You are Free to Expand

I felt frazzled and uncomfortable as I walked into the room and found out there was no childcare. There had been an announcement on Instagram, but I, of course, hadn’t seen it. Four days in to no social media and it was beginning to do more than just make my heart uncomfortable, it was beginning to make my life uncomfortable too.

I contemplated leaving, but there were other kids around, other’s who hadn’t know. I told Thad he needed to stay with the other kids and not disrupt the class, I gave him my phone to play with if he wanted. I left him and went into the other room.

I found Stephanie talking about how amazing the #thisisagoodbody challenge is already. She said something about how incredible the response has been and then about the authentic and powerful stories people were sharing. Then she ended with, “…and if you aren’t on IG you need to get on. You need to be a part of this.”

My heart rubbed up against one of my triggers. Being left out, not included, being amidst a group and not really knowing what they are talking about. I loved what I heard her say about this challenge. I wanted to be a part of it. I know I carry tons of body image junk that could use some working through (don’t all of us?), and I started to second guess my decision to be social media free for the whole month. Nearly as soon as those thoughts and feelings rose up I was reminded of all that has already been stirred in my heart during the past four days and the conviction held, “This is what I’m suppose to be doing. This is right for me.”

As class continued my discomfort grew. It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on at first. It was just discomfort, irritation, an inability to settle. Then we did an exalted triangle pose with cow face arms. All of my discomfort came to a head. I felt stuck, stiff, rough and raw, and incapable of expansion. I didn’t want to expand. No, it was different than desire. I did want to expand. Desperately. Desire was for expansion, but I felt incapable of expansion. I felt unworthy of expansion. I felt undeserving of expansion. I felt like I couldn’t expand, wasn’t suppose to… That was for other people.

I couldn’t hold the pose, and yet desire and Spirit told me I needed to be in the pose, so I went as far as I could and then I came out a little bit, backed off. I went back into it, then backed off again. I sunk into the pose, then rose out of it, then sunk in again and rose out again.

It felt all too familiar, this backing off, this starting and stopping.

While at the beach a few weeks ago I had written this:

I’ve always thought about my creative life, my work life, like a car that stalls just when you get it into gear. I have an idea, I take some small steps towards realizing it, but nothing ever comes of it. Or maybe I have an idea and do see it through, but it only reaches one small level of what I dreamed for it and never fully takes off. Sometimes I get burned out quickly. Sometimes I just get bored quickly. Sometimes it’s no fault of my own that things fall apart. Sometimes everything works out and yet things just sort of fade for no explainable reason. My endeavors have all had a sort of start, stop, start, stop, start, stop pattern to them. And this has frustrated me to no end.

I want to see dreams brought into completion. I want a continuous hustle that results in continuous growth. Truth be told, I want success. Of some sort, of some kind. I am not even completely sure what that word means to me, and yet I know it has something to do with another word: significance.

As I look back I am not sure I have ever really felt like I succeeded at anything. I have done some things, I have finished some things, but success feels elusive.

Sitting here, on the beach, listening to the waves, watching them crash and recede, I’m starting to think I’m looking at everything all wrong.

Sure, some people have these seemingly straight paths. They have an idea and steadily grow it into a company. They have a vision and work and watch as it blooms into completion. But, perhaps that’s just not my path. Perhaps instead of looking at my creative life like a car that stalls I should start looking at it like the waves, like the tide that rises and falls, rises and falls.

I thought of that as I moved in and out of the pose. Now backing off a little. Now pressing in a little. And tried to give myself grace for receding, grace for pulling back from the expansion. But, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was coming against a wall here. Perhaps my image of the sea is correct, but my waves are hitting a stone wall that they can’t push past and it’s time for that wall to come down. Perhaps this stuck place I kept coming into with my body held some clue for my heart and my life.

As soon as I came into that stuck, uncomfortable, expansion, the feelings rose up. Deep feelings. They said, “Why should you do this? Why should you expand? You can’t handle expansion. You aren’t smart enough, wise enough, strong enough, organized enough, capable enough, powerful enough, skilled enough. Lot’s of other people could do the things you want to do FAR better than  you. Lot’s of other people ARE doing the things you want to do far better than you ever could. The world doesn't need you. If you start to truly expand, you will only be disappointed. You don’t have what it takes. Other’s will ask you to step back. You’re voice doesn’t matter. You’re ideas don’t matter. You don’t matter. You are not significant enough. And if people really knew you, beyond all the curated things you put out, behind all the people pleasing you project, they would think you were too much to handle and unable to bring anything of real value to the table. You are unmarketable, inexperienced, and unskilled.”

Ugh. UGH!

Deep sigh.

I fear expansion. It’s too exposed.

…And yet at the same time there is within me a deep desire to expand, to grow, to lead and have influence. Here is my paradox.

I want to be part of the inner circle, yet I feel unworthy of being known. And I'm intimidated by people in leadership positions.

I want to lead, but I feel like I’m not good enough, capable enough, prepared enough, in touch with the Spirit enough.

I want my voice to have weight, my voice to have power. I want to share my voice, but far too often it comes out shaky and weak and lacking confidence. I worry I’m going to say something wrong. I believe my voice doesn’t deserve to be heard.

I have  believed, for far too long, that these desires (the desire to be part of the inner circle, the desire to lead, the desire for my voice to have weight) are wrong. Prideful. Sinful. Wrong. They should be shut down, I am not worthy of expansion.

