This article is part of the #flamfaces series.
Say hello to Karen Mace of Launceston.
It was a Saturday evening in November. We were expecting people from church over for dinner and I was preparing my dish for the evening. Miriam had already left to babysit for a couple coming to dinner, Ross was at a concert practice, and Sarah said she would bath Ileana.
I noticed a sudden, sharp pain in the chest as the thought that Sarah and Ileana were taking too long popped into my head. I walked to the bathroom and noticed the silence, the sense that I was walking in dense fog, the feeling of panic rising up in me.
That night my still-uncertain faith was snatched from me and shaken so hard I could no longer recognise it.
For 13 years after our girls died I tried hard to have little to do with God. I kept my back to Him and my hands over my ears. Despite this I knew he was there, and I sensed Him intervening in things at times, but I refused to acknowledge Him. I went over and over what He had taken from me, blaming God for the untimely death of my mother when we first arrived in Ecuador, the untimely death of our daughters while we were missionaries serving him, the rebelliousness of our remaining daughter, the rejection of my father – and on it went.
He was to show me many years later that behind it all was the fear of not being acceptable, not being good enough, the shame of not measuring up that I had dragged with me from when I was a small child.
God never left me and he reminded me of this when I eventually turned back to Him after so many years of stubborn resistance to His love. He opened His arms and told me, “I never left you, I was always with you,” and waited for me to walk into those waiting arms. From that moment, He began to teach me about transformation.
Seagulls and Jesus: the first encounter
I first met Jesus when I was introduced to Him by my now-husband, Ross. As for coming to know Him, I feel as though that’s an ongoing process. The more time I spend with Him the more I want to, so that I can truly get to know Him in every way.
But back to the introduction to Jesus.
That took place on a lovely sunny day in the summer of 1979.
Ross and I were dating, sort of. He told me later he couldn’t really get serious about someone who wasn’t a Christian. That day we were out on the motorbike and had grabbed some fish and chips to take with us to the Bluff in Devonport.
We were chatting about – I can’t remember what – when Ross asked me, ‘Would you like to give your life to Jesus?’ I remember looking at him and wondering if he was serious. It was hard to imagine a living Jesus as I’d grown up with the image of Him crucified, on the cross. I had my own small crucifix in my room, and Jesus was definitely still on it. I certainly hadn’t heard about giving my life to Jesus, or accepting Jesus as Lord. It was all a bit foreign, but we had been going along to the Salvation Army in Devonport and attending a small group where mature and gentle believers helped me see there was more to God than I had realised.
So, that day on the Bluff, with sea gulls screeching and the sunlight bouncing off Bass Strait, I shrugged and decided I might as well entrust my life to Jesus, as perhaps He could do a better job with my life than I had. It was very matter-of- fact, but life-changing because God saw my heart was crying out for Him, for a father who would love me, and He accepted me with open arms.
Lost in religion and fear
Before I knew God in a deep and personal way, before I knew Jesus lives and His Spirit resides in those who love Him and abide in Him, I was so lost. I grew up in an atmosphere of, what I believe now to be, religious fear. I was serious about my religion and worked hard at it, but even as a child I was constantly afraid. I tried to do the right things because I did not want to go to hell, and I didn’t want to spend time in Purgatory either!
I knew I wanted to go to heaven. Although I wasn’t sure what it would look like, only that it must be an okay place if God was there. The problem was, I lived in constant fear of going to hell because no matter how hard I tried I seemed to err on the side of committing mortal (the deadly ones) sins rather than the venial (the milder type) ones. So, as well as living in fear of hell, I lived in fear of dying before I could get to confession. In fact, I lived in fear of lots of things.
