When we talked about having another baby, there is one thing that I had blocked from my mind, and that's the washing they create! I had prepared myself for being tired (perhaps not quite enough as Lucas still hasn't got the memo that nights are for sleeping for extended periods of time), but I had totally forgotten how much washing one little person could add to our already overflowing laundry basket. With our busy household of 6, much of my days are spent making sure everyone has clean clothes and food to eat - like the song that never ends, my days are full of tasks that never end!
So let's just put it out there that some days, weeks - some seasons can feel very long. Sometimes, it's nothing particularly big or bothersome and you know it's just a season that you will come through (like the sleepless nights - I've been parenting long enough to know that eventually kids do sleep and that one day I will again too). But other times the enemies to our freedom that we've been talking about this month on the blog - the burden of shame as we face our failures, painful disappointments when life and people have let us down, the sense that it's happening for everyone but us - can feel like they're suffocating us and we don't know how, or even if, we will ever see breakthrough.
We went through a chapter (quite a long one I must add) in our life as a family where honestly, I didn't know how much more I could take. It felt at times like nothing was untouched - I was surrounded by disappointments and discouragements. In this time, passages like James 1 became my go-to verses. I just needed to keep on persevering so that I could be made mature, or like Romans 5 says, to develop my character. I got very good at gritting my teeth and just getting on with it. But my heart felt so heavy and I often felt like God had forgotten about me.
During a particularly difficult time, I was given this verse in Colossians 1 from the Message paraphrase:
As you learn more and more how God works, you will learn how to do your work. We pray that you’ll have the strength to stick it out over the long haul--not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength God gives. It is strength that endures the unendurable and spills over into joy, thanking the Father who makes us strong enough to take part in everything bright and beautiful that He has for us.
I just love how Eugene Peterson has phrased this, not the grim strength of gritting your teeth but the glory-strength that God gives. Doesn't that just sound so good - God's glory strength becoming ours.
Now this type A personality, eldest child knew how to work hard! But I needed to let myself be yoked to Jesus so that it wasn't about gritting my teeth and steeling myself to get through, but about partnering with Him and letting His strength become my strength. You see, I had lost sight of the fact that maturity and character, while incredibly important, were not God's end-goal for me. James tells us that the one who perseveres receives the crown of life, Paul says that the fruit of character is hope, a confident expectation of God's goodness. Freedom, life, hope - these are what God is always wanting to lead us towards.
This revelation changed everything for me; it changed how I read passages like James 1 as I now understood that God was using the difficult things of this world not just to shape and refine me, but so I could experience His life within me. I began to see the valleys I found myself in, the struggles that I was wrestling with as an opportunity to see God at work and to experience His goodness firsthand. It was not the absence of pain or grief but eyes wide-open to see His presence and His goodness right there in the midst of it all.
Understanding the goodness of God and His heart for me has taken me on a journey of revisiting the things that have disappointed me, the places that I have failed, the times that I have felt overlooked and forgotten. In revisiting these hard places He has pulled back the curtain and let me see what He sees. And oh how differently He sees everything, how skilfully He weaves my life and brings healing and freedom.
In Isaiah 45, God promises this:
I will give you treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know that I am the LORD, the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
I currently find myself in a period of discovering God and the riches that He has for me in the mundane and unseen nature of this present season. But this verse is my testimony - that from the darkest places of my journey God has given me rich treasures; He has shown me time and time again that I am not forgotten, that He knows me and calls me by name.
Don't settle for just gritting your teeth, God wants you to know His glory strength and for you to live aware of His goodness in every season. Whether life currently looks like piles of laundry, or if you're caught up in storms, finding your way through a valley or living with desires fulfilled, He has treasures in it just for you. He knows you - intimately, personally - and He wants you to know Him that way too.
Live today with purpose,
There comes a certain point in time where children discover the concept of 'fair' - no one has to teach them about it, it's just innate! In our household it first manifested in relation to portion sizes - crackers, raisins, EVERYTHING had to be counted to ensure that they all had the same amount because otherwise it just wasn't 'fair.' As they've grown their notions of fairness have become more complex, but even now one of the most commonly heard phrases is, "why is her piece bigger than mine?" or "why did she get more?"
Whether it's facebook highlight reels, who has the tidiest house (you know we all stash the mess in the master bedroom when guests are coming!) or something much more significant, something that in our hearts and minds measures success, the temptation to compare creeps up on the best of us. But in my experience comparison tends to be a sure-fire way to invite self-doubt, disappointment, discouragement, perhaps even shame in. It distracts us and can rob us of the joy of what God is outworking in our lives, making us think that if we could just have what someone else is having, everything would be alright and we would be content.
