Self-reflection exhausts me. I’m always noticing things I need to change to become more Christ-like. Being a perfectionist doesn’t help the problem, either.
Can you identify with that? We’re always working to be better at our jobs, more loving to our friends, more productive, more God-honoring. And even after a day of striving, we sit down in the quiet of the evening and realize that we’ve fallen short so many times. This striving has brought me to tears recently.
We are so critical of ourselves.
So, I want to bring some much-needed life and grace to this scene. God has spoken to my heart in this area recently. He definitely knew I needed it. Here’s a verse he showed me:
The prospect of the righteous is joy. Proverbs 10:28a
We, the righteous
God calls us righteous. That’s the opposite of the view I’ve seen so often expressed in Christian books, talks, and even casual conversations. We call ourselves totally depraved, and fixate endlessly on the graveness of our sin, but seldom venture beyond that point. Do we remember that we have a Savior who has transformed literally everything?!
He not only gave us future entry into heaven but copied his righteousness onto our souls: right here on the earth, right now. We have his perfection pressed onto our images. What a gift!
Remember to look ahead
This verse also reminds me to look ahead. While self-criticism is an unhappy re-living of the past, our hope as Christians is found in our future. Our prospect is a joyful entry into heaven, the completion of every good work our Lord has begun in us, and the very presence of God!
...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 1:6
These are two realities. Rock-solid. True no matter how we feel. So even when we mess up, our loving Father doesn’t look down on us with anger or impatience. He instead sees us as his children: bought with a price, and generously given grace. He knows the work still to be done on us, yet he also sees what we will be when we are with him in heaven.
C.S. Lewis has an interesting perspective on this:
Children and fools, we are told, should never look at half-done work; and we are not yet, I trust, even half-done. You and I wouldn’t, at all stages, think it wise to tell a pupil exactly what we thought of his quality. It is much more important that he should know what to do next. -C.S. Lewis
Just focus on the next step. What wisdom! God will ask us to change certain things, and we will always be working to become more like him. Yet in the meantime, while we’re trying to follow his lead and live with his heart, he has endless grace for our mistakes, struggles, and imperfections. Don’t become disheartened, friend. The prospect of the righteous is joy.
A few days ago, I was reading and journaling about humility. I was really going to town: highlighting, reading, scribbling notes. I envisioned myself going throughout my day in humble serenity, serving others and choosing lowly places for God’s glory.
But then. . . God gave me some practice opportunities. Ah, yes. Don’t you just hate it when you pray about a certain virtue, and God actually makes you practice it? Like when I pray for patience, and my entire day goes wrong. Or I pray for a strong love for others, and everyone seems particularly unlovable. Well, here I was again: practicing.
The day really wasn’t bad. It’s just that I let certain things get to me. A kid at my job was disappointed I was there instead of a different tutor. A meeting left me feeling like I wasn’t doing enough compared to my peers. Then in coming days, I was asked to do a task I really, really didn’t want to do—so I basically threw a twenty-year-old-tantrum. And weaving all these ‘tragedies’ together was the fact that I felt unrecognized for my efforts.
I definitely failed the practice trials. While that saddens me, I’m glad God is showing me yet another way I can become more like him. His word is unfailing, and at times speaks directly to the ugliest places in our hearts. If we’re willing to change, we will be glad to see those places budding new life.
Here’s the passage that inspired these thoughts:
One Sabbath, Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee. . .When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 14:1, 7-11, emphasis added
The Pharisees loved being recognized for their high standing in society. No matter where they went, they expected to receive honor and preference. So naturally when they came to this meal, they snatched up the best seats. Jesus was so straightforward to say that they were in error. What if someone worthier than the Pharisees came?
Concerning this, Matthew Henry wrote: "It ought to check our high thoughts of ourselves to think how many there are that are more honourable than we.”
While we probably don’t strut about our lives loudly demanding respect, pride shows itself in many other ways. I’ve made a list below. Consider if you’ve ever displayed the following:
Ok, yikes. I was able to make such an extensive list because I was pulling examples from my own life. We can see that pride is not always easy to catch or change, because it’s made a home in our most learned, impulsive actions and thoughts.
And Jesus sees it far more clearly than we do.
“Even in the common actions of life, Christ’s eye is upon us, and he marks what we do, not only in our religious assemblies, but at our tables, and makes remarks upon it.”
