Nothing else to be but You

Quietness has always been ‘me’. Always contemplative, I was never the person who owned the room and most of the time I hated being in new environments where  I would be forced to make friends, or where I was expected to be bubbly just for the sake of it. I’m not a showgirl by any means, but it was never something that really bothered me.

In year Eight I got into trouble with some of the girls at my school and fell into months of bullying, teasing and basically just a period of people taking advantage of my quietness. Because obviously, “quiet” means “pushover”; it also means “innocent”, “kind” and “peaceful”. It’s strange how often people make such bold statements about a person who hardly speaks and hasn’t had a chance to tell others who they are for themselves (how many times have I subsequently been accused of hiding my true self, when in fact I never told anyone that I was innocent and angelic–people chose to see me as such because I only talk when I have to). During that time I withdrew into myself a lot, and the one person I truly called a friend spent her time drilling into me, moaning every lunch time that I just kept quiet all the time. “Haven’t you got anything to say?” she would say, “why aren’t you talking?” It was months of variants of this dialogue that has today made me so paranoid whenever I’m with someone else and no one has spoken for a while. For some reason, regardless of whether we’re both silent, I’ll be singled out as the one that didn’t speak, making me a bore to be around.

I remember last year when I went to ARME camp. The friend who I went along with is very outgoing and makes friends very easily. I’ve always been comfortable being by myself; to think with myself and just observe others, but several times during our weekend together I felt as though I was dragging her back–and felt increasingly uncomfortable. To be honest, a lot of the time when I’m with a louder, more extrovert friend, I feel this way. I just assume that they feel they have to look after me…

So this year, I prayed for confidence and to be more outspoken. Basically, I asked God to turn me into someone else.

We quiet, shy people at church are always told that God will give us more boldness in the future; that we obviously don’t believe in the Word, or in God’s power, even, because we’re nervous to speak in front of others, or sing solos, or perform in any way–they tell us that they used to be like us before they let God lead in their lives—all of that nonsense. So they’re kind of saying that being quiet is sinful. It’s one thing to be scared to proclaim the gospel and to be ashamed of God, and it’s a completely different thing to just enjoy being quiet and meditative. Why would God want us all to be the same? One size cannot fit all.

It was only this week that I realised the only reason why I had prayed for boldness was because of other people’s problems. Other people favour loud extroverts, other people made assumptions about me; other people like to talk first and think later. The reason for my lack of confidence and low self-esteem was because I didn’t fit into a mould favoured by the mainstream, not because I had done something to bring myself down.

So, yesterday I prayed for self confidence. To be sure of my self. So that I would love myself, be happy with the person I’m becoming. I prayed that I wouldn’t let the negativity of others drive me to become someone else ever again. Sometimes we get too excited over the Elijah figures and the ferocious Peters, and brush over the thoughtfulness of our Moses’; people with the calmness of Daniel and our humble Esthers.  This is probably the reason why some preachers who say nothing of any weight and mar certain Biblical truths get the ‘Amens’ and appreciation they crave–because they shout and jump up and down. The ones who speak conversationally, presenting their message with calm rationality, are met with weariness.

I think it took me far too long to notice my qualities. I hope ignorance like that never drives me to pray in such a dangerous way again.

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Constrained By…?

I went to a prayer meeting last Monday afternoon at Plaistow Church at which I was given an experience that I’m really grateful for. These meetings are held every Monday and there has never been a time that I’ve visited and received no blessing. These people seriously believe in prayer; they treat it like medicine and if anyone steps through the doors in dire need of help, they prescribe the dosage with a faith that I really admire. Last Monday was the first time that I’d left the meeting with a page of notes; of thoughts, that I wanted to share on the blog and expand upon in my diary. We discussed a reading from Ephesians 3 from which Paul tells the church of Ephesus to not be discouraged over any trials that may come his way but to look to God instead. The discussion on this text eventually led onto the topic of God’s love and mercy.

Paul was an interesting person and he’s probably the best subject matter after my previous post. After years of torturing, killing and imprisoning countless Christians, he became one of the most well known Bible writers and an advocate of love and truth. There are times in the New Testament that you can see his patience has been tested by the churches, or times when his faith has taken a nosedive straight into the darkest depths of his mind—a friend once told me that he displays signs of depression in the book of Timothy; as he tells his fellow disciple about struggles he’s faced but the hope he still has in God. Because of these experiences Paul encountered, he more than anyone could testify about forgiveness, mercy and love—he wrote one of my favourite passages in the Bible, the ‘love chapter’, 1 Corinthians 13. He tells us that love is patient and kind; selfless and longsuffering. This is true love and it comes from God. Probably one of his greatest gifts to a fallen race.

But with true love comes false love. Infatuation; lust; exaggeration. People who were madly in love with each other on their wedding day are praying for the other’s death or downfall a few years’ later. Someone who spent decades with their spouse, producing an army of children and good memories, can engage in an extramarital affair with alarming ease. On the news recently the case of Jeremy Forrest has returned: a 30-year-old school teacher who fell in love with one of his students. She was 14 at the time their relationship started and he was married to a woman his own age. Despite being madly in love with his student (and she with him), he failed to see that a man with such responsibility should respect a girl enough to not accept her virginity when she is underage; his deep love for her was shallow enough that he could not patiently wait until she left school as a legal adult—even more, his love and his own heart was just so consumed with passion that he was unable to see that eloping with a now 15 year old girl to France would not end well, and that she would be missed by her family and would not be able to attend school. Love should be rational, surely? Which is why I don’t like the term ‘fall in love’. Falling isn’t a good thing; it denotes something that happened suddenly and unexpectedly; a fleeting feeling or passionate emotion. You fall and you hurt yourself; you could also say ‘plummeting in love’.

