The Messed-Up World: Having a Realistic Perspective of Life

IMG_20180522_182606897Will it hurt? Will I be afraid? Will I be lonely? Will I mess up? Will I hate it? Will I be bored? Will I want to die?

It’s no secret I struggle with fear of the future. Recently I’ve seen dread stealing joy. Memorial day weekend was a beautiful three-day weekend; but some of the bliss of an extra day off from work was masked by dread of starting work again. If I get to bed on time, I can have the peace of knowing I can sleep for the next eight hours; but sometimes that peace is stolen by the dread of waking up. I love school and enjoy so many aspects of being at Cornerstone University; but sometimes the blessings of school is darkened by my dread of what happens after I graduate.

How frustrating it is to so often not be able to appreciate the joys I have right in front my face. But what I realized recently is that I actually don’t even have to ask these haunting questions anymore; I already have the answers: yes, yes, and yes to all of the above.

Honestly folks, don’t try to tell me otherwise. In the future, I will hurt, I will be afraid, I will be lonely, I will mess up, I will hate life, I will be bored, and I will want to die. After A shattered flowerpot on a windowsillall, the author of Philippians put it well, “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” We live in a sinful, broken, painful but temporary world. We who are sincerely pursuing a relationship with Christ are called to be soldiers in the battle on this world. That means we’re going to get hurt, we’re going to get tired, and we’re going to go through some really rough patches. But, after the Fall, this is the way the world is and–in a manner of speaking–it’s quite the way it’s supposed to be.

The significance of this may not be clear at first. After all, how can such depressing news lead to anything but dread of the future?! But see, perspective is powerful.

The first thing this realization does is remind me that life on earth is temporary and it’s not the worst thing that could happen if it doesn’t go great. I mean, if my entire life–every second of it–were to be wholly rotten, as soon as I was resurrected, the temporary pain would be completely past and absolutely nothing in comparison to eternity.

Secondly, this realization helps me to reorient my expectations. If I expect that happiness and ease are owed me, then it makes sense for me to fear their leaving. Today I might fear tomorrow’s happiness being stolen because I am deserving of that pleasure tomorrow, but I know I don’t always have it. Therefore, I fear being cheated. However, to recognize that pleasure isn’t something I can expect means that I don’t have to fear it not existing tomorrow.

Image result for lawn mowerConsider this: if you were to borrow your neighbor’s lawn mower, would you, whilst mowing your lawn, dread the moment you have to return it? I would hope not. Instead you’re likely to be grateful to have it in the moment. Indeed, if pleasure is not something guaranteed, but is, instead borrowed in a way, then it becomes a pleasant surprise when offered. It is easier to enjoy the extra day off from work, the eight hours of sleep, or the current situation in school, because these pleasures are not guaranteed, so we don’t try to possess them. At the same time, they aren’t inherently expected–so they are also a beautiful surprise.

C. S. Lewis in his book, The Screwtape Letters, points out that man, expecting his free time to be wholly “his,” becomes upset when something is required of him during this moment. But, how narrow-minded this is! God has gifted each man with every breath he breathes. If we, instead, expect to use our time for God’s glory, the times that he provides for our individual rest will be accepted in gratitude instead of demanded in selfish pride.

Therefore, going through life expecting it to be painful and hard and, sometimes, wretched, in an ironic way, opens my eyes to the beauty and joy and pleasures that I am offered in the present. 

I feel I ought to note also that having this realistic perception of the fallenness of the world doesn’t inherently mean we cannot always be joyful (1 Thessalonians 5:16) or cannot always sense God’s peace that surpasses understanding (Philipians 4:7). I wholeheartedly believe that, because we know how the story ends, we can still experience these blessings, even without being blind to the painful situation Earth is in. Faith is not a feeling and feeling lonely or scared or like a failure is inevitable sometimes. However, these feelings need not define us.

Overall, then, I call Christians to a realistic perception of the world: it stinks. “Smile, Jesus Image result for smile jesus loves youloves you” isn’t inherently wrong by any means, but we also can’t expect that all the time. We should live fully aware that we are soldiers fighting a bloody battle, aware that we’ll often lie sleepless at night bearing the burdens of the world, and that there will be days where we’d much rather take the gain of death than the life of Christ.

