Wandering with Jesus

“God’s will is not for you to be confused or lost.” This is what a friend told me as I described how I’ve been feeling lately. I’m not responsible for much these days, and in some ways it’s amazing. Like being on vacation full-time. But I’m not sure it’s always good for people.

I think there’s something about the human spirit that needs something to take care of. We are a people who like to produce, create, and maintain. Without that, we feel a sense of purposelessness. We are created to work. A garden, kids, pets, job responsibilities. Something to keep us occupied, busy, and moving forward. Right now I don’t have any of those.

I’m still in limbo with what’s next for me. I’ve been unwinding and rebuilding over the past few months (Read this post to find out why!), and I feel like I’m ready to take on something new. I’ve rested. I’ve been silent. I’ve listened. I’ve taken care of myself. I started working out, eating healthier, and created healthier habits. I’m reading books again and am starting to explore new avenues of interest.

There are still bits that I’m working through from this last year, like mild anxiety and depression, but as I look back on what I was writing about at this time last year, I see a stark contrast to today. I feel like a different person. I’ve come so far and fought so hard to get here. I’m so thankful to be here.

I’m ready for the next “big thing.” Maybe that’s too eager? I have a feeling that there’s still a lot of waiting ahead for me. Which is, in all honesty, annoying. I just want answers, but God has been very silent.

What I have been learning, though, is to trust Him more. I feel a more desperate need to pray in the mornings and lean on Him for patience, strength, and endurance. I feel more need to pick up my Bible and soak in the word for encouragement, joy, and peace. I have seen God come through my casual, everyday conversations with people, and the things I write about. These, friends, are good signs.

In this continued season of waiting, I think this is what I’m being called to. To persevere in patience and prayer. To learn how to trust God deeper with my hopes and dreams.

It’s hard, friends. Oh my, is it hard. When I think of the future, it looks like a giant black, bleak, never-ending tunnel of nothingness. But I’m being called to claim something different, and it’s stretching my faith. God knows my heart, my skills and passions, and what my future holds. He knows what is best for me, and is inviting me to lay all that I am and all that I have at his feet. And just trust. 

I’ve noticed that a lot of people my age experience similar feelings: post-grad/early adulthood angst. “What do I do with my life?” “How do I get started?” “Is this really what I want?” We want to make a difference in the world. There’s so many opportunities out there that it’s easy to get paralyzed by fear and indecision.

Maybe these questions will continue to follow us at any age. To anyone who can relate, use this time to be silent with God.

Even if he isn’t clear about his will for you and when opportunities seem to be waving goodbye, he is still good. He still loves you. You still have a purpose, and you still matter. There’s still much to learn.

Soak in this time to draw near to God and trust that he is preparing you for what’s next. It may be months or years away from now before you feel like “This is what I’m meant for!” And that’s okay.

Take every opportunity to grow, to be sanctified, and to learn about who God is and who you are in him.

In times when the future seems unclear and when you don’t know which way to turn, stay close to Jesus and find refreshment from him alone.

How do you respond in times of uncertainty?

 

 

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Pursuing Passion

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what this means. What does it look like to be passionate? How do you take those small ideas and make them into something grand and meaningful? Can your passions change?

I’ve got post-graduation blues. Meaning, I’ve had Big Dreams that I’ve been pursuing for a long time. I decided to attend school to fulfill them, and this is the plan I’ve always communicated to people when they ask what I’m studying and how I want to use my education. “Well, I want to _____ for _____ and I can’t wait! It’s going to be amazing.”

Now that I’ve graduated, I feel a little lost about my future. I’m unemployed – whaddup –and still not sure what kind of job would fulfill me. I’m not ready to jump into ministry, counseling, or social work after coming off of a draining year.

What I have wanted to pursue, now doesn’t seem to fulfill or excite me in the way I expected. And other things that have been small passions in my life are becoming more dominant.

My passions are changing. And right now I’m in the ambiguous arena of figuring out how to pick up these new ones, and decide what to do with the ones I’ve carried for so long.

1. Hold plans loosely. Making plans keeps us moving forward. Setting goals helps us make the most of our time here, and can pull us out of difficult situations to propel us into a better, more fulfilling future.

But it’s easy for us to put all our hope in those plans and goals. And when things inevitably change or look different than what we expect, we get disappointed and angry at God, ourselves, and people around us. I don’t mean that we shouldn’t pursue our passions, nor that we shouldn’t make plans for our lives.

But as we plan, we should walk faithfully with Jesus and keep our lives in his hands instead of our own. As we plan, we give up our desires and seek his instead. As we pursue our passions, we use them to glorify him more.

He sees our future and knows what’s ahead. Even when the future holds dark places, we must walk through it with Jesus or we won’t make it through well. We won’t be changed for the better, softened to love more, strengthened to challenge each other, and marked for his kingdom. Let us make plans, pursue our passions, and give them to Jesus. 

We do this by being in prayer. By committing our skills, abilities, and passions to be used for his glory. This means sharing Jesus with others in our network of influence. It means being vulnerable about our difficulties, our sins, and our weaknesses, as well as our victories and joys with each other so that we can grow together. It means making wise choices for our future and our families. It means committing to a spiritual journey to become more like Jesus.

