This morning I woke up in New Buffalo, Michigan. I slept in a queen sized bed next to my husband, sharing the room with two other guys on twin beds. There are 14 other people spread out amongst this beautiful Airbnb, which situated perfectly between full, green branches on tall trees, enhancing it’s woodsy, cabin-like feel.
Although I had the best of intentions, my eight mile run did not happen this morning as I chose to press snooze one too many times. Instead, we all rounded up for coffee in the main kitchen area around 10. Quickly, I took notice of who was really awake and who still had crusts in their eyeballs. I scanned the room interested in pegging each person for a morning bird or a night owl in my mind.
Because I’m my energetic (I’d even argue, best) self between the hours of 9 am and noon (and I’m really no good after 8pm), I wanted to walk around the room, hug everyone and dive in to full-blown conversation as soon as the coffee was poured. Maybe I’ve become more self-aware or perhaps the Holy Spirit was on their side, but my insides suppressed the urge to be EXCESSIVELY CHATTY MANDA first thing in the morning. (You’re welcome, friends.)
One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, whose written many books, including Present Over Perfect is not here on this little “retreat” with us, but her husband, Aaron is. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing The Practice led by Aaron Niequist once before in my life. It was a very special occasion and I have very fond memories of it. This morning, I received the gift of being led through The Practice a second time by Aaron. I cannot accurately describe what this is or express how profound of an encounter with God one might have during it, but read more here, then come back to finish reading this.
Once the time was finished walking through the steps and long periods of intentional silences that The Practice entails, our time was closed out with a beautiful word and we all awkwardly made our way back into normal social settings with one another. During this time, I met a woman named Abby, another named Carrie, and also spent time with the friend who made this trip a reality for all of us here, Jason Miller.
During my conversations I was consciously present; asking questions, speaking from a place of honesty, and really paying attention. It’s incredible how strengthening it is to my soul when I really lean into another person, forgetting the world around us. At one point in my conversation with Jason, I said something that I don’t think I’ve ever quite put into words before.
“I don’t think people like me.”
This confession wasn’t fluid or bold. I was broken, choked up, and muttered six simple words. Yet, this was a profound moment as I heard them coming out of my own mouth.
I know other Christians have to love me, that’s what they’re called to do. But they don’t really like me. I wouldn’t be the person they choose to spend time with. I’m not someone they genuinely long to have conversation with.
Why do I carefully watch the cues and facial expressions of others during conversations so intent on shifting my personality and demeanor in order to make the best impression? Why can’t I rest in who God made me to be? I like who I am. Right? Yes, I like me. I think? Mostly. Why is it so hard to believe that maybe, in fact, there are other people who do, too?
I’m guilty of always believing I’m too much for whoever is sitting across from me and second guessing if I said the wrong thing. I’ve let those beliefs seep in so deep and manifest in an unhealthy way so that at times I am no longer being me. It’s deeper than wanting to be accepted and loved by others…I wonder if it has to do with my view of God.
Do I believe God likes me?
Sure, I know He loves me. Good heavens, He created me. I feel and experience His love daily. I talk about His grace which I am ever-grateful never runs out.
But, does He like me? Does. God. Like. Me? Or have I been on a journey of trying to win Him over?
Do I believe He loves Amanda unconditionally, but prefers her a notch or two quieter? Do I believe He loves her, but would rather spend time with someone else? Do I believe I have to change and bring a different version of myself before Him?
If I’m honest, I’ve been under the impression that God will like the future version of me. Once I’ve cleaned up my life, sin a whole lot less, read my Bible and pray more, and share His perfect love with all of my friends and neighbors. God loves me, but I doubt He wants to be friends with me and hang out with the person I am today.
My passion, my intensity, the fighter in me – it all feels good while I’m being affirmed, but as life happens and I don’t give space for God to speak in my life, I begin letting the world shift my beliefs and I doubt that it is good. I doubt that I am good. I believe no one likes me. Most unfortunate of all, I forget that God likes me.
As part of The Practice I journaled everything I could recount over the last 24 hours of my existence and the feelings I experienced throughout. Then, we chose one feeling that surfaced and prayed about it; stopping to listen to what God might want to say in loving response.
The emotion I got hung up on was impatient. It stood out as if it were the only black letters on the page of my journal, showing up five times in a description of my last 24 hours.
“Why am I continually short-tempered, annoyed, and impatient? There’s always so much and never enough nothing.” I wrote down. Then, I listened.
I didn’t hear the audible voice of God, but He spoke to my heart.
You don’t allow space for nothing.
You keep filled to the brim.
You don’t think I like you because I haven’t gotten the chance to remind you.
I want to tell you.
Oh, how I long to tell you often.
But you don’t hear from me because you’re never really with me.
I’m a last resort, a checkmark in the box, a line on the to-do list, and all I want is to hear your voice.
The one that’s you. Never too loud or too much. Never too honest or too blunt.
I miss you.
I miss every part of you.
More times than I can account for in the last month I’ve expressed privately and publicly the longing and desperation for margin in my life. Taking steps to make it happen hasn’t been easy, but I’ve got a feeling this is really just the beginning.