Being Thankful for Extremely Painful Circumstances

Televangelist and Christian speaker Joyce Meyer has a particularly power testimony, which you can listen to here:

She shared some of the details of being repeatedly sexually abused (raped) by her father throughout her childhood and youth. At the end of her testimony, she said something that is probably shocking to most people after hearing her testimony:

I cannot explain this to you, so don’t even ask me to, but for years I said of course I wish that I would have never been abused, but God has helped me recover. And about three years ago, I said that of course I wish I wouldn’t have been abused, and God stopped me. He said [to] stop saying that. And then I thought about it, and I know this sounds crazy, but I’m glad it happened.” ~ Joyce Meyer

How on earth can someone who was repeatedly raped say she is glad it happened? The answer is simple – God. I know because I am in the same position as Joyce in that, I, too, was repeatedly raped (NOT by my father – the circumstances of my ongoing and severe child abuse differed from Joyce’s), and I am also thankful that it happened.

In this blog series, I will share some of the reasons why I am now grateful for something as horrendous as child abuse – something that wreaked havoc on my life and caused all sorts of misery, including suicidal urges, self-injury, an eating disorder, panic attacks, insomnia, nightmares, and intense self-loathing. The aftereffects of the child abuse tainted every single aspect of my life, including every relationship – with my family, friends, church, coworkers, and especially with God. Like Joyce, I repeatedly wished I had never been abused, but like her, I am now grateful for it. If I could go back in time and change it, I wouldn’t. I’ll explain why in this blog series.

Let’s give Joyce the last word. Here are some of her reasons why she is grateful for the child abuse (from the YouTube video):

You know why? Because I’m a better person now than I ever would have been. I don’t know how to make any sense out of that, but I know that I know that I know that God has received me and he has taken what Satan intended for harm and worked it out for good, and I’m a better person than I would have been . . . I’m stronger. I know God better. I understand people’s pain, and I believe . . . that it’s made me able to reach out to you in your pain and your need and to tell you with all passion: God is alive. He loves you. He’s got a good plan for your life, and don’t you ever doubt that. Don’t ever doubt that can you recover. You’re looking at somebody who did.” ~ Joyce Meyer

To be continued…

[Graphic: Link to YouTube video. Courtesy YouTube.]

 

Final Thoughts on Perseverance

graduationContinued from here.

If you have been pressing on through a season in your life with much struggle and resistance, know that you are not alone. You are in a season of developing spiritual maturity. While God loves all of His children, He can only do so much for His kingdom with spiritually immature Christians who are mostly focused on their own needs and experiences. As you persevere through the trials, you are developing character. In other words, you are growing up spiritually, which will equip you do to more things to further God’s kingdom agenda. God needs mature Christians to partner with Him in reaching the world, and this challenging season is helping you mature so that you can become one of those partners.

God is preparing you for something big for His kingdom, even if it might not look big from a worldly perspective. Once God can trust you with whatever He is leading you through now, He will be able to trust you with so much more. So, while you might not see the value of where God has placed you in this season (just as I, as of yet, do not understand why I have had to spend a year of my life earning a theology degree), if you will prove faithful in this, God will know you will be faithful in much greater tasks in the future.

Like everyone else, I prefer ease to struggle and comfort to pain. However, as a slave of Christ, I am no longer in charge of how I spend my time. My time belongs to God, and if he tells his servant to invest that time in a degree I don’t want, I’m doing to do it – not because I see the value in the degree but because I see the value in obeying God. It’s not about me – It’s about Him. And that’s how I have stayed motivated over the last 10 months and will continue to stay motivated for 13 more weeks – I’m doing it all for Him.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace smiling in a graduation gown while throwing her graduation cap. Courtesy Bitmoji.]]

 

Benefits of Developing Perseverance

current_mood_happyContinued from here.

I think we can all agree that developing perseverance is not fun. Who wants to face long-term struggles? Who wants to go through all of the challenges that Paul did? And yet, Paul pressed on, and God used him powerfully to build the Christian church. What can God accomplish through you if you are willing to endure long-term struggle and develop perseverance?