Christ’s love is supposed to ‘constrain us’. Not in a controlling way or forceful bondage, but to restrain the negative nature of ourselves: his love and sacrifice show us how to live for others, live for our faith and live selflessly. His love alone provides a blueprint of how to go about things. False love is a delusion. It comes from the enemy and can be hard to detect. Since my last post about love, I’ve really been meditating on it and thinking more about how I should act if I say I love someone. Well, for one, I wouldn’t be thinking about my own lusts and selfish desires, but about how the other person would feel—also a Christian and also in the same line of guilt. I would want to preserve their dignity and body, respect them as a fellow child of God and give them the boundaries they deserve. I would be patient and understanding towards them; mindful of their feelings. I would try to adopt the Christ-like character, rather than ‘my heart’.

If the love of Christ constrains me, I don’t want to be chained down to anything less.

Sometimes It Feels Like There’s a Bomb in My Head, Waiting to Explode…

I’ve always been a victim of my own destructive thoughts. I have a habit of day dreaming that I’ve cultivated, fertilized and tended to for years now; I’m pretty much standing in a tangled mesh of roses, thorns and bristles at this point. This all started a few years ago, when I began suffering from psychotic episodes. My concentration was awful; I’d practically sit in class staring at a wall, and only regain consciousness with ten or so minutes of the lesson to spare. It was during this time that I saw just how sinister and self-destructive my thoughts could be. My day dreaming often led to long moments, sometimes hours, of lying in bed with my eyes fixed on the ceiling. And I’d think, and think, about how awful I was, how much I was unloved; that I was ugly; that I should be dead. This usually resulted in physical self harm. One night, I boiled the kettle and poured the water on my arm.

Thankfully, God brought me out of that. But the vestiges of the past haunt me from time to time.

If I’m honest, my levels of lust within my relationship has been hard to cope with. Before I had ever been in a relationship, I naively thought that ‘lust’ wasn’t a huge issue for me; that I could always control myself. Well, now I’ve grown up. It’s been difficult, but I prayed; I set boundaries and curfews; I spent more time studying the Word, got involved with loads of church work to keep me occupied. Those things worked brilliantly, in fact, but every now and then I slip, and end up feeling really awful about myself afterwards…

Today has been a low day. I got home really late last night (fell asleep sometime after 1am), and ended up waking up at half six in the morning, only to find I couldn’t get back to sleep, despite my eyes stinging with fatigue. I rolled over and looked at my university email from my iPod and saw that I received my lowest score of the year so far. That already put me in a bad mood, but coupled with the tiredness, and the spiritual stumble that I took the night before (I broke the curfew) led me to think again. I was thinking, thinking, thinking, becoming more entangled in the thorns; cut and bruised, I emerged in a fit of literal tears. I cried for quite a while and the more I cried the worse I felt. I tried to get rid of this image I’d created of myself in my head, but I couldn’t. I kept thinking, ‘how far are you going to push yourself to the edge before you end up participating in something you’ll really, really regret? What are you really worth? Why are you making yourself so open? Since when were you a prostitute?’

I understand that a lot of the self-blame stems from the cultural belief that a woman needs to exercise more chastity than men, and in the church, a woman who is ‘hard-to-get’ and perches herself on that pedestal, away from all male hands until her wedding night, is a woman truly fit to be given the title of ‘Proverbs 31’. A virtuous woman, indeed. And my boyfriend holds nonof these views. Not even a little bit. I kept reminding myself of this fact, but I chose to listen to the voice that did not have my best interest at heart.

We spoke on the phone in the morning. When we ended the call, I burst into tears again, mainly because he sounded so sorrowful and I thought I’d caused him unnecessary upset. I felt as though I shouldn’t have said anything, but I wanted to be honest.

I’m yet to eat a meal today. I had my shower late; popped to the shops to get some water and household stuff; got back into my nightclothes retreated to my bed, eating chocolate and turning on the laptop to write this post. I felt sorry for myself, but I checked on Facebook before logging onto WordPress, and the statuses I saw almost took my breath away.

I have many Adventist/Christian friends on my Facebook, so I’m used to Bible texts on my Newsfeed, but this afternoon something else happened: all the passages that people were putting up were about sin, and the penalty that Jesus paid in order for us not to feel guilty and dejected and depressed when we do something wrong, but for us to give all our burdens and baggage to Him, at the foot of the Cross. I almost cried again, but for a different reason this time. So many people, so many texts and words of encouragement–I hadn’t told anyone about how I was feeling or what was going through my head, but it was as if the Spirit moved, so that they all wrote texts that corresponded with each other. The text that really stood out to me is taken from 1 John 2:1-2:

My little children, these things I write unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous: And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world…

I was also reminded of the lyrics to a hymn that has been in my head ever since I read the Bible text: Jesus Paid it All:

I hear the Saviour say
“Thy strength indeed is small
Child of weakness, watch and pray
Find in me thine All in All”

Jesus paid it all
All to Him I owe
Sin had left a Crimson stain
He washed it White as snow

Sometimes, God leaves me lost for words. Despite what has happened today, with my habit of self-destruction reaching such a high level, it’s finally taken a turn for the better…

…Because God has the power to save me from myself.