Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sharing Our Stories: The Looking Glass

Into the Looking Glass
A guest post by Stephanie Bankhead

For the most of my 56 years on this earth, I looked in the mirror and saw “not enough” staring back at me. If you had asked, I would have not said that I had a self-esteem issue. Confidence in myself wasn’t the problem. There were plenty of opportunities in life to have success and I have had my fair share. But 2020 was a year of vision for me. Clarity.

It started with the revelation that my faith in God wasn’t the strong foundation that I had believed. How had the assumption crept in that faith equaled a checklist of items that included time spent in the Bible and discipling others? Faith equated to service, to works…performance. I was an ordained pastor, after all. I had to have faith or why would I be doing what I was doing? Enter early 2020 that was filled with the pandemic, racial tensions and fear. Intense fear and anxiety over the unknown and the unfair. Why was I feeling so anxious? Where was my faith? I chided myself over and over daily. I’m sure you can guess how well that worked out.

Transformative changes do not happen through coercion or chastisement.

And so begins my transformation over the year of 2020. I discovered that seeing myself as “not enough” had consequences. If my remorseful failings disappointed me, there was no imagining how God felt about me. Imagine a lightbulb appearing over my head when the realization hit me. Because of always feeling like a failure, my view of God was as a harsh taskmaster or a disappointed boss. Either way, that is an unfair view and not at all accurate. I was gazing at myself and perceiving not enough, disappointment, failure…and merely glancing at God. With a fresh determination, I put on blinders to gaze with length and adoration at my God.

I treasure time in the Bible, seeking for God in every reading. Kristi McLelland, author of the Bible study titled, Jesus and Women, revealed an interesting fact that relates to my story. Are you familiar with the story that we in the western church call “The Prodigal Son?” In the Jewish Messianic Bible, that story title is “The Running Father.” When I am gazing at myself and merely glancing at God, my focus is on the son. When I am gazing at my amazing Father, my focus is on the running, merciful father in the story.

This new perspective also made me realize my inability to receive love or kindness from my husband. I was forever shrugging off his kind words as obligatory. I now know that they were also filtered through my self-perception. My deepest heart’s desire is to feel love and to know God in a way that is truer and deeper than anything I’ve experienced so far. What was holding me back? My own perception of myself.

Once this truth revealed itself and there was a knowing inside of me, I felt different somehow. The verse from 2 Corinthians 5:17 was more authentic than it had ever been. It reads, “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NRSV)

In the past, this verse had been for those who receive Christ as their Savior for the first time. That makes me laugh. Because God is not like that. And for as long as I’ve been studying His Word (the Holy Bible), you would think I would already have known that. This is why we know the Word of God is living and active (Hebrews 4:12). God sneaks in with a verse we see as familiar and transforms us in a stunning manner.

Today I’m a new creation. Free. Free to be me! Free to be loved. This new perception of myself has ushered in a playfulness. It fosters a positive atmosphere in our home. The greatest fruit is how it lightens the heaviness that was prevalent in this past year. It’s been one difficult year and any little change helps. This change for me is momentous.

Let me ask you this question: Are you walking around saying you are a follower of Jesus Christ but you see God as a harsh taskmaster or a boss who is never satisfied? I now understand that until each of us can see God for who He really is — His characteristics that we read and learn about in Scripture — we won’t have the fundamental ability to truly love others. How will we overcome racial tensions in this country and world? How will we overcome the oppression of women in this world? How will overcome the division and hatred that seems to be pervasive?

The answer is simple: Change our gaze. Stop gazing at the monumental problems and start gazing at our amazing God. Gazing at His beauty. Gazing at His characteristics. Discovering who He assuredly is in character, personality, and action.

Let us remember this Bible verse: Psalm 27:4 (ESV) says, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.”

Next time you look in the mirror, see the beloved of God, fashioned in His image. And then let’s turn to our neighbors and love them. Let’s see our neighbors and ourselves as image bearers of the creative God who gives us life and breath.

In closing, will you pray with me?

Almighty God, we praise and worship You as our Creator. Thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made in Your image. It is our heart’s desire to know You more. Help us to see ourselves and our neighbors through Your eyes. And help us to keep our eyes set firmly on You, gazing on your majesty and glory! I pray this in the mighty name of Jesus, our Savior. Amen.

Author Bio:

Stephanie Bankhead is a Bible teacher, mentor and author of several Bible studies.

Stephanie has worked at a local church as the Women’s Ministry Leader since 2013. In 2018, she became an ordained teaching Pastor. Before that, she worked as the director of a very successful youth volleyball club. What both of these experiences taught her is that women are still little girls inside. Deep down we are all still asking the same questions, “Am I capable? Am I attractive? Am I enough?”

Stephanie delivers sermons and speaks at women’s events on a multitude of topics. Her favorite topic is teaching people what the Bible says about their own identity in God.

Stephanie lives in Amarillo, Texas with her husband of 32 years. They have a rescue pup who barks too much, and a bird abandoned when her two grown children flew the nest. Her four grandchildren are the apples of her eye.

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