thoughts from a loud silence

I think I must confess the reason for my recent silence.

Some of you already know that longer gaps between blog posts usually mean that my brain has grown too loud for me to fully distinguish and organize my thoughts in the way that writing requires. I take these weeks of silence to reflect and try to give the noise its space by taking long walks in the fresh air and doing a lot of informal doodling, but often it takes weeks or months of this treatment before I can fully untangle all the different threads.

They’re still pretty tangled up right now, but one of them has begun to catch my attention.

I’ve found that it’s become harder for me to write about real-life struggles when I’m not confident that I can wrap them up in a pretty bow for you.

And so I err on the side of not writing at all - even though I’d like to - because silence seems more bearable than leaving you with a lament that I can’t genuinely end with a positive spin yet. Or worse, false joy.

But then I began reading a new book this week - Inside Out by Larry Crabbe - and this paragraph convicted me:

“Yet there is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christian’s only hope for complete relief. Until then, we either groan or pretend we don’t.”

My soul aches - it always has, and it always will. It is always throbbing a little (or a lot) in the void that, if we were still in Eden, the tangible presence of God would fill.

And so does yours.


Following this thread through the deafening silence of recent weeks has reminded me that not all pain can be wrapped up in a bow. Not every heart-wrenching lament is fully processed into holy surrender overnight. Sometimes we must come to God with the untempered groaning - sometimes we must honestly lay out the anguish with Him, and with each other.

We’re not where we belong. We’re not who we were made to be. We’re being made new, but the process is excruciating.

We can pretend none of this is true and live in denial of our pain - we can try to cover it with good deeds, more consistent devotions, the praise of others, or whatever our drug of choice may be - but it’s still there. We either feel it or we spend our lives putting on an act - and then still feel it, in the dark of alone when there’s no one nearby to use as a buffer.

What if we could all be honest about this? Imagine if we could admit to each other our disillusion with life without fearing that the response would be “You must need to spend more time with Jesus.” Imagine if we lived with the expectation that this life is, and should be, disillusioning, but that this very fact is what gives us such delight in the anticipation of the life to come:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed in us. For the anxious longing of creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

Romans 8:18-23

I looked up that word, “groan,” in a Greek lexicon. It’s transliterated stenazo, and it means “to groan because of pressure of being exerted forward (like the forward pressure of childbirth).”

We are in pain, yes, but our pain is productive. It’s forward motion. It has a glorious reward, like the agony of birth.

It’s not meant to feel good yet, but it will.

don't believe everything you think

There’s a bumper sticker out there that says, “Don’t believe everything you think.”

I had an anxiety attack last week - something unlike anything I’ve experienced before, despite having more than my share of chronic anxiety in my lifetime. This was the first time it really felt like that long-unwanted companion was actually attacking me.

It came with the shakes, nausea, and a sense of terror and impending doom - my mind screaming at me, “RUN! FIGHT! SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN!”

The irony was, of course, that it was those very thoughts that kept me frozen, paralyzed, capable only of crumpling up on my bed and trying to remember how to breathe. Something terrible was about to happen, but I was utterly helpless to stop it or to save myself.

There’s no fear quite like that one.

And yet, ten minutes later, nothing terrible had happened. My raging adrenaline began to recede and my mind began to clear and before too long, the whole episode seemed almost silly somehow, even though the panic had been all too real.

My mind had lied to me.

This is not the first time I’ve been faced by my brain’s pathological dishonesty, and it won’t be the last, but it was a stark reminder of how much fear and freedom come with the discovery that our brains can be liars. Fear - because it suddenly feels like the enemy himself holds territory inside us, and so he does in a way; Satan is “a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44) and any lie that takes us into its grip must be a victory for him. And freedom - because at last we realize that we don’t have to be helplessly battered by every cruel, critical, or anxious thought. At last we can build a strategy for our defense.

But as anyone who has ever been lied to from within can tell you (and that’s all of us), it’s rarely as simple as it would seem.

Jesus said, only a couple of paragraphs before the words I just quoted from John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Clearly the strategy to get free from the choking grip of falsehood is the same one Jesus Himself used when He was tested by Satan in the wilderness: We must cut through the lies’ noose using the sharp blade of Truth.