2. It’s okay when our passions change. I used to make fun of sayings like  “changing life seasons” or “chapters”… but now I don’t care, and I thinks it’s a really great marker for how life really feels.

Life inevitably brings unexpected things our way, and that may mean we have to make changes in regards to what we pursue. This might stem from financial blessings or difficulties, illness, loss, moves, jobs changes, marriage hardship, or mental health decline. Whatever it is, different seasons of life bring unique sets of challenges.

For me right now, it’s that I graduated college and now have no idea what I want to do next. I’m still passionate about people, but I don’t know if counseling is the field for me. I’m interested in missionary work, but this doesn’t seem to align with both my husband and my future together, at least for now.

My biggest dream is to someday have a home with a big garden, kids running around, and hosting missionaries, students, bands, friends, and family in our home to bless them with a retreat from hardships they might be going through. Obviously, this one will take a long time to establish. With time, we’ll get here, but for now this one is just out of reach.

Instead, what I’m finding is that I’m falling in love with something new. Writing and reading. To be honest, I think I’m a terrible writer. I know I have a lot to grow in and work on. But I love it.

A long, long time ago, I used to devour novels and biographies. I used to write poems and stories, and journal about the things I was learning. As I entered school, these fell to the side because I didn’t have time or capacity to pour into these outlets.

Now that I have time on my hands, I’m doing them more. And as I pursue these, I fall more in love with them. My passions are changing. It makes me confused about the future, knowing it will probably look very different from what I was expecting. It makes me question what kind of job I should be looking for, at least until I see where this pursuit takes me. But all of that is okay.

3. Cultivate Newness. I think cultivating passion starts with chasing those things that make you happy. What makes you excited and invigorated. The things that you keep coming back to. Big or small, “if it’s still on your mind, it must be worth the risk.”

That’s where you’ll find me. Chasing those little things, learning as I go, wading into the uncharted and unknown, with lots of room to grow. Happily pursuing the things that I love and creating new passions that might offer clearer direction moving forward.

While I still want to pursue those Big Dreams in the long run, I also won’t be disappointed if my plans change and I don’t end up getting there, specifically. And I won’t be upset if God takes us in a different direction and sends us into something completely uncharted.

May we seek to align ourselves with Jesus and find the deepest joy in pursuing what he has for us.

What are you passionate about? How do you incorporate Jesus in your plans and goals for the future?

 

What to Say When You Feel Like Nothing’s Changed

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“Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different?” – C.S. Lewis.

If we are truly human, we are constantly changing. Whether it’s subtle or monumental, we are affected, moved, and challenged by the things we encounter every day. This will affect future decisions and encounters we face, like a collection of rules and standards by which we live.

For me, change is difficult to recognize. I often plow through weeks at a time without stopping to reflect on how I’ve grown and changed. Often, I get down on myself for where I am in life because it feels like I’ve been the same person I’ve always been.

In a practice of remembrance and vulnerability, this morning, I am articulating just how much I’ve changed since graduating a few weeks ago.

1. I let myself experience emotion.  This past Sunday morning, I was driving home to pick up Nathan and attend our church’s 2nd service. Without even a polite hello, tears started overflowing my eyes and spilling onto my face. I spent the whole drive home wiping the tears aside, and trying to explore what was happening in my soul. I couldn’t think of anything that sparked these tears, but surely there was something.

When I got home, I threw a blanket over my head, laid on the couch, gave myself 10 minutes to cry it out. After the tears dried up, I was able to articulate that I have a lot of fear about what’s next for me. This transition is not easy, and there are so many unknowns that I’m overwhelmed.

My body was responding before my mind was able to articulate it, and by letting my body release it, I was able to process it emotionally and work through it.

This has happened several times. The first day after my last college final, I stood in the shower listening to a version of “Good, Good Father” and cried for 20 minutes, praising the Lord for his goodness to us and weeping over the sadness and anger I’ve carried with me over the last few years.

Emotions are cleansing for the body, soul, and mind. I’m done with stuffing them away. Instead, I’m giving myself the capacity to feel, no matter how strange, confusing, or silly those feelings might be. With time, they won’t be so fresh or unexpected.

Through this, I’m allowing my soul to be sanctified, cleansed, redeemed, and made into something new, prepared for something new.

2. My capacity for spirituality is increasing.  I’ve vigorously avoided spiritual conversations. I anticipate avoiding the Christianity section at Barnes and Noble for a while, and the Wish List of commentaries and theology books I created on Amazon will remain untouched.

If you read my post Overloading Our Souls, then you know I’ve been overwhelmed by the “spirituality” of my college’s community. It has been poison to my desire for seeking spiritual things. Sad, I know. But it’s true.

Even though there’s a lot of hardness towards spirituality, Nathan and I have been praying before meals again. And we started praying together before bed again: for each other, for our family and friends, for our present and our future. Each word is a drop of fresh water on my parched soul.

Part of living life as a student means you don’t have a lot of time. For me, it meant I couldn’t give very much to our church or community at home. Back in high school and my freshman year of college, I actively led bible studies, met with people on a weekly basis for discipleship and study, and volunteered in our community. Since then, I haven’t been able to be as active.

