2015 was a hard year for me, in just about every way – professionally, personally, relationally. The year started out on all cylinders, per usual, but in the best sorts of ways. I felt confident, secure, work was going well, I created better habits -I was budgeting and exercising and flossing my teeth! I was investing in meaningful relationships and my relationship with the Lord was going really well. Then late fall hit and ‘life happened’. I hope I’m in the kind of company that can understand the complexity of that assessment.
Part of it was that a few people let me down, not because they’re bad eggs, but because they’re human. I decided my consistency wasn’t giving the results I wanted; the Lord shifted some details for my future, and my hope had somehow shifted from him to those details, which left me disappointed and a little kicked in the teeth. I was tired. I was tired from hoping and doing the right thing without the results I wanted. This is the worst kind of tired wrapped in shame and depression and a constant Willy Wonka meme face. It’s also hard to be inter-dependent on people who don’t have the same level of need or dependence for you. This is particularly painful and exhausting as a single person in a small community.
My modus operandi in these sorts of seasons is to immediately call God into question. My hope is that in the riper years of life, this will not be the case. I trust and pray the Lord to continue his good work in me that one day, this side of forever, praise falls first from my mouth, not accusation.
I’ve had a lot of time to mull over the year as it has come and gone and I’ve come to grieve the wasted opportunities to lean in my disappointment and turn it back to joy. This is especially hard for me to realize, when looking back at my birthday, which was an unexpected highlight. The word most often spoken over to me by my closest friends on that day was the word “joy”. I wanted to own that word last year. I would like to think I would have been content to know I had become an utter delight inside and out regardless of circumstances. I was not. God bless my little tribe being pulled in and out of my wake.
This year, more than most, I found myself with quite a few young people asking for my advice, which is quite a lightening storm to be in counseling students and praying God doesn’t strike you down for preaching against your own disobedience. I love students for many reasons -and one of my favorite reasons is how honest about where they are in life. I think adults can easily lose that along the way. Sometimes I feel God has placed me in the lives of so many college students over the last four years to simply spread two messages, the first being: adults are just as confused as you. Same fears, different context. We might just be a little better at diffusion and diversion. The second message being: don’t wait to change yourself to come to Jesus. He wants you just as you are, he shapes the rest. If I could apply this to myself every day, the expectations of myself and God would be rightfully aligned and I would finally be an utter delight. But I have not and I am not. Any person who would beg to differ extends to me what Jesus calls grace upon grace and it’s not merited in the least.
One particular conversation I kept having over and over with several students this year was the topic of expectation. Life just isn’t panning out the way I thought, they said. Mine too, I would think. I ‘got it’. It’s easy to say “if I could just change this one thing about me” or, “if only I knew what God was doing then all this would be better.” But I don’t find these, what I call, “band aid” statements particularly helpful or forward moving in our journeys with God. Self blame is a terrible motivator. I would ask you not to take my word for it, but I will. It’s an unnecessary lesson to learn through personal experience. So much of struggle is wrapped in self hatred and stamped “with love” by the enemy who, by the way, can take a vacation from distracting us from Jesus because we’re stuck loathing what we have or do not have.
I had so many of these conversations, in fact, over time the Lord began showing me where my heart had begun to stray. I have revisited a lot of my conversations, text, and email exchanges through the year and was deeply convicted to see where my actions had fallen out of step with my words. In the big picture, it’s good to have these sorts of moments that leave you with a more honest picture of yourself. I need to revisit the tumble out of 2015 and into 2016 so I don’t repeat this story.
So, I’m writing my lessons and reminders of 2015 for myself in 2016 and all of its bitter moments, in the hopes I will join hands with Jesus and let him turn those bitter moments to wine and prove again and again to me, He is always better.
1. Don’t belittle your pain
The sooner I stop comparing my pain to someone else’s, the sooner I can heal. I will not heal if I cover my unmet expectations with shame and belittlement; instead, haughty pride’s counterpart, self deprecating pride, grows in the dark eats away at me. Failure to humble myself and confess to the Lord is a missed opportunity to experience the joy of acceptance and completion in Christ. It also allows my heart to begin to draw lines where God is and is not welcomed.
2. Stop listening to your insecurities and speak your confidence
I’m sick of confirming my own worst fears about myself. It’s good to be in the practice of listening to your heart to understand where you’re at, but when the lies begin to spill out, at some point you have to stop listening and start speaking to it. If that’s you right now, start speaking to your heart. Speak whatever you know to be true about God and/or about yourself: My hope is in Christ alone. He will never leave me or forsake me. He is unchanging. I am perfectly and wonderfully made in the image of God. As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed my sins.
