Allyson Phillips on Courage, Intimacy, & Yelling at God

She is thoughtful and intentional, deep thinking and kind. She’s a champion of women. From the moment she swung open the doors of her church to welcome us, I knew I was in the presence of peace.

Allyson Phillips, 27, is a church planter and pastor of Legacy Church in Nashville, TN. She’s wife to Lyle Phillips and mother to Isaiah and Remy. I’ve admired Ally from afar for a long time. When I decided to interview women about their process with the Lord, and what their journey of intimacy looked like, I knew she was a woman I wanted to learn from.

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What is your background in faith?

My parents re-met Jesus when I was close to toddler age. I had the pleasure of growing up in a very healthy, spirit-filled home. I wouldn't say it was an overtly charismatic culture, but we believed in the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I had a very vibrant connect spiritual experience starting from a very young age.

Did you ever have a time where you walked away from God or struggling with questions?

I grew up in a house where asking questions was always okay. I never got disciplined without an explanation — I was always met with a lot of explanation, so I never felt left in the dark.

Therefore, I had this really interactive relationship with God in the same way. I’ve always felt a lot of permission to ask him questions and not have all of the answers and have that be okay.

I never had a direct moment where I questioned the validity of my spiritual experience. That’s really rare. I think journeys like that are incredibly beautiful and I encourage that as people are on their journey to ask questions.

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What would you say to people who haven't had a safe experience with “rules” in church or religion?

If someone’s had a bad experience with rules, I’m like, “Man, this is great opportunity for you to recognize that God’s not trying to lay rules out in front you. He's mostly just trying to get you.

Rules are very important, but absolutely not more important than the relationship that rules make a way for.  [I tell them] just go for it. Not in the way of sin, but in the way of wresting out their faith. Lyle says all the time that we’re never more ourselves than when we’re yelling at God. There’s something really beautiful about the permission to not understand and not know the rules and somebody not trying to force you into a box that a journey has to look a certain way.

As long as I have relationship with a person, I'm going to encourage them to explore a little bit. And [pursue] inner healing. It’s a big deal. I always press people towards forms of inner healing (sozos, RTFs) alongside their journey.

I think as I go along my pastoral journey I’ll have better answers — maybe more biblical answers — but I’m young at this. We’re growing and we’re learning and we do our best in submission to the Presence. But if you’re yelling at him, you're talking to him. You’re pursuing clarity.

"The bible is full of people who don’t like to follow rules, but they’re in love with following a really good God so they make it work together."

That’s a great definition of intimacy: not following rules for the sake of rules, because that’s just legalism, but going after relationship. How would you describe your own experience of intimacy with the Lord?

It’s not illusive, because it’s present — but it has no boundaries. Intimacy directly ties to vulnerability. It feels a lot like I can be myself exactly where I am, as much as it is about I allow him to be himself around me. It’s acknowledging that the Godhead is perfect and holy and if I stifle the Godhead’s ability to be itself around me then I don’t experience true intimacy.

It’s the daily learning of me being me, sometimes me yelling at God — but allowing him to be him in my life. And lead me. And protect me. And shape me. And mold me.

Intimacy in some seasons with the Lord feels painful because he’s growing me and stretching me. Sometimes it feels like rainbows and butterflies. There are moments I'm in worship and I'm completely overcome by the genuine adoration of God towards me. Those moments are rainbows and butterflies. But I’ve learned that as much as I love those moments, I really like the moments that feel like the stretching and the arguing and I’m figuring out how I relate to God. I love those moments, too.

"[Intimacy is] me being me, but him being him… As I allow him to be himself, l get to be me too. It’s like being married. As you allow your spouse to be themselves and they allow you to be yourself, you experience a really special connection. It’s hard to pull that apart."

The reality is that’s the gospel — the gospel is Jesus wrapping himself in flesh so we can be ourselves before God. Anything less than that is Jesus not getting everything he paid for.

What would you name the current season of intimacy that you’re in?

I would call this chapter of my life Expansion.

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What would your last season be called?

Hidden. I have two kids and I’ve spent the last 3+ years pregnant, nursing, changing diapers, and not working from the office. I was at home. I was serving my family with every hour of my day.

Some of the most beautifully intimate times in my last season were the moments in the middle of the night when I was awake with my children. I remember being up and I’d say “God, it’s like nobody sees this. Nobody hears this. I feel so hidden.” And the Lord said, “When did hidden become bad? When did hidden become something that was negative or dirty in your life, when did you begin to hold so tightly to things that were public?”

I found joy in this last season in those hidden places of intimacy with the Lord, where I prayed for my children. Being up in the middle of the night praying for my staff and my congregation. No one else was having those moments, but I was having those moments with the Lord. There’s something strong developed in the midst of those hidden moments.

How did those seasons affect your identity?

