As most of you know, I am now in my last semester of undergrad, and as such, I’ve been spending quite a bit of time reflecting on what God has taught me during these past four years. For those of you who spend extended periods of time with me, these five lessons won’t be anything new because I talk about them frequently, but I’m realizing that they’re good enough to bear repeating.
1. Growth is circular.
Whenever I learn something, I have this silly expectation that I will master it the first time around and then be able to move on. In reality, I often learn a lesson, and then a situation comes up in my life that tests whether I’ve actually learned the lesson I’m claiming to have mastered, at which point I quickly discover that I have so much more to learn. Take, for example, last Friday. In my Christian Discipling class we were discussing emotional authenticity, and I was patting myself on the back for having mastered the art of tapping into my true emotions. Three hours later I found myself upset and confused about a situation with a friend that drug up old wounds, but incredibly unwilling to allow myself to press into what I was truly feeling. It took my roommates asking if I was okay (and not taking yes for an answer) for me to acknowledge that I was hurting. At which point I had two choices – be frustrated with myself for failing to be true to my emotions, or recognize the circular nature of growth. Growth is like a moving bike. If you are a speck on the wheel of a bike, it feels like you’re making progress as the wheel moves forward, only to be drug backwards over and over again. But, if you look at the bike as a whole, it is consistently moving forward. (This analogy is much easier to describe with hand motions, but I’ll trust you to get the idea). In the same way as we grow, if we only focus on our current situation, we often feel like we’ve backslid and lost all we’ve learned. However, if we take a step back and look at how far we’ve come since we started, we can no longer deny our growth.
Pretend to be a speck on the wheel of my tricycle and then you’ll hopefully understand my analogy. 🙂
2. God has room for your full range of emotions.
I am known for giving people this advice all the time, and until last summer, I thought I believed it. But last summer, for the first time in my life, I found myself feeling angry at God, and I suddenly wasn’t so sure He could actually handle ALL of my emotions. Being angry at God is scary, and it’s not a place I would recommend sitting for a long period of time, but unless you are willing to engage that emotion, you won’t be able to move beyond it. In her newest book called Present Over Perfect Shauna Niequist talks about oil and vinegar prayers. She says that we want to get to the oil in our prayers – the beautiful, rich, intimate times with God, but that in order to get there we must pray through the vinegar – our fears, frustrations, and really anything that is bitter in our lives. And you know what I’ve found in mining though the darkness within me? That God truly does have room for my full range of emotions. My questions and doubts don’t scare Him because He knows that no matter how hard I push back, He will come out true.
Sometimes my emotions feel as strong and reckless as the ocean, but God is faithful to never let me drown.
3. Prayer is never powerless.
During my freshman year, one of my dear friends and hallmates used this phrase, and it has stuck with me ever since. This phrase usually comes to mind when I’m in a situation where I feel powerless and God is asking me to pray, which is endlessly frustrating to me! I want to fix, answer, do, but God says, “wait, trust, pray.” Over and over and over again I have seen the power of prayer at work in my life. In response to my prayers God has provided housing, mended relationships, drawn people to Himself, stirred hearts, and healed in miraculous ways. Sometimes I feel like I’m just flinging words at the sky, but lately God’s been reminding me that He hears me. It blows my mind that we serve a God who wants nothing more than to listen to us, and takes into consideration the things we have to say.
Sweet Bree gets all the credit for the “prayer is never powerless” line.
4. Should is a dangerous word.
If we are doing something because we feel we should, that is a warning sign that we are not being authentic to who we were created to be. As I look back over my time in college, I realize how many decisions I made out of a place of should. It is only in the past few months that I’ve been truly able to look at my life and say, “Yes, this is who I’m meant to be.” Not that I’m living in full authenticity by any stretch of the imagination (see #1) but lately I’ve been marveling in how much joy it brings me to do the work that I was made to do. When you find those things that make you come alive, everything else pales in comparison. Sometimes that means being quirky or different. So much of college is not only learning who you are, but coming to terms with what you’ve learned about yourself. My encouragement is this – if it brings you joy, don’t let it be stopped or silenced. In the words of Howard Thurman “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Experiencing other cultures makes me come alive!
5. God is trustworthy.
This sounds simple, but truly believing this changes everything. If God is trustworthy, then my future is secure. This is probably the most important lesson I continue to learn – life-altering enough to get it tattooed on my arm. Sometimes my roommates ask me to name a time when God has failed me, and I can never do it. The ways of God are not my ways, and He loves to surprise me, but He has never failed me, not once. One of my current favorite songs is “Seasons Change by United Pursuit, and the chorus, though simple is profound. “Though the seasons change/Your love remains.”
Father, since you are a God who loves me unconditionally, help me become a daughter who trusts you no matter what.