Strip It On Down: The 5 Lessons That Saved My Marriage

strip it down

Strip it down…this is the greatest lesson I’ve learned in marriage.

In February of 2016 I attended a Christian women’s conference.  By the last day of the conference, I found myself on my knees with tears streaming down my face fighting like hell to suppress all the emotions.  

John and I were not in a great place.  Work had taken over our lives.  It had taken over our marriage. We were in one of the driest seasons of our relationship.  

Our marriage, it felt more like a roommate kind of relationship.  We knew changes needed to be made. 

We wanted to bridge what felt like a 12 mile gap standing between us, but we had no idea how.

As the conference drew to an end, the leader of the event challenged all present in the audience to reclaim an area of life where we knew we were being disobedient.  

Each person present was given a domino.  The domino was to represent the very thing that needed to be addressed.  

The idea was if you were obedient to that one domino/area of your life, the domino would fall.  And as it fell, so would another.  And another.  And before you knew it, an incredible force of momentum would occur within your life.  Change would happen.  Progress would occur.

We were asked to write the act of obedience we needed to do on the domino.  And then she challenged us to share the act if we felt bold enough to do so.

I knew before I even heard her challenge what needed to be written down on that domino.  But it was so personal.  The thought of putting it in writing made me want to vomit and furthermore the thought of saying it out loud seemed next to impossible.

But I felt that internal nudge, the one prompting me to speak up.  Although I was convinced no one would be able to relate.  These women probably would think I was a nutcase…because everyone has a perfect marriage, right?

Nevertheless, that quiet voice in my heart persisted.  “Speak up.  Share what you wrote.”

So I swallowed my pride and out of my mouth came these words:

"Sexual obedience.  That is my domino.  I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere over the years, I stopped letting my husband get close to me.   I stopped letting him see me fully exposed: physically, spiritually, mentally. 

I’ve struggled for years with body image.  And as a response to that struggle, I restrict: I restrict food, nourishment…touch, and intimacy.  Because I feel more safe when I restrict these things.  I feel more in control.  But it is a mirage.  And the control is breaking me.  It is breaking my marriage."

Stripping down: Is it Biblical?

In Genesis 2:22, we meet Eve for the first time.  

Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

When I read the back half of that sentence, something in me stopped.  God brought Eve to Adam. 

And this is where it gets pretty awkward.  God brought Eve to Adam, naked. 

I don’t know about you, but this nakedness makes me feel awkward.  

Because when I replay how this event went down, the thought of Eve naked before God just seems so weird.  The thought of God leading a naked Eve to a naked Adam is even weirder.

And I just can’t shake this image.  I can’t shake this image, because it is vulnerable and raw to the core: 

A daughter, a woman, a wife, standing before her Creator completely exposed.  Completely stripped down.

Before Eve met anyone on this earth, she stood before her heavenly Father in her most vulnerable state and it was normal.  It was all she knew.  There was no shame.  There was no hiding.  She opened herself to the gaze of her Creator, and she let him see every part of her.  

As I reflected on this truth, these words were whispered to my heart:

This.  This right here.  This is the kind of intimacy I want with you.  And it is also the kind of intimacy I want you to have with John.  Stop hiding.  Stop running from my touch.  Stop coming to me partially exposed.  Don’t you know, I can see your hurt.  I can see the pain you are carrying.  I see you trying to control and restrict and it is wreaking havoc on you. Let me lay eyes on you, all of you.  Come to me naked, exposed. My daughter, don’t be afraid.

The night the conference ended was the first time I allowed God to see me in the same way He laid eyes on Eve the day He created her.  Fully exposed.  No hiding.  And it was also the first time I let John see me in that state.

And by God’s grace and in His time, the domino fell.  And the momentum following that act of obedience is something only God could do.

But this is a constant struggle.  Because the truth is, we live in a broken, sin-filled world and living in this kind of transparent state is not natural.  We have to fight for intimacy both with our heavenly Father and our spouse.

So how do we strip down?

1.  Get naked with God.  What does this look like?

-The worst part of my miscarriage happened on Easter.  My head knew it was a day of rejoicing in the resurrection, but in that moment all I felt was death.  My prayers, they were explicit.  I cursed God.  I cursed the pain.  I cursed the brokenness.  