As women we tend to box ourselves into an idea. I've put myself into boxes that no one else has put me into before. Especially in seasons of hiddenness or quietness, feeling like I wasn't living out my purpose, my identity wasn't being fully tapped into, or I wasn't understanding myself. Culturally, I bought into a lie that identity as woman looks like “x, y, and z.” I really held fast to the story in Psalms with David where he's going to battle and he turns and strengthens himself in the Lord.

"That’s where all true identity comes from: turning and strengthening yourself in the Lord. You have to do that in every season of your life."

As I've strengthened myself in the Lord, it’s not that my identity shifts or changes. I'm always a lover, a mom, a daughter. I’m all of those things all at one time. You can get confused because outside voices like to tell you who you should be to everybody on the outside. You post on social media, you post on your blog, and people click thumbs up or thumbs down about it.

It’s so crazy in our day and age that Christians tend to lose the ability to turn and strengthen ourselves in the Lord. It’s all that matters. What he says about you, your identity, and your season. Seasons change. You grow. You change. You expand. But as long as you’re able to find center in the presence of Jesus, then whether you’re hidden or in expansion or in a harvest season it’s all the same thing. It’s all the road to relationship with him.

"We’re just lovers. It seems overly simple. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life except for what he’s asked me to do right now. I’m just a lover and here we are: we turn and we strengthen. We go and see whats next. Take the next territory." 

Lyle always says that your destiny is not a place, it’s a person. Your identity is not achieving a certain set of accomplishments in your life. Your identity is who you are in Jesus. You might grow and change, but he doesn’t so your identity just swells.

What’s at stake when we don’t choose intimacy?

Our peace. Whenever somebody tells me they don't know the direction to go, I always encourage them it’s time to follow peace.

If we’re not strengthening ourselves in the Lord, it’s really hard to find peace. It’s really hard to find where center is. I think everything is at stake at that point.

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What has your relationship with Lyle taught you about intimacy with the Lord?

Before Lyle and I got married we had a season where we broke up. We ran into a brick wall of intimacy with each other, recognizing that we had all of these past experiences that were keeping us from connecting. [During that] season the Lord began to speak to Lyle and I separately.

One of things he talked to me about was the presence of courage and how intimacy is not easy. I always had this idea that intimacy just happened. We took for granted what it takes to make it work.

When the rubber would meet the road, I’d feel afraid and I’d hide.

"I learned quickly from the Lord that all intimacy takes courage. All vulnerability takes courage. It’s not something that happens, it’s something we steward."

I always believed that intimacy with the Lord primarily hinged on his relationship towards me. And that’s true about the Lord when it comes to pursuit, but intimacy is not a one party pursuit. Intimacy is two parties coming to the table vulnerably and with courage. I realized I had a courage deficiency. I needed to find my voice. I needed to find courage, before I could ever engage in a healthy life-giving relationship with both the Lord and Lyle.

The Lord’s greatest gift to humanity is marriage and relationship where you have to be courageous. If we can learn how to do [be courageous] in the context of you and I — “Hey here’s my heart and I'm showing this to you in an effort to be close to you,” — then how much more can we do that with a loving Father? I think thats so smart on the Lord’s part. In his good pleasure, he designed us and made us for relationship with him, but he also gave us a way to work it out.

Marriage isn't just to make us happy, it’s to make us more beautiful and more like Jesus. As we surrender to the process of courage upon courage and vulnerability upon vulnerability, we experience intimacy. And with that, we learn how to do that with a really loving Father.

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What has been your number one tool for unlocking intimacy?

The biggest hinderance of intimacy for me is staying quiet. I have found that my biggest tool in remaining connected to the Lord, other people, and myself is verbal honesty.

If I don't tell exactly how I'm feeling, when I feel it, I will reason through my feelings and I will push aside who I am [in order] to have relationship with somebody. Then I can get five years down the line and recognize that they’re the only person having a relationship. I’ve had friends for years that have told me “I don’t even know you.” It was the most soul crushing thing on the planet.

Lyle asked me one time while we were dating what colors I liked, and I didn’t even know. I’d never taken the time to be honest with myself about what I liked.

Just getting it out has been my strongest tool for connection and intimacy. Especially as I’ve gotten married, if I don't communicate with Lyle, he can’t understand how to meet my needs. He can’t understand how to do relationship with me, because we’re two very different people. If I stay quiet and independent in my own corner, trying to solve my problem — that’s not the design of marriage or my relationship with the Lord.

"The joy of relationship is an ongoing conversation."

In this interview, you wouldn’t think I have a hard time saying how I feel, but this is fought for. Five years ago you put mic in front of my face and I shudder. Now it’s, “If I say it, then they know it. And then we can have connection.”

Knowing the mission of Liberté, why do you think this type of resource is important?

[It’s] giving the world an opportunity to see what healthy process looks like. I don’t have to look like or sound like talk like a man to be a viable or sought after voice in our day and age. Especially in our Christian culture. I don't have to preach like a man, I can just be me. 

"As women rise to the surface, real honest kingdom balance comes into play. As we together are raised up and given opportunities to share our hearts with courage, there’s real balance that comes with that."