I’ve read two books in the past month that have completely spoken the truth and wisdom my soul has been craving since I declared 2016 “The Year of F R E E D O M” back in January.
The first book is I Don’t Wait Anymore by Grace Thornton, and I devoured the pages while on vacation in California. The second book is Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequst, and I cozied up with this on my extended stay at the lake earlier this month. I won’t bother summarizing or reviewing the books in this space – I would just highly recommend that anyone wanting to live a deeper, more rich and abundant, soulful life in the presence and love of God read these books. Seriously – they are game-changers.
As I read these two honest and vulnerable accounts from two very different women, in two very different seasons of life, and from two very different places, I felt a connection to them and their stories. And not just a connection to them, but a connection to God. I felt like these books were written just for me, for such a time as this. I can’t really explain it any more clearly than that, but basically, I felt like I was meant to read these books – that I needed to hear the message of these books.
Because here’s the thing – they confirmed me for that for far too long, for too many years, I had it all wrong.
I knew at the start of this year that I could not keep living in a state of anxiety, hustling, pushing, and striving. God had already begun the work a couple of years ago, through some less than desirable circumstances and ultimately counseling, to undo this natural tendency of mine to keep doing and going, but I was learning that it wasn’t just about letting go of unhealthy patterns of behavior. It was my belief about those patterns of behavior – my belief that those things gave me worth and value and proved I was a confident, smart, and strong woman and Christian; that I was really worth my salt. And what God revealed to me as I prayed for His leading in 2016 was that He wanted me to break free from this cycle once and for all, and recognize my worth not in the things that I do or accomplish, but in Him, who loves me and calls me His daughter.
I’m a do-er, a go-getter, a make-it-happen kind of girl. I dream, I cast vision, I set goals, I make lists and then I get to work, and usually, I accomplish the thing I set my heart on. Honestly, I’m really good at this stuff and I’m passionate about it, which is why I help others do it in and outside of my career as a social worker.
These are all good things. These characteristics make me the unique, driven person that I am. BUT, the motivation behind them hasn’t always been for the right reasons. Like any other human on planet earth, I want to be loved, liked, approved of, and accepted by those around me. I want those closest to me to be proud of me and respect me and see how hard of a worker I am and how much I have accomplished. I want to feel important and valued, based on other people’s perceptions of me. And I expected that I would feel those things the more that I did and accomplished and accumulated for myself.
But, as we all know and as all the stories tell us, those “feelings” fade. Yes, the things I did are good and those feelings sure felt good at the time, but the happiness would only last for a season, a temporary thing in the grand scheme of things. Soon enough there would be something else to work on, another thing to aspire to and live up to, one more thing to accomplish and strive for. And friends, I just couldn’t do it anymore.
At one point it was so bad, I couldn’t sleep and would toss and turn all night long. I would wake up super early in the morning and immediately hit the ground running, my day packed full with things to do, places to go, until I would return home exhausted, tired, and usually crabby. I had daily panic attacks, sometimes more than once a day, and every attack seemed to get worse and last longer each time. I would go to the doctor thinking I was dying, only to have them tell me that I needed rest, that I needed to take a break, that I needed to not be so hard on myself. And I sat there thinking, “And if I do that, how on earth am I going to get anything done? Don’t you people know how important I am and how productive I have to be?”
I know, I know … not very smart for a social worker who HELPS OTHER PEOPLE with their anxiety and stressors. But I digress. I used to feel shame about this part of my story. But I don’t anymore. All of this has served a purpose – to bring me back to my ‘essential self’ – the person I am at my core, the woman and daughter God created me to be.
In reading these books, I was reminded of some very basic, yet life-changing truths:
- I am loved wildly by the God of the universe who knows the exact number of hairs on my head and has ordained every day of my life from the beginning to the end.
- I am already free. And freedom isn’t something I earn; it is freely given by the God of grace Himself.
- Life is happening right here, right now. Instead of waiting and striving for some future, “out there” thing, I need to be still, remain present, and pour into what’s right in front of me – my husband, my family, my friends, my home, my work – day-by-day. There’s no need to worry, all of the rest will come, and God will give me all that I need to do whatever He brings my way.
- When I let go of my expectations and let God take the reins, His dreams for my life become the focus and they are SO MUCH better than my own dreams and goals. I need to look to Him and let Him be the leader of all the things, down to the very smallest detail. Give it all to Him.
For one of the first times in my life, I actually can say I know and have experienced the love of God to the point where everything is changing. I am not the same person I was a couple of years ago, even just a year ago. Every day, as I let Him in and trust Him for every step I take, He leads me down the path to a better way of living. A way of life that is marked with grace and peace, margin and whitespace.
More and more, I’m getting back to being the girl who really is audacious, bold, courageous, faithful, and trusting. And it feels so good. It feels so right. I’m not waiting for the other shoe to drop anymore, and I’m comfortable in my own skin and with the story God is writing for me, growing pains and all. I don’t have to live under the weight of comparison, shame, fear or regret. As both books teach, my life is being remade as I put all of my hope and energy into Jesus.
I by no means have it all figured out, but the parts I have been able to recognize and remake, I am so thankful for. I am so thankful to not be in the pit of my own doing anymore and to have it RIGHT this time around. And I’m going to keep at it with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength.
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Another great book I read this summer and highly recommend: