• Dana L. Butler

Walking Around Exposed

Sometimes you experience it, and it feels fabulous: God’s fierce love, His commitment to your heart.

The prayer you’ve spent years praying is finally answered. The broken relationship is restored. The salary increase comes unexpectedly. Your family’s healthy and life’s just all-around sweet.

And sometimes? Sometimes the relentlessness of God’s commitment to you feels– well, awful. Sometimes you don’t even recognize it for what it is: His tenacity to pursue every last ounce of your trust; His tender-yet-ruthless forming of your soul; His uncovering of still deeper layers of pretense, or emotional unhealth, or straight-up sin, so you can meet Him in your broken places instead of perpetually convincing yourself you have stuff pretty much together.

So that He can make you more fully whole. More fully defined by His love.

Yup, sometimes that process feels straight-up excruciating. And maybe you can vaguely sense Him moving within it, or — possibly more likely — maybe He just feels a million miles away.

I want to tell you what this looks like for me lately, and I have to do it carefully because I want to share only what it’s wise for me to share in this space, so, as usual, please forgive whatever ambiguity happens here.

The Stripping Away

When you enter a church family where at least half the people know of you from your previous years there {or from your having flown in periodically over years to lead worship}, and you almost immediately fill a need for a largely up-front roll {i.e. worship pastor}, you’re set up, simply by circumstance and through no human fault, per se, to be known primarily by your gifting, ministry role, and preceding reputation.

Only a small handful of folks know you more deeply, and while there will be those who will come to know you on a deeper level, you still walk into that building weekly with the temptation to be “propped up” by the visibility of your leadership role.

To be clear (and to abruptly switch to first person), that’s not to say I wasn’t keenly aware of that temptation, that I didn’t intentionally lean into the Lord and walk closely with Him in those places of identity, choosing to know myself solely as His beloved (rather than as Dana the Worship Pastor, or Dana the One Who Loves Jesus Like Crazy and Preaches Authenticity, or whatever the heck.)

But it is to say that as much as I intended and continually sought to live into my true identity as only His, I’ve zero doubt that woven into the mix, by virtue of my God-given yet still sin-prone humanity, were some degree of pride and bolstered sense of {false} identity around my ministry roles, along with the history of relationships that preceded my re-entry at the end of 2014.

I say these were sources of *false* identity not because they didn’t contribute significantly to making me who I am today. They did, in many more positive ways than negative, and there’s not a thing wrong with that.

The false bit comes because I allowed my role and relationships to become a little bit of my security in that place. A little of my okayness in the context of my church family.

Without realizing it at the time, I let them fill a bit of an identity gap for me. A then-hidden place within my soul where I was not yet forced to find myself wholly in God.

Sometimes I think God allows us to just have them for a time — those hidden places inside us where we’re not yet fully dependent on Him. We all have them to some degree, right? If God unveiled every. single. place. of brokenness inside us, if He asked us to see them all and wanted to bring transformation to all of them, all at once? Y’all, I’d lose my sanity.

So typically, I think His process inside us is slow, at the pace He knows we can handle (though we might not feel we can handle it at the time), because simply uncovering one or two of these unhealed areas of our souls can be– oh my word, so painful.

At least, that’s how it usually goes for me. And this phase of my journey with Him has been no exception.

I’ve written previously about the fact that early this year, it became clear to Stan and me that, for several different reasons, we needed to move on from our former church family.

I’d avoided seeing this reality for months, had been unwilling to face it (hello, identity issues, particularly around relationships, since I’d already stepped down from my worship pastor role). But in His commitment to me, I reached a place where God refused to allow my avoidance any longer.

And those things I’d unknowingly allowed to fill in that identity gap? God’s process of removing them has been– just– I have no words for how painful.

Role — honestly not super hard to let go of in light of my family’s needs at the time, but still a very real loss. But relationships with people I desperately did not want to lose (or disappoint)? Excruciating loss. Heartbreaking on so many levels.

Reputation? I don’t know what to say. I have to trust the Lord with what people choose to believe, but that’s not to say I always do an awesome job at it. Being deeply misunderstood by those who’ve known you well in the past is painful, and that’s an understatement.

Holy Vulnerability, Batman

Anyway. Moving on. So all of that, pretty much, was backstory. Here’s my current reality.

I walk into our new church family (which has been an incredible gift, healing balm to my heart), and this, almost immediately, is how I *perceive* that I’m known:

Dana, whose husband doesn’t know the Lord (Stan told nearly the entire leadership team at our new church about his spiritual journey very early in our time there). Whose husband only attends sometimes to support her, and is also ultra-transparent, super cool, and likable. Stan is for sure all those things, but holy cow, it feels vulnerable to walk into a brand-flippin’-new church and instantly be known this way, when in the past Stan and I have always been known within church together, done ministry together, been in leadership together…. yeah.

Dana, whose kids both have special needs and who is hurting regularly, if ya really wanna know how she’s doing, over how difficult life tends to be, both for them, and with them.

(And this one here is more speculation, but I’m reasonably sure it’s a thing and I blame absolutely no one if I’m correct:) Dana, who used to worship pastor at another church and gives us the brief version of why she needed to leave there, but really, every story has two sides and maybe she’s uber messed up inside and all of that will come out in our midst eventually…? Yikes. (I confess it’s hard not to think this way at least a little when you’re a staff pastor with any kinda ministry experience. You don’t wanna be skeptical of people, but you do want to be wise and acknowledge possibilities.) Again, holy vulnerability, Batman.

And hey, speaking of holy… This vulnerability is that, isn’t it? (Dropping the Batman piece, I mean.)

I have lived my life in this beloved, still-new-to-us church family for the last 6 or 7 months now. And I walk in and out of that place, and I still ache and bleed over these recent losses, and I worship my guts out (mostly off, and a little bit on, that stage), and I begin to engage in new friendships, and no matter what I do, I feel naked. Exposed. Vul. ner. a. ble.

And it’s hard. And it’s good.

I have no “role.” I have no prior report or long history of friendship with point leaders. I am building relationships, building everything now, from scratch. It takes time. I am introverted as they come, and this stuff is more than a little uncomfortable.

I’ve realized recently that at every church I’ve been part of, literally my entire life, I’ve been known. No more.

And this, right here, is the precise place God wants me. Eventually things will feel easier, but for now, this reality is beautifully, excruciatingly holy.

I am stripped of props, exposed, barely beginning to be known by a few. I have no options — none — but to abide and hide in the Father’s love, to let my security and identity be found only in that place.

I am known by my Father. Intimately, completely, through and through. And He enjoys me, understands me, is fiercely committed to me, no matter what.

My security, my rest, my value are found in Him, not in who I know, what they think, or what I can do.

And these truths pouring like balm over my broken-open places; this experience of His fierce commitment to making me more whole — it’s all worth this whole Walking Around Exposed thing. This holy vulnerability. Pain and discomfort and all.

*******

PS. A true thing: Something that God’s using to bring healing and clarity to my experience of this season is this book for which I’m serving on the launch team — True You by Michelle DeRusha. It comes out January 1, but is available for preorder now. I don’t help promote books, y’all, unless they are deeply, authentically meaningful to me, and this one IS. Its message, its stories, Michelle’s heart within it — they all have captivated me and been so like balm to my soul. Here’s the link to preorder if you’d like. You’ll thank yourself. I promise.

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