WHAT A FREAKING YEAR.
Hills and valleys doesn’t quite seem to do it justice. To say that I was ecstatic to raise my glass and ring in the new year last week is an understatement.
I was done with 2019.
Was it really that bad?
At least, not as bad as I made it. But I’m stubborn, and I resist change like a child resists a bath. Despite, or rather, because of the hills and valleys, however, I learned quite a few things, and grew both emotionally and spiritually in a few different areas, which I thought fitting to share, should you wish to listen (or read, rather).
Here they are, in no particular significant order.
I learned that I don’t need fear.
Fear is a restless evil. It is not to be entertained, even in the fanciest corners of your imagination. Fear is not the opposite of courage, it is the opposite of love, of faith. Fear will make you think that you’re one way, when you’re actually another. It will make you doubt everything in the name of wisdom, it will mask itself as discernment and then eat you from the inside out after you have followed its “discernment”. It will affect your physicality, make you sick in the head, distrust everyone you love, and not let you sleep, or at least sleep in peace. It will confuse, disrupt, and wreak havoc on every thing you thought you knew in your soul. During points in 2019, fear made me afraid to smile at people, afraid to love people, and afraid to pursue the Lord deeper. Fear was the root of hate, apathy, frustration, and anger. But I discovered something: fear only has power over your so long as you believe its lies and obey its orders. The minute you start to rebel, as scary as it is sometimes, is the moment you begin to invite clarity and the Holy Spirit to infiltrate and demolish strongholds of fear in your mind and heart. You cannot be both fearful and a lover. There truly is no fear in love, because love is the biggest and scariest thing in the world, and when you truly begin to love those around you, it’s because you have stepped past fear. Fear cannot reign where love reigns. Fear will try and tell you you’ll die without it or make some mistake, but you won’t. What will happen is you’ll begin to appreciate the little things, you’ll become more engaged in the moment, you’ll become more confident in who you are, you’ll smile more, laugh more, and love better. Fear is useless.
I learned (again) how much I need the Lord.
No, but really. I cannot (read: cannot) do anything without him. I cannot breathe, pump blood, say “hello” to a stranger, ask the cashier how her day is going, listen to a friend spill their heart out, pray for the sick, or get out of bed in the morning. Non-Christians who seem to have their life together and love people and smile a lot befuddle me. Because without Christ, I would not have gotten out of the bed one day this past year. Without the Holy Spirit leading me, covering my mistakes, and loving me so well in the good moments and the bad, who knows where I would be. Every time I would slip and fall, the Lord would be there, and he would dare to be gentle. I almost wished sometimes he would scream and shout and shake his fists. It’s what I deserved. Grace feels awkward sometime. It’s like being given a big mansion and you don’t have a penny in your pocket. How do you fill that house? What do you do with such an extravagant gift? Take it back. I liked my shanty better. Mud is more comfortable than marble. My favorite moments of 2019 were the quiet ones, the ones where the Lord was close, and my breathing wasn’t hurried. Nothing was right but somehow, everything was okay. I remember one time back in the spring, I was really having a rough time. I don’t remember what I was praying about, but I parked my car, and just sat in silence. Clearly, confidently, I heard the Lord tell me I wasn’t praying to the air: that he was there, he was listening, and he loved me. I bawled. There is nothing you can do in those moments because you did nothing to deserve them. They are heaven. How do Christians go even a day without thinking about or praying to him? I cannot fathom it, because my days without him do not exist. He is everywhere I go. I cannot do anything without him.
I learned I don’t always need to be “on”.
But man I would try. I psyche myself up, sing at the top of my lungs, and shabba ja bah all the way to church. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong and it’s actually quite biblical to stir up your spirit and to cultivate those times and prepare your soul for ministry. But it’s not an obligation to always “feel” the fire. Sometimes I don’t feel like worshiping, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is if I let that attitude affect my relationship with the Lord. If I don’t feel like praying or worshiping, I still do, because he’s worthy. Some days I don’t feel like revival is such a good idea. Some days I don’t want to talk to people. Some days I am confused about God, frustrated about where my life is, and impatient that I’m not perfect yet. It’s okay. It’s not okay to stay just okay. But it’s okay to acknowledge that you’re just okay today. The Lord is gracious to those who just feel okay.
I learned that I really don’t want the world.
