Relentless Podcast Episode 9: A God Who is with You in Your Humanity
Chemo and radiation were complete, and I was hopeful I could finally enjoy a long-overdue meeting with my counselor, a little too hopeful…
It was approximately ten minutes into the session when it happened. I puked. First on her office carpet; next, into her very cute, very permeable wicker wastebasket. I apologized profusely while she graciously reassured me, moving about to help clean and comfort.
What a mess.
I mean if there were ever a place to spill your guts, I would say it’s in your therapist’s office, but come on…
Yet, I began to learn something after baring the contents of my soul, and stomach, that day in counseling with my humanity on full display…
“This awareness of my humanity creates a deep need for me to be understood.”
Have you ever felt as though the painful parts of your unique story, the messy, the complicated, the uncontrollable, rendered you as totally “other” to those around you?
So much of life is outside of our control, and yet we experience the effects of others’ decisions, of illness, and of tragedy as if we’d consciously decided to stand directly under our own anvil. Like the coyote constantly stumbling into the traps he set for the roadrunner, we are frequently rendered dumbfounded as to how our own lives have become almost unrecognizable in comparison to who we thought we’d be by now. This painful humanity leaves us longing to be seen, known, understood.
How is it that suffering, something so universal, can leave us feeling so isolated and alone?
What’s interesting is that it is in this space where our deep need pushes right up against our limited capacity to meet others in their brokenness.
“I have a limited ability to hold space with them in their pain. There are some days that their woundedness is overwhelming to me, and I can’t hang there as long as they need me to hang there. I bump against my limits to offer reciprocity & attunement all the time.”
Do you have a memory like that? Staring at the longing face of a loved one, knowing they are desperately seeking connection, and quietly dying inside because you know it’s just not in you today. It can feel shameful to even admit out loud while knowing how badly we’ve needed the very same thing for ourselves.
While it’s important for us to seek to love and care for one another in our suffering, it’s equally true that as humans, we will never do this perfectly. In chapter 7 of Relentless, we discuss the life-changing truth that there is one who can, and does, care for us perfectly, abundantly, and comprehensively.
“This is the beauty of the incarnation… we need somebody that can attune with us. That can push into our humanity… respond to us, hold space with us in the place of our greatest pain.”
God himself attunes to us in all of our messy humanity. He enters into our broken reality, and in the process he brings safety.
“Out of desire to bring us wholeness, God chose to enter into our human experience and hold space with us. God knew that what we needed to heal ourselves, more than anything else, was the presence of himself.”
Lessons learned from incarnation & how to model his attunement:
- God cared more about being with us than keeping his hands clean. God himself left the perfection of heaven for a dirty, painful, earthly existence.
- God cared more about entering into our pain than avoiding his own. He willingly chose to experience the full measure of our suffering, rather than avoiding his own.
- God demonstrated his deep affection for us by reaching toward us when we had no ability to reach for him. Relationship with God is not an equal 50/50 split. God does all of it; he keeps both ends of the bargain.
This picture of God’s sacrificial attunement for our wholeness leads us to Altar Stone #7:
I want you to look for evidence of God’s presence in your places of humanity. Our valleys contain equal amounts of glory as our mountain tops… Where do you see him at work in your valley?
Click to Download the Transcript
This Undone Life Together Podcast | Season 2 – Relentless
A God Who Is With You in Your Humanity | August 25, 2020
Are you aching for a love that will never leave, a presence that will push back the dark? If so, I have good news for you. God’s love is relentless even when your faith isn’t.
Welcome to the Relentless podcast, a 15-episode podcast designed to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the stories and the biblical history that make up the pages of my newest book, Relentless: The Unshakeable Presence of a God Who Never Leaves. My goal here is twofold. First of all, I want more than anything for you to know you’re not alone. Secondly, I also want to help you find evidence of God’s presence in your story, because whether you can feel him or not, he is with you.
Today, we’re talking about chapter 7, “The Incarnation: A God Who Is With You in Your Humanity.” I opened this chapter telling a story quite simply of the day I went to see my counselor and barfed all over her office. Yep! That’s the story I tell. Although I can laugh about it now, it was not funny at the time.
If you’ve already read this story, you know treatment had ended, but chemo and radiation are cumulative. I was very, very sick. I finally felt well enough to drive to her office, and I thought I could get through a 50-minute session, and it turns out I made it about 10 minutes before I threw up everywhere all over her office.
