Jennifer Camp, co-founder of Gather Ministries, and author of Loop, grew up in the middle of an almond orchard in Northern California and now lives in the busy Bay Area with her husband and three kids. A former high school English teacher, she loves to write, but she especially loves to encourage people to seek and live out the truth of their story, their identity in Christ. You can find her writing at her blog, Jennifer J. Camp .You can connect with Jennifer on both Facebook and Twitter. She would love to have you join her there.
Coffeeshop counters are filled with felted cupids and red glittered hearts. Men walk the streets of Palo Alto with bunches of flowers pressed into hands.
I lift my face to the sun as I walk. Justin is close, this partner of mine who pushes me toward love more than anyone else I know.
And it is hard. Love. The kind of love that tears at your heart until surrender comes. I’m not doing this right, I’m sure.
“Iron sharpens iron,” is what Justin reminds me. And he pushes, and he challenges. He can tell when I’m stuck and don’t know my way out. And he does that dance of knowing how to pursue me and give me room.
“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17).
And it is uncomfortable. And I want to run. But I need this–someone to pursue me–encourage this stubborn me toward God. I need someone to show me Jesus in the flesh–what love looks like when I am running the other way rather than doing the one thing I know I need to do: fall.
In relationships, we hurt each other when we let our own big self get in the way. (And this is my special talent.) So I listen to Justin’s words, and I ask for God to help my heart be soft. I don’t like it–that place of tension. The Holy Spirit whispers in my ear, inviting me toward a new place. And all I want to do, instead, is stay right where I am. Even though it is more painful, more lonely, more dark.
But I can’t stay here.
I want to be where the light shines. I do. But when I hear words I don’t want to hear–true or not–it is so hard to not have my heart be hardened. It is hard to not be stubborn. It is hard to not be right.
It is a lot of work, this clashing of wills, this battle for more than peace. For love–even hope–can be turbulent too. And it is only Jesus, who is not afraid of turbulence, who calms the storm.
I didn’t know this is what love could look like–that the fighting for another person’s heart doesn’t always mean turning the other way, hoping for the best, and not doing a thing. When we see someone we love turning away from God, rejecting the full life He has for them, it will do no one any good to do nothing. It is our job to love. And love isn’t always neat and pretty and a bouquet of roses in tight, clenched fingers on a sunshine-filled, clean city street.
(Although it might just be that too.)
Love is being reminded it is okay to let your fifteen year old son, who is pushing and pulling to find his own way, go. Even if it feels awful (for you) when he falls. Love is being honest with friends and telling them that really, actually, you are not okay. Love is being bold, letting God’s words be more than words but action. It is listening, yes. But it is also responding to what He says. For what good is a word from God if we forget the Word is alive within us? It is up to us to respond–let the Word take shape in us. Then, only then, will it live.
My Spotify dashboard today offers two playlists: (1) “Valentine’s Day Love,” the first song offering the crooning of Ed Sheeran; and (2) “Anti-Valentine’s Day,” with Adam Levine belting out “Animals.” Each playlist represents a story, the story of love fought for, surrendered to, given up on, or lost. I’ve decided to go with the “Valentine’s Day Love” playlist. It’s got Jewel and Bryan Adams, with a chaser of The Lumineers and The Verve and Sister Hazel. Good stuff.
Love is heartbreak and hope. Love is battle and surrender. The story I want to tell–that I lived a life revealing love that was heart-won and true. I want to listen more to God’s truth, but, most importantly, I want to act on what I hear Him tell me, too.
How are you stirred toward action . . . toward love . . . this day?
It’s been hard, for sure. I imagine it always is, when we’re taking a good hard look at oursevles, the parts previously hidden, the parts we wished we could hide. When do we ever feel in the mood to consider this truth: we each have an affinity for certain sins? Are we ever? In any case, the process, even the outcome, doesn’t sound fun at all.
This hard look we do is not a look into a mirror; it’s into our hearts–our motivations, our history, our personality. The goal? To increase in self-awareness–growing in understanding of our whole self for which Christ died. The reason? To recognize that (1) there is sin in us, the false self that continues to sin even when we don’t want to, and (2), there is the beautiful, true self, the self that, in her fullness, recognizes and lives out her identity in God.
It is amazing how Jesus knows this; He knows each part of us. And He loves us anyway.
These two parts of the self are you. These two parts of the self are me. All of this is for whom Christ came and died and will come again. So I wonder: We should take a better look at her, this whole self, then, shouldn’t we?
“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23)
It can feel better to ignore that deeper part of ourselves, the place where our heart and our soul whispers the truest stuff about us. Yeah, it’s brutal: the truth. But that long, hard look at who we are, at how we are made, at our predisposition toward a certain false self that shields the beauty and power and strength of who we, in our rising fullness truly are, can be kind of good too.
And we need that. We need to claim that self–love all of ourselves, despite our predisposition toward sin or falseness or darkness. For there is more to us than just that. If Jesus loves all of us, despite us and because of us–our existence sprung from the God whose love could not be contained–then we should try to get a better understanding of who this is that Jesus loves so much. Me, in all my falseness, You, in all of yours.