I’ve felt the contradiction in learning about how a Christian should speak, live, and give, while simultaneously not having the time or capacity to give anything at all. I’ve been so worn out and beaten down that I haven’t had anything to offer (or so I felt). It’s a backwards lifestyle. Not very fulfilling either.

Now, I want to pick these up again. I want to volunteer, I want to participate and be engaged in our church home. I want to meet with others for prayer, study, and building relationships. I miss worshiping in a body of believers.

The very thing that my soul has ached for is what I’ve been pushing away. But I feel this heavy burden dissipating, and my soul is picking up the pieces of wholeness to learn how to thrive again.

3. I have more energy.  When’s the last time you worked out? For me, it was…. 4 months ago? Or is it 6 months.

Not only have I not had the time, but I’ve had no energy to even leave our house in the evenings. When you only have 2 hours at home in an evening before you go to bed and it starts all over again, you hoard it like a wild, hungry dog that finally caught the stupid squirrel it’s been chasing for weeks. (Gross….)

We ate extremely unhealthily this semester because we got home so late. Dinnertime was “what’s the fastest thing we can make that still tastes moderately okay so that we can shove it into our bodies immediately?” So, we lived on pasta and rice dishes most of the time.

With all the stress and overwhelming nature of this semester, I wasn’t sleeping very well. I spent many nights tossing and turning on the couch until 2-3am, only to wake up at 5:30 for a new day.

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I was chronically exhausted, with no outlet for my physical or emotional tension. But I feel this changing.

This week I went to our local fresh market and bought enough fresh produce and meat to stuff our entire fridge for the week. I actually have time to prepare healthy meals for us that will make us feel better.

While I’m not as active because I’m not out and about as much, I feel more rested. I’m not aimlessly shifting between classes, commuter lounges, the campus coffee shop, the library, and a thousand other places I went to for peace and quiet before I could go home for the evening.

Lately, I don’t have as much physical anxiety. I’ve been able to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. I’ve let myself sleep 9+ hours because I think I’ve really needed it. And while I still have to pry myself out of bed, I feel so much healthier.

And you know what’s hilarious? Me trying to do yoga. As someone who has recently gained about 15 pounds, with little to no strength in any part of my body, doing yoga in my living room consists of me falling over 70% of the time, and the other 30% of the time is me scoffing and laughing at how wonderfully inflexible I am.

But it’s something that I’m working towards: being more physically active. Just this morning, I thought about taking a run around the neighborhood sometime today. I will definitely look lame and it only last like 5 minutes, but it’s something.

I’m getting things done. On Monday, I spent the whole day doing things. I spent an hour scraping off 4-5 inches of solid ice from our car’s windshield (seriously, it was ridiculously difficult) and replacing the windshield wipers. I cleaned the kitchen, planned weekly meals, went grocery shopping and to SAMs, cooked dinner, put away all our christmas decorations , reorganized our second bedroom closet (a huge project), and did the dishes. That’s more than what I’ve done all semester. It might seem trivial, but to me, it was a mark of change.

4. I want to read again. When you have to read 100 pages of a ridiculously uninteresting text book in one night, you have no desire to pick up another book. Your mind was murdered by boredom.

Lately, I want to read again. Books, magazines, blogs, research, newspapers. I’m finding myself more inspired, challenged, creatively sparked, and fulfilled as I’ve done so. I love it. It’s so good for me.

These random pieces of reflection are so meaningful to me. I hope I never return to the state I was in just a few months ago. Deteriorating, withering, suffocating. Instead, I’m embracing change and striving towards healthiness and wholeness again.

This sacred remembrance shows me how much I’ve already changed, and how much more I have to go. It pushes me forward into the future, with clear foundations to stand on.

Thank you, Jesus, for this change.

Giving Space for the Transition: Accepting the Not Knowing

“One step at a time.” This is my mantra as I prepare to graduate in a few weeks.

There are lots of big questions for us right now. And honestly, there aren’t a lot of answers.

Maybe I should be more clear… We have literally no idea what we’re doing next. 

Somehow, making our next decision feels like one of our biggest moments. Like it will be life changing. Nothing will be the same from now on.

For now, it seems like we have to figure out our whole lives. Come up with a 1-year, 2-year, 5-year plan. Consider every implication of every option. We’ve got it get it right. We need to know with certainty. “Now is the time! This is what we’ve been preparing for. This is our moment. Let’s change the world. Let’s do something big. Let’s do it now.” 

Ha.

Hold on, self. 

Let’s just throw that idea away right now. Because it’s just unrealistic. What is all this pressure?

As I reflect on this stage of life, I’m realizing that there’s not a lot of space for transitions.

I don’t think we don’t give ourselves grace for the process. We pressure ourselves to solve for our… everything. It has to be a yes or no, in or out, up or down, here or there, instead of being okay with the weird, unresolved places with no answers. 

When we don’t have the answers we want in the timing we want, we get anxious, scared, and angry. (Trust me, I fight these feelings all the time. God, why haven’t you given us any direction, at all?)

Not knowing is strange. As I talk about this with people around me, this creeping feeling of needing to justify our story arises.

