I don’t know about you, but these words scare me. I don’t need it to be perfect, but I still want there to be some semblance of polishing and filtering. I want there to be at least a little editing and censoring. I want to have it together, at least a little bit.
I have a lot of experience of being looked at, of being the example, of being watched. Our family sat in the front row of church for years growing up. People I didn’t know would come up to me and talk to me, because they recognized me every week, whereas I had no idea who they were. I’ve held multiple leadership positions, from high school into adulthood. People always look to the person in charge, which often times is me. I’m the oldest kid, and have been the one my brothers look up to since I was three and a half.
I don’t say this to complain or even because I think this is a bad thing. I think there is certainly good that comes out of recognizing our influence and using it wisely. I think there is certainly good about being intentional as a leader. I think there is certainly good that comes out of thinking about the people around you and how they will be impacted by the actions you take.
But for me, I’m also realizing that one of the side effects is that I have a hard time being honest with myself. I have a lot of “shoulds” even when I’m alone with myself, and alone with the Lord.
The other day, my friend Saritha asked me what my unedited version of a conversation I was telling her about would have been. I had to pause and think for a moment. I honestly didn’t know. It took a minute before what I was really thinking and feeling to come to the surface, to have permission to speak.
I just finished this fabulous book, Brazen. In it, Leeana shares about how her mentor/spiritual director/angel-with-dreads, Beth encourages her to invite “unforced rhythms of grace” into her life, in the form of twenty minutes with her soul as frequently as possible. I love her honesty about beginning this:
I hate to admit it, but I have distrusted this kind of thing most of my life. I’ve distrusted that I could sustain such a discipline or that it would even make any kind of difference. I wondered if these practices were about earning something, which left them hollow. So, I sabotaged myself a hundred thousand different ways, believing I could get what I wanted and needed if I just tried a little harder: analyzed a little more, thought about it all longer.
But when we don’t take the time to listen, we dis-integrate. We are walking heads. We’re trying to think our way around the tangle instead of listening our way through.
It’s hard work to discern the soul stirrings, to quiet down and just listen without evaluating the veracity or usefulness or practicality of what’s emerging from the depths. In the short run, living from the neck up is so much easier. Until it isn’t…(Brazen, 34)
I read these words and I felt the Lord whispering to my heart that this is ME. I want to think my way through the tangle instead of listening my way through. I don’t trust listening to my own heart. I evaluate it for its efficiency or truthfulness. When my heart is a hot mess of emotion, the last thing I want to do is sit and listen to it. I’m afraid of what I will find there. I like the edited version, the polished, censored me so much better. Or so I thought.
But these words from Leeana and the whisperings of the Holy Spirit had me pause. And I started to spend time with my soul.
I liked Leeana’s model of twenty minutes, of the questions she asked, of the ways she approached things. I love how she confronts anything to threaten this time: shoulds, pleasing, comparison, productivity, failure, doubt, what other’s think, efficiency. I tried to do it in a similar fashion.
I breathe and try to settle down into my seat, and I listen to whatever is stirring up in my soul. What am I afraid of? What anxieties am I carrying? What am I worried about? Where does my body hurt? What longings are lurking? What angst is making me crazy? What tension am I experiencing? Any feelings that have energy behind them get recorded. Again, I’m not trying to make sense of anything. I’m simply showing up, keeping my pen moving, trying to take notes for my soul.
After about ten to fifteen minutes of soul-recording, I write “God what do you want to say to me about all this?”
This step is so important because it formally invites God into my tangles. Of course, he’s already there, already waiting for me, but I need to be reminded of that fact, reminded that he wants to offer wisdom, comfort, love, truth. So I ask him what he wants to tell me, and then I listen and write, listen and write. I do all this until my phone timer chimes.
Here’s the linchpin: I ask God to help me let go and embrace the flow of what surfaces, instead of judging, analyzing, evaluating the content of my soul and his responses. For those twenty minutes, I’m not allowed to be a soul skeptic. I’m not allowed to reach for holds. I am to submit to the tide. (Brazen, 36)
I’ve been doing this practice for about two weeks now, and it is changing me.
