Rest in Jesus

Hugging My Cactus


I woke up at 4 am last Friday morning in what has been my default wake-up mode for the past several months – total panic. I was grateful I made it to 4 a.m. though – that means I got, at the least, four hours of sleep.

I lay there for a few moments trying to catch my breath, trying to not let my mind go to all the familiar places that add fuel to my panic. Sometimes all I can muster in the form of prayer is “Jesus, help me.”

I grabbed my phone in hopes of reading something that would calm me down….some good news. I have some scriptures and quotes saved in my Notepad app to read on these all-too frequent mornings.

For some reason, as I was scanning through the titles of the individual notes, the words “One Way Love” entered my mind, so I clicked on the Kindle icon and opened up Tullian Tchividjian’s book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, and landed in Chapter 6 – “The Unexpected Benefits of Hugging A Cactus. I’ve read this chapter several times before and a part of it was even a blog on Tullian’s site at one point, so for a moment I was tempted to scroll through to another chapter. Whether it was laziness or divine intervention, I went ahead and read right where I was.

I want to share the whole chapter, but I’m guessing that would be a big copyright violation, so you might want to get the book. You won’t be disappointed. It’s $1.99 on Kindle today.

The following, as shared in the book, is a part of Robert Downey Jr.’s acceptance speech in which he asked his friend Mel Gibson, who had tanked his reputation in the few years prior to this awards ceremony, to present him with the award:

“Actually, I asked Mel to present this award to me for a reason, because when I couldn’t get sober, he told me not to give up hope, and he urged me to find my faith—didn’t have to be his or anyone else’s as long as it was rooted in forgiveness. And I couldn’t get hired, so he cast me in the lead of a movie that was actually developed for him. And he kept a roof over my head, and he kept food on the table. And most importantly, he said that if I accepted responsibility for my wrongdoings, and if I embraced that part of my soul that was ugly—“hugging the cactus” he calls it—he said that if I “hugged the cactus” long enough, I’d become a man of some humility and that my life would take on new meaning. And I did, and it worked. All he asked in return was that someday I help the next guy in some small way. It’s reasonable to assume that at the time he didn’t imagine the next guy would be him. Or that someday was tonight. So anyway, on this special occasion …I humbly ask that you join me—unless you are completely without sin (in which case you picked the wrong …industry)—in forgiving my friend his trespasses, offering him the same clean slate you have me, and allowing him to continue his great and ongoing contribution to our collective art without shame. He’s hugged the cactus long enough.” [And then they hug]

Hmmm, hug my cactus. I remember reading that before, but this time it really got my mind going. How is that even possible? How can I embrace the ugly part of my soul? Does God think it’s ugly?

I’ve had zero compassion for my ugly side – that part of me that always messes up, that part of me that does everything in her power to screw up my life. All I ever want to do to her is tear her apart, silence her, suffocate her, hide her away, kill her…do anything I can to make sure she never screws up again. But I recognize, she’s not ugly…she’s the filled-with-fear little girl inside of me who is desperate to be fully known, fully loved, with acceptance, understanding and affection.

A peace came over me and tears flooded my eyes as I thought of my little cactus girl. I knew Jesus was there hugging me, filling me up with his love, telling me it was okay to love her, to be compassionate toward her, to see all the mischievousness and screw-ups are her…no, MY ways of crying out for love from a world that won’t ever provide me with the unconditional love I truly crave.

I thought of my daughter. She’s 17 now, almost 18, but I still see her as my little girl. I don’t ever want her to live with the shame and depression I’ve lived with for years. I don’t ever want her to feel the little girl inside her dying. I want her to experience being fully known and loved but I know, as Tullian has said “We are broken people living in a broken world with other broken people.” I’ve already done my fair share of breaking my little girl’s heart. This world has done its fair share of breaking her heart.

So, I’ve been thinking and praying about what it would mean to hug my cactus.

I’ve tried so many self-salvation projects that have only caused me deeper pain and even more chaos in my life. Most of those self-salvation projects tell me to embrace my good and hate my bad. So I end up in these seasons of deep despair where I am convinced there’s so much ugly that I wonder why in the world I hang around. But the thing about those seasons is they bring me to my knees, desperate for a hug from Jesus. I’m so desperate to be loved as I am, not as the more “together” people think I should be, not even as I think I should be.

After years of doing everything but hug that part of me, it’s not easy to stir up that love.

My hope for myself, for my daughter, for all the people I love, is Jesus and what he has accomplished for every single molecule, even the cactus parts, of our souls.


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