“Let this be your life: Ponder Him; be pervaded with Him; point to Him. The more you know of Him, the more you admire the fullness of His beauty, the more you will reflect Him. O that there would be thousands of irresistible reflections of the beauty of Jesus. May it be said of such reflections, ‘It disarms us. It takes away our arguments.'” – John Piper
Alrighty, after a short hiatus (read: long) I am back on the blogging train and continuing my “Lessons” series with a hard topic for me to talk about. Man Hating. If this blog stinks, you’ll know why.
I thought I had already written about this year but upon searching my previous blogs I’ve realized that I, in fact, have not really written anything about this. Surprising. It’s probably the number one thing God has exposed in me and brought me to repentance about since moving to Santa Cruz. At some point in the past year (in fact it was many points) I discovered that I’m a man-hater. I never would have thought this, let alone admitted it, before but my ever so faithful pastor and two very honest and very masculine colleagues have slowly but surely opened my eyes to see the truth.
This is a post about God had to let me see the loneliness & isolation of power & control before I saw the need to change.
Let me explain. I met with my pastor for the very first time about a year ago when he invited me into his office to tell me he was praying for me. That spiraled into a lengthy meeting. We spent over 2 1/2 hours in his office talking about my love life, my past, and the reasons why I was still single. He was trying to get me to look at why I was single and really take ownership of how I had unintentionally sabotaged my own love life. He didn’t have anything in mind when he first started talking to me about it, but during the conversation I think he started to see something that I didn’t. He saw that with men I had two ways I would function: fight or flight. I would either passively acquiesce to them or fight them tooth and nail. I didn’t have an enjoyment function. I was always scared, angry, or ambivalent.
Not only that, but he helped me see that I viewed men as competition. I would compete with them by bantering, debating, and harping on the overall failure of men in our culture to man up. I did it in the name of biblical manhood and womanhood but was combative in the way I went about it. It was as if I had something to prove or something to gain from making men feel like failures, and in fact I did. It made me feel more powerful and in control. When my pastor and I met that day he told me something I have yet to forget, “When you compete in relationships you always lose.”
Although my man bashing made me feel superior to men, I wasn’t gaining anything. In fact, all I got was a reputation for being a shrew. And a lifetime of singleness if I didn’t change, or worse, an unhappy marriage to an unhappy man because no man likes to be dominated and scolded by his wife (or any woman for that matter).
So that was November. I started to see that I needed to change and began to change in small ways. There were cracks in my man-hating exterior, but it didn’t diminish entirely. I still felt the need to protect myself and put guys in their place. But fortunately for me, God put me in the perfect place to break that exterior to pieces. Fast forward 8 months to June.
There came a point in early June where I broke. I had spent a weekend at a conference with some of the high school and college guys and felt as though I was the target for their ridicule & mockery all weekend long. They were rude, demeaning, and hurtful and I came to the end of my ability to endure it. I broke down in tears at the end of that weekend and accused two of my closer guy friends here of being part of the problem. One of them gently told me that I was pretty abrasive during the weekend, too. Something I had failed to notice. I was faced with the reality of my own sin & the reality of the way I was treated and I had the choice to own up to my own failure or to continue blaming other people for the way I was being treated without taking responsibility for my part of the problem.
So I did the logical thing. I got in my car and drove away. As I drove, I began to weep. I was weeping because I was hurt, but also weeping because I was scared. Scared to own up to my part of the problem and admit that I might actually need to change. I didn’t want to change. I kid you not, I literally felt like I was being torn apart during that drive. I can’t really explain why but if you’ve ever gone through the painful process of change, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. I realized that everyone else probably saw this huge, glaring flaw in me that I had been blind to. I felt like a fool and didn’t want to have to go back and face anyone again. So I kept driving and honestly contemplated what would happen if I just drove until I got to my friend Esther’s house in Orange County, but by the time I hit Monterey my eyes were tired from crying and starting to close so I turned around and started driving back. I didn’t want to face anyone, let alone face my own sin, but I was trapped. I knew I had to if I wanted to honor God and if I really understood the grace I’ve been shown in the gospel.
So the next day I faced it head on. I had a long talk with one of the guys involved, and he helped me see the depth of my sin and the way I had really set the tone for a lot of my (unpleasant) relationships with the guys here. It took awhile, but at some point I just remember being broken as I realized what a terrible example and role model I was being to the younger brothers & sisters I came here to serve. And I started to hate my sin.
You see, for me the process of change usually goes something like this: 1) Don’t to acknowledge sin or change; 2) Want to want to change; 3 4) Hate my sin; 5) Begin to change. Hating my sin was the final step before I actually began to change.
I knew it would take time to repair the relationships I had damaged with the young guys here, but I started trying. I asked some of the guys for forgiveness, the ones I had openly sinned against. I asked my girls for forgiveness for setting a bad example for them or leading them in a way that caused them to be critical or harsh towards guys. And I began replacing my abrasiveness with kindness, understanding, and patience by the grace of God.
In the middle of that process I met with my pastor again, and he helped me see some of the reasons why I treated guys the way I did. Understanding why is a really big thing for me. When presented with a problem or statement, I usually ask “why?” I’m fascinated by why things are the way they are. So understanding why I was abrasive with men helped. I started to see that when I feel threatened, trapped, unheard, or outnumbered, I begin to fight. It makes sense when you know my background. When you are abused, you start to view people (for me it is men that I don’t quite trust) as a threat. Now people respond differently to abuse, but I became a fighter. Being a fighter is a very good thing in some ways. It is why I’ve been able to face my past & overcome it. It’s why I’ve refused to let my past become my identity. It’s why I’ve been able to share my past with so many people. So it’s a good thing at times but it’s a bad thing when I fight for no reason. I began to see that my “fight” function was on high in this new environment when it didn’t need to be and it was doing more harm than good. I needed to scale it back a bit.
