Happiness and Joy

Last year I met the love of my life. It was totally unexpected. I had decided that after my previous disastrous relationship it would be good to take some time to heal. Because of the nature of the break up I changed churches which had this not happened I would never have met my husband! In the past year we have had many happy times together! But what I would tell you is that there is a definite difference between happiness and joy.

Happiness came in the form of the happenings in my life. What I lacked was true joy. I never expected my husband to give me joy as I already knew that only came from Jesus Christ. However, even then I felt that I didn’t have that joy I was sure we were promised.

I think my anger towards God came in the form that things were definitely not ok and I had no joy or peace in any situation. I can tell you this is where I needed to battle with God. My inability to completely give over my burdens to Him was evident and Him not giving me the strength to bear them was a sore point. I realise I was approaching this from all the wrong angles. So in my ‘battle with God’ I wrote a letter of everything I was hurting about, things I didn’t understand, and fears I had about what it would mean. In each situation my level of control was zero! What I was forced to recognise was that I had to release my inability to do anything to the only person who did have ability. Since then I have been letting go of each burden I have been carrying. I still act on what I believe God calls me to say or do in each situation but I have let go of the outcomes.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.”
Philippians 4:6-9

On top of letting go of things, there is also a part for us to play. Our thoughts need to be brought under control by thinking upon things that are true, honourable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise. Not only that but we are called to practice the things which we have learned, received, heard, and seen and the God of peace will be with us.

While I can’t control many situations, I can look for what I can do where I am with what I have.

Courtesy of BehaviorGap.com

Courtesy of BehaviorGap.com

Battling With God

I am what you would call “churched”. I grew up knowing all the right answers and phrases. I know about God and what the Bible says about God. Knowing is one thing, experiencing is another. Somewhere in my life I encountered God. I truly experienced Him! I believe this is what made the biggest difference between my siblings and myself. We all learned the right answers but our experience with God was different. At this point in time, I am the only one of four who believes in God and has an active relationship with Him, although in some ways I would say they are more real with God than I am!

Despite this experience and a deep knowing that He is real and active in the world, I still struggle with believing what I know about God. For example, God is good all the time. People say this phrase often. We have Romans 8:28 telling us that all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to his purpose. However, I am in a season in my life where I have no idea what God is doing and I certainly don’t see how it is “good”. I know all the proper things to say including verses so I definitely know how to save my spiritual face! What I need right now is not the right words or to prove to everyone that I am spiritual but to wrestle with God about a few things!

Interestingly enough, actually physically wrestling with God has happened in the Bible. In Genesis 32, Jacob was definitely facing some uncertainty in his life. Leaving his father-in-law in less than pleasant circumstances and then going to face his brother not knowing whether his brother would want to kill him or not. That night Jacob encountered the Lord. For the longest time (and even now) I was unsure why they were fighting… all night at that! Nevertheless the Lord allowed it. Why?

Facing too many uncertainties in my life, the only thing I want is to battle with God. I would ask what Jeremiah asked “why do the wicked prosper?” It is so unfair! To try so hard to do right only to feel like there was no point. I have felt for a long time that the enemy has had more control over life circumstances than God has. While no one wants to kill me, there is certainly pain and circumstances in my life that are out of my control.

I mention control because like my inability to rely on other people, I also have the inability to rely on God. Although I would treat that in reverse. Because I do not rely God, I do not rely people. Maybe what isn’t terribly obvious is that our tendencies in real life with people is firstly our tendency with God. We can cover up our relationship with God with the right words in order to appear spiritual but how we are with other people directly correlates with our relationship with God. I can give plenty of examples in my life right now of how that works. Recently, I have been picking fights with people. Each time I thought they had majorly wronged me or that I was doing them a favour by pointing out some things! But in all honesty who I really have a quarrel with is God. That is who I really want to battle with!

Battle

Years in church has taught me to cover up any issues I had with how God does things. The reality is that I am not ok with what is happening in my life. To have a living real relationship with God doesn’t mean it is all rosy! It means that if there is one person that can handle a battle with me it is my God and Saviour! Jeremiah did battle with Him through words and questions, Jacob physically did battle with Him, and Elijah did battle by running away (which would be more my style!). God was not afraid of the battle, but met with them! Elijah was hiding in a mountain when God came to him. He didn’t come to him in some mighty force (although He certainly did show him those too!). He came in a still, small voice and asked “what are you doing here, Elijah?” This makes me laugh! Like God didn’t already know!! But I am thankful that God lets us tell Him anyway what is wrong.

