My daughter, Maddie, is a student at Leavell College, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Recently, she called to share what she had written in her journal after a particularly difficult few days and weeks. I was greatly encouraged by her words and asked if I might share them here with you along with her photos of the campus. If you’ve ever felt like everything is falling apart (I know I have), then I pray this post encourages you as much as it did me.
As most of us have figured out, life doesn’t always go as we’ve planned. Relationships are strained, classes are hard, and work is stressful. Going into every situation I want to know the outcome and I work as hard as I can to make the outcome go according to my plan. I want all my relationships to be easy, I want to get A’s in all my classes, and I hope for a stress-free workday. I place my identity in these areas and when I drop one of the balls I’m juggling I immediately feel like everything is falling apart. When things aren’t going my way I feel discontented. I’m certain I’m not the only one who feels this way.
Here’s my story:
Over the past couple of years, I’ve reached a milestone every six months. In 2016, I graduated high school, got a new job, and attended a seminary campus preview in New Orleans. In 2017, I quit my job and moved to New Orleans for school. I found a church, made new friends and settled into my new home.
For most people a new year is filled with joyful anticipation of a new beginning. Those people get busy making resolutions and plans. That used to be me too. I, however, started 2018 feeling “less-than” and had no motivation to start or accomplish anything. The words “I just want to run away” left my mouth many times. I would describe how I was feeling as just “floating around in life”. In my mind, nothing I did mattered. I’d convinced myself that nothing would change if I weren’t here. I had no intention of harming myself, but I was sure if I disappeared no one would care or notice.
To add to the list, I’d fallen into the trap of looking to Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Google, Netflix, and TV to answer life’s questions and solve its problems. These platforms tell us how we should look, what jobs we should have, how much money we should be making, how our relationships should be, and, of course, what we need to be doing to be considered successful—which is really just code for “you need to do more.”
Before I knew it, I couldn’t even discern truth anymore. Even though I was in the Word daily, I’d allowed the voice of the world to be louder than the voice of the Creator.
The thought of abandoning my calling because I won’t make money or feeling like I should sign up for everything so that I feel useful was constantly invading my mind.
I’d lose sleep worrying about something I heard in a movie or something I watched on YouTube. I replayed something I read on Facebook with a title like “6 Ways to Look More Attractive in Pictures” or “15 Things Only the Most Amazing Girlfriends Do”. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve read these articles but that’s how damaged my thought life had become. I’d convinced myself that the people who wrote these articles must know everything and therefore it was absolutely necessary for me to read it so that I could stay in the know. These articles and others like them caused a lot of havoc in my life in more ways than one. Anxiety and mild depression began to consume me. I’d never dealt with anything like this but I couldn’t figure out what was causing it.
I’ve spent the past two months waking up every hour wondering how I could fit all these rules and suggestions into my life so that it could be better. I’d repeat the same “truths” to myself each time I woke up:
- I need to lose weight
- I should probably dye my hair so that I can fit in
- I need to make more money
- I’m not a good friend.
- I’m not a good girlfriend (based on the article I read)
- I need to start dressing like ____ so that I won’t look so ____.
- I need to start going out more so I’ll have friends.
And the list goes on and on.
Over the past several weeks the weather has been no less than perfect. The average high has been around 80 degrees with lots of sunshine and a cool, gulf breeze. One Tuesday after chapel I was on my way to the cafeteria when I looked up.
What I saw took my breath away. The Lord spoke a sweet message into my heart. I realized that my problems and worries are not as big of a deal as I’m making them out to be. I desire to control every aspect of my life but creation reminds me that God is in control.
The gulf breeze doesn’t blow because of my design and trees do not sway at my command. Birds don’t sing because I gave them a voice nor do the flowers bloom because I say so.
My struggle came down to one thing: I was not content. I was constantly trying to micromanage every aspect of the rest of my life. I could spend hours trying to fix a situation that hadn’t even happened yet. I’m learning to be satisfied with my current circumstances instead of trying to control what will happen ten years from now or even tomorrow. I am practicing gratefulness. I am doing this by naming three things that I am grateful for in place of every single thing I’m tempted to worry about. Doing this has completely changed my outlook.
So, instead of worrying about what we don’t have or what could happen, let’s choose to focus on the things we do have and what God is doing in each moment of our lives and the lives of others.
Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us because it was something we couldn’t do on our own. When I’m tempted to carry everything on my own I’m reminded that not only am I unable, but I don’t have to. My significance, as well as yours, is found in Jesus Christ, not abilities or titles. When we look for our identity in our circumstances or accomplishments we will always be disappointed. But when we look for our identity in Christ our hope is unshakeable.
The truth of God’s Word is there, but whether or not it impacts our hearts and lives is completely up to us.