One of the most remarkable aspects of Paul was his ability to remain content in any and every situation. How did he get through? Through perseverance! Once he learned that God was enough, his circumstances lost the power to derail him. In other words, his ability to experience peace and contentment ceased being dependent upon his circumstances. Whether he was comfortable, in peril, or physical pain, he was content. This is the fruit of perseverance.

Let’s take another look at two key passages on perseverance:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ~ Jas. 1:2-4

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. ~ Rom. 5:2-5

According to these scriptures, perseverance leads to maturity, completeness, not lacking anything, character, and hope. So, while the struggles involved in developing perseverance are no fun, the end result of perseverance will be contentment no matter what happens in your life! While all of us want to know how to be content in every situation, few are willing to hold on and persevere to the point of learning this lesson. In the moment, it seems easier to quit. If you are tempted to quit because what God is calling you to do is too hard, remember this passage:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. ~ Gal. 6:9

Stop focusing on whether the journey is too hard. That’s the wrong focus. Instead, ask whether the journey is worth it. If it’s where God is leading you, then the answer is YES!

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking ecstatic above the words, “Current Mood.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Challenges of Perseverance

life_is_hardContinued from here.

Unfortunately, perseverance can only be developed through struggle. Who wants to hear that?? And yet, the Bible makes this clear. It is developed through trials, testing, and suffering, all of which = struggle. I don’t like this any more than you do! I’ll get into the positive aspects of perseverance in my next blog entry, but we first need to face the reality of the tough aspects in this one.

Whenever someone tells me that he is praying for patience, I cringe because I know that this person is praying lots of waiting into his life. After all, how can someone develop patience without being placed into situation after situation requiring him to wait? The same is true for perseverance. A person cannot develop perseverance without experiencing long-term resistance, which means his life circumstances need to stay difficult for an extended period of time to provide the training ground to develop perseverance.

Think about a marathon runner. She cannot train by only experiencing short-term resistance. In other words, she cannot run sprints in practice and then expect to complete a marathon. She must push her body to the limits to run 5 miles … and then 10 miles … and then 15 miles … until she can run the distance. And nobody can develop the endurance to run 26.2 miles overnight. It requires many months of training as the person’s body builds up the muscles to push through the struggles involved in running long distances.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that Paul used the metaphor of finishing the race to describe his spiritual journey. Paul faced obstacle after obstacle, and yet he kept running. No matter how many struggles he faced, Paul persevered because he loved God more than he hated the struggles. He never promised that following Christ would be easy, only that it would be worth it.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lying on a couch and dramatically saying, “Life is hard!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Is Developing Perseverance Worth it?

barbellContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, I am 13 weeks away from graduating with a master’s degree in Christian Ministry that I really did not want to earn and don’t see the value of, both in regards to the investment of time and money. I am pushing 50, and this degree is certainly not going to get me rich. (I already have a law degree from a prestigious school, so I already have a degree that could accomplish that purpose.) The timing is lousy because my athletic son is a junior in high school who does not yet have his driver’s license, so trying to juggle work, school, and being his driver has been challenging. I have made numerous sacrifices over the last 10 months to make time to do the work for this degree, and I’m tired – I’m tired of working so hard and making so many sacrifices for something I don’t even want.

The obvious question I am sure you are asking is why I am doing it. There is only one reason that I am putting myself through this – my love for God. Jesus said that if I love him, I will obey him. Being his disciple involves denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus. For me, one of my “crosses” is earning a degree I don’t want during an inconvenient season of life. How do I know this? Because God placed this command heavily on my heart last year. There is nothing whatsoever in my flesh desiring another degree at all, much less a theology degree. Earning a theology degree was on my “never will I ever” list, and yet here I am. My love for God is the only thing that could have motivated me to do this.

I blogged previously about the importance of replacing the question of “Is this too hard?” with “Is this worth it?” Is the degree worth it to me? Not at all … However, God is worth it. I don’t know why He has me in divinity school earning a degree I don’t want, but I love Him enough to follow Him there, even though I don’t understand.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace lifting a barbell. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Developing Perseverance

workin_itI apologize for not blogging last week. I had to work last weekend, and between work, school, family, and church responsibilities, I simply could not squeeze in time to blog as well. Alas!

