‘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...
Showing items for 'Andrew Stevens'
Picture this; Sunday morning, people fill the seats, Waiting on the pastor’s words of happiness and peace. But, instead of a message that brings meaning to their lives, The words coming at them today are somewhat a surprise - Words that remind them of greatness; of something...
Most of us use social media to keep in touch with friends, family members, and passing acquaintances; some of us might even have hundreds of ‘friends’ we don’t even really know. Thinking about your friends’ list on something like Facebook, how many of those people do you...
If you attend the Church at Severn Run (or read the blog), then you’re probably familiar with a common phrase that we use quite a bit: ‘Love well. Live Jesus. Believe big.’ For our local Severn Runners who attend, it’s something that we literally say every Sunday...
As a child, I never worried about living without my family. My parents were always around, I had my sister, and we would visit our extended family every year. I have so many fond memories as a child, playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, going fishing with my dad, or...
Have you ever asked yourself that ever-unanswered question, “Why does God allow bad things to happen?” Well, don’t get your hopes up, because I’m not here to answer that—we just don’t have enough room on the internet to tackle it. However, I can tell...
Week after week, year after year, people come and go here at the Church at Severn Run. Every Sunday more than a thousand people come to visit us, and we absolutely love it, but as we all know, people bring with them a certain measure of messiness, and that messiness needs someone to clean up...
Saved people serve people. That’s a phrase that you probably haven’t heard very often, right? That is, unless you attend the church here at Severn Run of course. Then you’re probably rolling your eyes at me because we hear it all the time right now. Hopefully...
I have a history of a back and forth relationship with God, but I have a feeling I’m not alone. We have times when we walk closely with God, but we might fall away. And then we will come to a point where we are at the end of ourselves and we realize how much we need Jesus. There is a...
We’ve talked about why it’s important to serve (see Serving Part 1 here), and hopefully by now you’ve decided that either you need to start serving, or you just need to serve more. Most of us are in one of these two boats. There are a few people who serve a lot of their...
‘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.
Picture this; Sunday morning, people fill the seats,
Waiting on the pastor’s words of happiness and peace.
But, instead of a message that brings meaning to their lives,
The words coming at them today are somewhat a surprise -
Words that remind them of greatness; of something they’ve never known,
Every syllable slamming against them, painful, almost tearing at their soul.
And there I sat as well, listening, the words eating me away.
Why do words that should encourage make me feel this way?
Making me feel empty, because I know I could be more,
The shoulda, coulda, woulda’s come knocking at my door.
Oh, don’t get me wrong, the message was quite inspiring,
But what I felt behind it, if honest, was just plain tiring.
Because I knew that I had work to do, if I was to embrace this destiny;
The path that God had set me on, which I had strayed entirely.
Why do I feel this way? Why do I dread the path ahead?
Why do I look across this room of dreams, and see only nightmares instead?
Every single person that day, had hopes, and dreams, and gifts
But most of them abandoned that for lack of faith and grit.
For every person near and far is born an empty slate,
Hoping to do something in life that people consider great.
But as the years come rolling in, we accept an unkind truth,
That most in life we’ll shoot for, we’ll miss, so we settle without proof.
We never try for fear of failure, and so fail before beginning.
And on it goes throughout our lives, accepting loss, no hope in winning.
But God said..
I know the plans I have for you, the plans to give you peace,
The plans to prosper, love, and hold; my son died for your release.
From the pain and suffering and fear, from doubt and insecurity,
So that nothing in this world could cloud your clarity.
And yet, clouded vision comes, because we lose that faith,
And allow the lies of a dying world to drag us to that place
Where darkness overcomes the light, where death steals every life,
Where happiness is just a dream on a road that’s wrought with strife.
The devil wants to keep us small, to keep us living within limits,
Because he knows the greatness within threatens his very existence.
Maybe not the greatness that we had originally envisioned,
But a greatness that comes from something more - a decision.
