I have a confession to make. So I was reading through my Facebook profile the other day, for what reason, I’m not sure, but, I noticed something as I scrolled through my posts: I am nauseatingly positive, so much so, that it’s obnoxious! “What’s wrong with being super positive?” you might ask. As wonderful as I believe it is to look on the bright side, try not to throw pity parties, drag yourself out of the pit, and never wallow in the mud for very long, it isn’t an accurate representation of real life.
You see, when our basement flooded last week, I wrote about remembering my why, the reason for which my husband and I had obeyed God and moved our family into far less comfortable, less stable circumstances, and the importance of using our why as motivation to keep following God down the path He’d taken us, even when difficulty knocks us down a few steps. It was a nice way to paint a happy smile on what had been a pretty terrible day, and I felt full of positivity when I hit the publish button on my blog.
About thirty minutes later, my husband said, “We need to talk.” It was then he informed me that he had discovered our basement was badly infected with black mold. We would need to move everything (meaning most of our possessions) out of the basement and immediately begin remediation. In other words, we had to move all our belongings again for what felt like the umpteenth time in a few, short months. This meant our family would now be confined to the mid-level portion of our house with everything we own. The living room became our children’s bedrooms, our unpacked boxes became our walls, and the formal dining room became mine and David’s bedroom. What small amount of privacy we might have had before was completely gone. It was during this conversation David received a text informing us that, Jake, one of our young adults who meets in our home on Sundays was in a terrible accident and was life-flighted to a hospital in Overland Park (Thankfully, he is ok and did not suffer the horrible injuries the doctors were certain he would have, and while he has a long road to recovery, he is doing well).
Now, I would love to tell you that I picked myself up by my bootstraps and said, “It’s gonna be ok. Let’s remember our why!” However, that is not what happened. I was done. I was broken. I was devastated. I bawled. I threw a pity party, and the next morning, David and I wallowed a bit in our grief for about half the day. We prayed, mostly for Jake (You see, it’s one thing for the enemy to attack us because we chose to stand in the line of fire, but when he attacks one of our own, it’s personal). We tried to talk about our why, but to be honest with you, looking around at our chaotic home with so much to do and so many people with real needs to meet, we were feeling defeated. The, “Why is this happening?” question grew louder than our “Why” for why we are here, planting a church declaration.
Life is already hard as most of you know, but church planting ads a whole new dimension of difficulty, difficulty for which it is nearly impossible to prepare. Walking out on a limb of faith is scary. It makes you feel vulnerable. Leaving the safety and comfort of your faith family and all its resources, takes every single one of your insecurities and doubts about your walk with God and shines a giant spotlight on them. If I thought I wrestled occasionally with demons of anxiety and fear of failure before embarking on this journey, I am pummeled by them now. It is a daily fight, like trying to beat off mosquitos on a sweaty body during a hot summer night. Every day is a battle with loneliness, fear that I don’t know what I’m doing, and worry that we will fail and our move will be all for nothing. Each morning I have to wake up and remind myself of God’s promises. I have to chant, “I am not God. I cannot do what only God can do! Remember why you are here, love God and love people. That’s all you have to do, Shaunna!” Some days it works, and I feel like an unstoppable force for the Kingdom. Some days I can’t even remember what I am doing here, and I don’t want to get out of bed, let alone the house to go be around people. Some days the stress becomes so difficult to manage that I’m not very nice to my family, which always makes me feel like a rockstar “pastor” (sarcasm implied).
There are days when I can’t see the sun even if there are no clouds. There are days when my mood is dark. Despite what you see on my social media account, I am not always a solid rock of faith and positivity, just ask my kiddos and husband! There are days when God feels so close it’s as if heaven is touching the earth and other days when God feels 50 million (my go-to number when chores aren’t done, or I’m having to tell my children to do something for what feels like the hundred-millionth time) miles away, and He has left me on my own to drown in the murky waters of walking by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Some days I handle that well, and some days I throw an all-out fit.
The problem with social media and the impression we can be tempted to give on our profile page and in church on Sundays, is that we have everything together and life is great. We don’t talk about our struggles or, gasp, our doubts. We throw on our mask of “Everything’s fine; I’m great; faith in Jesus is the best!” all while on the inside, we don’t even know how we are going to make it through Monday, and we’re quite certain that God has forgotten about us. There’s this new movement among Christian circles (well, it isn’t really new, but has recently grown more and more popular), that self-talk, positive thinking, and working really hard to get all our ducks in a row, never ever admitting defeat, always striving for the perfect, little well-ordered, best life now, is the key to happiness and success. There’s this lie that God’s desire is for us to have all we could ever want or need for a comfortable, safe life. While this message sounds good, it is at it’s core, extremely deceitful and lacks a full picture of what it means to actually be a true follower of Jesus Christ.
