Real Zeal

Love: how can we understand it? Let alone live it? It is the greatest commandment, the summary of the Law, the New Testament ethic, and the measure of a Christian’s maturity. Just when I thought I was getting my minds around love ethics, we started studying worship. But when it comes to worship, what’s love got to do with it?

Worship results in Zeal, which leads to Significance, which equals Victorious Love. (With joy as essential to worship.)

Revelations 5:9-14 is the perfect picture of worship: “Worthy is the lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!” (v. 12). The heavenly beings in this passage as gushing about God’s greatness, because they’ve experienced it first-hand. We also personally know God’s glory through love relationship.

When we worship God we recognize and respond to God’s zealous love for us. Zeal is essential to understanding love, and it goes beyond the normal “love is a choice” formulation. God didn’t grit His teeth when He decided to love us, as we often do when we obediently and mechanically “serve” others without zeal. Rather, God went out of His way and stopped at nothing to redeem and reach us, so that we might experience His love in a personal, intimate way.

As a result, we can joyfully give our hearts to Him in gratitude and awe, seeking an ever-deepening love relationship with Him. When our heart worships God, rather than submitting out of sheer obedience, we experience joy as we delight in knowing God, His salvation, and His lavish provisions. Zeal is the natural outgrowth of joy: as we rejoice in God’s zealous love for us, He gives us the desire and zeal to love others. This is what it means that “We love, because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Zeal is how we gain significance in people’s lives because it results in victorious love output. When I get functional and just go through the motions with people, even if I’ve thought about “what is best for them,” I don’t have zeal. And then I’m not loving victoriously, but half-heartedly or worse. Zeal isn’t about drumming up a bunch of sanguine excitement and warm fuzzies toward people. Rather, it means fighting for people’s good out of a heart-felt, God-given desire to love others. Zealous love is determined passion, and it will seek God’s will through prayer, the Word, godly counsel, and spiritual training so that we can love victoriously. When we have zeal for people we will become significant to them, and to be significant is to love and feel loved.

There are so many good verses about zeal, and I particularly like 2 Corinthians as a study of zealous love, which Paul expresses for the Corinthian believers. Perhaps it’s a little easier to get my mind around Paul’s zeal, although it’s invaluable to reflect on God’s zeal for us, especially as demonstrated through Christ’s ministry.

Paul refers to his first letter to the Corinthians, which included some much-needed rebuke, in 2 Cor. 2:4: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not so that you would be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you.” Zeal includes the willingness to offend others when necessary for their good, but always “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), just as Paul did here. He wasn’t malicious or self-righteous about confronting them. He was emotional about writing words he knew would grieve them, but he hoped they would see it as the mark of his zealous love.

Zealous love is expressed in both actions and words. Sometimes we need to affirm our love for people, as Paul does in 2 Cor. 11:11: “Why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” He is zealous for them to know that He loves them. When we put so much emotional and sacrificial effort into loving people, we want them to feel loved. But so often I avoid emotional statements about how significant a relationship is and how much I love someone because I’m afraid to be vulnerable.
Our actions demonstrate zeal when we sacrifice substantially for others and thus become significant to them. “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God” (2 Cor. 4:15). Zeal means living for the people you love, rather than for yourself. Paul lived for the sake of the churches and lost people. He was zealous to bring more people to worship and thank God for His grace. And it took an offering of his whole being. He was willing to suffer anything for their good; no cost was too high. That’s real zeal.

The all-consuming nature of zeal is described again in 2 Cor. 5:13-15: “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; and He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.” He is overcome by God’s love and consumed by the zeal that results from worship. He gives up control to become a bond-servant, willing to live for others, acting either sane or insane, whatever love requires.

We see again the sacrificial nature of zeal in 2 Cor. 12:15: “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less?” Zeal will lead us to a level of sacrifice only limited by what is beneficial for the other person. And this offering of self is joyful, as Paul says he is glad to do it. He’s willing to sacrifice for them even if they resent it. People don’t always understand our zeal for them and may not respond as we hoped, but victory lies not in their reaction, but our active love for them.

Then he gets even more personal in a beautiful, heart-wrenching verse, 2 Cor. 7:3, 4: “I do not speak to condemn you, for I have said before that you are in our hearts to die together and to live together. Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” Zeal produces an overwhelming sense of unity, emotional bonding, and spiritual significance. It is the eternal heart-connection of brothers and sisters in Christ. It’s like the parent-child relationship he uses to illustrate his zeal for the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:7, 11). He gains so much joy and comfort and pride from the Corinthians’ victories because he is significant to them, and as a result of his zeal they are learning to be significant to others.

