Lighten Up

FeatherI just turned forty, and it feels like a deep sigh. There’s something about beginning a new decade that hits a reset button.

My thirties were a time of gathering – living new experiences, picking up pieces here and there to build a life and make a home for my family, taking hold of my own identity and passions. As I’ve entered my forties, I’m finding that it’s a time of laying down – a time of sorting through my possessions and heart to put aside extra things that weigh me down. Having given away or sold most of what we owned before we moved to Papua New Guinea for a time that ended up being much shorter than planned, my family has had a chance to start fresh. When we moved back into our house last month, beautiful people came around us like a rising tide and loved us deep and wide, asking not just what we need but what we want. They gave us warm reds and browns, calm blues and greys and greens, softness and warmth and sturdy comfort, and beauty just for beauty’s sake. Their astonishing generosity has given me permission to part with the little bit of old, worn out stuff we’d left in our shed, so as I unpack I’m decorating our cozy little nest only with meaningful things we love.

You can’t move forward very well if you’re dragging things along just because they’ve been part of your world for a while. So as I’m cresting the hill, I’m also letting go of some soul-weights that have slowed my pace and drained my energy for too long.

I’ve lived enough life now to have collected some pretty significant soul scars, both of my own making and from things I didn’t choose. Shame has a way of finding our scars and soaking like an acid into our deepest beliefs about ourselves. And having lived through something that brought a dark hurricane of anxiety in its wake, there were times over the past couple years that I moved through my days feeling afraid to even look people in the eyes. I worried about the assumptions they might make, the things they might think they knew about my situation. I couldn’t predict what they might say or the tears that might come without warning. Even the kindest souls sometimes wanted details I wasn’t willing to share with anyone other than a handful of our closest family and friends, so it felt easier to hang my head than risk being seen and misunderstood or pitied. Shame long practiced eventually presses an indention into our souls that becomes a familiar place of counterfeit refuge. As hard as that season was, it was a gift because it made me sick of hiding. It gave me the courage to be done listening to shame’s heavy siren call and instead wrap myself in words like these:

“But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, my glory and the one who lifts my head high.” ~Psalm 3:3 (NLT)

“Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy; no shadow of shame will darken their faces.” ~Psalm 37:5 (NLT)

He is my shield. I have permission to live with my head held high and joy sparkling in my eyes, even in those seasons when there might be people who think I should be fearful and hiding.

Along with the weight of shame, I’m tossing out the need to prove anything to anybody. I’ve messed up, I’ve been messed up by others, and I’ve fallen to pieces and been restored. I’ve learned a hard-won freedom that leaves me gloriously empty handed, with no desire to prove anything other than the truth that God is good. Really, really good.

The weightiest thing I’m letting go of is a sense of responsibility for things that aren’t mine to carry. There’s very little I’m actually responsible for. Only two things, really: to love God with everything in me, and to love people like I love myself. God asks me to respond to His love for me by learning His heart so deeply that eager obedience comes easily. He doesn’t ask me to predict the results of my obedience. He doesn’t ask me to know what might come tomorrow. He doesn’t ask me to look put together or to be anything other than a loud laughing, bright color loving, upper arm flab wobbling, awkward dancing, deep thought pondering, relationship enjoying, growing woman who frequently loses leftovers in the back of the fridge until they take on a life of their own. He asks me to love the people around me out of a filled and satisfied heart. He doesn’t ask me to make them happy or meet their expectations or keep them from making harmful choices. He doesn’t ask me to change their opinions or worry about what they might say. And He never asks me to bear the weight of the destinies of the people I care about. All He asks me to do is love Him and love people. Just that. Nothing more.

We know we’re not meant to live drained and overloaded, but it happens so slowly and quietly. Along our way we pick up good things, good intentions, good plans, until all the good makes it hard to find what’s best. The one who made us knows what we need, so let’s stop and breathe long enough to really hear these words. Really, really hear them. Because they’re true.

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke up you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light.” ~Matthew 11:28-30 (NLT)

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