-Matthew Henry Commentary
The good news is, the offer still stands. “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Matt 23:12)
What would it look like for us to live a life of humbling ourselves? Of choosing lowly places, and honestly being okay with it? For one, I think I’d have a lot more peace. I would also be a much more joyful and fruitful servant. I’d be more focused on others than myself!
Imagine choosing a bad seat at church so someone else can see better. Quietly doing small tasks others don’t want to do. Choosing a far-away parking spot so others can park closer. Serving out of the joy of service, not the hope of being thanked. Living not to feed our ego, or with a chip on our shoulder when we’re unrecognized, but out of pure love.
I’ll be the first to say that living this way is hard. Obviously. But it’s something worth striving towards. Maybe within a week of trying you’ll see four victories and fifteen failures, but at least you’re trying. At least you’re aware of it. Imagine what God can do with a willing, submissive spirit over just a few years! Let’s choose lowly places. Let’s live in such a humble way that the world takes notice.
Lately, I’ve been struggling with some things I thought were long gone from my life. And at the same time, God has been re-teaching me the most basic truths. It’s been a week of frustration but has also brought so many sweet reminders of God’s character and faithfulness.
Distance from God.
First, I’ve been re-learning that God will never, ever leave me. Nothing can take me from his hand. I’ve always known that’s true, but the enemy can do crazy things with your mind. While sin and circumstances can affect how close I feel to God relationally, nothing can budge his love for me or my security in salvation. In case you’re needing this today too, here’s the Truth:
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. -John 10:27-30
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, 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
It’s crazy to me that nothing can separate me from God. It’s also crazy that he invites me to know him in the first place! My lack of goodness will never outweigh my Father’s promises.
I’ve also been confronted with loads of inadequacy. If you had asked me a week ago how I was doing with self-confidence, I would have said I was doing great—I honestly thought that struggle was behind me.
My college classes are getting really hard this semester. They’re focusing more on components of actually doing speech therapy: writing reports, how to act with clients, writing goals, and how to diagnose disorders. I feel like I’m in over my head, and in my most negative moments, I believe that I cannot do it. I’ve been feeling inadequate in most every other area of my life, too: my job, meetings, time management, and leadership positions.
The good news is, God’s staying right beside me in this struggle as well. He is constantly directing my focus to Christ. To truth. He’s helping me notice when my thoughts are coming from the enemy instead of him. He’s reminding me that because of Jesus, he sees me as valuable, worthy, competent, and righteous. And in the end, it’s not just feel-good motivation, because he’s showing me that there really isn’t anything I can do to prove myself! I cannot be good enough, but at the same time, he always sees me as enough.
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. -2 Corinthians 3:4-6
And as if two big struggles were not enough for a week, life has thrown in another: I’ve been experiencing the deadliness of ‘small’ sins like gossip, complaining, and a bad attitude. These are three things I normally don’t think much of. They’re just part of a normal day, to be honest. But God has been confronting these inclinations in my heart. He’s showing me that his way is always the better way, no matter how small the issue is.
So there you have it, folks. A grand list of my latest spiritual problems! I hope you’ll find encouragement and companionship in a few of the things I’ve said. But above all, I’m celebrating the fact that God shows himself to us even in our struggles and sins. He stays by our side constantly, lovingly teaching and shaping us throughout life. I sincerely hope you can sense him working through your struggles, too. What a faithful, merciful God we serve.
Do you know a control freak? Maybe it’s someone who plans every second of every day. Maybe it’s someone who demands to always know where their girlfriend is. Maybe it’s someone who freaks out if they sense that they’re losing authority.
Maybe it’s me.
A story in Luke has quite a bit to say about our tendency to demand control. In chapter 8, satan’s demons meet Jesus face to face. This story also speaks about their opposing natures, and has some uncomfortable but exciting implications for us. We start with Jesus and his disciples sailing across the Sea of Galilee.
The demon possessed man
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee. When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town.
For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. . . Many times it [the impure spirit] had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.
Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”
“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him. (Luke 8:27, 29-31)
Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones. (Mark 5:5)
Satan steals dignity
My heart breaks for this man. He was completely taken over by the demons that had entered him. And he’d lived this dreadful life alone in the tombs for “a long time!” Here is a crystal-clear picture of satan stealing human dignity. He gleefully caused much violence, pain, isolation, and unrest in this man’s life. Satan imposes as much of his disorder and insanity on us as possible. Further, this man was named after his many demons! He claimed the identity that darkness had given him.