I experienced this idea of someone being in my heart when Jen and Yana left our fellowship and friendships. Zealous love opens the opportunity for profound hurt because once someone is in our hearts to live and die together, an external severing of the bond is so painful. I feel like a part of my heart was ripped out with them leaving, and yet at the same time they are still in my heart. I was significant to them and their leaving doesn’t change that. But we shouldn’t need a tragedy to feel the eternal, intimate bond we have with our friends. There are so many more people who are forever united with me
through the bond of Christian love relationships.

And there is an opportunity for great joy in such friendships. We rejoice when those we are zealous for gain their own zeal and significance, as in 2 Cor. 7:7: “and not only by his coming, but also by the comfort with which he was comforted in you, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me; so that I rejoiced even more.” Such an outcome produces joy upon joy. And as a disciple’s character grows, so does their worship and thus their zeal. 2 Cor. 7:11, 12 says, “For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.” Paul’s zeal for the Corinthians led to their repentance and righteous handling of wrong, and this led their hearts to deeper worship of God.

Here is what we all hope for our disciples: 2 Cor. 7:16: “I rejoice that in everything I have confidence in you.” But do we work zealously toward this goal of victorious love output? Can we say, as Paul did in 2 Cor. 11:2, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin”? God is jealous of us because we are rightfully His! He has substantially sacrificed for us; He is unquestionably significant to us. And when we lead someone to worship God, we betroth them to Christ as part of His church. Like parents betrothing their child, we should be jealous and zealous (both from Greek zelo, to burn with passion), to present our spiritual offspring as a pure virgin to Christ.

When we zealously love a disciple or someone else, their welfare becomes more important than ours (Philippians 2:3, 4). “For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete” (2 Cor. 13:9). Zeal takes a high emotional toll on us; it is simultaneously wearying and energizing to love victoriously. We may feel weak as a result of sacrifice or sin, but we still rejoice and worship God, motivated by the spiritual power growing in our disciples. This leads us to pray earnestly that God will mature and “complete” them as a result of their worship.

There are so many more verses about zeal, but one I especially like is 1 Peter 4:8: “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” The zeal I’ve just described from 2 Corinthians is a goal to strive for as we worship God and let Him transform our hearts. I fall so far short of zealous sacrificial love, and yet by God’s grace I’m still building significance in people’s lives. God is most interested in our heart attitude of zeal for others. Our sin will always get in the way of perfect execution. But this verse is a beautiful and reassuring promise that if we let God grow zealous love in our hearts, He can work around and through our sinful blunders. And that brings us back to one more reason to worship and rejoice in Him.

Did I Hate 2008?

I’ve been quite melancholy the last few days, and trying to figure out why. Maybe it’s because Christmas reminds me how painful family is. I want to fix my family, but I can’t. So I want to love them, but I don’t know how. And it’s so broken now. I picture my sisters on the swing set and trampoline outside, living the glorious, American childhood dream our parents managed to provide. I remember playing dolls in the basement for endless hours, pilfering bits and pieces from all over the house for our elaborate doll houses. I recall the intricate societies we built out of sticks and stones outside, and Legos and waffle blocks inside. It was always less about the toys than it was about our unified creativity, about the characters and stories we created. Our fights about who should play the lead role in our production of Sleeping Beauty or whether Lego “trades” were permanent sound so refreshing now that family feuds are more serious.

When I was in middle school my parents went through an odd PDA phase where they would playfully kiss or cuddle. I hated it then, but now I wish I could go back and delight in even the façade of happiness. I wish they didn’t live in different houses, but at the same time I don’t wish things would’ve stayed status quo. That would have been even more painful for everyone involved.

So I was already feeling this after Christmas and then I watched P.S. I Love You with Anele, Elli, and Lauren Dakters. I cried several times during as I contemplated Neil dying, but in the solitude of my car on the drive home I melted into a soggy mess. I’m uptight and mean like the Holly character in the movie, and Neil is my adoring, light-hearted husband. What would I regret? Next I started worrying about if one of my parents or siblings died. Would I feel guilty? From there I moved into fears I never even thought to worry about before: what if Diana died? And I went on and on until I got home and sobbed my eyes out to Neil, who was compassionate and comforting as usual.