And you know what, I am so glad I did.  I am glad I did because God can take those kind of prayers.  He wants that kind of honesty.  He is not afraid of our hurt and anger.  Instead, He wants to be in it.  That Easter was the first time I held nothing back from God in real time and I swear it caused a breakthrough in my relationship with Him.  In those horrible moments, I felt the squeeze of His hand saying “I can take it.  Get the anger out.  Cast it on me.  I want all of it.  I know you’re angry, let me have it.  Don’t you dare suppress it.  Hold nothing back.”

2.  Get naked with your spouse.  What does this look like?

 -It starts with the heart.  John and I try to have an “awkward” date night once a month by asking these questions from @betweenparents.  Prompted by these questions, we ask if there are any secrets we’ve been keeping.  We ask if there’s anything we are hiding in our relationship-physically, emotionally, spiritually.  We dig into the awkward.  And it has helped tremendously.  Below is a link to some sample questions.  Thank you Billy and Joy for leading the way with these conversations.  Change is happening because of your boldness to speak into the awkwardness.

https://www.betweenparentspodcast.com/blog/the-awkward-date-night

3.  Get naked with yourself.  What does this look like?

        -I’ve gained what feels like a significant amount of weight this year.  Partly as a result of the pregnancy, partly because of crazy hormones, and partly because I am trying to get physically healthy which means no extreme dieting and no extreme working out.  And as a result,  nothing fits.  And I hate all of it.  

Turns out my body has been running on fumes for way too long.  And while I’d love to fit into those skinny jeans again, truth is it just isn’t healthy in this season.  So every time I put on something that feels snug, I change, put something more comfortable on, and scream “Screw you, Satan…this new size, it is beautiful.  My body is healing.  I’m done living on fumes.”  

Ladies, our bodies are temples.  We were uniquely and perfectly made by God.  Own what you’ve got.  Embrace it.  Screw the skinny jeans.

4.  Do the darn thing.

       -Put it on the schedule.  Find a routine.  Life is busy and schedules are crazy.  Make it a priority to strip down, to be seen, to be known, and to not hold back.

5.  Still want to vomit at the thought of all this nakedness?

      -Pray pray pray.  Pray for boldness.  Pray for strength.  Pray for the courage to let yourself be seen, touched, and known by your heavenly Father and your spouse.  Lean in to the awkwardness.  

Surrendering Your Strengths

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When I was introduced to Tom Rath's book called Strengthfinders a couple of years out of college, a mental light bulb came on.  Tom's argument is boiled down to this:  Focus on operating and investing in your strengths rather than your weaknesses. 

Finally, someone had given me permission to embrace the fact I was never supposed to be a business or math major, because all those classes were never playing to my strengths and my GPA reflected this reality.

What I now know is:

1). A gpa is not the end all be all for determining where you will go in life;

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2).  When you figure out what your strengths are and submit those strengths to the holy spirit, a degree and a 4.0 from Harvard cannot compete with what God will do in your life;

3).  Pay attention to the tension.  It is a cliche term but if you feel constant friction in your job, the kind that is more than just a result from a busy, stressful season, chances are you may not be operating in your strengths.

But it takes time to figure this stuff out.  For some people, they start operating in their strengths right out of college.  Bless them!  But for me, it took a lot of digging and working a lot of jobs that made me want to poke my eyeballs out.  

Tapping into your strengths

When you get to the place where things start clicking, and you're operating in your strengths, you will know it.  It does not mean you won't have to work crazy hard but it will feel as though you are working with the flow instead of paddling against it.

And if you keep your head down and keep investing and operating in your strengths progress comes.  Influence comes.  Increased responsibility happens.  People start to call out those very strengths you worked so hard to tap in to.  They start to affirm the fact you've got something other people don't.

When this happens, it is easy to claim these strengths as our own.  Because after all, they are ours, right?  It is easy to pat ourselves on the back and take credit for the progress.  For the promotion.  For the increased influence.  

If you're a believer, it is usually around this timeframe you start to feel a new kind of friction.  

It is more of an internal, spiritual tension.  You've found your lane, you know your strengths, but something is missing.  Something is off.

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What is the tension?

Several years ago I heard a woman asked what she wanted to be most remembered for.  Without missing a beat, she responded with something along these lines:

I want to be someone who knows how to be first loved. 

