Victor Frankl tells this story of his arrival in a Nazi death camp:
“There were still naive prisoners among us who asked, to the amusement of the more seasoned ones who were there as helpers, if they could not keep a wedding ring, a medal or a good-luck piece. No one could yet grasp the fact that everything would be taken away.
I tried to take one of the old prisoners into my confidence. Approaching him furtively, I pointed to the roll of paper in the inner pocket of my coat and said, “Look, this is the manuscript of a scientific book. I know what you will say; that I should be grateful to escape with my life, that that should be all I an expect of fate. But I cannot help myself. I must keep this manuscript at all costs; it contains my life’s work. Do you understand that?”
A grin spread slowly over his face first piteous, then more amused, mocking, insulting, until he bellowed one word at me in answer to my question, a word that was ever present in the vocabulary of the camp inmates: “Shit!” At that moment I saw the plain truth and did what marked the culminating point of the first phase of my psychological reaction: I struck out my whole former life.
As a writer myself, I cannot imagine the searing pain and lingering ache of throwing a manuscript away. I could lose everything else – my pretty wedding ring, photographs, everything except the humans I love – and survive it, but I cannot imagine losing my work.
However, this excerpt is from a little book called, Man’s Search for Meaning and it is Viktor Frankl’s tour de force. In it, Frankl posits that our primary drive in life is not pleasure, as Freud maintained, but meaning. It has become one of the most influential books in the world, selling millions and helping to form our critical thinking around coping through suffering. I don’t know what was written in the manuscript Frankl lost when he arrived in his worst nightmare, but I know it wasn’t this. Our stories are formed by our experience and they are sharpened and strengthened by our suffering.
My friend, Emma, had a complicated and painful relationship with her dad until his death when she was in high school. She recently posted on the anniversary of his passing and said this: “Anniversaries are sometimes horrible and heart wrenching and sometimes merely sentimental and contemplative, and I’m still understanding the balancing act of honoring both, and that honor includes the person you lost and the person you became because you lost them.”
I keep turning that phrase over in my mind…”the person you lost and the person you became because you lost them.”
I hold in my hands the book that became of what that Viktor Frankl lost. And it is magnificent.
I wonder: Can you trace back to a moment when the story you were writing disappeared? Can you pinpoint exactly when the pages flew out of your hand and into the winds of change or circumstance or suffering? I can. I know exactly the moment. I remember begging God to save my story. I remember trying to gather pages as they scattered, hoping to piece something together with what remained. I remember the absolute certainty that I would not survive it.
When we feel we’ve lost everything, or most things, or the one thing we’re certain we can’t live without – the only way forward is to realize the story is still in-the-making.
He put a new song in my mouth and a new pen in my hand. And the story I’m writing today is more painful and more purposeful than anything contained in the first draft. Maybe it isn’t my work after all.
When last we spoke, I mentioned how Psalm 139:1 had sucker-punched my life (in all good ways). It woke me up to the idea that God is not attracted to my wins and repelled by my wounds. It boldly asserts: You search me and know everything about me. Everything. Such a big, scary, crazy word. Such a big concept, in fact, that it’s easy to get lost in it and feel lost in the billions of people God is busy searching and knowing.
One way to bring this concept home to roost, is to write out twenty ordinary or extraordinary things that God knows about you right now. Don’t overthink it – include big and little, bad and beautiful. Be honest. Be transparent. Be gracious with yourself (it’s hard to write honestly about negative things in your life without mentally building a backup plan for how you’re gonna fix that stuff – but this is not the time for fixing because our verse doesn’t say anything about fixing – it only says “God knows”.) My list – and this squeezes my courage to share it – looks like this:
My fears. My phobias. My deep love for my kids. My worry that I’m doing it wrong. My fear of getting older. My sense of humor. My love of the show New Girl. My desire to be smart. My need to be liked. My love of Italy. My love of Bend. My fear that politics will separate me from the friends that I love. My frustration that I can’t lose weight – and the change in identity it’s created. My tendency towards jealousy of other writers. My resistance to revisiting old memories of Steve. My struggle to love ___________ (not gonna share that one with you!) My love of cooking. My need for my mom when I’m sick. My fear of losing her (perhaps my oldest, truest fear.) The way I so often feel like an “almost”.