But there’s a step that comes before that. Before we can do any heroic sword-wielding, we must know the truth.

And this, I think, is where so many of us get stuck.

Jesus said, only a couple of paragraphs before the words I just quoted from John 8, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). Clearly the strategy to get free from the choking grip of falsehood is the same one Jesus Himself used when He was tested by Satan in the wilderness: We must cut through the lies’ noose using the sharp blade of Truth.

In our age of technology where almost every claim can be backed up by measurable evidence, it seems we’ve developed an assumption that believing what is true instead of what is false will be easy. Truth is objectively confirmed, and stands resolute regardless of subjective measures like individual feelings, thoughts, and beliefs. So it shouldn’t be that hard to identify and take hold of. A sword looks much different from a noose.

And yet Jesus also said, “But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:45).

We may think ourselves to be rational and objective and intelligent beings, but when there’s a voice inside our heads that says “You are worthless” and a voice outside of ourselves saying “You are inestimably valuable,” we will invariably choose to believe the subjective voice within us. It doesn’t matter that all evidence points the other way - that every other human being is clearly inestimably valuable, or that God Himself is the one who says it, or that Jesus Christ shed His blood for us. We still trust our own minds above all.

So we will catch a glimpse of the very sword that could set us free, but then decide that we’d rather remain suffocated by the noose than risk falling on a sword. It’s not that we want to believe lies - it’s that we can’t even identify which is the method of execution and which is the way of escape: the noose, or the sword? The long-held beliefs of the mind, or the objectively-validated statements of God’s Word? The Father of Lies, or the One who is called Faithful and True?

Yes, the truth has the power to set us free. But first we have to know the truth. We have to be able to identify it when we hear it, to differentiate between what is familiar and what is freedom.

Huge leaps have been made in the last few decades in the understanding of the human brain. We know that the brain is highly malleable, especially when we are young (which is when most of us first accept lies into our patterns of thinking). We also know that the brain is made to be efficient to the point of laziness. It will always choose the path of least resistance - it will always choose what is familiar, even when what’s familiar is harmful.

It will always follow the same old pathways that the lies have entrenched in it unless we make the daily, concerted effort to alter those pathways.

For me, it takes only a small trigger to set off a chain reaction of anxiety in my brain, following the lead of very familiar lies such as, “It’s your fault.” “You’re not safe.” “God can’t be trusted.” “If you don’t fix it, no one will.” “This happened because you’re not good enough.”

These statements sound very, very true to me even though they’re very, very false. They are so deeply wired into my brain that even when I manage to recognize the tightening of the noose, it still takes immense effort for me to grab hold of the sword and cut myself free. But I am, at least, beginning to recognize the sword as my weapon of defense, not as another threat to my safety.

Let’s do away with the assumption that the truth is easy to believe. Even when we can see all the evidence before us, it’s nearly always easier to trust the comfortable lies. Rebuking Satan is hard. Reaching for freedom is hard. Allowing Jesus Christ, the Word of God, to define our reality is hard.

But God put the most magnificent piece of all His creation right between your ears. The human brain is not static. It molds and shapes and responds to the input it receives and the habits it forms, and it is empowered even further by the Holy Spirit who lives within us. We do not have to live in captivity to lies - our minds can be made new!

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Romans 12:2

The first step is to know the truth.

And then the truth can set you free.

But what do I do if I don’t know the truth?

Most of us formulated a mix of truth and lies as the basis of our understanding of the world when we were growing up. The exact recipe is different for each of us, depending on what our parents taught us, patterns of emphasis in our homes, our unique personalities, and our encounters with God.

The first thing we can do to find out what is true is, of course, to know God’s Word. The Bible is our ultimate source for truth, and it speaks directly to questions of human value, responsibility, shame, worthiness, love, sin, and the character of God. This will be your foundation.

