Transcript of Episode 5: Lizelle - prayer, spiritual direction and being yourself with God.
Welcome to the Loved Called Gifted Podcast. This is your place to come for musings about spirituality, identity, and purpose.
I’m your host, Catherine Cowell.
I’m really delighted today to be joined by Lizelle. Lizelle and I met through spiritual direction. So, do you want to talk a bit about who you are and how we met, please?
L: Yeah, sure. So my name is Lizelle Thijs, I'm originally from South Africa, but I’ve been living in the Netherlands for the last 5 years. I am married to Matt, who is a vicar in the Anglican church, and we have a gorgeous dog and a baby on the way. I really thought that spiritual direction was something that I wanted to look into; my husband was very much involved with it with his training to become ordained as a priest, and he mentioned it to me and I thought “well, maybe this is something for me.” So I did some research and I did some googling and I came across Catherine!
C: So, d’you wanna talk a bit about what was going on for you, what made you think that spiritual direction would be helpful?
L: I always had this feeling that I was not really walking in the purpose that God had for me, I felt like I was not going through my spiritual life in the way that I should be. I wasn’t ticking the boxes and the things that were expected of me. So I thought, for instance, not having an hour of quiet time, reading the bible and studying scripture, every day, not sitting in my room quietly praying for hours, and that really made me feel that I wasn’t good enough, and that I wasn’t doing what was expected of someone who says that they’re a strong Christian, or someone who believes. And I really felt that maybe having a spiritual director would challenge me to be more of that and to do more of those things.
C: Yeah, that’s not quite how it went, is it? *laughs*
L: No, it did not. *laughs* It did not. So I remember our first conversation, you actually said to me when I explained all of this to you and I said I really feel like I should be studying the bible, and I have so many examples of people that I know from back home, and seeing it in my husband as well who just can sit for an hour and have quiet time and listen to worship music, and just pray. And I always felt a little bit envious of that and I felt like that was the way it was supposed to be. And then I remember that you said to me “y’know, God made you in a certain way and gave you certain skills and certain abilities and certain talents, and He doesn’t want you to worship Him the way other people do, He wants you to worship Him in the way that is comfortable and right for you. And I’m a teacher, I’m a special education teacher, and I believe that all children learn in a different way, and express themselves in a different way, and so it was kind of such a revelation to me, it was such an ah-ha moment, that I also then worship in a different way to other people. And that was really a revelation. And I felt like it was so obvious and somehow I missed it, because I had this expectation in my mind that I thought, “this is what a good Christian looked like.”
C: Yeah, and I don’t think you’re alone in that at all. We seem to end up with this list of oughts. And I don’t quite know where we get them from. Possibly church culture, but it’s not at all unusual. Not at all.
C: So I recall asking something along the lines of, “well, where do you connect best with God?”
L: Yeah, I then started realising that actually, my relationship with God was in a really good place, but not in the place that I had expected it to be. So for instance I really connect with God when I go for walks with my dog. When I’m in nature, or when I’m just walking and being quiet and looking at things around me. When I listen to certain worship music while I’m walking. And simply just talking to God throughout the day. Little things that pop up in my head. Y’know, I’ll see a sunrise, or I’ll see it’s a beautiful day, and I’ll say, “God, thank you so much for that!” or I’ll think about my husband as I’m walking and I’ll go, “Oh God, thank you for him.” Y’know, “Bless him.” So actually, I have this relationship with God where I speak to him all the time and I feel like I meet with Him very often, and that didn’t look like how I thought it would. Y’know, reading the bible for an hour and then being close to God, because that actually doesn’t really work for me, to be honest. I’m not the kind of person who can sit still. My mind is so busy, I’ve got so much going on, so I find it really difficult to sit still for an hour and read the bible. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. And I really feel that you made me see that that was okay.
C: Yeah. So how has that realisation – what impact has that had on you, do y’think?
