Lately I have been taking time to reflect on where I am internally compared to where I was almost five months ago.
Throughout each year, there are markers that serve as points to pause, reflect and compare to a year ago… Yet, this time, rather than reflecting on a year ago, I find myself processing how much has happened inside of me since July of this year. I went into Uganda struggling very much internally, but not even really in a place to recognize it because of how hard and hectic May and June had been in every regard.
Before we left, I had begun asking God to reveal the lies I had been believing, and to restore hope where I had lost it… Then I closed that box of my heart, and got on a plane and launched myself to another continent.
Twice on the flight over I was asked how my heart was doing because people who know me, are aware of how much I struggle and have to actively work to link my head and heart well. I have had a habit of locking my heart up and setting it aside, especially if I am uncertain or overwhelmed by what I’m feeling.
Perfectly timed, around that same time before we left for Uganda, I also began asking God to help me navigate my head and heart well together. I had started to realize that Grace and Truth as well as Head and Heart are the balance of the Holy Spirit. God is perfectly both sides in unison, and in order to be more like Him, and more sensitive to His guidance, I too needed to start learning how to balance these things rather than setting one aside.
I was not prepared for the answer God was going to give me, nor the longevity of what it would mean to get the answers to these prayers.
I actually think if I had known how long and hard this all would be, I would have peaced out and quit right from the beginning. I am fairly confident I would have shut my heart down and opted out of the process to protect my heart had I known the pain and struggle involved. Yet, one of the many graces in this whole journey has actually been my lack of knowing God’s timing. – I struggle with it all the time (as in allllll the time), but not knowing has also created a reliance on Him that I simply did not have before. Not knowing God’s timing has been so good too because I was unaware of the depths of intensity it would take to fix and heal certain areas of my heart, and just what it would mean to restore the trust and hope in God that I had lost. – Back in July it was as though my prayer for help balancing my head and heart caused God to lock my heart in the open position; it has been exhausting and overwhelming almost every single day since.
Even still, almost five months later, I regularly feel overwhelmed by how I am feeling, the ways I am changing, and how far I still have to grow. About once a week I have a late night meltdown over how exhausted and weary I feel internally due to actively processing every day. I am given the option to choose to grow and learn more about who I am supposed to be in Christ, and to face the ways in which I lack in trust/faith/fruit of the spirit (throw a dart at some character trait and I’m probably working on that too)… I assure you, it is Not. Easy. Nor. Fun.
But, God does not force me, He allows me the freedom to choose to face these things or quit… However, because of who God has made me, I will not give up, and I will choose to daily engage in this process of growth and change.
My journal of prayers is getting record use (literally). The current one (each one is 40 sheets/80 pages) is my 4th one in just about four months…
But so that there is no patting me on the back with congratulations: My prayer journal just makes me look like a crazy person.
Seriously, going back and reading the day-to-day prayers, they just swing widely back and forth, it’s embarrassing, but also they are incredibly intimate and real. These prayers reflect my struggle, my anxiety, my fears, my heart wide open and effort that it all takes, but also the ever so slow changes that are taking place, and just about every emotion possible finds its way into my prayers.
These journals are very how I am choosing to press closer to God and processing all of my tension, thoughts, and emotions.. But, in all honesty, they just really make me look like a wackadoodle. I wish I could share about how sweet the prayers are, but no. The sheer level of back and forth my prayers exhibit is ridiculous; the overwhelming emotions, the joy, thankfulness, the over analyzing things, the confusion and uncertainty, the copied scripture trying to help me grasp onto solid truth amidst the chaos of feelings, the waffling ebb and flow with how I feel vs what my head knows… EXHAUSTING.
Yet, I am also currently reading through the book of Psalms: I feel like my journal looks a bit like David’s prayers and hymns.
Some are so sweet, loving, encouraging, full of thanksgiving, while others are all raging and demanding that God do something (usually an overreaction to an emotion or situation). Some are declarations of praise, faith, love, and hope, while others are full of anger, sorrow, and despair. – This could literally be the description of my prayer journals AND the book of Psalms… So, I guess that is comforting?
At the end of every journal (about every six weeks currently), I go back and review it. I re-read things I have prayed for, asked God about, passages of scripture I copied, and then compare them to my calendar and remember what was going on that day. Every few weeks I am amazed at all that the Lord has done, how I feel about those days after the fact or in light of things that happened a few days later. I marvel and thank God again for answers to prayers, and for His continued patience, grace, and tenderness as I try to press in, learn, and grow.
