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It has been said that comparison is the thief of joy. If that is true, then expectations are the root of all heartache. Whether they are unmet, unrealistic, or ungodly, they can break a heart fixed on how things appear and on what others think. Forgetting that the only expectations that matter...
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This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! 2 Corinthians 5:17 You don’t need to read indy-mag.com, to be reminded of the 2007 Britney Spears very public tantrum as she exited rehab, filed for divorce and...
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As the new year approaches, it’s customary to reflect on your life and look to the future, setting goals about how you want to live the next year. I don’t know about you, but each year setting goals only gets me so far. I have great ideas about what I want to accomplish, but in application, I fall way short. I eventually give up, and then I’m right back where I started with very little to show for it.
I’m tired of empty wishes and goals that obviously don’t really matter to me. I’m tired of living a passive life, waiting for something to happen or scared of what might or might not happen. I’m ready to do meaningful things that make a difference not only for me, but for the Kingdom.
Solomon in the book of Proverbs writes, “A person plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9) I would rather have the Lord direct my steps than meet any goal that I set without him.
John, while he is writing about love in the book of 1 John notes, “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9)
Do you see the end of that sentence, “…that we might LIVE through him.” I’m betting when we let ourselves live through Jesus that we will really understand what living is.
In reading further in 1 John 4, he tells us what truly living is; “ Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.” (1 John 4:11-12)
It seems to me that the secret to living through Jesus is love. Loving God, loving yourself, and loving your neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-40)
So this year as you set goals or resolutions or make plans for the coming year, instead of making empty promises to yourself and others, let the Lord direct your steps. Let yourself live through him by loving.
Make the coming year more meaningful by setting your goals around love.
- Show love to God by spending time daily with him in prayer and reading the Bible. Listen to what he wants you to do, and fulfill the purpose he has given you. Meet together with other Jesus followers in small groups and at church on Sundays. Make what God wants also what you want.
- Show love to yourself by eating well, stretching and exercising, and speaking kindly to yourself.
- Show love to others by helping anyone you see has a need. Trust that God will put people in your path daily who need to know his love and are looking to you to show it. Love others in big and small ways…your family, your neighbors, the people you work with, they all need an encouraging word, help with a problem, or a loving gesture that shows there is still some love in this world. Be love to the world.
When you put living through Jesus in love first in your life, you will truly understand that God lives in you and his love is made complete in you (1 John 4:12). This is surely a good way to live in the coming year.
It’s definitely the way I want to live.
Grief is a peculiar process that life takes us through when we lose someone or something in our lives. It can be through death, divorce, addiction, separation or even choice. We could grieve the loss of a loved one or a job, unmet expectations, or unfulfilled goals and dreams. Thankfully, God is very familiar with grief. He experienced grief when He cast Adam and Eve out of the Garden, when the Israelites continued to return to their sins, and when He had to turn His back on Jesus as He sacrificed Himself as atonement for the sins of the whole world in His death on the cross. God’s grief was deep, and it is real.
Because of this he understands our grief, meets us in our grief and helps us through our grief, and he shows us this in the Bible:
- Psalm 34:18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit,” encourages us that God is very near while we grieve.
- Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” shows us that there will be healing in our grief.
- Psalm 73:26, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever,” allows us to turn to Him in our weakest times during our grief.
- Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.,” is a promise of the comfort God gives us in our grief.
Knowing all of that allows us to lean into Him during times of overwhelming grief.
I wasn’t expecting to be a single mother for nine years. But, once I accepted the fact that I would be raising my son without the consistent presence of his father, I worked hard to follow what I had been taught that Proverbs 22:6 meant, “Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” I truly believed that if I was praying, reading my Bible, attending Sunday school and church, disciplining my son when his behavior demanded it, and exposing him to positive, male influences, Christian school and appropriate music that he would grow to become a believer and live a life reflective of the scriptures. I named him after a strong Biblical character and claimed the verse Joshua 1:9 for him, praying it over him many times.
