this post is part of the march synchroblog, multiple bloggers writing on the same subject. this month’s topic is in the spirit of lent–the wilderness experience.  you can check out links from other bloggers at the bottom of this post.

* * * * *

“our level of belonging can never exceed our level of self-acceptance” – brene brown

this past saturday night at the refuge we talked about the season of lent & what it means for us.  it’s just a weird coincidence but our 40 day theme at the refuge is “into the wild”.   in our community, there’s a wide range of feelings about God, from angry to ambivalent to passionate to loving to a whole long list of expletives.  i love people’s honesty, but it is so different to so many other church-y experiences i have been part of over the years where there’s a general assumption that most everyone there is somehow excited & looking forward to “connecting with God more deeply and intentionally.”   i shared that my one hope for each of us during the next 40 days is some how, some way, we’d become more comfortable in our own skin and in our relationship with God.

to me, lent is a stripping away season to get to more of the essence of who we are, who God is.  i don’t think this is the only time it happens, hopefully we are always in that process.  to me, that’s sort of the purpose of “the church” no matter the shape or form it takes–to help us grow in love for God, others, ourselves.

i love what joan chittister says about lent:

It is a call to remember who we are and where we have come from and why.  the voice of lent is the cry to become new again, to live on newly no matter what our life has been like until now and to live fully.  it is even more than that. it is the promise of mercy, the guarantee of new life.  it is the resin that keeps our souls melded to the Spirit within–despite the pull of chaos and waste and superficialities on our spiritual moorings.  lent is our salvation from the depths of nothingness.  it is our guide to the more of life.” – from the liturgical year

today is also international women’s day.  i’ve written about it before here & here & here.   every time i think about the injustices against women across the world while we are here haggling over a few bible verses that entire oppressive systems have been built on, i go a little nutty.  it always reminds me that the church of Jesus Christ, which in my opinion should be the free-est, wild-est, most-grace-empowered group of people on the planet, is somehow one that has taught an awful lot of people to never feel fully loved, fully accepted.  we are good at teaching about rules & things people are supposed to believe, but we are really cruddy at helping people–men and women–feel loved, valued, accepted in the deepest places of their heart.

knowing it in our heads is one thing. knowing it in our hearts and experience is quite another.  brene brown, in the gifts of imperfection, says: “belonging is innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it…our level of belonging can never exceed our level of self-acceptance”. i have come to think this issue of belonging & self-acceptance is one of the primary issues that people struggle with.  there’s so much loneliness, disconnectedness, shame, self-hatred & anger-toward-ourselves floating around in the human experience.  it’s the root of every addiction, whether that be to drugs, alcohol, work, church, porn, food, people, unhealthy relationships, you name it. underneath all our numbing mechanisms runs a strong current of not being able to love and accept ourselves.

i remember years ago when i first read brennan manning’s book abba’s child and how deeply it touched my soul.  he put to words what i was feeling inside; i often felt like an imposter, a fraud, and that any minute i was going to be found out.  i had a lot of friends but no intimate connection.  i wanted the deep parts of me to be loved by myself & others & God, too, but i was too scared to open myself up to that possibility.  self-hatred was a lot more comfortable than self-acceptance.  i never felt like enough.  or like i was too much.

now, after a lot of years of healing in community, i do feel a deep level of self-acceptance that i have never experienced before.  i feel more comfortable in my own skin, more accepting of my paradoxes, more kind toward myself & more kind toward God.  as part of the refuge & in my marriage & my friendships, i can say that i feel like i truly belong and can bring the real me to the table.  in some other circles, though, i don’t have that freedom yet.  i have this weird sense that i’m supposed to be something other than me so i often end up feeling disconnected & insecure.  it reminds me that there’s still a need for greater healing and transformation in me, more soul work to be done so i can be more free.

the reason i bring this up here is that my heart for people is that we would all feel more loved and accepted and we would be able to live out of a place of freedom and hope instead of insecurity and fear.  part of entering into the wilderness for the lent season is opening ourselves up to be strengthened and transformed by God.  we get in touch with the reality of our souls & let God’s spirit in to deep places that need change.

this isn’t self-indulgent.  we love our neighbors as ourselves.  no wonder the world’s so messed up.  the more truly free, loving, kind, and grace-filled people we become, the more others around us will be touched by that love, too.