A decision to commit our lives to higher, to a God that’s full of love,
To the idea that grace covers everything, from below and from above.
Grace changes everything, and sets us a new path.
No matter how many times we stray, we can always come right back
The simple truth is this: that God gave us gifts on purpose,
And even though it’s for his glory, it goes deeper than the surface.
For what you see outside, is not always what’s beneath.
God knows that what we do, ripples beyond our reach.
So each and every day, the choices that we make,
Spread beyond the paths we walk and show His love innate.
Though still I doubt myself, I know that God believes.
And all the gifts I have, are all I’ll ever need…
Most of us use social media to keep in touch with friends, family members, and passing acquaintances; some of us might even have hundreds of ‘friends’ we don’t even really know. Thinking about your friends’ list on something like Facebook, how many of those people do you honestly, really know? When you scroll through your news feed or status updates, do you get to peer into people’s souls, or are we just looking through a small painted window pane that blocks the view of the true brokenness within?
Just as we do with social media, so often we do with God. We post a status update that we went and saw a really good movie, had a great workout at the gym, or just ate a whole box of girl scout cookies (#noshame). And we do the same with Jesus. We ‘check in’ to church on Sunday, we might have a temporary high, and we share a cool ‘status update’. Then Monday comes, and we forget all about the last post and share an update with how we woke up late and on the way in a jerk in a Mercedes cut us off and made us hit a red light, which ultimately led us to have to park and walk an extra five minutes in to the office. And so, with a passing whim, Jesus comes up here and there, and then he’s gone again when ‘real life’ gets in the way.
Romans 12:2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
We need to move Jesus from a status update or online acquaintance to a real life, side-by-side, close and personal kind of relationship – the kind that isn’t blind to the true brokenness that fills our lives. The way that we move Jesus from something distant and unreal to something close and meaningful is by worshipping him daily through prayer, scripture, and personal time.
We devote so much of our time to worldly things – things that ultimately will fail us. Why do we worship the things that will fail us, yet ignore the one holding out his hand who’s already given everything, promising us eternal hope, love, and peace?
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. - Isaiah 54:10
Stop being passive. Don’t let the world win, let love win! Unplug from passing on fake news and start living a real-life side by side with the one who loves you more than you know, and who sings of a worth that outshines the brilliance of the sun. The creator of the universe made you perfectly in his eyes, and he wants to have a personal relationship with you. All you have to do is let him…
If you attend the Church at Severn Run (or read the blog), then you’re probably familiar with a common phrase that we use quite a bit: ‘Love well. Live Jesus. Believe big.’
For our local Severn Runners who attend, it’s something that we literally say every Sunday, and it’s probably safe to say that you believe big in this statement. But, have you ever stopped for a minute and thought about what you’re committing yourself to doing by voicing these few, simple words? If you’re like me (before I started writing this), then you probably hadn’t given it much thought. But don’t worry, that’s okay. I’m here to help. Let’s break these three short sentences down so that we can fully understand the heart behind one of Severn Run’s biggest beliefs.
Most of us understand what love is. Some more so than others. But, do we really understand what ‘loving well’ means? If we’re going to fully understand how to love well, we must first understand what the love is and its importance, and then figure out how we do it. I don’t think there’s any better way to say it than Paul did in his letter to the Corinthians:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. -1 Corinthians 13:1-7
So, if that’s what love should be, then how do we know when we’re doing it well? The answer is right in front of our noses.
We must love exactly how Paul said. We must be patient, we must be kind. We must love without envying, boasting, or letting ourselves become prideful. We don’t remind people of the wrongs they’ve committed against us; we forgive. We rejoice in the truth, refrain from anger, always hope, and always persevere.
Now I know what you’re thinking… ‘Ok Mr. blog post writer, but how do we really know if we’re loving well? How can we possibly love well when there’s no way we’ll ever be able to do ALL those things?’
