Need a Spiritual Peel?
August 20, 2014
Jennifer Hagler Photography
By Laura DiFatta
A few days ago, I was watching a TV show from a series* a friend recommended. In this particular segment, a young nurse happens upon a very elderly lady who was living as a vagabond near her workplace and was clearly ill physically and mentally. On the surface, she was frightening and off-putting to anyone who saw her. One day, the young nurse was assigned by her supervisor to seek this woman out and visit her in her home. She found her, sick indeed and living in abysmal squalor in a condemned building. The nurse’s first attempts to take her pulse were met by the woman striking her in the face. The young nurse got reinforcement in the form of an older, wiser nurse, who used some unconventional approaches to win the patient’s reluctant trust. Her violence was borne out of fear, having been severely abused and having experienced overwhelming loss in years past. After a simple assessment, they decided that the first order of helping her was to get her cleaned up. She was covered—literally head to toe—in vermin, dirt and other filth. They began trying to pull her boots off and couldn’t because they were stuck to the skin of her feet. When they slowly and painfully succeeded in pulling them off, they found a horrible sight. The older nurse said, “no wonder you struck out at us. You’ve been in constant pain.” The pitiful elderly lady looked away with her eyes downcast and said, almost to herself, “They shame me.” The older nurse replied, “No… Not any more.”
The next scene is beautiful and to me an almost holy one. The two nurses began to gently peel off layer after layer of filthy, smelly, threadbare garments that are stuck to her sore-covered skin, all the while protecting her dignity. They then wash her carefully and gently, while reassuring her with acceptance and love. They made her clean, replaced her layered rags with new clothes and her face radiated joy. She had never experienced this kind of care: this kind of love opposed and overwhelmed her shame. She received a kind of new life and radiated joy at her knew position as someone others valued.
That is one of the sweetest examples of what Jesus does spiritually for those who have placed their faith in Him. I have layers. We all do. Most are invisible but keep me feeling sheltered and make me continually self-reliant.
Layers can look like a number of things in our lives. A few examples include: relying on something or someone (besides God) for our sense of self-worth or sense of hope, living for a picture that exists in our minds of how life should be—our plan. Layers can be righteousness based on moral performance, pride in status, self-sufficiency and on and on and on.
Most of our unhealthy layers are rooted in unbelief that looks like:
1) mistrust that God really has our best in mind
2) not really believing that He really loves us
3) and in not believing He is Sovereign.
In the past, have clung to my layered spiritual filthy rags like they were worth something. One example of mine was held so close that I really didn’t even realize how much it was a part of me. That rag was “people-pleasing.” It is deceitful because it looks and feels so righteous, but it is exhausting and subtly deadly. Very early in my life, I bought the lie that I needed the approval of other people to truly have love and acceptance. I really wanted others to think I was so “together.” Ultimately that led to a heart that desired to please others more than please God. That was painful to realize. But necessary.
By God’s grace, He wasn’t done with me and He loved me too much let me stay there. I sometimes say that I’m in people-pleasing recovery. As He has gently removed my layers, He has reminded me in a fresh and deep way that He loved me before I was “together” (as if I ever really was) and way before I was “cleaned up” and churchy. He died for me and you out of perfect, sacrificial love in total agreement and obedience to Father God, because He loved us. (John 3:16) He is not content to let you stay wrapped in your layers of dirty rags either, whatever they may be.
We were made for so much more than just existing. We were made to place our trust and hope in God alone and rejoice—even when we are enduring heavy trials! That is a holy thing made possible by the power of God ministering to us and working powerfully in us.
Many of us have lost sight of our inheritance in Christ. The inheritance that we not only enjoy in eternity, but also here and now (i.e. God’s Presence, holy peace, holy joy, etc.) We have lost sight of the fact the God has a good plan for us and for each of our loved ones that cannot be thwarted. We have lost sight of the deep and dazzling love and the power of our God that He exerts on our behalf. We have bought the world’s lie that we are owed something… something…more that we don’t have quite yet. And the chase of that something owns us. We have lost sight of the fact that we have been given the opportunity to walk in a new way of life, to enjoy the certainty that awaits us of an eternal life that we did not earn. We have forgotten to celebrate the fact that we have an Advocate, a Defender, an Intercessor in Jesus who is at the right hand of God interceding for us—His own beloved children—right this moment. Many of us are fearful by what we see and hear forgetting that God gives sufficient grace and help to His own in each of their times of trouble and common grace-according to the Word—even to non-believers in order to woo them to Himself! That is how kind He is!!
