I Ran Into an Old Enemy But Didn’t Recognize Him at First

I ran into an old enemy last weekend but I didn’t recognize him at first.

On a walk last Friday night with my friend, she and I walked on sand-colored boardwalks over a prairie marsh. Olive grasshoppers bounded knee high and wild raspberry bushes climbed four feet tall, up and onto the walkway, leaning out to scratch us. Crickets and frogs sang a twilight chorus and the sunset sliced the sky into corals, pinks, and oranges on the walk back to our cars.

I had voiced the enemy’s words while on the walk with my friend, but hadn’t recognized the sentiments as his. I thought the feelings and words were mine, but a nagging feeling of familiarity started to burn.

Recognition dawned on Saturday. It was after a fun family picnic in Hinckley, Minnesota, hours away from home but a perfect place to meet up with my son’s grandparents, aunt and uncle and cousins, and a lovely British-accented great-grandma. Cousins, nieces, and nephews swam in amber river water and buried each other in hot sand. Four of us women talked in green grass tree-shade, the beach splashing still in view. The languid conversations never turned to thoughts or words from an enemy.

It wasn’t until later, after the hugs goodbye, along a dusty crackling dirt road that my mind turned to it again. Driving just twenty miles an hour over narrow pebbly roads deep into the state forest, the mere “five miles away Fire Tower” suddenly seemed remote. No cell phone coverage. Just me in the car, and it was rare to even see another car. If I broke down here, I’d be stuck for hours, I mused.

Hot summer dust covered towering oak tree leaves and branches. Some birch, aspen or poplar trees bent pale trunks to arch the road. The deep woods felt silent except for my crunching tires on crackling gravel.

Hi God, it’s just you and me, I smiled, excited for this solo hike and adventure to the St. Croix State Park Fire Tower. I let my thoughts roll out as I drove, feeling the familiar end of summer reflections I had been noticing and saying aloud to friends and family that week.

I love my school year life, but I love summer too and I’m sad to let summer go. I’m savoring these last weeks before the new schedule starts.

I wish I had gotten more of my summer projects done… Images flashed in my mind like an old-fashioned film strip:

  • my messy garage
  • the sentimental bag of my dad’s clothes in a corner of my room
  • the corner of my Mud Room entryway that I had planned to go through
  • various de-cluttering plans this summer…

And suddenly in the silence, I heard the words in my head. Without a human audience, without conscious monitoring, my feelings leaked out raw, unchecked.

I failed that project and that project and that one…

The images flashed one after the other of each task I had failed to finish. My shoulders dropped lower and my back hunched a little in my driver’s seat. Sun and tree-shadows flickered on the windshield and my freckled summer tan arms.

I failed at running more of my “Couch to Five K” program — only getting four or five days in.

And suddenly, I realized the silent words my brain was telling me. I’m a failure.

It had changed from “I wish I had…” to “I failed at…” to “I’m a failure” so quickly, so silently, that I hadn’t realized the mantra in my head.

I’m a failure. No consistent jogging like the plan had been. And now winter’s snows will come so soon in Minnesota.

No finished projects with all those piles and now school starts and my teaching job next week, and my windows of margin have passed.

And don’t even get me started on the licorice!

In July I had devoured countless bags of red licorice, naively misunderstanding the Zero Fat label to mean Zero Calories. I laughed and groaned now, imagining the giant pile of plastic-style licorice in my belly from July.

The silent sentences imprinted in my brain again before I even realized it. You failed at that too. That was dumb. You’re a failure.

And then suddenly I recognized it and my enemy’s voice. This was Shame. This was an age-old enemy I had battled mostly in my twenties, but God had helped me overcome him then, moving into wholeness. Mistakes and actions don’t define me. Jesus does.

It’s Shame, I realized, and my shoulders lifted.

Crackling, popping pebbles under my car were the only sound in the car for the moment and hopeful joy rose in me. Pulling into the tiny dirt clearing parking lot, I stepped out of my car, happy to have the forest and the Fire Tower to myself. I climbed the skinny metal tower, each level higher than the next.

This is Shame, and I know how to beat him. Tears burned my eyes and I was suddenly protective of the Me-Inside. As her rallying warrior now, I grabbed God’s truths of who I am in him, of my value and worth in him. Naming and recognizing my enemy had stripped his power, freeing me to step into God’s truth.

Yes, disappointment in the number of projects completed over the summer was a valid emotion, but my worth wasn’t tied to that. And my Enneagram Three self could point to the successes of the summer too:

  • joys of being part of my daughter’s wedding in July
  • joys of leading a youth group missions trip to France in June
  • and images of successful home projects and organizing that I had completed flashed in my mind, and it reminded me to celebrate those victories and to be gentler to my heart.

And the licorice? Well, that’s embarrassing, but funny too, I mused. Mmm, sounds good actually.

Happy End of Summer, my friend. May our Abba God Dad help you isolate the enemy’s lies in your life too, giving you his joy, freedom, and truth. Your worth and value are priceless because God is unmatched and his love is fierce and clean, and because our Artist Creator God made you and loves you forever and unconditionally. He delights in you. And he delights in me too.

If you’d like to hear this Sunday’s message that I had the honor of giving on Ephesians chapter six, which touched on the character of the evil one a little, you may listen here.

Need a new Bible study this fall? Join me Monday nights at Living Faith Church in Circle Pines/Blaine or Tuesday nights at New Hope YMCA. Register right now here before it closes.

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