It happened without my even noticing it; this inner voice that would remind me over and over again about all the things that weren't right in my life. All the things that were wrong with me. And all the things that I would never become. I never even took a moment to ponder when this all began, because in my mind, it was just always there. It was my self-created truth. And every morning, for countless years, I would wake up, and before even opening my eyes I would say to myself, “I hate my life.”
For years, this was how I began my day.
My “old self,” if you can believe it, was more broken than my “new self.” I turned to all sorts of things -- people, addictions, obsessions, and false identities -- just to feel wanted, seen, heard, loved, and in full control. But not only for these reasons. I was also desperately trying to avoid the experience of failure, rejection, and hurt. I had already experienced these things, and well...they didn't feel so good. And so I constructed “strongholds” in my life. Strongholds? Yup. Strongholds. In Lisa Brenninkmeyer's Fearless and Free study, she explains in the Lesson 4 talk what happens to us when we construct strongholds:
We construct strongholds in our lives - places we go to find our security and safety when we feel threatened. We go to those places instead of God. In that moment, we choose to rely on ourselves rather than on Him.
Oh man, I SO mastered this. In fact, this is exactly what I majored in, in college! I graduated with a degree in Stronghold Construction, with a minor in Living In Bondage. Because sadly, sweet friends, as I have learned through painful personal experience, and as confirmed by Fearless and Free - The Wrestling, the strongholds we make do not keep us safe at all. They keep us in bondage. It is fascinating, really, in the most heartbreaking way. How we strive for perfection, how we numb to avoid, how we pretend to be fine, all at the expense of truly living fearless and free. We think we are so smart. We think we have discovered the foolproof way. We think we have made brilliant decisions that will save us, because really...if we don't save ourselves, who will?
After my wakening, which happened at a Matthew Kelly retreat back in 2011, I knew I had work to do. I was physically drained by the inner vows and constant lies; emotionally exhausted by a life based on circumstance that relied on feelings, beaten down by and tossed by each and every wave only to be left alone and despondent, lifeless on shore. My spiritual tank was on empty, and I knew that to do things differently, to lose that “old self” that had me in shackles, something different had to happen. The bottom line? I had to grow up spiritually. It was time to mature.
This is what The Wrestling in Fearless and Free is all about. Maturity. And so it would be wise for all of us to ask ourselves this question: What does it mean to be mature? And we are talking spiritually, right? Not your age, not what you own, not your title at your job, not how intelligent or practical or polite you are...but spiritually. Are you mature?
I knew I was not spiritually mature when I tried to let go of who I was without God, and attempted to live out life as a beloved daughter of God. Why? Well, because honestly? I knew about God. I knew about Jesus. I am a cradle Catholic. I knew about lots of things in the Bible. Sort of. Ya know...I knew about the animals, two by two...and I knew that Moses was super old...and I knew something about a rooster that crowed and those strange and useless baby gifts the wise men brought Mary. But what I lacked was actual understanding. What I never grew were the necessary roots needed to produce good fruit. As Lisa points out in her talk in The Wrestling, you can have the wakening, but if you lack understanding and roots, this “move from desire to reality is not easy.” And I learned this the hard way. There was lots of stumbling, and lots of falling back into old habits, and many visits to the confessional to seek forgiveness for the same thing I had confessed just weeks ago, before I realized what I was forgetting. I was in battle. And I had no weapon.
And oh, how I really do love the image of the battle. Because good grief, sisters, we are so in a battle. And no good soldier goes to battle without her weapon. Battles, weapons, the enemy...get used to these words and do not fear them. In fact, embrace them. Study them. Understand them. Because if we are to wrestle successfully and live fearless and free, half the battle is knowing we are in a battle, and the other half is knowing how to fight it. What are we fighting? Well, I am glad you asked. The enemy. The father of lies who was the one whispering in my ear while I slept, convincing me that my life was something to hate. The ruler of the earth who drowns out the Father's gentle voice. The murderer, who as soon as he sees our progress - the moment we have wakened to the truth about our identity - prowls around us like a lion, and steals back the truth we have just found. The enemy is relentless, yet so subtle, and his specialty is not putting things inside of our minds...but rather, taking things out. And he starts with Truth.
Lisa asks us, Can you recognize truth? Can you recognize the voice of the Father? And these are questions I scribbled down fast on the wrong page of my book, but at least I got them down, because sisters, these are some serious questions. These words, these questions, are the very ones I numbed out and threw out years ago because I think deep down inside I knew that to honestly answer them, I would be agreeing to walk a path away from what I thought was safe, and heading out into the unknown, without a GPS.
In my personal opinion, Fearless and Free is the most powerful and important study ever written, because in a culture that is saturated with self help and relativism, mindfulness, and positive thinking, giving it to the universe and “you do you,” Fearless and Free takes that one crucial step deeper...that one missing ingredient in the secular world's remedy for wholeness and healing...it takes us to Scripture. My friends, if we are going to mature, if we are going to move from desire to reality, if we are going to take off the old self and put on the new, we would be wise to listen to Lisa when she tells us, “we have got to learn how to be renewed and restored in our minds.” Which brings me back to the battle and our weapon needed for the wrestling. Ladies, it is time to put down your latte, and pick up The Sword of Spirit. (actually, your latte probably cost you nine dollars, so go ahead and finish it. Then pick up your sword of Spirit)
In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, we are told to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ.” Until Fearless and Free, I will be honest; I really had no idea what that even meant. Remember, my Biblical knowledge pretty much stopped with the animals two by two. But The Wrestling helped me to understand. You see, it was no surprise that I believed the enemy's lies about my life and my identity, because the lies were the only voice I recognized - they were the words I listened to, that was the voice that to my mind, made sense. I had not heard enough of God's voice to know the difference. And because I had little knowledge of God, and the attacks were so relentless, the lies became so embedded in my mind, they felt like truth. I knew them to be real. God's voice...His Word...was so distant, so far, so unrecognizable, that his faithful and true whisper didn't stand a chance.
