I was walking to my car from my counseling session, through a humid, suburban St. Louis parking lot.
When I saw it.
It looked like something you hang from your car mirror. But it was crudely stitched together.
At a pause and a closer glance, I noted it had a shape like a doll.
It was just laying behind a car, and I did not want to touch it. I just kicked it to try to turn it over.
But that didn’t work. So I knelt down, and turned it on its face, and I quickly drew back as my fears were confirmed.
(I am a little sensitive about things of the spirit world, so you may find that I overreacted.Growing up charismatic, every time I heard of a demon encounter, I would spend the next night sleepless with every light possible around my room turned on. To this day, I tell people I don’t want to hear about demons (or even angels), not because I don’t believe it exists but because I get a little sweaty.)
I was pretty dismayed at a stitched smile and dark, button eyes looking back at me. I imagined the “poppet” mentioned in The Crucible. But I mostly felt a sense of horror that this object may have been used to inflict harm on another human soul. And what was it doing in this parking lot? Did it fall out of a car? Did someone throw it at someone else? Some of my conjectures may have been highly imaginative, but regardless it reminded me again that the spirit world does exist and we must be prayerful in overcoming the darkness with the light.
Some don’t believe that such forces of darkness do exist. Even a voodoo doll may be looked at as something of a religion of another culture to bring honor to. When I see a doll like this, though, all I can think of is the darkness trying to mess with the light.
And that is what has been happening in my life. In my blog posts, I try to own my own story. And it is an act of vulnerability and shame resilience to talk about my life and misperceptions I have had. But yet I have listened to a slanted, untrustworthy narrator. I have honored the darkness inside of me way too often rather than the light. I do this in not practicing self-compassion in my acts of honest authenticity. People see me as honest, but am I really honest in my honesty? Am I a trustworthy narrator in my own life?
In To Be Told, Dan Allender asks this piercing question:
“We know that God is sovereign and nothing is beyond his sight, but does that truth really equip us to love everything that is written in our life?”
I have had a negative outlook on my story, not loving the details God has written. As I go back and reflect on things, I say to myself- “Bad, bad! This is how you’re going to move forward and fix it so you don’t make the same mistake again.” It is a dark voice. The voice has served a function to become socially acceptable, but it has not helped me be emotionally vulnerable in a healthy way. Is being socially acceptable worth it if I cannot have intimate friendships? I used to think so.
In letting the light overflow my life, instead, and being willing to take risks and make mistakes, I can practice having grace on myself.
When I saw the doll, I started praying fervently for the person who made it. In that moment, I realized I am often unaware of how the domain of darkness and the Kingdom of God’s Beloved Son are always at odds. I am often unaware of the evil forces in the world. Halloween is a particular reminder of spiritual warfare, and it is usually on this day I become the most sensitive to what’s actually going on out there, but then I forget again. I go about my life, the darkness flooding me, and me being innocently unaware.
And until someone makes me aware, I can remain unaware of how those demons try to mess with my story. They feed me with the self-condemning bent. They make me beat up on myself. They lurk behind every self-depreciating thing I “jokingly” say about myself and most pieces of snark and sarcasm. They cause me to believe I over-react and over-dramatize when most of the time I remain very chill, almost to the point of emotional monotony. They even use theology to sometimes inflict more harm on me than mercy. Before I was more well-read in reformed theology, I used to beat my head over with the concept of total depravity. “You’re a worm!” I would tell myself. “You’re nothing! You’re a prideful, self-righteous Pharisee!”
Allender says we can love our past, even the parts we avoid, regret and basically remain unaware of. We can love it only if we understand “our story is also written for the benefit of others’ stories in the future. We can truly love our life only when we see our story birth new and more glorious stories”
It is my renewed goal on my blog (and in real life) to see myself and my story in a more compassionate light. I am willing to continue sharing my mistakes and my heartaches (especially for the benefit of others), but I want to look at it through the lense of grace instead of a shaming, sin-inflating mirror.
I visited a church on a recent Sunday where the teaching pastor said something like this:
Like Pharaoh, Satan can’t keep us in Egypt. (It is God who sees that we are set free from slavery in Egypt). But he will do whatever he can to keep us from not going very far.
That describes very appropriately the tension of the spiritual warfare I currently find myself in. I see how the chains of slavery in my life is being loosened, but I am still listening to the untrustworthy narrator who only feeds me with half-truths, so I can only go so far.
The grace of Jesus forgives me. And he allows me to go as far as I want in being His Child. But something keeps me back. The good, kind narrator inside of me has been silenced. But moving forward with prayer, honesty, grace, and trust, I can start listening to the good narrator.
And so, I need to go back and write my story with God’s gentle, compassionate forgiving voice as the co-author.
This is not a fix-it. This involves trust to walk down a path where I see my faults, but without blame, without accusations, without condemnations. This is not a one-time fix, like how I stopped crying in sixth grade for kids to stop bullying me (and thus I did the socially acceptable thing). This is a process, and a journey and I hope that when I fail and stumble, that the darkness does not flood back in. I hope the self-criticism does not pick up, but that I can be a fighter, to stand in the grace that Jesus has given me to counter down my demons, knowing that the war is already won.
The promise of the war already won does not diminish the uncertainty and risk-taking, as we must live life and write in faith. As Dan Allender writes, God “speaks enough to remind us that he exists, but ambiguously enough to put us in the position of operating with faith and not sight. The process of writing our story will be filled with uncertainty, risk and the tension of a story not yet explained… God’s sovereignty is not an invitation to passivity. Instead, it is a call to wise and risky creativity…(several pages later)…He brilliantly inscribes our life to put us at a crossroads where we must either write with his glory to the extreme or douse the dream and refuse to imagine our future.”