But, in all of this, there is a peace and a joy that comes with the release of the “American dream.” Enjoy every blessing that God offers you right now. But don’t worry about what will come tomorrow. Your pleasure isn’t expected tomorrow, it’s expected in the next life.

 

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The Best Days of my Life: Always.

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My legs burn as I peddle madly on the stationary bike. Kicking the peddles is about as close as I can get to kicking my problems. My frustration is going to come out in either sweat or tears and I’m hoping it will all be the former, so long as I push myself hard enough.

Last semester this experience became a weekly occurrence as I had a weekly job which reminded me of my shortcomings, frustrations, and feelings of failure. But I was back to it at the beginning of this semester as well, as my plans for an internship fell through and I was caught in a whirlwind of being unsure of my plans, afraid of my future, and aware of my inadequacies.

In times like these, I sometimes long for the security of middle age, when I’m settled in a career or in a family and I have an idea of where I’ll be a year ahead. At that point, I’ll IMG_7374know who my friends are, I’ll know what my job is, and I won’t be constantly checking my grades. But this perspective is more subconscious than conscious, because, when I really think about it, I do not want to wish middle age upon myself right now.

There are so many blessings college life entails: the random weekend adventures, the opportunity to devote oneself to learning, the constant action, the environment of energetic spontaneous young adults, the nights going to bed when I want to without having to put any kiddos to bed…

Doubtless, the future holds great adventures and (hopefully!) there will be a point in my life where I don’t have so many unknowns. But, as I’ve written before, the last thing I want to do is pine for the security later years will bring and ignore the countless blessings right in front of my face right now.

Jason Gray wrote a song titled “Best Days of My Life” which grasps this concept so well. The whole song is worth listening to, but my favorite line is,

“Every step along the way
I know You’ll never leave my side
Whatever the season I can say,
‘These are the best days of my life.’

Life now might scare me. I might not always appreciate the uncertainty of it all. But at the same time, there is so much adventure in this time of life. There are so many things I love about learning, so many things I adore about being here at Cornerstone. And, through it all, no matter what stage of life, I know that God is with me.

“the good times and the hard times were the best times I ever had18447548_1209092089216552_4674075823915041457_n.jpg
Cause You were beside me, above and behind me
Lovingly leading me home”

So this year, I want to, at some point in every day, stop and realize that–in every season of my life–these are the best days of my life.

P.s. Is the background too dark?

 

Well, I’m ready to call it a life: Persevering with Purpose

dog-2532610_1920.jpgRecently I was making my way through another day. At about 5:30 PM I sighed and commented, “Well, I’m ready to call it a life.”

While I feel far inferior to Paul in most of his godly approaches to life, one attitude of his that I can relate well to is the way he sees our time on earth: “We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing…While we live in these earthly bodies, we groan and sigh… we want to put on our new bodies so that these dying bodies will be swallowed up by life” (2 Corinthians 5:2-4). 

Or one of my favorite verses, which has been scattered as a reminder to myself throughout my journal pages: “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (Phillipians 1:21). Dying is Image result for to dogain and when the Lord takes me away, won’t I ever be rejoicing! But as I learned through years of asking questions, we are granted life on earth for a purpose. While there are many days I wish I could be relaxing and rejoicing in God’s presence right now, I have to remember that I have a purpose right here, right now. While it’s not necessarily fun living on earth, we have many blessings and many tasks to accomplish. Each day we’re alive, God wants to be working through us. That is a very encouraging thought; the Creator of the universe has a plan for each day you’re alive. He’s using you for his great purposes.IMG_0711

So, while we do want to be heaven-focused, we also have the privilege of serving God here, and we can’t dismiss this opportunity.

Therefore, until that day of rejoicing when the Lord takes me home, I am determined to use this gift of life that I’ve been given to serve God and others–through my work and through my attitude, by being positive, joyful, and intentional. If I can’t be home now, I might as well make the most of this earthly adventure.