I believed that checking off that list of things regularly would cause a spiritual change in my son…and at a young age he became a believer and was baptized. But I was checking off that list for my own holiness, locked in legalism, not living in a way that was stirring my son to desire a relationship with Jesus. Instead it made him believe that performance pleased God, not presence; that he wanted our sacrifices more than our obedience.
My heart broke the day my friend called to tell me that my son, J, had stolen from her son. When I questioned him, he admitted it and returned the money. I was desperate to make an impression on my 8-year-old son that what he had done was wrong, that I did not want him to end up a statistic or a cliché of a single parent home. So, I drove him to the police station. I sat with him in the car as he cried, and I asked him if he wanted to end up in jail and disappoint me, his grandparents and God. Of course, he didn’t and promised that he would not ever steal again, but this was the beginning of many repeated thefts.
Thefts that involved more money, more expensive things and greater consequences. By this time, I had met and married my husband and we were navigating being newlyweds and parents of three children in our newly blended family. We sought counsel from our pastor and elders, doctors and judges. Community hours were served and more promises were made.
When drugs became part of the reason for the theft, there was no remorse, no more promises and nothing that could stop J from climbing out of his second story bedroom window to sneak out to a party we forbade him to go to. When we finally got in contact with him 48 hours after he ran away, we begged him to come home. We told him that he could home, no questions asked, and we would do whatever it took to get him clean and the help he needed, but he only had 24 hours to decide. He said he didn’t need 24 hours. He was never coming home. He was 16.
My depression set in almost immediately. I felt a grief so deep as my hopes and dreams for him were shattered. As an educator I mourned that he would never walk across the stage as a high school graduate. I blamed myself and guilt swept over me like a crashing wave, making it hard to function, making it hard to breathe. I questioned every decision I had made, including my decision to have him at 18 as a single mother and trying to raise him in a Christian home. I thought I was powerful enough to stop J from making poor choices. I thought wanting him to do right and live right was enough.
I started to go through the motions of mothering my younger children and being a wife. My depression was the hardest at night when the house was quiet, and I was alone with my thoughts. I tried to pray, but my prayers were more inaudible cries or questions of why and how could this happen. Many times, I felt better and started to make sense of my grief, to only find myself grieving again with every phone call from jail. It was a cycle that left me feeling angry and confused.
The Text that Opened my Eyes
The stages of grief are different for everyone in that some of us stay in some stages longer than others. I stayed angry for a long time. My anger was misplaced and misguiding. I allowed my anger to become a comfort, a safe place and an excuse. Being angry kept me from having to be truthful with myself and others. I didn’t have to be vulnerable. I could be righteously angry, and I justified my feelings and actions in the cloak of angry grief. But it was paralyzing me and keeping me from processing my grief and allowing myself to properly heal.
One night I got a text from J after another theft and drug charge with another court date looming in the future and he wrote, “I just want you to know that you did nothing wrong. My actions and my decisions have nothing to do with the way I was raised. You did the best you could. I chose this path even though I knew it was wrong. It is not your fault.” It wasn’t until I read his words that I felt free from the guilt and shame of what J’s life had become. I realized that I was not powerful enough to be the Holy Spirit in his life. That God would have to do the redemptive work in his life and it was time to stop asking God why and start asking Him what He wanted me to learn from this heartache.
Leaning into God
I started to pray for changes in my life, in my parenting and not focus on changing others. I discovered that praise and worship music was a balm to my soul and convicting when I needed it to be. I talked to friends that I knew had been through what I was going through and had seen their children through the other side of sobriety and rehabilitation. I joined a grief and loss connection group where I was able to be vulnerable and once again open God’s word and let the Truth wash over me, allowing me to breathe and begin to function again.
Most importantly, I clung to the promise that God loves J more than I do—and more than I ever could. The things I grieved for him, God did, too. And the things I grieved as a parent, God knew and understood. I was also reminded as I prayed for J that his story is not over that it is just a part of his story, a story that God is still waiting to redeem.
