Sunday January 16, 2011
I went to church this morning, and not because I wanted to. I did it out of a sense of duty. I would have preferred to stay curled up in some cozy blankets and sleep the day away. Don’t get me wrong, I love my church. I love the people and I love to encounter Jesus through them. I also love to be there to serve and minister to people and that was the thing this morning: I had nothing to give. My humanity left me conspicuously aware, this past week, of how undeserving I am of God’s love, grace and acceptance. Still I experienced the blessing of God in such a tangible ways that I could not deny His love and presence. The end result: pure exhaustion and lacking any desire for crowds, which is very unusual for me.
I’m glad I dragged myself out and went to second service. Pastor Howard Ellis spoke on the Holy Spirit. The last time he spoke in a church when I was in attendance, I was 17 years old. I wasn’t a believer but some friends invited me to church, to what I thought was a Halloween dance, so I painted my face like a tiger and dressed in black and yellow. It was a Friday night church service but I recall little beyond the fact that I was the only one in full costume and that Pastor Howard was talking to the children about Noah’s ark and pointed out that there was even a cat in church! The kids all turned, some giggled, some looked a bit concerned. The rest of that night is a blur. But the impact of this morning will go with me through life.
I cannot explain everything that happened this morning or this will turn into a book but in a way I found myself, again, at a whole new level. I’d be a fool to think that somehow this morning permanently fixed my humanity and my blog posts from this point forward will be about the ‘new and perfect Trudy’ complete with tips on how to arrive. What I found this morning was something deeper—another level of grace and freedom.
It was as though Pastor Howard had been spying on me this past week. I don’t find this odd or eerie. Over time God has shown me that if I genuinely seek Him and long for freedom, He will bring it. Initially, as Pastor Howard spoke about the Holy Spirit I thought it was for everyone else. I’ve asked the Holy Spirit into my life years ago and He has transformed me, empowered me and released an anointing in my life. But as he spoke I felt the barriers of past religious experience holding me back. Fear. Paralyzing fear of completely releasing myself into the control of the Holy Spirit, to work in and through me as He wills. Complete surrender.
Suddenly it all made sense. I’ve spent the past few weeks writing chapter after chapter on the conflict between Jesus and religion. I had not connected the dots but it was over the same time frame that my struggle at home started. As I mulled over past religious experience, the betrayal of that experience was brought to the forefront of my mind and started influencing my experience. That betrayal, though I have forgiven the perpetrators who violated my spirit and led me far from the grace of God, is still real today. When I expose myself and my thoughts to past pain, they have a way of impacting how I do life today. My purpose for returning has been good. I am writing for the sake of others who are struggling with similar issues. But that good purpose does not remove the battle.
I am willing to accept this battle for a higher purpose. I accept that my life is a battle and I must be prepared to fight. What I refuse to accept is defeat. We were created to know God and be free from sin. Most of my life I imagined this to mean that we don’t sin. While I don’t intend now or ever to accept a life of sin as my destiny, I’m discovering that it is not my mistakes that define me. I really messed up this week. Ask my husband. Ask my kids. Never mind… ask my kids, especially my teenagers—they will feel no need to soften the truth. They are as forthright by nature as I am. My husband will be too kind to tell you the details.
With the memory of my anger, my temper tantrum, and snarling at my daughters, I responded to Pastor Howard’s invitation to meet in a small room in the church basement. Stumbling down the stairs past my tears, my legs turned to putty and I sat there on the steps, sobbing, releasing a week of extremes. People filed past me but one elder and dear friend, Pat, stayed with me. When I ran out of tears, I collected myself and proceeded down the stairs.
In a small room a group of people had gathered and Pastor Howard shared more about the Holy Spirit. I should mention here that we are not a charismatic church—we are open to the move of the Spirit but we are not what I would describe as charismatic. What happened this morning was not ‘normal’ in my experience or in the experience of our church. As Pastor Howard prayed over people a power and sweetness moved into the room. If ever you have felt the presence of the Holy Spirit, uncorrupted by religious abuse, you know what I am talking about. Peace. There is no other way to describe it. Peace and yet moments of intensity. Intertwined with this peace and intensity was deep spirit healing. I felt that peace before the breakthrough came. Where there is a stronghold, there has to be breakthrough.