Perhaps another factor in my recent grumpiness is that I hate New Year’s Eve. The whole holiday revolves around staying up late, one of my least favorite activities. Night is not my best time of day. In the morning I find it much easier to be upbeat and optimistic; after all, nothing bad has happened yet. But at night I get negative and depressed. I also hate being cold which is the main event at First Night. I know I’m just being a whiner but I feel compelled to put it out there. So there it is. But I am going to try to have a good time. I bought a new coat today with some Christmas gift card/cash action. I wasn’t planning a nap as part of my preparations but after all the sobbing exacted from me today that might be in order, too.

But rather than whine all day, I want to consider 2008 from a spiritual standpoint. So much happened, but did I grow? Here’s what happened:

I lost my friend and disciple of five years, Jen. It was very sad and hurtful to her lose her to such a bad situation. I know I made some mistakes with her but I really experienced God’s grace throughout the six-month drama leading up to her departure. I learned to be bolder when speaking the truth in love. Also, I learned to persevere and love people with hope but without expectation–or at least, fewer expectations. Apparently she got married last Saturday. I’m not sure what to feel. Scared for her? Angry? Sad? Hurt? Mostly I feel sad for the life of pain she’s in for. He always tormented her and I’m sure he still does. But she made her bed and she was warned. So I don’t feel responsibility or regret. I did and said all I could by the end.

I started applying what God taught me from Jen as Yana struggled spiritually. Now I had more zeal for her well-being and was more willing to be uncomfortable when it was necessary to love her well. When she slipped away, with much less drama than Jen, it was very heart-wrenching. And I wondered what was wrong with me, especially because I tried so hard not to make the same mistakes that I did with Jen. Again, God showed me his grace. It’s not about what I did or didn’t do. She too made her choice. But we still talk and I keep praying she will come back.

Love ethics class taught me so much about how love works. I was so frustrated with it at first because I was confronted with my inability to love. But by the end of the class I was convicted to take the steps God showed me, and it has definitely made a difference in my relationships, especially with my family. It’s still very confusing and a source of much pain, but I’m not going to give up. And I need God’s grace for all the mistakes I make with them.

South Street after school program also taught me much about failure. It is so hard to know how to love, discipline, and teach inner city kids! My experience teaching rich high school kids didn’t help as much as I’d hoped. But I learned compassion, humility, and gratitude from serving there. I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much in my life as when we started running two days on our own last year! Now that we’ve had two weeks off for the holidays I really miss those kids.

After all this failure I was depending on God more than ever, but then He threw me a curve-ball: leading in Word. While I’d served there before, I was working with goody-goody girls from other churches. This time I felt like I was getting thrown to the lions in a cell group of emotionally needy, unstable “mean girls”–with a few exceptions. Even as God provided other leaders–super-capable Carrie and super-fun Michelle–I knew failure was probable. With a mixture of fear and hope, I started hanging with Shelby and discipling Anele, Chloe, and Shelly. Sometimes I wonder if I’m doing everything wrong. But then I remember that’s not what it’s about, and God can use my efforts under His grace.

Perspectives also changed me spiritually. It gave me a new conviction for the world, for those who couldn’t hear the gospel if they wanted to, who often live in such squalor while we have so much. And it changed my view of God as I learned more about His compassion for all people and the powerful ways He’s working around the world. Asking if we (Neil and I) should “go” is scary, but I want to be open to whatever God has for us. I hope what we’re doing now can prepare us to serve in another country. Interestingly, the Gibsons said that one of the most important qualities for missionaries is the ability to deal with failure and keep going. So maybe that’s what God’s got up his sleeve for me.

Why Girls Purl

We were hanging out with the Allies recently when Lauren raised an interesting point: we’ve seen many more girls leave fellowship than guys. As we listed the cases, it became clear that her observation was accurate. “Why is that?” we all wondered, and came to a quick conclusion that bad boyfriends was the common factor. This seemed true, but I felt compelled to ponder the question more because I’ve lost many female friends in ministry, and I want to better understand what draws them away from the Body of Christ. And I’m going to minister to women for the rest of my life, so I should probably seek to better understand this female-drop-out phenomenon. My goal is not to analyze non-believing women who came to meetings but never came to Christ. I’m considering those who were believers (as far as anyone could tell), were part of our fellowship, and then left for good.

First, a brief history: Lauren recalled a time before I knew her, when she lived in the ministry house with Diana. Those two are the only remaining members. Four others left before I came to the KSU Bible study. Lauren and Diana are also the only girls who came out of the Bedford high school ministry into college.

Women were vastly outnumbered at the college Bible study I attended my freshman year. A number of girls came in and out of our women’s group that year. Those who remain are Diana, Lauren, Melanie, and me. At least six others faded away.