Let me explain: my whole life I have been a doer.  I am a girl who just gets stuff done.  And I own that strength. 

My greatest challenge: it is being still.  

I hate being still. Because when I am still, I realize all these strengths are not my own.  They are God's.  And I realize God is asking me to submit those very strengths to Him.

What I produce is good in my own strength, but man, when I get quiet, and submit my getting done skillset to my heavenly Father, that's when the real magic happens.  That's when I get in sync with the holy spirit and watch him invade my work in a way I could never claim as a result of my own doing.

So, you know what I've learned?  

I've learned I will always be a get-it-done kind of girl.

But what I want to be remembered for?  

I want to be the girl who is remembered for knowing how to first go to her heavenly Father on her knees in full submission of the skillset I'd like to call my own. 

Because it is not my own.  It is His and it is a matter of stewardship.  If I want to operate at my full potential, I've got to get really good at knowing how to come to Him and be loved before I can go out and do my little heart out.

Can you hear your refrigerator?

Seeking quiet and stillness is countercultural.  Our world screams to go and do.  Resist slow.

A couple years ago in an interview, I was asked if I could hear my refrigerator.  

The man asking me said if you can't sit still in your house and hear your refrigerator running, then chances are, you will never be able to hear from the Lord.

That refrigerator question has stuck with me.  Because the majority of my life I have been running at a pace where I could never hear the soft hum coming from my kitchen.

I've heard glimpses of that distant sound, but it was sporadic at best.

In full honesty, it took a miscarriage and a lot of sitting still for the past month to hear my refrigerator on a consistent, daily basis.  It has taken laying flat out on my face in submission begging God to open my eyes to His goodness.  It has taken an endless amount of ugly cries and physical exhaustion to get my heart back to hearing from God.

Because the thing was, I had gotten too comfortable operating in my strengths.  Things were running just fine.  Work was good.  Money was good.

But I felt that internal tension.  I knew God was tugging on my heart, begging me to come and submit my strengths to Him...but I didn't want to.

My heart had grown lukewarm.  I was high off indulging in the comforts my strengths had provided.  And all the while God had been in the background, whispering right above that refrigerator hum:

Won't you invite me in to your strengths?  Won't you submit it all to me?  Won't you take those skillsets, lay them at my feet and then watch what I can do with them?

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As my daughter, I love you too much to let you keep going.  I heard your cries for revival.  I heard your cries for intervention.  I know all you feel is death and loss, but Daughter, I am doing a new thing.  I want to bring you back to life.  I want to consume you like a fire.

Let me.  You don't have to do a thing.  Just be still.  Just trust.  Just stay on your knees in submission.  And then watch what I will do through your strengths.

In A.W. Tozer's The Crucified Life he writes the following:

"It is important that we understand how dangerous it is to trust our good habits and virtues.  Only God can bring us to the point of understanding that our strength is indeed our weakness.  Anything that we rely on or trust can be our undoing.  We do not realize how weak we are until the Holy Spirt begins exposing these things to us."

Heaven

I've often thought about what God might say to me when I enter heaven and He asks me to give an account of my life:

My love,

You spent your whole life building things and doing things.  Things that to the world looked so good.

But you missed it.  You missed me.  

Why didn't you invite me into your strengths?

Why didn't you do the very work I called you to do?  

Why didn't you submit to me?  

Oh the things we could have done together...

No one knows what will be said to us the day we leave this earth and enter heaven.  But what I do know is I want to get the answers to these questions right. 

When I kneel before the Lord and give an account of what I did with my strengths, I want God's response to be:

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Well done, my good and faithful servant.  You invited me in.  You submitted your strengths, you let me love you, and look what I was able to do in and through you.

Because you sought me, because you pursued stillness, because you actively submitted, I was able to use your strengths for my glory.

Well done, my Daughter.  Well done.  

Friend, don't let severe grief or a crises drive you to getting this right.  You can start today.  Lean in to the stillness.  Fight for the quiet.  Submit those strengths.  Figure out what it means to be first loved before you go out and use your talents.

And then watch what follows when you are able to hear the sound of that hum from your kitchen on a daily basis.

A challenge

If any of this resonated with you, please watch this fourish minute video, it is pretty powerful.