I knew there was a wall inside my heart. I have run against this wall many times. It was not there because of personal choice. It was a wall placed inside my spirit against my will. The wall that religion establishes within us, if ever we sell out to religion, and until that wall crumbles, there is resistance against the Spirit of God. For me that resistance manifested itself in fear, which, I presume, is the typical stronghold.
My friend Pat, who had her arm around me much of this time, gently rubbed my back and said, “Stop resisting, Trudy.” She was onto what I was experiencing but she had no way of knowing that it was not resistance by choice.
“It’s bigger than that Pat. It’s bigger.” I couldn’t verbalize exactly what the wall was, but I knew where it had come from.
Moments later Pastor Howard walked over and began to pray over me and pray into my battle. He is a man whom I’ve only spoken to a handful of times, a man who has no vested interest in me, a man who does not know me. But at that moment it was as though he knew me well and that is when I sensed the presence of God, the love of Jesus, in a tangible way. Several times he returned to speak over me or pray. And then he struck that place deep in my heart…
He bowed over me, as I knelt on the floor, his hand resting on my shoulder, and confessed the sins men had committed against me many years ago. In a way that only a man of God could, I felt eternity step into my heart as he represented the Father heart of God to my circumstances. In that moment I began to cry out to God asking Him to forgive the religious men in my past who had wounded me spiritually. I asked Him to release me from the fear and religious bondage and fill that broken place in my heart with the Holy Spirit.
I believe without doubt what 2 Corinthians 3:17 says. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” I invited the Holy Spirit into the memories of religious abuse and into my struggle at home. If the Spirit of the Lord is in my struggle, I am free even if all circumstances are not resolved on a physical level. The freedom is at a level deeper than visible life experience.
In the past few weeks my family has gotten less than the best of my heart, my love and my ministry. I have failed to let His love flow through me to them. In fact, I wonder if love has ever flowed freely, no strings attached. If the love of God in my life hinges on qualifiers, how can unconditional love flow out? I have struggled with trusting God. I have stumbled numerous times in my faith journey and have wondered at moments what I have to offer. Will I ever be truly free?
Today I found me. And I was free. I was whole. Not because I suddenly became a better person. Not because I think I will go a whole week without failure. Today I was free because I forgave everyone again. I saw myself again in the eyes of love, the eyes of grace and the eyes of God. Today I saw myself in the reflection of the One who gave everything He had for my freedom.
Next week I pray that I when my husband and children look into my eyes that they will see themselves in the eyes of unconditional love, the eyes of grace and the eyes of God. Next week I pray that I will reflect God so beautifully that my family will find themselves again, whole and free. And when I fail, I will go through the same process as last week. I will accept God’s grace and forgiveness and know that it isn’t about me; it’s about Him and everything He has done for me.
Why would I share all of this with you? Because truth brings freedom. Because confession brings accountability. And accountability encourages growth. And finally because we are all human and God uses us in spite of ourselves to bring hope to others. So next week, when you feel like you are a failure and have nothing to offer, look into the eyes of grace, love and forgiveness and you will find yourself. You will see that you are already whole, already free.
Thank you for sharing that! It’s all so true!
I wondered what I might be missing if I didn’t accept Pastor Howard’s invitation to meet downstairs. I wish now that I would have went, but I was too scared of what I might feel or what I might have to give up, or what I might have to deal with…the past mostly. Thank you for sharing your experience. Maybe I will get another chance, but in the meantime I know what I have to do.
The wonderful thing, Sandra, is that God doesn’t withhold from us any good gift–particularly the Holy Spirit. I don’t put a lot of ‘weight’ on an experience, in and of itself, but the process of surrendering and breaking free from strongholds is a big deal. That’s what that morning was about for me; Releasing control, pride and religious strongholds. If you want a group of people to pray with you and stand in agreement with you, let me know. We can arrange it.
On Sunday after the girls from the women’s prison gave their beautiful testimonies, Pastor Wayne gave an invitation for anyone who needed someone to pray with them to come up to the front. So I knew this was my chance. My heart was pounding and I was so emotional, but when I got to the front I felt like I was the only one there. Just me and God. I stood there crying for quite a while praying that someone would feel led to pray for me. Just then, Steve came down from the stage and said that God told him to pray for me. My friends and boyfriend gathered around me as well. I never felt so broken but so happy at the same time. Steve prayed about the very things that I needed prayer for without me even having to tell him anything. I am so thankful that God met me where I was at. I didn’t feel like going to church that morning, but as usual, when I don’t feel like going, I am always glad I did afterwards.