She tried to help me out by handing me her wastepaper basket except the wastebasket was made of wicker. Yep. Wicker baskets do not hold fluids very well. You can imagine how that went down. It’s interesting. In hindsight, I’ll share this. I don’t think I mentioned this in the book, but about a year or two later when I went to see her again…
I see her periodically. By the way, I’m a big proponent of good, solid, Christian counseling with well-trained professionals who can be trusted. I’ve had an amazing experience with my counselor. She’s a leadership mentor as well as a counselor, and it has been lifesaving for me. Some years I go every single week. Sometimes I go once a year or once a quarter. It’s really according to where I am and where I’d like to have some input and some guidance.
Anyway, when I went back to see her down the road, there was one day I walked in, and they were completely… First of all, the first time I walked in, they had ripped out the carpet and put in new carpet. I was convinced they had to do that because of me. I really did believe these poor people had to redo all of their carpet because I barfed on it.
Later, like another year or two later, they remodeled the whole office. I also was convinced that was my fault as well. We might have a little bit of an issue here with taking too much responsibility for all of the things that go wrong. Anyway, the long story short is in this chapter I talk about coming face to face hardcore with my humanity and my mortality, the fact that I have this body I can’t always control.
In fact, most of the time, I can’t, and now, especially, because I’ve had a number of things go wrong with my physical body, I’m more aware of that on a daily basis. Part of that (this awareness of my humanity) creates a deep need for me to be understood. I desperately want people to understand my reality. I want people to get it.
It’s not that I want them to experience the same challenges I do, but I have discovered I have a deep need to be understood. I want empathy or at least some kind of awareness of what it’s like to live my unique life. I think this is consistent across the board for all of us. I think we all want to feel understood.
There are few things more painful emotionally than being misunderstood or having somebody not really get us or to make a wrong assessment or an inaccurate judgment of us and to feel misunderstood, so for those of us… We all have different things. Not everybody walks into their counselor’s office and throws up everywhere, but we all have things that make us feel different or separate from the people around us, that make us feel what I call “other.”
What we want is someone who can enter into that otherness with us to help us feel less alone and to help us feel understood. That day in the counselor’s office when I shared my breakfast with her was humiliating for me and embarrassing. I felt shame. I felt a desire to hide. If there is any place I should be able to spill my guts it’s in my therapist’s office. Right?
Ultimately, what I needed was somebody to enter in and be in that space. Let me tell you. She was amazing. She handled it with so much grace and compassion and has ever since. She and I laugh about it now. In fact, I just saw her last week, and she and I were joking about me desecrating her office with my insides, in more ways than one.
How do we feel from what wounds us? What is it going to take for you and me to heal once and for all from the things that have made us other, have made us different, or have set us apart and wounded us? I want the magic pill or the miracle solution or some kind of cure. Right? All of us do. We want to figure out what it is so we can fix ourselves once and for all.
My husband and I have six kids. My husband, Troy, has taught all four of my boys to play baseball. He has been a Little League baseball coach for years and years and years since our oldest boys were around 4 years old, so he has been coaching baseball for a long time. It started when he would take them into the backyard and teach them how to hold a bat and try to swing at a ball. We’d set up a tee, put a ball on the tee, and he’d try to teach them how to swing the bat and hit the ball.
Eventually, what they spent most of their time doing was playing catch. A big part of being able to win a baseball game is knowing how to catch the ball and then throw it. Catch. Throw. Catch. Throw. They would spend hours out in the yard playing catch. I’ll just never forget when my boys were little and we first put a baseball glove on their hands, their little tiny hands with this giant baseball glove. It looked like the glove was bigger than them. It just kind of swallowed them up.
This idea of playing catch was essential for my boys learning how to play ball, and that, quite honestly within that kind of illustration or that metaphor, is the key to our healing. That secret is something called reciprocity or emotional attunement. That’s kind of a technical word, but it has to do with being able to see and then respond to the emotions and needs of another person. Ultimately, that’s what we need.
We need people to see us, recognize what we need, and have a reciprocal relationship (a back-and-forth relationship) where we respond to each other’s needs. That’s like this idea of playing catch. Throw the ball. Catch the ball. Throw it back. When you have two people playing catch, it requires both people to go back and forth and back and forth to catch the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball, and throw the ball, and they are equally engaged in that activity.
As I’ve been trying to learn more about trauma and the impact of trauma and loss on the human body, our physicality, our brains, and everything else (PTSD), one of the books that has been most essential for me through that process is a book called The Body Keeps the Score. It’s by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk. It’s also one of the books I list in the back of Relentless on the recommended reading list that I include. It really helped me understand the science behind how our bodies see, receive, and react to trauma.
