Trusting God

I’m a planner. When I drag myself out of bed every morning and crawl into the shower, my brain wakes itself up by making lists of things that need to get done or plans I need to make. This list starts with the very small and mundane (go to the store, grade research papers etc.) and by the time I’m out of the shower I’m alert because I’ve worked my blood pressure up to a boil planning out my future. Left too long in my own head, I end up ten years down the road planning out every detail of my life. There are many versions of my future life. Sometimes I go on to get my masters and then (if I’m feeling good about myself) my doctorate, winding up as a professor in a university somewhere across the pond. Other days I continue as a high school teacher but add acclaimed author to my resume. If I’m feeling burnt out by school, I marry a very nice rich man and we travel the world together. Welcome to my brain everyone, where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.

 

As someone who likes to know what to expect in her life, I have always had an issue with the idea of God’s plan for my life. Now, hang with me for a second. Remember the other day when I wrote about my fear of missing out on life? This plays into that. My head knows that God has a plan for my life that is bigger and better than anything I could imagine in a 10 minute shower, or even a whole day of dreaming and scheming. My head knows the Bible offers many assurances of God’s ultimate control in my life (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3: 5-6, Psalm 37:7, Psalm 27:14 to name a few). My head has been taught all of the church appropriate answers for dealing with stress about the future.

 

It’s all in the Lord’s hands.

 

But, you see. My heart has not gotten the memo. My heart starts running around in circles when friends ask about my career plans. My heart rocks back and forth in the corner trying to process the many different paths ahead. My heart does not even like to consider life past age 30 because it can only take so much stress dealing with what might happen tomorrow. Platitudes like “It’s all in the Lord’s hands” or “Just trust God and He will show you the way” don’t comfort my worn out heart, they just add a heaping side of guilt.

Great, so not only do I not know where my life is going to take me but now I’m also a bad Christian for not trusting God.

Over the years, I have had several pastors and leaders teach me that waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean sitting on my hands and passively letting life happen. In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, he illustrates this point by saying if a single person is waiting on God to deliver the perfect partner to his or her doorstep, that person better be prepared to marry the mailman. Another way to think about it is this: If I want a job, I have to go in, ask for an application, fill it out, return it, and then go in for the interview. I can’t sit at home and wish for an employer to randomly call my number and offer me a job. I can’t even walk past a “Now Hiring” sign and pray that God gives me the job. I have to go in. I have to do a lot of the work to make something happen. My mother once shared this analogy with me:

There was a man who was being told to evacuate his home because a nearby river was going to flood that area. He refused to leave and said “God will take care of me.” Policeman came by and offered to help him leave and he said no. Later, as the water level rose and the man took shelter on his roof, rescue boats offered him help and he refused. He said, “God will rescue me.” Finally, a rescue helicopter flew over and tried to save him but still he refused. Unfortunately, the man died and when he got to heaven he asked God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?” and God said, “I tried! I sent the policeman, the boat, and the helicopter!”

This humorous little story reminds me that God requires me to be active even in my waiting. This way of thinking calms my heart and spirit because I like to have control in my life, and activity or busyness creates a sense of control. However, I begin to feel like I’m balancing on a tightrope between taking initiative and action in my life and putting God in the backseat (or heck, leaving Him on the curb). If left unchecked, I will take a lot of action in my life and cling to the idea that it’s what God wants me to do, even if I have totally hijacked His plan.

In my small group, we are studying the story of Joshua and the idea of following God’s plan has come up a lot. Recently, we were reading the part where God leads the people to the Jordan River and asks the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to put their feet in the water. Just their feet and then God takes care of the rest. He parts the river, two million Israelites cross on a dry land, and the journey continues. God fulfills His promise and takes care of His people. We discussed how putting our feet in the water was like taking that first step, being active in God’s plan. But what if they waded in further, just to be sure? Would God chuckle to himself and continue on with His plan? Or would He would wait like a teacher in a noisy classroom for His people to obey?

I have all these unanswered questions about how to follow God’s will. My biggest question overall is actually a gigantic general “HOW?” And not in a metaphorical-you just do sense- but in a step by step sense. How do I know when I’m following God’s plan and not just doing what I want? How do I know what He wants me to do? How do I separate what I think is right and what He is telling me is right?

 

How do I trust God?

 

I’m not asking this because I have any reason not to. I have no reason not to trust God. I’m asking this because I have been trying to hear God, listen for Him, and trust Him for about 14 years and I don’t seem to be getting the same results as everyone. So either everyone is lying to look better or I’m missing something. As a person who likes to be good at things, and who likes to know what’s going on in her life, this is a very frustrating feeling. How do I get the things I know to be true in my head to travel down and rest easy in my heart?