i don’t think there’s a magic formula to self-acceptance, but i know for me, it starts with grace and accepting my humanness, with all my strengths & all my weaknesses.   not expecting everything to be gone in a rush but rather, coming face to face with the reality that continual, ongoing transformation was always the idea.  Jesus, in the wilderness for 40 days, was tempted with an easy way out and he could have taken it.  but he stayed the course, felt the feelings, and came out on the other side strengthened for the next leg of the journey.

there’s a part of me that says “i don’t want to go into the wilderness for the next 40 days.” i’m tired of stripping, strengthening, and transforming.   i’d much rather watch modern family on hulu plus and down a big bag of salt & vinegar chips and a diet coke.  but i know, somewhere deep down, that i need to explore another layer about myself, about God and what it means to belong…

so that’s the direction i’m heading into the wilderness this lent.  how about you?

* * * * *

other stories from the wilderness so far:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Wow. This is a huge deal. To come to a place where you are at peace with yourself and your past, to quit judging yourself through a merciless lens, and accept your humanness. That is the real task. To have an honest relationship with God or anyone else, you must first have an honest relationship with yourself. It may be the hardest work you ever do, but it is the most rewarding….

    Kathy, again, thank you for your posts. I am really looking forward to the book. 🙂

  • Grrr. 🙂 ‘—-> “i have this weird sense that i’m supposed to be something other than me so i often end up feeling disconnected & insecure. it reminds me that there’s still a need for greater healing and transformation in me, more soul work to be done so i can be more free.” UG. I *hate* this healing stuff, yet I have this deep sense that the only way out is through. Sigh. The scary part is the tapping into the deeper layers of what that means, about God, about my pain….

    It is interesting, though, because last Lent, I gave up listening to the radio while driving…. Not that it is any way wrong or a bad thing to give up whatever, but I really did not put a whole lot of thought into any deeper implications of my “sacrifice.”In no way was I in touch with anything awry in my world or needing uprooting… However, I think that in this season, I am going to try-try-try-to stop pushing back on the belonging piece.. Give myself a lot more grace about, as Brene states, “a primal need to belong.” Stop berating myself for wanting to feel truly connected, instead of letting “I am a rock, I am an iiiiisland” be my mantra. Let myself be loved & actually *settle* deep inside, the inner healing come, the pain exist without numbing, and enter the wildnerness…here.we.go.

  • Kathy – I feel like I’m headed in the same direction as you this season (exploring another layer of myself, of God and my place in the world) and your post even reminded me of what I was pondering and feeling as I wrote my own post. Are you familiar with the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver? I closed my post with it because it connected with my message but I also think that it connects with what you are saying. Part of the journey I have been on for a while now is accepting my humanness and maybe more importantly believing that my humanness is acceptable to God and loved by God. The poem speaks to “that” idea growing inside of me.

  • Heading into lent I KNOW what He’s calling me to “give up”/die to and NOT take the easy way out on! And, I can’t lie, I’m scared. Scared of the feelings of fear, shame & abandonment. AND the pain in taking the steps towards more self-acceptance! Is it Easter, yet?! 😉 Thanks for sharing your heart, PK!

  • Great post and I love that you start with that brilliant Brene Brown quote, “Your level of belonging cannot exceed your level of self-acceptance.” I wrote that down when you quoted it in our phone call last month. It’s been taped above my desk ever since.

    Wilderness. This has been my fave metaphor and best means of explaining the new normal of my spirituality since I took that damn red pill some years ago.

    I blogged a post on some time ago. Here’s the LINK if you or any of your readers want to read more wilderness stories. It’s an interesting reality and people have such broad concepts about spiritual wilderness. One brother told me we aren’t meant to live here, just pass through. Then another brother tells me – and I prefer his version – that Intimacy IS the wilderness. Wow. That one still wows me and bids me to come and meditate on that for a good five years or so.

    We’ll miss you this weekend at Convergence. See you online!