I can’t say that my old abrasive self doesn’t creep up, but I think I can say that the way I treat guys has changed dramatically and my relationships with the guys in our youth group has changed too. I’m thankful that I didn’t ruin those relationships for good and thankful that God has shown me so much grace since I’ve been here.
Stay tuned for Lesson #5: Attraction Won’t Change Your Life.
Oh gosh, that will be an interesting one if I ever get to it.
Selfishness seeks its own private happiness at the expense of others. Love seeks its happiness in the happiness of the beloved.
– John Piper
Alright. I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, but how many of you thought I would actually even get to the third part in this series? I certainly didn’t. But here I am. So beep beep.
The third lesson I’ve learned since coming to Santa Cruz is this: the God of the impossible can do what you think is impossible – instead of changing your circumstances, He can change you.
So often I doubt God’s ability to do the truly impossible. I don’t think that atheist will ever come to saving faith. I don’t think that Christian will ever be brought to repentance. I don’t think that hope will ever become a reality. I don’t think that relationship will ever be reconciled. I really really doubt God’s power. And I think one reason I doubt God’s power is because I am usually looking to God to change circumstances. I know that’s what I did when I moved here. But that isn’t always the most impossible thing God could do…it’s just the most impossible thing I want Him to do. Because I don’t want Him to do what I think is truly impossible and actually change me. I often can’t even fathom that, I think it’s so impossible. So I settle for being upset at God for not doing what I want, i.e. changing my circumstances so I don’t have to change.
Okay so some of you might be confused. What happened to me that was so bad? You may be thinking, “I thought you decided to move to Santa Cruz, did it, and you’ve been living a normal life there ever since? Did someone die? Did you die? What is wrong with you?”
And I wouldn’t blame you.
Nothing bad did really happen to me. Except a few surprises that I didn’t expect (hence why I call them surprises).
- Surprise #1: When I decided to move up here, I had no love interest. A week later, to my surprise, someone came into the picture. I moved and he started pursuing me and I started finding comfort in the thought of getting my old life back if things with this person worked out. I could move back down to L.A. and act as if this whole Santa Cruz thing had never happened.
- Surprise #2: My new job wasn’t much of a change of pace. I was hoping for a slower paced job after being an RD at TMC, but I soon realized that wasn’t going to be the case. It was just a different kind of fast paced.
- Surprise #3: It turns out I missed my friends a whole lot more than I thought I would. I honestly didn’t think it would be that big of a deal because a lot of my friends were already moving away or would be within the next year or so of my move but then I actually moved and all the sudden had no friends. I remember waking up from a nap one night after my first week at the church and realizing I couldn’t just reach for the phone and call Esther to go grab dinner and tears just started pouring down my cheeks. I was totally alone and the reality of it was much more sad than the concept had been.
- Surprise #4: Living in Santa Cruz is expensive and I couldn’t afford to have my own perfectly decorated apartment and stay in it all the time like I had been able to do at TMC. The homebody in me was dying a slow, painful death.
- Surprise #5: I began working with two young guys (who are wonderful, btw) and, much like a first year of marriage can have a lot of issues to deal with, we had our fair share of issues to work through in our first year working together. It turns out I’m a fairly outspoken, independent, proud young woman who doesn’t like to be told what to do. Surprise!
- Surprise #6: Things didn’t work out with Surprise #1. My brilliant escape plan was foiled. And my pride wouldn’t let me give up and leave a few months into it. So I was trapped here.
All of this combined together to make me a very unhappy creature with my new circumstances. I rarely admitted that to anyone because of the aforementioned pride of wanting to thrive in my new job & city, but I begged God to change everything. Bring my friends here. Change my relationship status so I could move somewhere else with a decent excuse. Change the guys I work with. Make my circumstances bearable for me.
And in the midst of it I literally didn’t even want to pray that God would make me content, let alone happy (no wonder I was miserable!). I didn’t want to go at the pace I was going in my job, I didn’t want to love and sacrifice for my coworkers, I didn’t want to make new friends, and I most certainly did not want to stay single!
You know that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” stuff? I didn’t want any part of it.
But surprise, surprise…God didn’t want to do what I wanted. He wanted to do something bigger. He wanted to change me (which was so painful at times!) He wanted to teach me to love and enjoy the guys I get to work with. He wanted to open my eyes to the way I mistreated and disrespected men. He wanted me to get to experience being cared for and supported by a church body, especially when I’m weak. He wanted me to stop being so strong and independent. He wanted to make me happy in Him instead of looking to a husband for escape. He wanted me to learn all the lessons I am writing about. In short, He wanted to free me & make me happy with an imperfect life. That sounds useful, when I think about it that way.
So I am looking back on nearly a year and a half here and I am amazed that my circumstances haven’t changed but I am happy. I literally did not think this was possible. I thought I could only be happy if I got what I wanted. But not a single friend has moved here. I am still working at the same place, in the same position, with the same people. I am still single. And yet everything has changed and I am so thankful to be here, I’m so thankful for every part of it.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
– Psalm 23:6