I Am Not Your Holy Spirit

by Joy

I sit in a room crowded with women passionate about advocating for the voiceless as the panel speaks on how to communicate on the topic of social justice, creating empathy, and writing calls to action. I wouldn’t say it out loud, but in my arrogance I think I might have something to contribute to the conversation. I did blog a World Vision trip to Bolivia, after all.

I listen with relief as Kristin describes how the overwhelming guilt she carried when she returned home from Africa kept her from accepting the flowers her family brought her at the airport.

“I am normal,” I think.

Then, as she continues, I see how we both poured that guilt over our friends and family, thinking we had to fix all the world’s problems since we’d seen the brokenness. This burden falls away as she says we are each called to do something, to find a need and fill it, but we can’t do it all. “Remember that becoming aware and finding the cause that matches your pain took you time. It will take every person time.”

But I am not expecting what comes next. Shaun says, “Creating empathy isn’t your job. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. As a blogger, you have work to do, but God is the one who moves people.

'Spirit of Meditation' photo (c) 2009, Hartwig HKD - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I crumble, remembering posts written in frustration and anger, and regret drips salty down my face. Who was I to think I knew what God wanted you to do? Who was I to try to make you do it?

As I hear a better way, a way that majors on God’s mercy and how we can join in His mercy work, a way that lets God move people to love in the way that fits them the best, even when they don’t love what I love, I know it. I’ve done you wrong. I remember apologies from friends who said “I’m sorry, but I couldn’t read those posts.”

I forgot that God loves the people of Bolivia infinitely more than I. I forgot that all He asks of me is to tell their stories, to give them a platform so that their voices can be heard. Your pain may match a different cause. He may want you to give your extra to someone else. All God asks of you is to listen to the stories, ask Him what He wants you to do, and then do it. Whether you support World Vision or Compassion or Samaritan’s Purse or your local soup kitchen, the important thing is that you do what God leads you to do.

So I ask the panel, voice trembling, “What do you do when you know you’ve done it wrong?”

You can always go back and edit the posts, they say. And if you think it’s needed, write an apology. They pour grace onto my regret. Kristi points out, “Blogging is a long-term story of redemption… LIVE.” TeriLynne adds, “We oppress ourselves by our expectations.”

I write today to ask your forgiveness. Forgive me for using guilt to push you into meeting my expectations. Forgive me for not allowing you to need more time, to say “no,” or to be committed to another cause.

Forgive me for trying to be your Holy Spirit.

70 Responses to “I Am Not Your Holy Spirit”

  1. Kris November 2, 2011 at 4:30 am #

    Joy, I was in that session. I heard you speak, though I did not follow your posts about your trip. But I know that whatever you wrote, whatever you felt, there is enough grace to cover that. Thank you for sharing your heart in such a raw and beautiful way. I fully believe that god can and will still use your words to speak through you. Blessings, sweet friend. I know this has not been easy. ((hugs))

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 4:59 am #

      Thank you, Kris. It’s a scary thing to realize one has taken on the mantle of God, no matter how good the intentions.

  2. Heather November 2, 2011 at 4:36 am #

    thank you sweet Joy for believing in something so strongly. Thank you for having a teachable spirit. Thank you for sharing openly what you learned and allowing us to learn with you.

  3. Amy Nabors November 2, 2011 at 4:59 am #

    I love your heart Joy.

  4. Rachel M. November 2, 2011 at 5:18 am #

    Hi Joy, I was also in that session and I heard your voice. Thank you for sharing this post, I haven’t read your blog posts about Bolivia but I understand where you are coming from. That session was one of the best for me, it was not what I was expecting. The panels years of experience were invaluable lessons. I look forward to reading more of your writing and I actually do plan to read your Bolivia posts to learn more about the area. I’ve been sponsoring a girl there for the past 6 years and she’s now 16! Thanks again for sharing your heart.

  5. Teri Lynne November 2, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Oh sweet Joy! Your heart is even more beautiful than your words. SUCH GRACE in this place … For us and for yourself. So thankful for you, for your passion, for your hope, for your challenge to others, and – most of all – for your humility. You have taught us by example to love big, to live big, and to trust an even bigger God.

  6. Erika November 2, 2011 at 5:34 am #

    I just LOVE you. That is all.