But, let’s be honest: It. Is. So. Hard.
Several months ago I felt like God told me three things:
Then about a month ago I felt like God added Faith, Hope, Love.
As I review my journals, I am amazed at what it looks like to hold steadfast, persevere, and be obedient, and how these three things play out (and don’t). Previously I never would have been able to accurately identify what it truly looks like to hold steadfast and persevere, because I struggle each day with them. – Before all of this, I would have felt as though the level of my struggle daily would clearly indicate I was not in fact holding steadfast; yet as I go back over my prayer journals, I realize in the long haul it absolutely does. Holding steadfast and persevering doesn’t mean a lack of experiencing emotions or struggle, it means turning to God with every single little bit of it, and remaining there with Him.
I have learned that holding steadfast and persevering throughout scripture leads to faith, hope and love… but also proven character. It is in the journey, the long haul, the process that we refine, create, and prove who we are at our foundational core. But, let’s not dismiss how much proving character takes time, and is incredibly difficult and oh so awkward of an imperfect process.
In the last couple of months I have begun to see the transformation, and just how much I am changed forever because of the time pressing into the Holy Spirit and expressing all the things to God. Choosing to return back to Him with every little thing has changed the way in which I handle joy, hope, failures or despair on a daily basis. Because of the difficulty of modifying who I am on the inside, there has been an increase in desire to spend dedicated time every day with God; I am not entirely sure I can name any period of time in my entire life that I felt this way for months on end… I am so incredibly grateful (and hope it continues, recognizing seasons of life and all).
I long for connection with God, I need time to tell Him how I am, ask for what I want, and process everything that I’m struggling with. Every day there is a nuance to the areas He is work on growing in me, and whatever is heavy on my heart or mulling around in my head that day also gets some much-needed time laid before Him.
Now months into this whole process, I realized this week, on one particularly intense and emotional day full of stress, frustration, anxiety etc.. I still had the clarity and presence of mind to actively choose my responses. I was not swept away in any explosion of emotion and even the intensity with which I experienced my feelings was still there just like before, but despite it all, I found myself able to actively chose grace and patience. – Well that’s new… and not easy.
I have started to realize over the last couple of weeks that the force with which I feel and experience my emotions has not changed at all. God has not lessened who I am or the passion and intensity that I process, feel or express things; instead, He has changed my ability to see perspective, have understanding, and respond in grace and love. It is as though the spring that feeds into my heart-well is different, and therefore what is coming out is also distinctively changed, but that I am who I have always been in many ways, just a better version of that person.
A couple small excerpts from one of my prayers at the end of a particularly difficult day recently:
“Thank you for being with me and giving me the extra measure of grace, patience, and presence of mind to choose my responses…
Help me to follow your leading better tomorrow. Give me more wisdom and understanding, and bless me with a greater capacity to love well…
Forgive me for the things I said and did today that did not line up with you. Forgive me for the things I missed…
Show me how to trust you more and be confident in your faithfulness more…”
It has been an interesting experience reading through my prayers over the last few months, I would never have chosen this ahead of time had I known how hard it would be. I also have realized that I would never have been able to predict beforehand the ways in which I would respond (good or bad) to how God would grow and make me new. Yet, through it all, I am starting to recognize the small ways He has shown up and proven Himself trustworthy and faithful. But, above all, recognizing this gaining familiarity with Him as I spend more time communicating with Him. His presence and “voice” feel different to me now than they did in July (or previous to that).
My daily struggle to hold steadfast, persevere, and be obedient is still going strong.
Learning how to love well is not easy.
Finding and growing my faith and hope feels ambiguous, but slowly I am realizing that it is creating a foundation I did not have previously.
Making decisions against my own insecurities, and choosing to share my heart rather than shut it down and set it aside is still incredibly hard.
I am not the same person I was a few months ago.
My heart has changed. I have changed.
It has been a slow sometimes arduous process, and it certainly is nowhere near complete, but I am also incredibly grateful… and exhausted.
I am learning that the process and journey is full of challenges and pain (there are good and joyful times too, but let’s be honest, we don’t need people to identify with our good times as much), but it is worth it to become more of who God intends for you to be.
Choose to face it all head on, experience every emotion, and sift through them with the creator of your heart; it will change you forever and it will be so good.