 

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/18/2014

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Fear of missing out

The social media world is full of abbreviations and acronyms. Most of them I don’t understand. I will scroll through my students’ Twitter feeds and sentences look something likes this, “TBH, IDC wat my parents said. SMH” or “HMU tonight.” It’s seriously a foreign language that should be taught to people like me who have to wade through teen lingo on a daily basis. I totes need a refresher in cool slang.

However, there is one acronym that I do understand. I hate it, but I understand it. FOMO:

fear of missing out.

This is most commonly applied to situations, like not being invited to a party where everyone else seems to be. It also reminds me of a How I Met Your Mother episode where there’s always that one person who, when they leave a room, misses the most exciting part of the evening. Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? reflects this pervading trend of social paranoia. Social media increases this anxiety causing users to check their phones and modes of social media constantly- never wanting to miss a post, tweet, or piece of information that might keep them in the loop. I watch my students do this all day. I have to remind them that nothing exciting has happened in the last ten minutes they checked their phone. It’s a testament to how important we think we are. We seek to be omniscient and desire to have the luxury of deciding what we wish to be involved with, as opposed to accepting that the world spins on without our input.

My case of FOMO started in high school. I was a theater geek who did well in school, had a curfew, and my parents were the kind that needed to know where I was going and if other parents were going to be there (Something I’m very grateful for now). During my sophomore year of high school, my friend group started to change. I had been friends with the same girls since elementary school but now that we were getting older it was clear we weren’t on the same “social track.” Lunch became a time of sharing stories of good times over the weekend and when their eyes landed on me I felt ridiculous. They seemed oblivious to my desire to want to remain in on their plans.I thought, “If you were all together hanging out, what did you think I did all weekend?” It still stung sitting at the lunch table on Monday listening to these girls who I had grown up with talk about their weekend together and knowing I was the only one not invited.Fortunately, I started to make new friends who held similar interests and began to feel more included. However, I still felt the pain of that loss.

Once I got to college, I became more confident and was able to find a group of friends that respected my hermit like behavior, but also pushed me to have new experiences. However, there is a picture of what the college experience is supposed to look like and I began to fear I was missing that. I wasn’t looking to party my years away but I thought I would be doing more than studying and working. I was a part of one student club, but it was small. I didn’t join a sorority. I wasn’t active in a campus ministry. Actually, I began to realize I experience high levels of anxiety in large groups of people (some of you who know me might doubt this, but just because I’m loud doesn’t mean I’m social). I once went to the gym, didn’t understand how to sign up for a cardio machine, panicked in front of a large line of people (convinced they knew I was confused) and ran out. I’m very lucky that my education cohort was so close knit or I might have fallen forever into a textbook and never resurfaced. I feared I was missing what were supposed to be the greatest years of my life.

I graduated, found a job (thankfully), and began my “grown-up” life. So here I am in my twenties with a whole other host of expectations to lives up to. Things like New Girl, Girls, Friends, and the early seasons of Sex and the City create this idea that a young woman in her twenties is flitting from adventure to adventure. Every day is full of some crazy and spontaneous chain of events that teaches you a life lesson and might even land you a date. So according to those expecations: Of course I’m having all my other vagabond friends over for vegan-soy-slam poetry- Friendsgiving. Why yes, I do live in a loft over-looking the skyline of a major metropolis (and pay a reasonable rent). I frequently get in my car just to see where it takes me and wind up in a quaint little country town with the friendliest of people. I daily encounter some cutie in the grocery store who wants my number and then sets up an adorable picnic lunch date.

NOT.

 

I live a very routine life in the suburbs of a small midwestern city. I go to my job, come home, attempt to get more work done, ignore the housework, maybe read, and then go to sleep and do it all over again the next day. I get this constant nagging sense that I’m missing my life. Social media does not help this feeling. Every day there are more posts and pictures of people who are living this seemingly exciting, spontaneous, magical life and I think “How do I make that happen for me?”

This fear is only compounded when I begin to look at what God expects me to do. I have a healthy respect (*cough* fear *cough*) of authority figures and want to please those around me with high expectations. So, I constantly struggle with trying to figure out how I can please God, how I can achieve the honor of being called “good and faithful servant.” I know and understand that I should not be tethered to this world. I should not let what it deems important dictate what I deem important. I am to be in the world, not of it. I believe this and I do try to avoid putting too much stock in earthly materials and honors. It’s an enormous amount of pressure, because this is more than missing fun or spontaneous opportunities. It’s the weight and worth of my soul. It is the question of whether or not I’m fulfilling my God-given purpose in life.

So if we are keeping a tab, I am trying to balance three different life experiences.