The fear didn’t leave immediately when I decided to let Jesus have a go at managing my life. I think I hoped it would, but it was so much a part of me that it took God a long time to help me get rid of it. My faith in Jesus over time led me to hope. At first the freedom of being in Christ was difficult for me. I was used to following certain rules, particular edicts that I could tick off as having done, so that before Christ, I felt somewhat confident, at times, that God would accept my list of ‘have done’ and this would go towards the acceptance of my petition to be allowed into heaven. Once I accepted the gift of faith through Jesus, I felt a bit like a child who receives a beautiful, but strange and not obviously useful, gift for her birthday.
What is faith?
I see Holy Spirit as my mentor. Slowly, over the years, He has directed, guided, questioned, challenged and consistently nudged me forward on the path to living this faith – this initially, not obviously useful gift.
The beautiful, but strange Faith lights up as I turn it in my hands. As I sit with Holy Spirit, it shows me many things. Faith brought with it hope; hope highlighted God’s love for me over and over, because it took so long for me to believe it. Faith throws light into the darkness and causes fear and doubt to flee. Every time they come back, Faith steps up and throws the light again revealing everything that lurks in the shadows for what it is. Faith is a good example of the ‘Inging Principle’ I will explain later. It’s ongoing, it’s here now, present in this moment, and it’s constant.
Faith called out shame and guilt too, over and over — they were persistent — and then drew me a picture of a life living free of those burdens. Faith has brought me to a place of rest in God (Hebrews 4), a place free (mostly) of striving, a lovely place to be. I’m no longer lost.
Learning about transformation
For a few years now, since I turned back to Jesus after my ‘faith crisis’, God has been teaching me about transformation. I remember how the verses about transformation rolled off my tongue and the songs we sang about it, but I came to see that I just didn’t get it.
I believe God led me to study counselling and then psychology not so much for what I could do with the knowledge and the skills to help others – although I am always amazed at how He has used it for that too – it was because he wanted to teach me things through that study that I would otherwise not have learned. Counselling and psychology birthed an avid interest in neuroscience, how our brain works, the science of thought and the power of meditation.
As I study and learn, God constantly brings me back to the Word and reminds me that before science He had already shown us these things that scientists and psychologists are teaching as new discoveries. God is teaching me more and more about the power of the mind and how that power can be harnessed so that we can live free; free from fear, from doubt and from guilt and shame. He is teaching me about the real meaning of ‘constant renewing of the mind’ and how this only happens when we ‘walk and live habitually in the Spirit.’ God is teaching me about the power of silence and being still in His presence, of being quiet, and how this brings me into His rest. I’ve come to value the time most days when I sit, in silence, and wait on Him. It feels very much like sitting at His feet. He’s teaching me to be willing to just sit, not expecting anything in particular, just knowing He is here.
We were in Paris recently and visited Sacre Coeur Cathedral. I was immediately drawn to the little bookstore off to the side when we entered. Of all the books in the limited English language section I was drawn to one by an unknown monk of the Carthusian Order, They Speak By Silences. This little book reminds me daily to set aside time to spend with Him who is within me, with Holy Spirit, because, “It’s in that silence that He speaks to us and bids us listen to Him.”
The Inging Principle
What we focus our attention on will grow.
If I focus on worries and troubles, on those things that concern, annoy or overwhelm, I can expect anxiety and/or depression to result. I know this because it has been part of my journey. But as I learn to fix my attention on things above (Col. 3:2) and to fix my mind on what is lovely, pure, just, kind, excellent and so on (Phil. 4:8), and as I do this with gratitude in my heart, there isn’t room for the toxic, unhelpful thinking I used to engage in. Of course, when we’ve been so used to living and thinking a certain way, renewing the mind doesn’t happen quickly.
I’ve coined a term for the process: the Inging Principle. The Inging Principle is about keeping on, persevering, and it comes from the fact that the verb tense used in Scripture for anything relating to transformation is present continuous – we are transformed and being transformed. We walk in the Spirit and we keep walking in the Spirit, we give thanks and we keep on giving thanks.
I am enjoying learning about transformation and am constantly blessed and encouraged as I see it in practice in my life.
“You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
Learn more about Karen’s ministry at The Healing Place.
Photos by Sarah Haberle