This I Believe: There is Beauty, Even in This Dark World

Rain, Purple, Flower, Purple FlowerA cool drop of water tumbles downward. Falling…Falling…Then, suddenly, it hits my shoulder with a soft pressure. The droplet bursts, its cool wetness sifting through my shirt, hugging my skin. Around it hundreds more are falling, gently embracing whatever they land on. I duck my head and, like everyone else, begin to run to the next building, fearing the little droplets, wishing them away.

But suddenly, I stop.

The rain keeps pouring.

I turn my head, looking around; what have I against these gentle patterings of water? I close my eyes and feel the little splashes tenderly bursting across my face, softly running down my neck. As everyone else huddles indoors, I listen to the joyful music as the raindrops dance against each surface they hit, as they form delicate streams across the sidewalk. There is such mystery, and even greater beauty in all of it. Yet everyone else simply does their best to ignore it.

I believe in being deliberate. Deliberateness causes us to be genuine, to stop taking things for granted, and to see the abundance of beauty in the world. It allows us to be more content in life. When I take a moment to be deliberate, I take a moment to be genuine. When my sister asks, “What do you think of my hair?” it’s tempting to answer, “I don’t know” or “It’s great.” But when I focus on being deliberate, my answer is so much more real. “It’s interesting, but I liked the pony tail better,” or “Wow, that really makes you look professional” are answers that will mean so much more to both of us. Relationships aren’t built on the “It’s great” answers, but on the deliberate thought that goes into a conversation.

Image result for world war two prison campsWhen I take a moment to be deliberate, I take a moment to appreciate what I have. As grisly as they are, I like to read books about how Jews were treated in concentration camps during World War II. For when I grimace at their pain, I finally notice my lack of. And then, as I chew my food, I wonder at its marvelous taste. As I lie in bed, I sink deeply against the feel of clean sheets. And even as I argue with a sister, my anger diminishes, as I realize how grateful I am to even have her.

When I take a moment to be deliberate, I take a moment to be awed by beauty. Every snowflake that falls is a diamond crystal. Every sunbeam that shines is golden warmth. Every smile that’s given is a priceless treasure. Even as I shiver painfully in the cold fall morning, I don’t have to get upset as I wait for my brother to unlock the car. I can focus on the glistening, silver frost covering the grass.

There is beauty in every ugly circumstance. There is joy, even in this dark world. When I take a moment to be deliberate, I find myself more content. I feel a genuine world, a grateful heart, and a beautiful life. I believe in being deliberate.

Why Today Stinks: The Dangers of Complaining

edouard-tamba-138814.jpgI don’t always like life. One journal entry I wrote describes this well: “This morning I awoke in my normal weekday mindset…and completely detested life.” Some mornings I look at the day ahead and say, “Gross. I’ve already had one of these and I’m so done with it already.” It doesn’t seem so wrong to say this, really. But let me give you the same scenario from a different perspective:

Every breath you breathe is a gift from God. Picture this with me: you wake up in the morning, God looks at you lovingly and hands you a new day. “Whadya think?” He questions, eyes glistening with excitement.

“Gross. I’ve already had one of these and I’m so done with it already.”

Seeing as how I’m writing to millennial college students, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that we all fall prey to complaining. I’ve already admitted that I complain sometimes, so I have first-hand experience. However, as a comm major and psych minor, I’m also familiar with some aspects of how what we do influences how we think…and vice versa. With this background, I sincerely hope to shock you with some of the dangers of complaining, and thereby inspire you to complain a little less each day.

Bad for you: Some of you may recognize that complaining is bad for you. Others may feel that complaining is okay. I mean, you’re just “venting” and if you don’t “vent” you’re going to keep all your problems hidden inside of you until you burst. Well, nice try. Really though, complaining is bad for you.

Image result for brainSteven Parton (n.d.), in his article The Science of Happiness: Why Complaining is Literally Killing You, explains how the brain has the ability to rewire itself. When you practice something, your brain literally rewires itself, making new neural connections and shortcuts. Just like how learning to play the piano makes piano-playing easier, complaining makes negative thoughts more prominent and easier to come by. It physically changes your brain. Travis Bradberry (2017), Ph.D. and co author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0, backs up this claim, concluding that complaining can become a default, regardless of outside circumstances, when you practice it on a daily basis.

