A Woman Seeking to Know Her God in a Season of Joy
I (Cody) had the privilege of working with Elizabeth when I worked at Gracewood. She very easily and openly brings an awareness of what the Lord is doing into every area of her life. I'm grateful that she was willing to share some of her experience of learning to embrace and acknowledge the Lord in the present season of her life!
How would you define the season that you are in right now?
A Woman Seeking to Know Her God In…a season of joy. This sounds easy enough. How hard is it to be with someone when all they want to give you is good gifts? But, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, this season is more challenging than you might think.
August will mark one year since I entered this new season of, learning to receive the goodness of God, and experience the joy that He gives me. Isaiah 61 says he turns our sorrow into rejoicing. After many years of tears, the seeds of sorrow are blooming into rejoicing. I feel my hyper-vigilance is being calmed and my heart is learning to look for the good. In the past year, God has completely lavished me with His unconditional love. He has proven, time and time again, that He is my provider and protector, and I can rest in Him. With the tangible and spiritual gifts He has given me this year, I would have to describe His love toward me as extravagant! Cars, houses, vacations, peace, healing, and emotional victories, have pounded against the walls of my heart, pleading to break through the protective strongholds, that I have carried all my life. Getting to this place has been a long process of healing. I feel like God has been prepping me for this season because it is His delight to watch me experience the joy of relationship with Him. Before I entered this season, I had a perception of God that His purpose of healing me was “making right what is wrong” or “fixing what is broken”. There was an underlying tone of performance that distorted my perspective of myself, and my understanding of my purpose. I am in the process of coming to realize, God’s desire is not to fix me, but to love me. The healing work has been like the first coat of kiln that prepares the wall to receive the bright new color of paint. His delight is in seeing His goodness displayed; as His extravagant love splashes joy all over my heart.
How does your time with the Lord look different today than it did a year ago?
I grew up in a Christian home where the word of God was held in greatest esteem. I joke that our Trinity was, “Father, Son, and Holy Bible”, and the Holy Spirit was a distant cousin no one really talked about. While I wasn’t trained as a child to listen for His voice, the Holy Spirit has been calling out to me since I was very young. What has changed this year is joining a community of believers who hear and respond to the voice of Holy Spirit. They have taught me to listen and expect to hear.
Reading, studying, and applying God’s word is not new to me. As a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, and a monthly devotional writer, I have had the “tools”, and have been bluntly banging away at the “project”, of time with God. What I was missing was the expectation to hear the voice of God reach out of the pages and into my heart. I had grown resistant to the idea of having a disciplined “quiet time” because of my fear of legalism. I knew I wanted to experience a more intimate relationship with God, but I was fearful that discipline would turn into legalism, and I would walk away from the time with another merit badge, and a fresh reminder of the unquenchable longing of my soul to know God. Once Holy Spirit was restored to His rightful role in my heart, a whole new world of possibilities was opened to me. I can truly say that I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, and His Spirit has triggered a hunger within, me that longs for more.
I remember when I was in college, trying to stay up all night and study; I decided that I needed coffee. It seemed like a logical plan, until I took that first, dark, bitter, gulp. After pushing through, the daily practice of drinking coffee, transformed into my present day, total addiction, and greatest culinary joy. Like coffee, this taste for intimacy with God was not my initial response. It began with intentionality and has developed into my natural drive. My friends would tell you I have developed a sixth sense, that is always alert to the opportunity for coffee. Similarly, I don’t have to remind myself to drink of God’s word. My internal thirst is always engaged, and I find myself looking for opportunities to talk with God, or hear Him speak to me through His word.
In this season, what is currently motivating you to get quiet with God? And/or what keeps you from getting quiet with God?
My motivation is also my current challenge. I love being loved. When I am with God I feel overwhelmed with something that feels both foreign and familiar. Abuse damages the sensors of our hearts and blocks us from receiving what we desperately need; security within a loving relationship.
As I said earlier, my relationship with God has been so good this year! Consistently, time with God leaves me feeling loved and protected. This is my greatest need. But my seared relational nerves don’t know how to receive it. I keep looking over my shoulder, waiting for the next interaction with God to hurt. Through abuse, my young internal system learned that, “The people who love you will also hurt you.” I am hungry for more of God’s love but something inside of me hesitates to fully embrace it; perhaps with a fear that I will hug too deeply and find the pain hidden inside.