We get that no one will be able to do all those things above, all the time. We know that we will mess up. But, we also know it’s totally possible to love well. And we know that we are loving well if we are loving as described above, even when it’s hardest to do so. There are times when we find that love comes easy – when we first get married, when a child is born, or when someone does something very thoughtful for us. But, what about those other times when loving doesn’t come quite so naturally? What about after years of marriage, when you feel that ‘they’ never notice anything you do for them, or when your child repeatedly disobeys your rules and tells you you’re ruining their life? What about those times where you don’t feel loved yourself? And don’t forget that co-worker who always parks in your spot at work, and generally thrives off making your life miserable every single day? How could you possibly love well then?
Honestly, the best example of loving well is Jesus. He died on the cross for a world of which the majority of people either don’t know that he exists, don’t understand exactly what he did for them, or worse yet, don’t even care. Yet, Jesus went to the cross all the same. He knew full well what lay before him, and he did it anyways. Why? Because…
…for God so loved the world!
And THAT is exactly how you love well. You love, as a parent loves their child, and you do it for all people, all the time, even when most you meet will never even deserve it. You love when it’s hard, and you love no matter what. No one ever said that it would be easy, but after all, when you say the words at the end of service, you are making a commitment to do it. So, are you ready to love well?
This one can sound a bit daunting, right? After all, how do we ever expect to live like Jesus lived? He was God after all. In a sense that’s kind of like cheating, isn’t it?
Well, for starters, let’s just accept the fact that he was God, and we’re not. I think we can all agree on that.
Since we’re not God, we’re going to make mistakes. And that’s OK. I know, I know…breathe. You’re going to get through this. Are you still with me?
Our humanity is an issue that we’re never going to get rid of, and as long as we can accept that (making sure to not use it as a crutch), then we’re going to be better off. And the good thing is, God gave us an example for how to act: Jesus. Jesus was and is the perfect example for us to follow.
We all know that Jesus came to Earth to live as a man and die for our sins so that we would no longer be eternally separated from God. But, have you ever wondered if he was also sent here to live just like us so that he could bridge the gap that made it difficult for us to relate with our supernatural Heavenly Father? He was sent here to Earth to experience real human problems so that we could look to see how he solved them. He lived as an ordinary man so that we could have a realistic example of how we should behave, and so we could see what we should do.
This is exactly what ‘living Jesus’ really is. It’s emulating the way that Jesus acted, using the words that Jesus used, and trusting the Father as Jesus trusted him. And the main thing is, being out on the road like Jesus was.
Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. - John 14:12
Jesus was always out on the road, traveling from town to town, and meeting people where they were. He didn’t sit in a church and wait for the masses to come to him. He walked out among common people – sinners even – and spent personal time with them. Jesus associated himself with tax collectors, prostitutes, and the sick and diseased, among others, because those were the people who needed him.
While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” – Matthew 9:10-13
Jesus was trying to tell the religious leaders what he wanted. He told them ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ The religious rules of the day were meant to restrict people’s lives, and these people spent much of their time ‘sacrificing’ this or that so that they would somehow earn their way to heaven. But, all Jesus wanted was for them to show mercy to the broken that they came into contact with. And that is exactly what he wants from us.
In order to ‘live Jesus’, we need to be merciful towards all, and we need to love with everything we have. After all, we are ALL broken, and we all need mercy and love. Jesus showed both to us, and he therefore commands us to do the same to others.
He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” – Luke 10:27
It seems that ‘loving well’ and ‘living Jesus’ aren’t so very different, are they? By loving well, you are in fact living Jesus! It’s not as impossible as you might think, after all. But it does require being intentional. Are you up to the task?
Many times throughout the New Testament, we see the disciples constantly doubting God. While that was not always the case, it seems strange to think that those who were closest to Jesus - that those who saw him perform miracle after miracle still had times of doubt. So, it’s easy to think about how much harder we have it because we haven’t seen Jesus firsthand. That is, we haven’t seen him in the tangible way that the disciples did. And it can be quite normal to feel defeated in our faith at times. With the craziness of life, and all the bad things that happen in the world around us, it can be easy to have a faith that seems small and boxed in.