I’ve been like this man at times. I’ve listened willingly to satan’s lies, accepting the identity of sin, mistakes, and darkness. I’ve let him “drive me to a solitary place.” When we’re isolated, we don’t have the help of other believers to help us refute satan.
So picture this man on the beach: naked, covered in wounds and scars. He’s satan’s puppet. Everything he does and says is coming straight from the demons.
But then Jesus steps ashore.
The playdate is over
When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. . . And they [the demons] begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss. Luke 8:28-29, 31
“What do you want with us, Son of God?” they shouted. “Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?” Matthew 8:29
I absolutely love this. When left alone, the demons had a heyday with this man. They had control. But the second Jesus steps foot on their turf, the playdate is over. Full authority is His, and they know it. They throw themselves down at Jesus’ feet, pleading for their lives. Matthew adds an important detail: the demons know that their torturous end is prearranged. Oh, how I anticipate that day of victory!
A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned. Luke 8:32-33
At Jesus’ command to leave, the demons obey. They even go where he says. I take rest in the authority of Jesus. Even the darkest, most astounding and long-standing evil is dislodged at once by his word. There’s no competition.
Jesus restores dignity
When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind. Luke 8:34-35
Every ounce of dignity that satan had stolen, Jesus restored. Picture it with me. This was a real man. He had been the town’s freak, a spectacle. People might have assumed he was dead, long gone.
But there he was at Jesus’ feet: clothed, sitting peacefully, and in his right mind. The townspeople couldn’t have predicted or even comprehended this. Dignified. Thoroughly, irrefutably changed.
Listen: Jesus specializes in defeating satan. He delights in unraveling satan’s schemes. He has a history of victory over satan.
The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 1 John 3:8b
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10
The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you. Romans 16:20
I love it! Those verses are so reassuring. Back to the story now. The townspeople have just laid eyes on a complete miracle: the town freak restored. . . And their reaction totally disappoints me.
. . .and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. Luke 8:35-37
Preserving control, forfeiting power
Although I’d like to think I would react in a better way, I can’t totally blame these people. Experiencing God’s awesome power also means submitting to his sovereign will. It means giving up our control, and that's hard. These people are unwilling. They ask Jesus to leave.
So he got into the boat and left. The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:37-39
Jesus did not resist their request. He simply boarded his boat, said a few words to the cured man, and left. . . although the man surely carried on the legacy of Jesus’ work in that place!
Here’s the thing: Jesus won’t force his work into the lives of those who won’t receive him. Just think of everything these people missed out on because of their fear! Jesus could have stayed and brought so much healing to them: physical, mental, and spiritual. But they sent Jesus away: preserving their control over their lives but forfeiting the experience of his power.
I hate to say it, but I’ve done the same exact thing. Jesus’ authority is exciting and awe-inspiring, but when it starts to interfere with my control, desires, or plans, I’d rather go without it. In lowly moments, I’d rather sin, stay indifferent to Jesus, make my own decisions, and accept the pending disorder satan is heaving upon me. How gracious my God is to faithfully draw my wandering heart back to himself, clothe me in dignity and wisdom, and turn my face upon his glory.
An unshakable identity
So take heart, child of God! If you’ve accepted Christ’s cover for your sins and committed to walking with him, you’ve been given a new identity that is unshakable. You are steadily seen in the same way by your Father: chosen and adopted by him, given righteousness, dignity, and purity, known and made one with him, and part of the body of Christ. Satan may drive us to solitary places. He may mar our consciences. He may try to drive us insane. But he cannot get a finger on our true identities and eternal destinies in Christ Jesus.
And the more control you relinquish to Christ, the more of his power you'll experience in your life.
September is my favorite month in many ways. The air is crisp. My college schedule is starting to settle into a comfortable routine. The trees gradually transition from lively greens to rich, warm hues. It’s brisk in the mornings and bright and lovely in the afternoons. It seems friendships are vibrant in this month too, lots of time spent laughing in the living room.
