To Be Loved AND Known

In my community I have always had people who would say that they love me. I know that I am so fortunate to have lived around such loving people. There is nothing like it.

Yet… it is difficult for me to accept that I truly am loved as people say.

Having fought relentlessly to hide my pain and turmoil (and any expression of either) for all of my childhood, I ran myself into the ground as a shut-down, voiceless mess. The last several years I have been working to reverse the devastating effects.

I have been on a become-known adventure especially these last few months. It has been wild. In being more open and vulnerable with others about my story, I have had taken both baby steps and uncertain leaps with a fair amount of set backs mixed. It has been both difficult and freeing, exhausting and invigorating,

I want to share with you a quote that has influenced many of these major decisions in the last year by Timothy Keller:

To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.

Hiding feels safe. But in hiding, we are also confined. 

I could only accept love to the extent that I was known.

Living honestly does make me feel more vulnerable, but because of it, I am beginning to experience acceptance and belonging in a way that I never before deemed possible.

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Piano, Life’s Complexity, & Storytelling

It was last spring that I had the alarming realization.

I was preparing for my senior recital, the capstone of my time as a music major  emphasizing in piano performance. Here’s my problem: I was playing through a lively piece by Debussy when I lost all my confidence in the difference a between playing loud versus soft. Sure, I could hear the difference, but playing it was a totally different story. The longer I sat on my piano bench trying to remind myself of the elementary musical principle, the more disconcerted I became.

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My problem was not the loss of ability to strike the keys louder or softer, but rather that my maturing musicianship had increased the complexity with which I could play. I could now orchestrate in my mind the interrelated elements of playing even single note: color, shape, velocity, tone, approach/release of the key, articulation.

Telling myself to play this note loud and that note soft was like looking at a color wheel to find the bright color and the dull color. Which hue? What saturation? Do you see my predicament?

The reason that this was frustrating–other than the fact that I realized it all at once–was that I wanted to just follow the written directives on the page in all their detailed glory. Instead, my mind was forcing me to involve my own interpretation of the written music in the process. Ironically, any playing at all involves interpretation, I was just blind to this at first. When I was just beginning piano, I always wanted to play everything as – pre-cice-ly – as – I – could. I was mechanical in my playing (that’s probably why I so enjoyed Bach). But you see, that too is interpretation. I am a reforming literalist. I like to see things as black and white. If only life would cooperate!

Music has countless dimensions. For a beginning pianist, there are just 3 main dimensions–notes, rhythm, dynamics. In order to holistically progress, a musician needs to develop their sensitivity to an increasing number of these dimensions (several of which I mentioned above). I was aware that I had been growing in these areas for quite some time; the surprise factor that day was the loss of simplicity that I craved.

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My point is this: Life is complex. People are complex. Situations are rarely black-and-white.

I read recently that the difference between good and evil seems to be growing increasingly blurry. Hold on–let me clarify. I do believe in an absolute difference between the two. I believe that God is Love Himself. He is Grace, Mercy, the infinite Good One. There are also actions, events, situations which are thick with darkness by nature. No, the boundary between good and evil remains firmly intact. It is how these situations affects our lives when viewed through the lens of time which is difficult to distinguish. As long as we don’t completely surrender to bitterness or anger (or self-pity or despair… but you get the picture), pain eventually prods us toward maturity. The Lord’s grace redeems even my brokenness to purify and strengthen me. I hate pain. But growing requires pain.

For example, I went through a burnout/breakdown from school leadership, music ministry at church, and unhealthy friendships by the end of high school. My life felt unbearable, and my health is still faces repercussions from that chapter. On the other hand, though, the experience taught me the consequences of poor boundaries. Being forced to slow down and say no to opportunities likely prevented me from a life-long pattern of mistakes. It made me more empathetic, confident of my skill set, and passionate about supporting leaders. It is true that I made many unwise choices, but can the situation be fairly assessed as being either good or evil when both have resulted from it?

I’ve been rethinking my Story. How can I best describe my desperation, my successes, my journey to be found by Hope Himself, and my passions, all while doing justice to the complexity of each? Can we present intricacy simply? How do we make sense of our life’s events? This is one of my current endeavors. Just as with playing piano, every narration involves interpretation. I desire to tell an honest, transparent, and edifying interpretation of my life, my subplot in God’s Story. Perhaps put most simply, this is my story:

I have tasted the despair of the world’s emptiness and embraced the grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The LORD is my hope, my light, and my salvation; I live for Him.

That’s the simplest version. My difficulty comes when I expound on it. I easily grow frustrated when representing entangled complexity, but I suppose it is appropriate that the process of shaping my story is a journey in and of itself.

