motherhood

photo by Josh Willink

Motherhood has been one of the greatest instruments that God has used to sanctify me.

It makes me vulnerable and helpless. It terrifies me at times. It stretches my heart and mind. It flattens me with the gravity of the responsibility to shape a soul.

My children delight me. They teach me. They make me laugh and cry. They infuriate me.

My children deepen my faith.

Discovering I was pregnant just months before moving overseas was not my plan. But through that God taught me that His assignments for my life are good, His timing is perfect, He knows what He’s doing with me.

Those first months of motherhood, my eyes were opened to how intertwined my value was with what I do and how well I do it. Through the years, God has been using motherhood to slowly pried my fingers from that lie.

In the dark hours of the night, when no one (including my deep sleeping husband) knew that I was awake with our son, God knew. He drew my heart into knowing His character, seeing Him see me.

Trying to fill the endless hours of toddlerhood with meaning, while so much of it was mundane, slowed me down. I found God’s delight in the over and over. He taught me that faithfulness in the small moments is of great value in His eyes.

Homeschooling undid me. It brought me to my knees, to absolute helplessness before Him. It daily asked of me more than I had, while reminding me that He is more than enough for all I lack. It taught me that I am dependent on the manna of His strength and wisdom every day.

Walking our kids through the heartache of transition wrecked me. How do you help someone navigate a heart flooded with emotion when you’re drowning too? God was the anchor I needed to be a life preserver for our kids. For all that was asked of me, He poured in more.

And in the hairy moments when our kids have resisted my mothering, I have learned about the love of God. When I sting with anger and hurt, He reminds me over and over again to stay the course; this is how He loves us. He has taught me to take deep breaths and keep on loving.

When I see my sin and shortcomings mirrored back to me in their behavior, I am humbled. God has used it to keep me honest, telling me again and again that what I need to give them is not a perfect mother, but a confessional one who owns her mess and points them to the One who has redeemed it all.

As they step closer and closer to that door to adulthood and further from my grasp, motherhood has taught me to pray desperate prayers. It has pushed me to trust that God loves them more than I do, and He goes with them when I cannot.

God has used motherhood to reveal my weaknesses, my idols, my self-saving ways. And He has used it to redeem me, to pull me close to Him, to teach me dependence, to give me a greater picture of His love. It has been a holy pathway to Him.

 

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When Comparison Tells Us Who We Are

Gina Butz identity, loved 4 Comments

What to do when you're tempted to compare yourself to others

photo by Aaron Burden

So there I was, scrolling through twitter like I do sometimes, when I noticed a comment by a well-known author I follow.

It was just a random comment, but it had 17 replies. Never have I ever had 17 replies to a comment I made on twitter. It’s a red letter day when I get one comment. The thought that jumped to mind was,

“I wish I was (name of well-known author, whose identity is irrelevant).”

And the next thought that jumped into my head was, “How dare you?”

Not, “How dare you presume you could ever achieve that level of notoriety.”

No, it was, “How dare you think that you should be anyone other than who you are.

It’s so easy to do, isn’t it? I wish I were like her. I wish that was my story. If only I had that job. If only I had that body. I wish I was that kind of mom. I wish we had that kind of money. I want his career trajectory, her opportunities, that life.

In that moment, God convicted me. Because to compare myself to another and think that maybe I would be better off, I would be more loved, I would be more significant, if I were them, is an affront against my Creator.

Who we are, where we are, what we’re doing, what we are able to do–it’s God’s poetry. He wrote us this way. We are designed by the ultimate designer. He delights in how He has made us. He loves what He has created. He wouldn’t have us any other way.

So when you are tempted to look sideways and think, “Maybe that life would be better than this one,” banish the thought. It’s a lie from the pit of hell.

It takes our eyes off what He has made is in us that is so very good.

It diminishes our view of what He has given us to offer the world.

It says less about us than it does about our view of Him and His work.

Don’t wish you were anyone else. Be who He made you to be. Agree with Him that it is good. Embrace it. Live it to the fullest. Take joy in who you are, because He does.

“But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1

 

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Soldier On, Friends

Gina Butz courage, faith, trials 0 Comments

Soldier on, friends: fighting the good fight when the battle is strong

There is a constant battle waging for our souls, and I for one sometimes grow weary of fighting it.

There are days I battle discouragement, pessimism, lies, apathy, and it would be the easiest thing to let them sideline me. I know there’s truth that cuts down all those negative emotions, but it take energy to fight my way back to it. It takes time, and intentionality, and faith.

It’s a tiring battle. Every day we have to take up our cross and follow. Every day we have to start again, knowing that there will be arrows of accusation and condemnation from the enemy. There will be lies we’re tempted to believe about ourselves and others. Every day we have to fight our way back to the truth. We have to remember who we are and whose we are.