But to me, there’s always a bit of fear in the fragileness of the amber leaves dancing in the breeze. I know they’ll eventually detach and go floating through the air, down to the ground. I can’t stand the thought of all of them gone, the trees bare, and the air turning gusty and sharp with cold. I love autumn so dearly, but I dread what’s to come in winter. Just admiring the vibrant autumn shades for seconds can pull me quickly into this apprehension.
I’ve noticed a similar pattern in my thinking about seasons of life. Forgive me for the Christian-ese use of the word ‘seasons:’ but it does fit quite well. Our lives do not stay steadily the same. Rather, everything changes throughout time: the people we know, what we spend our time doing, our goals, routines, and places we frequent. . . For a young person like me it’s easy to see seasons; they change so quickly. From high school to college to engagement and marriage, then onward to a career and kids. Life is always changing. Even if you’ve already reached the ‘kids’ or ‘grandkids’ life markers, there is always much ahead: more changes, more life, more lessons, more people, more places.
The attitude that we have about the future is crucial to our sanity and happiness. Often I think of my life like I do the autumn leaves: changing far too quickly, slipping through my fingers. I see the joyful things in the present but bemoan the fact that they are passing. I look ahead with fear to unknowns, to stresses I haven’t yet considered, to the unavoidable yet unpredictable pains I so wish I could bypass.
Other times, though, the allure of the future pulls me away from the beauty of the present: to the effect that I drift through my days while dreaming of the idealized years ahead. This compromises all that’s around me! I miss so much when I live like this.
The solution to these problems isn’t exactly easy, but it is quite simple. We need to realize the brevity of life and acknowledge the goodness of the present day. Here’s a great starting point: make a list of the things you’re grateful for in your present season of life. Include the smallest and most profound things alike: anything you’ll miss when you realize you’ve moved on. It’s a great practice in gratitude as well. Here are a few things on my list currently:
*Learning things in class I’m excited about and amazed at
*Acting absolutely insane and immature with my roommates
*Being a plant mom
*The excitement of Skyping my boyfriend, and on normal days, calling him
*My little twin bed at the end of a long day
*Choosing one meal for the week from Pinterest, then shopping for it and making it
*And, of course, the swaying branches full of bright leaves outside my window
We all could get better at enjoying the present season instead of expectantly or sadly looking to the next. Just like seasons, life moves on unavoidably. Let’s soak up the joys of each day with a grateful, calm heart.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15
Lord, what are human beings that you care for them,
mere mortals that you think of them?
They are like a breath;
their days are like a fleeting shadow.
My mom has had a life-altering disease for 8 years. For 8 years she has endured intense pain, three surgeries, vicious medications, and a completely changed diet. And for 8 years, countless people have prayed for her. While we have seen God’s faithfulness in so many details and days of good health, she hasn’t experienced complete healing as we’d hoped. It's incredibly hard. Exhausting. I’ve felt kicked in the heart countless times by seeing her in pain and not being able to to fix it.
So, I’ll be the first to say that praying for God's will to be done is hard. While I fully believe in his authority and ability to heal, I do not know if and when it is in his plan. That’s complicated, for obvious reasons.
Asking for God’s will is even hard in the small stuff, because it requires a lot more trust and humility than just asking for what I want. It forces me to admit I may have to do or experience something uncomfortable, painful, or even just plain annoying. It also forces me outside of myself: outside of my own mind.
There’s a Greek word I want to share with you. It’s a verb that’s used almost 200 times in the Bible: thelo.
Thelo: to will, have in mind, purpose, intend, desire, wish, take delight or pleasure in
In many instances, this word describes the desires and will of our Holy God and his Son. A few examples: God wills that people know the truth and become saved. And when Jesus was on the earth, his will brought about many physical healings.
The word also refers to humans desiring and wishing for things. We also ‘thelo.’ But ever since sin broke our relationship with the Lord, our desires haven’t always been congruent with his. We want things that might not be the best for us, make requests at the wrong times, tend to focus on comfort instead of heart change, and struggle to see beyond our earthly limitations.
And of course, it makes sense. We can't see the whole picture: we can only see the past and the present. So then, it is truly in our best interest to line up our desires with God’s. He is the eternal King without flaw. He holds purpose in each plan. And his vision envelops all time and space.
Even Jesus had to verbally submit to God’s will before he was crucified: “Not my will but yours be done.” And oh, how thankful I am that he did!
How can we know?