Many of us have lost sight of the fact that God sees when each sparrow lights to the ground and that He reminds us in His Word that we are much more valuable to Him than they are. And many of us—even professing believers—have no confidence in this truth or have forgotten it altogether.
This past weekend, I heard the term “spiritual amnesia,” used by Julie Sparkman of Restore Ministries*. It is the term she used to describe what happens when we forget God’s character, His promises to us, His power motivated by love and that He’s in control/Sovereign. In other words, we forget what His Word says. Because of our spiritual amnesia, we are not confidently passing Truth on to the next generation. There is a sure-fire remedy to spiritual amnesia: spending time before God in the Word and in prayer!
We have become used to the numbing power of being busy and sometimes even find our value in that. It has become a layer. But it is exhausting, is it not? We even use “busy” as an excuse to not spend time with God, while killing ourselves to fit everything else in. I’m not trying to heap guilt. I get it. I’ve been there. But, He loves us too much and payed too great a price to redeem us for us to forget how valuable we are to Him. No counterfeit will do for His children. He can enter into the busy and bring His Word that calms the storm. But He desires our cooperation.
With the reminder of how valuable we are, we can take a serious look at the process of spiritual un-layering…Wow, it can be scary and painful. And it can take time because we have well-worn patterns of behavior—habits—formed as our go-to’s in living and responding to the world around us based on the truth we are believing—our functional, lived-out, rubber-meets-the-road belief system. For some of us—even believers—that does not look like faith very much. But, ugh! The painful familiar is often more preferable than the prospect of the unknown and the process of change. But, take heart! Be encouraged! The beauty of what will be revealed in us as we seek Him, as we remind ourselves of Who He is and Who we are to Him and allow Him to take us by the hand along unfamiliar paths and teach us things we did not know has inestimable eternal value and value in this very day.
Why change? Well, God is not content to let us stay in the filthy rags of unhealthy habits and responses to those around us. His rightful place in our lives is in the #1 spot. Many of us operate like He is just part of our “making life work” regimen, but not the number one focus of our devotion and The Source of what we need to navigate this life well. Well, again, be encouraged!!
The place God has brought me to as He’s peeled off my adhered layers and poured Himself into my desperate self is this: He is the supreme object of my faith! My expectations for God are much much higher by far than anyone or anything else in this world. My confidence is in Him. And surprisingly (or not?) my low self-esteem that I struggled with all my life is almost gone, replaced by a quiet confidence in who I am through Christ—holy and dearly loved. I wouldn’t have dared called myself holy on my own, but as I go to the Word of Truth, I am reminded (see what I did there?) that is exactly what I am! And if you have trusted in what Christ has done for you, you are holy and dearly loved, too.
I have a ways to go, but that’s ok. The process I’m in is called sanctification. Every believer in Christ is in the sanctification process. Sometimes pain is diagnostic that you need some layers peeled. Sometimes, the process itself of peeling and revealing is painful. But, I can tell you with certainty, in God’s masterful hands, you will find he is patient and gentle and you will be so much better off!
If you long for acceptance, belonging, love, significance, please know that you already have it. Isn’t that incredible news?! You don’t have to keep searching for it! You have it! Because of the Cross, you never have to wonder how loved you are, you never have to wonder if you are accepted. It’s DONE! You have proof of God’s heart toward you in the love of the great Rescuer, Jesus, who knows you—layers and all and loves you anyway. And He loves you so much that He won’t let you stay all covered up in anything but His splendor! Shame? Not any more.
“I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32
“May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant.” Psalm 119: 76
“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” Romans 5:1-2
*Call the Midwife– Season 2, Christmas special