When I think about the books and authors that have been most formational for me on my faith journey - almost at the top of my list is Brennan Manning. If I could only hand out one book to everyone with whom I journey, it would be his book, Abba's Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging. Brennan Manning was able, with raw honesty and courage, to speak of the paradoxes and contradictions of his life's journey. He opens Abba's Child with these words:
The road I've traveled these last thirty-eight years is pockmarked by disastrous victories and magnificent defeats, soul-diminishing successes and life-enhancing failures. Seasons of fidelity and betrayal, periods of consolation and desolation, zeal and apathy are not unknown to me..." (11)
I suppose what attracts me most to his writing is his on-again-off-again struggle with his humanity on the spiritual journey. He speaks of having moments when God has felt closer and more real than the chair he is sitting on AND times when "the Word was as stale as old ice cream and as bland as tame sausage" (11). I don't know about you - but I too have had both substance and staleness on this faith journey. Manning normalizes the tediousness and the rhapsodic - alas, having both sorrow and joy is a part of the Abundant Life Jesus came to offer (John 10.10).
But more than anything, Brennan Manning gently - and sometimes ferociously - invites us to consider the relentless tenderness of a Loving God. And, he invites us to consider the ways in which our own proclivities get in the way of receiving this Abundant Love - and how the two are connected.
We unwittingly project onto God our own attitudes and feelings toward ourselves...If we feel hateful toward ourselves, we assume that God feels hateful toward us (15-16).
This is true with other human beings as well. There is much hatred being spewed in our country right now. What it really is is one's own fearfulness and woundedness being flung out on others. The more hatred - the more woundedness. When I see so much hatred, all I can think is, "My, how that person hates herself/himself" and then I say a little prayer that s/he could experience this deep and relentless tenderness of God. This is how our world can be healed and change directions.
Julian of Norwich, a 14th century God-lover said this: "Our courteous Lord does not want his servant to despair because they fall often and grievously; for our falling does not hinder him in loving us."
And isn't this what we say we believe is true? Like at the end of Romans 8 - where we're told if God is for us, who can be against us? That nothing can separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus. But who is against me is often me...feeling undeserving. Feeling I need to get it all together before God can love me. Feeling God is with me when things are going smoothly and has forgotten or abandoned me when they seem to be falling apart.
Manning makes this very strong and uncommon statement:
The spiritual life begins with the acceptance of our wounded self (18).
It doesn't begin with belief or spiritual disciplines or attendance records. At the end of the day God cares not if we've been productive for the kingdom of God. But instead, in what ways did we let our wounded selves be loved and cared for.
God calls us to stop hiding and come openly to Him. God is the father who ran to His prodigal son when he came limping home. God weeps over us when shame and self-hatred immobilize us (18).
So the question becomes...in what ways will I stop hiding? The parts of my life that make me feel shameful and embarrassed - less than or too much - are where love is needed most. Will you let yourself be loved. It isn't a journey for the faint of heart. But God knows this: "God loves who we really are - whether we like it or not - no amount of spiritual makeup can render us more presentable to God" (18-19).
- As you read this, what most strikes you?
- What parts of your life feel shameful or embarrassing?
- In what parts of your life do you feel like you're never enough and/or "too much"?
- In what ways do you sense God delights in you - just as you are - right now?
I'll be thumbing through my dog-earred copy of Abba's child over the next month or so...if you've never read it, I invite you to grab a copy and read along. Let me know what you're discovering along the way. As my husband Stephen says - most of our woundedness took place in relationships, so the healing also has to come in relationship. Who might be a soul companion for you on the journey as you seek to discover deeper intimacy with God and deeper authenticity in and through your own walk of faith? A good spiritual director or facilitated retreat space can provide you deeper resources to lean into these areas. You're not alone. If you'd like more info about spiritual direction or retreats, let us know.