I wrote this list through tears weeks ago, but it still moves me when I read it. To know that God sees the good and bad and petty and silly and hidden and hopeful parts of me and STILL has a multitude of precious and wonderful thoughts about me? Oof. It’s just too much wonder to take in.
That’s all I’ve got today and the end of verse 1. Stay tuned, though, because verse 2? She’s a beaut!
Journal prompt: Make a list of twenty things God knows about you. Include things like your favorite color, your worst habit, your deepest fear, your truest love. Write without mentally making notes to fix yourself. Write without guilt that God can see you. Write knowing how unconditionally crazy about you He is. This is our God. And He is good.
Still sifting through Psalm 139:1 (here’s the first thing I wrote about this verse) and if you’ve forgotten what it says, let me bring you up to date:
You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.
I didn’t want to leave this little verse behind yet, because it revealed a fault line in my thinking that I suspect is problematic for a bunch of us which is this idea that God searches us (remember the tax-auditor analogy?) and is repelled by the icky stuff and happy with the good stuff. First of all, it’s not true – as we move down the road in this Psalm (and a million other places in the Bible) we’ll find that His thoughts towards us are precious – His love for us extravagant and unconditional. And yet there is this simmering fear in me that if He searches me and doesn’t like what He sees, He won’t like me – at least not in that moment.
Here’s what I wrote in my journal:
“It is fundamentally problematic to believe that my failures and inadequacies repel Him or place me out of reach of His love. It leads to striving, working for approval…it creates an addiction to accomplishments. If God is repelled by my failures and attracted to my achievements, then what is He when I am neutral – neither winning or losing? This gamifies my relationship with Him and for some personality types, that’s a big draw – but for others, it’s an immediate defeat – a quick trip to inadequacy. This makes an enemy of rest. This keeps me always on my tiptoes and His love always just a little bit out of reach.”
This little-but-big idea is insidious – but I see it in my thinking and I want it to change. I want to understand and receive the love of a God who is able to view the whole of my life with the vision and grace only a good, good Father could possess. I don’t want to hustle for His love or hide from His attention.
I did an exercise to help me understand this truth more fully and tomorrow I’ll scrape together all my courage and share it with you. Until then, here’s your journal prompt: Are there any ways I have learned to believe my successes will earn the love of God or others and my failures will lead to abandonment and rejection?
Keep leaning into love, friends.
I have this theory that becomes more of a certainty to me every day and it’s this: The ultimate longing of every human is to be seen, known and loved.
That’s it. That’s what we want and what we need. We need to know that there is someone out there who knows the real us, understands why we are the way we are and remains inexplicably crazy about us.
Take a sec right now if you would, close your eyes and answer this one question (we’ll do this a lot during our time in 139): Who in my life has ever made me feel seen, known and unconditionally loved? (The answer might be “no one” and if it is, I’m so sorry – but I’m also excited for you to find the love you’re looking for in the only place it can be found.)
Throughout my life, I’ve scraped and clawed for that kind of love from good and bad sources – but honestly, even the “good” sources – like the most incredible parents in the universe or two amazing husband – are not able to pull it off completely. There remains a supernatural longing that can only be filled by a supernatural source.
Enter…Psalm 139:1. David’s awe-filled anthem about the height, depth and breadth of the love of God. It is stunning right out of the gate:
Lord, you know everything there is to know about me. (Passion Translation)
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. (NIV)
O Lord, You have examined my heart and know everything about me. (NLT)
O Eternal One, You have explored my heart and know exactly who I am. (The Voice)
Up until now, my first reaction to the idea of Him seeing and knowing me has not typically been joy…it’s been fear. The idea of anyone knowing everything about me makes me a little queasy. And that queasy feeling? It’s a huge obstacle to experiencing His love fully and freely. Honestly, it’s one of the biggest obstacles we’ll face in this journey.