But friends, I get it.

It’s easier to lay down our weapons and surrender.

It’s easier to wallow in complaining and negativity than it is to take up gratitude, no matter how much we have to sift through to find the gold.

It’s easier to hole up with Netflix and ice cream hoping the battle will cease than it is to do the hard work of dragging those lies into the light.

It’s easier to stay in isolation than it is to invite others to speak truth into our darkness.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite books, Hind’s Feet on High Places. In it, the protagonist, Much Afraid, is called to the High Places by the Good Shepherd. What she hoped would be a joyous journey with Him is marred by her relatives with names like Resentment, Bitterness, and Pride, who constantly call to her along the way. They cause her to doubt and fear and wonder if she hasn’t chosen the wrong path.

She has to cover her ears and turn away from their voices. She has to hold doggedly to the promises the Good Shepherd has made to her, however much they might not feel true at the moment.

So do we.

I wish I could tattoo all His promises across my arms so they sink into my soul and take up permanent residence there.

I wish I was not such a leaky vessel when it comes to the truth about Him and me.

I wish I never found myself in those places where I realize I have listened to the wrong voices and strayed away from that solid ground in Him.

I wish fighting was not part of the Christian life, but it is. We are meant to fight hard against the enemy, and we are meant to be victorious.

Are you fighting the good fight? Fighting is hard and tiring but it’s worth it.Twitter

There is truth to be claimed.

There is joy that is ours for the taking.

There is peace offered to us.

There is solid ground on which to rest.

There is victory to be had.

Yes, there is much that will threaten to knock us off that rock of truth, but there is One who wants to hold us there. He is greater than our enemy. He gives us what we need for the battle.

So soldier on, friends. Take every thought captive. Fight hard for what is yours. Cling to the truth that combats the lies you’re tempted to believe. Lift your eyes to the hills. Listen to your commander’s voice. Press on to take hold of that for which He took hold of you.

We don’t get to claim truth once and stay there. We fight to keep claiming the ground that’s ours. The more we do, the more we win.

 

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This Kind of Jesus

Gina Butz faith 0 Comments

What kind of Jesus do you know?

photo by Greyson Joraleson

When I worked in campus ministry, I had a student insist to me that Jesus was white, because she’d “seen the pictures.”

Yeah. I’ve seen the pictures too. Jesus always looks so serene and other worldly, like in that one where He’s standing outside the door in a halo of sunlight. I get the feeling that if I were to ask that Jesus what He’s thinking about, He’d say something like, “Heaven” and I’d be all, “Oh” because I was thinking about chocolate, and then feel like maybe He and I couldn’t relate very well.

But a few years ago I watched The Bible on The History Channel. It was a great series, even if Noah had a Scottish accent and Moses seemed a little unhinged, and Satan looked like a cross between Obama and Voldemort. What I liked the most about it was Jesus.

When Jesus was with Peter in the boat, He just seemed so, well, human. He needed help getting into the boat. He sat casually and looked amused at Peter’s lack of faith. He spoke earnestly to him, and with conviction. He looked at Peter like you would look at someone you just really like.

Throughout the series, I watched Jesus’ face with fascination. I saw His joy when He was in the midst of friends. He was delighted with children. He was compassionate toward even the guard who came to arrest Him. His face filled with sadness and tenderness as He was betrayed by a kiss. He was human.

And then He swirled his hand around in the water and brought tons of fish to the boat and reminded me, “Oh yeah, this guy’s God.” He walked on water, He healed lepers, He gave the religious leaders looks that penetrated to their souls. When asked, “Are you the son of God?” He answered, “I am” and I thought, “These men stood in the presence of God and they didn’t know it.”

God with skin on. It’s such a gift. Yes, that was just a TV show, but the fact is that He was human for a time, and He did feel all the feels. He knows what it’s like to live among people. He knows what it’s like to be us.

I can relate to a Jesus like that. That’s the kind of Jesus I want to know. I can imagine him, as I go through my days, responding to me. I think He would laugh with me. He would cry when I’m hurt. He would speak words of conviction with kindness and tenderness. He would raise my head when I’m weary. He’d high five me when I’m having a great moment. He would tell me that he likes chocolate too.

And because of Easter, because of the resurrection, there is nothing to keep us from experiencing a relationship with that God, the one who knows all that we go through, who felt it with us, who still feels it with us. He is not someone who stands at a distance. He wants to walk through life side by side, doing life with us. Do you know that Jesus?

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Moana and the Power of Grit

Gina Butz courage, trials 2 Comments

Moana and the power of grit

photo by Oliver and Ben Pritchard Barrett

If there’s one thing I’d like to say about myself by the end of this year, it’s this: I’m grittier than I was.

When I say grit, I’m talking about courage and resolve, showing up and staying in it for the long haul, doing the hard things that get you places you thought you couldn’t go.

