Destroying Strongholds

Each of us has a stronghold built around our lives.  Each of us has a defense.  Some more apparent than others, perhaps, some more difficult to detect, but they are there nonetheless.  They are there because at some level or another, we each have deep underlying insecurities, and we want to protect ourselves from the world.

Why are these insecurities there?  They may be there because you’ve been abused.  They may be there because you feel inadequate.  They may be there because you have known poverty, or loss, or any number of worldly struggles or suffering.  But at the heart of it lies one simple reason: they are there because of sin.  They are there because this world is broken, because we all fall short and are incomplete without Christ, but none of us has been able to bridge the gap so completely that we are whole this side of heaven.  Desperately seeking safety that can never be assured on earth, we try to guard ourselves.

What’s wrong with being guarded?  Strongholds are walls that we have built to keep others out.  It may not seem that way, but sometimes we do it subconsciously.  Guarding yourself comes at the price of relationships, both with God and other people; the higher your wall, the more superficial your relationships will be.  First and most importantly, strongholds keep us from God because God is supposed to be our stronghold (Psalm 27:1).  Therefore, anything else that we depend on is an idol of our own making.  When we build walls, we replace God’s protection with our own.  Our lips say that we trust God, but our actions prove otherwise.  Second, strongholds keep us from having deep relationships with other people because we only let them see what we want them to see.  When they look at us, they don’t see the beauty of our soul; they see a wall.  And who can love a wall?  When we build strongholds, we forfeit the depth of love and acceptance for the shallowness of popularity.

What are your strongholds?  Some of you may know right away.  For others, they’ve so long been a part of you, so cleverly disguised and hidden even from yourself, that it may require discernment and guidance from the Holy Spirit to seek out these strongholds and destroy them.  Prayerfully consider the following questions:

What am I most afraid to let go of?

What do I turn to when I feel uncomfortable or threatened?

What do I feel like I most need to prove?

What makes me feel the most exposed?

What do I fear will happen if I lose my protection?

Answering these questions will give you valuable insight into what your strongholds are and why they are there.  If you can understand why you do what you do, it becomes easier to work through your emotions and get rid of the strongholds that keep you from God.  If you don’t, there may come a day when they are taken from you.  God is jealous, and His love is a tough love; if anything is keeping Him from your heart, He will stop at nothing to win you back.  When His people Israel continued to chase after other things, seeking security elsewhere, God decided to put a stop to it: “Israel has forgotten their Maker and built palaces; Judah has fortified many towns.  But I will send fire on their cities that will consume their fortresses” (Hosea 8:14).  With their strongholds burned to the ground around them, Israel had nowhere else to turn but to the Lord.  When all of their sin and weakness was exposed, they had to face their utter helplessness and depend on God.

Destroying strongholds can be a scary business, not only because we feel exposed, but also because we’ve worked our defense mechanisms into the fabric of our being for so long that we feel they’ve become a part of our identity.  If we strip them away, what will be left of us?  If our stronghold defines us, who are we without it?  The beautiful part is that God doesn’t leave us there; He transforms us into something new and beautiful.  As He did for His people Israel, He will replace our facade with a true identity, the security of which can never be taken away.  He will give us a new name: “I will say to those called ‘Not My People,’ ‘You are My People'” (Hosea 2:23).  Once the stronghold is torn down, we are no longer captives within our own walls.  We are free to know and be known, to love and be loved.

We are free when we are His.

i’ll abandon my defenses, and live to love again.

For years I’ve been guarded, for years I have fought,

But that which I battled was that which I sought.

I’m always aware of the way that I stand

(For the way I present myself says who I am):

Hands on my hips, feet planted firm on the floor,

I’m prepared for the battle, but alone in the war.

With a sword of indifference and wit like a knife,

My fierce independence is my shield — is my life.

I hide behind big words when I’m speechless

And because I’m afraid of you, act like I’m fearless.

But…

If I didn’t have to prove that I’m good enough,

Smart, independent, self-sufficient and tough,

If I could be open and honest and real

And forego this facade to explain how I feel,

It would be so much easier if I could just say

In an innocent, immature, little kid way

With a strawberry blush and cheeks growing hot,

That I want you, and need you, and like you….

…a lot.

Published in: on November 26, 2012 at 7:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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Week 5: The Breaking Point

Around week 3, people started asking, “Have you hit your wall yet?” I would give them a huge smile and say, “Wall? What wall? What’s a wall?”

Week 5 was when I discovered…THE WALL. For the first half of the week, it was like I couldn’t go any further. I was constantly on edge. Everything irritated me. I couldn’t stand for people to touch me. I always felt like I was about to scream at someone or something. My jr. staffer was a shy 14-year-old that everyone mistook as a camper, who sort of followed my group around like a lost puppy. The only time he gave any indication of being alive was when my boys would deliberately do something I had told them not to do, at which he would laugh and high-5 them.

