Religious rules and traditions make me claustrophobic. My off-beat sense of humor and lilting sarcasm are here to “shake things up and keep things honest”; at least that’s what I have repeatedly told myself. Have you ever had a moment of truth so startling that you found it hard to catch your breath?
My last post chronicled my ever-present struggle with my language. What it didn’t mention or divulge is how fast my words leap out of my mouth ahead of my mind sometimes. I cringe to think about the slew of recklessness that I have unleashed at different moments in my life.
The weekend after my post, Pastor’s message rang true with me. I was convicted of my sinful lack of self-control; but wanted to get to the heart of the problem. I prayed, “Father, give me your eyes. What is the issue here?”
The answer was like a kick in the gut.
“You are terrified of the image that I carry a rod and a staff.”
I began to cry.
I see a rod and a staff as weapons to inflict beatings and undeserved punishments.
My ex-husband’s abuse warped my view of God.
In life, psychologists describe the “flight or fight” response. Simply put, when in danger, people either respond by fleeing or by fighting. I fight. In my former self-defense training, I was taught to unleash cuss words when fighting…especially if fighting in a conservative society where the language would draw more attention and therefore bring more help.
Gold star for applying my lessons in self-defense to my relationship with Christ! (Told you I have the gift of sarcasm). Seriously , though, I have felt threatened by the image of God holding a rod and a staff. I have spent years pushing the “envelope” of Christianity with my language, my rebellion, my attitude, my life; all while waiting expectantly to go too far, to have the rod &/or the staff whack me back into submission.
I sobbed like a little girl who’s been hurt.
I sat down with my mentor after church and we talked through this…all of it.
She lovingly pointed out that any area of sin is really a spiritual strength that is being allowed to run uncontrollably, without being submitted to the Holy Spirit. She reminded me that my “dragon-lady speech and cutting remarks” are really witty, truthful words that are not being spoken in love or kindness.
When I told her about my terror at the thought of God holding a rod and a staff, my eyes became floodgates. I explained that I don’t want to be hurt like that again. We began to pray, and she asked that I see God’s love as a guardrail, not as a fence of confinement.
Simultaneously, I had the image of my cheek up against a red wall of rock. I could feel the heat and smell the fresh air of high altitude mixed with flowers. I looked over to see a guardrail on the edge of the mountain pass, and just over the railing; there was a steep drop down thousands of feet to a certain death.
I looked up, and crumpled like a rag doll.
All these years, I have been flinching every time I pray; just waiting for the recoil and the certain blow of a rod, a stick, or a fist.
I have reacted like a penned animal who is cornered instead of embracing the beautiful truth that I am loved and protected.
It’s not an instantaneous turn-around in my mind.
I am studying the true use of a shepherd’s staff and a shepherd’s rod so that I may have a fresh understanding of how God shows love to me by protecting me.
Like all wounds, I know that this will take time to heal.
For now, though; I am content to lean up against that rock wall in my mind and look out over the panorama that is laid out before me, careful to stay far away from the guardrail that warns of certain danger.
I am choosing to trust that Isaiah 42:3 is true when it says, “He will not break a bruised reed, and he will not put out a smoldering wick…”(HCSB). It seems to me that if he carries a rod and a staff, but doesn’t break a bruised reed that is weak already; then I am safe as I learn WHO he is and what he uses his tools to do.