  7. Seth November 2, 2011 at 5:43 am #


    I think this is an important post for a generation that seems mobilized to change things. That’s all I’ll say for now. I’d love to see you flesh this out even more. Really.

    I think this kind of confession took guts. I like it.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:11 am #

      Thank you for the nudge to flesh this out more. I’ve been mulling it over all day. I like that.

    • Tamara November 4, 2011 at 7:08 am #

      I want to echo this. We are the generation of Can and Change and Do. And these are needed. But not without humility, not without God’s leading. Use your words, Joy, and your tender heart, and help us to become a generation that Can and Changes and Does in the humility of God’s leading. xoxo

  8. Ashleigh Baker November 2, 2011 at 6:26 am #

    I love your heart and your bravery and your passion for truth, Joy.

  9. Amy @ messymiddle.wordpress.com November 2, 2011 at 6:33 am #

    I think you have highlighted the work in progess it is for all of us. When I returned to the States after my first year in China — many years ago!– I didn’t talk about it much and my sister finally asked me why. I said it was because it was so wonderful I was afraid that if people really got how wonderful it was they would all move there (and I was afraid how that might affect me financially so my motives were so selfish!). She said that wasn’t likely :) and I had to learn (and am still learning) what my role in sharing my experiences are. And what they are not. How to be used by God without becoming too entwined in the message. NOT easy. Thanks for the post!

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      “How to be used by God without becoming too entwined in the message” — that’s such a good way of putting it. One thing I know — we each need each other’s stories. But I must offer my story without strings attached and allow God to use it how He will, and in His timetable. Thank you for sharing a bit of yours with me.

  10. Don Sartain November 2, 2011 at 6:46 am #


    I haven’t ever been overseas to experience some of what you’ve experienced, but I have had painful realities grip my heart, piercing my very soul, and infuse within me a righteous anger that I can barely contain. Stories of rape victims, sex trafficking, men abusing their wives. All of these begin a detonation inside me that explodes with full force whenever I talk or write about those issues. Mainly when I talk, because I seem to be both without a filter and without a backspace key.

    I love what Kristi said about blogging being a long-term story of redemption. Indeed, when we are convicted we should absolutely repent. But we should also remember that the words weren’t wasted. God is sovereign, and He orders our steps. Our initial statements may be driven out of frustration, but that doesn’t mean that someone didn’t need to hear those words in that tone. It also means that God moved, or allowed, you to write in that way so that He could bring you to the point you have now reached, seeing more of His sovereignty in moving people’s hearts like channels of water, and more of His great love not just for the causes and people that move you to action, but for you as well.

    God is good. God is loving. God is sovereign. Write boldly. Repent when needed. Rejoice always.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:14 am #

      Don, thank you so much for this. I needed the reminder that God redeems our mistakes and that He does His work in spite of us when necessary.

  11. Stacy November 2, 2011 at 6:58 am #

    These were hard words for you to say I’m sure, but they were timely ones that I needed to hear as I am about to try something new in my church. I needed that idea planted in my head that I am not their Holy Spirit before I venture forwards, so thanks so much Joy for your raw honesty.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:15 am #

      So thankful that the words God gave were timely for you. Best wishes as you try something new — that takes courage.

  12. Shaun Groves November 2, 2011 at 8:13 am #

    Joy, I love you – your passion, humility, vulnerability, contrition. Beautiful. Thank you for all this.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:18 am #

      Shaun, thank you for coming to the conference and sharing your hard-won wisdom, both in that session and on Saturday night. I needed to hear from you.

  13. joy, i appreciated the wisdom in the panel and your humility here as well. we do our best. we do it wrong. we ask for grace. it’s a fumbling journey always. i see your heart in this and it is pure, friend. xo

  14. cara gabrielse November 2, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    “As I hear a better way, a way that majors on God’s mercy and how we can join in His mercy work, a way that lets God move people to love in the way that fits them the best, even when they don’t love what I love…”

    those words are going to follow me around for a while. thank you.

  15. ed cyzewski November 2, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Thanks for this. The title alone is quite powerful. This post really glorifies God because it gives God the credit he is due for moving his people to action and puts us in our place as models and intercessors.