I am broken, sinful, unworthy (wo)man and I don’t deserve a place at the table. God, in his grace, and holiness, grants me access to the room, allows me to be present at the banquet, but it’s a small place, and I should always seek to make it smaller.

Ok, stop. Friends, read that last paragraph again. Do you believe that? If  you, like me, have internalized that story I want to tell you that it’s missing something. It's only a half truth, and it is FULL of lies. And this is hard for me, friends, I am fighting fear writing these words. All my old legalism and fascination with theology is rising up and saying, “Stop, don’t write this, what if you are wrong? What if this is heresy?” But, I need to go on.

My heart has been circling this for months, perhaps years.

A few months ago I read these words in an email Morgan Day Cecil sent out “Your heart is GOOD.”

And everything within me rose up against that. I instantly thought, "My heart isn’t good, it is utterly and completely sinful. That’s why I need Jesus, right?"

I am beginning to think that I have internalized a one-sided story. A half-truth.

Here’s the deal:

Yes, we are sinful. But we are also created “very good”, the pinnacle of all creation. It’s like you took a beautiful vase and broke it. There are still beautiful pieces, expertly painted and crafted, they are just broken. They cannot be put back together on there own, they need an expert craftsman to do the job.

God is holy, he is set apart, he is other. We are not. We have disobeyed, we have put distance between ourselves and God and between ourselves and each other. We are broken. We need a way back to him. We need the body and blood of Jesus.

But, God doesn’t just offer us the cross. He doesn’t just offer us a way back to him and that’s it.

When I was in college there was something I needed to realize about God: He didn’t owe me anything. The cross was enough, he didn’t need to do anything more for me. And the cross was grace, I didn’t deserve it. He didn’t owe me a good life that worked out the way I wanted it to (sounds silly even writing it, but isn’t that why we get so angry with God when things go wrong in our lives, we think he owes us something different, we think we deserve something different).

But, today I need to realize something else about God: He may not owe me anything, but he loves me. And out of love he offers me FAR MORE THAN just the cross. He cleanses me, makes me white as snow, pieces me back together, set’s me right before him and again calls me his “very good” creation, his daughter. Worthy of a place not only in his kingdom, but in his inner circle, his throne room. He offers me abundant life, the very Spirit of God to indwell me. Through that Spirit he offers me his very thoughts. His heart is love. And he seeks us always. Not just two thousand years ago, but today.

He takes all those beautiful, good, yet broken pieces and starts to put them slowly back together.

He calls me valuable. What good news!

At the end of yoga class, as we came into Savasana, the music player broke. I lay there in the silence with all these thoughts swirling around in my head. Then someone began to sing…

…. I know you haven’t made your mind up yet, But I will never do you wrong. I’ve known it from the moment that we met, No doubt in my mind where you belong. I’d go hungry; I’d go black and blue, And I’d go crawling down the avenue. No, there’s nothing that I wouldn’t do To make you feel my love.

I could hear the Spirit join in the singing. Breathing love, singing pleasure and delight over me. Over me. Tears ran like a quiet stream down my cheeks and into my ears.

The cross is proof that there isn’t anything God wouldn’t do for us out of love, but he doesn’t stop there. The cross wasn’t enough. He continues to pursue, to invite, to draw near. He continues to sing love over his beloved. He desires for us to know his love in the deepest places of our hearts. He wants us to feel his love.

He calls us beloved. He calls us a very good creation. He deems us worthy of pursuit. He names us sons and daughters. He covers us in his righteousness. He invites us to the banquet AND gives us a seat at the table, a good seat, a seat near him.

He doesn’t ask us to degrade ourselves, to think of ourselves as little and worthless, he does ask us to see ourselves rightly. Not too highly, not forgetting our need for him, not forgetting our disobedience or brokenness, but not forgetting that he calls us a lot of good things too.

We are to be humble, we are to serve, we are to seek the good and advancement of others more than our own. But, that does not mean we need to shrink back from expansion.

Humility is seeing ourselves rightly. That’s it. Just seeing ourselves rightly, not exaggerating our good or our bad, just recognizing who we truly are and who we really are in relation to God.

Serving other’s doesn’t come from a place of seeing ourselves as worthless, just the opposite, it comes from a place of seeing all living beings as valuable, worthy, deserving, bearers of the breath of God (including ourselves) and as such those around us are deserving and worthy of our service, love, and respect (and we are worthy of theirs - and our own).

Seeking the advancement of other’s more than our own, does not mean we avoid expansion, shy away from it or refuse it, it means we seek to bring others up as well. It means we see the power and beauty in others and we call it out.

In yoga we have a word that we often end practice with and I think it captures some of this. The word is Namaste and it means “the light in me recognizes the light in you.” The breath of God in me recognizes the breath of God in you. The spirit of God in me recognizes the spirit of God in you. The beauty in me recognizes the beauty in you. We are the same. We are broken, but we are beautifully made, knit together with purpose and love, called children of God. The essence of me, the part of me that the creator called “very good” at the beginning of time, the part of me that God has pursued and continues to pursue, this good heart of mine, see’s, calls out, recognizes, and values that same part in you.

Namaste, friends. 

I want to stop shying away from expansion, shrinking back, hiding, degrading. I want to expand. And I want you to as well. I'm not sure how we get there, but I think it has something to do with seeing ourselves rightly, truly rightly.

So, Namaste, friends. I see you and I call out the good in you. You are free to expand.

Rejoicing in the journey, Bethany Stedman