Sizing Up the Stronghold

The Oxford Dictionary defines a stronghold as “a place that has been fortified so as to protect it against attack.” In The Lord of the Rings, it looks like Helm’s Deep. In my life, it looks like social anxiety.

Yup. Strongholds can be personal—shadow castles we’ve built and defended against the King who sets His face toward our freedom.

I’ve spilled the beans about my hangup with community: every social situation feels like walking into a war zone of judgment. Much of this could be projections rather than reality (though ministry life is called a fishbowl for a reason). My brilliant solution thus far: run away and hide. Super mature, right?

I have bludgeoned myself with books, Bible studies, and passages that showcase how much we need each other. And then there are the three decades’ worth of church sayings bumping around my brain—hospitality is a requirement; kingdom=community; there’s no such thing as a lone ranger Christian. All of these are true things that Satan turns into javelins and hurls at my chest like I’m target practice. (It’s an evil kind of genius, actually: warp a girl with terror toward something she needs and then heap shame on her for being scared.)

As I explore more and more of the gospel’s implications for everyday living, it seems that a better alternative to the two answers to my problem (either refusing to engage or bullying myself into engaging) is to create a space for my heart to expand and respond to the rhythm of heaven. I don’t need emotional justification or behavioral modification. I need internal transformation.

My feeling is partially correct: I am dealing with a war zone here. But the battle isn’t a relational one; it’s a spiritual one.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

(Ephesians 6:12)

It seems that Jesus has had enough of watching me flail about helplessly. This isn’t what He died for. This isn’t freedom. The same fierce compassion that drove His steps toward the cross propel Him toward my pathetic struggle.

So we’ve been poking at the problem, He and I. Not with frustration, disappointment, contempt, or boredom, but with patience and purpose and hope. What’s forging and fueling these chains? Where am I finding my rescue besides Him? How is He the answer to my deepest longing? What could redemption look like? How could confessing and releasing change the situation from the inside out?

It’s not pretty—picture lots of tears and snot. But wave after wave of grace washes over me, surrounding me in the safety I’ve been chasing for so long.

When we get down to the nitty gritty, Jesus wraps me up in His arms and tells me that He’s the only One who gets to have a strong hold over my life. He’s perfectly good, entirely capable, utterly wise, and uncontestedly worthy. No other master could care so much about the abundance of my days as He does.

Listen, friends: this is my stronghold at the moment, and yours might be very different. Maybe it’s an issue of control or unforgiveness or depression. Betrayal. Unbelief. Abuse. Addiction. Whatever your battle, allow the Savior to save. Listen to the Spirit as He stirs a holy discontentment within you, whispers that maybe you were meant for more than living defeated in this area of bondage.

The beautiful news is that you are never expected to tear down a stronghold by yourself. It’s only the power of the Lord that can demolish chains, and (hallelujah!) He’s more than willing. Next time, I’ll post a super practical tool on how to cooperate with His desire to free us from specific jails, but until then, open up the lines of communication about your struggle. If nothing else, just be willing to name it.

We serve a God bent on our liberation, but He won’t shred us in the process. Jesus is still the good Shepherd, gentle strength marking His movements toward us. Trust Him with your tender spots—He waits with mercy in His eyes and healing in His wings.

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