But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you. Philippians 2:17
I was on the listening end of a courageous conversation the other day. A really brave young woman dared to whisper through her tears "sometimes I just want to leave". She didn't have to admit that to me. She could have done her best to maintain an image of one who has it all together. Polished her faux halo of perfection. Kept me believing that her life was peachy keen and worthy of envy and emulation.
She's not alone in her desperation. I've heard similar sentiments recently from several other really incredible young women. A couple were young mommies, one was a more seasoned mom and others were 20something career gals. Diverse life stages. Women who seemed to have everything "necessary" for a good life - including Jesus! - yet reality reveals a very different picture. Loneliness. Deep sadness. Frustration. Thinking that they've climbed the ladder they thought was success, only to find it was leaning against the wrong wall. Feeling angry inside and not knowing how to process it. Wanting to get out of the pit they find themselves in...leaving at least emotionally if not physically. Depending on unsuccessful ways of coping against the feelings they don't want to have. Sure that there must be a better way and wondering if it just has a different zip code.
My heart hurt. I prayed. But I felt...feel...inadequate to help. What do I have to offer them that will get them to a place of hope? That will keep them in the places they committed to? That will deter them from false promises of happiness?
I don't know.
But I have to try. Each of these gals sees my life as perfect. And, most of the time, I'll admit, it's darn close. They think that's the secret to my joy. But it's not. I have trials and failures and feelings just like everybody else. I think that, maybe, my joy is the secret to my life instead of the other way around. So today is a feeble attempt to share some things that fuel my joy. These suggestions may not seem like a solution to you but they are critical components of my life. Maybe some of them will help somebody else.
1. Commit to a body of believers. Don't just join a church - participate. And don't keep church hopping. Commit. Be there. Be around people that share your faith, walk the walk, and make it a priority. I know going to church won't make you a Christian anymore than walking in a garage makes you a car but it's a good place to start. Commit to being a part of a local church. Yeah, there will bea lot of imperfect people at whichever one you choose. Be glad - that means you'll fit right in!
2. Connect with a group within this body. It might be called Sunday School or small group or Ladies Discipleship but whatever it is - connect. Do life with these folks. Rejoice with them, cry with them, and "do life" together. You don't have to share every detail of your finances or marital strife or vacation plans with them but just walk alongside them. Be together. Laugh and have fun together. Raise kids together. Get frozen yogurt together. Yes, it'll get messy sometimes and your feelings will get hurt -- and you'll hurt some feelings - and you'll be tempted to pull back or give up. But don't. Stay connected.
3. Contribute to this body. Put all kinds of treasure in these folks and your heart will follow. Not just your money (but you oughta do that too) but your talents and your time as well. Serve in a capacity where it matters if you don't show up. In other words, don't simply walk up to the welcome desk one day and ask if they need you to hold a door open. Get yourself on the schedule and be the regular, dependable volunteer! (BTW - I highly recommend doing the door greeting thing. It very well might be the best job at church, next to baby nursery. It's grand!!) Contribute to the body corporately as well as individually. Use your sanctified imagination and God-given gifts to serve. I've seen folks paint murals, mow grass, manage money, sew pillowcase dresses, bake bread, write notes, make phone calls, fill up cups with KoolAid, decorate tables, and type Bible studies all for Jesus. Contribute. When you water other people's lives with love, your own will supernaturally be replenished.
4. Consume large and consistent quantities of God's Word. There is no way I can overstate how critical this is. Read it for yourself. Listen to it at Bible study. Download it in podcasts. Hear it in music. Study it intensely. And then obey it. James 1:21-22 tells us that obeying His Word will heal our soul. Our hearts, our minds, our emotions are under assault from this world. Great damage has been done and we are in need of repair. God's Word is what will rebuild the ruins, restore the beauty, regenerate the carnage. But you have to get it in you first. And frequently. Immerse yourself in it. And, just like that beauty ointment that will eliminate the wrinkles around your eyes won't do you any good unless you put it on your skin, you gotta apply what you learn to your life.
5. Count the cost. Count the cost of your choices. You can choose to whole-heartedly live the life you have or you can half-heartedly exist. You can choose to be generous or selfish. You can choose to accept responsibility or you can blame your spouse, parents, siblings, whomever for your pain. You can choose joy or self-pity. You can choose to forgive or to hold onto the hurt. You can choose to try and please yourself with any number of options or you can choose to invest yourself in other people. You can choose to adjust to the curves life has thrown you or you can whine about how hard you have it to anyone who will listen. You can choose to obey Christ or to excuse your disobedience. You can choose. We all choose . The question is which choice will be make? Untold damage has been done by folks who have checked out, blamed other people, or longed for grass that promised to be greener. Damage to scores of innocent people...and to the one making that choice. Don't be deceived. Choices have consequences. For a long time. The decisions we make every day will bear fruit -- if they are self-serving choices, the fruit will inevitably be, at best, bland but more likely bitter and toxic. But if the choices are instead self-denying, Christ-honoring, and others-focused, the fruit will be sweet and life-giving. And all that fruit - well, fruit has seeds. Seeds that blossom and grow into more of the same. Fruit that feeds those around the grove...as well as the sower herself. Please count the cost. I could tell you a hundred sad tales of bad fruit borne out of self-centered choices. And I can gladly brag about a thousand more tales of women that planted good fruit - in hard places - and lived to see a harvest of life-giving fruit in their own lives and the lives of those they love. And the seeds from that fruit will bear fruit for a thousand generations.
Those aren't my thoughts -- that's His promise - "showing (building, constructing) lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments" (Exodus 20:6)
If you're staring up out of a place of hopelessness, you're gonna be tempted to think this is hokey and not helpful at all. I understand. But I ask you to give it a try - for at least 6 months - a good solid try with all your heart. Then let me know what you think.
I'm cheering for you!