But our story is different. Different than what I thought it would be. Different, in ways that many people around me seem to not understand. “What do you mean you don’t know what’s next? I mean, you guys are talking about it, right? How could you not know what’s most important for you? Where are you looking? What are you going to do?!”

Transitions are normal. The places you transition to and from will always be different than anyone else’s, and sometimes we don’t know where we’re going next. And that is completely okay. Better, even. 

Because Jesus is still Jesus. And our lives are still his. And we’ll know with time what he’s leading us to next. And for now, we have lots to grow in here.

Call it our decision making process, but our lives look a little bit like this right now: We laugh together. We listen. We communicate our thoughts and feelings. We share our dreams, our goals, our ideas. We encourage each other. We stand for each other. We are growing together. We are learning more about ourselves. We’re deepening our love for Jesus. We drink coffee with each other. We cook together. We eat together. We make fun of each other. We fight with each other. We apologize for our wrongs. We challenge each other. We explore together. We get excited about the possibilities before us, and fight feelings of fear that we might make the wrong choice.

Our plans fluctuate by the day, by the hour. And that’s okay.

We’re thriving where we are. And that’s more than enough.

When We Care

To care for another person is to meet them in their pain and suffering in such a way that, together, we encounter Christ more deeply. As we meet others in their vulnerability, we become learners of the soul and of Christ.

I’m learning that we all need face-to-face. Our brain is wired in such a way that we grow, change, and develop as we are mirrored by others. This mirroring helps us monitor our behavior, thoughts, and emotions and be challenged when we get stuck in unhealthy patterns of living. This means that when we isolate ourselves and seclude from relationships, we are stunting our own growth and development into maturity. And no matter what age, we are built to be learning, growing, developing, and becoming.

I firmly believe that we are all called to care. Whether it’s caring for a disabled spouse, parent, sibling, or child, discipling or mentoring a friend, or simply being a parent, spouse, or friend, we all care for someone.

And if we find ourselves alone with no one to care for, we need to take a hard look at ourselves. What’s keeping me from caring? Why have I isolated myself? Who is it that cares for me? While we will encounter times of loneliness in life from circumstances within or beyond our control,  there’s something to say about finding yourself in a position where you care for no one and aren’t cared for by anyone. Is it difficult for me to receive love from others? Do I keep people at a distance because I’m afraid of being hurt? Why is it that I don’t have anyone in my life to care for? How can I be more involved and intentional to build relationships with other people?  These are important questions to ask. And important things to pray about.

We were not built to be alone. 

The very first thing we receive in life is presence. Being in relationship with others is a constant reminder of who we are. It challenges us in ways that we can’t challenge ourselves. It pushes us outside of ourselves.

“One of the most tragic things about our time is that we know more than ever before about the pains and sufferings of the world and yet are less and less able to respond to them.” – Henri Nouwen

Not only do we constantly hear of horrific situations happening all over the world through the news, we also have more information available to us through the Internet. When someone we know is in pain, grief, or trial, this is an easy resource to turn to, for better or worse. In many ways, I see our culture turn to this resource as an escape for truly caring about the person experiencing pain. Instead of sitting with the person, we try to help them diagnose their disorders. Instead of visiting, bringing meals, or providing help with housework, we might post about it through social media instead to ask for prayer or to tell that person we are thinking about him/her.

We have become detached.

Deep down, I see us all grasping for authenticity and vulnerability, and yet we squelch it and are afraid when we encounter it face-to-face. This is especially true in care-giving situations, when a person needs genuine support, empathy, and love, and all of the surface-level, fluffy aspects of life and relationships are naturally pushed aside. What’s left is, simply, realness.

People in pain and in need of care draw us into the reciprocal need for realness. Too often we avoid or distract from this raw meeting place. We do this because:

  1. We become preoccupied with parts of life that seem more important. We want people to view us as put together: well-behaved, clean, efficient, productive, and successful. Without those, we feel anxious.
  2. It is not “normal.” It is a rare treasure when we meet someone who is their full, authentic self, and even further, in which relationship we are fully free to be our true self without judgment, guilt, or condemnation from ourselves or other people.

How can we, as a culture, grow in intimacy, vulnerability, and authenticity with each other? Vulnerability is necessary. It is the starting place for joy, love, happiness, as well as grief, sorrow, pain, and sadness. When we suppress sadness, hurt, or grief, we also suppress our positive emotions and simply become numb.

I think the slow solution begins with an individual, with me. As I have grown in being more vulnerable with other people, I have seen them grow in vulnerability too, in sort of a “me too!” way.

The truth is that we all have pain, and instead of suppressing or avoiding it, when we embrace our story and willingly share it with others, we invite them into the necessary space for healing, true friendship, and genuine love.

True love for other people comes in the form of vulnerability and authenticity. Instead of seeking to fix or diagnose each other’s problems, how much sweeter and powerful is it to simply be with each other. In silence, anger, sadness, joy, happiness, and in everything, as we meet each other and honestly care for each other, we allow space for Christ to work in our lives and heal our pain. He alone is the healer and redeemer of the brokenness of this world.

As caregivers, we can shine this hope and light into others lives. And when we allow others to care for us, we are giving ourselves and others a great gift. A gift that can continually wash our souls and minds to shine shine Christ more deeply and integratively in our life.