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Now, back to Debussy. Because I needed to stop philosophizing, get back to earth, and utilize my practice time, I eventually absolved myself from total perfection concerning his dynamics. After all, even his written directives were an interpretation of how he gave his song color and life. That reveals something both beautiful and difficult about stories, musical, verbal, and otherwise. Stories cannot be reduced to objectivity. 

As I set aside my obsessive drive for perfection and allow the beauty of tension, I encourage you to consider the hue and saturation of life’s colors. Life is not black-and-white. Let’s give people the space to surprise us with the complexity of their personalities and experiences. Let’s listen well to those around us and be honest about our journeys. Please, let’s be gracious with one another as we seek truth, grace, peace, relationships.

May you find joy today from the Creator of Beauty.

7 Thoughts on Tasting-the-Cost of Following Jesus

1. Choosing to follow Jesus is not just a one-time deal I’m in a season of life which has put significant forks in my path more frequently than usual. In this process I have uncovered many deep wounds which have been festering beneath the surface for quite some time. Every day–every hour, even–I am faced with an underlying choice: for what or whom will I live? If I do not think about it consciously, auto-pilot makes the decision for me. Choosing to follow Jesus means constantly surrendering and re-orienting my whole existence to His ways. Will I choose to follow Jesus Christ or satisfy my own desires? In the past, my response to this question has been to shove away any possibility other than strict obedience to what I believe God teaches in His Word–the Bible (I openly confess my history with and tendency toward strict rule-following and hypocrisy). Lately, though, I have allowed myself to feel the gravity of what I am giving up by following Jesus. Over-dwelling on it is unhealthy, but I think this process can also be done in a way that increases our intimacy with God. That leads to the next point…

2. Tasting the cost may involve grief A part of our relationship with Jesus is dying to ourselves. I don’t know how you feel about it, but in my experience, dying can hurt! Sacrifices looks different practically for each person, but it always involves the submission of our desires and decisions to the will of God. The Lord is good and desires to bless us, but His goodness to us might look different than we expect because our scope is so limited and His so broad. Sacrificing may mean moving to the other side of the world for the rest of your life, leaving behind all your family and friends for the sake of sharing the Good News. It may mean selling all your possessions and living among the marginalized. It may mean being killed for not renouncing your faith in Jesus. Whatever the cost entails, I don’t think we should not try to hide the cost. We need to be realistic about the grief it may involve so that we may be better prepared and that our commitment to Christ might be that much stronger.

3. Following Jesus may require suffering, but the cost is worth the hope 2 Corinthians has been a constant challenge and encouragement to me in my daily life since having the opportunity of studying it in depth. It’s one of my favorite books in the Bible. Let me highlight a couple of points Paul makes that are especially relevant to this topic of tasting the cost.

2 Cor 4:16-18 (ESV) “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

This blows me away. The heaviest weight, the most bitter grief that I bear now cannot even be compared to when I will be fully in the presence of Jesus. When weighing the pros and cons of how “worth it” the cost of discipleship is, my current suffering does not even register on a pendulum scale when compared to the future glory of being with Jesus. Compared to the “eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,” my pain only registers as “light momentary affliction.” Honestly, this is hard to grasp much of the time simply because of a distinction that Paul raises: we see our suffering, but our hope is largely unseen now. This is where faith comes in.

2 Cor 12:9-10 (ESV) “But he [God] said to me [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, of my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Trusting God does not mean ignoring pain. The pain can still feel excruciating. But I still have hope. That is why I do not lose heart; that is why I dare taste the cost of following Jesus. I share stories of my weakness because these are the stories from which God’s power and grace can shine brightest.

4. Honesty in suffering can reveal self-centeredness Sometimes the ugliness that comes out of my heart makes me scream. I absolutely hate it. I am learning, though, that while the Holy Spirit convicts, He does not condemn. While my tendency is to withdraw into self-hatred and despair, the Holy Spirit is gracious. He wants to be gentle. He wants to hold my hand as we face my brokenness. He does not make me face my sin alone.

5. It requires that we fix our eyes on Jesus A. W. Tozer writes that “faith is the gaze of a soul upon a saving God.” I really like that definition. It communicates that faith isn’t simply a one time decision to “ask Jesus into my heart,” but a continued relationship with God, for whom I lay down my life and from whom I find new life. I fix my eyes on Jesus. It is honestly a fight. Rather than an easy (metaphorical) glance upon His face, there are times like last night when it required intense focus in order to keep my attention on the Lord and His character. It took every ounce of my strength to have faith, because the weight of the cost felt so heavy.

