If you look at the word count for this post, you’ll notice that it’s ridiculously long. That’s cause all of it was written before. It’s not so much a blog post as a bookmark for myself, so I can easily go back and find the places where I learned a lesson about anxiety or worry.
I learn those lessons over and over–which maybe implies I never truly learned them in the first place. This collection of fragments and thoughts will, I hope, remind me that, regardless of how I feel about a bewildering or frustrating situation, the conclusion is still the same. Feel free to skim through, or not, as you will.
My prayer is that these words are worth while and encouraging.
I’m seeing what I value enough to invest time in. It’s not always what Id like it to be. I tend to go in cycles, where all will be well and I’m rejoicing in the life God’s given me, to a place of uncertainty and discomfort, where I’m forced to go back to the Psalms and seek God’s comfort. Like I said, it’s a cycle, so as soon as I’m back on track, emotionally, I forget what just went down and I imagine I’m fine without God. I become complacent with the comfortable way in which I know Him.
How do I pursue a knowledge of God when that’s not something I always want to do? How do I want something I don’t always want?
In other words, it’s not a one-sided thing, where God tells us to seek Him and then sits by as we flail around, sort of trying and sort of not caring to try. He seeks us, and it’s only by His seeking us that we are able to seek Him at all. And it’s only by His working in us that we are able to desire to seek Him at all.
I talk a lot about fear and worry on this blog. And when I say I struggle with envy, I mean, you name it, I’ve coveted it. I’m constantly fighting thoughts of comparison with other people–even other peoples’ relationships with God.
Maybe the thing I want most is to know a secret. The secret I’m talking about it in Philippians 4, where Paul says he has “learned the secret of being content.” I’ve come back to this particular chapter time after time, with his encouragement to “rejoice in the Lord always.” I guess I’m contradicting myself again when I say that there are two things I want most: to know what is that I want, and to know how to be content (which is another way of saying I want not to wantanything other than what God gives me).
This is where God’s grace comes in, because I see a little in these moments what I would be without Him working in my life. Envious? Yes. Fearful? Yes. Infuriatingly perfectionist? Selfish? Impatient? All of these describe what I’d be without Christ, and what I’m sometimes tempted to revert to. They’re quiet sins, and I can sometimes disguise them so other people don’t see them. But I know that I can’t ever be content on my own–I’ll always be chasing after unattainable and confused dreams.
I watched the streetlamps come on across the street at Henderson, and suddenly, my home-town felt sweet and happy, and the George Bailey mood of frustration that had hung over me all the last week lifted, a little. See, it’s easy for me to think that I need to figure everything out about my future and my responsibilities and all that right now and if I’m not careful, everything comes together and my thoughts are something along the lines of, “Gee, Jo–if you mess this up, or do the wrong thing here, man, you are letting down everybody. The world depends on you doing the perfect thing. All the time.”
Ridiculous. But very me.
Does what I do matter? Yeah, I think so. I have people in my life who are watching to see what decisions I make, whether or not they are wise and humble or whether my actions are kind, not self-absorbed. Sure it matters what conclusions I come to, and how I act on my beliefs, and it matters what I’m concerning my thoughts with.
It’s just that I am not the main character in the story. I’m not, and neither is anyone else I know of. I play a part, and I hope to play it as well as I can, but the world, I don’t think, does not depend on me knowing exactly what to do next. That’s comforting to me, and at the same time a little humbling, because I sure act like this world revolves around the (mis)adventures of a girl named Jo.
Don’t be anxious.
[To be read in the manner of a little old college student in a small dorm room staring at her next assignment; or in the manner of a young graduate starting out in a big, bewildering world wondering what on earth is next; or, in the manner of a helpless, hopeless human looking for Someone truly good to just hold her.]
Father, help! How can my mind be in so many places at once, worrying about so many things at the same time. How can I feel so crazy and helpless, when on the surface, nothing is wrong with my life?
Help me give all these things to you.
In everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God…
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
I tend to learn the same lessons, over and over again—and usually they have to do with turning over my anxieties to God and trusting Him fully. It’s only after I’ve come to the end of Jo’s ability to handle things and completely wrecked ship that I see how much I’ve fallen back into old habits, such as storing up worries and harboring negative, untrue thoughts that don’t honor God in the slightest. I lag behind God’s perfect will, preferring to suffer in my own stubborn silence than push myself to be nearer Him.
I start thinking, whether consciously or not, that I’m fine without God—that I have things under control, and I can get there (wherever “there” might be) by myself. And I really, really can’t.
Now, this might be where this whole analogy thing starts sounding cheesy, but one day this summer I looked back at the little girl wandering on her own, with no interest whatsoever at my outstretched hand, and good grief, I got chills.
Cause God has had His hands stretched back for us since we first let go. Back before we were interested in anything He had to offer, and back before we knew enough to want to simply be near Him. His patience is remarkable, and His love for us is incomparable and everlasting and perfect.
That weekend, (the one where I bawled my eyes out on the phone with my mom), God used my co-counselors to encourage me while, at the same time, kind of calling me out on the worries I’d been letting consume me. They reinforced the beautiful truths that God is in control of all things; that His plans for us are good; and that no one was at Sky Ranch on accident or by mistake. When I started focusing on negative thoughts, my mind was distracted from the purpose He had for me. Funnily enough, the verse we were memorizing together was Psalm 23:7: “For as a man thinks within himself, so he is.” We had a time with that verse, trying to get in firmly in our minds–but it helped, so much, to realize the power of my own thought habits. [It was also slightly terrifying:)]
I don’t really want to come across as saying “positive thinking will make everything better!!” I think a certain kind of optimism cheapens the reality of a broken world, and I am not for glossing over some deeply unjust things, just so we can perpetually have smiles on our faces. What I have learned is that, when we are pursuing God’s purpose and obeying Him, Satan will try to distract us, in any way he can. This summer, he used my personality, along with self-doubt and fear and worries, to try and distract me from being fully engaged in my situation.
