when “being transparent” is really just complaining

It has been a challenging eight months.

Well, really it hasn’t been an easy three-and-a-half years. Between figuring out marriage, 4 pregnancies, 2 babies, 3 foster care placements, 1 puppy come-and-gone, 9-foot snow drifts, that skunk, challenges in friendships and ministry, and so. many. cats. (among other things), there’s never a dull moment at The Dahl House. Uninterrupted sleep is a distant memory and most days I feel like my mind is barely hanging on. Marriage is hard. Foster care is hard. Parenting is hard. Oftentimes, I’d rather just stay in bed and dream of the days when I drank coffee that was still hot and read books from beginning to end and remembered enough to actually talk about intelligent things with other grown-ups.

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And this probably isn’t a secret to most of you. I have a high value for transparency. I’m over the Super Mom facade. I will tell the ugly truth because it needs to be talked about. I will tell you that my husband can make me angrier than anyone in the world and yet sometimes I want him to be my everything. I will tell you that I didn’t always dream of motherhood–that it’s really hard for me. I will tell you because I need to know, too, that I’m not alone. I’m not the only woman who feels constantly torn between her dreams and reality. I’m not the only mom who’s ever yelled at her kids, who’s ever done things just because she thought she was supposed to, who’s ever tried to be good enough to make Jesus notice. I’m not the only woman with a shameful past who lives redeemed and free yet sometimes still a little sad and broken. I’m not the only one who sometimes finds herself trying to make up for it all.

As women we are so prone to comparing and competing and I want to force myself to be uncomfortably transparent because it is so much more natural for me to hide and pretend like I have it all together. I’d rather you think I’m awesome than be honest and tell you that I just blew it with my kids. I’d rather you think my family has it all together than confess that lately there is little peace among the chaos.

But I choose to be real because I want you to be real with me.

Because I think being real is evidence of a life lived before the cross.

When we live before the cross, we are humbled. We see that there is no one righteous, not even one. We see that we all have a great debt.

And Jesus paid it all.

I want to live my life before the cross. And part of that is realizing I have nothing to prove to you. So I can tell the truth about the hard because God’s power is made perfect in weakness. And with Paul I will boast in the things that show my weakness (2 Cor. 12:9), to show that “the surpassing power belongs to God and not to [me].” (2 Cor. 4:7)

However.

I’ve been starting to wonder if my transparency has merged with complaining.

I don’t think it’s a fine line to walk. I don’t think I tiptoe up to the edge of complaining and try really hard not to fall over. No, I think the way of Christ is that radical middle–the yellow and not the gray. So I started to wonder what that could look like. And I began to pray and ask God: What does it look like to be transparent about what’s hard without just complaining? Do I think I’m complaining just because people are clearly bothered by my transparency? Am I fearing people instead of fearing the Lord? Is that their problem or mine? Am I sinfully grumbling and need to change something? But what if it really is just…hard? Do I lie? Skirt around the truth?

Last week at church, my husband and I stopped on the way out the door for a quick conversation with a friend holding his brand new baby #3. We asked how he was doing, and while I was mostly distracted with the balancing act of two two-year-olds, a purse, and a diaper bag, I caught some things about rough sleep and the usual new baby hard things. As I began to push Jordan forward, ready to wave goodbye and get out the door with our stressful brood, he said something that caught me off guard: Yes, it’s hard, but you know, the blessings outweigh the hardships.

The blessings outweigh the hardships.

There it was. Answered prayer in the form of a two-minute passing conversation. The radical middle. Transparency rooted in gratitude.

Our friend did not pretend that it wasn’t hard. He told the truth. But he was awed by the blessing of the new life he held in his arms–by the life of his other two littles wiggling beside him as he talked to us–by his sweet wife who was enduring the hard with grace–and he couldn’t just stand there and complain to us in the name of transparency.

And I think his gratitude stretched beyond the tangible blessings surrounding him. I think this friend realizes that even if life is hard, even if everything is going wrong, if he has Christ, he has all he needs.

Last Thanksgiving, I wrote about that. If I have Jesus, I have all I need.

Oh, how forgetful I am.

When we live before the cross, we are humbled, yes, but if we are only aware of our need and not left breathless with wonder at God’s gracious provision, we have not stood there long enough. 

The cross levels us all and frees us to be transparent; but the cross ought to also provoke us to thanksgiving so that every ounce of transparency is rooted in gratitude.

So we tell the truth about what’s hard, but as we do we can declare with confidence that God is Good. And it’s not a pithy platitude but rather a settled conviction that even if all seems to be going wrong, we know that God has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph. 1). We know that he has promised to work all things for our good and his glory (Romans 8). And we know that he has already met our deepest need at the cross.

It’s cliche to write about thankfulness at Thanksgiving. But I’m thankful for the lesson nonetheless. And for the God who is patient enough to teach it to me over and over again.

Know Thy God, Know Thyself – and the winners are…

Lea and Noelle – check your email for info on getting your copy of Made for More.

Thanks to those of you who have been following as I’ve processed this topic for (way more than) 31 days. I hope you have been encouraged or challenged on some level. I’m sure you will continue to see the doctrine of imago dei play out in my life as I wrestle through its implications. But for now, this concludes my little series. :)

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knowthyGodlogo-100pxThis post is part of my Write 31 Days series, Know Thy God, Know Thyself. To read more posts from this series, visit the Introduction here.