The struggle is, how do we know what God’s will is? Through my life, that question has brought me much confusion, hard thinking, and a tough conclusion: we cannot always know. To seek it in certain situations we can look at who we know God to be, what he values, and how he’s worked in the past. But ultimately, we get to pray about it. We get to lay down all our calculations, anxious desires, and stubbornness, and ask for God’s will to be done.
This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him. 1 John 5:14-15
But we don’t have to stop there: we can also pray to understand the purpose of God’s will, cope with things we’re not happy about, grow from situations, and trust our Lord more deeply because of it all! I believe these results are a large reason God allows pain into our lives. It does more than hurt us: it promotes growth.
A good balance
Here’s a scene from Matthew that I absolutely love:
And a leper came to Him [Jesus] and bowed down before Him, and said, "Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean." Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, "I am willing; be cleansed." And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. Matthew 8:2-3
I. Just. Love that. "If you are willing, you can make me clean." The leper said it more concisely than I can, but here’s my interpretation: it’s like saying “God, I believe you have power and authority to move mountains. But only fill this specific request of mine if it is in your will.” What a mature and humble statement! This is the passage that led me to the word thelo.
So, yeah. I don’t know what God’s will is for my mom’s health. My role will continue to be encouraging her and praying for her faithfully: but maybe with more of a motive to understand, submit to, and embrace God’s will than before.
I think we could all use some more of that in our lives.
Have you ever been pressured to feel a certain way? Maybe it was during worship at a church. The music was loud; people all around you had their hands high in the air. The worship leader seemed about to cry. But for some reason, you weren’t in the mood. Or maybe it was an emotionally-charged speaker. He based his entire stance on emotion, trying to make you feel like giving money to this or standing up for that. It left a bad taste in your mouth. Maybe it was while talking to a friend. She’s been having the most amazing times with the Lord, and you’re happy for her. . . but honestly, you’ve felt pretty ‘meh’ lately. Does that mean something bad about your spiritual ‘level’?
I’ve experienced all these things, to a T. Emotion is often misused or misinterpreted, especially in Christian life. It’s awkward and frustrating. So let’s talk about it.
God created emotion
First, emotion is a powerful element of life created by God. When God formed humanity, every element he included was purposeful: the design of our bodies, the way we laugh, the pathways of nerves and placement of muscles, how we relate to others, and yes, the ability to feel. Everything was intended to bring him glory. It's also amazing to me how the human face shows emotion so intricately. (Just look at the pictures I've included in this post!)
Further, God created us in his image. God himself shows a wide range of emotions in the Bible: from anger to rejoicing, from grieving to compassion, from hatred to love. When he sent Jesus to earth as a perfect embodiment of himself, he too showed intense emotion.
The problem is that we aren’t living in God’s original, sinless world. . . and we’ve proven ourselves skilled at taking a good thing like emotion and twisting it. Feelings can now be used to create confusion, shame, and impulse.
Distortions of emotion
Sadly, worship music can easily misuse emotion. Because the environment and mood of worship is so compelling, it can leave critical thinking in a vulnerable state. Next time you’re singing or listening to a worship song, ask yourself: are these words accurately portraying truth? Can the message of this song be backed up by specific Bible verses? Usually, the answer will be yes. But if there is unclear ground, we run the risk of viewing God as something he is not.
Another danger is depending on emotion as your faith’s foundation. Do you feel bad if you don’t shed a tear during worship? Do you feel ashamed if your devo time wasn’t the most exciting part of your day? You gotta remember that feelings change all the time. They will cause you to fall if you rely on them. We are saved by what Jesus has done for us. Period. That is the foundation that will not waver.
Our first allegiance: truth
Our first allegiance must be to Biblical truth. From there, emotion finds its rightful place: glorifying God and deepening our affections for him.
God tells us in Deuteronomy to “love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” He doesn’t want robot followers. He wants fully engaged, heart-and-soul-and-strength worshippers. It is a good, good thing to reflect on what Jesus has done for us: to feel the reality of anguish we were in without him, and the incredible joy we have because of him.
Another verse that speaks to this is John 4:23: “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” This is a picture of head-plus-heart worship: of both focusing your mind on truth, and letting God’s Spirit move your spirit within you.
If you’re ever unsure of your focus, ask yourself this: “Is this emotion in reaction to truth, or am I producing it artificially without engaging my mind?”