    I confess that I struggle with all of the blog posts and stories online about different causes. I’m playing around with a post right now that isn’t ready, but the gist of it is that I find myself often skipping over posts that are associated with raising money for this cause or that cause. I have my burdens and I support certain causes that have been placed on my heart. I think so much of philanthropy should be rooted in relationships, and so I find it hard to get involved in something via a blog post. That’s just what I’m processing right now. I don’t know what’s right or wrong, and I suspect that different people engage in charities and justice work through different portals/means.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:20 am #

      Thank you for the encouragement, Ed.

      It’s so difficult, because I’ve found myself a bit frustrated at how difficult it can be to find people doing work I want to support. My heart is drawn to help women, children, and especially special-needs children. Unless people share these stories, I won’t find them and be able to get involved. But it so easily deteriorates into marketing and feels manipulative. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I suspect it’s what you said — different people engage in different ways and via different means.

  16. Kamille@Redeeming the Table November 2, 2011 at 9:55 am #

    Joy–your question that day was seeking truth, pure truth. I saw you in that moment with tear stained eyes truly asking Jesus that question & he immediately extended grace & mercy to you. I know all too well when I have said something with complete passion, but maybe not thought it all the way through. And I have heard the words, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me,” spill out of me over & over. I’m humbled by you & I see the Christ in you. I am praying that his mercy would become more & more evident to you in your story.

    –so much love–

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:22 am #

      Thank you Kamille, for being a means of grace that day and here today. I’m wiping tears again. :)

  17. Preston November 2, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I’ll forgive you if you’ll forgive me, Joy. Thank you for this.

  18. Bekka November 2, 2011 at 10:18 am #

    Totally forgiven, dear heart. It takes great courage to own up to mistakes and I want you to know that it is appreciated.

    While I don’t believe that I felt pushed towards World Vision by your posts or your video testimony, one question that always sits in the back of my mind is “What if we support the overall cause, but through a different organization? Why does it have to feel like it’s World Vision versus Compassion International (for example)?” Thank you for this today as it does help me answer that question a little better :).

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:26 am #

      Bekka, thank you for bringing that up. What I’ve discovered is that while we may get a sense of competition here in North America, it completely disappears on the ground in the Third World. World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, and Compassion all work together seamlessly. They each have strengths and areas where they need each other, and they call on each other constantly. We’re all on the same team, and we should act like it here, too. I’d love to think together about how to get rid of that sense of competition for good.

  19. Megan November 2, 2011 at 10:19 am #

    I think, yes, this is such a powerful thing for ALL of us to remember. We are the Holy Spirit to no one.

    For advocate/champion types, this can be very discouraging. When your temperament is geared toward educating and advocating to enable and empower others to TAKE ACTION and then no one does, well, it makes me want to go crawl in a hole.

    I needed your words and openness and beautiful example today. So, so much.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      I alternately wanted to crawl into a hole, bang my head on a wall, and shake people. But that isn’t my job. Mine is to give a platform to someone who has none, and help them get their story out. God will do the rest.

      Thank you for your encouragement, Megan.

  20. Janet November 2, 2011 at 10:25 am #

    Thank you so much for writing this. Giving of my resources to others is such a loaded issue for me, and I can so easily feel guilty about this area of my life. (I didn’t become weighed-down with guilt about anything you wrote, but I generally am in a state where I am confused about how much to give and where to give it.)

    Thank you for reminding us that we need to follow the Spirit’s leading within regarding this.

  21. Diana Trautwein November 2, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    Ah, this is such sweet and welcome humility and honesty, Joy. Thank you for these words. I think maybe those of us who have been around the block a few times could read your Bolivia posts for exactly what they were: a testimony to how God worked in you when you faced into the harsh realities of pain and loss in a world so very, very different from our own. When you are brought face to face with this much need, the passion is stirred – as it should be. Yes, the tone got a little preachy and veered on the judgmental at a couple of points. But you know what? Those who know you – in person or only through your writing, as I do – we know your heart. So even in the act of reading a few of those posts, I uttered a breath of forgiveness AND a breath of thanksgiving. I’ve been where you are – I lived in Africa for two years a long time ago – and I recognize the righteous indignation and the grief. Yes, that’s what it is, you know. It’s a kind of grief that things are as awful as they are and that so many are so blind to it all. You needed to pour it out – and you did. Now, you’re looking at all of that experience with a little more seasoning and that is good and necessary, too. I love what Ed said up above – that the best kind of giving comes through relationships. At this stage of life – early retirement – we continue our commitments made to people we know who are doing God’s work far and near. We don’t add too many new ones at this stage, but prayers and tears are still needed and still offered in loving solidarity with the needs of this broken world. So – I thank you for the call to all of that: tears/prayers/material gifts. And I thank you for recognizing that there are ways to do that that are grace-filled as well as passion-filled.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 10:52 am #

      Diana, you are such an encourager. Thank you for your forgiveness and understanding.