Bradberry (2017) continues on to note that complaining also increases the stress hormone cortisol into your body. Think about that for a minute. The act of complaining actually biologically increases your stress. When you wake up in the morning and gripe about the day, you are physically setting yourself up for a tougher day–you’re setting yourself up for stress. And everyone knows the dangers of stress: it makes you more susceptible to high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Not good. Just sayin’.

Another reason to avoid complaining is because communication creates reality. That Image result for coffee spillwhich you see you are more likely to look for and that which you look for your more likely to see. If you start complaining about something, you will start to see all there is so complain about, which leads to a dangerously downward spiral. I bet if you give it some thought, you can remember a day where, after one thing went wrong, the whole day seemed to bomb. This happens partly because once one thing goes wrong, you’re more likely to have that negative attitude and perspective.

Bad for your friends

Just as colds can be contagious, comm students are aware that emotions are contagious as well. Emotional contagion–the act of catching another’s emotions–comes into play with complaining as well. When you complain it easily brings your friends down as well. Bradberry compares complaining to smoking: “Complaining [is] a lot like smoking–you don’t have to do it yourself to suffer the ill effects.”

Image result for smokingThe first time I went to Frederik Meijer Gardens was years ago as a family trip designed to honor my mother on Mother’s day. For whatever reason, all six kids were determined to have the worst time of it ever. We complained and whined until it nearly drove my parents insane. Looking back I see how that attitude completely ruined my mom’s celebration and also fed more grouchiness. I still have bitterness toward Frederik Meijer Gardens to this day and because some of us decided to complain, nobody could have a good time.

Bad for your relationship with God

The third, and most significant, reason complaining is dangerous is because it’s bad for your relationship with God. As evidenced in the introduction, complaining is dissing God’s creation and gifts. It’s very true that the world is broken so obviously not everything on earth is good nor is life on earth what God wants it to be. But, even in the brokenness, God has given us gifts and when we complain, we completely ignore those gifts. We whine about homework, but we forget that we are lucky to be in the 7% of people nationwide who can even get to go college (100 People, 2016). Image result for cafeteria foodWe gripe about the cafeteria food, but we forget that 815 million people in the world are going hungry (UN World Food Programme, 2017). That’s considerably more people going to bed hungry each night than double the entire population of the US and Canada combined. Students on Cornerstone’s campus moan about having to walk the long way around the construction to get to the library, but we never thank God for working legs in the first place.

Not only are disrespecting God when we complain, we are actually called–it is our duty–to be joyful. We are instructed to be positive. The New living translation of Phillipians 2:14 says, “Do everything without complaining and arguing.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:16 states it very simply: “Be joyful always.” Our God is the God of love, peace, and hope. senjuti-kundu-349426.jpgWhy would we not be joyful? Why would we complain when we have an unimaginably bright future in God’s presence waiting for us?

So. Stop complaining. Stop. And start being on the lookout for what you are grateful for. If today stinks it’s because you are letting it stink. Complaining is bad for you, it rewires your brain toward negativity and adds stress, it’s bad for your friends, and it’s bad for your relationship with God.

Guys. This isn’t an innocent past time. Take this seriously.

Stop making life harder than it has to be!

 

 

 

 

Am I Proud of or Ashamed of Who I am?

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I wrote a post on surrounding yourself with people who will encourage you, be a good influence on you, and challenge you. For me, as a Christ follower, that means finding close friends who are serious about their faith and are pursuing a relationship with God hard core. But then the question plagues me: how can I tell if someone is sincere in his/her faith?

As I wrestled with this thought, I had to ask myself what I am doing to show my passion for Christ? This can be a painful question. This post is written as much for myself as it is for you

To get a practical application of how I could see Christ in others or how I could demonstrate my faith myself, I considered people around me who I admire to see how they show their passion for Christ. As much as we might prefer a glorious, mythical answer, the truth is, in those who I admire, I see Christ lived out in the little things.

1 Thessalonians 4:11 commands: “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.” 1 Timothy 2:2-3 repeats the idea, “…that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior…”

Big glorious things for Christ matter, but it is the simple, daily, living-life things that we are commanded to submit to Christ if we really want to live out our faith.