We can’t fix each other, but we can love with Christ’s love. We have been given a great purpose and reason to love each other well. 

*This post was written as a reflection on  “Spirituality of Caregiving” by Henri Nouwen. 

When We Struggle to Trust that God is Still Good

What is our life in the grand scheme of things? The more that I study the Holocaust and the Crises of Evil, the more questions plague me like a shadow I can’t shake.

My mind, trying to process the horrific stories of Jewish life in the ghettos, death camps, labor camps, and the straight-up slaughter of over 6 million people, doesn’t see how God could just “let it happen.”

The oppression, suffering, and pure evil of it all feels like too much to bear. That people could be fully convinced that, deep down, Jewish people were the root of all evil and needed to be “liquidated” to preserve the “better, pure human race.” Following orders from a powerful man was easy because, well, we’re capable of being convinced that these acts of torture and murder is okay? How weak are we.

This leaves me questioning myself. My abilities for evil. My lack of love, compassion, and kindness to others.

As I try to process this event and these stories, at the core, I’m struggling to trust that God is still good.

When I look around me, I see that everyone experiences some level of suffering in this earthly life. From illnesses, accidents, and death, to deceit, manipulation, abuse, fear, and rejection. Sometimes as a direct result of someone else’s decisions, but sometimes as a result of… nothing? It seems that we are born to struggle. Or at least, that we should expect to suffer.

Today I wonder, wouldn’t it have been easier to never have existed in the first place? Why are we here?

As I’ve read through the book of Job, I read how he curses his own existence. He asks God why he was even born in the first place. Why he couldn’t have just died in the womb and avoided the horrible suffering he was now experiencing. After losing all of his children, all of his possessions, and experiencing horrible, physical pain, he sits in his own crap and curses the day he was born. And I would do the same.

I haven’t experienced much suffering, but I’m so impacted by the lives of others. The more that I study a doctrine of suffering and hear from others, the more I prepare myself for when the shit hits the fan in my own life. Sometimes I think about if we could have just skipped the process of having to learn, to grow, to struggle, and to undergo pain, what our life would be like.

But the thing is, I know that I’m missing the point. I’m asking the wrong questions. I’m focusing on a smaller part of the grander image. 

Maybe it’s because I don’t have first-hand experience of deep suffering, and for that you might discount what I’m about to say. But I think however much suffering and pain we experience, there will always be a reason for joy. When we press into the suffering, and turn to the Father for comfort, we are met with hope. Pure, unadulterated, hope. A living hope.

“The problem of reconciling human suffering with the existence of God who loves, is only insoluble so long as we attach a trivial meaning to the word ‘love’ and look on things as if man were the centre of them.” – C.S. Lewis

To those who have lost everything. To those who are confused about this little life we have. To those who contemplate giving up because it’s just too hard. To those who are so angry at God for their own existence…. In the very place of deep anger and anguish, we also find peace and comfort from a loving Father. A Father who mourns with us and grieves the sin of the world.

As I’ve talked with people about the weight of this, and wrestled with so many questions and confusion, I’ve been reminded that God is present with us. But if I’m being completely honest, sometimes it doesn’t feel like he’s here. Or that he cares. Or that he grieves the sin of the world that brings us pain. Because I don’t see him physically with me, next to me, or in front of me, I sense that he isn’t present. In part, I think it’s okay to be angry. God’s big enough for us to be pissed off. God’s big enough for us to question what the heck is going on.

But truly, we must confront the question of who and what we believe in. When faced with tragedy, we must determine how we respond. Along with our pain, will we reject the only good in the world? The only place for hope and comfort? Tossing it all out the window and cycling into a deeper pit of despair with no place to turn.

Or in our pain, will we choose to walk towards our Father and ask him to carry us through? To bind together our brokenness and fill us with is living hope. And then rightfully long for the day that we will be truly fulfilled in our humanity when Christ gathers us up and we enter into the rest of eternity fully in the Father’s presence.

Will we choose to be broken by it? Or will we turn to the Father and choose to rest in his loving arms and allow him to fill us with the hope that we need?

One of my professors recently said,

“We do not have a worldview, saints. We don’t. Only God has a worldview. He is the only one who can see the world and all that is in it. He is the only one who can bear the weight of what he hears, sees, and holds in every moment. He is the only one who can rejoice and grieve and be glorified through the entirety of the human race. And we should never, ever ask God to see the world from his perspective. Because we could not handle it. Rather, we should ask God to give us help us see what he would have us to see on our time here on earth.”

There are three things that have anchored me as I wrestle with this.