  22. Amy November 2, 2011 at 11:04 am #

    Oh Joy. I was in the session too and feeling the same way you were about how I handled pro life issues in the past. A little to overzealous once I realize dhow important it was. I then immediately got to tell someone who had been on the receiving end of my many mass e-mails on the issue. I now know there are different ways to go about things, but at the time I couldn’t get why they didn’t get it, even though I had just been someone who didn’t get it. (Did you get that? :) ) I realized a while back the same thing Shaun told you-it is the Holy Spirit’s job, not ours. I can (and sometimes do!) blog till I am blue in the face, but if people don’t have a crack to let the holy Spirit in it is going to make no difference. I now try to take the advice of Fr. Corapi-preach less, pray more. Pray for them to let the Holy Spirit in.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      :) Yes, I followed what you wrote. “Preach less, pray more.” I like that. Thank you for sharing it!

  23. Stef Layton November 2, 2011 at 12:22 pm #

    Joy – the beauty in this .. His grace. I am so thankful for what Shaun said – as we (The Homeschool Village) shared a way to partner up and sponsor a compassion child as a group for $10. No one commented, tweeted, nor cared. I was so bitter. And Shaun’s words wrapped me up as well!! Just as I spoke to Ann in the stairwell and her concern she would disappoint this year instead. We hugged – because we are not the Holy Spirit.

    Keep shining!

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

      Bitterness is so easy to fall into, isn’t it? Thank you, Stef. So glad his words helped you too.

  24. Denise November 2, 2011 at 12:23 pm #

    I was also in the session and was witness to those tears that fell. Each one echoed in my soul as you spoke volumes to what I fear I have also done. Failed, miserably. As Shaun spoke of a legalist who bullies others into a decision or becomes angry when they don’t do what I ask, I knew what it was that I had done. It was the reflection of me that I didn’t want to see – many times I may have hid it well but inside it has gnawed at my soul.

    Mercy…grateful that He gives it. May I learn to do the same — humbly and with compassion. May I learn to keep His mercy in view and tell the story He wants told. May we all do that and release the outcome to His hands.

    Thank you for being brave and honest.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

      “May we all do that and release the outcome to His hands.” Yes. This.

  25. Marla Taviano November 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    Love you, friend.

  26. Kristi November 2, 2011 at 1:43 pm #

    Beautifully written. I see your face in front of me. I love you all the more. He knows your heart and the passion within in one HE has set to flame. I daresay that Jeremiah, David, and many more did not say it “right” everytime. We just have recorded when they did. Do you remember what Joy said at the end the first night? I keep thinking this for you:
    “At the end of the day, all we can do is stand in front of the King and know if we were faithful.” You are faithful with the words He gives you and the passion He has instilled. He will honor that. We are all a “live” redemption story…are we not? I have not done better or worse, but have opened up and received His mercy.
    Lay your beautiful head down tonight on your pillow and receive His mercy. He has already worked through those words and will continue to. Nothing is lost in the economy of God. Nothing. Feel His love and mercy flowing down to you, wrapping you up like the most comfy sweater.
    Know you are loved and I send (virtual) hugs. You are a treasure and I am richer person because of you.
    love you, sister.

    • Joy November 2, 2011 at 2:00 pm #

      Thank you, Kristi, for that reminder to be faithful before my King.

  27. Kathy November 2, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    So, so, sooo good Joy. Our passions often blind us to the people we once were. We can all look backwards and cringe at who were once were. I’m convinced we will look back at who we are now and be grateful for the change.

    Outwardly wasting, inwardly renewed. Beautifully humble post. Beautiful.

  28. Rich November 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm #

    Joy, thanks for sharing your heart and passion. And now also courage for “coming clean” on this. I admire you for doing so. As Paul wrote: “For when I am weak, then I am strong in Christ.”

    May God richly bless you as you continue to minister through the vehicle God has provided for you.