A friend of mine shared with me recently that growing up in church, she was taught that if she followed the rules and did everything right, life would be rosy and good. Also, she was never supposed to show any sense of weakness or sadness or anger or sorrow or despair. She was to participate in the show of “pretend everything is ok and just smile” act, even if she was dying inside. Admit it, church, we far too often give the impression that no one is ever supposed to admit the deep, inner struggle seeking to continue trusting God no matter what truly is. Dying to ourselves, taking up our cross daily, and following Jesus is not an easy calling. What a disservice we do to people when we feed them a lop-sided, overly positive view of faith!
What happens when life becomes overbearingly difficult? What happens when you’ve done everything you know to be right, checked all the correct boxes, done all the “good” things “good” Christians do, and life doesn’t turn out so great? What if you believed with all your might that God could and would heal a loved one, and He chose a different path for them instead (This has happened to me)? What if you made some mistakes along the way? (You probably did. We all do!) Are you more deserving of bad things happening to you than every other mistake-ridden person on this earth? What happens when your plans and dreams don’t work out? What if your heart’s desire, that thing you’re believing God for, isn’t His plan or desire for your life? What if God has something grander in mind that has nothing to do with your idea of prosperity or success? What if God asks you to risk everything, to sacrifice and even die to your dreams, for the sake of His Kingdom?
To add some weight to this, let’s take a look at one of the most commonly misused passages of Scripture and put it in context.
Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
So God is going to take every circumstance I encounter in life and make it all work out in a way that is good and positive, so later I will see it as part of His plan and be so thankful it happened? If I just love God, He’s going to make everything in my life turn out ok?
If you take a look at the fullness of the message in which this particular verse is situated, you will see Paul is writing to Christians who are suffering for their faith. They are people who have risked their lives, their homes, their jobs, their well-being, their good standing in the community for the sake of following Jesus. They have endured the loss of all they hold dear in this life for something worth far more, the joy of knowing and loving Jesus, and they needed encouragement. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” (Romans 8:18). Paul goes on to remind his readers that all of creation is broken; our life in this world will remain broken until the day we are united with Christ.
To truly understand this verse, we have to readjust our definition of good. Too often, we think this word is tied to our earthly well-being when it’s not. Some of the people Paul wrote to in this letter ended up dying for their faith, including Paul himself. Right before Paul penned the words of Romans 8:28, he said the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf, praying for us, because we don’t know how to pray, so He prays for us according to the Father’s will. What is God’s will for your life? Paul answers this in verse 29 when he writes that those who love God and are called to serve God’s purpose for their lives are predestined “to be conformed to the image of His Son.” This means that God’s will for your life is not that you would find ultimate happiness and comfort in the things of this world, but rather that you would become more and more like Jesus, the One who left perfect paradise and harmony to experience pain, loss, suffering, and death for you, the One who gave up position and power to take on human limitation, the One who holds the very cells of your body together to keep you from returning to dust became a servant for you.
How could we ever think that becoming like Jesus involves Him granting our wish to live a happy, comfortable, safe life? If the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf and all of creation is groaning until Christ makes all things new, why is it we think we are supposed to act like believing in Jesus makes our lives this side of heaven perfect? Why do we feel the need to hide the fact that we worry, we are afraid, we doubt God’s promises and struggle at times to believe He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do? Jesus Himself expressed grief for a friend He knew He was going to raise from the dead (John 11). He even struggled with tremendous sorrow and despair as He wrestled with His Father’s plan to save humanity through His suffering on the cross (Matthew 26:38-39).
If the Psalms are any indication, God does not expect us to hide behind a false facade as we go through life. He does not ask us to hide our pain. He does not want us to pretend we are strong when in reality we are weak. Even the Son of God felt forsaken by His Father and cried out in front of everyone watching Him as He died (Matthew 27:46). When you can’t see the sun, tell someone. Don’t hide your struggle. Something I’ve had to learn how to do, especially as a church planter, is ask for help when I need it. That isn’t easy for me, because I try not to be a burden to anyone; however, there are times when I require help from others in order to remain standing, and it’s ok to admit that! The next time you are hurting, the next time you feel alone and can’t go on, the next time you are struggling to believe God, reach out to someone you trust. Be honest, raw, and real. Admit to others that life is tough; share with them your doubts and greatest fears. The odds are really high that you are not alone.