Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Strongholds...

Just behind our house lies a line of tall trees, mostly oaks, but there are one or two pines scattered within along with the stray dogwood here and there. As you can imagine, within those trees bustles a little woodland world of its own. Squirrels and birds makes their homes there. Bats do as well, and at night, they swoop down over the pool diving down to take a drink. In the fall, we sometimes catch sight of an owl. Only in the seven years since I have lived in this house have I become cognisant of the life in nature.

My favorite spot to watch TV, read, blog, or catch up on Facebook is my little chair. It faces the back door leading out onto our deck giving me the perfect visual of the trees outside. I watch the squirrels play, the mockingbirds fight, and the leaves rain down in the fall. Just a few minutes ago, I watched a red bird hopping from branch to branch. Not the usual motion for a bird. He'd hop up one, rest a minute, and repeat the motion. One branch at a time. I wondered about the little bird... is one of his wings hurt or is he otherwise wounded? Why would a bird who could take off from one point and fly to another with ease be hopping up a tree? Must be a reason behind it.

It made me think about my spiritual life. My grandmother, my dad's mom, always tells me, "Little steps, Tamara." Little steps indeed. Most of us don't want to take little steps; we want to fly first, soar above the trees, forgetting the steps altogether. But I watched that little bird, clearly not working at his full capabilities, and I thought about the wounded steps I have taken on my spiritual journey thus far.

In the book I've been reading this summer, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner, an entire chapter is devoted to strongholds. This is a term I've never quite understood. I don't recall ever hearing much about spiritual strongholds in my early years, and the use of the word is a bit confusing to me. I've often thought about a stronghold as being a place of safety as in war times. But in religious terms, we use the term to mean something the has a strong hold on us, that holds us back in our spiritual journey. Like the little bird that I saw hopping from branch to branch, there's something in our life keeping us from running at full spiritual capacity. Those looking at us watching our movement may not know what it is, but it's there all the same, working against our upward motion.

When I first started trying to identify my stronghold, I thought in terms of my actions. It must be that I drink. Or maybe my stronghold is not going to church regularly. Or it could be that I don't pray enough or that I curse too much. But the more I thought about the true spiritual definition of stronghold, I realized that it was nothing tangible, no one action I do or don't do, no conscious choice. If it were conscious, it wouldn't be a pitfall or stronghold. The tangibles are given another name, and I believe we call them sins.

My stronghold would have to be something that I couldn't touch, something specific to me and my life's experience. I immediately knew what it was. Guilt. And not guilt of any one particular thing, just guilt in general. I shouldn't have done that, said that, thought that. I'm not worthy. I am not loved because of this or that or the other. My sins are too big, too ugly, too much. And throughout that {crazy} thought process permeates this one huge problem ~ the focus on me and my actions. How selfish. How ridiculous to limit the capability of God to look past my humanness. He created me; He knew before I was born that I would make poor choices. It's up to me to step into His grace and forgiveness (which happen to be the antithesis of my stronghold) and subtract myself from the equation.

I think the story of the Israelites first brought me to that realization. I've grown so attached to the Old Testament, and though my memory is not the best and I can't recount when they went here or left from there or all the plagues and battles and stages of captivity, within the history of the Israelites lies this beautiful story of undeserved love. They were simply God's chosen people. Makes not a lick of sense to me because they had a tendency to disobey and make poor choices. Yet God never left them or took His Covenant from them. He drew them back in, He protected them in times of famine, drought or captivity, and He sent special people and messages directly to them.

When I think about God's chosen people, the Israelites, I can't help but think about me. I have a tendency to mess up and disobey. I stray off the path from time to time. There have been times of famine and captivity in my life as well (spiritually speaking). But God has always been faithful to me, and He has sent divine words to me through His Scriptures to affirm in my heart that I am His. It makes zero sense to me, but I know it to be true. I am God's, and He is mine, and there's nothing that I've done ~ no poor decision, no gallivant way off the path ~ that can separate us.

Guilt is about me. What I've done. What I should be doing that I am not. Where I have failed. What I could have done better. Grace is simply about the Father and His Son. When I eliminate the selfish nature of my thoughts along with its earthly limits, it becomes about what God has done for me despite the things about which I carry guilt.

I can't say that this will make a whole lot of sense to anyone reading it. But it's a thought process that has taken me YEARS to understand, so I simply wanted to document it. Just like that little red bird, I'm still hopping up, one branch at a time.

Little steps, Tamara.

1 comment:

Darlene :0) said...

This made total sense to me. Thank you for writing it.