L: Well it definitely has taken such a load off my shoulders, because I don’t have this ‘perfect picture’ of what a Christian should be. Y’know, I just don’t have that anymore in the back of my mind, thinking “ugh,” y’know, “you didn’t have quiet time today.” I must say that there are some days where I feel, “Oh, I really would like to read the bible now,” and I pick up the bible and I start reading and I start studying scripture. And that’s maybe once a week, or once every two weeks or three weeks and I don’t have a pressure on it, I don’t have a limit on it, I don’t have “oh, you haven’t read the bible for 5 days, what kind of Christian are you?” So it’s just actually such a big relief and it’s also really helped me get rid of such anxiety that I had been holding in myself, because of the expectations and the pressure that I had put on myself.
C: And that’s a profound shift to have made, isn’t it?
L: Absolutely. See I really feel like it has just completely set me free. Now I worship God and I know that what I have in my relationship with God is beautiful. It is really meaningful and it is really strong. And it just took someone from England *nervous giggle* to help me see that. So I’m just really grateful that we could have had this conversation and I really feel that it wasn’t a co-incidence that we met, it was a God-incidence. Yeah, it just really opened my eyes to this.
C: As you were talking, I was wondering how your perception of how God sees you might have shifted?
L: I always had this feeling that – y’know, I always knew that God loved me, I always knew that, because I had quite a difficult past and I feel that God has blessed me with so many amazing things, y’know, with a really great marriage, with a really great job, living here in the Netherlands has been amazing, my family are all supportive, so I just feel that I know that He loves me, because of, y’know, the way that He’s blessed me and the way that He’s always there for me. But I do feel that He was always a little bit disappointed in me, y’know, for not reading the bible for a long time, or for not spending hours in prayer, and that kind of thing, so I thought, not completing that bible study book that I bought 2 years ago. And now I just feel like God really delights in my worship. I feel that the things that He has given me, to use to worship, I’m using. My eyes, and my imagination, and speaking to Him in my heart, I feel that He really just delights in my worship. Which just makes me feel very, very loved, and very, very adored by God.
C: That’s just lovely.
L: It’s such a great feeling. I never thought that I would feel this way, without having to work so hard for it. Because I always thought that if I put in a lot of work and a lot of effort into being a good Christian and reading my bible and saying my prayers, and going to church every Sunday, which I still do by the way, but I thought that if I tick all of those boxes, then I would finally feel, “yes, accepted enough by God.” But actually, just being myself, and using what He’s given me, is making me feel that now, which is just incredible.
C: Yeah. So there was something about putting down that big pile of 'oughts' and "you have to do it like this", and "this is what a holy Christian really looks like", and taking a step back to simply notice where you were already connecting with God, has been just deeply helpful.
L: Absolutely, it's been really, really deeply helpful. I think I went through a stage where I thought that my Christian life was not in a very good place, and just by having the conversations with you that we had, over the course of a couple of weeks, I felt that actually, my relationship with God is in a very, very good place. I really cherish our time together and we have very meaningful, deep relationship. So that's really freeing, and that's really such a big relief.
C: I'm also remembering that one of the 'oughts' that you were carrying with you was not just about how you worship, but also about how you ought to feel about things.
L: Oh yeah. This is definitely something that I have been struggling with for a very, very long time. I feel that this is a journey for me, so I'm still dealing with it, but I kind of felt like you should be joyful and happy with everything that happens in your life. I had this idea that in the bible it says that these people were in prison but they were still worshipping and they were still so joyous and happy and stuff like that, and I just felt that when I think about the bad things that have happened in my life, I should just sort of brush them off and go, "Oh, it's God's will and that's ok, I'm going to move on now." I remember clearly a conversation we had where you said, "But things that have happened, they're actually really terrible, and you should feel bad about it." And I just felt I couldn't speak to God about it really because it was his will and I had to accept it. I think through our conversations I came to the realisation that God wants me to open up to him, and he wants me to tell him how I feel. I remember I had about a week or two where I just was really angry at God. For me from my church background, I went to a very strict church when I was younger and that felt so wrong, I almost felt that I was a bit rebellious doing it. "Oh, I'm being angry at God, this is really a big step". But I felt through doing that and saying that, when this happened to me, that actually really was awful and I really am angry about that and I don't like that. I felt that doing that uprooted these weeds that were growing in my heart. Y'know those roots had gone so deep that I just kept putting soil over them. That's what you told me, that I just kept putting soil on top of it and not dealing with the bottom, the roots. I realised that was true so I actually started doing some gardening, spiritual gardening. I just took out all of those roots and I dealt with every situation. It's still a work in progress but I just felt my heart sort of lighten, y'know, I just didn't feel so heavy any more. I just didn't feel like I was carrying so much anger. I actually could feel that in some physical symptoms that I had. For instance, stomach ache, feeling a little short of breath, tightness of the chest, things like that, that are all related to this anxiety. I just felt that that was going away as well because I was finally dealing with those roots that were in my heart.