Next year brought more stability to the women’s side as Jen, Sara, and Leah Z. joined us. Melanie moved to Columbus but was in fellowship there. I may be forgetting those who drifted in and out, but this is when we started to see our women’s ministry grow, and experienced fewer losses. The following year saw even great growth as Amy, Nicole, Kathryn, Sarah D., and Kay joined. Melanie returned. Again, I’m probably forgetting some. But we successfully split cells and then home churches.

Since then many women have joined us and we’re more in danger of being a chickified church than the testosterone-dominated scene of Lake and College St. days. But we’ve also lost Sarah D. , Lisa, Carey, Kay, Jen, and Yana. And several more in the other home church. This problem is evident in the high school ministry as well. None of the girls I worked with two years ago were still around when I
rejoined the ministry this summer. And our girls ministry charts have changed significantly since July.

On the guys’ side, I can think of six losses from the KSU home church. I’m sure there are others, but certainly the body count is much lower.

So why do girls purl? After examining this case-by-case, unhealthy romantic relationships seem to be the most common reason. Variations include immorality, unequal yoking, or break-ups with in-fellowship guys. Several suffered from emotional problems, such as eating disorders, major depression, and bipolar disorder. Many sold out to worldly values and choose school, career, and materialism over healthy relationships. Girls seem more likely to be overly-concerned about their college G.P.A. Cultural factors like divorce, dysfunctional families, body image pressures, and increased incidence of psychological problems surely play a role. And perhaps women come in with more baggage then men—more unhealthy friendships and family and dating relationships, more emotional instability, and less self-worth. This means they desperately need Christ, but it makes it harder for them to follow Him as true disciples.

There is no easy answer to why girls purl. Perhaps it’s tied to the age-old questions of “what women want.” But I don’t want to see more women sell their souls to immoral men and the world system. I don’t want to lose more dear friends to these harmful forces. Perhaps we need to take more care to ground women in the Word so they can learn what real love looks like. Some ideas to try to fight this problem:

1. Study Spiritual Relationships that Last.
2. Teach identity in Christ and its implications.
3. Study and practice love ethics material—this is crucial!
4. Be willing to confront unbiblical values early on.

Any other thoughts or suggestions?

I Can See Clearly Now the Sin is Gone

I only wish the title was truer for me. Last night I traveled to Columbus to hear the great Ralph Ankeman teach a Love Ethics class. After Dar called to invite me I was so excited to see this legendary figure who counseled the venerable Katey Downs, who in turn helped disciple our fearless leader, Keith McCallum. What an example of real spiritual significance.

Dr. Ankeman, a medical student-turned-missionary who now practices biblical love therapy in a secular psych ward, did not disappoint. He began on a note of wonder: “How closely the gospel of Christ fits the way human beings are,” he reflected. His teaching, at once quirky, comical, and insightful, was brimming with stories and examples illustrating the application of biblical love rules. The rule that stood out the most to me is that “I can’t make you do anything, but I can tell you what lies within my power to do.” For example, I can’t make you stop neglecting your kids, but I can call child services, as painful as that might be for me.

Keith’s teaching was equally good, if somewhat shortened for the sake of time. He’s updated the material a bit to clarify the concepts of fences and gates. But I think he’s writing an article on it, so I’ll save the details for now. I’ll just say his teaching got me thinking about what God is showing me about other people. I tend to be very negative about, well, everything, and my negatively quickly escalates into judging others. “Why can’t they just get it together?” I wonder. Keith’s teaching offered an interesting possibility. Perhaps it’s my own heart that’s getting in the way of others’ growth.

What an odd, counter-intuitive thought. And it must be rightly understood. I can’t make anyone do anything, as stated above. But if I’m seeking to help someone, and yet judging them at the same time, is it not reasonable that God would withhold insight from me regarding the other person? If I’m seeking to motivate someone’s change for impure reasons, perhaps to bolster my reputation or just because her sin annoys me, it makes sense that God would not honor my efforts. But when I sincerely want to help that person only for her own sake, it then becomes safe for God to reveal her heart to me, thus showing me how to spur her on toward love and good deeds, as Hebrews 11:24 says.

I feel like God is showing me things about “what lies beneath the surface” of my old home church and my new cell group. I don’t know exactly what to do about it; no doubt my heart needs further purifying. But I did not sleep well after my return from Columbus. I felt like God was laying burden after burden upon me. I arose this morning feeling weighed down and a bit confused. What did God want me to do with all of it? My first response is to worry, and I set right to work with an ever-hardening knot in my stomach.