It is terrifying to slow down and listen.
It is so freeing to slow down and listen.
I’m letting myself breathe in a way that I haven’t before. I’m rejecting all the voices that are telling me what I should or shouldn’t feel. I’m letting myself be as happy and grateful, as angry and frustrated, as grieved and saddened as I actually am. I’m not analyzing or criticizing or should-ing myself. I’m showing up to whatever I find in my own soul.
The thing that I keep hearing from the Lord, over and over and over again in this season is that he sees me. He sees me. And not the edited version or the polished version that I wish I was. Not the person who lacks hot mess days or only has them on a yearly basis.
He sees me.
He sees me in all my unfiltered glory and loves me there. He offers me his love for the taking. And these minutes with my soul and the Lord are helping me to see it and let it seep into my deepest parts, instead of trying to earn the grace that he freely offers me. He doesn’t mind my mess. He doesn’t mind that I need him. In fact, I think he likes my dependence and my posture of open hands, ready to receive his grace for my soul.
I’m not saying I’ve been cured of striving and trying or analyzing and thinking my way through. I’m not saying this soul time fixes everything in an instant or that there are immediate results. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much quicker I am to offer grace to myself and others when I am giving myself permission to feel. And not just feel, but inviting the Lord into the mess of whatever I find there. Sometimes it’s gratitude, overflowing. Sometimes it’s longings that I hadn’t named before. Sometimes it’s desires I had put in a corner because they were painful to name. Sometimes it’s anger, fresh and raw. Sometimes it’s grief and missing someone or something so much I can hardly breathe. Sometimes it’s celebrating the good gifts the Lord has given me, beyond what I could think or imagine for myself. And almost always, there are tears as I sit with my soul and invite the Lord there.
As I let myself feel, as I let myself be unedited, I’m finding freedom. I’m fighting back against the shame that haunts me when I think I’m feeling too much, or the lie that I’m too much. I’m inviting the Lord into those places.
He sees me. And he loves me.
In the mess.
In the unedited.
In the unpolished.
In the tangle of feelings.
In the uncensored.
In the unfiltered.
He sees me and he loves me.
In the anger.
In the frustration.
In the gratitude.
In the celebrating.
In the tears.
In the sorrow.
In the desire.
In the longings.
In my very soul.
He sees me and he loves me.
Ah, friends. This book was a gift from the first pages. I don’t know how she did it, but Leeana Tankersley knows what I’m thinking. She writes about what a Brazen Life looks like, a life that is free of shame. I honestly was initially a little turned off to the title of this book and it’s hot pink cover. Brazen is associated with hussies in my mind, but it didn’t take long for Leeana to redeem that definition for me. I want this shame-free, beautiful life she writes about, that she herself is fighting for.
The part of me that is always striving, always trying, always working to earn beauty and rest and love NEEDED these words of truth and grace. In a season that feels like so much of “not-yet,” her words point me straight to Jesus.
“As I have put the striving Leeana on the couch, God has reminded me over and over again that as I bring him my heavy, he will return to me his light. The burden will lift incrementally as I continue coming home. Effort will be met with ease. For me, this has meant that all my energy isn’t going toward dragging around shame and fear. Instead my energy is reserved for much more productive matters. Like eating artichokes and giggling with friend.
The minute life starts to feel heavy and breathless again, I stop and ask God, “What do you want to say to me today?” We talk for a bit–usually about unhooking from whatever lie I am buying hook, line and sinker that day–and my energy level returns. And then, a few days pass, and I have to begin again because I forget.” (Brazen, 49)
I loved this book. For fans of Shauna Niequist’s writing, I think you’ll be a fan of Leeana’s. A solid A for me.
Revell Publishing has provided me with a complimentary copy of “Brazen,” in exchange for my honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255