Leaning into God allowed me to give myself permission to continue working through my grief and not put a timeline on the process. I needed time to grieve the loss of my son’s childhood, not having him present at birthdays and holidays, and my expectations for his future and the lost time with his children. Once I allowed myself to begin to do that and allow myself time to be sad and miss him now, it freed me from being angry.
Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” I now believe this to be true. God is still working and when He is finished it will be good.
‘The weight of the world on your shoulders’ might seem like a cliché phrase, but if we're honest, we've all felt that weight. Whether you're a business executive with 30 employees under you making decisions every day that could make or break company sales numbers; a mother with kids balancing cooking, cleaning, and getting them all to their various weekly activities; an older adult working two part-time jobs past retirement age just to make ends meet; or somewhere in-between, sometimes it really feels like the weight of it all is suffocating. And if this is how we feel off and on throughout the year, it's no wonder that some people feel extra pressure during the holidays. Everyone thinks that Christmas is supposed to be a joyous time of year - and while it can be, it can also be an incredibly stressful and depressing time of year.
So what really is the point of Christmas? If we're going with the world's view of Christmas, we'd probably say things like gift-giving, spending time with friends and family, extra time off work, fun trips, bonuses, New Year’s resolutions, or a plethora of other commitments levied on us. While most of that is all well and good, and on their own aren't inherently wrong, it was never meant to be the point.
The funny (or should we say, tragic) thing is that Christmas has become a time full of high expectations, often followed by differing levels of disappointment. No matter how hard we try, we will never be able to fulfill all that's expected of us. And so, looking ahead to the holidays, instead of cheer, we just see lots of things that could go wrong.
As a father, I've become more intimately familiar with the letdowns during Christmas. We all remember those holidays as kids, when that thing we wanted most wasn't under the tree on Christmas morning. As a kid we get over those disappointments fairly quick, but we still remember what that was like as an adult. It's almost like little wounds that we receive, and though they don't hurt anymore, the scars remind us of a pain we once felt. And while not getting some silly toy or other seemingly trivial item for Christmas isn't that big of a deal in the grand scheme of life, these 'scars' slowly begin to warp our view of reality. And now, as a father who generally wants what's best for his kids, even though I know that they don't need 90% of the things on their Christmas lists, a part of me still wants to do more than I am. And this is coming from someone who lives fairly comfortably. I can’t even begin to imagine what it feels like for a parent who struggles to get their kids just one or two things for Christmas.
But, this is how the cycle goes. We fail to meet their expectations, and we fail to meet our own expectations, and when they grow up, they will likely feel the same disappointments. And when we look at ourselves, all we see are more and more scars, forgetting what we used to look like under all the pain. Perhaps for some people this is why the extra time off during the holidays is so exhausting. Maybe this is why spending time with family feels more like a burden than a gift. We place more expectations on ourselves to look perfect – to act perfect – and that usually causes us to try and cover up the scars, trying desperately to hide the pain, but at the same time hiding who we really are underneath.
Oftentimes, when we’re forced to look in the mirror, we don't like what we see. The holidays can sometimes force us to look in the mirror way more than we would normally. The holidays can also expose us to the gazes of others who we feel are more openly seeing all the scars we bear.
So, if this is what Christmas really does to so many people, then what is the point of it all? If Christmas doesn’t bring about hope and new beginnings, then what are we doing wrong?
The question, instead of ‘what are we doing wrong’, should be ‘what are we focused on?’ If we’re focused on meeting everyone’s expectations, then we are setting ourselves up for multiple failures. We will never be able to meet everyone’s expectations, and we’ll struggle even more so to meet our own expectations.
God’s Gift of Hope
If we could focus on receiving then we’d never be disappointed or let down. The kind of receiving I’m talking about here is not in gifts or anything tangible. The point of Christmas was a gift – God’s one and only Son. The point of the holidays is to receive the most precious gift that anyone has ever given, and to reflect on its impact in our lives. It was a gift of hope; a gift of grace. This grace is the one and only gift we’ve ever been given that comes with zero strings attached, and with zero expectations. And all we have to do it receive it.
