Then you took my hand. Transformation began. Commotion where it once was still. Fireworks explode. Front row tickets to the show. This hand I will never let it go.
True transformation. What a concept. Fireworks…Wow!
In our family, we affectionately call this “love bursts.” My husband and I refer to experiences with God—the little every day moments and the big hard to ignore events—as places that are “opening up my heart space.” We try to stop and just be aware of these things. We use “being present” as a guide: holding onto what is reflecting our true nature and letting go of what is not.
The first time I heard the above song, in a movie, it opened up my heart space. I immediately connected it to the most beautiful parts of life—intimacy with God. True transformation, that feels like “front row tickets” to what God is doing in the world, first starts in me.
I also refer to this as going to wide open places. I think we all know what it’s like to be in a closed place on the inside. It could be due to secrets, grief, or bitterness; but we feel small, alone, and closed off. We also have experienced those places of freedom, where we somehow let go of all the “extras” and were just present in experiencing the pure joy of the moment. Something big like a child being born or something small like a great song at a concert that makes us get up and dance.
The journey of life often includes some of the dry, dead stuff which turns into a fireworks show: front row tickets to what the Divine is doing and the Trinity’s ever present invitation for me to participate.
However true, this does not mean everything in my life is sweet sailing.
This past year has been one of mountain top highs (first child and only daughter getting married) and deep valley lows (my parents, married 50 years, navigating betrayal and separation). I am acquainted with feeling overwhelmed with the grief or anxiety due to unfulfilled expectations, an empty nest, disappointing others, and a variety of other things.
My friend described this once as holding joy and sorrow at the same time. I surely know this to be true.
Transformation is about what is going on inside of us much more than what is going on around us. It is embracing what is real. It is often letting go of the old to grab onto something new that God is showing us.
And in the dark places, when life feels hard or chaotic, and I question what is real, it means holding on to the “deeper yeses” I read about in a recent meditation:
Transformation usually includes a disconcerting reorientation. Change can either help people to find a new meaning, or it can cause people to close down and turn bitter. The difference is determined by the quality of our inner life, or what we call “spirituality.” Change of itself just happens; spiritual transformation is an active process of letting go, living in the confusing dark space for a while, and allowing yourself to be spit up on a new and unexpected shore. You can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important symbol for many Jews and Christians.
In the moments of insecurity and crisis, “shoulds” and “oughts” don’t really help; they just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding. It’s the deep “yeses” that carry you through. Focusing on something you absolutely believe in, that you’re committed to, will help you wait it out.
Bigger and Better
Have you ever played the bigger and better game? It’s a kids game where you start with something small, and you go from door to door exchanging it for something bigger. You have to let go of what is smaller to grab onto the next, bigger and better thing. I think transformation always involves letting go of something smaller for something “bigger and better” that God has for me in my understanding, emotions, and behavior.
I like to call this living spirituality. I know what dead spirituality is and this doesn’t just mean boring (although that is a thing). It can be a spirituality that looks very much alive and demonstrative but lacks the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). In fact, at times I see evidence of this around me and often in me.
An example of this from my life involves following rules. I know what it is to follow the rules. I grew up as a pretty good rule-follower. This goes all the way back to my first memories: “I have to be good. I have to be loving to others. I have to love God. I have to read my Bible, pray, tithe, go to church…”
It looked like the rules I needed to follow were sometimes more important than experiencing a relationship with God and the unconditional love of Christ. At best, it was some transformation. At worst, it was something false but I didn’t see it. Nevertheless, I don’t want to live with partial transformation anymore. I try to curiously observe and let go of anything that looks, talks, or smells like conformity, for something better. If it quacks like a duck, I ain’t doin’ it!
Life sometimes throws us curveballs, and there’s nothing quite like the betrayal of a spouse to blow up your “God box” into a million scattered pieces.
My construct—my belief in God, myself, my spouse, every pastor, person, and maybe stranger—was suddenly up for debate. Everything became suspect.
The day I took my wedding pictures off the wall (let’s say they were getting outdated anyway because, you know, the 80s), in my mind I saw them shattered on the ground. Okay, more like blown up by a bomb. This was a clear time my God-box was blown up. Although it was difficult, it helped me start over and let go of many things I did because I thought I was supposed to.
When this happened, I didn’t sweep up the pieces and throw them away in the trash. Instead, I kept all the pieces. Over time, I looked at them carefully and slowly chose what I would keep and what didn’t serve a purpose in my life anymore.
I’m the kind of person who gets a little (or a lot) angry at God and has those really strong conversations with Him, so that’s exactly what I did. At the time, I lacked understanding of sexual addiction and where to find support. So much of it didn’t make sense: my marriage, my relationship, and my understanding of God. And when my life felt shattered, I wanted to only pick back up the things that were real, that I truly believe in, and that are essential to my faith.
I believe I have been sifting through this brokenness continually over the past 20 years, since the beginning of my adult life and throughout my recovery journey. All of this has taken me to a much more healed and grateful place.
Throughout this process, what I picked back up included some of the same things but with a completely different motivation. On the outside, my life might not look a whole lot different (remember I am good at following “the rules”). But on the inside, it’s lived more often from a place of transformation rather than conformity.
Here’s another thing that helped me with this process. One morning when my husband was speaking, he used the term “faith community” when referring to our church. This changed my perspective. For me, attending a local church is a part of a faith community, but so is my Betrayal & Beyond group, grief class, family and extended family, conversation with a friend, a 12-step group—really, any time I get together with another person or a group of people (where two or more are gathered, Matthew 18:20).
True transformation comes from relationship: being open and honest in the context of community. If you are going to Sunday morning service once a week and you don’t have a way of opening up your heart to others (and multiple ways is even better), then I believe you are missing a key part of transformation.
I’ve now seen enough of what doesn’t work in my life to recognize that I only really want what does work. I want true transformation. I believe most of us do. We just don’t always know how to get there, or we don’t have the support or tools to take the sometimes really, really hard next step. In recovery, this is often referred to as doing “the next right thing.”
Not behavior modification but repentance (metanoia): changing the way you think—about yourself, God, and others. Really, it’s a response to love.
I can try to transform; in fact, I have surely done this in many ways.
Do you want to know why I can truly see the gifts that walking through betrayal in my marriage brought me? Experiencing true transformation? The aftermath of suddenly having my whole world explode—not in the beautiful fireworks kind of way but more like the “roadkill” kind of way—gave me a new perspective; seeing the path that led toward transformation and my own recovery.
We are all in recovery because we are all human. And we’re not only in recovery for 2-5 years. Best case scenario is that we are in recovery for a lifetime. What else is this journey about? Restoring us to our true self, to the very image of God that is stamped inside each one of us.
And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.
2 Corinthians 5:18 NLT
This is now a regular part of my relationship with God—the Divine just keeps breaking out of the box I put the Father, Son, and Spirit into! It helps me to imagine something bigger than myself, so amazing that I can’t fully understand it.
What can I say, I’m a work in progress. I know you are too. We are all human, and…
…we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3:18 NKJV
This is such a beautiful picture of true transformation.
To transform is to become more and more changed into the very character and nature of God. It is the process of becoming who we were designed to be.
It is where we find lasting freedom.