  • katherine – oh i am so with you, it really is the hardest work to be done–continual transformation from the inside out. God knows it all anyway, why not just own it? it does remind me of all of the little games i can play with myself, with God, with others that somehow try to protect me. in the end, the best way always seems to be surrender, honesty, “yep, that’s where i’m at”

    stacy – sorry you’re getting it from all angles, ha ha. i swear, we’re not conspiring 🙂 you are brave and beautiful. may belonging sink into your bones in wild and wonderful ways in the upcoming months, years, yes, years. it takes a lifetime.

    liz – mary oliver is one of may all-time favorite poets & i love that one. so good. yesterday i read the sorrow one about the gift of darkness. thanks for sharing a little bit about where you are at, too. God is definitely always up to something…. i really look forward to reading these posts.

    tammy – yes it is so scary. and so good. it is funny how we always want to skip to easter, i know i do. we forget the death of friday and the grief and despair of saturday. that friday-saturday-sunday cycle of living is really a hard one to lean into when so much of what we were taught was sunday-sunday-sunday. you are being very brave in the midst of fear, doing hard things scared. thanks for reading & for being part of all the nuttiness…

    pam – oh i will miss you guys so much this weekend but give everyone lots of love from me. it was so good to talk to you & i am glad we are all on this weird trek together somehow. it’s really good. i like that intimacy is the wilderness thought. i was at an intensive workshop a few weeks ago & the facilitator said this: a small percentage of us is transformed through prayer. sure, i helps and we get some epiphanies here and there, but real transformation doesn’t only come through it. the same with praise. again, it’s part of our experience and helps us but lots of life-changing transformation doesn’t really come through it. the lion’s share of transformation comes through pain. i love that thought and i hate that thought. but it is a good reminder…keep writing, my friend, you’ve got some beautiful things to share.

  • This is a great post, Kathy! I’ve been thinking about it.

    I broke my leg four months ago and have been on the sidelines since then. My wife and I love to dance, but I haven’t been able to dance until last night. We still continued to go a couple of times a week. My wife danced and I sat out. I talked to almost everyone – those asking about my leg, and those who also couldn’t dance.

    I hate sitting, but I’ve learned a lot about many people by sitting and listening. Most people will tell me just about anything. When we were part of the IC in the past, this got me into trouble with the pastors, because I almost always knew more about almost everyone than the pastors did. Anyway, my sitting and listening has been a good thing. We want to be known. We want community. I’m suspicious God must have designed us that way.

    This stuff about people who need to jostle for position at the front of the line, needing to feel more important or more theologically correct or more in charge tells me that they’re not comfortable with who they are. I have no need to feel more important than anyone else. Men, women, poor people, rich people, stinky people, gays, strippers, and argumentative churchy, religious types are all my equals – no better and no worse. I admit I have a bit of trouble with those argumentative, know-it-all churchy types and with a few really self-centered people (those two groups do bear an uncanny resemblance to each other – yeah, I’m being snippy).

    Reminds me of my great uncle Ralph, now long dead. He knew it all when it came to just about everything , especially politics, religion and construction. I just hated it when we had to visit him or when he and my aunt came to visit us. Visits consisted of hours-long discourses by my uncle. Children were never allowed to speak. Adults were only allowed to ask questions to clarify a point. Uncle Ralph was the most frequent contributor to the newspaper’s “Letters To The Editor” page. Everyone I knew also knew about uncle Ralph and his opinions. Kinda embarrassing!

    Uncle Ralph used his opinions and discourses to keep everyone at arms length. It worked. He had no community. He was right and everyone else was wrong. At the end of his life, he softened a bit, but it was too late. He died a lonely man.

    Last night I ran into the most self-centered person I know. I’ve seen her only a couple of times in the past year and managed to only say hi. Last night she wanted to talk. She irritates me no end. But I did manage to listen and feel only a little irritated. Talking with her is like talking to uncle Ralph. There is no conversation, but a lecture, at the end of which she walks away. Why me Lord? I still think it is a bad idea to go over to her house to show her how to use e-mail, which she has yet to figure out after having had a computer for two years. A couple of times she has asked me “Why does no one like me?” She said she wanted the truth. I told her, being as kind as possible. She said I was wrong and wanted to argue about it. I”m working on trying to tolerate her. Just don’t know if I’ll ever get to the loving part.

    • i am so glad you are dancing again, even if it’s not quite as much! and when on the sidelines, lots of interesting stories of life to hear, that’s for sure. yeah, it’s easy to hang out with people we like…hard ones, oh, that’s where love gets put to the test.

  • So glad to read here that you have read Abba’s Child. I stumbled across your Come with Me book in a Christian Book store for $1.88. I bought it, connected with it and found your blog. As I was checking your stuff out, I was thinking , ahhhh she is deep and real! Love it! I wonder if she has read Abba’s Child, and if she hasn’t I bet she would totally dig it! Thanks for your blog!

    • hi bree, thanks for taking time to comment. that’s so funny, come with me for $1.88 🙂 glad that you connected with it and found it that way, really fun. it’s great to “meet” you…


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.