Inevitable, it is. Red and green adorn everything- sometimes a stylish white and gold expression, instead. Christmas villages, winter wonderlands, and nativity scenes are carefully curated. Coffee shops, stores, streets, and houses boast decor- basking in the glory of “the most wonderful time of the year.” I cracked a smile as I looked at the world around me, painted in hues of holiday cheer and vibrant celebration. Then my mental, rear-view mirror took me back to life at this time, three years ago – a time less than glorious, hardly cheerful.
I considered, for a moment, how planning for the perfect gift for my dear friend unexpectedly turned into planning the perfect funeral for him- just five days shy of Christmas. Laughs turned into ugly cries. Comfort turned into chaos. Excitement turned into dread. The presents that year were abundant, but so were the unanswered questions.
There are heavy hearts surrounding us, right this moment. Hearts that are heavy in this otherwise “light” season. Hearts that are blind to the reds, the greens, the white and golds – only able to see darkness. The approaching of the holiday season does not transform their tough realities. There is still a family member they will miss, still a disease they will have to fight, still an addiction they will have to battle. Another hungry day and cold night awaits them. The struggle to provide gifts (or basic necessities) for their family grows more evident. And as many of these people look at the happiness of the world that surrounds them, they suffer silently. Many feel the need to blend, to be “okay”. But regardless of the countless smiles that they force, the pain sits stubbornly on the inside.
“Tis the season to be jolly!”… I pondered whether or not I was able to “be jolly” in my dark, Christmas season, past. I didn’t have a 100% “happy heart”, but there was something that sustained me- joy. In the midst of unpleasant emotions and bleak circumstances, the Lord helped me to rejoice. Rejoicing wasn’t the result of pretty decorations and sweet gifts. It didn’t come through being surrounded by loved ones or being comforted with cards expressing sympathy. I rejoiced in the fact that Christmas symbolizes the one gift to this world that can provide an everlasting peace- Jesus Christ.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
The truth embedded in this scripture will not make your outward circumstances change. But truly believing in this promise will give you something to be joyful about. Hallelujah! A Savior was born into this world to give us abundant life on Earth and the hope of Eternity in Heaven! A Savior was born to fulfill God’s perfect plan for our lives! A Savior was born so that no earthly trial or tribulation can steal our eternal joy!
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor principalities, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
My friend, if this time of year is not filled with all “feel goods” and happy thoughts in your world, it is okay. This Christmas may be cheerful for me, but my hard Christmas past will forever be a vivid memory. Never let anyone make you feel guilty for acknowledging that difficult things can dim the glee of the holiday season . Even if you can’t seem to find joy and peace in the comfort food, gifts, or your loved ones- I encourage you to rejoice at the thought of the miracle that Christmas truly represents.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).
The prophecy was fulfilled. Christ was born of a virgin. He walked in this world without spot or blame. And He died to bear the burden of sin and grant salvation if believe. So in the midst of your sorrow, REJOICE, my friend! When life’s circumstances change, this truth will remain the same.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.
Hearing other people’s testimonies warms my heart. There’s something powerful about listening to the redemption stories of folks with different backgrounds and life experiences – very different stories with the common thread of God’s grace woven through every word, every encounter. His power to restore, revitalize, and redeem is almost magical. Sometimes it’s a testimony with a “WOW factor”- not always, though. Sometimes His strength is seen in the simple- the way He picks up His children and carries them through day to day storms.
I sat in Sunday morning class and listened to the testimony of an unexpected job loss turned into greater opportunities – not an uncommon story. But there was a statement that moved me; stamped itself on my heart. “What if we viewed a termination more like a graduation? What if we celebrated the end of a thing, having faith, knowing that God is working everything out for our good and promoting us to something better?” I let the words sink in and my soul was “WOWed”. There was great power in this simple perspective.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
Sometimes we read the scriptures with a yearning- looking for reassurance. But we fail to find the obvious reassurance in the way that God’s truths have already been manifested in our lives. I pondered the many instances where I’ve dealt with a “termination” of some sort. Times in which I thought my life was being deprived or ridded of a good thing, and God was working it out for the good. These changes- these “terminations”- were graduating me from one assignment in order to prepare me for the next one.