But I knew this wasn’t right, or pragmatically helpful. After all, Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light. As I started to trust God one worry at a time, I realized God showed me these concerns not to weigh me down, but bring treacherous undercurrents to light. I know I’m not the only one with these insights, as many of them were gathered from conversations with others. I’m not special. I’m just convicted. And my practical nature is itching to do something about it, and there will be plenty of time for that. But I won’t know what to do unless my heart is right.

And that’s the last point I wanted to comment on. Of course with all the heart-clarifying, there will always be a measure of sin this side of paradise. God in his grace grants us revelation even in our imperfection. But the clearer the heart, the clearer our spiritual eyes: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

True Confessions of a Tribal Sissy

After re-reading Keith’s article “Time to Grow Up!” I realized what a sissy I am. I grew up in a tribal home where love was largely defined as compliance. While my parents instilled in me a number of important permanent love values such as responsibility, a good work ethic, and contributing in the family, I found myself completely unable to function socially in the world outside of home. I also suffer from the first-child syndrome: my parents, despite their best efforts to warn me against the idea, left me thinking that I am the center of the universe.

Sissy Meets World

This problem’s first clear manifestation occurred at my preschool program, where I sat revealing my three-year-old panties and sucking my thumb instead of singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and similar fare with the more well-adjusted children. The finale of my performance saw me hurl my carpet square off the stage, an act which was imitated by one of my classmates. Best of all, my parents had the foresight to preserve a video record of my public debut for posterity.

Perhaps my shy nature is mostly to blame, as my more outgoing younger sister did not have the same difficulties. In fact, she gained the title of social butterfly at my kindergarten graduation since she “made more friends there than Kalie did the entire year,” as my parents observed. To what extent nurture and nature are at fault I cannot say, but my inability to relate to others clearly marked me as a tribal sissy from the start.

The situation did not improve over the years; rather I found myself a lonely and isolated teenager who thought myself above befriending brain-dead adolescents. Never mind that hormones left me just as brain-damaged as the next fourteen-year-old. I was different; I was not high school—a noun which became the ultimate adjective-insult in my vocabulary. Thus I found myself alone and lonely at the end of the torment commonly called high school.

Many of you already know the story of how God transformed me from a scared-but-willing college freshman who cried before parties, to a person who cared enough about others to at least carry on a conversation. But the remnants of my tribal sissy past still haunt my relationships and ultimately my sense of significance. I see it in every area of my life: I want to be loved and that means gaining others’ acceptance, approval, and affirmation. I think this often concerns me more than what is good for other people. That’s why I’m too soft on people, while I silently judge them in my heart. It’s why I’m often ineffective at disciplining people, despite my self-righteous convictions that they are so very wrong. When boldness is required, I’m more likely to back off because I fear others’ response to me.

I’m sure this contributed to my failures in discipleship, including but not limited to Missy, Kay, and Jen. And while they each ultimately made their own decision, I think I offered too little too late (especially in the first two cases). I am so scared to repeat these mistakes—I literally have nightmares about it—but if it’s still fear that drives me, I’m doomed for failure again. Because half the reason I’m scared has nothing to do with the well-being of my friends, my cell group, or my home church, and has everything to do with what people will think of me. Once again, I’m after what I falsely define as love, namely, recognition for a job well done.

This worked in my tribe. If I did my chores, practiced my instruments, and didn’t fight with my sisters, I was received as a good daughter. But I misinterpreted my parents’ acceptance for love, and that based on conditions. This is why I was so shocked when they expressed love even after I messed up big time (i.e. “secret car” incident). Their loved turned out to be unconditional, or at least much less conditional that I thought. But this demonstration couldn’t undo nineteen years of my twisted view of love.

Now my sissy self gets discouraged at the slightest hint of defeat because I feel threatened. And I react with ugly immaturity, sometimes sophisticatedly masked and sometimes not. Like a child who throws a fit after losing a game, I metaphorically suck my thumb and throw my carpet square by crying and blurting stupid, proud, fatalistic statements. While I know my tantrum-declarations aren’t true, my feelings overwhelm and conquer me in a classic example of infantile behavior.

Tantrums--cuter on kids than adults

While I’ve become more mature according to the world and can now initiate conversations, build friendships, and maintain even difficult relationships, I’m still far from spiritual maturity. I want to be able to serve with humility, no longer seeking others’ approval and admiration. I want to disciple with authority, fervently and boldly pursuing what is best for the other person regardless of her reaction. I want to stop fearing failure, take my identity from Christ, and remember that I answer to God. I want to stop demanding to be loved the wrong way, whether it’s with tantrums or subtleties, and start loving the right way, God’s way. And although my negative sissy self whispers that it’ll never happen, I’ve already experienced God’s victorious love output in my life, and I know that He can continue to lead me in a life of love that conquers.