So, how then do we figure out how to ‘believe big’? Let’s take a quick look at a passage of scripture on the topic…
When they came to the crowd, a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. “Lord, have mercy on my son,” he said. “He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him.”
“You unbelieving and perverse generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.” Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and he was healed at that moment.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”
He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” -Matthew 17:14-21
The disciples were unable to drive out the demon because they did not believe that they could. Jesus tells them that they can move mountains if only they had a tiny bit of faith. Whether Jesus literally meant ‘mountains’, I can’t say for sure, but we understand the point he was trying to convey; the point that we can do things that seem impossible, if only we believe. And, we see Jesus say this on multiple occasions…
Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” -Matthew 21:21-22
In turn, we see Jesus healing people on many occasions because of their belief. He often asked someone if they believed that he could heal them, and when they replied ‘yes’, he healed them and told them they were healed because of their faith. Here’s just one example:
When he had gone indoors, the blind men came to him, and he asked them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?”
“Yes, Lord,” they replied.
Then he touched their eyes and said, “According to your faith let it be done to you” -Matthew 9:28-29
And this scenario was repeated throughout Jesus’ life.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, Ok, so I can move mountains if only I have enough faith, so how the heck do I get to a faith that’s even mustard seed sized? Well I’m glad you asked, but I think you’re asking the wrong question. The question should never be how much, but in whom.
Go back to the passage I shared above, Matthew 17:14-21. Jesus told the disciples that they did not have faith, at all, and that is why they could not cast out the demon. Pretty crazy to think that the disciples had like ZERO faith. After all, they were the disciples!
But, don’t get discouraged just yet. What Jesus said next is actually very comforting, depending on how you interpret it. He said, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain. ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.” It seems like a rather bold statement, but in fact it’s quite the opposite. He says that all we need is just the tiniest bit of faith, and we can do the impossible – we can move mountains. And again, we’re not literally talking about reshaping the Earth, we’re talking about doing things that only God could do.
So, if we interpret it in this way, then just a tiny bit of faith in a God who can move mountains, means that we can accomplish things beyond anything we could have ever imagined that we could have done on our own. That’s seems pretty cool, right?
The main point here is that it’s not about the quantity of our faith, but it’s about who we are placing it in. We have a God of the impossible. He can do anything, and all we have to do is place our faith in him, dare to dream a little, and believe big that God can do it. God doesn’t promise that we will be rich or live in a castle, and in fact is says explicitly in the Bible that’s not the case. And in line with that, we have to be sure where we are placing our faith, and for what reason. I don’t believe that no matter how much we believe that we will win the lottery will actually have any effect on our (slim) chances of that happening, because we are not basing our belief on God’s word.
In order to believe big, you have to align yourself with scripture, pray about it, and make sure that you are believing our God can use you in big ways for his will. That is what believing big really is. It’s a belief without limitations, trusting wholly in God, and committing yourself to follow through with whatever it is that he tells you to do. And, you have to follow through. God works through the people who trust in him.
That might feel a little bit like moving mountains to you, but I promise God’s up to the task. Are you?
Hopefully the next time you’re at church and those familiar words come drifting your way, this time you’ll be able to say them knowing full well what they mean and be fully committed to living them out in your life. And if you don’t attend Severn Run, then perhaps these are a few simple sentences that you can incorporate into your life that will allow a whole lot more meaning and intention to your daily routine.
The bottom line is, no matter where you are, and no matter what you were doing before right now, know that Jesus cheering you on, excited to see what amazing things that you will do for his kingdom if you simply commit to love well, live Jesus, and believe big!
As a child, I never worried about living without my family. My parents were always around, I had my sister, and we would visit our extended family every year. I have so many fond memories as a child, playing with my cousins at my grandma’s house, going fishing with my dad, or baking cookies with my mom. I realize that not everyone may have these exact same memories, but I do believe that they are fairly similar to memories that many others share.
