“You’re not alone”, she says to me, warming me with her presence and comforting words as I sit in front of her in tears.
It’s the week before my senior year of college, and my Resident Director and I sit in the corner of a room to pray for the year ahead of us. As a Resident’s Assistant, I arrived early on campus to undergo a week of training, and to say it left me weary would be an understatement. Hours of training and little amounts of sleep will do that to you, but for me it had been more.
I came into the week weary.
So when my RD asked me how she could pray for me, the tears cascaded from my eyes, uninhibited, urged on by the amount of pressure built up in my head.
“I had… a hard year,” I began, urged on by her understanding look, comforted by the fact that she knew my story, “and I allowed it to build up in me false beliefs about myself, lies that are so far from the truth,” breathe,” but they follow me like a dark… cloud…” Wiping from underneath my eyes, choking back a sob. “And it’s exhausting…”
It’s exhausting. It’s exhausting to forget what God says about me. It’s exhausting to make Him small.
It’s exhausting to try and make everything in my life fit into my little box of “OK”, even when it doesn’t.
That moment was one of many, cherry-topping the season of confusion and doubt and humiliation I had lived.
This past year has been hard for me, the hardest of my life. I’m not afraid to say that. I allowed Satan to grab hold of my vulnerabilities, I allowed him to make me scared. And anxious. And that anxiety led me to doctors and anti-depressants and prescriptions and suddenly sadness was depression and depression was sadness and I couldn’t figure out which was which and what was up and what was down.
And I began to take everything anyone said about me, anything that happened to me, and put it on my own shoulders, let it fill in the dotted line under “identity”.
I’ve learned something about things that happen to us. They tempt us. They tempt us to believe things about ourselves that simply aren’t true. And those beliefs grow into thoughts and those thoughts grow into patterns and suddenly the only voice we hear is the one that brings us down.
This December, the year is unfolding before me more than ever before.
The year I turned 22. The year I started my senior year of college. The year I ran a 10k. The year I laughed my eyes out and finally put a futon in my dorm room. And the year I cried more than ever before, doubted more than ever before, felt deep sadness more than ever before.
Which will win?
It baffles me that sometimes I want the sadness to win. Or, maybe “want” is not the right word here. Allow, maybe? One thing I have learned: it is so much easier to let Satan steal the show. It’s natural, isn’t it? To follow the sin nature and darkness that is in our own hearts?
It is a rebellious act to follow Jesus Christ with your life. Rebellious and gutsy. It takes courage to wake up day after day and say “Yes, Jesus, I will fight the sin inside of me.” Or, more accurately, live in the victory that is already ours. The addiction or the anger or the deception and lies that our tender hearts believe.
Author Shauna Niequist once said, “Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful”.
Bittersweet. In all things there is shattered glass and a rainbow of light reflected colors.
Nothing describes my year better than that. I sit here, nearing the end of it, and I am baffled to know that I wouldn’t change a single moment. In all of its hardships and tears and acne and pounds gained and tests barely passed. Because I am learning that life is so much more than Instagram-worthy years and bullet-points on my resume.
This past week, I attended my grandmother’s 95th birthday party. Let me say right now, nothing will give your 22 year old heart a reality check like hearing the tear-felt prayers of a woman who has left the years of youth behind her, and who holds the secret to what is real and true in this life. My family, her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren, sat in a circle around her. And we watched her eyes well up and listened as she named each one of us, in turn, and simply said that she prayed for each of us everyday.
And there was nothing small about it. She knew: it is what matters most.
I realized more than ever that I don’t want to be indoctrinated by this world. It tells me so many things: I must be successful, physically fit, married, happy (always happy). It puts no value on the quiet strength of the heart and still voice of prayer. It sees no point in hours spent on knees. And sometimes, I don’t either.
But as 2018 comes closer, I realize that my heart has a lot more growing to do. And, in a twisted and crazy way, I ask for a year as dynamic as this one. Because I want to know my Lord, and I won’t see Him in the comfortable version of Christianity I have created for myself.
I hope that I can begin to see, more and more, that the bittersweet is just as much bliss as it is pain. And what would life be without the pinch?
Who would I be without the pain?
I urge you, fellow wish-away-er, to think. Who would you be without it all? What matters most to you, and should it?
To you women, what do you want a man to see in you? An ignorantly “happy” person who knows God as the flannel-graph version of himself from your 3rd grade Sunday school? Or do you want to know the Lord, your Lord and Savior, from grit and sweat and life? Do you want your “adorning to be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit”? (1 Peter 3:4)
I propose that wrinkled faces and bruised knees are more beautiful than we have been taught.
I mourn the prosperity gospel of this age, for it makes us think there is something wrong when hardships come. May we all have more 2017’s. May we, the bruised and beaten, celebrate it all. May we rush out of our “prisons”, dancing and celebrating, as the apostles did, overjoyed to be counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ, who gave it all for us.
May my heart be so molded as to rejoice in it all. And may yours, too.
May we embrace 2018 and all that it will bring. May we pray more than we ever have before, and may we cultivate beauty in ourselves that is undefiled and imperishable, precious in the sight of God.