In The Wrestling, Lisa makes one thing clear - we have to discipline ourselves and develop a different mindset if we desire to be healed. For me? Picking up my Bible and actually reading it...praying it...was the game changer. This is how I learned when I was being fed a lie as opposed to truth, when it was the voice of the enemy, as opposed to the voice of my Father. Because we are asked in this lesson, “Based on our knowledge of God, what do we know to be true of Him?” we are being strongly encouraged here to open our Bibles, dig in deep, start to unpack, and learn and memorize His living and active word. We can not restore our minds and be renewed unless we pick up this weapon - Scripture - and saturate ourselves with it.
I'd like to say I have gotten so good at declaring God's truths in times of trouble and trial, that the enemy decided to pack up and focus on some other poor soul. But here is the truth. Just this morning, when I woke up, guess what my very first thought was? “I hate my life.” You see, I am in a season of what feels like wave after wave crashing over me, and in simplest terms, I am weary. And the enemy knows it. And he loves nothing more than a good and tired Catholic woman, because the last thing he wants is another sister warrior of Christ. The urge to roll over and go back to sleep was strong, but after wakening and wrestling, I knew what I needed to do, even though I did not feel like doing it. And so I got up, got my coffee, then sat down with His Word. I kicked the lies to the curb, and blanketed myself in the truth. The truth about God. The truth about myself. And the truth about my beautifully broken life.
P.S. Join me this Thursday at 10 AM EST on Instagram Live to hear more about Fearless and Free - The Wrestling. Have your coffee and Sword of Spirit ready!
In my writing and speaking, I often quote other authors in order to more succinctly illustrate a point I am making. After receiving feedback from the July Positively Purposeful message, I feel it's important to say that the selection of a quote does not indicate an endorsement of everything said or written by that person.
When the quote by Ted Tripp was selected for the July Positively Purposeful message, it was chosen to illustrate the point that when we lower standards of acceptable behavior for our children, instead of encouraging them to ask God to help them when it feels impossible to do the right thing, they miss out on a wonderful opportunity to see how they need Jesus in their lives, too. It was not intended to advocate or endorse any specific method of discipline or child-rearing.
I could hear the coins jangling in her pocket as she climbed up the stairs to my room. Some small change was missing from a dish, and I had just asked who had taken it. Greeted with silence and no admission of guilt from any of the kids, I told them I was going upstairs to wait. Whoever took it could come to me on their own timing, but we weren't going anywhere until the truth came out.
With tears in her eyes, my daughter admitted that she had taken the money. “What was going on in your heart when you took it?” I asked her. “Can you remember what you were thinking or why you felt like it was okay to take money that you hadn't earned?”
She burst into tears. “I took it because the five dollars I earned working in the garden is gone! I put it in the empty Uno box and someone threw it away. I can't find my money, and I saw that money sitting there, so I took it.” She sat on the couch, full of misery.
We talked about how hard it is to do the right thing when life feels unfair. How easy it is to justify all sorts of things when we feel we're owed something. But at the end of the day, it was stealing, and she knew it. I asked her what a better response would have been. We talked about 1 Corinthians 10:13, which says, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. [We all get tempted. Our situation isn't unique.] And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear [When we say we just couldn't help it, that's not actually true. In our own strength we can't, but God will always help us make the right choice.] But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” I asked her what she thought was her “way out.” What else could she have chosen?
I told her that choices have consequences. She would have to give the money back to her brother and ask him how she could serve him to show him she really was sorry.
I asked her if she felt like it was hard, maybe impossible, to be as good as God wanted her to be. She gave a big nod of agreement. And then we got to the good part-the good news.
Every time our children (or we) mess up, it's an opportunity to be drawn to the Cross. My daughter was right-it is impossible to be as good as God wants us to be. God tells us to “be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Perfect?! we think. I can't even be perfect for an hour, let alone a lifetime. So what is the solution?
Ted Tripp addresses this question in his book, Shepherding a Child's Heart:
The focal point of your discipline and correction must be your children seeing their utter inability to do the things which God requires unless they know the help and strength of God. Your correction must hold the standard of righteousness as high as God holds it. God's standard is correct behavior flowing from a heart that loves God and has God's glory as the sole purpose of life…The alternative is to give them a law they can keep. The alternative is a lesser standard that does not require grace and does not cast them on Christ, but rather on their own resources…Dependence on their own resources moves them away from the cross. It moves them away from any self-assessment that would force them to conclude that they desperately need Jesus' forgiveness and power.
“I know it's so hard,” I said. “And that's why we need Jesus. He died so that we could always be forgiven when we make mistakes. And He sent the Holy Spirit to us to be inside us, to help us to make the right choices and overcome temptation. Let's pray and ask for God's forgiveness (He'll always say yes), and then ask the Holy Spirit to help us make good choices-to give us the strength to do the things that are hard, but right.” She prayed and we hugged. Everything felt good again.
I'd love to say that this is how it goes every time someone in my house needs correction. This takes time, and I don't always stop what I'm doing to discipline in this way. Too often, we're on the go when I've caught someone doing something. I say that we'll address it when we get home, and then I forget all about it in the busyness that follows. But summer affords opportunity not just to slow down and relax. It gives time to slow down and be a better mom. Not a perfect one-but one that asks the Holy Spirit to give us the strength to do the things that are hard, but right.