I don’t know why this was on my heart as I was making my pancakes this morning, but it was amplified by this song that I was playing and standing alone in the kitchen singing along. I remember one time that it was pointed out that anxiety (which I’ve struggled with a lot, and on occasion still do) is rooted in thoughts about the self.
Anxiety is the result of a heart that wants more and more for oneself or expects more and more from oneself. I tried disproving this in my own mind by combing through some of my own anxieties and overwhelming expectations about myself and my circumstances. Here’s a list of some of them, since I almost had to write them out myself to make this make sense:
- Why haven’t I been able to get myself a full time job yet?
- Will I ever be good enough for the husband I want?
- How will I be able to pay my ______ bill?
- What more will it take for me to look pretty enough?
- Why did I have to say _____ like that? It was so awkward, why can’t I be less awkward.
Notice how the questions are all centered around myself, my actions, my looks, my personality, my abilities, etc. And thinking about that and the American Church today put one thought into my head in particular that is imperative to cultivating a deep-rooted faith– one that isn’t given too much water so it develops shallow roots, and one that isn’t constantly parched and unable to grow at all. The Church here too often makes Jesus out to be like a genie because we are so worried about ourselves or our circumstances or what we can do. And that’s why Motion Worship reminded me in this song (though this isn’t part of the lyrics) :
Jesus tells us to deny ourselves for a reason. John the Baptist says “He must become greater” and we “must become less” for a reason. Jesus tells us “you cannot be my disciple, unless you love me more than you love your father and mother, your wife and children, and your brothers and sisters. You cannot follow me unless you love me more than you love your own life” (Luke 14:26, CEV).
Ultimately, all we actually have control over is how we react to our circumstances. Job is a prime example of this. So is Joseph who was sold by his brothers into slavery. So is Mary, who faced a possible stoning (that clearly did not happen) for being pregnant outside of wedlock. So is Jesus, who we know was crucified and we know submitted not to Himself or His flesh, but the will of the Father because of His prayer in Gethsemane.
Jesus’s focus not on His stress or anxiety in that very human moment. Much like Jesus weeping at the death of Lazarus (though He knew He would raise him from the dead), the worry and the honest conversation with the Father show us how Jesus was fully human and like us in the sense that He, though God, was in that moment subjected to the limitations of the flesh and is in that way able to sympathize with us.
But even in His most human moments He exercises His perfection in showing us the best practices in redirecting our thoughts and the central focus of them (think 2 Corinthians). The focus, instead of it being on his worries, is on the Father and His will; therefore we will see that His focus turns to us.
See, there’s this part of Louie Giglio’s Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table that I love, and that a friend of mine referenced in a youth retreat message about Jesus’s “I am the Good Shepherd” statement. Giglio rewrites Psalm 23 from a standpoint of someone who is their own not-so-good shepherd. I highly suggest looking at Psalm 23 and Louie Giglio’s revised version side-by-side. Notice the differences. Consider them. Consider what it really means to be on the throne of your life— how little peace that brings with the limited power you have (because let’s be real, we human beings don’t have a lot of power even over our own circumstances).
I am my own shepherd,
and I’m a mess.
I don’t have everything I need. That’s for sure.
I wouldn’t know still water if it were staring right at me.
I haven’t taken a rest in a green pasture for quite a while now.
I don’t walk along paths of righteousness, but I know what fear and evil are.
I seek comfort wherever I can get it.
I can’t stand my enemies. I want to hurt them.
My cup definitely overflows— I’m full of angst, consumed by anger and sorrow and rage. I’m so full I easily spill over. I’m packed so tight, it doesn’t take much for me to explode.
I don’t know what’s going on to follow me all the days of my life, but I can tell you one thing:
My soul? Not so great.Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at Your Table, Louie Giglio
And aside from the fact that no one being or thing should be above Him who created us and everything around us, this is why Jesus tells us we should deny ourselves. He was present at the beginning, is one with the Father who created us through Him (as Jesus is the Word incarnate) by the power of His Holy Spirit. There is no one more qualified than any of the three persons of the Trinity— and where one is present, they all are— to understand how we were created and for what purpose. We were not created to love ourselves. We were created to love God who loves us and created us as an outpouring of His love. We were created to reflect Him, not to live a “truth” of our own.