But that's a lie. Because here's the thing I've always tried to teach our kids - fair does not always mean the same. Sometimes as adults we need that reminder - our lives, our paths do not have to look the same and different does not mean that one is better than the other, simply that they are just that - different. We were not created to live cookie-cutter lives and one size never fits all. We are fearfully, wonderfully and uniquely made and God knows exactly what He is fashioning in each of our lives.
In John 21, after Jesus has restored Peter who denied Him, He lays out the price of following Him, revealing the way that Peter would one day die. As Peter processes this information he turns and sees that John is following them and he says to Jesus, "well what about him?" Can you hear the inherent question - will it be the same for him? Jesus' response is this:
“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
Jesus is telling Peter that what He wants to do in John's life is not what Peter should be concerned about; that he needs to have predetermined that he trusts and is willing to follow the path that Jesus has marked out for him.
This is the critical juncture that we will all reach at some point in our journey - the moment when somebody else has what we desperately want but don't have; the season when life seems to be a bed of roses for everyone else and we seem to be stuck with all the thorns and we have to choose our response. We have to choose whether we really trust God - who He is and His heart towards us.
I love David's words in Psalm 21:
For the king trusts in the LORD; through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.
As you study the many psalms that David wrote, you see that no matter what he faced he believed that God loved him and that that love was relentless. Knowing that God's love would never let him down brought stability to his life and it can do the same for us.
When comparing our lives to those around us leaves us feeling like we come up short we need to change the object of our attention. We need to realise like Peter did, like David did, that no matter how many times we fail, no matter how long we have to wait, that He loves us and that we can trust what He is forming in our lives. We need to determine that even if it feels like others get a bigger piece of cake (or maybe one with more icing!) that we trust Him enough to follow where He leads us.
Live today with purpose,
P.S. Make sure you follow along on facebook this week - I'll be sharing some of the practical ways I've learnt to break the power of comparison in my own life.
One of our kids has been learning a lot about navigating disappointment this year - her year just hasn't been panning out how she expected and she's been experiencing the pain of plans and relationships falling short of what she desired. It's hard, because as a mum I just want to wave a wand and make it all better for her - but deep down I know that I'm doing her a much better service to teach her how to steward disappointment. Because one thing I know, we live in a world that is full of disappointments. Sometimes they're just a momentary setback, other times they quite honestly feel soul-crushing. Life. It can feel like it opposes hope, but I've come to realise that while we will encounter disappointments, we don't have to live disappointed.
I recently had to go back somewhere that at one point in time had been a desire fulfilled - it was a building that our Church family had sacrificed and invested a lot into to make our Church home. But a variety of circumstances had meant that after five years, we could no longer afford to stay there and we made the decision to assign our lease and rent a community facility on a Sunday. It was disappointing to say the least.
As I pondered returning to this building that another Church now occupies, I felt the sting of this disappointment afresh. Where did we go wrong? What had we done as a Church to deserve the chain of events that had led to that point? Why us? When would it be our turn for breakthrough?
Sound like familiar questions? Perhaps you've asked them yourself when you too have faced setbacks.
But something happened in my spirit as I prepared myself to go back to this place of seeming disappointment - God gave me a fresh perspective; His perspective. He reminded me of a verse in Genesis 26 that would be easy to overlook. It says this:
He [Isaac] reopened the wells his father had dug, which the Philistines had filled in after Abraham’s death. Isaac also restored the names Abraham had given them.
Abraham had laboured to build something that time and circumstances had obscured. But the power of what he had sown was still there and it created a legacy of blessing.
God was reminding me that there is always more going on than what we can see. Our Church had laboured at one point in time to build a spiritual well for the community that we were planted in, and our dreams and efforts had created a legacy that others were able to come and draw out of so that living water could keep flowing in that place long after we were gone. When viewed from God's perspective, I realised that what I had seen as a failure, a disappointment was actually far from it. And as I walked through the building that had once been our home and saw what God was doing in it now, rather than walking away discouraged I was so blessed to see what we had partnered with God to release into that community.
Disappointment comes in all shapes and sizes and the pain that it can cause us cannot be whitewashed. It is very real. But God continually reminds me that He is able to bring healing to my places of disappointment as I bring them to Him and let Him speak His truth into them.
I don't know what it is that you may have laboured long and hard for that feels like a failure, a missed opportunity; what relationships you have lovingly sown into only to be let down; what dream feels delayed or even dead. But I am learning that God doesn't see these situations the way that we do and that when my heart longs for Him more than predetermined outcomes, then I free Him to turn places of disappointment into wells of delight.