Free stock photo of man, person, dirty, constructionWork

Especially over the summer, the idea of using everyday work to glorify God spoke to me. 40+ Hours: What do We Communicate at Work?40+ Hours: What do We Communicate at Work? is a heart-felt post I wrote explaining how our time at work is a chance we have to serve others and find purpose. Work is not simply a wretched torture we must suffer through to supply our needs; instead it is an opportunity to engage with the people and tasks around us–to use the gifts and talents God has provided to serve others.

People will see Christ in me when I do my work passionately, go above and beyond expectations, and work as if it really matters. For my job as a tour guide at Cornerstone University, this means not just leading tours and saying what I have to say, but adding sincere energy. It means memorizing the names of the students on my tours. It means asking what they would like to know about, caring about their needs. It means arriving early to work and being willing to stay late sometimes. It means smiling while I work and going out of my way to find answers to questions. Is that the attitude I have when I head to work?

I want to be a Christian who has a great reputation at work because I am going to work looking to serve others, and not just looking out for myself.

Time management

Blue sand falls in an hourglass on a rocky beachThe way we prioritize also speaks volumes to what we are living for. Am I making time for one-on-one time with God daily (severely important!!!)? Am I making time to spend with others? Am I being responsible with the tasks I have to accomplish?

Everyone needs to waste time sometimes, but when I am tempted to binge watch Rhett and Link, I have to question: is that really the best way to use the limited time I have on earth? When I stay up late and am grumpy at work the next day, it’s not just myself who is affected. Am I viewing my time on earth as a temporary loan, or am I just looking to use it for myself and my personal pleasures? Am I wishing time away or am I looking to use the most of each moment I’ve been gifted with life?

I want to be a Christian whose time management points to a purpose above my own.

Respect for Others

A Christ-follower should believe that each individual possesses at least some aspect of who God is. I believe those who call themselves Christians should not gossip, should not tear others down, and should, in fact, do quite the opposite. The Christians who I admire do a great job of seeing the positives in others and serving others. As Christians, we can speak so much of God’s love by serving those around us. Sometimes this means opening doors for others. Sometimes it means befriending that lonely kid in your hall. Sometimes it means helping a classmate with homework. Or writing an encouraging note to someone. It can mean not dissing a professor, not speaking poorly of that one kid in class, not watching that film that the others are into. It can be small, but respect shows.

I want to be a Christian who radiates respect.

Image result for brokeMoney

How a person spends his/her money will show exactly what that person prioritizes. Again, it is absolutely okay to spend some money on yourself from time to time just for fun. But am I tithing? Am I giving some of it to the expansion of Christ’s kingdom? (Compassion International is a great organization to donate to, you can sponsor a child and see how much that one sponsorship can change the world for a child on the other side of the world!)

I know I’m speaking mostly to college students here. I know that we have very minimal amounts of money to spend. So maybe the question isn’t so much about how you could spend your money differently, but how about considering how much energy you waste worrying about your money? I want to learn to trust God so that, when I’m doing as much as I can, I can lay aside the worry and not let money stress me out.

I want to be a Christian who has enough confidence in my great God that when money is tight (i.e. always), I will never stop giving and will trust God to be in control.

Attitude

I hope that if you’ve been following my blog even halfheartedly that you’ve been slapped in the face with my passion for having a joyful attitude. Attitude is such a choice and it has the potential to be such a huge witness! I believe in a God who grants us hope, peace, trust, and JOY! As I Christ-follower, it is my sincere hope to represent some of God’s great attributes through having a joyful attitude.

Going out on the mission field, draining your savings to support a Christian organization, adopting a whole family of kids from the other side of the world: these are things that glorify God. But walking into work with a smile, writing an encouraging note to your roommate, working hard on your homework: these glorify God just as much.

The majority of our time and energy on earth is honestly spent just trying to stay alive; eating, sleeping, and breathing. It’s exhausting. But God put us on earth to live. And these things are what living takes. It is even these things that glorify God.

The way we do the simplest aspects of everyday living is what truly communicates to the world about our passion for Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:31: “Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Regarding following your heart…where does it lead?