But many of the lies we believe are highly specific to ourselves and difficult to rebuke with a generalized verse alone. Often, one of the keys to rejecting the lies we’ve held close is understanding where they came from and why we believe them in the first place. This is where the community of believers can be a vital resource in the battle. It’s usually much easier for someone else to see the falsehoods in your mind’s narrative than it is for you, and an outside party can often help you work through some of the experiences and relationships that have reinforced those beliefs. I love this saying: “You were wounded in community and you must be healed in community.” We don’t get hurt in a vacuum - usually, someone else hurts us. But we don’t get healed in a vacuum either. We need each other.

So get in the Word (I’ve got a reading plan for you right here). And get in community - whether you seek out a small group, a friend, a family member, a counselor, a mentor, or a psychotherapist, don’t try to do this work by yourself. The lion always preys on the one who walks alone.


Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

all things new

It’s a new year - again - already.

It feels like we were just here, turning the calendar from 2017 to 2018. It feels like I was just waiting to turn 24 and holding my breath to see what the year would bring and writing about my hope to remain thankful, regardless.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a love-hate sentiment toward the turn of each new year. I love the idea of a clean slate, a time to reevaluate life and make changes where needed. But I have always listened to the midnight fireworks popping with a sense of fear and dread, too - afraid of change, afraid of what could happen and what could be lost, afraid of trading what’s old and familiar for what’s new and uncertain.

This new year, in particular, has been difficult. It’s an anniversary of the many painful things that came one after the other at the beginning of 2018, and to be candid, I’ve been working hard to remain in denial that it’s January again because I just don’t want to think about that stuff. Last year, “new” meant “bad” - just like I’ve always feared.

Then I came across a handful of verses that got me thinking.

Do not call to mind the former things, or ponder things of the past. Behold, I will do something new, now it will spring forth; will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert. The beasts of the field will glorify Me, the jackals and the ostriches, because I have given waters in the wilderness and rivers in the desert, to give drink to My chosen people. The people whom I formed for Myself will declare My praise.

Isaiah 43:18-21

I’ve heard this passage plenty of times before, but this time one contextual fact stuck out to me: This assurance from Yahweh to His people comes in the midst of Isaiah’s prophecies of the coming of Babylon, who will conquer Israel and drag the nation into exile. Pain and suffering are coming, and have already begun - yet the God of Israel says “Behold, I will do something new.”

And “new” doesn’t mean “bad.”

In the chaotic unknown of the wilderness, He will make a path.

In the dry and despairing desert, He will make a river.

He doesn’t end the struggle for His people, or rewind the story so they can continue living peacefully in their own land. The wilderness and the desert are still there. But He does something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He creates a new, good thing out of what was hopeless and dead - extending grace so far that it touches even the onlookers and the wild creatures.

My God is doing a new thing - a new, good thing - right now. He isn’t (yet) rescuing us from this earthly domain or rewinding the consequences of sin, but He is doing something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He is creating something beautiful and new out of that which was old and dead.

One of my favorite verses in Revelation says, “And He who sits on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new’” (Revelation 21:5). I’ve always thought this was an end-times verse, a promise we cling to for the future - and so it is. But it’s also a now verse.

God isn’t waiting until the world as we know it ends to start making all things new. He’s been doing it since the dawn of time, and He is still doing it every single day in the hearts of people like us.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

2 Corinthians 5:17

My God is doing a new thing - a new, good thing - right now. He isn’t (yet) rescuing us from this earthly domain or rewinding the consequences of sin, but He is doing something greater, mightier, and more unthinkable: He is creating something beautiful and new out of that which was old and dead.

He is making rivers in the wilderness and streams in the desert.

He started this work all the way back in the Garden of Eden, with a new plan to reveal His glory by reversing the curse of sin. He created a river of life through our wilderness of death with His own Son’s blood, available to anyone who would drink from it. He resurrected His Son’s dead body back to life and glory, and now He is doing the same thing in my heart, and in yours.

But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Romans 8:11

This is what I cling to as I stand with some trepidation in the doorway of this new year. In God’s work, “new” never means “bad” - it’s always part of the glorious and gracious transformation from death to life. The suffering may not yet end, but we stand right now at the beginning of our eternal lives, and He is already working here and now to make all things new.