I like to linger in that distraction-free void that exists between almost awake and not quite. It seems God likes to speak to me there. Not in a literal sense, or in an audible voice, but through impressions and images.
In early 2011, one such encounter occurred and I was changed forever. It all started as I was hovering somewhere between sleep and consciousness…
I was lost in a jostling, tight, suffocating throng. The crowd was pressing in with such force I couldn’t move. I recognized some individuals, but most were complete strangers. As I glanced around frantically looking for familiar faces, I caught a glimpse of my husband and kids. And Jesus was there, too.
Relieved to see loved ones, I squeezed my way toward them. As I drew closer, however, an expression in their eyes caused me to stop dead in my tracks. They didn’t speak, but their eyes said, You chose this. No judgment, just fact.
Confused and hurt, I stared back at them, unsure what the message meant. As if on cue, the crowd began to slowly move away from me to form a loose circle. I saw my kids move away with the multitude, glance over their shoulders with that same matter-of-fact expression, then slip from sight.
As I shifted my attention to the circle that had formed, I saw both Jesus and my husband standing slightly away from the crowd. There was no accusation in their eyes, only the same message as before: You chose this. No judgment, just fact. Then my husband also slipped into the throng and was gone.
Bewildered and heartbroken, my head sank into my hands and the tears began to flow. It was only then that I saw what I was wearing. I was covered with an old robe, sullied and formless, reeking from countless deposits of sweat and filth. Like a tattered sack, it hung heavy on my shoulders making every movement an effort.
Shame and loneliness crushed in on me as if in agreement with the old robe. What did they mean I had chosen this? Chosen what? Why had they left? Depleted with my own pain, I hadn’t realized the crowd had spread out even further and someone was standing directly in front of me, silent and still. Willing myself to look up, I saw Jesus. His eyes held the same message, causing my heart to involuntarily recoil. My own eyes flashed back as if to query, How could you say I chose this? Chose what?
Unmoved by my outburst, He challenged me to keep looking deeper. And then I saw. I had chosen, almost from birth, to hide. In my fear of being vulnerable and known, I had hidden behind perfectionism, academic achievement, and work. Believing myself fundamentally unworthy of love, I had chosen to live in the shadows of others, propelling them forward while also forming unhealthy dependencies. I was both adaptable and empty, wanting to be needed so I could be irreplaceable. Keeping myself invisible, I escaped the weight of responsibility for my own opinions so I could blame others. Like the cloak I wore, I had failed to create personal boundaries that would give me unique form. And perhaps worst of all, I had become self-righteous; hiding behind Christ and the Law to provide the outward structure I needed to keep others from seeing my own inadequacies. I wore all this to shield me, and I was exhausted.
Stunned by this revelation and humbled by my hypocrisy, I fell to my knees and wept. After some time, Jesus stooped down and gently lifted me back to my feet. Tenderly taking my tear stained face in His hands, I saw tears flowing down His face and a new message in His eyes. He was inviting me to show up, to allow Him to be the safe place for me to learn how to become all He had planned for me. He was inviting me to relinquish control and learn to love.
In an act of yieldedness and trust, I opened my hands to receive. I had no way to prepare for what came next. In a flash, Jesus took my soiled robe and covered me with a flowing, white dress. Not the kind that is stiff and formal, but the kind made for dancing, elegant and simple.
Relishing in my new sense of weightlessness, I instinctively began twirling like a little girl, with my skirt billowing around me and my arms and legs nimble and free. Then I abruptly lurched to a standstill. A twinge of fear shot through my body. I had always wanted this freedom to dance, but my inner constraints and dependencies had hindered me from fully letting go. I was a rule follower and this free form paralyzed me.
As if in answer to my internal cry, Jesus gently took my hand. He was not leaving me to dance alone; He was staying with me to teach me the steps. As I took His hand, He settled me in the frame of His arms and stepped out. Only then I realized the crowd had now completely dispersed and only the two of us remained. And there was room to dance.
Six years later, I am still learning the steps to this dance of becoming uniquely me. God continues to expose deep-rooted habits He wants me to release, while also inviting me to develop untapped facets of my personality. Faith and love are gaining ground over the reign of fear that for years impelled me to hide. Intentional periods of rest are calming my primal urge to stay busy. Acceptance of my own limitations is allowing me to also respect the limits of others. And Law is being overcome by Grace.
Although I still stumble a lot, the steps are becoming easier and I’m slowly learning to rest in His arms and trust His lead.
You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. Psalm 30:11-12
Tamara Carpenter is part of Newsong’s Board. You can read more of her writing on her new blog: tamaracarpenter.com