What about you, Friend? Can you look back on times in your life in which a “termination” graduated you into a new blessing? In the absence of the termination, we would miss the magnitude of the blessing that follows the loss. We each have a sort of “assignment” from God- a task to bless others and be used for His glory, regardless of where life takes us. And although the outside circumstances often change (who, what, and where)- the mission of the assignment never changes.
If you’re reading this, I do not know what changes you are enduring. I do not know what areas of your life are presenting themselves as a “termination”, but God is not finished yet. God has plans to use you in your new season. Stand firm in your faith, knowing that our Lord is working your situation out for good.
He is working your job loss out for good to graduate you to a place where other people need you. He is working your sickness out for good to remind you to keep your eyes on the cross and rely on His strength. He is working your breakup out for good to claim first place in your heart, again. He is working your marriage issues out for good to remind you and your spouse to follow His perfect example of love. He is working your move out for good to send you to a place where you can interact with new people and introduce them to His love. He is working your grief out for good to remind you that this world is temporary, but He is forever. He is graduating you from these places of comfort to be used for good as you adjust to your new situation.
If your circumstances have changed, I encourage you to remain focused on your assignment. There is a peace that surpasses all understanding when you view your termination as a graduation. If you view your circumstance as just a loss, you will miss the joy, hope, and opportunities that are waiting to be found. So acknowledge that the past, good and bad, has brought you to the present. But put on your cap and gown and receive your new assignment with gladness of heart, so that you can make a difference right where you are. I pray that this positive attitude cloaks you in the same comfort, peace, and assurance that it has for me.
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.
It’s simple, my little “war room” – a tiny corner of my closet. The only part that’s consistently clean, in fact. Two walls meet and share a few inches, adorned with motivational quotes on multi-sized canvases- gifted to me by various friends and relatives. They figure I love that sort of thing. They’re right. Two tattered pieces of notebook paper are secured to the walls- a cheap, reused thumbtack holding each one in its place. The uneven edges display my lack of care in ripping the pages out of their notebook binding. Being neat isn’t very important when you’re desperate for Jesus. In the moment, I didn’t care. I just wanted to start filling the two blank pages.
One page was labeled “prayers” and the other “answered prayers”. My list of prayer requests was so lengthy that the words began fighting one another for space. Then I looked over at my list of answered prayers- much shorter, slightly disheartening.”Don’t grow discouraged”, I thought. God isn’t finished working yet.
So there I sat- day in and day out, talking to God for the entire summer. Short breaks happened in the form of showers, mealtimes, sleeping and writing. Then it was back to my cushion on the floor- a cute little couch pillow, resting in the corner. My knees grew weary. My back grew achy. My faith wavered.
But I kept praying, kept hoping.
What brought me to this place? I wish I could say it was simply my strong, daily commitment to steadfastness. I wish I could say all things were good and I just wanted to pray without ceasing. Nope. Another wrench had been thrown my way. If it was a scheme from the enemy, I’d like to think it was because he has grown weary with attacking my faith, only for me to draw nearer to the cross. Nonetheless, it happened- another test. My relationship was suddenly taken away- not in the form of an unexpected death this time- but an unexpected loss, nonetheless.
I failed to understand how God would see it fit to allow a relationship that glorified Him to become extinct. But one thing I knew (one thing I know) is that I will never allow moments of suffering to lead me to sink. I’ll choose God, even in the deepest waters. Stay anchored in faith and trust His better plan, I will. And so I prayed for understanding, like the good Word directs us to.
Then a thought penetrated my mind with great power. I had been so caught up in planning for the future in my relationship that I neglected to be intentional about the purpose God called me to in this season of my life. He created me to encourage others. I have always known this truth. Focusing on using my spiritual gift for a project that could encourage other women had been on my heart for a long time. But in the midst of the Holy Spirit directing me, I selfishly postponed my assignment. “I’ll establish my future first and I’ll get to working on this later,” I thought. But when God’s plan prevailed, I regained focus on my mission. No distractions from myself or others. Just daily dates with my sweet Jesus.