  1. Don’t compare. Your path of discipleship and growth will look different than others. You have been uniquely shaped and guided for a specific purpose, different than any other’s. And God will use it for his glory. Your amount of suffering with differ too. Following Jesus costs each one of us — and sometimes that cost is extremely high, while for others it’s relatively low. This may be where it’s the most challenging to continue to follow Jesus. Whether or not you feel like it’s worth it to continue following Jesus, the truth is that he is real. His kingdom is real. And it is only in Him that we will find hope and comfort. He is calling you into something, and with your own story, gifting, and measure of difficulty, follow the His call for your life and receive his goodness for you.
  2. Lament. Yes, God can handle your anger. He is big enough for you to lash out and cry out in anguish. But in our response, we must press into Him alone. So as we weep, we also worship. As we get angry, we also ask God to heal our soul and minds. As we despair, we ask Him to come near to us. We pray when we don’t want to, and we trust that He is good. We don’t give up. We don’t forget the Gospel.
  3. We need each other.  This is too much to process alone. When we face horrible suffering, we need people to help us make sense of the pain and show us how to integrate it into our larger experience. Find people who will pray with you. Find people who will listen to you. Tell others what you need and invite them into your experience to come alongside you and support you. Share what you’re working through, however horrible it is. Find help from a trained professional who can equip you with ways to process the pain. Don’t push yourself faster or farther than where you are. Invite God into your pain and know that he weeps with you, and offers peace and comfort.

I don’t write this post to say I have it all figured out. Absolutely not. But I write it as someone who is processing and is working through things that I see in the world, and is seeking to understand how to respond.

If you’ve experienced suffering, how have you handled it? Where are you at? What are you learning? Where are you turning now? 

The Process of Undoing

Today, I’m mourning something. I think I’ve been depriving myself of something over the past few years, and I wonder how many others are doing the same.

I’m ending my 5th year of Undergraduate school so soon. Looking back, I am burdened by how difficult it has been to get here. I’ve been saying the words, “I just can’t wait to be done with school” since before I even began. Without fail, each semester I come to a point of utter frustration at my lack of fulfillment in the life of a student. Through some combination of loving reminders from people around me, pure ignorance, and ultimately God’s hand, I’ve pushed through.

In this final semester though, this moment of frustration has stuck around. I think I’ve stopped trying to lie to myself that I like being a student, and finally let myself just feel that this process of education as been difficult. There are tears. There is anger. There is sadness. There is anticipation. There is mourning. I have never felt so tired, so worn-down.

Honestly, I’m not sure it was worth it.

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I sometimes feel guilty, put-down, and angry because I want to get all my crap together and stop whining about it. I see others who are “doing” so much more than I and are succeeding and flourishing in it. When I compare my life to others, I see that I have never faced much opposition in striving to follow my dreams. I’ve grown up in a loving home. I’ve known Jesus all my life. I’ve lived in a well-off community. I’m married to the most amazing and supportive man. Why should someone like me have a hard time, right?

But if I give myself the freedom to not compare myself other others, I see that something much deeper is going on.

I’ve forgotten what makes my soul flourish.

I’ve forgotten how to rest.

I’ve forgotten how to love.

I’ve forgotten who God really is.

I’ve forgotten who I am.

I’ve forgotten what I have to offer. 

I’ve forgotten the value of friendship. 

I’ve been absolutely consumed. With things to do, ministries I’m required to be a part of, transitioning into new communities, commuting, working random jobs, and doing life responsibilities and obligations. And at the same time, figuring out who I am, what I believe in, and where I want to go next.

As my schedule gets continually crammed, my conviction gets deeper. When I reflect on my college years, I get angry at myself for letting my education turn into, truly, a life ruled by busyness. I’ve lost myself in this process of education. In fact, I struggle to even remember what I like to do in my spare time, because I never gave myself “spare time.” Today, spare time turns sour quickly because my brain is too exhausted to think, create, or read. My body feels too tired to want to go out and do anything.

Because I haven’t taken care of myself well over the last few years, I now find myself struggling for relief from the lasting consequences.

I ran myself into the ground. The warning signs of burn-out are all here. Sleeping more at night (10+ hours). Simple tasks became major, energy-draining projects. Any motivation to be social was squelched. I became jealous for personal time and I never felt like I had enough. My patience ran out quickly. Mentally distant from work or class. From the moment I woke up, I would review everything I had to do that day until I would be able to climb back into bed again later that night. The list goes on.

At the end of this summer, I came to a point where I was so over it. I recognized what had happened, and knew this was not the life I wanted to live. I decided to slow down. I quit my job, registered for less classes, and gave myself a break. I wanted a more balanced life, but had no idea how to start the process of overcoming this burnout.

Now that several months have passed, I think I’m seeing progress. I still have no idea what the “3-step plan for overcoming burnout” is, but it’s been my own personal journey.

I’m learning that God calls us into the simple. The quiet. The still. This doesn’t mean our lives won’t be busy, but it does mean we need to balance them. While I still have all the same obligations (work, school, ministry, internship, etc.), I’m learning to approach them differently. I’m taking steps to be more aggressive in saying no. I’m remembering to take time for myself — like reading an entire novel on Saturday morning instead of stressing out over school papers. Drinking coffee on the patio instead of fretting over finances. Catching up on my favorite TV show instead of pretending to study. I’ve adjusted a lot of my expectations to what I can handle. I don’t do as much as I could for school or ministry, but that’s okay.

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This process of undoing is so messy, friends. All of my emotions are bubbling to the surface and I have to actually face them. I can’t ignore them, organize them, or make them seem pretty. They just are. When we numb ourselves to feelings like grief, shame, anger, or fear, we also keep ourselves from experiencing the fullness of joy, peace, hope, excitement, and love. We become lifeless.