I’ve learned, in the last year, that I am not a naturally gritty person. I like safety. I like comfort. I like staying in the known places where I’m doing well.

The problem is, not much happens in those safe, comfortable places.

You know who has grit? Moana. I’m in love with this new character from Disney, because she is a great picture of the rewards of being gritty.

Moana lives on an island, where she is destined to be the next leader. Their island is slowing dying, food is scarce. The people are getting desperate.

Moana suggests they go beyond the reef to look for more fish, but her father tells her, “There’s nothing beyond our reef but storms and rough seas. As long as we stay on our very safe island, we’ll be fine.” See, he tried to go beyond the reef before and found nothing but heartache and an unforgiving ocean.

Moana tries to stay as her father asks, but the desire to save her people, and the call on her life to be the one to help them compels her to go.

Throughout the movie, we see her waver between doubt and courage, resolve and giving up. In the end, (spoiler alert) her perseverance pays off.

We all have a safe island where we could stay. And we all have a way God is calling us to live out who we are, asking us to venture into new waters. He calls us to places that test our resolve, places of potential failure, but also great reward.

For me, writing has been that call onto the water. It’s been a challenging and anxiety ridden ride at times, full of temptation to compare myself to others, wonder if I have what it takes, and be discouraged. I have tried to be courageous and put myself out there, but often I have wanted to give up and walk away, back to my safe island. Heck, I feel that right now, today, as I write this.

When we are attempting to do something that calls us beyond our comfort zone, it’s tough. We get tired. There’s heartache and failure. Sometimes it feels like the world is against us. Our dreams can seem just out of reach. We doubt it’s worth it.

The question is, “Will we keep going?”

It takes grit. Leaving the island takes grit. Staying the course takes grit.

But what’s the alternative? Our worlds get smaller, until we are stuck on our islands. We are safe, but we aren’t living. We are comfortable, but we accomplish little. We miss the call.

So what does it take for us to leave the island, to stay gritty?

In my experience, it’s a combination of being desperate enough to leave where we are, and a clear vision of where we want to be. It’s the conviction that where we are is not where we want to be in the end, and where we would like to land is worth the risk and the effort. It’s staying laser focused on that whenever we are ready to throw in the towel.

It’s also the conviction that this is what God has asked us to do. And if He has asked us to do it, He will equip us for it. He doesn’t promise it will be easy, but He promises He will be with us. Grit takes faith, in ourselves, yes, but even more so in the One who called us.

I don’t know what God is calling you to right now. Maybe it’s starting that ministry that’s been gnawing at your heart. Maybe it’s fighting for a relationship you would rather leave. Maybe it’s that book you’ve always wanted to write, or the job you’re not sure you’re qualified for. Maybe it’s literally leaving this land and venturing across the sea to a new place. Whatever it is, it’s worth the risk.

Stop staring at the edge of the water. Go. Stay the course. Be gritty.

 

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A Willing Sacrifice

Gina Butz expectations, grace 4 Comments

what keeps you from a willing sacrifice?

photo by Ben White

I stood scrubbing the dishes with gritted teeth. This was my kids’ job, and they had failed to do it before bed. This was the job I had just asked my husband to come help do, and while he had verbally committed, he was still sitting on the couch watching YouTube. So there I was, alone, doing a job that was not mine, and I did not want to do. Yes, a sacrifice of my time and energy, but willing? Anything but.

I too was tired after a long day of meetings and driving kids. I wanted to relax. A small part of me knew this was an opportunity to serve my family with a joyful heart. The rest of me wanted them to see my service and feel guilty, or show up too late to help so I could feel more justified in my self-pity.

Not my finest moment.

Is it sacrifice if it isn’t willing? After all, I still gave. I still served. But I walked away with a heart tinged with bitterness, in need of forgiveness. Making that a practice is a sure way to harden me to the people I say I’m serving.

I’ve wondered, since that night, what it takes for me to sacrifice with a willing heart, even when it is challenging.

I know what gets in the way.

Pride. And pride can take so many forms.

Sometimes it looks like using serving others to gain approval. It happens when the giving of my time and energy seems like a worthy transaction to earn the good will of others. It feels willing, but if the response of others is tepid, my pride will hunt for more. What seems like sacrifice is nothing more than using others to prove my worth. 

Sometimes it looks like being willing to carry others’ burdens, but denying others the opportunity to carry mine. It stems from the lie that what I offer is all people want from me, not my heart, not my desires, not my needs. Pride whispers that I am only as good as what I do, so I must give.

And still other times, pride says I am better than you because of my giving. It shows up as self-righteousness, stubborn obligation. I give because it is expected, because I outwardly fit the model of Christian service, while inwardly I stew over the dinner dishes.