True Confessions of a Tribal Sissy

After re-reading Keith’s article “Time to Grow Up!” I realized what a sissy I am. I grew up in a tribal home where love was largely defined as compliance. While my parents instilled in me a number of important permanent love values such as responsibility, a good work ethic, and contributing in the family, I found myself completely unable to function socially in the world outside of home. I also suffer from the first-child syndrome: my parents, despite their best efforts to warn me against the idea, left me thinking that I am the center of the universe.

Sissy Meets World

This problem’s first clear manifestation occurred at my preschool program, where I sat revealing my three-year-old panties and sucking my thumb instead of singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and similar fare with the more well-adjusted children. The finale of my performance saw me hurl my carpet square off the stage, an act which was imitated by one of my classmates. Best of all, my parents had the foresight to preserve a video record of my public debut for posterity.

Perhaps my shy nature is mostly to blame, as my more outgoing younger sister did not have the same difficulties. In fact, she gained the title of social butterfly at my kindergarten graduation since she “made more friends there than Kalie did the entire year,” as my parents observed. To what extent nurture and nature are at fault I cannot say, but my inability to relate to others clearly marked me as a tribal sissy from the start.

The situation did not improve over the years; rather I found myself a lonely and isolated teenager who thought myself above befriending brain-dead adolescents. Never mind that hormones left me just as brain-damaged as the next fourteen-year-old. I was different; I was not high school—a noun which became the ultimate adjective-insult in my vocabulary. Thus I found myself alone and lonely at the end of the torment commonly called high school.

Many of you already know the story of how God transformed me from a scared-but-willing college freshman who cried before parties, to a person who cared enough about others to at least carry on a conversation. But the remnants of my tribal sissy past still haunt my relationships and ultimately my sense of significance. I see it in every area of my life: I want to be loved and that means gaining others’ acceptance, approval, and affirmation. I think this often concerns me more than what is good for other people. That’s why I’m too soft on people, while I silently judge them in my heart. It’s why I’m often ineffective at disciplining people, despite my self-righteous convictions that they are so very wrong. When boldness is required, I’m more likely to back off because I fear others’ response to me.

I’m sure this contributed to my failures in discipleship, including but not limited to Missy, Kay, and Jen. And while they each ultimately made their own decision, I think I offered too little too late (especially in the first two cases). I am so scared to repeat these mistakes—I literally have nightmares about it—but if it’s still fear that drives me, I’m doomed for failure again. Because half the reason I’m scared has nothing to do with the well-being of my friends, my cell group, or my home church, and has everything to do with what people will think of me. Once again, I’m after what I falsely define as love, namely, recognition for a job well done.

This worked in my tribe. If I did my chores, practiced my instruments, and didn’t fight with my sisters, I was received as a good daughter. But I misinterpreted my parents’ acceptance for love, and that based on conditions. This is why I was so shocked when they expressed love even after I messed up big time (i.e. “secret car” incident). Their loved turned out to be unconditional, or at least much less conditional that I thought. But this demonstration couldn’t undo nineteen years of my twisted view of love.

Now my sissy self gets discouraged at the slightest hint of defeat because I feel threatened. And I react with ugly immaturity, sometimes sophisticatedly masked and sometimes not. Like a child who throws a fit after losing a game, I metaphorically suck my thumb and throw my carpet square by crying and blurting stupid, proud, fatalistic statements. While I know my tantrum-declarations aren’t true, my feelings overwhelm and conquer me in a classic example of infantile behavior.

Tantrums--cuter on kids than adults

While I’ve become more mature according to the world and can now initiate conversations, build friendships, and maintain even difficult relationships, I’m still far from spiritual maturity. I want to be able to serve with humility, no longer seeking others’ approval and admiration. I want to disciple with authority, fervently and boldly pursuing what is best for the other person regardless of her reaction. I want to stop fearing failure, take my identity from Christ, and remember that I answer to God. I want to stop demanding to be loved the wrong way, whether it’s with tantrums or subtleties, and start loving the right way, God’s way. And although my negative sissy self whispers that it’ll never happen, I’ve already experienced God’s victorious love output in my life, and I know that He can continue to lead me in a life of love that conquers.