In an effort to grow, I’m walking confidently into this mess. I don’t know what will happen. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know how hard it will be or how long it will last. But while I unwind my stone heart, I know that my soul will look- straight up- chaotic.

I think that’s sanctification.

I trust that as I unwind and slowly deal with the crap that shows itself, God will continually heal and redeem what’s been so disfigured. I trust that he’ll lead me towards the next area of growth, to sanctify me more into his image.

Even though I feel so angry about so many things, and I want to either full-on panic or fight it, I trust that God is big enough, patient enough, loving enough, kind enough, graceful enough, and close enough to walk with me through it and help clean it from my soul.

So when people ask me about what I’m planning to do when I graduate in a few weeks, all I can think of REST. Practicing prayer. Giving more. Loving better. Growing deeper. Creating more. Dreaming bigger. Pursuing harder.  Letting Christ be my center, my hope, and my anchor.

I have no idea what that will be like. And I’m so excited.

Restart: Living More Intentionally

Today I quit my job. And no, I don’t have another one to replace it. I’ve been considering it for months, but I’ve been dreaming about it for longer.

Knowing how needed I was on my team, I felt obligated to follow through with my original commitment to December. And I honestly enjoyed having a part-time student position that was more than just the “same old, same old” everyday. I was a part of higher-level discussions and felt respected on my team. For that, I am ever grateful.

But since the beginning of the summer, I’ve started to notice a pattern. More and more, I felt like my life lacked a sense of purpose. I realized that I can’t squeeze myself into a work environment that doesn’t fit my personality and somehow find a way to still be happy. People just don’t work that way.

I was giving too much of myself to something that was not life-giving to me. I missed working towards meaningful relationships, being creative, dreaming about the future, and goal planning. All of my mental energy was being poured into trying to stay sane to the point that I had no energy left for the things or people I loved.

The next 6 months are about a restart. A step towards living more intentionally.

Building better relationships. Pouring into ministry. Resting my mind and body. Exercising. Reflecting on the purpose of my education. Cooking, baking, reading, crafting, and writing again. Remembering to live with joy and peace. Taking steps towards a more healthy spiritual life. Supporting my husband in his job. Planning for life post-graduation. And, what I’m most excited for, dreaming. I love to dream about the possibilities in life and take steps to make them a reality. Of all the things I’ve missed, this is the one I’ve missed the most.

Have you ever found yourself at a place in life that you didn’t want to be in? Whether it was through a series of your own decisions or through uncontrollable events, I think we can all relate. If so, what did you do? What do you wish you’d known or done sooner? 

If you can relate to my situation somehow, let’s talk about it. When people are open and honest about life, it allows other people to do the same. Realize that you are not alone. And that there is no shame in weakness. Let’s take steps towards being real with each other without judgement or guilt.

Choosing Joy

“But let us be convinced of the fact that we will never be anything else but beginners.” – Thomas Merton.

I’m a beginner. This exactly articulates how I feel today. Like I’m standing at the edge of a mountain yet to be climbed, but I can look back at the trail I’ve taken to get here. I’m gone so far, and yet there’s so much ahead. Life is so weird lately, and I’ve had trouble articulating why.

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I’ve quit my job, so I’m working on my internship from home. I have time to enjoy cooking, cleaning, sleeping, watching TV, and being around people. Finally. Finally. Phew. The flexibility and dictation over my life is wonderful and I’m soaking it in all that I can.

I’m finding that restlessness and negativity are a root. My life has become much simpler and free, and yet it’s like these two things have woven their way deeper because they’re too afraid to be cut off. They’re clinging on for dear life.

Despite all the good, I’m finding myself freaking out about big picture stuff. The what-if’s and when’s of life. Like graduating. Continuing to find what I’m passionate about. Searching for jobs that line up with that. Continuing to build a community. Possibly moving again soon. When do we have kids? Will Nathan go back to school? Will I ever go back to school?

So, now I’m asking myself, at what point will I be satisfied? What is “enough” that would make me happy? In many ways, I think happiness is a choice. You can choose to smile through situations and choose to be joyful in the midst of difficulties. But sometimes, honestly, that’s really hard.

From the research I’ve done recently for my counseling internship, very practically, people who experience depression have a harder time filtering out negative thoughts. Everyone has positive and negative thoughts. But when you experience depression, it’s like there’s a filter that removes all the positive ones, and leaves only the negative.

Imagine the frustration. You want to get better, you want to choose joy over sadness. But. How do you actually do that without just suppressing your feelings and burying them deep? Cognitively, it’s takes a lot of work and practice to filter those thoughts. To identify what you’re feeling, evaluate why you’re feeling it, and find alternative ways to view the situation. And then adapt to those alternative perspectives instead.

We usually completely accept our automatic, immediate thoughts in a given situation. But sometimes our automatic thoughts aren’t based on any real factual evidence, and we end up causing ourselves a lot of emotional distress for no reason. For example, if a friend passes by you without saying hello, you could think, “He’s ignoring me. I must have done something to upset him. He doesn’t like me anymore.” Instead, what about something like, “I wonder what’s going on with him today? He doesn’t seem like himself.”

For a tired mind, challenging these thoughts just feels impossible. And I feel lazy. I hear myself saying, “Just do it. Just get over it. Just feel better.” And to someone who may not have ever experienced this before, you’re probably thinking the same thing.

