It took Anita Lustrea, Midday Connection radio cohost, more than 25 years to come to a place of wholeness, to discover that she was created to help other women find the freedom in Christ Galatians 5:1 talks about: "Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free."
Based on her experience and hundreds of women's stories, she wrote What Women Tell Me (Zondervan) to help women find that freedom and acceptance.
Today's Christian Woman spoke with Anita to find out what acceptance looks like and why we should make it a daily spiritual practice.
What led you to understand who God created you to be?
Hands down it was going through a divorce. God used that event and the journey leading up to it to peel away the layers I didn't even know were there.
I had a warped view of God and myself. As a pastor's daughter, I learned at an early age to smile and perform. I assumed that was what God wanted from me too. But here I was going through a divorce. I didn't know who I was or whether or not I had a calling anymore.
That "divorce" label can definitely affect how you perceive yourself.
It did. Labels can keep us from pushing forward into what God has planned for us. They can be other-inflicted, but a lot of times they're self-inflicted.
How do we push through our past and others' expectations to discover who God created us to be?
It's a daily process. I had to come to grips and own who I really am. It dawned on me that I am always going to be a divorced woman, but I need to walk forward.
Do you think women limit what they accept in other women?
Absolutely. Often we're our own (and other women's) worst enemies. Every person has been given gifts that go along with their personality. We are vastly different individuals, but we stick women into specific roles.
Being a wife and mother are great things—but they aren't our only gifts. And not all women are called to those roles. We need to accept women who feel their gifts and callings are different from ours. When we think that God has called us only to certain roles that apply to all women, we put ourselves—and God—in a box.
How can we discover those gifts?
What do you love to do? What are your passions? What wakes you up in the morning apart from your children? Many women feel lost when they get to the second half of life because they haven't asked, Who did God create me to be? before they get to that point.
It's tough because with acceptance comes responsibility.
Oooh, yeah. We women are great influencers, and God has called us to use our influence. If you say, "No thanks. I'm happy in my comfortable, familiar spot. I want to protect my family from the difficult world," you're not discovering who God created you to be. You're doing your family a disservice as well, because you're not showing them how to develop and use their gifts.
So accepting ourselves benefits others?
Who do you want to be near, a healthy or sick person? You don't want to be too close to that person with a cold because you don't want to catch it. Our personal acceptance and spiritual practice affects others. They want to be around us. As we live out the life of Christ, they learn and glean things from us. We're always being watched by someone.
if we're living in that place of spiritual health, accepting who God created us to be, that in and of itself is encouraging others to do the same.
Our insecurities can really get in the way, though!
Yes, they can. Satan attacks us at our weakest point. He loves to whisper, You're just not good enough, not smart enough, not … enough.
How do you close out that voice?
I respond with the truth I know: God created me; he loves me. And I don't have to do anything to gain his acceptance. During a recent personal retreat I was finally able to come to a point where I believe God likes being with me. He walks with me on my hikes. He sits with me while I read novels. And I picture him smiling—and believe it.
Is acceptance a lot like offering forgiveness, in the sense that it doesn't happen just once?
Forgiveness and acceptance go hand in hand, but I also have to accept that this is a journey. There are times when I listen to what our culture asks of me and put a Christian label on it. God doesn't even ask some things that I place on myself. That's ridiculous. But I've got to accept where I am today yet move forward into a better spot.
It's going to look different for every person. Don't compare. It's a vertical conversation that includes knowing the truth about yourself and about the character of God.
Give me an example.
We're full of convoluted and muddled thinking. For example, a friend and I had a little rift in our relationship a few weeks ago. We love each other dearly, but she said to me, "I had created this scenario in my head and was living out that reality as though it were the truth when I had not come to you and asked what the real truth was." We do that. We do it with God. We do it with ourselves.
We have to find out the truth of who we are and who God is and cling to that.
What's the best way to do that?
Read Scripture with your sacred imagination. The Scottish Reformers talk about this concept. Plug yourself into the stories as the main character. God is the hero, the rescuer, the redeemer, the resuscitator.
Or try reading Psalm 139 and putting in your name. I erupted into tears when I first did that. You're going to feel loved by God.
It goes back to being about the journey of acceptance.
Yes. It's that journey of growing and processing and learning how he's shaping and refining us. I find myself saying, Really, Lord? Am I still dealing with that? And then I'll hear this still, small voice encouraging me, You know what? You're 51. You're not 81. It's okay. Just carry on.
Brené Brown said, "Owning our own story and loving ourselves through the process is the bravest thing that we will ever do."
Many of us think that God is important and we are not. If we believe anything that Scripture says, we are the apple of his eye. He cares that we own our story, that we love ourselves, that we constantly live out who he created us to be, because it impacts how we view him and how much influence we're able to have over our families, communities, the church, and the world.