Image result for follow your heartSitting at the dinner table the other night, my dad mentioned how our school system of taking the summer off can negatively affect children’s expectations about life. Kids grow up expecting to use the summer for “fun” and this expectation of the summer being simply for that purpose leads him to struggle at work. When he spends his summer putting in normal hours he feels like things aren’t the way things are “supposed to be,” he feels like it’s time for him to be having fun–like he deserves this chance at play.

Just because you recognize some blatant influences of culture doesn’t mean you’re safe from its influences. Just because you realize the over-the-top, self-serving aspects of advertising (you recognize sex sells, you see that the product claims to satisfy your deepest desires, you understand some of the manipulative devises) doesn’t mean it doesn’t change the way you think. Just knowing it’s there doesn’t shield you. I believe our culture affects us more than we know. It tells us we deserve to–and therefore always Book, Bored, College, Education, Female, Girl, Learnshould–feel good. If something doesn’t feel good, we shouldn’t do it. We see this in the big picture, but do we realize how this attitude affects us as it sifts into the less obvious places? What about your spiritual life?

I will admit that I am guilty of setting aside my Bible because it isn’t as entertaining as other things, cutting prayer time short because I’m just not “feeling” it, and turning down a chance to love a neighbor simply because I don’t want to spend my precious time on someone else. In these areas I have accepted culture’s message and have missed chances to make my life count.

In considering this, I was inspired by what a fellow blogger said in one of his posts: “Our feelings will lie to us. That is why we need the facts of the Bible and the Holy Spirit in our lives to lead our faith walk.” Faith is not a feeling. Faith is an action, a lifestyle, a choice, and a commitment. It is something we need to work at, even when we aren’t “feeling” it.

warning-2284170_1920Now I don’t want to be that stony, beat-you-over-the-head-with-the-Bible (or any other available object, for that matter) Christian who immediately proclaims that God will bring down judgement on you if you do anything fun or enjoyable. I mean, seriously, folks, you’ve read my posts; I’m a hard-core believer that life should be brimming with joy and that we can find contentment, hope, and joy in every single situation–even at work 😉 I’m a tell-tale fun-lover.

So how do we balance this? My friend continues his thought in a way that allows for feelings, but places them in perspective: “Feelings can take a backseat. That’s not saying we shouldn’t have emotions at all, emotions are what helps us connect with each other. They make us human. But emotions shouldn’t be the decision maker in our faith and beliefs.”

Quoting a pastor from Moody Radio, my fellow blogger stated these factors should influence decision-making in the following order: Fact, followed by Faith, followed by Feelings. Feelings are in there, but they are at the end. While culture might tell us otherwise, it is important to open our eyes wide to what culture is communicating and, in doing so, to do a systems check–making sure we are oriented the way we want to be.

hand heart bracelet fashion accessories silhouette sea water reflection sunset outdoor landscape view Ecclesiastes 11:9 explains it well: “You who are young, be happy while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” It is not wrong to follow your heart–so long as you aren’t following your heart to places that will bring judgement upon yourself. You were born with a sinful desire; not everything you feel like doing will be the right thing. 

Joshua Harris again states this clearly: “‘The heart is deceitful above all things…’ we read in Jeremiah 17:9. ‘Who can know it?’ Though the advice of many well-meaning people today is to ‘follow your heart,’ the Bible warns that your heart can lead you in wrong, even deadly, directions. Our hearts lie. Something can ‘feel’ right and be completely wrong.”

Culture has been wrong before. I’m not asking you to become emotionless, but I am challenging you to consider what your emotions are prompting you to do before you act on it. And I want to remind you that you have control over your feelings.

Please share your thoughts. I would like to know your reactions 🙂Image may contain: 11 people, people smiling, outdoor

Also, though long, I like to believe it proves interesting and a worthwhile read…here’s a link to my testimony of how pursuing happy feelings almost led to suicide and the lesson I learned from it.

P.s. So that you don’t have to constantly question whether or not you may have missed one of my essential posts, you should just hit the “follow” button on the top left of the page. That way you’ll be notified when I post a new post 🙂