Here are some snippets from my journal at the end of day 2: “I’m getting impatient with people.” “I feel myself getting tense and shutting people out because I’m overwhelmed.” “I want to scream.”  “Why are my nerves so on edge lately?” “I just want to scream.”

I found myself reverting back to my defense mechanism of blocking everyone else out and trying to be in control and deal with things on my own. One night I had a good long talk with Kendall and Nasser where they got to see the less-than-together side of me. You see, I don’t mind people seeing the broken and imperfect parts of me, as long as I make the choice to show them. But this was unintentional and pretty much just embarrassing. Kendall said he’d noticed that I had some sort of “sophisticated and cleverly disguised defense mechanism” that I was putting up to block everyone out. So I was sitting there at the picnic table rambling on about things that have happened in my past to explain why I was putting these walls up, and then feeling awkward and trying to apologize and amend the situation while just digging the hole deeper, and I finally concluded awkwardly, “I don’t know why I’m even bringing this up. I let go of this a long time ago, and I thought this part of me was gone.” Kendall responded insightfully, “I think you’ve chopped down the tree, but you haven’t let God into the most sensitive areas of your life to dig up the roots.” What he said really resonated with me, but honestly what made the biggest difference was just that he and Nasser were so accepting of me even when they saw a vulnerable and insecure part of me that even I didn’t want to accept.

No, my week did not magically become amazing because of that. But it was a growing experience, and I learned more about working through my emotions instead of pretending like they weren’t there. Because Nasser and Kendall saw me as important enough to validate my feelings, no matter how complicated or misguided, I realized that it’s okay to give voice to my own feelings and accept my own weakness. And that ended up being one of the major life lessons I learned this summer.

On Wednesday afternoon I was in charge of extended care, and while the kids were playing volleyball, one of the kid’s moms and I sat on the ground talking and watching one of the little girls make a sand castle. I had met her briefly earlier in the week — her son had this super awesome cookie monster shirt that said “Keep calm and eat cookies”, and I kind of fell in love with it, which she thought was funny. So we were just sitting there talking about life and camp and relationships, and it was so great just to have a real conversation after another difficult day. On Friday after closing celebration when all of the parents came to pick up their kids, she came to find me and gave me a hug and a small gift bag. When I opened it later, there was a “keep calm and eat cookies” shirt and a sweet encouraging note.

As for kid stories, well, I guess the week was fairly uneventful. I did have this obnoxious little punk named Jake who was quite the handful, and who totally stole my heart for some reason that I can’t explain. But it was one of those weeks that I guess I had to have to complete my camp experience. God had a reason for each of these 8 weeks, and the lessons that He taught me in the brokenness of week 5 just prepared my heart for the incredible things He had planned for week 6. Tune in next time for youth camp and the Navy Babies!

Published in: on August 10, 2012 at 12:28 am  Leave a Comment  
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Walls

Written November 24, 2010.

Proverbs 4:23 says to guard your heart. Yet often, God is the one from whom you most diligently guard it. You don’t want God to see the condition of your heart with all its scars, and so you put walls up. Your days are spent layering bricks to defend your calloused heart, fearing that to feel again would be to hurt again. For the moment, it is far easier to push feelings to the back of your mind, sear your emotions to block out pain, and continue building the wall. Your tears dry with the mortar; your heart hardens with the bricks. Your only defense against pain is numbness; so you continue to build, brick by heavy brick, your foreboding wall of indifference. A small, nearly buried part of you wishes that you could let down your guard, that you could be sincere and transparent again. But the breakdown of the wall is painful, and because life continues to move on, you have neither the time nor the energy to go through the process. The only response is to keep building and remain numb as long as possible.

Yet your wall cannot stand forever. The God who destroyed the fortress of Jericho is just as capable of dismantling your defense mechanisms. The God of the universe wants your heart, and no pile of rocks can keep Him from pursuing you. He sees the damage that the world has done to the tender heart He created, and He longs to heal the scars. He is willing to sacrifice anything to reach through the wall and hold the heart that has become so calloused and hardened… to heal the heart that He loves.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus began to tear down the wall. As the nails were driven through His hands, the sound of His agonized cry made the structure tremble. As the cross was lifted up and shoved into the earth, the mortar began to disintegrate. With every drop of blood and every ragged breath, Jesus willed the barrier to fall. And in the hazy light of dawn on the day of His resurrection, the broken seal of the tomb was not the only displaced stone.

Any fear of vulnerability, any pain of exposed scars, is inconsequential in light of the complete healing and restoration He offers. He will stop at nothing to win your heart; He gave everything He had to tear down the wall.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 1:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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