As this year draws to a close,
upon hitting 23 and finishing university,
trying to earn enough to survive on (ah yes, I've joined the age-old rat race!) trying to build up a career,
but most of all, trying to handle this slippery bar of soap called Life and Adulthood--
here are a few reflections I found myself writing down.
~Do your devotions. Make it a habit and you won't regret it. It's like exercise. Making it a habit doesn't mean you're not going to struggle with it, (look at me, making resolutions on this for the third? fourth? year running) but it definitely helps.
~Come to church. Just come. Don't make excuses. There will always be reasons, no matter what time in your life, no matter your age, for you not to come, and it will never really be 'easier' at any one point in life, the way you imagine it will be, than it is now.
~Accept and use the church family as the community God has given to help and encourage you in your spiritual walk. Make friends. Find accountability partners. Find people to pray for, and people to pray for you. Learn to share burdens, griefs, and joys, learn to be vulnerable. Learn to love and walk together with people who are different from you, in age, in backgrounds, in culture, in personality.
~Perspective on life. This has been one of the greatest helps to me. Having the perspective to know that what you feel now--no matter how intensely--is not the ultimate meaning, or the most accurate representation of this event/time. Whether failing a test, losing a relationship, or making a stupid mistake, our emotions are strong, and it is devastating if we accept that what we feel/think then to be the one life-long interpretation of what happened. Which is seldom the case, as countless (often, forgotten) journal entries have proven repeatedly to me.
~Priorities. Realize that one of the biggest lessons during this period of life and the start of independence is discovering, deciding, and maintaining priorities. There will be sacrifices, but doesn't every choice we make--no matter what--result in some sort of sacrifice? (opportunity cost is the term I'm looking for, thanks economics) Being able to accept that and make our decisions based on that is sobering but also empowering.
~Don't cut your body short. Don't run on caffeine. Drink water. Get more sleep than a bare minimum, and pull as few all nighters as possible. Just because you can get away with it now doesn't mean you should. Annnnd it really contributes to your overall mood/attitude, especially if you've been feeling miserable and out of control with your life.
~Learn to say no. Without feeling it comes with personal implications. Without feeling the pressure to explain and defend yourself, without feeling guilty or inadequate. Consciously keep from over-committing yourself (this relates to priorities) Again, one of the biggest lessons I had to learn--but with the biggest returns.
~Spend time with people who aren't in your peer group or category--not just in terms of age; culturally, lingually, in social-background etc etc. Learn to widen your horizons and appreciate differences.
~Apologize. This takes courage and humility, and few people nowadays--sadly--have that. As Christians, this is one area that you can clearly be a witness, make a difference in. To your younger sibling, to someone you don't like, to your parents, to a kid, to someone who's been condescending to you. It's tough, but worth it.
~Don't be afraid to admit you don't know something, or to try something you're not good at, or to acknowledge your failures. It's very hard, especially when we're so anxious to appear grown-up--responsible--intelligent--to convince others, but most importantly ourselves, that we 'have our shit together,' that we are cool--poised--confident. But really. We're not actually, and it's hugely liberating, if scary, to acknowledge that that's okay. Because often we are our most merciless critics. I thought I'd outgrown this with my teen years but surprise, it just took an a different aspect, as an adult!
~Learn to listen. Learn also to talk--about what matters. As young people we tend to be all wrapped up in our own lives, which seem so much more exciting and important than say an elderly person's nostalgia or a child's breaking news. Sometimes we need to patiently--and humbly--learn to listen. (Of course, there's the flip-side too; but I personally tend to stray on the talk-too-much side of the spectrum)
Life goes by so fast. New Year's Eve celebrations and the transition they represent go by like fireworks that disappear almost instantly, and the next thing you know you're left in the alien darkness again, the same and yet different; feeling the uncomfortable deja vu of having done this so many times before, the novelty wearing off for that reason and not because you're any more prepared or confident than you were last year. I hope that by stopping and reflecting on it I can better understand and appreciate my experiences, myself, this gift of life I was given. To better use it.
