A Beautiful Offering (Sep-Dec 2004)

By Matt Dabbs

by Angela Thomas
September – December, 2004

For some reason I had believed there would be a progression. I’d bring my strengths to Jesus, he’d add more strength, then I’d just get better and better. I used to think that by now I’d probably be a spiritual giant. I guess I thought that after I’d spent most of my life knowing Jesus, I’d outgrow my humanity. I’d outrun the world. I’d rise above and never stumble. I don’t know where all these dumb ideas came from, but I was just wrong and strong-willed and insensitive. Did I say the whole sing-louder-to-drown-out-the-heartache thing was dumb? ’Cause if I didn’t, it was.

Brokenness comes to us for so many different reasons. Sometimes it’s the way the world comes up to greet us. Sometimes it’s the consequences of our sin. Sometimes it’s the result of a lifetime of poor choices. And then sometimes we can’t even untangle the mess to give it a name. Christians break for all the same reasons anybody breaks: because they are human and fragile and prone to wander.

I have friends who have been broken by sickness, the death of a child or a spouse, bankruptcy, abuse, rape, addictions, abortion, and on and on. They are Christians who’ve been crushed in one way or another by tragedy or choices or sin. Sometimes it starts small and then gets bigger. That’s how brokenness came to me. I have been broken by circumstances and choices and then, finally, divorce.

Sometimes we have to use words to describe ourselves that were never meant to be in anyone’s vocabulary. We suddenly have words attached to our lives such as cancer, divorce, rape, or widow. Sometimes we look around us and know that it’s not how we dreamed it, but here it is, and it’s all in a million pieces.

It seems like almost every strong believer I know has been broken or remains in broken places. A pastor said to me the other day, “Angela, I don’t really trust anyone in ministry who’s never been broken.” His words were meant as grace to me, and they could not have been more soothing. He gets it. None of us ever went looking for brokenness, but it came to find us anyway, with all its intense lessons on pain and heartache and suffering.

Maybe you’ve never known anything so painful that it emptied your spirit. Or maybe it seems like you’ve lived your whole life in pain. Either way, the reality is that it’s coming. One way or another, brokenness comes to us all. I’d kind of thought I could skip past it if I kept singing. But Jesus never preached the insulated gospel. That was my own misinterpretation of Him.

Did you ever think the same kinds of things I did? Did you ever believe that being a Christian meant eventually overcoming weakness or reaching a pinnacle of near-perfection on this earth? We can become more mature as believers. We can be made complete for the purposes of Christ on this earth. But until heaven, we cannot escape our humanity and the frailties that come with it. Did you ever think that if you subscribed to a certain set of behaviors, you’d be protected from the effects of living in a fallen world? I don’t know if I consciously ever said those things, but as I look back, those kinds of ideas seemed to fuel my actions and attitudes.The broken person can pick up one of the little pieces lying around but can’t find another one to match. It becomes obvious that this life isn’t going to be put back together like a puzzle. You have to start over. But the person who is broken doesn’t have the will anymore. The broken person is emptied of desire and dreams and courage. When life breaks and the pieces are crushed, then the spirit becomes desperate and poor.

The Inheritance
My relationship with Jesus began with my dream of becoming a mature, faithful follower. I wanted to shine so brightly that God would really be proud of me. So I set the bar unattainably high and began to structure my life around the dream of being a perfect Jesus girl. I look back now and shake my head. Not in regret, but I do wince at my lack of understanding. I did not understand the heart of God. I didn’t realize that forgiveness would be an ongoing process for this earthly pilgrim. I didn’t know it was okay to acknowledge emptiness in your spirit. I didn’t think that brokenness was acceptable to God. So I learned to pretend for my own sake, and I thought I was pretending to please God.

I know it sounds ridiculous now, but I was truly just doing all I knew. I had no idea about the blessings attached to the “When You Are’s” of the Beatitudes. I didn’t understand that God could look on my imperfection and offer his tender compassion and blessing anyway. It has transformed my entire relationship with God to be able to come to Him as is, completely human, worn out, with hurt feelings, procrastinating or aimless. Through prayer I have learned to lay my empty spirit on his altar.