Story time: In my early career as a *bookkeeper, the company I worked for was **audited. The tax guy came (I’ll always remember he wore a slightly purple suit because the 80’s were pretty awesome like that) and sat at a makeshift desk behind my desk and sifted through receipts and ledgers for three full days. Even though he never found anything wrong, the tension in the office was palpable every second of his visit, and I don’t think it was just the color of his suit that was unsettling. We knew he was examining us with the intent of finding mistakes.
One year later, our first child was born. My husband and I laid together in my hospital bed, holding that little blonde bundle and looking at every perfect detail on her entirely perfect face. We counted fingers and toes, we smelled her little head, we cried and marveled and vowed that never, no, NEVER shall any boy be good enough for this princess of a girl.
My point is: David is not extolling the praise of God-our-Tax-Examiner. He is in awe of God-our-good-good-Father. Our Father who sees and knows us, who marvels over our faces our gifts and our beauty. I get that it’s hard to believe – we’ve been our own tax auditors for so long, it’s hard to imagine someone looking in love at all the mess we see. But, that one truth is fundamental to believing anything else at all about the love of God. We must be willing to die to the lie that God is out to catch us and come alive to the truth that He is crazy in love with us. Will His love sometimes bring correction? Sure. But the truth in first position is always: Love. He sees us and knows us and loves us – even when He wants more for us than we want for ourselves.
That’s enough for today. But we’re not done with this verse yet. There’s so much more to discover in 139:1. (If you pulled out that old notebook and want to scribble down some thoughts about this – I’ve included a journal prompt at the end.) Next up: How to fight the lie that puts God out of reach. It’s gonna be so good.
Journal prompt: What is your first reaction to the idea that God sees every part of you, knows the heart of you and loves the entirety of you? Is this reaction built on truth or a lie?
*I know, shocking, right? I also cannot believe anyone let me go near numbers.
**The company was not audited because of my poor bookkeeping skills, however.
This is my year.
I’m big on setting goals and dreaming dreams and making plans, but as we left behind the ignominious 2020, I knew that my focus would be different for 2021. This, my friends, is the year that I want to finally and fully nail down what it means to be loved by God. Listen, I know that I should already know this. Maybe you know you should know it, too. But finding myself so shaken by circumstances and social media and politics this year, I realized: I haven’t yet scratched the surface of His deep and UNshakable love for me.
The thing is: If His love is meant to be the firm foundation of my life, and if I do not take the time to know and understand it, then I could be building a beautiful home on a pile of packing peanuts (the flimsiest thing I could think of because early-morning analogies are hard.) So many lives look beautiful from the outside but are inherently unstable when the chips are down and that’s a problem in more ways than one. Did you know that earthquakes don’t kill very many people? Falling buildings kill people. Buildings that cannot stand the shaking.
And imagine, if we truly learned to live loved – what might be impacted in our lives? I scratched out a quick list in my trusty notebook:
- My view of myself and my “achievements”
- My approach to conflict
- My marriage (I’m learning so much about this!)
- My parenting
- My goal-setting and task-doing
- My view of His Church
- My need to self-protect
- My relationship with fear and anxiety (such a big one!)
- My relationship with money
- My relationship with food and body image (Ack! This has been huge for me!)
- My view of my enemies
- My relationship with aging
So, this is my year.
I began this pursuit a few weeks ago, diving first into Psalm 139 and sifting through it word-by-word, and I cannot believe what I am discovering as I go. The beauty inside the love of God for me – and for YOU – is beyond telling.
But I’m going to try to tell it. My current plan is to post a couple of times each week (or month, or year…we’ll see how it goes), whether anyone reads it or not. It’s good for me to have a rolling record of how His love unfolds this year. If you want to roll along with me, you can start by reading Psalm 139 in every translation you can find (www.biblegateway.com will give you a handy parallel experience). Maybe grab a new journal or one of your kids’ spiral notebooks that has gone to waste in the era of online learning and scribble out your own thoughts…perhaps you’ll build such a solid case for His love for you that you’ll never question your own value again. Wouldn’t that be a wonder in 2021?
Okay, so this is my little intro. Tomorrow…the beauty that is Psalm 139:1.