Romans 5:5 tells us,
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love.
Hope - a confident expectation of God's goodness - whispers God's love to us in our darkest moments. It opens us up to hear His voice instead of the voice of shame and condemnation; it is what ensures we don't live disappointed.
Can I encourage you today to take some time to ask God how He views the situations that are disappointing you and discouraging you in this season. Allow the Holy Spirit to minister with love to you.
Live today with purpose,
This year has been one of tremendous change for me - in fact, some days it feels like there isn't a sphere of my world that hasn't been altered in some significant way. Change tends to make me more introspective as I give myself the time and space to come to terms with my new reality. In recent weeks, I have been thinking about how far God has brought me in my faith - and yet at the same time how the same demons can seek to trip me up and keep me from pursuing the fullness of what I know God has for me.
In Galatians 5:1, Paul said:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Some translations say, don't get tied up or entangled again in a yoke of slavery . Just the presence of the word 'again' makes me think that Paul knew all too well how easy it can be to find ourselves stuck, enslaved once again by sin to patterns of thinking and behaving that restrict and limit us.
From the very beginning of Scripture, we see one of the enemy's tactics to keep us enslaved is shame. Before the fall, Genesis tells us that Adam and Eve felt no shame - they were naked and exposed but they had nothing to fear or hide from one another. They were free to be fully present with God and with each other. But then they stuffed up, and all of a sudden they're busy sewing fig-leaves together to cover themselves up; frantically trying to hide from God. Because that's what shame does - it makes us want to hide from God and from one another; it seeks to cover up, to obscure the true us and leaves us desperately wishing we were somebody else, anybody else.
Shame lies to us; it taunts us and reminds us of every weakness, every short-coming, every wrong thing that we've ever done. It's like the remote getting stuck on replay, and it exhausts us, wears us down and robs us of our hope. It steals from us our joy and our expectation. Far too often we find ourselves tied up in shame, instead of living in the freedom that Christ intended us for.
A couple of years ago, God took me on a journey of restoring hope. At the time, we were coming out of a very long and difficult chapter of our lives - there had been a lot of disappointment, a lot of mistakes, a HUGE number of reasons for me to feel ashamed. I had given the enemy plenty of ammunition to use against me and it was a journey to learn to stand in my God-given identity; to live free. As I have meditated on some of the New Testament passages about the power of hope, God used their connections to Abraham's journey to encourage me.
If you're familiar with the story of Abraham, then you probably know these two things - that in his attempts to speed up the fulfillment of God's promise of a son, he took a second wife (his first wife's servant - messy aye!) who gave birth to Ishmael, and that God changed his name from Abram, to Abraham which means the father of nations. But have you ever pondered the sequence of these events? You might have assumed this name of incredible promise was spoken before Abraham took matters into his own hands, but in reality it was given afterwards.
In Genesis 15, God had made the promise that Abraham's heir would be a son of his own flesh and blood, by chapter 16 his wife has given up on thinking that son will come through her and so offers him her Egyptian slave as a second wife. He accepts and the slave conceives a son, Ishmael, but by now there is nothing but trouble in his household. Trying to fulfill God's promises on their own terms meant lots of mistakes; lots of reasons to be ashamed and think they'd blown it.
But I love the turn of events in Genesis 17. In the midst of all this mess, God shows up and says to him:
This is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you.
Ponder these promises for a moment and the context in which they were given - right on the heels of this rather messy scenario, God turns up and He doesn't stand there berating Abraham, heaping shame upon him. No, He says, "Do you know what I see? I see a father of nations. And not just that - you'll be the father of kings." God didn't speak condemnation, He spoke hope and gave him a new name, a new identity to live out of.
And this is the truth - we see our train-wrecks, but God sees promise, potential, a divine-given destiny and future. Shame wants to cut us off from what God is saying; it wants to make us run and hide, but God's love is relentless and He keeps pursuing us, keeps speaking truth.
No matter what regrets, what stuff-ups and mistakes litter our past, today, through Jesus, God speaks a new beginning and a new identity. He calls us chosen, loved, blessed. You are far too precious, your life filled with far too much divine potential to live stifled by shame. May His truth bring you freedom today.
Live today with purpose,
Discover more about how God's grace brings us freedom in the Set Free Devotional
One of my favourite pass-times as a kid was writing. I used to make my own books and write poetry on our old type-writer. Thankfully both my writing and technology have come a long way!
It is my prayer that these posts from both myself and guest contributors encourage you to embrace the season that you are in and to live it with purpose for God's glory.
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