3. Confess to the Kindhearted
One of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned in 2015 was knowing that we confess to God to be forgiven but we confess to one another to be healed. After confession before the Lord, do not underestimate the healing of coming clean to a person who you have built trust in, who loves you a lot, but loves Jesus even more. There needs to be accountability behind our repentance. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And James 5:16 says, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.”
4. Check your loyalty
I think it’s easy to assume because you’ve become a Christ follower, you are immune from a mutiny from him. Deep down inside, I think we all know this to be a lie, but in that one corner where the belief that your performance sometimes sways God’s favor, this little thought lives there too. Be so careful in your pain to recognize when you are struggling on behalf of your own pleasure. James 4 has some pretty sobering truth for us about that:
“What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. You adulterers! Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit he has placed within us should be faithful to him. And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say,
“God opposes the proud
but gives grace to the humble.”
So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come close to God, and God will come close to you. Wash your hands, you sinners; purify your hearts, for your loyalty is divided between God and the world. Let there be tears for what you have done. Let there be sorrow and deep grief. Let there be sadness instead of laughter, and gloom instead of joy. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”
Maybe we don’t wage war in a physical way but we need to be constantly upholding our loyalty up to God’s loyalty. Whose best interest do I have in mind -mine or His? One is impossible to satisfy, the other is satisfied with himself and longs to satisfy all your pain with himself.
5. Choose to believe what your heart can’t feel in the moment
See number 2. You can’t change what your heart feels but you can change what’s fueling it. Have the maturity to know when the screens need to be powered off, the word opened, the sneakers put on, the mouth zipped, the music blasted on …whatever it is that helps you most naturally connect with Jesus. Let’s resolve to no longer be the sorts of Christians that cower and stew in our weakness but rather step out of the boat and trust that God will meet us and help us up in whatever clumsy mess we find ourselves. Let him tend to places of our hearts that feel too vulnerable to hand over. No one has regretted letting the Lord tend to those matters. Amy Carmichael, whose life is one of the most beautiful ones that ever was, once said that “it is a safe thing to trust God with the desires which he creates.” The song I’ve kept playing over and over lately in my awakening to my desperate need for Jesus has been a song whose chorus cries out, “You crash over me and I’ve lost control but I’m free, I’m going under, I’m in over my head. And you crash over me and that’s where you want me to be I’m going under, I’m in over my head. Whether I sink, whether I swim, it makes no difference when I’m beautifully in over my head“ Choose to believe what your heart may not be able to feel.
6. Preach the Gospel to yourself
I hope this phrase has not lost its flavor on you. This is the summation of life and death. It’s the story that allows us to come face-to-face with our creator and fundamentally changes not only the trajectory but every fiber of our beings and aspect of our lives. This rightly puts us humbly and gratefully at the feet of Jesus and reminds us that life is not about what I WANT but what God has for us.
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, & fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.” – Tim Keller
Tell God’s love story to yourself over and over. Never grow weary of this story. Our problems and pains grow dim in light of this incredible news the world is dying to know. I need my people asking me this year, “Bri, what has God given you today?”, “Who is your hope in life and in death?” I wasn’t careful to remember these things some of this past year, and I despaired. Matthew 10:27 says, “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what I whisper to you, proclaim on the housetops.“
Once we’ve preached the Gospel to ourselves there are three choices that can be claimed and claimed consciously and regularly to bind out the enemy and seal our affections for Christ alone:
I’ve thought about that word a lot in the last month and I’m claiming it for 2016 again, whatever it holds. Maybe you need more of that in your life too. Write it on your hand, put a put a post it note in your car. Put it on the background of your phone. I’m doing this kind of silly stuff just to get the ball rolling. Sus texted me on a hard day this week, “What was your joy moment today?” FIND THAT PERSON IN YOUR LIFE. Dig into the Word. Join me! Joy is not rooted in the outcomes of our lives but rather a posture and choice of the heart before the Redeemer who loves us deeply. May we venture into 2016 with joy of the Lord on our hearts and may that same joy be our sustainer through and through.
“Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.” -James 1:2-4
He is better. May his praise ever be on our lips.
Here’s to choosing a joyful new year, friends.