If we live day to day without joy, it's a good indicator that we have lost sight of Christ's redeeming work.
I heard that in a sermon a while ago, and it resonated strongly with me. As it would with anyone.
Lift up your heart, we sing in church. Lift up your voice, rejoice, again I say, rejoice! We all want to experience this life-changing, steadfast joy--no weak common emotion like happiness, mind you, but something deeper and fiercer and stronger, as the word choice conveys.
Is it a huge, impossible challenge for you to have a happy life, to find contentment in your everyday? For so many years I lived with the impression that happiness lay several boxes away. Friends. Success. Affirmation. Aesthetics. Comfort. Tick those boxes and you've completed the formula for happiness, no?
Even as Christians, we still tend to have the same mentality. To experience the "joy of the Lord" that Nehemiah 8:10 talks about is such a surreal, transient thing that we hardly dare talk about it, maybe dismiss it as "charismatic", (*cough Reformed background weakness cough*) assume that we're not 'holy' enough to have reached that stage of loving God, we've got to first improve our spiritual disciplines and kick those bad habits entirely and...
I think that when we've lost sight of this joy that we as Christians are entitled to have, it's because we've lost sight of Christ--in our focus on doing things for Him, we neglect to enjoy Him. Amid all the distractions of our busy lives, our faith soon gets reduced to another set of to-do's. Read the Bible more. Get devotions in every day. Reach out to others.
But we forget that we don't have to have ticked all these boxes--an impossible task, by the way, at least while we're here struggling through the gory process of sanctification--to enjoy Him. That His joy, peace, and love are tangible in our lives, are directly relevant to our lives, in the midst of all we haven't done, shouldn't have done.
I think that is possibly the biggest lesson I've learnt this year. When I stopped to reflect on the past year and consider how I'd grown spiritually, my first response was guilt and discouragement. In so many of the ways I'd determined to grow this year--pray more! have more courage to talk about Christ! be more patient and loving!--I'd failed. Not even failed to make progress; in some cases, actually regressed. And so I felt, on the heels of that realization, that no, I hadn't "grown spiritually" much this year.
But the next moment I reconsidered that conclusion. Though I didn't have any ticked boxes or graphs to show for it, I felt that wasn't entirely true. This year has been a difficult year for me, a year full of change and often weariness. Of realizations that one by one take a little bit of sparkle away from how you see the world, the future. But amidst all that struggling, all the failure, even, I felt as though one lesson had cleared through the mist--learning to see how the person of God relates directly to my life, learning to appreciate and understand the significance of God's attributes.
And that enabled me to experience for the first time a kind of durable, everyday joy--a taste of the "peace which surpasses all understanding;" (Philippians 4:7) of why we call Him the "God of all comfort." (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)
I think I won't do a good job explaining this, but I can only try.
For example. So many times I found myself repeatedly asking for forgiveness, for the same besetting sin, that even I got frustrated at myself, almost couldn't dare to imagine that God hadn't lost patience with me by now, that I hadn't made a mockery of Christ's atonement for me. Humanly speaking, there was no reason why not. I ran out of excuses. Forced to face, exhausted and speechless, the unpleasant fact that I just clung too tightly to sin.
And that was when I realized anew what GRACE and MERCY, those abstract, often dry terms which we use to describe God, actually meant. Their very real and direct application to my life--right now. Not only at the point of my conversion, but as a necessary and vital part of today, of what gave me hope, what encouraged me.
Our joy--as our hope, our peace, and so much more--is steadfast and strong because it does not depend on us. On our current mood or our current situation. It is based on Him, on Who He is; and that never changes, never fails us, is never less than we need.
This year, in different ways and over different stages, I've been realizing slowly just how significant each one of God's attributes are to me. A newfound appreciation and understanding of Who He is, and simultaneously who I am; and how He changes my life. I'd memorized in the Shorter Catechism Who God is:
God is spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.
But what does that actually mean?
To put it more specifically--what does that mean for my life, today?
This coming year, no matter what it brings for you--pain, affirmation, loss, growth, change--may you answer that question for yourself.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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