understand about Christianity. What you think you know about the point of being a Christ follower at all. And what you think you should believe about the Holy Spirit’s role and very real presence in your life. Yesterday’s devotion jarred a memory in my mind. It took me back to a place and time where I listened to the leading of the Holy Spirit in my life. I sat by the bedside of someone who was dying. I prayed with them, witnessed them raise their hands as they called out to Jesus, and later that evening, held their feet as they drew their last breath.
So what? So you knew someone was dying and you went to pray with them, like a good Christian should do. That can hardly be deemed as your obedience to the “Holy Spirit”. At most it is a good person, trying to be good to a person who is going to die. It was so much more.
You see, this person I sat beside, praying with, witnessing them raise their hands to the Lord, crying out the name of Jesus, held a very key part of my life in their hands. They literally held the life of my father in their hands. This person, someone I loved, someone I had had many challenges with, someone I had learned to forgive – had literally taken my father’s life when I was just shy of one year old.
I hadn’t learned that until I was about five years old. The information would forever be a dark shadow over my life and cause more issues than I could have possibly known or understood. These shadows, only a select few would know I entertained. I recently saw a post stating, “Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made. If you want a different result, make a different choice.” I disagree. I did not choose to have my father taken away. I did not choose the step father that would do his best to take his place. I did not choose how people around me would respond once they found out whose daughter I was. I did not choose the depression that settled in my heart at such a young age, and would truly take a miracle to loose its grip on my life. My experience of life was a reflection of the choices of others.
However, it is true the depression and my experiences did cause me to make poor choices as an adolescent, teenager and young adult. Choices I later had to take responsibility for. The loss of my father and the story behind his death, was buried in my heart. It caused me to fight the stigma, seek a better life, rise above my circumstances. And I did. With a lot of “grit and spit” I guess you could say, and the help of God in my sophomoric relationship with Him, I was able to not allow the choices of others, and soon my own, to imprison me in a life I was statistically condemned to live.
Fast forward about eight or nine years to a time when God had helped me to get through periods in my life where the shepherds placed there did not do the best job in the world to help bring healing, strength, rest, nourishment and light into my life. In fact, many had failed miserably (I'm sure they were doing the best they knew to do), but God in His relentless pursuit of me had brought folks into my life who shared truth and love with me. He came and found me Himself, I could say! Praise God He did, because He began to paint a picture of what living in Him, and He in me, looked like. I began praying and seeking His will. He would share visions and compel me to do a thing, only to turn around and have it happen. My faith was growing as He was solidifying His very nature and existence in my heart and mind – casting out previous doubts, questions, and fears (yes I had plenty even as a proclaimed Christian).
One particular evening, He compelled me to pray. Pray for the person who had taken my father’s life. The one who had seemingly set into motion a series of events it felt like a life time could not erase. But Jesus could. As I prayed for this person, now facing a terminal illness, a vision began to take shape I simply could not believe. A scenario was knit together, literally causing me to shake my head, laugh out lout and say, “God, only YOU could do this. Only You.”
In my mind, there was way too much pride, resentment, anger, frustration, doubt and disbelief on both our parts for ANY measure of what He shared with me, to ever come to fruition. After this time in the prayer closet, I could not shake the Holy Spirit’s directive to reach out. To visit. To talk. To ask questions. To reconcile a relationship that had been estranged for many years, due to different circumstances. I would go. I would pray the whole way there. I would tremble. I would hate every minute of the drive. But I would rely on His Spirit in our conversation. I would rely on His grace in our encounters. I would depend on Him.
The last morning this person awoke, I was set to go to church. However, I had a strong sense I needed to go to their side instead. I sensed I NEEDED to go and pray. I had to forget about the tasks at church I was to see about. I had to trust someone else to fill in my role for my church ministry. I had to obey God’s Holy Spirit. And I did. I walked to their bedside, talked a bit, and asked if we could pray. A quick affirmative, and prayers were underway. As the vision God had shared so many months before took place with a certainty, I could only sense peace and gratitude. As I left, I knew the Lord had just brought this person I cared for, back to Himself. Later that evening, I knew He was holding their hand, as I was holding their feet.
Only God would know the irony of the events that would play out. Only He would know my temporal suffering would be traded in for an eternity of sorrows. Only God knew the events He would utilize to reach me. Only He could know I, as the once lost sheep who desperately needed a Shepherd, would then be called to help Him bring home another.
I will forever cherish the the decision to follow. I will forever be passionately devoted. Not because the Lord demands I do, but because He sought me out through unimaginable circumstances (though not as bad as some, but worse than others) and caused me to rest. Loved me. And soon loved others through me.
I’m going to jump right in to the final area where cooperation with God helped end the frustration of always starting over, freeing me up to finally be who I knew He was calling me to be.
“Truly trusting God to guide me along, knowing He wasn’t upset with me because I was a little slow (my perspective, not His)”, was the third area I shared on Tuesday. This is really two parts. The latter is probably the most important. When I learned what it was God wanted me to do, at any capacity, I had a tendency to feel like I needed to be able to do it right away. If I didn’t, I would kind of freak out and feel like God was mad at me. Now, this is a bit psychological and a therapist would probably say my parents helped create this angst within me. To a degree, that is true. I did always want to do things I was “supposed” to do, because I feared upsetting my parents for various reasons. I was always on alert, wanting to do everything I could to gain the approval of my parents, because I hated upsetting them. So it seems reasonable that I would have a similar relationship with God, since I see Him as God the Father.