6. Hard questions may surface. And that’s ok. I think it’s ok to look temptation in the face, just as long as we return our gaze back to Jesus, trusting that He knows what is best. A man I greatly respect once told me, “There can be no faith in the absence of doubt.” We call obvious, objective answers “facts.” Why would you need to trust in something that is plainly before you? There would be no room for faith. Instead, faith pushes through the doubt—incorporating both our mind and heart—and trusts that God’s motives are good, pure, and just. I love Mark 9:24 when a man cries out to Jesus: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” This should be our attitude, trusting God while we wrestle through life with Him.

7. Jesus is worth the cost Let’s be realistic about the cost of discipleship. Even more than that, let’s not forget that God is sweeter still. He is kind, as my friend recently reminded me. God is not just a distant, detached good deity. God is kind. I won’t fully understand the depth of His kindness until I see Him face to face, but I do trust that He is kind, gentle, compassionate. He sees my pain, and He understands. I cannot leave behind my faith. It is so much a part of who I am that it would be like cutting off an arm and a leg. I cannot forsake Jesus Christ or my relationship to Him. I value it more than my physical existence. All of my hope is anchored in the Good News of Jesus.  Having faith isn’t for the faint of heart. Being a follower of Jesus is costly. We don’t typically understand that the United States of America. In other parts of the world choosing to follow Jesus can literally mean you are forfeiting the rest of your life to being imprisoned, tortured, or brutally killed. My cost is not nearly as extreme as it is for my other Brothers and Sisters around the world, but we must take our faith just as seriously, because Jesus is worth everything I end this rather lengthy post with a song that articulates the cry of a desperate Jesus-lover who trusts that God’s “love is better than all the world can give.” I encourage you to still your mind and heart, and let this song resonate through your bones. I’ve attached the chord chart for you fellow musicians. 🙂

If I must weep

“If I must weep with You, My Lord, Your will be done.”

I like to arrange–or rearrange, rather–hymns and put them to new music. I love to connect people today with great hymn writers’ deep theological expressions. “My Jesus, as Thou Wilt” is one that I worked on last week. I usually only end up liking a small fraction of works that I compose and arrange, and this was one of the few. Perhaps I’ll post a recording of it on here eventually.

As I was writing and doing initial recordings of the song, I became impressed with the lyrics. The prayer is emotive, theologically sound, and full of wisdom. It only impacted me, however, to the extent that I was feeling pain.

Have you ever learned a life lesson that doesn’t seem to apply to you at the time? And so you gladly display it as a lesson you are learning, but without actually having to personally invest in it much? God has a funny way of circumventing my pride and showing me that the lesson is indeed applicable for me.

I am learning that often it is only through suffering that l can holistically learn the lessons about which I have cognitively processed.

When life is going smoothly it is easy to praise the God who gives. In seasons of blessing it is also fairly easy to say that you will bless the name of the LORD when He takes away. But what about when He actually does? When life hits, when trials come, my plan to persevere in joy often slips my memory. I know that trials can develop perseverance; suffering can grow faith, mature character, and increase faithfulness to the LORD. So if I don’t have an intrinsically negative view of trials, then why do I tend to view each individual trial as an unacceptable hindrance to my well-being that needs to be immediately reversed? I suppose growing less spiritually nearsighted is an element of maturity which will come as I grow more like Christ.

Why do I bring that up? Suffering’s heaviness overwhelmed my perspective tonight. After much weeping and prayer, God allowed relief from my anguish for the night. He reminded me of the hymn I had just arranged and gave me the strength it pray with sincerity. As much as I protest the process of suffering, I am thankful that God is using my pain to shape me.

I am once again learning (isn’t it funny how lessons seemingly need to be learned several times, in cycles?) that even though God is the Healer and that His healing is something I should seek, pain is not guaranteed to ever go away on this earth. Suffering reminds me to recognize my dependence on the Father; it is a reminder to fix my eyes on Jesus, the Son. It makes me long for my eternal Home for which I am sealed by the Holy Spirit. I trust that God can use evil for good, even if I will not be able to see or fathom it in this lifetime.

Remember. Always remember to remember that God is good. He understands suffering. He sees my pain–both hidden and apparent–and it all grieves Him. I weep not alone, for I have an advocate before God’s great throne of grace (Hebrews 4:14-16). Praise be to the God of mercy.

 


 

Here are the lyrics (modified slightly to fit a modern audience):

My Jesus, oh may Your will be mine

Into Your hand of love I would my all resign

Through sorrow or joy, conduct me as Your own

And help me still to say, “My Lord, Your will be done.”

My Jesus, though seen through many tears

Let not my star of hope grow dim or disappear

Since You on earth have wept and sorrowed oft alone

If I must weep with You, my Lord, Your will be done.

My Jesus as You will all shall be well for me

Each changing future scene I gladly trust with Thee

Straight to my home above I travel calmly on

And sing, in life or death, “My Lord, Thy will be done.”