But a willing sacrifice? Sacrifice means I have to give up something I value for the sake of others. Willing equates to ready, eager, prepared. To be a willing sacrifice I must walk away from self, and lay down the pride that gets in my way.

In Philippians chapter 2, Paul paints a picture of humility, asking us to be like Christ as he emptied himself and became human. Humility bids us to empty our souls of this focus on self.Twitter  It requires us to die.

But there’s a difference between dying to self and shutting down our hearts.

In dying to self, I own when it is hard to sacrifice, when it feels like too much, when I have no more to give. Like Christ in the garden, I lay bare my weary heart and my desire to step away from the task.

When I die to self, I acknowledge that my motives can be selfish and self-serving. I call out pride where it exists, and turn my eyes upward. I choose to walk the road for His sake, and no one else’s. Only then am I unencumbered and free to serve with joy.

I think back to that night at the sink, and I wonder how I could have done it differently. I imagine stopping for just a minute to let myself feel my humanity. I picture giving myself space to acknowledge my fatigue, my reluctance, my desire to do anything else, as all valid.

I wish I had taken my angry, messy heart to God, confessing-let’s call it what it was-my hatred toward my family in that moment. I needed to spill out the prideful attitude that set me above them. God wanted to empty me of self-righteousness, my attempt to make a martyr of myself, so that I could move toward my family with an open heart.

And I wish I had simply done it for God; not my family, not for recognition or justification. I wish I had let that moment be a holy gift back to God, done out of love for Him alone, from the low ground He calls us to walk.

Humility leads to a willing sacrifice. When our giving is tangled up with pride, we are bound to the responses of others. But when our sacrifice is for Him, we walk freely.

 

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What I’m Learning about Loneliness

Gina Butz identity, trials 2 Comments

What I'm learning about loneliness

photo by Jean Garber

It’s time for me to admit something I wish were not true: in this season of life, loneliness has been a frequent companion of mine.

If it were up to me, my life would be a constant episode of Friends or Cheers or Seinfield-living in the assurance that I belong to a tight-knit group of people whose doors are always open to me, and who are seemingly always available. Sure, I’m an introvert, but I want to know that someone’s there if I need them.

Perhaps my expectations are a wee high.

But we all want to be known, to belong, to be pursued, to be loved. Loneliness feels like a stamp of disapproval, like you somehow missed the invitation to the party.

Whenever I have encountered loneliness in my life, I have begged God to take it away. This time around, I feel Him asking me to linger in it a little longer, because loneliness has something to teach me.

This is what I am learning about loneliness:

It is not an indictment. I have remained silent about being lonely because it feels sometimes like a judgment; there must be a reason I’m lonely. Like maybe I’m really unpleasant to be around and no one’s telling me (although I’m confident enough to doubt this is the case. I like me. I can’t be the only one). In the void, the enemy will speak shame to the lonely, keeping us locked in silence.

Sometimes loneliness just is. It’s not the result of doing something wrong, or something wrong with you. It’s just a character in this chapter of the story, and God’s writing a good story for each of us.

There is a difference between loneliness and being alone. Several weeks ago, my husband went on his first long trip in awhile. I was achingly lonely, even though I interacted with plenty of people. Last week, he was gone again for another week, but I felt content to be by myself, breathing in the silence and enjoying more time to think.

You can be alone and not lonely. And you can be surrounded by people and feel terribly lonely. It’s good to recognize the difference.

Lots of people are lonely. Sometimes I wonder how many of us sit in loneliness, wishing someone would reach out. Imagine all the people who could be finding each other if only we would stop being silent about our loneliness. But again, shame wants us to believe we are the only ones.

The lonely ones are probably the most unexpected. My guess is most leaders are lonely. Think of our pastors, our bosses, the famous men and women we admire from a distance.

You know what that distance does? It isolates. The pressure to fit an image, the way position or status makes it hard to relate to others-they make it a challenge for many to find people who relate to them as peers. They might need companionship the most.

Loneliness pulls back the veil. One of the most frightening aspects of loneliness is that it exposes what we hide in our busy activity. It shows how much we hunger for companionship, what we most deeply desire, and how easily our souls settle for lesser things.

It is an invitation to solitude and silence. Sometimes I shy away from solitude and silence because they feel too much like loneliness. But loneliness is becoming an invitation into these very practices that are so necessary for my soul. Here, loneliness can become not only a teacher, but a friend in itself, leading me to places where God will meet me.

In the allegory Hind’s Feet on High Places, the protagonist, Much Afraid, is given two companions for her journey: Sorrow and Suffering. She is loathe to take their hands, but the more she does, the more strength they give her.

Loneliness is another unwanted companion for many of us, but as we take its hand, we may learn it is not to be feared as much as we believe. Rather, it is a place where we can meet God in our deepest hunger and desire, where He can teach us.

 

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