Jesus famously said that you can’t love the world and love him. That if you’re a friend of the world you are an enemy of God. Now, obviously he wasn’t saying to hide in a hole and run away from everything. He wasn’t saying don’t be friends with people or to not love the nations and peoples in the earth. But rather, he was saying that you cannot love the “world”: the systems, the ideologies, the philosophies, the value systems, the definitions of success, etc, that the world represents. Well, let me tell you, for most of my life, I was kind of on the fence about this. I still loved God, but I still was tempted by and somewhat intrigued by the world. When I thought about revival, I wasn’t that excited. I was scared it was going to ruin the world I loved. God was going to crash the giant party with his somber face and boring agenda. No longer. I can honestly say the Lord set me free from this mindset and temptation. Sure, I still like nice things, and I enjoy good gifts that come from the world, but they have no power over me. I want revival now more than ever, because I’ve realized that the world literally is so empty. There is nothing it has on Him. NOTHING. His presence is more fun, his entertainment is more entertaining, his beauty is more captivating, etc. You can take the world, I’ll take the living God.
I’ve learned to appreciate the silence.
You can run away from God by turning on worship music. (what, the crowd gasps) Our generation is overstimulated, that’s a fact. Stimulation is a drug, and we are addicted. This year the Lord taught me the value of silence, the value of sitting i a room with no music on, no book in front of me, no phone, no movie playing in the background, just me and him. He is so loud in the silence. Sure, it can be uncomfortable at times, and sometimes you don’t hear a darn thing but the sound of your blessed heart beating. But that’s okay. Solitude and silence are of utmost importance in resetting the soul, and learning to draw from the Lord’s presence. Plus, it’s a great way to test how good your relationship is with him. Are you hearing from him or have you simply been emotionally responding to the right chord progression? Chances are, if you don’t like silence, you don’t like yourself. When it’s just you and God in alone in the silence, you find out things about you that even you didn’t know. We have to learn how to connect without the crutches modern Christianity is so used to having. It is vital for a healthy walk with the Lord.
I learned that I can’t sanctify myself.
Sure, I can try. I can even work out my salvation, but by myself I’m a rotten, hot mess. When I’m focused on pruning my branches, stoking my fire, and perfecting myself in order to please God, guess what? I’m still focused on me. It doesn’t last long, either. When I fix me, I end up looking pretty good for a little bit, and falling pretty hard not long after. When I trust the Lord to do the work needed, I get to focus on him, while he does all the dirty work. It’s a pretty good deal. My job isn’t to fix me, it’s to pick up my cross and follow him. My success is my obedience. He is my sacrificial lamb, my high priest and mediator, and my judge. My job is simple, but not easy. My job is to just obey.
I’ve learned it”s okay to be authentic.
Like, saying that 2019 was a shitty year. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating that swearing or any other more morally unstable action might bridge the hypocrisy chasm, but I am advocating that it’s good to be honest and authentic with where you’re at. Just don’t stay there. Don’t use “authenticity” as the holy grail you will murder and pillage for. Evil still begets evil, and the ends still do not justify the means. But so often we put on a pretty face at church, stoke the fire, and expect other to read between the lines, but then deny it when they assume the truth behind our mask. Church, let’s be honest and holy. They don’t have to contradict each other. We can be honest when we’re having a really shitty week, but refuse to stay there and refuse to make a golden calf out of our sufferings. Let’s worship the Lord in spite of our circumstance, not because of them. To be honest is to be humble, and to be humble is to draw near to the Lord. This is where we want to be. It’s where I want to live.
If you have read thus far, congratulations. You’re amazing and I love you. If you’ve skimmed bits and pieces, congratulations. You’re amazing and I love you. If you’re reading this at all, you are likely someone I consider a friend, and I cherish our relationship, even if it’s only been a shallow conversation here and there. Any amount of connection is better than no connection. Thanks for the deep conversations and thanks for the small talk: they all help a hurting soul heal. To those that have listened to me rant and rave and cry and bawl uncontrollably like a baby: thank-you. To those who have spoke a word into my life, encouraged me, or simply just went for a walk or grabbed a beer or coffee with me: thank-you. To those who have prayed for me even without me requesting it: thank-you. To those who have refused to let me sit in my poop and called me higher: thank-you. To those who have called me out of dark thoughts and into light and helped me see more clearly: thank-you. To those who have forced me to have fun, even when I might not have wanted to: thank-you. To those who have pointed me back to Jesus, even when I thought it was corny and I was tired of cliches: thank-you.
Thanks for being a part of my 2019, and here’s to 2020.
It’s gonna be epic.