C: It doesn’t go away, does it, when you’re carrying emotional stuff and you’re trying to pretend it’s not there, it doesn’t seem to walk away of it’s own accord. *chuckle*
L: No. We wish it would, but no, it doesn’t.
C: And again, that’s quite a profound shift in terms of how you’re viewing God. You’ve gone from a space of believing that you can’t admit those things in front of God, and that you need to hide it, because it’s ‘not acceptable’, to a place of knowing that actually it’s alright to talk about it. I wonder what your sense of where God was in the middle of those angry conversations.
L: Yeah, this is going to sound very strange, but I actually felt like God was cheering me on as I was doing it. I felt like He was saying “yes, girl!” Like, “finally! Get it out and deal with it now!” I felt like He was like, “well, this is the kind of reaction that I’ve been expecting from you.” Because I do believe that even though things are going to work out according to God’s will, I do believe that when we are sad, we are broken, we are hurt, I do feel that God feels that as well. God is also sad with us and He is also hurt for us and with us. I just felt like He was walking alongside me in that, and He was telling me, “yes, yes, come on, let it out, let it out”. I definitely felt Him bringing a sense of peace because as soon as I would deal with something and be angry about something, I also prayed for the Holy Spirit to come and fill that soil. I saw this picture in my mind of this root and this empty piece of soil and that it would just be filled again. And I would pray that the Holy Spirit would come and do that. I really, really feel that He did that and He continues to do that. The more I speak to Him and the more I express those pent-up frustrations and angers that I have.
C: I love that picture of God cheering you on. Last year I was in a situation that I’d got some stuff that I’d not dealt with and I needed to. I needed an angry moment and ended up in a piece of woodland with a friend who’d said “you really need to.” I’d said “I need a bit of a shout.”
C: I ended up in this piece of woodland *nervous giggle* hitting trees with sticks. He said that he felt that the only thing that God was saying to him was, “Keep giving her more sticks!” *laughs*
L: Oh, I’ve definitely had some screaming moments. I would scream into my pillow, or I think you told me to put on some very angry music, so I would listen to Mudskin, I don’t know if you know who that is, but they’re very angry, and I listened to them and I would just be so mad. I definitely, definitely feel that God was cheering me on and saying “Go for it! Let it all out my girl!” I really felt that was such a normal reaction for me to have. It’s just very sad that you think – and I think also because my husband is a priest and works in church and I’m a vicar’s wife, there’s a certain – people put a kind of pressure on you that you have to be a certain way. So whenever we had disappointments in our life, within the last ten years of the marriage, I would bounce back very easily, and people would always say to me, “Oh, you’re so strong”, and “your faith is so strong and so amazing.” I would feel so good about that.
But actually on the inside, I wasn’t feeling very good about it, and I was not letting anyone see it. Even at one stage my husband said to me, because we’d had a disappointment, we were looking at adoption, actually, and we’d gone through the first process, we’d had the meetings, and had the intake and everything, and then the Dutch government decided that they were going to stop all international adoptions for – they didn’t know how long a period of time. And so that was a really, really big blow for us. And I can remember waking up on the Saturday morning; the Friday night I was still reading a book about what to expect when you’re adopting, and I woke up the next morning and my husband said to me, “I’ve got some bad news, look what’s in the paper.” And he showed me this article. So we had no warning whatsoever. I remember feeling like someone had just punched me in the stomach. And within like, five minutes, I’d completely bounced back. I said to my husband, “this is obviously what God wants for us, and that’s okay, and we’re going to move on to the next thing.”