Because of this I would stress myself out, try to do things in my own strength, and get really burned out and frustrated when the cycle we have been discussing continued to repeat itself. My eyes were finally opened to the message of Galatians, where we are exhorted to rely on God’s grace AFTER we come to Him. After all, this same grace is what led me to Him, this same grace should be what transforms me, not myself. So I got that. Finally (but in His timing of course). Then I had to deal with the issue of trusting Him to do so.
Trust was a big one for me. Circumstances had taught me that I cannot always trust the people in my life to always be there for me, or to look out for my best interest. Unfortunately, disappointment had me quite jaded and self-reliance was a VERY BIG part of my mentality and approach to life. When I had moved in my own strength and things didn’t work out (this is now no surprise, if God calls me, He should be the one to equip and move me), rather than seeing it as a blunder on my behalf, I pointed to God and asked where He was in all of it. This did not help my trust issues with Him. But God is relentless in His desire to change us from image to image and glory to glory. In my prayers He would point out what was going on. In my study time, He would open up Scripture, and I would see where I identified with people like Moses and Peter. Zeal had gotten me into a pickle. But like Moses and Peter, God had still called them. God didn’t give up. I could trust God to do the same for me. Eureka, I finally GET IT!
Why did we get into all this again? If we go back to Tuesday, I was recalling my perpetual cycles of wanting to do what I knew to do, only to not do it. This recollection was due to the boundless energy I was experiencing (and have continued to experience since), enabling me to live out long held convictions. The boundless energy is directly related to the Whole30 challenge, and staying committed to the process. The ability to stay committed, this time versus the countless other times, is attributed to understanding how negativity affects me and my decisions, understanding I needed to stop feeding the habits I no longer wanted and exchanging them for habits I did desire, and finally changing some long held beliefs that caused me to trust God loved me, wasn’t upset with me and wanted to move me as He needed to, in His timing.
Seeing all this in one place, makes so much sense (to me anyway, hopefully it resonates on some level with all of you). It really does go beyond wanting a bag of Cheetos, instead of wanting an apple, and lacking the will-power to not give in. It goes beyond not having some character trait that causes us to stay locked in, or to be able to stay in the “hustle”. It goes beyond not having enough love for ourselves, to make loving choices. It is so much more. The three areas that helped me, may not be the same areas for you. I would encourage you to pray about it and see what God reveals to you. He will. If you sincerely want to know, and truly want the cycle to end.
I apologize if all this became a little too wordy and long-winded. But if it opens up even one small area of understanding that helps you to do this time differently, it is all worth it.
Yesterday’s deep dive on how negative self-dialogue is detrimental to progress and change may have gotten a little heady or too scientific for some, but it was beneficial for at least one, which means it needed to be shared. Today’s follow-up may be equally heavy for some, but I sense it also needs to be shared. “Being patient and viewing each decision as a new beginning (rather than the following Monday, or the following day), was the second way I began cooperating with God, and began to move towards the God given vision and convictions I held in my heart.
From a psychological standpoint, most habits (brushing our teeth, taking a shower, sleeping in, grabbing unhealthy foods, etc.), are unconscious and automatic, which may leave one to conclude they are helpless and powerless to change them. In order to begin the process of changing the habit, we have to shine the light on the habit so to speak, begin to think about why we do what we do (those things we WANT to change) and activate the conscious thinking part of our brains. Let’s go back to yesterday for a second, the conscious thinking or higher part of our brains, can actually be shut down with negativity, because of the stress hormones negativity produces in the brain. This may be a reason why negative dialogue was dealt with first, it physically frees the mind to think in a higher order and begin to re-frame and address habits in our lives.
As we become less negative, and more able to process our habits in a more conscious fashion we can then choose not to feed the subconscious aspect of the behavior, by reinforcing it more. So when we say, “Oh, I messed up today, I’ll start again tomorrow”, we are feeding the habit’s subconscious hold on our lives. Worse yet, if we tell ourselves, “I’ll start next Monday”, and it’s only Wednesday, we’re giving our minds four more days to believe the current habit is actually more the reward than the new behavior we would like to live out. Consciously addressing EACH decision causes us to be mindful of our habits, increasing the reward of the new behavior, and decreasing the strength and reward of the old behavior. This is where patience comes in, because our negative thoughts aren’t going to go away overnight (mind didn't anyway), especially if it is a habit we have lived with for some time. Plus, the habit is a habit for a reason, and giving in will happen.
However, the more we try to be more positive and more conscious the more we are reinforcing what we hope to live. Once we get to a point where we have lived out the desired habit, rather than the undesired habit, for twenty-one continuous days, the new habit becomes established in our minds. Once we have done so for ninety days, the new habit becomes deeply engrained in our brains, finally becoming the reward, rather than the dream. Perhaps this is why the Whole30 program is thirty days, to help people establish healthier eating principles. Perhaps this is why our challenge is forty-five days, to have a collective group of women supporting one another to reach the half-way point (Hey! We are eleven days in, we only have ten more to go for healthier eating to be established in our minds!) of creating deeply engrained habits involving devotions, eating well and exercising. After all, we need as much prayer, encouragement, and positivity as we can get as we embark on our lives changing.
Of course the best support (and truly where success in changing is derived) comes from God, which is where we’ll go tomorrow.
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