My brokenness is a beautiful offering to Him, and just the act of giving my poor spirit to the Father ushers me into the inheritance of his kingdom. Do you remember the inheritance that is set aside for us? It contains the gifts we could not buy for ourselves—forgiveness, divine comfort, grace, mercy, healing, restoration—all the riches that belong to God, given to us just because we belong to Him.

I feel as though I say this all the time, but God is truly amazing. There is a kingdom inheritance awaiting you and me, and we don’t have to be perfect Jesus girls to receive it. Maybe most of my life, anxiety has come from not feeling that I am worthy, but I am supposed to get myself worthy before I can receive a blessing from God. It’s almost as if Jesus says, “I know about your brokenness and your flaws. I know that you aren’t worthy. That’s where I come in. What’s Mine is yours anyway.”

Jesus wants you to know that when you are broken, shivering, alone, or afraid, with nothing left and nowhere to go, then you can turn in his direction and lay yourself at his feet. Lay your broken offering on his altar. He will come and carry you into his presence. He will hold you with the warmth of his embrace and cover you with the blanket of his kingdom inheritance.

God wants you to know that when everything else is gone that makes more room for Him, and every time there is more room for Him, you are blessed. He came for all of us, the demon-possessed of Syria, rule keepers from Jerusalem, little girls with astronaut dreams in the South, and happy campers holding hands around bonfires all over the world. He wants you to know that he doesn’t mind broken things or broken hearts or broken people. In fact, he dearly loves them.

It’s such amazingly good news that you might want to pass it on.

So that you can be comforted
Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Funny thing about grief and mourning: we want someone to take it away or something to numb it away, but no one or nothing can. The books say that it’s healthy. Psychologists reason that it’s necessary. I am learning that the only way to the other side is through. The difficulty is that we don’t think we can get through because it’s so incredibly lonely to grieve. Unfortunately there are no interstates through mourning. The only path is poorly marked, fraught with potholes, sharp turns, and steep, harrowing cliffs on either side. And it’s always dark when we’re grieving, a deep, dark night of the soul.

At the height of my pain, a friend knocked on the door with a loaf of bread. She said, “I don’t know what to do, so I made you food.” We laughed. I cried. She tried. Nothing helped. I don’t even think I touched the bread, but I was grateful. Still lonely, but grateful that people wanted to take my sadness away.

In my sadness, I have felt so much like a baby girl. The girl that just wants someone to come and make it all better. The baby who cries until she’s all cried out or until she’s cried herself to sleep.

Have you ever seen a little baby pitch a fit? A full-blown, I’m-mad-and-sad-and-nobody-can-make-me-glad fit? Food won’t work. Toys are thrown. Being held is awful. The crib is a jail. I’d watch one of my own toddlers act ridiculous and think, They’re just going to have to give it up.

The grown-up soul becomes rightfully discontent in its grief. Nothing brings relief in our loss, and eventually we just have to give it up. Jesus knew that after we’d tried everything else, one day we’d give ourselves over to mourning, the emptiness of knowing that we cannot recover our lost lives or lost loves or lost dreams. He knew that ultimately we’d have to look straight into our agony and stop avoiding it. We’d have to hold up our sorrow, remember what was, accept what’s gone, and cry until the ocean of our pain is empty.

Jesus told his followers that when the tears are flowing and the pain is real and we have become the walking wounded who finally crawl into the presence of God, then we are blessed. Our lives can be a beautiful offering because the empty soul finds itself before the only One who can heal. We’ve tried every quick fix available. We’ve numbed ourselves with food, addictions, obsession, or sin, but nothing worked, and all that’s left is to mourn what was and what never can be.

I think Jesus wants us to know that the only comfort that speaks stillness to the squalling soul is supernatural. The things we try to do for ourselves can be distracting, but real comfort happens in the arms of God, the One who knows and understands and holds us in the pain. Jesus knew that he would become the sacrifice for our mourning, that he would become the Wounded Healer, the only hope the walking wounded will ever have.