  1. The experience the world puts on me.
  2. The experience God puts on me.
  3. The experience I’m actually having.

 

I’m sure some of you have already caught on to the problem this anxiety causes me.

By focusing so much on the fear of missing out, I begin to miss out on what’s happening in my life. By paying so much attention to what others are doing, by putting so much weight on their accomplishments, I stop paying attention to what is going on right in front of my face. I miss out on the ways I’m already living and pursuing God. I focus on how the teacher next door is engaging her students and I miss the revelation happening with a student in my own room. I see friends on exciting weekend trips hiking through beautiful woods, and as I lust for the freedom and beauty they are experiencing, I forget that I hate camping and bugs. While I’m scrolling through Instagram, I miss experiencing the beauty that doesn’t need to be captured and filtered and hashtagged.
I have been blessed with many adventures in my life. Heck, my job is a daily adventure. Perfect example, I had to explain to some visitors yesterday why our senior boys were wearing dresses and skirts. This fear will only be conquered by daily choices to focus on what I have set before me. If any of this sounded familiar, let’s make the conscious effort to stop comparing our adventures to others. Let’s not let the fear of missing out shadow the moment we are experiencing right now.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/15/2014

Blessed are the single?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

This is how that verse reads in the New International Version. However, I think that sometimes people read it like this.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future *and for you ladies that definitely means a husband so wait patiently for my plans to unfold*”

Several of my close friends and family members have made the big leap into marriage in the past several years (quite a few got hitched only last year!). With the invasive social media, it’s very easy to congratulate a happy couple and of course stalk all the photos from that joyous day. However, I have noticed a trend in the congratulation messages a couple receives. Or more specifically, the congratulation messages a bride receives. Immediately before, the day of, and immediately after I see people writing things on a bride’s wall that congratulate her on her patience and assure her that the best part of her life has just started. They repeatedly use the term “the Lord’s plan” in their congratulations.

“You patiently waited on the Lord and he provided.”

“Congratulations, the Lord has truly blessed you.”

“We are so happy to see the amazing things God is going to do in your marriage.”

I am not debating the truth of these statements. I believe that God blesses us in many ways and that he does use marriage to enrich our lives and, if we are following Him, to better the lives of those around us. My issue with statement like those above is that I only read them on the bride’s wall. Oh sure, people congratulate the groom. But those comments are mostly jokes about how lucky he is and how he is never going to be “right” again in his life (a topic all on its own).

There seems to be a trend within the Christian community that associates marriage with the start of a woman’s life. Her life is only blessed because she waited and finally found a husband. God can finally use her because she is married. She’s doing the Lord’s work and fulfilling his plans by becoming a “Mrs”. What happened to all of her accomplishments while she was single?

What about the degree she got while also holding a full time job? What about those loans she paid off on her own? What about the job she secured for herself and became successful in? What about the small group she led? What about the volunteer projects she dedicated her time to?

Those accomplishments are seen as things that women complete while they are “waiting” on the Lord to supply them a husband. Those jobs, tasks, and accomplishments are just used to keep us occupied so we don’t spiral into desperate loneliness, right? Instead, we should see them for what they truly are. Accomplishments that the Lord has also blessed. Pieces of His plan that we are already actively taking part in, man or no man. What bothers me so much about those statements is that it seems to invalidate all other parts of God’s plan that took place before the marriage. I remember reading a comment that said, “Enjoy your first birthday as a Mrs!” As if somehow this birthday was better than the rest. As if all other birthdays before this one were inadequate. Like this girl has been waiting for the day that she could celebrate HER birthday as a Mrs. I’m sorry, but it’s HER birthday. It really has nothing to do with whether or not she’s married, unless she shares a birthday with her husband and then it might require her sharing her cake.

I realize I’m going to lose some people in this argument because sometimes I wave my feminist flag too high. But. A girl does not become a woman when she is married. A young woman is not validated by a ring on her finger. Her successes and accomplishments should not be measured by whether or not she has changed her last name. A woman can be patiently waiting on the Lord’s plan and not be waiting on a husband. A woman can be following His desire, will, and plan for her life and accomplish great things through Him, without being engaged or married, and those successes still matter. She is still working towards the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 19: 11-12- The Message

But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”

Marriage is not guaranteed to us, and we don’t need it to be.  Many single women and single men are living in the many blessings of God, and are blessing others in return. God knows the plan he has for each woman and each man, and it is a plan to give each one hope and a future.  Who knows if that plan includes marriage? Let’s sit in awe of and celebrate what God is doing in the lives of those single men and those single women, now. God isn’t waiting to use them, so let’s not wait to celebrate His work.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 4/3/2014