That has been very essential as I’ve been raising my young children but also for me as I am trying to understand why my body reacts the way it does. In that book…I’m quoting Dr. Van der Kolk…he says, “The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love…”
I’m going to read that one more time, because this is so critical, and it’s what we are talking about today. “The critical issue is reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart. For our physiology to calm down, heal, and grow we need a visceral feeling of safety. No doctor can write a prescription for friendship and love…”
Ultimately, this is what we need. We need reciprocity (emotional attunement). We need to know somebody sees us and holds us in their heart, that they don’t just see us and walk by but they see us, they acknowledge us, and they hold us in their mind and heart. When we feel that kind of reciprocity, when we feel attuned with somebody else (that somebody else is connecting with the reality of our experience), our physiology (our trauma responses in our body) starts to calm down, starts to heal, and grow.
If you and I want to heal from the things that wound us, that’s what we need. Unfortunately, not everybody is able to do this very well. We don’t always do a good job of reciprocity or of emotional attunement. We do it to a certain measure, but then people’s needs become too great, too complicated, too hard, or too painful for us to watch and participate in, so we allow distance to be there. Sometimes we just don’t know what to do, so from human to human our ability to offer reciprocity and emotional attunement is limited.
I see this all of the time with my kids. I want more than anything to help them heal from their histories that have so deeply wounded them, but I have a limited capacity. I have a limited ability to hold space with them in their pain. There are some days their woundedness is overwhelming to me, and I can’t hang there as long as they need me to hang there. I bump against my limits to offer reciprocity and attunement all of the time.
At the same time, I also see how much I need it myself and how the people around me (my husband, my family, and my friends) have a limited capacity to offer it to me as well. We have this deep need. This is the secret to our healing. At the same time, we have a limited capacity to receive it and offer it to each other.
Now, let’s talk about it spiritually. Some of my twisted theology or my false belief in who God was and how he responded or related to me caused me to believe that I needed to get my act together first in order for God to attune and react and relate to me. I needed to clean myself up, heal myself, and cure my own pain in order for God to play catch with me. He’s not going to play ball with me if I can’t keep my act together or if I don’t know how to perfectly catch and throw the ball back to him.
I had this mindset that in this give-and-take relationship with God I needed to hold up my end of the bargain. I needed to hold up my end of the game. Unfortunately, because of my own fragility and humanness and sinfulness, I could never do it perfectly ever. This is the beauty of the incarnation, my friends. This is it!
We need somebody who can attune with us, who can connect with where we are, who can push into our humanity, who can attune with us and respond to us and hold space with us in the place of our greatest pain, and God saw that. God saw our woundedness. From the moment everything went to pot in the garden of Eden, God recognized we would need something significant and something big to heal us from the damage caused by sin.
From Eden until now, God has been working to create emotional attunement and reciprocity and create the kind of relationship where he can give us through his relationship exactly what we need to heal. Just like that quote says, we need somebody who can hold us in their minds and hearts. In order for our physiology to calm down, for our wounds to heal, and for us to grow, we need that visceral feeling of safety, and that is what God accomplished with the incarnation.
God chose out of desire to bring us wholeness to enter in to our human experience and hold space with us. God knew what we needed to heal ourselves more than anything else was the presence of him. What I discovered through this journey of my own healing and wrestling with my faith is a God who came alongside me, as small and ill-equipped as I was.
As unable as I was to play catch with him in the front yard, he entered into my reality, and in the process he brought a feeling of safety, a feeling of being truly heard and seen and understood, and assurance of the fact that he loves me right there as I am. He did this by becoming human himself and becoming one of us.
Henri Nouwen says a quote I used in the book. “Where you are most human, most yourself, and weakest, there Jesus lives.” It is in the place where you have nothing to offer and where you have nothing to be able to prove your worth that Jesus comes in and makes his home with you. This is the beauty of the incarnation, that God became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1).
Here are a few lessons I learned from the incarnation. Goodness! Friends, I want you to write this down. If you and I can wrap our minds around the significance of this and if we can start to really believe it and lean into it, it will change everything about the way we live. Three lessons I learned from the incarnation…
- God cared more about being with us than keeping his hands clean. Let me tell you to leave heaven and come to earth is not a choice I would make. If I was God, I don’t know that I would want to abandon the perfection and glory and magnificence of a perfect heaven without pain, without suffering, and without sadness to enter into the human experience which is dirty and complicated and messy and painful.
Yet, God cared more about being with us than keeping his hands clean. Thank you, Jesus! He cared more about being with us than keeping his hands clean. Remember that, friends. Remember, that’s true about you, but, also, remember it about the people around you.
- God cared more about entering into our pain than avoiding his own. That is what the incarnation is all about. That’s what we see when Jesus is in the garden of Gethsemane. He cared so much about us that he was willing to enter into our pain and experience the full measure of our pain and suffering rather than avoiding his own. He could have avoided it. He could have said, “No way! They don’t deserve it.” Yet, he said, “No, I love them too much for that.”