When you are hurting, your head says that God is far away, but Jesus says, in fact, that God is closer than ever. This day if your soul aches and your heart mourns, please know that you are not alone—you’re in the club and there are so many of us. But even more than being in the club, you are held and healed by the love of God. I think that Jesus wants you to know that even when you are mourning, your life can still be a beautiful offering to God because in his presence and by his healing, your empty soul will find all the comfort it’s aching for.

I need a Savior
I have been such a whiny-baby with God. His call on my life is to write and speak, giving out the truths of Scripture through sound teaching and stories. I have wanted to write all my life but didn’t try until I was thirty-five because my stuff wasn’t like anyone else’s. I didn’t know that could be a good thing. But I can become paralyzed, thinking I’m not as good as so-and-so. I don’t teach like such-and-such. Maybe he should just send them instead. And while he’s at it, he should probably send someone who sounds Midwestern and not Southern!

Everywhere I go, I get a couple of sentences out and people cut me off with, “Where are you from?” Makes you a little gun-shy about what’s coming next. I’m thinking either, They like the accent, so turn it up or They hate the accent; quick, do your best Iowa imitation.

I want to tell people about the love of Jesus so bad that I could burst, but I say to God, “It’s okay if You pull the plug on this whole thing. There are speakers without accents. There are writers with perfect grammar. I’ll understand.”

I can too easily become discontent with my gifts. And when I do, I wander into fear. I want to be better than I am. I want to write and speak flawlessly before we put God’s name to it. I want to honor God so much that I think it might be better sometimes if I just don’t do anything. I don’t want to be just me.

It’s like the week before I began seminary, when I was sick, physically and emotionally sick. My friends were asking, “What in the world is wrong with you?” I was as stressed as anything, all self-imposed. I had already begun to imagine less-than-perfect results. I kept thinking, How can you make less than an A in the Word of God? I mean, what would that reflect about your commitment level? How can you say, “I love You, God, but I only made a C in Bible?” I was freaking myself out. Obviously, I knew very little about grace. The virus that caused my sickness was the weird notion that if I just tried hard enough then I could be the perfect Jesus girl.

But I can’t. I have tried like crazy and I still can’t.

One day I was beating myself up about something. Whining and wallowing in discontent magnified by doubt. My sister-in-law, Jodi, looked me square in the eye and said, “Angela, of course it’s just you, and you will never be enough, you will never have all the answers, and you will never become the perfect Christian girl; that’s why you have always needed a Savior. Not only does Jesus save you from your sin, he saves you from your weakness. He saves you from your flawed and fallen self. And he saves you from your doubts. He is enough every time you are not.”

I think she set me free that day.

Hallelujah, I need a Savior! I need a Savior who is my Sustainer and Completer! It’s okay not to be enough, because I was made to need the Son of God. I can’t be sinless. I need a Savior. I can’t be flawless. I need a Savior. I can’t be secure or confident without my Savior. I will never be the perfect speaker girl or amazing writer. I will never be enough all by myself, but I have a Savior and I can rest.

Have you ever been stopped dead in your tracks, thinking it’s no use to try? Does an assumption like that keep you from dreaming? Did you believe the marks you made or the comments they gave? Has someone ever said, “You can’t,” and then you lived as if what was said was true? Does imperfection overshadow your giftedness?

If you have ever quit or thrown up your hands in frustration … If you’ve decided for sure that it’s no use … If people said things that made you decide to stop living … If they stole your dreams and hauled off your courage and left you discontent and afraid … If you know it’s just you and that this version of you will never be enough, then I have some good news today.

You need a Savior too.New Wineskins

Angela ThomasAngela Thomas is a bestselling author and speaker. Her most recent book is A Beautiful Offering, excerpted in this issue. She wrote her first book, Prayers For Expectant Mothers, while pregnant with her fourth child.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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