  29. Ruth Schwenk November 2, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

    Joy this is just beautiful. Thank you for your humility and your willingness to give God the glory for what He does, not what we do. Blessings friend.

  30. Sarah@EmergingMummy November 2, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    This took guts, Joy. And I love you.

  31. Carolyn Counterman November 3, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    Wow. As a bleeding-heart social worker, that hit me hard. It was a needed hit. I’m so glad it came in this space – a safe space. Thank you. Thank you so very much for baring your heart to us.

  32. Wendi November 3, 2011 at 5:36 am #

    The nice thing about being a new reader to A Deeper Story is that I missed out on that whole thing – although, I think I probably would have done the same thing. I’m a fixer. Right now I have to keep reminding myself that I cannot mend my best friend’s broken heart or heal her homesickness. I don’t like seeing people in pain; I either want to fix it for them or ignore it all together.

    So I do have a question for you, how do I begin to figure out what God would have me do to contribute to the care of His people? I can’t lie, I tend to be an extremist – soapbox shouter to head in the sand ostrich. I’d like to find that middle ground. What have you learned about finding your own personal call to helping?

    • Joy @ Joy In This Journey November 10, 2011 at 9:16 am #

      Hi Wendi! That’s a great question. I think the most important thing to do is to pray and ask God to show you.

      Then ask yourself some questions. What is your own story? Are there things in your life that give you an inside perspective on certain kinds of needs? That kind of experience could make you an excellent advocate for others in the same situation.

      Think about what gets you burning to do something – is it hearing stories of exploited children? Is it the plight of the homeless in your area? Is it hearing how rare the basic human need of safe drinking water is, or mosquito nets to prevent malaria? Is it orphans or widows? Children with special needs? Unemployment? Foster children? The issues that create a fire in your belly are more likely to be issues you can take on long-term.

      Sometimes I do what’s right in front of me. That might be dropping change in the Salvation Army kettle (if I actually have any cash on me), handing a protein bar to a panhandler, grabbing the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes from our church foyer and actually bringing them back filled, or donating clothes and toys to Goodwill.

      Other times, God plops me down in the middle of a situation, like the children’s hospital in our area, and I discover hurting people all around me. Our story includes children with medical conditions and special needs, so we have a passion and the experience to help families in these circumstances.

      Rarely, God does something really wild, like send me to Boliva. :)

      I hope that helps!

  33. rain November 3, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    Your pain may match a different cause. He may want you to give your extra to someone else.

    thank you for this…
    and i am in awe at the spirit and awareness in your post. thank you.

  34. Brianne November 3, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    I loved reading the posts about your trip to Bolivia, both from you and from Nish. I shared the frustration of the posts being at a low reading rate. I get frustrated when people don’t take action on things, for example not being able to take one minute to sign a petition but having all the time in the world to read celebrity gossip. So to have this issue fleshed out more, it would be so beneficial to people like me; to learn how to be a gentle whisper instead of a raging roar, and give room for the Spirit to work in the hearts of others, with me, led by Him and with prayers uplifted.

  35. Carla November 8, 2011 at 10:34 am #

    Joy, from what I know of you, and from reading your posts again from Bolivia, I honestly can’t find any guilt-pushing in you or your posts. Of course, if that’s what God is telling you, listen to Him! Your post made a great conversation in our devotions this morning because it’s true that the end doesn’t justify the means. Guilt can’t be the intention. But we also talked this morning about how God uses all kinds of emotions — guilt, fear, joy, gratitude — to drive us to seek Him and listen to how He wants us to respond. Anyway… thanks again… you always make me think!

    • Joy @ Joy In This Journey November 10, 2011 at 9:19 am #

      Carla! So good to hear from you. I’m glad that you didn’t see anything you read as bullying. But I know the place I was at mentally, and I have to believe that it leaked out, especially given the feedback I received from some quarters. I would have written differently if I’d been approaching it from the mindset that it’s ok if people choose to do this or if they choose to do something else, or even if they choose to do nothing.

  36. JT Adamson December 26, 2011 at 3:33 pm #

    Beautuful post, and so descriptive of me and of all of us. Thanks for having the courage to say what we all need to say.

  37. Sarah Van Beveren August 15, 2012 at 5:26 pm #

    This was just so, so, good Joy. Hard to swallow for those of us guilty of this, but such a breath of fresh air. This was more than just a great reminder. This one will stick with me.


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