I am 13 weeks away from graduating from Divinity School, and I am counting down the days. Earning a master’s degree while working (running a ministry) and tending to family and church responsibilities has been tough. It has required much sacrifice, particularly having to say no to spending time with people I care about so I can say yes to school. The hardest part is that outside of being obedient to God, I have no motivation for earning this degree. I have never had a desire to earn another degree, much less one in theology, and some of the reasons why I did not want to earn a theology degree have been a source of frustration for me.

I tell you this not to complain but to introduce an unpopular biblical topic: perseverance. Most Christians would much rather focus on the fun stuff, such as prosperity, joy, and peace. There’s nothing fun about developing perseverance, and yet the Bible is clear that it is an important part of the Christian walk:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. ~ Jas. 1:2-4

And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. ~ Rom. 5:2-5

As I am growing weary of having precious little time for time with friends and doing things I enjoy, I am developing perseverance. I am learning to continue to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus when I am tempted to quit. This blog series will explore the value of perseverance and encourage you to keep pressing on when you are tempted to quit.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running on a treadmill, holding dumbells, and saying, “Workin’ It!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Dealing with Particularly Annoying People

c'monContinued from here.

The more selfish someone else is, the more difficult it is to spend time with him or her … not just for you but for everyone else! That means the more selfish someone is, the more miserable and lonely that person is likely to be because other people are going to avoid having to interact with that person. As you grow in humility by deferring your preferences, you will find it easier to be in relationships with people that others find particularly annoying. This means you will be in a unique position to shine God’s love into the lives of people who might not otherwise be recipients of that love.

I have found that some of the most selfish people are those who have been deeply wounded. Boy, can I relate to that! When we are wounded, nothing seems more natural than to lick our wounds, which places our focus on ourselves. We don’t even realize the repellant effect our selfishness has on our relationships because we are too self-absorbed by our pain. The deeper the wounds, the more difficult it is to take our focus off them.

The key to healing our deepest wounds is not focusing on them – it’s shifting our focus to God and inviting Him to heal our wounds and deferring our preferences to others while we wait on that healing. God’s method of healing is not appealing to the selfish because it involves giving grace – extending forgiveness – to those who hurt us, and that’s really tough to do. I know firsthand because I lived in selfish hatred and unforgiveness for decades!

When I encounter a particularly annoying person, I remind myself that this person has likely experienced deep pain. I remember that I was once that person – deeply focused on my own pain and oblivious to the ways my self-absorption repelled other people. I ask God to fill me to overflowing with His love and to enable me to love this selfish person out of the overflow of His love for me. I am not responsible for generating the love – I would be in deep trouble if I was! My job is to love God, receive His love for me, and share the overflow of that love with the people around me. As I do this, God enables me to see past the selfishness and into their souls through His eyes of love.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace with her hands on her hips and saying, “C’mon.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

What Does Deferring Your Preferences Look Like?

u_rightContinued from here.

For me, the word “humility” was difficult to wrap my mind around. I had trouble understanding how to take this concept and put it into practice. C.S. Lewis got me pointed in the right direction with this quote:

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”

I used to believe I was a humble person because I had very low self-esteem, but I learned in Beth Moore’s Breaking Free: Discover the Victory of Total Surrender that having a low opinion of yourself is just as prideful as having too high of an opinion of yourself. Pride is simply having yourself on your mind (or being selfish, self-absorbed, or self-focused). I was constantly on my mind as I meditated upon all of the things that were “wrong” with me.

So, I understood that I needed to get myself off my mind, but I did not know how to actually DO that. This is when the Holy Spirit “whispered” that I needed to start deferring my preferences, which is replacing thoughts of myself with thoughts of others. For example, I’ll defer the nicer chair to someone else or defer my preference for where to eat dinner to the other person. While this is something I used to do to manipulate the other person’s approval as a people pleaser, my motivation is now completely different. I love God enough to want to obey Him, and he told me to defer my preferences, so I choose to let the other person have his or her way because I love God. A huge difference is that the other person’s response is irrelevant whereas it was all that mattered in my people-pleasing days. Whether or not the other person notices or cares that I deferred my preferences, God notices.