What I would tell you is that battling with God is ok and He can handle it. Having a relationship with Jesus Christ means having access to God in the most personal way – including all the good, the bad and the ugly. What I would say if you recognise someone else in this is to not smooth things over for them but allow God to show them who He is.

There is usually something specific that people are battling with. Something that is only meant between them and God. When Jesus called Nathanael in John 1:48, all He said was “when you were under the fig tree, I saw you”. We have no way of knowing what happened under the fig tree but it meant something to both Jesus and Nathaniel. We do our part as the body of Christ but God is the only one who can battle with the heart.

Relying on Others

Relying on someone else is probably one of the biggest challenges for me. It is a challenge firstly because I am a control freak. This need to be in control of the situation has caused many issues for me: mainly in the form of stress and worry. To let someone else help means I run the risk of it not being what I had in mind or by the time I explain it I could have just done it myself. So it usually turns out that I just do everything myself thus leading to stress and worry as it all piles up.

This tendency spills out into the rest of my life too. It is not only tasks that I don’t ask for help with, but also emotional burdens that I don’t share. I come from a family that honours silent strength. It is the idea that you are strong if you can ‘grin and bear it’. This spans back for generations. We are a family that DOES NOT rely on other people. Other people can rely on us (we are first class helpers!) but this only seems to work one way. Let me tell you that it is exhausting to always be giving and never able to ask for help in return.

It is partially a pride issue. It has been engrained throughout generations of our family that if we ask for help it is a sign of weakness. This is so untrue, of course, but so are many messages that go through our heads that have been passed down through the generations. Such as ‘big girls/boys don’t cry’.

Whatever the message may be that you hold on to, it silently dictates your life. This message of silent strength has been a stronghold in my life.

Everything came crashing down on me last year. I tried to grin and bear it but I could see it playing itself out in other areas of my life: I became depressed, my anger was displaced on to my fiancé, I couldn’t sleep, and I no longer wanted to go out. Why? Because I couldn’t share my burden and I couldn’t stand the idea that people would know that I wasn’t able to handle it alone.

I wish I could say that is all in the past but it is still a real challenge for me. The only difference now is that I actually asked someone to help me. That’s right! One person! What can I say? God is still working on me! One person is an accomplishment for me though and eventually I hope to open up to more people.

We were never meant to be alone or have to bear burdens on our own. Sharing our deepest aches and pains is hard and takes practice (in my case LOTS of practice). Relationships involve giving and receiving. The body of Christ involves giving and receiving. I read an illustration that helps describe this interdependence. The illustration begins with a bucket of water. As you help others you are pouring water into their buckets. Soon though the water runs out and your bucket is empty. You cannot pour into someone else what you do not have. This is why it is important for someone to be pouring into your bucket. You need someone pouring into your life to enable you to pour into others.

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If you were my family, you would be saying that God is the only one who needs to pour into us. It is true that God does need to pour into us and it is important we are getting fed by His word. However, God also works through other people by sending a word of testimony or encouragement. Our testimonies and experiences can and will be used by God to help strengthen others. The testimony of others will encourage us in our time of need.

If you are like me I would encourage you to start reaching out to people. Look for someone you can trust and actually trust them. You do not have to be alone.

If you are looking to better support someone, reach out. Make a special effort for them and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Everyone is different in how they need support. Take time to learn what they need. Make yourself available, show value, be persistent, and be genuine. You may be surprised in the way God uses you to help someone else!

A Time for a New Beginning?

Beginnings are fresh in my mind as I prepare to get married in less than two months! Beginning together as a married couple is a huge change for both of us. As much as we prepare for the wedding day and spending the rest of our lives together, we really have no way of knowing what is coming our way. We don’t know what trials will hit us, where we will be, or how we are going to survive in an ever changing economy. Nevertheless, uncertainty should not stop us from embarking on what could potentially be one of our greatest adventures.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 KJV

Focusing on Ecclesiastes 3 and on the concept of time, we are reminded that there is a time set out for everything we do as well as for the purpose it was intended.