Emotion as a gauge
Because of its impulsive nature, emotion can also be used as an honest gauge of what we value. As I mentioned earlier, Jesus felt things deeply. Every bit as real and varying as the emotions we experience, Jesus showcased it all without any sinful distortion. This is a great opportunity to compare ourselves with him. Do our emotions match up with Jesus’ in similar situations? When are we most joyful, most annoyed, most passionate? This can show a reflection of Christ, or reveal parts of our hearts that need to be changed. (Click HERE for a full post on the topic.)
Emotion is a powerful and God-ordained part of life. Though it can have devastating effects when misused or misinterpreted, it brings glory to God and beauty to life when kept consistent with truth.
There are so many people, who could never be accurately summed up by a little sentence like the ones I’ve written. There are so many intricacies to everyone’s stories and personalities and feelings and plans. And such is the kingdom of God. Diverse. Intricate. Deep. Perhaps at first uncomfortable to me. . . but in all reality, the most beautiful thing you could imagine.
The past fourteen days have been a whirlwind. After weeks of training, preparing, and the early bird week, we headed back to Rutland on Thursday morning. Our first group was scheduled to arrive on Sunday! Even though we’d done everything possible to be ready, I was still nervous. It was time for our team to take complete ownership of a week of programming, at our own site!
Just as I expected, Sunday came quickly. I love Sundays here. Since we’re living in the church we attend, I get to listen to our organist practice while I do devos before church. She’s a sweet lady named Kristine, and I played piano with her for a service once. Our sanctuary is beautiful here, and the services are very traditional: never flippant or too casual. I’m always reminded of how awesome and glorious God is.
After church and some last-minute cleaning and cooking, the church groups arrived around 5:30 pm. We had two church groups come, with a total of around 45 people. Almost all the youth were in middle school, so it was a pretty energetic group. I noticed right away that there were a lot of sweet kids.
On Sundays, our schedule is different from the normal week. We all have dinner together, then we have a youth orientation where we introduce ourselves, play a game, talk about the community, and go over some rules. Then the youth make mail bags for our “Mountain Mail” system and hang them on the wall. We write notes to each other throughout the week, and it’s been really encouraging and fun! (Although we do have to tell them it’s not a dating service.)
After they’ve made their mail bags, we have the Gathering. This is one of my favorite parts of the day. We start with fun music and a game, then go through different elements designed to bring the group to a more reflective mood: Upta Uplifts (recognizing people for things they’ve done that day), worship (which I play piano for, and really enjoy), Yea Gods (telling about ways we’ve seen God working), Staff Stories (a staff member tells a story from their life), and a few other things. After the Gathering, the church groups meet while we have a staff meeting. Then we do last minute dishes, hard boil eggs, clean up, or anything else that needs to be done, and get to sleep.
After the first Sunday of programming, I was elated. It had gone almost perfectly, and the kids were all friendly and sweet. I almost couldn’t believe how smoothly it had gone!
Mondays through Thursdays at YouthWorks all have similar schedules. We have breakfast prep early in the morning (where a staff and a crew of youth cook together), then breakfast at 7:30. After everyone eats, we have building clean up and breakfast clean up, then half an hour of devos. We have little trip journals that guide the youth through different Bible readings and reflections about their days. Then at 9, everyone gathers together for service orientations, where we tell the groups more about where they’re going to serve for the day.
We have a lot of service partners, but here are a few examples:
-Mountain View/The Meadows/Rutland Health and Rehab: These are the three nursing homes/assisted living facilities I coordinate volunteers for. The serving at all three looks pretty similar, as the youth play games with the residents, go on room visits, help with activities, and get to know the residents. One of my favorite activities is at the Meadows, where everyone sits around a table and plays volleyball with flyswatters and a balloon!
I’ve seen many youth and adult leaders impacted deeply by volunteering at the nursing homes. Spending time with the residents freshens their perspectives, and on top of that, it’s always a genuinely great time. The residents have so many stories to share, and they’re so grateful and excited to spend time with us. If you can’t tell, these have been my favorite places to serve. I’ve had many sweet moments with the residents, and I look forward to getting to know them better over the summer. It’s a passion God has been showing me, and I’m excited to see where it brings me!