And he said to me, “that is not what I had expected you to be like.” He said, “That is not the reaction that I had expected.” But I felt like that is the reaction everybody else expected. That I would have such faith to be able to say, “Well, that’s God’s will, and now we’re going to move on.” And I remember that people were really shocked, like, “Wow, you guys have dealt with this so easily, it really is a miracle”, and “wow, you are so blessed, your faith is really so strong.” And that would also feed my self esteem a little bit, feed my ego a little bit, because my faith is so strong.
But actually, it was really a time for me to have mourned, and I only realised that much later. Months later I actually broke down and started crying and let everything out. My husband Matt said to me, “this is the reaction that I’d expected months ago.” I feel like this is what God was saying to me when I was going through my angry stage with Him, He was saying, “this is the reaction that I expected. Now I can be here with you.” Just like Matt was like – I was lying on the bed and he was sitting next to me and holding me and I was sobbing. I felt like God was doing that to me. He was holding me while I was so angry and while I was sobbing about the disappointments that I had.
C: That’s really profound. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how other people’s perceptions have an impact. You said that you were hiding what was going on from other people; I wonder if you were also hiding it from yourself.
L: Yeah, definitely. I felt like every single time it came up, I would just sort of push it away and say, “well, I’m not going to think about this now.” I used to think that that was a very healthy thing to do. I used to think, “well, I can really control my emotions, and I’m not going to ruminate on this situation anymore.” But I think that there definitely is a time and a place for that. I’ve had lots of therapy over the years, suffering with anxiety. And I know that therapists would say, “you shouldn’t ruminate about something, you shouldn’t think about it all the time.” But I do think there is something to be said for the fact that we can sit and think about it and delve really deep into it and think about it and deal with the pain, and then there’s a point where you said, “I’ve felt it, I’ve cried about it, now I can let it go.” Then we have to stop ourselves from not overthinking it and pulling it out of the gutter again and dealing with it again and again. I do think there is something to be said for just allowing yourself to feel and allowing yourself to think things through.
C: Yeah, definitely, definitely. There’s also, isn’t there, that Christian mantra of “don’t be ruled by your feelings”, and I’ve known people – I know a lot of people who would find a favourite bible verse to throw at it. So “I’m feeling like this BUT all things work together for the good of those who love God!”
L: Isn’t it annoying when they do that?! *laughs*
C: Yes *laughs*
L: I definitely feel that there is power in scripture, that it’s really, really good to have certain verses that prop up when you’re feeling a certain way, or going through something, definitely. But I do feel that sometimes we just throw things at people, because we want to – again – cover it up with a little bit of soil. I feel like people will say “just trust that everything –” like now with my pregnancy at the moment, I am 4 months pregnant, which is very exciting, but obviously I’m a little bit nervous and I have moments where I question and I doubt, “is everything ok?” and then sometimes people will say to me, and I know they mean so well, but they say “just trust. Trust it will all be alright.” Well, sure, but am I trusting that it’s all going to be okay, or am I trusting that even if it’s not okay, God is still going to be there?
I think we need to be very careful when we say certain things. Or when something bad happens and we say “It’s God’s will, it obviously wasn’t meant to be.” That can actually be very hurtful to hear at a time where you feel that your heart is breaking and you don’t understand why things are happening. I’ve realised that, that sometimes we just say things, Christians just say things, because we want to make people feel better. I know that I’ve found myself doing the same – work, recently, some people were telling me things that’s going on with them and their families. I work in a secular school and there aren’t a lot of Chritians there, and I would say to them, “oh, I will pray for you”. But then one day I realised, well, you won’t actually pray for these people. And no, I didn’t. I just said it, because it was the right thing to say at the right time. There’s something to be said about that, we need to be careful about saying those kinds of things. I know that people mean well, but just think twice before you say that.
C: What would you say instead?
L: Well I think definitely that if you want to say “I’m going to pray for you” or “can I pray for you?” or “you’re in my prayers”, then really do mean that and really do pray for the person. But I also think there’s something really profound in just hearing “You know what? I’m here for you, and I’m so sorry this happened to you, it’s really terrible.” There’s just something in that that just makes you feel so much better when you’re going through something terrible. I’m not talking about the classic “I know what you’re going through”. Please don’t say that, because everybody deals with things in a different way. But just saying “I’m here for you. I’m so, so sorry.” I think that would be really helpful.