All these thoughts came to mind just days before I officially earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and English Writing— a momentous occasion that I can say I’m proud of, but that I don’t want or need to make about me at all. It’s about the people that got me there, the God that created those people and gifted me with their company, and all that God has provided in both mundane and miraculous circumstances. Yes, I put in work. Yes, there were a lot of tears (it is college after all, and it does get tough as much as it gets good). Yes, I worried a lot more than I needed to. I could go on and on because yes, I do acknowledge the part that I played in getting here. It was not handed to me on a silver platter, and that— rather than it simply being bestowed upon me— is how I know God cares not only about our goals and dreams, but also how the process forms us into someone that reflects Him more as a painting reflects the person that painted it. Hebrews 12:11 is one of my favorite verses to reference as a coach and even to myself.
Being punished isn’t enjoyable while it is happening—it hurts! But afterwards we can see the result, a quiet growth in grace and character.Hebrews 12:11, TLB
Before Jesus was arrested, He made a triumphal entry. Any ordinary human would soak all of that in and let it feed his/her pride if not careful, but Jesus was not merely human. He was fully human– the Son of Man– and He is fully God– the Son of God. He knew what was coming.
In similar manner, that’s kind of how I’m seeing this. I appreciate all the love, but hearing that I did it, I’ve earned my degree, I’ve overcome so much… as true as it is, it was not me but Christ in me.
I do not discount or discredit the work I’ve put in by saying this– I want to make that abundantly clear. I put in that work though and mustered the strength to push through because God made it abundantly clear that this place, in these classes, is where I’m calling you to be. He didn’t need me there, but for my sake and the sake of others, He put me into a spot where no matter how badly I wanted to quit or how worried I was I could not afford my last year of college I knew that Kean was where I needed to be because that’s where He wanted me.
And this is what I was referencing when I said “God has provided in both mundane and miraculous circumstances.”
When it comes to the ordinary, I can’t tell you how many times I was exhausted and felt alone or singled out for my outspoken faith; yet I had a community to encourage me and pour wisdom into my life on how to handle the persecution. I had a family that I know prayed for me though I almost never witnessed it with my own eyes (my parents are very much not the type to announce to the world all they do despite the fact they do so much more than most people I know). I had time to sit in the Word through Zoom University before being sent out into the world for real– time to let the roots of my faith grow deep and strong.
When it comes to the miraculous, this last year that got me my degree and has cultivated my heart in more ways I’m even aware of almost didn’t happen. I almost didn’t have the opportunity because my family, on paper, seems well off enough to not have a big problem with affording a cheap tuition like Kean, but there really wasn’t much of a plausible way that I could afford it in that moment. I prayed about it for weeks as class registration opened and many of the classes I could have taken filled up. As I was waiting for a miracle to afford it, I went back and forth with English and psych professors via email, trying to plan what I could if God really intended to provide. I had to change my schedule probably five times last August because it wasn’t until literal days before the payment deadline that God provided.
After what I thought was a typical Sunday church service, I went out to my car and found an envelope with my name on it under the driver’s side wiper. I don’t know if it was a person, a group of people, or the church deacons, or what, but the money in that envelope allowed me to at least open up a payment plan for that semester.
The note, though I can’t exactly quote it now because I can’t find it (I know I kept it though), allowed me the choice still– to use it for school as the gift was intended, or to give it to the church as a tithe. I could have done anything else with it too if I wanted, but those were the two options presented in the note.
And it took me back to Eden for a moment. God allowed us to choose eternity with Him or not, and Adam and Eve chose not at the moment of the fall. In large part, as the context given in the previous hyperlinks shows, Eve choses this because she was not personally there when God gave the command not to eat of that one tree, much like we in these modern times were not there to personally witness the birth, life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ. But the other reason Eve was the main target of the serpent was because she was not yet given her name– she was not presented with her identity, no matter how apparent it was. And this is why, in its own twisted way, Covid was a blessing to some like me. My faith grew roots and began growing leaves in that time– I was and am sure of my identity in Christ as a child of the Most High King. And that’s why I knew my only option was to use that money for its primarily intended use– to finish school.
And while getting the classes I needed were a headache after that because I had only six more classes and few available options, the headaches put me into classes where I could freely share the Gospel to people willing to listen regardless of how hard their hearts may or may not have been. I was able to sit back and listen to more perspectives than I’d really gotten to sit back and listen to before– even perspectives that I disagreed or were slightly hurt by. It made Thursday nights my favorite time of the week by far, regardless of whether it was the fall’s elit class or this spring’s network narratives both because of the people and the genuine conversations.
So sure, one could say that I’ve accomplished a lot, but I personally prefer to think more of Him and less of me. For the sake of my anxiety, my temptation to compare myself, my lack of control over most things in life, and also just to stay humble, I think more of Him and less of me.
This is something that God has accomplished in and through me. I’m more proud of that than I am of myself.