-Pine Hills Park: This is an extensive trail system right in Rutland. They have both hiking and mountain biking trails, and every single one has been built by volunteers. The park brings in tourism, which is great for Rutland. Shelley is the lady who coordinates and leads our volunteers, and she’s very dedicated to the park. The work there is hard, as the groups are building a new trail, but I’ve heard them say they enjoy seeing how much they can get done.
-Open Door Mission: This is a really great place, and serves Rutland in many ways. They have a soup kitchen, shelter, and thrift shop all in one building. They are committed to serving anyone and everyone: even if someone is lonely and wants company, they are invited to eat there and find companionship! The kids help in both the thrift shop and soup kitchen.
As I said, we have more partners than this list, and I’ll write about them later in the summer. We really are blessed with great relationships with the people in Rutland, and the opportunity to serve in diverse ways. Going to these service sites with our groups is my favorite part of the day. It’s a great time to get to know the kids better, while also watching them learn about service. It’s amazing to see their eyes opened to broader perspectives as they do things they never have before.
The service day lasts until about 3 (everyone eats bag lunches wherever they’re serving), then it’s time for showers. We have four different places where groups shower, and staff go to each for shower duty. The process takes quite a while, then everyone heads back to the church for dinner prep, dinner, and evening activity orientation.
Each evening looks different, since our evening activities change every day. On Mondays we go to an indoor rock climbing gym, then Ben and Jerrys. The kids learn how to belay each other (which is scary, but not as scary as you’d think), and it’s a lot of fun! On Tuesday, we go to a place called the Vermont Farmers Food Center, which is linked to the Farmers Market. A man named Greg talks to our groups about food sustainability and the ways the farmers market helps people in Rutland get fresh produce. On Wednesday we go to a beautiful state park for pizza and games. Thursday is our community cookout, where we go to a park, grill food, and invite the community to have a free meal with us. Every evening activity is designed to get the group out into the community, have fun, relax, and have time to get to know each other better.
We also have the Gathering each night, then church group time and staff meeting. By the time everything is wrapped up for the day, it’s usually after 11 pm. The days are exhausting, but also very full of laughter, learning, and fun.
All in all, our first week was pretty perfect. It was great to get to know the kids and watch what God did in them over the week. When they left on Friday, our staff team headed to Walmart and Sams Club for our weekly shopping. (This is a day-long process). Then we had Saturday to rest and relax. We usually spend Saturdays sleeping, going out to eat, going to the farmers market, and doing whatever else we don’t have time to do during the week (did I mention sleeping?)!
Then on Sunday, we did it all over again! It was overwhelming to dive into another week after just one day of rest, but God gave me the strength and desire to meet the new kids and pour myself into every moment of the week, just like last I had before.
Schedule-wise, our second week was similar to our first. However, we had more high schoolers, so I found myself adjusting the ways I approached them, made conversation, and related to them. The first few days of the week were honestly quite rough, as we got to know the kids and coordinated everything. Many of the kids were from an affluent community in Connecticut, and had had very different upbringings than I had. Even though this made it difficult in the beginning, I found that God worked in some amazing ways that week. He shifted my perspective from frustration to patience and understanding. He showed the youth what service looks like, and opened their hearts to being servants. He brought unity between the church groups in a way I didn’t at all expect. I’m thankful to participate in these youths’ mission trip experiences, and see what God alone can do in their hearts.
I am definitely so glad I said yes to a YouthWorks summer. I’m learning a ton about God, service, myself, and others. God is opening my eyes to new perspectives constantly, and it’s great to watch as he does that in the youth who come to serve, too!
Tomorrow, my team and I leave for Boston to help a YouthWorks team there, then we have a month left of programming here in Rutland. It's all going so quickly, but I know He has so much more in store for the rest of the summer. I’ll keep you updated! Thank you for following along with my journey, and for all your thoughts and prayers!
I’m excited to finally share with you about the beginning of my YouthWorks summer! I’ve had so many new experiences, gone so many places, and made so many true friends that I can hardly believe it’s only been three weeks.
It all started on May 21st when I flew to Pittsburgh for five days of training, called RAMP. It was a busy week of tons of learning. We learned about YouthWorks’ values, how to work in the kitchen, how to do our specific roles, and lots of other things. The training leaders also modeled different aspects of a typical YW week, so we could experience them and know how they should look.