C: So simply hearing, witnessing for somebody else the depth of the pain that they’re going through.
L: Absolutely. I think just acknowledging it, because sometimes we can be so quick to say, “there are worse things happening in the world”. Well that’s what I say to myself if something bad happens, you know, I’ll say “well, there’s war in the world and there’s all these terrible things happening, people are dying, school shootings, all these kinds of things, and surely my little problem is not, is nothing compared to that.” I remember once hearing someone say to me, “wow, that’s really terrible, that’s really awful," and just feeling so free, feeling so relieved that I could actually grieve and I could actually be sad, because what was happening to me was genuine and was being acknowledged by other people. I think there’s something really powerful about that.
C: Yeah, and that brings me back to thinking, that’s just so important that we have that openness in our relationship with God, because if that is our foundational most profound point of connection, then actually that it is in that very space that we need to know that it’s alright to feel what we’re feeling, that God is with us in that, that we are understood, that there is empathy at the centre of the universe, not a sort of “well, you’d better get on with it!” kind of thing going on.
L: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
C: So in summary, it sounds as if your journey has been moving more and more towards being yourself with God. And with yourself.
L: Absolutely, absolutely. It is the most freeing thing ever. I think there’s so much pressure for people today with looking a certain kind of way and having a certain kind of job, and having this added of being a certain kind of Christian, it’s just ridiculous, it just adds this extra pressure on you that you really don’t need. I really feel that – I mean, it’s still a journey for me, I’m still going through the process, but I really feel that spiritually, I’ve found myself and I’ve found who I am in God, and I really love the things that He’s given me, I love the fact that I can speak to Him and that it’s actually – I belong to a homegroup, and it’s given me really the courage to share a lot of my own experience of how I speak to God. Some people will say “I don’t hear from God” or “I can’t have that relationship with God” and just sharing “well actually, this is how I relate and this is how I speak to God” has really opened up a lot of conversation, and I think that has really also given other people the feeling of “wow, okay, so that’s actually not sitting in your room for an hour and a half praying and having quiet time, she’s just walking to the shop, or going to the mall, or whatever.” I think that is something that I could only do if I feel that what I’m doing is working for me. I really do feel that. I feel that my relationship with God is at such a better place, and not because I took up so many extra things that I needed to do, but just because I put those things out of my mind, and I focussed on what I had been doing all along and realising that that was ok.
C: Yeah, and the very act of talking about what’s happening for you and being confident about that, hopefully, will be helpful to other people. I was just thinking, it would have been very difficult to sit in your housegroup and say, “I meet God when I’m walking the dog”, at the point that you were feeling that that wasn’t what you were allowed to do.
L: Absolutely, I never would have said that. I remember sometimes doing bible studies with our homegroup, and we were doing it online because of covid, and I remember towards the end nearly falling asleep because it just wasn’t – it’s just not for me. I just don’t enjoy that. I would never have said to them that I meet with God while walking my dog or I meet with God in the shower or something. I never would have said that because I would think that they would judge me so much for that. I thought that all Christians enjoy this kind of intellectual bible study where you’re reading the Greek bible and all this. That’s what I really thought. Now I realise from me having said, “well actually, this is how I meet with God”, other people are popping up and saying, well, actually, this is what I – this is how I meet with God, this is… . There are so many different ways that we can meet with God, and when we talk about it, when we share our own experiences, we realise that there are so many other extra ways as well. My friend from homegroup really loves painting, and that brings her close to God. Another friend loves photography, and that brings him close to God. There are just so many different ways, so many different talents that God has given us, and we can use those to worship Him. And He loves it.
C: Absolutely brilliant. Thank you so much, Lizelle, for this conversation! It’s been great.
L: Absolutely. Thank you so much for having me on your podcast.
C: Oh, you’re very welcome. Thank you for sharing so openly. Yeah, it’s brilliant, thank you.
L: Thank you.
Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Loved Called Gifted podcast. If you’d like to get in touch, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org You can find a transcript of this podcast at lovedcalledgifted.com and that’s also the place to go if you’re interested in the Loved Called Gifted course or if you’d like to find out about spiritual direction or coaching.
Thank you for listening.