Naturally, the world will try to trivialize this gift and tell you that there’s a lot of other, better things out there. But the truth is, all those other things come with expectations. We expect that new car to not only get us around, but also make us feel good about ourselves. But, there’s always someone with a nicer car, and one day even this new one won’t get us around as reliably as it once did. This is just one example, but we buy everything because we expect something from it, even if it’s a necessity. We expect food to satisfy us and keep us from going hungry, we expect water to quench our thirst, and we expect toilet paper to, well… keep us clean. But the truth is, there’s always another day. We eat and drink, and soon that satisfaction turns into a sensation urging as to visit the restroom again. The point being that while these simple necessities may have met our expectations, it’s still just temporarily.
And so it goes with everything, except the one gift that doesn’t ever run out.
When God sent his son to this world, he knew full well what that meant. For a million reasons, it didn’t make sense to the world, but for one reason, it made all the sense for the world. “For God so loved the world, that he sent his one and only Son, that whoever believed in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
The real point of Christmas is the cross. God sent his son to Earth so that he could begin with the end in mind. You can’t have an end without a beginning – at least not in a way that we as humans would understand. So, this Christmas we must celebrate the beginning of the life of Jesus, the one person to be both God and human; the one person who never sinned, so that ultimately he could die on a cross and wash away the darkness of all those who would believe in him.
The one problem that we must overcome with this gift is our expectations. Even with Jesus, we have human expectations, and we try to box God into something that meets the needs we think we have. This is why most Christians still feel ‘lacking’ when it comes to their spirituality. Instead of simply receiving and letting grace wash over us, we try to come up with systems that make God ‘manageable’, setting up expectations that if we do ‘X’, then ‘Y’ will happen.
Why is it so hard for us to simply receive?
Perhaps it’s our humanity that holds us back. And while that is a major hurdle for us, I believe the truth of the matter is that our human “limitations” are just our excuse because it’s so hard for us to accept that hope is this easy to find.
This Christmas let go of expectations and try to just receive. God asks nothing in return, and in fact he has canceled all debts. All we have to do is focus on receiving grace and letting it wash over all of the expectations that we’ll never meet anyway. There should be hope in knowing that everything will be okay, even if the world is screaming at us that it’s not.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the holidays this year, try to quiet yourself and just reflect on what it means to have complete freedom from the bondage of all the expectations weighing you down. Let go of the ones that you can, and focus on just living in the grace of a God who loves you beyond measure. Don’t worry about all the things you think you have to do; inviting X number of people to church, reading your Bible and praying 30 minutes daily, or even going to church each week. All of these things are good, but if instead you simply focus on letting God’s grace wash over you, its immeasurable waves will flow into every part of your life and undeniably affect everything it touches. It’s impossible to fully live in the hope that grace gives you without it touching everything around you. In this way, you will naturally invite those who need to come, and you will be drawn to God in Word and in prayer. At that point, it’s no longer about what you have to do, but what you yearn to do.
God has offered to remove the weight of the world from your shoulders through his son Jesus. He took that burden, and all you have to do is put it down and never look back. Consider what the holidays could feel like if you no longer felt weighed down by the chains of expectations that you couldn’t meet. Imagine what Christmas could be if you clung to hope and rose above the darkness of your life’s current circumstances. Imagine yourself completely free, soaring high above the expectations and pressure of the past.
Now stop imagining and receive it.
I’ve had the unfortunate experience of living life with this inescapable feeling of being alone. God in the beginning of the Bible recognized that, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Genesis 2:18
Early on in my life, my mother and father divorced, and my father was my primary caretaker. And I know now that there was always something missing in my life by not having a motherly figure throughout my life.
This affected my friendships. I would sometimes connect very well because of my personality, but I had more friendships and less deep meaningful relationships.