- God demonstrated his deep affection for us by reaching toward us when we had no ability to reach for him. Our relationship with God is not like playing ball in the front yard. It is not an equal 50/50 split. God does all of it. God does all of the heavy lifting and the non-heavy lifting. He does all of it.
This is not about me keeping my end of the bargain. It is not possible for me to keep my end of the bargain. God said, “I’m going to keep both ends of the bargain, because you mean that much to me. That’s how much I love you.” This is Romans 5:8. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners…” While we still had no idea how to play ball, while we still didn’t even want to play ball, “…Christ died for us.”
Death is the ultimate evidence of humanity. With Jesus choosing to die, God took on the full extent of the human experience, even being willing to die on our behalf. Talk about reciprocity! Talk about attunement! He attuned with us so much that he died for us, but God’s deep affection toward us is never more clearly seen than in his reaching for us when we had no ability to reach for him.
If you’re sitting there at home right now or in your car or wherever you are and you think God is just tired of you not holding up your end of the bargain, you’ve missed the point of the cross. You’ve missed the point of the incarnation. From the very beginning, from covenant to cross, God put himself on the hook for both halves of this relationship.
Ultimately, it’s because God knew the wounds we carried from Eden till now would only be healed and would only be made whole if he decided to enter in and hold space with us and love us and be with us. We need a presence to heal, and he gave it to us. I’m going to read page 116 in Relentless.
“In a world that pulled away from pain, Jesus pushed in. He reached for it experiencing pain so we would know we’re not alone in ours. What was once marked for death showed signs of new life. Jesus, the flesh-and-blood presence of God with us, became the means to our atonement, the sacrifice cut in two, offered as payment for the breaking of the sacred covenant.
His death atones for the death we deserve, but he is also our means of attunement. He will hold the basket while we barf, stay close while we suffer, and clean up our messes with his extravagant grace. ‘Show me your scars,’ he urges. Seeing our deepest needs, he doesn’t pull back. Reaching with hands that bear their own wounds, he responds as no other human can or will. He touches us at the place of our pain over and over and over again with hands familiar with both suffering and healing until we know once again we are not alone.”
Oh! Friends, Jesus so much wants you to know how much he loves you, and even when we can’t reach for him, even when we can’t feel him, and even when we can’t see him, he has entered into the human experience so we would know we’re not alone in ours. This is what I want you to do today.
I want you to find your seventh Altar Stone, but I want you to look for it in places of your humanity. I want you to look for it in your places of humanity. My body doesn’t work like it used to. You can hear it in my voice. You can see it in how difficult it is for me to swallow while I talk.
Yet, I’m using those areas of weakness and pain and suffering to connect with the humanity of Jesus himself. He was beaten and tortured and bruised and rejected and shunned and misunderstood over and over and over again. He is even to this day… How many still misunderstand him? How many still reject him? How many still spit on the life he gave out of love?
When I look for Jesus in the places of my humanity, I see evidence of God’s presence. That’s what I want you to do today. I want you to think about your humanity, the parts of your life and body (your human experience) that aren’t quite the way you imagined they would be. I want you to search for God there. Look for the incarnation there and the fact that God willingly left heaven and stepped into the dirty, complicated, messy, painful human experience, and he did it for one reason alone: to be with us. That’s it.
Friends, thanks for joining me today. Life is so much sweeter when we don’t have to do it alone, and quite frankly, it’s more bearable when we can do this together. Even better, we have a God who has promised never to leave us and never to stop loving us. He said, “I will not leave you as orphans. I will come to you.” Those are Jesus’ words and his promise, and I believe him. Now, that’s something worth living for.
Are you aching for a love that will never leave, a presence that will push back the dark? If so, I have good news for you. God’s love is relentless even when your faith isn’t, and the circumstances you fear might drown your faith could become the stones giving testimony to it. Join me, and let’s find evidence of him together.
I can’t tell you how much I needed to hear, to grasp what you said today. This is the first episode of Relentless that I have watched. God had a reason. He knew today my ears would be open to HIs message through you, Michele. Thank you!
Sharon, my friend, you are so loved and seen by our Father. May you know His reality and nearness even more today. xo
Michele, as cheesy as this may sound, please know that when I sit and “spend time with you”, it os as if I am hearing someone else express my own derp thoughts. My struggles, my fears, my longings, my faith. I’m going through your Relentless podcasts now and it’s as if I’m sitting with a longtime friend. May God bless you as you continue to share and care for us.
Oh, Connie. Not cheesy at all. Abundantly kind and generous. Thank you. Such a privilege to share this little bit of life with you.