Being loved without any expectation in return is something that feels foreign. Abusers create a twisted view of love, that requires performance, and is maintained through fear. The concept of an omnipotent God, who needs nothing from me, and has only good to give me, is new and hard to comprehend. At the same time, as a human, this is the relationship I was created for. I was designed to be loved unconditionally and to receive only joy in relationship with God. In this way, my new season feels familiar. It is as if my system recognizes the original design and feels at home in His presence.
What are some applicable, tangible ways to encourage others to draw near to Him?
- Change the label: One thing that worked for me was changing my label from “quiet time” to “Jesus time”. For abuse survivors, quiet times are fearful times. The empty space can feel intimidating. I don’t approach my set apart time as time to be alone in the silence, but instead consider it a date with Jesus.
- Start small: Don’t give yourself the expectation that you need to set aside an hour and read a whole chapter of the Bible. Start with 10 minutes and read one verse. Doing one small thing consistently make more of an impact that one big thing occasionally.
- Be honest: Be honest with yourself, and God, about your thoughts and feelings. Start your time each day by asking yourself, “How do I feel about spending this time with Jesus?” Move on from there to telling God how you feel.
- Look for Jesus: In every verse you read, from Old to New Testament, don’t just encounter the words, look to encounter Jesus. Ask Holy Spirit to show you Jesus in the verse. In every prayer, look for Jesus. Don’t just think about the facts of the situation, ask Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus in the situation.
- Listen: This part takes time. But expect that God wants to speak and be willing to listen.
What works for you when you spend time alone with the Lord? (IE: prayer journals, bible studies, removing technology, etc. Think really practically here.) What doesn’t work?
God gave me a system that has helped me break through the fear of the silence. I have a prayer journal with color coded sections. In one section I have a page for each of my children, my friends and others, and myself. I list my prayers and intentionally pray through the lists. I have assigned one day of the week to each child (I have 6 kids, so that leaves Sunday for a focus of listening). The next section is for gratitude. I find my joy increases when I take time each day to notice what gifts God is giving me. It also helps me to look back at the list, and allow the list to speak to the lies, that threaten to steal my joy, and replace it with fear of God’s judgment. I see this list and remind myself that, “God is good and I can expect good from Him all the time.” The next section is for noticing beauty. I can see God’s goodness in the beauty around me. My joy increases as I am intentional in noticing and expressing this beauty. The next section is for Bible study. I keep notes of what God is speaking to me through the words that I read. The last section is for straight out listening. I have learned to tolerate the silence, and expect God’s sweet voice to speak into the quiet. I use this section to record the things He tells me.
The other thing that has helped me set apart this practice with the Lord is setting up a physical space. For me this was way more involved than it probably needed to be. I actually scraped, primed, and painted the walls in the alcove of my home where I sit with the Lord. I needed to create a beautiful environment to associate with the beauty of my time with the Lord. The kids know the purpose of this space and have also come to respect my time there. I have learned to protect this space by prompting the kids to hold there questions, resisting the urge to step out for a quick chore, and leaving electronics on the other end of the room.
Lastly, I created a schedule of discipline that fostered my new routine. It helped me to set my gym time before my time with Jesus. I get up and go to the gym first thing. I get my body moving and my brain alert. When I return home, my mind and body are ready to rest with my Jesus, in the beautiful space of my kitchen alcove. Of course, coffee is always included in my beautiful experiences, so I added that positive association to the routine of my time with Jesus.
How can the person reading this right now pray for you? Maybe you need prayer for joy, sustainment or patience…
I believe that God will completely heal and restore the nerve endings of my spiritual heart. Pray that I would be restored to His original design and free to fully receive and embrace the joy of His steadfast love for me.
by elizabeth pennington
This post is part of the Summer of Seasons that Darcee and I are hosting. Our hope is that as others share about seeking God in their particular season of life, we would all be encouraged to know and love and seek after the Lord more in our daily lives.