Living Outside

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 “A Christian is someone who lives outside himself. He lives in Christ by faith and in his neighbor by love.”

– Martin Luther –


I hate the word “ingrown.” It nearly makes me squirm.

I wonder if I dislike it so much because it too often describes me? Ingrown, self-focused, spiraling inward on my own angst.

“A Christian is someone who lives outside himself.”

My world, my problems, my fears. I know them–literally by heart. My issues go everywhere with me. I live in them. I think about them. Sometimes, I even fear that I am my problems.

What does this mean–to be a girl who lives outside herself?

Because I can’t summon up the spiritual muscle to want to do it. I just want to nurse my own wounds, thanks.

Then I talked to Tiffany* on the phone, a girl many states away and many experiences removed from my world. The ridiculous simplicity of my “problems” nearly slapped me in the face as her story broke my heart. A baby out of wedlock, at seventeen. Now, a business on the verge of bankruptcy. A husband who’s spiritually shutting down. Three more babies all under six years old.

A world that’s caving in.

Tiffany kept her composure on the phone, but still, as I remember our conversation, I want to weep for her. She’s struggling, pushing through tight finances, raising four kids, wrestling with a marriage that must seem like a runaway train.

I offered to pray. And I ached because her pain was so intense, but yet so matter-of-factly stated.

Raw pain is heartbreaking.

But, maybe…maybe even worse is the pain that she’s resigned herself to carry. It doesn’t shock her anymore. It just hurts, and she can’t see to the end.

Shifting my ingrown focus hurts, because I’m opening up to pain that doesn’t belong to me.

I talked to Elizabeth across a table. Her backstory made my saddest childhood moments feel like Disneyland. My worst day as a kid?–maybe when our nearby church split and my best friend went away with the other group. Maybe trying to wrestle down my questions about salvation.

Elizabeth’s worst day? It’s hard to say. Maybe it was when a relative abused her when she was little. Or maybe it was after that, day after day facing counselors and doctors and psychologists. Maybe it was when she had no hope left at all. Maybe that was her worst day.

“Why is that her story and not mine?” I wonder. “Why is Tiffany waking up and surviving day after day in a spiritual cloud? Why not me? Why was Elizabeth’s childhood destroyed, and not mine?”

These stories don’t just sadden me, though. They also encourage me. I may not see how Tiffany’s struggle will turn out for her good, but I believe in a God who can make that happen. I may not understand how Elizabeth felt when her life was turned upside-down, but I rejoice in the strength of God in her spirit, a resilience coming out of her in songs and joyful laughter and a heart filled with a compassion I am coming to admire.

Great pain. Great possibilities. Great power.

God has something mysterious and lovely going on. And I would never know about it if I refuse to go outside.

Get outside my box, my inner world of safety and comfort and me-problems.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

– C.S. Lewis –

Loving is scary.

But….

Not loving–letting myself stay safe behind the locked doors of my own heart–that, my friends, is even scarier.

So here is my heart, dear Lord.

Wring it with sorrow for the hurts of others.

Here is my heart.

Break it with Your passion for the lost.

My heart.

Mend it with Your great love–all undeserved.

Take it. Use it.

Fill it with an overflowing grace to those I see.

Let my whole life be an offering.

And so, let me live outside–outside myself.

Let my home be in You, by faith.

And in those around me, with Your love that stretches beyond our limits and even our imaginations.


 “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to which also you were called in one body; and be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

– Colossians 3:12-17, NKJV –


*Tiffany’s name has been changed to protect her and her family from the all-seeing eyes of search engines

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