I began praying for Him to use me in a mighty way. To refocus my attention- less self-consumption, more extending encouragement. My pity party for myself was transformed into an uplifting undertaking for others – writing a book. And as my focus shifted from self to others, my heart began to heal. Little by little, my less than impressive, shabby page of answered prayers began to fill up. I didn’t know what His plan was…But I kept praying, kept hoping.
In due season, He used my suffering for good, like He always does. My prayers were answered, my blessings increased. In a few short months, a shattered situation was rebuilt more beautifully than it was before. Many of the prayers I prayed were answered, plus a few unexpected blessings- a healed heart, progress towards my purpose, a chance to uplift others and a pleasantly unanticipated encounter with a kind and loving gentleman as I was quietly writing my book in the bookstore- (a bonus blessing that has kept my face smiling and my heart skippin’ a beat, every day since).
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).
Maybe sometimes God allows parts of our lives to fall apart so that we are forced to rely on Him to be the glue that molds it back together. Maybe He wants us to remember that He is our first love. Or perhaps He desires for us to fulfill the purpose He has for us, instead being hyper-focused on the plans we have for ourselves. He wants us to experience those lowly places where we can truly learn what it feels like to rest in His promises. It is easiest to rest in His promises in the moments when His promises are all you have. So regardless of what is leading you to doubt Him, I encourage you…
Keep praying, keep hoping.
There is a purpose in what He is doing. And I assure you that He is way better at being God than we ever could be. It doesn’t matter if you have a war room, are praying at your desk, behind the wheel, or in the shower. I encourage you to pray fervently and watch Him reveal the answers in His way and His time.
“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12).
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:31).
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.
Peace. We claim to desire it, but we willingly compromise it. Difficult circumstances slap us in the face and we feel bruised with helplessness. Then suddenly, peace feels distant. I am not referencing living in peace with others. I am talking about living at peace with ourselves and our situations. The latter is where the real challenge lies.
There is great power in perception. Too often, our perception is that our peace is hiding- waiting to be discovered in something or somebody. We desperately grasp for peace that we hope to attain from…
Relationships- then we realize that all humans are broken and imperfect, thus we can’t depend solely on a person for our peace.
Material things- then we realize that possessions and accolades can’t love us back.
Guilty pleasures- then we realize that temporary distractions and pleasures will never make a problem disappear permanently.
Our feelings- then we realize that feelings are volatile and often lead us to err.
Each time we have an expectation of gaining peace in the aforementioned ways, we lose a little hope. We grow discontent and disgruntled as peace from these things seems intangible. We roll our eyes, whine, complain, and want God to give us a magic formula for peace.
Our peace is within reach, but we have to be intentional. We cannot continue to compromise our inner peace by submitting to our unproductive, outward responses. Our mouths claim that we want peace, but our thoughts and actions contradict our words.
“I want to be at peace with where I’m at in life.” [But then I am going to scroll through social media and compare my success to those around me].
“I want to be at peace with my past mistakes.” [But then I am going to spend hours drowning in guilt and shame and thinking about what I could have done differently].
“I want to be at peace with my failed relationships and friendships.” [But then I am going to continue to cling to those strongholds and soul ties].
“I want to be at peace with who I am.” [But then I am going to dwell on what other people think of me, instead].
I imagine that God is shaking His head as we play tug of war with ourselves. He is watching our actions lose to our words, every time. We are filling the atmosphere with our wasted complaints about having no peace, then filling our time with all of the negative actions and thoughts that obliterate the very same peace that we say we want.
So how do we attain peace instead of compromising it? The answer is not profound. We have to entertain the thoughts and actions that move us closer to peace, instead of pull us away from it.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
God has already given us the magic formula in His Word. He directs us to meditate on the positive things that bring us peace and He created us with the power of choice. We choose which thoughts we entertain. We choose how we act in response to those thoughts. And that is how our perception becomes our power and our power becomes our peace.
So if you are feeling like God, a situation, or a person is depriving you of your peace, ask yourself an important question. “Am I a victim of my peace being removed or am I the culpritresponsible for compromising my peace?
Remain hopeful. Stay anchored. Refuse to sink.