I’m not saying being introverted is bad. Not at all! Being quieter and thoughtful can be such a positive trait in me–and I know that, in several instances this summer, God used me and the way He designed me to speak to others. What’s crazy is that, if we’re not careful, we can start to define ourselves by what’s most comfortable to us.
For me, what’s hard is feeling I belong. And it’s all too easy to retreat from an uncomfortable situation and be alone with my thoughts (which are sometimes good, sometimes worth nothing), rather than stay and trust that God has me in that uncomfy situation for a purpose. Maybe He needed an quieter voice there, or someone who can listen.
All told, it’s a wonderful, freeing knowledge to know that God didn’t make anyone wrong; that yes, we are given different personalities, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses; and that I am called to follow Him even into situations that are scary for me–situations where I feel inadequate and out-of-place–trusting that He holds all things.
I think people’s lives are stories; and I embrace the idea that all of life is part of a larger Story, with many parts and a great many characters, and one Author. That book hasn’t ended yet (if it has an ending at all), and neither have our individual stories. Still, I sometimes want nothing more than to see how the ending plays out. I want to look ahead and see how this or another event turns out. What happens to this character? Is he here when the final chapter ends? Is she? Are we still in each other’s stories a couple chapters from now? How will the decision I made today play out when I’m twenty-five? Or thirty-seven? Or will it matter at all?
See, there’s where I get scared. I go from wanting to be at tomorrow already, to never wanting tomorrow to arrive. I wish I knew the secret to thriving in today. Not worrying about tomorrow, not fearing it, not dreading that which I don’t know, but waiting in a patient expectation that whatever comes will be for good. I hope that, when I get there, I don’t feel betrayed by the Author for not warning me ahead of time. I wish I were better at trusting that, like in the Annestories, when hard times comes, I’ll have had a whole set of experiences—a whole life—to prepare me for them.
Although I really believe one way of honoring God is to use your talents or gifts wholeheartedly and without apathy, I’m realizing how many times my actions are motivated by pride. Somebody asked me, the other day, what motivates my “sweet” behavior (this person obviously has never seen me having a pity party in a locked room with a piano in the corner). I gave a pretty durn good (righteous) answer. But the honest truth is that mostly, I just want to be liked. I want to be remembered—I want to be known as perfect.
And what I’m learning is, one, that it’s exhausting trying to be perfect, and two, that I’m kind of missing the point. I never was, nor will I ever be, perfect on my own. One of the poems I was reading (“The Holdfast” by George Herbert) illustrated this key part of the Christian faith that explains humanity’s tendency toward perfectionism (and therefore frustration). We are capable of nothing without God’s grace. Nothing. But since He has offered us grace, then we praise. Now we sing and give glory to our Creator and live without fear and rejoice in all things. We have been invited to rest in Jesus Christ.
There’s a certain mood I get into sometimes—more than simple introversion (which only requires time alone to “recharge”)—when I am annoyed by just about every person I see. The person doesn’t have to have done anything wrong in the slightest; in fact, it’s usually the most unsuspecting and innocent people who are the subjects of my silent annoyance and unspoken wrath. I apologize, truly. Sometimes I get into a rage against everything, and everyone, including myself. I am first on the list of people I want to get away from. Jo Horton? I would like her to crawl into a hole and disappear from sight for about ten years, until everyone forgets the silly thing she happened to just have said or done.
The emotion I said I felt when I started writing this is leaving me, thank goodness. Occasions like this make me very thankful that God doesn’t grant my thoughts or un-thoughtful wishes. I’m glad God knows what I want better than I know.
Things like this blog post are not pretty or nice for me to write—I feel more hesitant to publish this because it makes it more clear that Jo ain’t perfect after all (surprise, surprise!). For some of you, it might seem like I’m over-thinking things—after all, I didn’t really hurt anyone with my (unjustly) impatient thoughts. I didn’t “sin.” Maybe it’s natural to feel a little misanthropic every now and then. It’s certainly more comforting to think so.
It’s not something I should remain in, however. As a Christian, I’m responsible to God for even my thoughts: at the risk of taking a verse out of context [yikes!], Christians are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, if you’d like to check my theology—if I did take things out of context, come tell me:) I’m even more certain of this idea when reading Philippians 4:8, where the author provides a handy list of how we are to think:
“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.”
I suppose this blog is mainly a response to my activity on Facebook, where I don’t say much, but I watch other people say stuff. It’s uncomfortably similar to how things go in real life, where I observe others but rarely interject my opinions. The things I do say seem ridiculous immediately after I say them, and I want to shrivel up and disappear from sight. This is not who I want to be.
I want to say something worthwhile and then not care about what I think others are thinking of me. I don’t want to be ashamed of my words–up to now I have avoided being embarrassed by my words by simply not saying all that much–I want to find out what I’m trying to say, and then say it.
So this blog is me, Jo, talking to you (but especially to myself), practicing getting my thoughts out of my head. In this first post, I predict the future: one day soon I will succeed in communicating a thought or two that should have stayed in my head, that isn’t really worth my while or yours. I apologize in advance–I see myself, on that day, wishing desperately I could recall my words and turn them back into harmless, invisible thoughts. But that’s not really what I want.
Everything worthwhile is tangled up with risk.
Thanks for reading:)