Maybe this is your story as well… I grew up having to be ‘perfect’, to be intuitive and figure out how to please. So for me, failure causes intense agony, even now.
But it took me a while to realise that those who demanded my perfection never lifted a finger to help. And those who pointed out my failures didn’t actually care for my success. Was there a way out?
Slowly, I learned that, ‘Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labour. If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up’ (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
My true friends are those who help me be my best, and who let me do the same. DAH!
This past week, I spent hours upcycling old bricks, chipping off old cement. But I also spent those hours thinking about Nelson Mandela. As a prisoner, he too chipped away at stones in a quarry, and after 27 years, he still could forgive.
If he had the courage to do that, so could I. So, I chipped and prayed about a painful situation… Then it dawned on me – God is above every manipulation, and no one can ruin his plans.
I finished that pile of bricks and late that night, I stopped fretting about my apparent ruin. I was still on track in God’s eyes. I could forgive. I could leave bitterness behind, because God is above all.
My great comfort is this – our emotional deaths don’t have to be permanent. The privilege to speak, to choose, to work, to love, even if we have lost them, can be regained. The only thing is that in our experienced darknesses, we will change.
One of my frequent go-to verses is Isaiah 45:3, ‘I will give you the treasures of darkness and the riches hidden in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who calls you by name.’* For it is in our darknesses that God opens our eyes.
The words I once wanted to speak, I don’t have to anymore. I have different words. My choices are different now. How I work and love changes… Emotional deaths, to put it simply, reposition our lives.
The beauty of being human is that each of us has inherent privileges. In the beginning, God lavished Adam and Eve with ones which gave them emotional life. Love and friendship. To make their own choices and speak their mind. The privilege to learn from mistakes and grow wiser. To work creatively and have faith… Each one is essential in God’s eye.
Now, if any one of these was forcibly removed from our lives, the way God created us to function would die in that area. And this is a death. It will affect every other area in life.
If my freedom to speak is torn from me, it affects my friendships, choices, and my opportunities to grow. It affects my decisions…
In May we published Eva Leaf’s This Crown of Comfort. Eva searched the Bible for years to discover places where God spoke to women and one rainy day in a tent, she reread Isaiah. ‘I finally found it,’ she writes, ‘I read an outpouring of God’s heart towards a city called Jerusalem. He called her a beloved woman!’ Many years, and 33 drafts later, This Crown of Comfort was completed. ‘With each new draft, I saw a bit more clearly that even in our brokenness we can be whole with God, and that whatever our grief, he is there to comfort us.’
‘I read an outpouring of God’s heart towards a city called Jerusalem. He called her a beloved woman!’
Drawing on the seven calls of God in the book of Isaiah, Eva writes out of searing experience – her own, and that of the many women who spoke to her for the book – and concludes, ‘Despite everything we go through, God’s seven calls are relevant today. For in his tender love, he shows us our beauty and worth. In his powerful love, he gives us strength.’
One of the women who generously shared her story with Eva is known as ‘Becks’ in the book. She has written this blog:
‘In This Crown of Comfort, Eva Leaf takes us on a personal journey through one of the most difficult and incomprehensible realities of existence: the pain and suffering that we encounter and experience in our lifetime. Society today may emphasize the responsibility for us to create happiness by following our hearts to the point where we tend to feel guilty when we are unhappy. This book, however, tells another story: life can be breaking us, circumstances crush us, people hurt us, feelings of sadness, pain, anger, and loneliness completely overwhelm us.
And yet, this is a book of hope!
And yet, this is a book of hope! Eva shows us the reality of pain and brokenness, but also the reality of a life-giving Companion. In Hebrews 12 the writer says: ‘Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.’ The word ‘race’ in Greek is Agōn, which means ‘struggle, conflict’. This book looks that reality squarely in the eye: yes, life is hard and there is serious struggle going on, and the many stories are witness to that. But thank God, there is another truth: we are not alone, someone has gone before us, loves us and – in mysterious ways – is able to use our brokenness and pain to draw us closer to himself.