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” – Thomas Merton

Growth takes time. I’m choosing to accept the fact that all I will ever be is a beginner. Beginnings are exciting. Beginnings mark new adventures. New growth. New learning. New people. And all that has come before helps make me who I am.

So, one foot in front of the other, I’m going to strive to choose joy in every situation over sadness, anger, frustration, or whatever else. And it’s going to be difficult. But I’m also going to be honest with myself. And honest with other people without shame or guilt. In the midst of all my own fears of graduating and moving on to what’s next for us, I know that where I am is a great place. Full of experience, love, joy, and purpose. Cheers to what’s next.

Overloading Our Souls

“We too often view our spirituality through our individualistic lens.”

This is what a friend recently told me as we talked about spiritual expectations in our community.

Is spiritual burnout always a product of our own negligence for self-care? Or does it also come from continuously living in an unhealthy community. I think it’s a balance of both.

2014-05-23 10.59.14For the past three years, I’ve lived in a spiritually dense community at Bible school. On any given week, you will have 3-4 chapel times. On average 5-6 Bible, theology, or major-specific classes that involve Christianity. A required church ministry involvement. Church on Sunday. Small groups on the dorm floor. Small groups on your brother/sister floor. Small groups with your married friends. Small groups in your church. Thursday night praise service. Wednesday night prayer service. Tuesday-Saturday morning evangelism walks. Plus books upon books upon books to read for papers and other assignments.  And anywhere you turn – classrooms, libraries, dorm floors, dorm rooms, the coffee shop, the game room, the student hang-out spaces, the plaza, the grass lawns, the gym – you will find theological conversations happening. I guarantee it.

I wish that I could look at that list and be excited about the opportunities for growth available to me. But honestly, it’s overwhelming for my soul.

There is a vein of students here who love, love, love having this many opportunities to grow in their faith. As I’ve watched them over the past few years, I see that they never grow tired of more prayer, more studying, more opportunities for worship, more opportunities for evangelism and saving the world. I listen to them beg leadership teams to start more of these opportunities because they feel like there is not enough here.

Maybe I’m just a terrible Christian.

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But I just don’t understand how they are always excited to pray, to worship, to study, to do anything and everything spiritual 100% of the time. Don’t they get tired of turning everything into “spiritual opportunities?” Isn’t there more to life than just being constantly involved in prayer groups, study, evangelism groups, classes, theological debates, or mission trips?

Please hear me – I am not saying that Christians should not seek those opportunities for growth, maturity, or training. Absolutely not. I am not saying that these are bad.

But I am saying that sometimes we can marry our consumerism with our spirituality and think that it’s what we’re suppose to do. But as we try to churn the two together, we end up with a skewed view of what it means to be a spiritual being, a human who fully worships God.

If we truly believe that Christ is present in all things, and that we were created to worship God, then I don’t think everything has to turn into a “spiritual opportunity.” Every conversation doesn’t have to end in theological debate. Every social gathering doesn’t have to involve a time of worship and prayer. Every book doesn’t need to be Christian. Every TV show doesn’t have to be about religion. We shouldn’t cast away created art, music, video, etc. that doesn’t have overtly Christian tones. There’s so much to learn outside of our small community! There’s so much to be challenged by and to express worship through.

To be honest, I still fight feelings of guilt. Feelings of being a “lesser than Christian” because I choose to be involved in less prayer groups and worship services on campus. I am so thankful that because I have a part-time job, I only go to 1 chapel a week. I am so thankful that because I am married and live off-campus, I am involved in 80% less conversations about theological issues. I choose to be less engaged in my classes for the sake of clinging to the last, dear threads of my spiritual health.

It breaks my heart to see the expectations of students here. There is so much pressure. People get upset when you watch secular shows like New Girl, The Office, or the Bachelorette. People don’t like it when you blare Hip Hop or Pop that’s not by Christian artists. Students who wear brand-name clothes get labeled as being too frivolous with their money. And don’t you dare read a book besides the Bible or a book about the Bible. Or take a vacation instead of using that money to save orphans in a 3rd-world country. Or buy coffee instead of giving that money to the homeless. Or eat out, ever, instead of serving in a food shelter.

I think I’ve cracked under the pressure. I get so deeply angry at these expectations. What a terrible way to live. In a constant state of guilt. In a constant state of trying to perform for God. In a constant state of feeling low, feeling like not enough, feeling helpless for the world.

Don’t you know that you were created to enjoy life? Don’t you know that you can worship God with everything that you do?

So lately, I choose less. I choose to be less engaged in this unhealthy spiritual community. Because if I engaged any more, I think it would push me very far over the edge of anger and rebellion towards Christianity. I recognize the bitterness and anger in my heart already. So, I need to take time away from this place. I need time off. I need to “do” less spirituality. For the sake of healing. For the sake of rest. For the sake of being healthy.

I wish I had known where I was headed. I wish I could have avoided it, somehow. And lastly, I hope and pray that within Christian communities, we can be realistic in our expectations for each other and in ministry.

Have you ever felt burned out in ministry or felt overwhelmed by how Christians sometimes approach spiritual growth? Share your experience below!