One of the ways I self-medicated was by turning to pornography. It didn’t start out that way, and there is certainly more than one reason I chased after pornography. But in the ten years I spent in and out of addiction to pornography, I remember feeling extremely lonely before and after looking at porn.
And one key idea I’ve learned in the past year has proven to be true in so many ways.
Addiction thrives in isolation.
For ten years, no one knew that I was struggling, let alone how much I was struggling with porn. And the enemy loved it. In isolation, I felt despair, disappointed, and unable to resists temptation in my life. I never really had any marked success to brag about.
And when my life fell apart in the form of divorce and losing custody of my son, I was faced with a very desperate need for something to change in my life.
What I was missing in my life, and also what I was missing in my marriage, was having something God was not just encouraging me to pursue but demanding me to take seriously.
I needed a community.
There is the age-old cliché that it takes a village to raise a child. That doesn’t stop because you leave home. I don’t think it ever stops. I believe that God gives us other people to help us grow through our hard times and struggles.
And after six months of success in my own battle against porn and the hard times life has thrown at me, I learned the hard way just how important having friends, mentors, and family in your life can truly be.
Now I know - when I stumble, my friends are there to help me get up. It doesn’t mean that I’m perfect, but it does mean that I can do better. I can be better.
And as it goes, “A burden shared is a burden halved.” The Bible says in Galatians 6:2 “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” This command is born out in community.
The biggest turnaround and change I’ve seen, was the day my close friend and mentor told me that he was praying for me daily.
I didn’t feel judged or ashamed. I felt motivated and encouraged. It was as if someone truly believed in me to become the man God intended me to be.
And if it weren’t for community, I would have never received such a major blessing.
Hebrews also puts it really well in chapter 10 verses 24 and 25. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
If you are struggling with addiction, there is help; in the Word, at the church, and in a small group. You don’t have to be alone. Reach out to a loving, Bible-following community and watch how they will come alongside you in love and help you overcome.
We’ve all been there. You’re in a place where you are quite content and happy; then suddenly God tugs at your heart that it’s time to go somewhere else. At first it feels heartbreaking, you’re doing something good and something worth doing and yet you need to let it go. This is a time where the world’s vision for your life and God’s vision for your life go in opposite directions leaving you to make the decision. This is a time when God calls you to let go of a good thing so there’s room something better.
I worked as classroom aid in the special education class, and now that I was pregnant the administration did not feel comfortable with me being in such a hands on room. I went into work one morning to be told I would go to a general education classroom immediately and stay until I came back from maternity leave. Devastated does not even begin to describe my feelings. I loved the children in my old room so much and truly loved every day I got to spend with them. And yet, God was clearly telling me it was time to move on to a different group of kids with a different set of needs. I cried and complained and did not want it to happen, and then finally I brought myself before God and asked the dreaded question, “Why?” Once I finally asked that question, God began to reveal to me my wants are not always His.
Of course all the work I’d done previously was good and important, but a new season was coming. God also revealed to me that it wasn’t all about me as I so selfishly made it out to be, it was about the kids. Children in a special education room need consistency, a consistency I could no longer give. My maternity leave would be sudden and very hard for them to get used to; the sooner they could adjust their classroom life without me in the room, the better for them. God arranged this transition for them where they can still see me around school, but my absence come February will not completely throw off their entire day.
When God calls you to let something go, it is so easy to be upset and focus on the negatives or what you are losing. When this happens to you, I want to call you to focus on the good it will bring. In my situation, I still get to work with kids and the kids in my new room need me just as much, only in a different way. Once I let myself list out the benefits on my new work placement, I quickly came to love those kids as well. This placement will be an easier one to leave sort of suddenly when my little girl arrives, the kids in my old room will not be so thrown off their routine they can’t get work done, and I will have no worries about the classroom being a madhouse without me.
The God we serve does not do complacency. He does bigger and better. Complacency and staying in the same place does not grow the kingdom; showing as many people as possible His love and joy does.
What in your life could God be telling you is a good thing, but needs to be let go for the better He has in store for you?