I felt oddly alone even though I was with other women I loved and respected. It was a vulnerable time of confession that was a rare event at a Christian women’s conference. The speaker asked the attendees to light up their phones and raise them in the darkened auditorium when they heard a word that resonated with them. Unworthy, fearful, broken, anxious, overwhelmed, bitter and empty were some of the words read aloud.
In that holy experience the roll call of my heart issues were not inventoried. With each passing word the creeping sense of being different in ‘not good’ ways cloyed at me. The isolation triggered a combative insecurity that wanted to know why.
Eventually, I was consoled when the speaker said one of my words, in fact, she said the biggest word on my list. I thought, “Yes, that’s me!” Feeling strangely comforted, I raised my glowing phone in a salute of gratitude. I realize my emotional response may seem a bit illogical. It was, after all, an exercise of confession, not some competition. However, I don’t mean to celebrate sin or conversely let you think that I didn’t have any sins to shine my phone for, because I had plenty.
Loudly absent that night were an assortment of my words: a critical spirit, self-righteous, envious, a know it all, and demeaning. Under my perfectionistic tendencies is a self-critical spirit that incessantly taunts me on the rare occasion I am wrong. I am a bully at the deepest level of my heart. I defend standards that are way too high, and if you fall short, well, you are just another donor to my every growing list of disappointments. The excellence I strive for breeds the self-import that covers me with a rancid stench that most people are nose-blind to.
Surely there had to be more women like me, those that shared my struggles and had similar words left buried in the dark. I consider myself a fully devoted follower of Christ who struggles daily with a different set of sins. The work they were doing at that conference was a beautiful thing, but the battles they were fighting were not mine. I meet with Jesus in very different trenches to heal very different wounds and offenses.
It’s these non-trending, under-publicized sins that occupy the trench where I do most of my sanctification work with Jesus. It’s a crowded ditch, home to judgement as well as guilt, discouragement and hope, and disbelief and faith. It’s a messy place that grace calls home. It’s where Jesus mends my shamed spirit and then shows me how to be more like him. This is my daily battle. This is my trench work that I cannot do without him!
Jesus has revealed so much to me in this trench. One of the more powerful insights that He has given me is that there’s a wrong way to be right. We’ve spent years together working on this one! He’s recently bringing me to deeper waters where He’s training me to let go of being right altogether and allowing others to be wrong. Oh my gosh, sometimes this is more painful than child birth, but this is the trench work He is calling me to!
No sin is pretty and it’s all the same in God’s eyes, but in our eyes some sins are more tolerable, like the ones that come along with looking good as a Christian. My heart tells me I am not alone in this trench work, and after that conference the Holy Spirit has been nudging me to be ugly honest. So here is my ugly, honest lesson: looking good and rule keeping has its own cost. Some of my most egregious sins have been because I needed to maintain an appearance of being right or being accepted. That is a very dangerous place to be!
Pride was the very big word that lit up my phone that night. Strange as it was, when I was sitting there feeling alone and unattractively different, it was pride that walked me into that sacred time of confession. Often our sins tend to the broken places within us, that’s how they get a foothold and that’s why we need to bring them to the trenches for redemption.
No iniquity is more infamous than pride. Hands down, it’s one of the greatest offenses to God. Pride is a swarthy culprit that has driven me to make reckless decisions, it has fractured my relationships, it has taken me to hills that God has not called me to die on, it has sequestered me when I needed help, and, most sadly, it has made others feel bad about themselves. This is not the gospel of Christ. This is society’s gospel. This is an errant, deceptive culture that awards perfection, self-sufficiency and power. The great deception is that when you chase after that, you believe you don’t need a Savior. The greater insult though, are the times when I strive for exactly that, in Christ’s name. And I do that way too often!
Honestly, I don’t believe I’m as alone in this as I thought I was that night. If you struggle with seductively, dangerous encounters with pride that have you being right in wrong ways, I’m telling you to join me in the trenches with Jesus. If you are willing, He will transform that pride into humility, because our humble Savior invites our imperfections, relieves us of our self-sufficiency and most of all delights in our obedience. This is the trench work He offers – this is the trench work that continues to transform me – this is the messy, ugly, honest place that grace calls home and my heart calls safe.
The holy discontent I had with this experience wasn’t about the actual trench work, it was about the lack of coverage in the ministry world for certain heart issues. The heart issues that make us offenders instead of victims. Why does this happen? Are the voices not loud enough? Am I not looking in the right places? Are sins of weakness more accepted than sins of strength, making it intimidating to carry that banner? Aside from the Holy Spirit and the reminders from pastors, I guess I was just hoping for others that could send me back to the trenches. I have more questions than answers, that’s for sure, and to those of you working in similar trenches, it would be great to know that I’m not alone. By coming together we can unmask the face of pride and its family of offenders that work to separate us from God and from each other. Redemption happens in the trenches; let’s shine the light on some of the most essential work God is eager to do with us. Because you know He will, and it’s only by His Spirit that we can!