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We couldn’t really talk about beginnings without mentioning the first beginning. I’m talking about Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created…”  Out of the vastness of nothingness God created a whole universe to explore! From the beginning of the creation of mankind, our purpose was predestined. That purpose was to have a relationship with the Almighty God. In Genesis 3, we see that it was normal for God to come down and walk with Adam and Eve. There are so many times I crave to have that kind of relationship with God! Can you imagine what that must have been like? Of course, we also see in Genesis 3 the reason we are separated from God.

Being separated from God doesn’t mean He is ever far away.  While we can’t enjoy seeing Him or touching Him, we can be assured of His presence around us.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”
Psalm 139:7-10 ESV

Psalm 139 is our reassurance of His presence from the very beginning of our life when He formed us (verses 13-14) to the present where He continues to work in our lives. Not only did He create us individually but He also had a purpose for each of us individually. This is why we will never be like anyone else despite our best efforts! And it also explains why it is so exhausting trying to “fit in”.

To become more like Christ and to enjoy being in His presence should be the ultimate purpose in our journey. A willing heart is the most important part of our relationship with God. It is important because God will ask for some very difficult things from us which will require a heart in full obedience to Him.  In these difficult (and often crazy!) times, we can be assured that the end is for a greater purpose than we can ever imagine.

Christ, as our anchor, provides safety and assurance that we will never be swept away in the storms that constantly come our way!

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour.”
Isaiah 43:1b-3a ESV

A Time For Beautiful

I have always been struck by (and slightly jealous of) an artists perspective of everyday life. A painting, a photograph, song lyrics all demonstrate how it is possible to take the ordinary and give it meaning and beauty.

That is what I believe God sees and makes when He looks at us.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time…”
Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV

This verse is not the easiest to comprehend. You don’t have to live a considerable amount of time to experience or see that there is a massive amount of pain and suffering in this world. Is there really anything beautiful about it? But like any artist, God sees what it is and instead of leaving it the mess it is, He makes it into something beautiful that has meaning. As a counsellor I am all about the meaning!

What I have learned is that time is our best friend and our worst enemy.

A simple sentence like “in its time…” throws us straight into the unknown. Well, how much time? Even if we know how much time it is either too far away for us to wait or just not enough! I don’t think I have used the phrase “Ah, that is the perfect amount of time! Great!” And if I have, it was most certainly sarcasm! Nevertheless, whether too much or too little, we are bound by time.

What is striking about time, as we see in Ecclesiastes 3, is its usage. There is a time for everything… death, birth, mourning, rejoicing, planting, harvesting… which leads me to believe that just as there are times when life couldn’t be uglier, there are also times when it is made beautiful by the hand of God.

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And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Philippians 1:6 ESV

All credit goes to God for the work He does in us but we still have a part to play. Whenever I am beginning with someone in counselling, there are essentially 5 things that I want to prepare anyone for in this process of being changed/transformed:

  1. Work… hard work. Hibernating doesn’t work! Although I have imagined how nice it would be to remain snuggled up in my bed as God transformed me from caterpillar to butterfly… I think God laughed when I ran that by Him!
  2. What surfaces. You are not always going to like what you see. That is a good thing. Be thankful that God is taking out what you don’t like seeing!
  3. Doubt. You may experience this often. From everywhere. Keep Bible verses close to you as reminders and encouragement.
  4. Loneliness. You may feel alone at times. Sometimes we just need someone to listen to us. If you feel lonely and like no one cares… chances are that people really have no idea what is going on inside you (unless they have mastered mind-reading…) or they really have no idea how to show support. People get scared of what they don’t understand and sometimes deal with it the wrong way. But it is ok to ask for support (which can be specific) and encouragement from others. We weren’t placed in the body of Christ for no reason!
  5. Surprises. You honestly never know what will happen. People surprise you, relationships surprise you, situations change and surprise you, you surprise yourself, God moves and surprises you! It happens… seriously!
It doesn’t really matter to God what you bring to Him. There is nothing that is hidden from His eyes. He only requires our hearts and full obedience.