It’s common to look forward and forget to look back. I don’t struggle with that. I reflect a lot — much of my day is spent reflecting. I reflect on things from minutes ago, days ago, months ago and sometimes even many years ago. I think back to conversations I had and teachings I heard. I recall people that have come into and out of my life. I think about verses I read and the way I used to think.
Reflecting isn’t a problem for me. I do have a problem, though. It’s remembering lessons. It’s taking all of these memories and coming out the other side with a nugget. Something I can write down. Something to hold on to. Something I learned.
That’s my weakness. That’s what I’m always attempting to get better at. Consider this piece an attempt in hopefully the right direction. I feel that if I try to synthesize these memories and actually write down a lesson, maybe it will stick. Maybe I’ll learn from it.
You get to read that attempt. So, bless you.
1. Be excited about being who God made you to be
I’ve wrestled with identity since my teen years. In short, I tried so hard to be extroverted. It seemed that extroverts had all the best traits: Life of the party, gregarious, funny, good at speaking, etc. I didn’t want to be labeled an “introvert.” They were the ones who didn’t like crowds, got nervous public speaking and wanted to take a book and go hide from people. I didn’t want that! This year was freeing for me. Susan Cain influenced me greatly in describing the benefits of introverted leaders. Silly posts even helped me realize that it was a great thing to be introverted. It feels like finally finding the spot for the puzzle piece that you’ve been trying to cram in the wrong place for ever. The sooner we learn to be excited about how God has made us the better. I’m now free to enjoy being who I was created to be.
2. God doesn’t think it was a waste of time
I look back at some of the things I said, thought and wrote years ago and laugh. Sometimes I shake my head. I was naive and somewhat arrogant. Being a Christian, to me, was all about accomplishing something for the Lord. What pride. I lifted up my head about 9 months ago to realize God had been letting me run off a little bit. All the while I was running out there pridefully, he was chuckling. Waiting for me to come crashing down. I did crash. It was a crashing of the heart, mind and spirit. I realized I didn’t really know Him. Thus, I didn’t really love Him, I loved proving people wrong and my ideas as right. I wanted to be on the right team — to be following the correct movement.
It had been years of running off on my own — pridefully knowing many people were being a Christian incorrectly and I was right. When this all crashed and I felt like a spiritual baby, God was right there (since He had never gone anywhere.) The hardest thing for me was thinking how all these years had been a waste of time running in a bunch of wrong directions. Then the Spirit spoke to my heart: God will spend years teaching us lessons and consider it an excellent use of finite time. As I crashed this year and was found desolated, God jumped in. As Augustine said, “God gives where He finds empty hands.”
3. Mute notifications. Focus entirely.
Just because something makes this list doesn’t mean I’ve learned it completely. Apps want to get our attention immediately (mostly because they’ll make money from us.) Email, texts, Twitter, etc. They all want our attention whenever they want it. I wanted to take control of my life back. This year I tried removing distractions from my day: I placed a Do Not Disturb from 9pm to 9am (which has since increased to 6pm, and I often turn it on during the work day too.) When I need to, I handle fast-paced, multitasking jobs quite well. But, most work doesn’t work that way. Being completely present in whatever task I’m doing (or book I’m reading, or piece I’m writing) is a much more valuable skill.
4. Regret is a bitter feeling
I will write about the bigger lesson with this one later. But, I am nearly finished with Shattered. It’s the story of my friend and former colleague Frank Pastore. I started working with (more like “for”) him at 21, fresh out of college. I met him in much of my prideful season of knowing exactly what it looked like to be a Christian. Frank’s love for learning about the Lord and teaching others the deep truths of who God is didn’t fit into my box of Christianity. It seemed lazy to me — like using grace as a lawn chair. I thought we needed to be out doing and enduring more for God. This led me to leave the radio show we worked on together. It led me on a tiring path of trying to earn God’s love — to do enough for God.
I neglected Frank’s mentorship at 21. Now, after God humbling me and maturing me, 6 years later I’m ready to be mentored by him. I’m ready to sit by the fire and hear his stories. Stories of failure and defeat — about success and having it all. About ministry, and life and marriage and raising children — all while enjoying the grace of God. I want to hear his lessons about being loved perfectly by our Father no matter what we’re walking through.