It is only in knowing what we are capable of without God–recognizing and owning our true-false selves without God and our true-beautiful selves with God–that we can claim the lives God gives us–lives of surrender and freedom and joy and hope and fullness.
“And to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19).
I forget how it started–how I had the idea of having the bunch of us, girlfriends whom I’ve known for more than ten years–sit right there in my front room and take the Enneagram test on our phones. You see, we know who we are–that we are loved by God, perfectly made and chosen. But we get mixed up sometimes. We get frustrated with our sin, specifically that particular sin we each head toward more than any other.
So, we took the test. And it was fascinating. And good. And so, so hard.
It is tough to like yourself when you get a glimpse of your sin–what it really looks like, what you are truly like, without God in your heart.
I figured the thing I have struggled with most in my life is pride. I knew it was pride, for instance, that prompted me, at sixteen years old, to consider taking my own life but then the life of my child instead–rather than let people know how I had sinned. I cared more about what people thought of me than anything else. I thought I knew better than God.
Yes, that was pride.
But what I never realized until I took the Enneagram test and read this book and then this one (and then took a free, second test) that what I also struggle with is deceit. For decades I lied about who I was; I cared more about achievement and success, and I was willing to create a false persona rather than be vulnerable, real, honest, and look at the truth of who I am without God.
The Enneagram validated what I had already known about myself, as well as gave me fresh insight into how my personality and predisposition toward certain behaviors affects my relationships with others, and with God.
This was last week. And this information–this self-awareness-has rocked my world. Each person who takes the Enneagram will find that they are one of nine personality types. Knowing your type helps you get a better understanding of your personality: some things about your personality you will think are awesome, and some things will just make you cringe.
You see, I am a type Three, which is classified as an achiever, a performer. (Not surprisingly, I took the test twice because I desperately wanted to be another type than the type I am.) I want to get things right. I want to look okay. I will do what it takes to fit in. Ouch. That is me at my worst. But what I love about being a Three is this: when I have surrendered the desire to play games, be deceitful for the sake of pride, I am filled with hope. I fight for truth. I know I have nothing to prove, and I lead with vulnerability. I am less scared of failure–knowing my God is who catches me when I fall.
It is challenging to take a good, hard look at how we are wired, how we are made, how we are predisposed to fall. But when we see our particular weaknesses for what they are, specific, unique opportunities for God to make us trust in Him, we are more fully equipped to fight that beautiful battle of this day, and the next day, and the next, with our God by our side.
Here is a helpful and short video clip of Richard Rohr explaining the why behind the Enneagram.
Have you studied the Enneagram? What is your journey of looking deeply at who God has created you to be?
This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com
We feel hollowed out. Words, thoughts, feelings play hide-and-seek. We want to cajole them, coerce them into cooperating. No need to be shy. It’s just me.
We are on our knees again. With no answers. No words. Will worship music help? What about beauty? So we find the songs that help our hearts remember who we are. We look for light falling on our face, our hands, bare branches in bitter cold outside. Words for our feelings might come now, yes? Oh, God, what is going on with my heart?
Listening helps us discern–untangling these emotions. Our heart beating. Our very breath. We are drawn inward. Father, help me hear You. Slow me down.
We convince ourselves that no words means no understanding. No words means confusion and denial and retreat. No words means doubting ourselves at the core: I am surely lost. Where is my place here? What matters?
We struggle to recognize these whispers of doubt and discouragement for what they are–distraction, lies of the enemy twisting what is good and making discontent rot what is hope, what is true, what is here. We feel only our spinning, our confusion, our disappointment, our anger. Each a symptom of an ache for something deeper. Yes, God, this struggle is real.
Understanding our own hearts feels elusive, and we are impatient to figure out what is going on. Where is joy? Why do I feel so distant from You?
We want to wrestle clarity to the ground, tie it up, lock it down. Stay close! Don’t even think about getting away!
But then quiet.
God reminds us it is okay to not have the answers. We want to be okay with that.
Have courage, dear heart. Have courage to stay in the quiet, the place of no words. There is going to be a picture for you to see there. And it is that picture that will be the beginning of understanding–understanding of who you are, how you are loved. And how maybe, words are overrated.
My understanding, child, is deeper than that.
Father, we lift up our voices to You, your daughters. We stand and claim our place by your side, a place we do not deserve but which we say yes to, all the same. We are yours. We are conquerors in your name. You give us courage. We lean in now and desire your voice, your truth, more than anything else. We ask You to replace this heart of stone and give us a heart of flesh.
These troubles we face are temporary, and You are bigger than any problem. You are merciful, and You are kind. You are the Father, the King, the hero in our story. We love the story you write with your breath of love within our soul. Play your song in us now, our Lord. Let us be sweet music in your ears. We claim our place, and we hold your hand. You give us eyes to see and hearts to hear your voice.
It was your Word made flesh that gives us life. Thank you, Lord. This day, how holy, how beautiful–because of You here, right here, right now. You are all we need.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
This post appeared originally at jenniferjcamp.com