At RAMP, I also met my team of girls: Becca, Kortnei, and Mo. We became friends quickly, and I’m super thankful for them! We’ve had a lot of fun together while also being a powerful team. I’ve found that we are all very fit for the roles we are in, which is by God’s design, I’m sure.
After training, our team headed out in our old Grand Caravan (named Betty) and little blue car (named Little Blue) for Rutland, VT. We drove all day on Saturday, and had a great time talking and getting to know each other better.
We got to Rutland that evening. Rutland is a town of about 16,000 people. It’s very beautiful, with the Green Mountains surrounding it. Almost all the buildings and houses are charming and unique, since they are generally older than in the Midwest. We’re staying in an adorable red brick church (pictured). Although Rutland is a relatively small town, it does struggle with many big-town problems: poverty, homelessness, and drug use. We are serving here to assist the organizations that already exist to aid these problems.
Once we arrived in Rutland, we had about two weeks to set up everything we needed to have youth groups come and serve. It was a bigger task than I’d assumed it would be! We had a ton of things in storage that needed to be brought out, inventoried, cleaned, and organized. We also had a lot of cleaning to do in the church itself. Other than that, we had programming to practice, evening activities to visit, and also some down time to hang out in Rutland and with each other.
My favorite part of our prep weeks, though, was meeting with our service partners in Rutland. Because I’m the Community Service Coordinator, I get to connect with places like nursing homes, missions, and farms to learn about their needs and make sure the volunteers are filling those needs over the summer. It’s a big job, but I really love the partners I’ve met, and I’m excited to start serving them soon!
Last Thursday, we left Rutland to help a different YouthWorks site, in Warrensburg, NY. Since they have a week of youth coming before we do, we call it “early bird.” They’re in the Adirondack Mountains, which is another beautiful place. We’ve been here for the past five days, and it’s been fun to spend time with the other staff! We went shopping at Sam’s Club and Walmart for the week of programming, which was a huge job in itself. We also got to hike a mountain right behind the church we’re staying at in Warrensburg.
Then, on Sunday (just three days ago), a group of youth came for the first week of programming! I was a bit nervous, because I haven’t had experience working with middle school and high school students. Honestly, my only experience was actually being in middle school and high school, which wasn’t my favorite thing ever. However, the church group that came this week is very small, with only 16 people. I’ve gotten to talk to almost everyone, and have a great time serving alongside them this week. We’ve worked outdoors every day, helping with a lot of landscaping and gardening in the community. We’ve also had fun with cooking, hanging out, doing devos, going to outdoor activities, and having the Gathering every night.
I’m amazed at how God has worked in me to allow me to connect with these kids and have a great time with them. I see how He’s fulfilling my prayers (that started way back when I was still taking finals) to be passionate about youth. I’m excited to see what He will do with the rest of the summer!
Through all these long days and craziness, I can definitely see God’s hand working. I am constantly learning new things about myself, others, service, and the Lord. The major themes have been faithfulness in the small things, and being content in any situation. I’m finding that ministry is comprised of millions of small details that can feel simultaneously insignificant and overwhelming. Through this, God has taught me to serve humbly and persevere through tasks I simply don’t like, because He holds the bigger picture. He knows the final impact.
Although this post may have made my summer sound pretty perfect, I would like prayer for a few things. These days are incredibly long, and I need strength and energy to stay on top of everything. I keep praying that God would help me to want to do all that is required of me. You can also pray that I can focus on Him throughout every day. It’s weird, but even though my job is ministry this summer, it’s easy to just do it as a job and forget about the power, motivator, and reason behind it all: Jesus. Pray for the perseverance of me and my teammates! We will be getting our first week of youth participants this Sunday (June 17th), but also need to set up a lot more at the church to be ready for them. Pray also for the community of Rutland, the youth and leaders who will come, and all the service we’ll be able to do!
Thank you for reading this rather long update, for being in my life, and for your prayers! Overall, I am so glad that I’m doing a YouthWorks summer, and joyful about what God’s already done through it. It is my prayer that he receives great glory from this summer in Rutland and beyond!
Hello! I'm Anna, a college student living in the Midwest. I'm a strong believer in uncontrollable laughter, powerful words, and a morning cup of coffee. I pray these posts will encourage you to live a full life with and for God: unhindered. Follow me on social media for post updates!