The only problem is, I can’t do that now. Two years ago, Frank was in a motorcycle accident as he left the radio show we used to work on together. After being in a coma for a month, he died 8 days before Christmas in 2012. I think I finally processed his death a few nights ago as I read a letter he wrote to me. I just wish I could write him back now, having matured out of a lot of the subtle pride I lived in.
5. Happiness isn’t in circumstances
This is a lesson my wife and I have been meditating on. We humans often look forward to things. That’s great and natural, I believe. Whether it’s a vacation, a new job, a child, graduating, or retiring — we love to plan for happiness. “I’ll be happy when…” or “Once this happens, then I’ll be happy.” What we’ve found is that, once that thing happens, you’re left looking for the next thing to anticipate. It’s taking life and making it a search for happiness highs. We’re trying something new. My wife and I are attempting to be happy now, and then enjoy new circumstances when they come. It’s retraining our minds, really. Of course, certain things do get us excited with anticipation. I’m just saying not to make a habit of looking to the next thing.
6. Dwelling with God starts now and continues forever
It’s the truth of the ages: God came and dwelt among us and we can know Him. I used to live for the day when I’d die and leave this earth. I now realize that if I am only looking forward to leaving this earth, I’m missing out on living with the Lord now.
7. Don’t give your heart to ministry movements
I have loved living on the cutting edge of Christianity — where we’re believing something “new” (what’s actually new?), trying to do things “correctly” in a world where many people are incorrect. These were the things I used to think. I was wrong. I gave my heart to ministry movements because they were seemingly truer and better than old tradition (or, simply, older ministry movements) and was left desolated when there wasn’t a new fad to get into. Give your heart, rather, to finding God in every station and season of life and bearing witness of that finding to others you’re naturally around. That is ministry that never goes out of style and doesn’t leave you desolated when the movement’s leader falls or the movement isn’t “radical” enough anymore.
8. Don’t neglect friendship for ministry
There have been times when I thought ministry was doing things I didn’t like doing. In 2014, I realized that friendship is ministry. It might be the purest form, actually. I don’t know that I’ve ever done more effective ministry than when I’m encouraging one of my best friends in the Lord. I think the best ministry I’ve ever received has come through the words, letters or sheer silent fellowship of dear friends. This isn’t to say I never want to minister to people I don’t consider “dear friends.” It’s just that we don’t need to run away from great, life-giving friendships to try to pour ourselves out for people we don’t know. There isn’t someone more holy in that. There isn’t something less holy in friendship.
9. I don’t have to be a pastor to have security in the Lord
I’m not sure when it happened. I might have been 15 or 16. The pervading thought in my heart was that I needed to be a pastor. Not that I was “called” to be a pastor or even felt like God wanted me to pursue that. I just thought I need to be one. For me, it wasn’t because I thought that was the best form of Christianity. It was because I wanted the security of knowing I was definitely doing God’s will. What could be more God’s will then being a pastor? Actually, probably a lot of things — depending on who you are and how He’s gifted you. For me, I love creating and building things. I love learning and teaching others. I may shepherd people. I may teach people. I may even lead people. But, I don’t have to pursue being a pastor as a title, job or role. My security doesn’t come from that. My security comes from being a child of God and having the Father dwell with me now and for eternity.
10. Peace is good
I haven’t always had peace. But, the second half of 2014 has been a year of Peace. It doesn’t have to do with circumstances. I doesn’t have to do with being apart of the “right” ministry or following the right leader. It doesn’t have to do with being heard, having an audience or being known. It has to do with understanding my identity as a child of God. It has to do with realizing how He has made me. It has to do with understanding that my job is to usher in God’s kingdom in my heart, my families heart and the hearts of those around me. I don’t have to run around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to make ministry happen. God is in control. He loves me and wants me. That is awesome. He dwells with me now and He will dwell with me forever. He is ushering in His kingdom on the earth, among the brokenness. I get to enjoy that.
I cannot wait for 2015. Not because I think it holds a bunch of “happiness highs” or because I’m hoping circumstances will change. I’m excited for 2015 because I know the Lord is with us — that He loves dwelling among us. That is beautiful and exciting.