To learn more about the book that inspired my series, visit Hannah Anderson’s blog.

 

 

Know Thy God, Know Thyself – interview with Hannah Anderson {and a book giveaway!}

image credit: Hannah's website
image credit: Hannah’s website

I’m so excited to have Hannah Anderson on the blog today answering some questions about her book and her study of imago dei.

Leave a comment below for a chance to win one of two copies of Made for More! I will randomly select winners on Tuesday, November 18th.

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What sort of changes have you seen in your life/thinking/relationships since delving into the doctrine of imago dei?

The most basic thing that has happened for me is that I find everyday life infused with a lot more purpose and meaning. I think a lot of us have these unspoken categories about what constitutes “real” living. We think that certain callings or certain work is more necessary to the Kingdom. But the truth of imago Dei undercuts all this. By the sheer nature of our existence, we are reflecting and representing God on this earth. We are doing the most profound, most radical work that we could ever do—even if we’re only doing the laundry.

I’ve also learned that living in the truth of imago Dei is not a one time event where you finally “get” it. It’s a constant process of re-examining, re-aligning, re-ordering my thoughts and actions to reflect His nature. Just when I think I’ve gotten it, I find myself struggling to live out the very principles that I wrote about. Talk about a humbling experience!

How do you see identity as image-bearers currently reflected in church involvement and discipleship? What sort of changes would you like to see?

Viewing ourselves as image-bearers changes how we understand the goal of the gospel. If the gospel is the good news of what Christ has done for His people in reconciling us to Himself, our understanding of it will be contingent to how we understand what it means to be people in the first place. When we have an expansive view of what it means to be people made in God’s image, the gospel can be applied to all the nooks and crannies of our identity. When I understand that God is redeeming everything about me–from my work to my role in my family to my need to be creative—suddenly the gospel is much bigger than how I’d previously understood it.

I’m afraid that a lot of good churches are still operating on a very narrow definition of human identity; this shows itself in our discipleship efforts. We often aim for only one aspect of identity. For example, women’s discipleship tends to emphasize our hearts or our hands—we either look for emotional responses from women or we elevate specific roles that we fill. But both these approaches overlook that women are also called to be thinking, wise women who reflect the wisdom of God Himself. It’s not that any one of these aspects is wrong, but they are too small. Our discipleship efforts must be multi-dimensional because we are image bearers of a multi-dimensional God.

Your book is directed mainly toward women understanding their identity as being rooted in God’s image. Do you think men have a part in helping women to arrive at this understanding, in work, marriage, parenting, the church, etc.?

Absolutely. And here’s why: living as an image bearer means living in relationship with those around us. One of the fundamental aspects of God’s nature is the He exists in relationship within the Trinity. This inter-dependence is reflected in our nature. We literally cannot exist as individuals; we cannot be ourselves apart from community. So finding identity rooted in God’s nature is not is not something that women (or men!) can pursue by themselves.

On a more practical level men have an invested stake in this conversation because they have mothers, wives, sisters, daughters, and nieces. For example, husbands must understand that they are engaged in the process of “husbandry” of their wives and daughters; this role demands that they invest and cultivate the God-given abilities and desires of the women in their lives, that they are responsible to help them become the image bearers they are destined to be.

What have you learned on this topic since your book was published?

How much I didn’t know. Thankfully I don’t think I made any major theological errors, but I realize that the call to live in God’s image is much more expansive than I’d originally thought. This isn’t simply a starting point from which we move on; it’s a paradigm that gives shape to our entire existence. Everything can be traced back to this truth.

One positive review I read for Made for More, called it, “the conversation before the conversation on gender roles.” If the doctrine of imago dei is the starting point in discussions about identity, what do you see as the “next step” for women seeking to understand their identity and calling? In what direction has your study developed?

For many women, the next step is re-evaluating their understanding of womanhood in light of the core principles of imago Dei. Whether we know it or not, we carry a lot of assumptions into our experience as women and we need to consider whether our ideas are based on being image bearers or whether they are based on our culture (and sometimes subculture).

For example, a passage like I Timothy 5 where Paul calls women to be hard-workers in their homes is rooted in the truth that we work hard as women because God is a working God. But too often, this passage is interpreted in light of our womanhood and not in light of God’s nature. It’s two different things to call a woman to be a good manager of her home because she’s a woman and to call her to be a good manager of her home because she’s made in the image of a God who orders and maintains His creation. The first interpretation puts womanhood at the center of the conversation; the second puts God at center.

I’m optimistic that this work is already starting. As I hear from readers, they are telling me how the truth of imago Dei has changed their frame of reference. Now, it’s time to start making practical applications in our homes and churches.

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Remember to leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of Hannah’s book! Winners will be notified via email on Tuesday, November 18th. {Thanks to Moody Publishers for the chance to do a giveaway!!}

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knowthyGodlogo-100pxThis post is part of my Write 31 Days series, Know Thy God, Know Thyself. To read more posts from this series, visit the Introduction here.

To learn more about the book that inspired my series, visit Hannah Anderson’s blog.

 

 

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