God called Jerusalem a ‘beloved woman’. And when she was badly broken, He draws her into a process of healing. She is to take seven vital steps in her journey of recovery and renewed intimacy with Him. As his children, we are also God’s beloved (wo)men. Through many personal examples, stories from friends and everyday encounters Eva shows us how to use these seven steps as we turn away from patterns of lies and dysfunction and embrace the truth that we truly are God’s beloved. And it all starts with comfort…
This Crown of Comfort is an encouragement for people who are confronted with pain and hardship as they go through life, for we are not alone. Suffering does not have the last word, Jesus does. This book is also for those who are looking to make sense of the journey they are travelling. Eva challenges us to look inward, make an honest inventory for ourselves, and choose the right path going forward. And this book is for those who have a friend or loved one going through crises and are wondering what to say and what to pray. Give them this book as a gift, and if you are able, offer to go through it together, perhaps an even greater gift for the both of you. This Crown of Comfort allows us to discover the love of God in a deeper way, the amazing intimacy with Jesus, our big Brother, and the presence of the great Comforter.
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“A few years ago, I conducted a survey of women at various stages in life and with different beliefs. I wanted to know which felt more important to them – faith, hope or love. I figured every single woman would say, ‘Of course, it is love.’
The answers astonished me. They all said, ‘Hope.’
‘Why?’ I asked one woman.
She explained it well. ‘Faith comes and goes, and I have learned to live without love. But hope – if I didn’t have hope, I would die. There would be no reason to live.’
How I identified. If hope didn’t exist, I would have crumbled in impossible situations. If hope meant nothing, comfort could not have comforted me. Romans 15:13 says, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.’ For us to find comfort, God gives us hope.”
(story from ‘This Crown of Comfort’)
HOW MANY CROWNS DO YOU WANT?
Imagine wearing a 2 kilo crown. King Charles III will on his coronation day. But that crown is only used on royal coronations, so he will switch to a lighter one later. He is a very important man.
Yet there is someone with more crowns than King Charles – the King of Kings – Jesus. He wears many crowns because he is King of the whole earth.
But each of us can wear a crown as well. We can choose. When we are sad, God can give us a crown of beauty. When we need rescuing, God can give us a crown of joy. When we don’t give up, God can give us a crown of life.
God doesn’t mind that we aren’t royal. If we stay close to him, he will give us some crowns as well.
– Mrs Leaf
SAYING OF THE WEEK
‘Always wear your invisible crown’ – author unknown
At 7am, I headed out the door to walk the 4 mile round trip to the hardware shop. I desperately needed some emotional replenishing, as well as a can of paint for an outdoor swing.
I started painting as soon as I got back, but an hour later that paint pot slipped from my fingers. In horror, I watched it fall and tip over. I was only fast enough to save a third of it.
For an instant, I didn’t know what to do, but the idea of a large metal spoon came to mind. I ran inside to grab one and then began scooping up the spilled paint. In the end, I rescued another third, just enough to finish the job.
It felt like a practical lesson from God… Despite all our mistakes and lack of emotional capacity, God makes sure that we have enough, that we are enough, for the jobs before us.
(photo by cottonbro studio: https://www.pexels.com/photo)
It is a fact that I struggle with boundaries, especially when I am uncertain of what someone thinks of me, especially if their opinion matters to me. If they ask me to do something, and I am already stretched, I will still try to please them. I will give in.
This morning I read a verse which redefined this boundary for me. It also showed me my heart. “All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37). My instant reaction – “Ouch!” and “Oh!”
“Ouch!” – When I try to please others to the detriment of myself, I despise the One who created me, who gave me my physical and emotional limits.
“Oh!” – It is that simple. I don’t have to justify myself. A “Yes” or “No” is enough.