Interestingly, even though I no longer get my own way most of the time, I am much happier. More specifically, I experience joy and peace that eluded me when I was selfish. I used to believe that getting what I wanted would make me happy, but I have actually found more happiness by choosing not getting what I want as I defer my preferences to the people around me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace thinking and saying, “U Right, U Right.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

Deferring Your Preferences to Develop Humility

do_you_like_meContinued from here.

Now that we understand the problem, what is the solution? Just as I have found that having difficulty interacting with other people is a red flag for a pride problem, I have conversely found that easily getting along with other people is indicative of growth in humility. When I no longer expect everything to go my way and, instead, make a conscious effort to help things go someone else’s way, people are much easier to get along with.

Keep in mind, though, that I’m not talking about being a people pleaser, which was a problem for me for decades. I was the world’s biggest people pleaser, which from the outside might look like humility, but it was actually another form of pride. People pleasing is seeking to manipulate others to approve of you whereas humility is deferring your preferences out of love for God. The motivation is the key difference. People pleasing ultimately leads to a flare up in pride when the manipulations don’t get the results you want. With humility, you are simply seeking to please God, so the other person’s reaction does not matter.

When I was seeking to please others to gain their approval, I was the central focus of my thoughts. I knew that someone wanted X to be happy, so I twisted myself into a pretzel to make X happen for that person, hoping that by bringing X about, the person would approve of me and love me. Unfortunately, bringing about X was never enough. Once the person had X, s/he then needed Y to be happy … and then Z … Because I am not God, I could not make everything happen as that person wanted. My motivation was purely selfish, and people pleasing was exhausting. I ultimately could not fully please anyone, and I would feel sorry for myself that I was not receiving the love I sought, even after all the work I put into trying to manipulate the world for the other person.

Ironically, people tend to like me more since I developed humility and am no longer seeking their approval. Only God’s opinion of me matters, and this shift in perspective has radically changed my relationships and my view of myself. My self-esteem is no longer based upon what anyone else thinks of me. God loves me exactly as I am, so my needs are met, regardless of anyone else’s opinion of me.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace asking, “Do you like me?” with check boxes for Yes, No, and Maybe. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

 

People’s Innate Selfishness

pay_attention_to_meContinued from here.

When I was driving through South Carolina, I heard a fabulous sermon on the radio, but I lost the signal before I could find out who was preaching. The pastor was talking about marriage and said, “If the person you married was bad enough that Jesus had to die for him, he’s going to annoy you from time to time.” I literally laughed out loud because this is so true! And this comment does not only apply to marriage – it applies to every interaction we have with any other person, whether it’s a family member, friend, or the sales clerk at a store. Every single person you encounter was “bad enough” that Jesus had to die for him or her, which means we can expect them to do things that annoy us from time to time. The things they do to annoy us, in most cases, stem from their pride, which is the Bible’s word for selfishness, self-centered, or self-absorbed.

I don’t remember where I heard this observation, but someone pointed out that pride is something we are blind to in our own lives but that we instantly recognize (negatively) in other people. All of us are naturally selfish. On her television show, Joyce Meyer advised that if you believe you are not a selfish person, pay attention to your own reaction the next time something doesn’t go your way. Unless you have worked with God to grow in humility in a particular area of your life, I can guarantee you are selfish because that is everyone’s default setting, mine included.

Now, if the other seven billion people on the planet would simply bend to my will, then my selfishness would not be a problem. The issue is that seven billion people are prideful, wanting things to go their own way, and that simply is not possible. So, as we interact with one another, our areas of pride bump into one another, and we react by viewing the other person as the problem, blind to the role our own pride is serving in the conflict. In fact, I have learned that when I find it difficult to be around other people, my own pride is likely the problem. I need to go before God in repentance, deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus as I make a conscious choice to defer to other people’s preferences.

To be continued…

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding symbols and yelling, “Pay attention to me!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]