As I grew older, these kinds of experiences occurred less and less often. I became more and more independent, and family became something that I simply took for granted. They were still there, but I wasn’t. That is to say, I was absent in the sense that I wasn’t as interested in doing all the things that I had done as a kid. When I joined the military when I was 20, this was confounded even more because I literally wasn’t around anymore. I shipped off to Texas for several months for training, and then I moved to Germany right after. I took my wife Rachel with me to Germany, so luckily I had someone, but besides her, there was no one else. We spent three years there and then we moved to Guam for another three years.
Suffice it to say, being halfway around the world from your family takes its toll on you. The things that I took for granted in my late teens became the things that I missed most in my mid-twenties and now into my thirties. I miss just hanging out with my dad watching football games, or going to the movies. I miss grabbing a coffee and talking about life with my mom. I miss spending time with my grandparents, who also live where my parents do. My wife and I have missed so many life events because we’ve been geographically separated from our families for so long – the deaths of close relatives, family vacations, and holiday gatherings just to name a few. Family has also been absent for the births of all of our three children.
I’ve found myself missing all of that, especially the small things, a whole lot more in the past few years. It’s been so much so that I applied to get out of the military early so that we could move back home and be closer to family. I was very hopeful that things would work out, trusting God and praying that whatever happened was where he wanted me to be. Though I was expecting a ‘yes’ to my application, that was not what I received. I was sorely disappointed, but luckily for me I’ve grown a lot over the past 5-6 years, and was able to accept the fact that this was where God wanted us for the time being.
This was around the beginning of October, and about a month and a half later God showed me something that I hadn’t seen before…
My little family was prepared to spend another holiday together, just the five of us. Sometimes for Thanksgiving we hang out with friends, and on several occasions, we’ve had friends over at our house. I think for most military families this is common, though we do know quite a few people around here who have family close by, which has made it a bit more difficult for us.
This year we were invited over to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving, and there were several other church families who we knew well who were also going. When we got there, there were about twenty or so people, with a mix of our friends, and a mix of the host’s family as well. By the time everyone had shown up, there must have been around fifty people including kids. To be frank it was chaos – a beautiful, turkey and stuffing-smelling, love without limits kind of chaos. After we prayed and everyone started getting their food, I just had to stand back and soak it in for a minute.
This was when it hit me…
Even though we didn’t have ‘blood’ family around to celebrate the holidays with, we still had family. I took a picture and shared the post on Facebook because I wanted to capture the moment, and I wanted others to see that the family of God can make a big difference when you’re feeling lonely and separated from your own kin.
As a military family, being separated from relatives is something that we’re quite used to, though the feeling of missing them never really goes away. As we’ve allowed God in our lives more, he’s given us good friends to help fill the void of missing our families. Of course, it’s not an exact replacement – no one can ever do that. But, it’s about as close as you can get to the real thing. And for many people out there who may not share a strong bond with their families, perhaps it could even feel like a suitable replacement altogether. When you have God in your heart, and when you allow others into your life, then God will bring people to you to build you up and be there for you when you need them. And the great part is, no matter where you go, there will always be someone there as long as you’re open and paying attention.
Another great thing about the family of God is that it’s always growing, and we can always add more brothers and sisters! This family crosses boundaries that blood typically does not – race, skin color, culture, as well as many other things! You will meet people you probably wouldn’t have normally, and it will make you a better for it. You will grow as a person, and you will grow in your faith.
With God as our Father, and countless brothers and sisters surround us everywhere we go, there’s no need to ever feel alone. If you do feel lonely, perhaps you only need to look around and realize, as I did, that you are surrounded by more family than you think you are.
If you don’t know about the joys of a family shared through Christ, then we invite you to attend Severn Run (if you live in the Baltimore-D.C. area), or otherwise look for a local church to get connected to. Wherever you go, if they make you feel like family, then you know you’re probably home.
And if that’s the case, then…
…welcome to the family!