Trust

I was trying to choose a word to encapsulate what God has been doing in my life this year. Last year it was freedom.

This year it is very simple: trust.

Whenever I hear the word trust, I think of Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

This verse can become almost a cliche because we’ve heard it so many times. But when you really think about the truth of these words, it is incredibly powerful. Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to truly trust in the Lord. I’m learning that there are some key components:

Knowing His character: It is nearly impossible to trust the Lord if I doubt His character. Do I truly believe that He is good and His ways are good? Do I trust that He is using every situation, even the ones the Enemy meant for evil, to draw me closer to His heart and to shape me into the person He wants me to be? Do I believe that He is trustworthy and will actually follow through on His promises? These are questions I’ve had to wrestle with God and continue to wrestle with Him. I must be confident that God will never leave me or forsake me in order to truly trust Him.

Believing He’s there: Someone recently described trust to me as “stepping out on a solid place”. I just love that. Trust isn’t stepping onto shaky or unstable ground. In fact it’s the exact opposite. God is a solid rock that will keep me from stumbling. I just love Psalm 121:3 which says, “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” He is strong enough to bear the weight as I step out in faith. 

Releasing control: This is where I struggle the most in trusting the Lord. At the center of my anxiety is a desire to control my life. However, I’m realizing that although I can try to manipulate and control my circumstances all I want, the truth is that I am very out of control. Control is an illusion that makes me feel safe, but doesn’t actually keep me safe. I’m safest when I release control to the One who is actually in control of the world and my life.

Listening for His voice: Recently someone challenged me that I can’t truly hear God’s voice if I’m not surrendered to His will. I have to truly want His ways above my own in order to hear what He’s saying to me. This is a tough one and I’m definitely not there yet.

Moreover, I need to create space to hear His voice. For me this means taking time each day to just be quiet and listen. God’s voice isn’t forceful or demanding, but rather soft and gentle. I can’t hear God’s voice in the chaotic noise and frantic activity of my life. Instead I hear it most clearly in the quiet place.

Obeying what He says: As someone who struggles with action and practicality, God is really challenging me in this area. It’s one thing to hear what God says, but it’s another to actually do it.

This means that when God opens a door, I step through it.

When God tells me to talk to someone, I talk to them.

When God gives me a word to speak to someone, I say it.

When God tells me to reach out to someone, I contact them.

As someone who wrestles with social anxiety, I can often feel paralyzed to take action. But when I play it safe, I find that my world gets smaller and I miss out on the opportunities God has for me. However, when I say yes to the simple invitations God puts before me and obey Him, my world slowly expands.

I wanted to close with a quote from the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I mentioned in an earlier post that this book has had such a powerful impact on my life lately. In this allegory about the Christian life, a fearful girl named Much Afraid learns to trust her Shepherd’s will for her life and follow Him where He leads her. At one point in the journey, she decides to keep going even though the way ahead is unknown and frightening.  The Shepherd’s response to her is so beautiful:

“You have one real beauty, Much Afraid, you have such trustful eyes. Trust is one of the most beautiful things in the world. When I look at the trust in your eyes I find you more beautiful to look upon than many a lovely queen.”

I think that this is God’s heart to all of us when we choose to trust Him.

Knowing Ourselves

“I truly believe that the greatest gift we can give the world is our true self living in loving union with God. In fact, how can we affirm other people’s unique identities when we don’t affirm our own? Can we really love neighbors well without loving ourselves?” 

-Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazerro emphasizes the importance of knowing ourselves in order to know God. He suggests that one of the biggest traps we can fall into is living out of a false self, rather than living out of our God-given identities.

For years, social anxiety has been a “false self” that has shaped the way I’ve made decisions and have seen myself. Honestly, I’ve had almost a bit of an identity crisis as I’ve started to experience God’s freedom. It’s almost like I don’t know who I am anymore without the burden of fear and anxiety on my shoulders. While that feeling is a bit disorienting, it is also exciting. I want to discover who God has made to me to be, fully free from social anxiety.

So I’ve started to ask Him to show me what my true self is like. These are some questions that are helpful to me:

What did God design for me to do in the world that only I can do? 

What desires has God placed in my heart that I’ve rejected because of anxiety? 

How does God see me? 

What does He love about me? 

Who am I becoming?

That last question is especially helpful. God’s perspective on each of us is so beautiful. He doesn’t focus on the broken or sinful parts of who we currently are. He doesn’t identify us by our flaws and struggles.

Instead He sees our true selves, free from all of the constraints the Enemy has tried to lay on us.

He sees the whole and complete person that we are becoming.

The Desert

Lately I have been reading the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I have been deeply impacted by this powerful story. It is an allegory about the Christian life in which a fearful girl named Much Afraid journeys with her Shepherd towards the High Places in search of a new identity and a deeper understanding of His love.

Along the way, the Shepherd leads Much Afraid to the desert. He gently explains the importance of this detour saying:

“All of my servants on the way to the High Places have had to make their detour through the desert…Here they have learned many things which otherwise they would have known nothing about.”

Much Afraid is joined by two friends, Sorrow and Suffering, who surprisingly strengthen her by their presence. As she makes her way through the desert, she finds that the desert is actually full of important gifts and lessons.

This insightful book has gotten me thinking about the way I view “deserts” in my life. In the Christian life, deserts are inevitable— be it a disappointment, the loss of a loved one, struggles with mental health, the death of a dream, a season of loneliness, a delayed hope, or even a season of dryness in one’s faith. I think that our human tendency is to pass through the desert as quickly and painlessly as possible. However, as this book suggests, it takes time to fully accept the gifts of the desert.

As I think back on different “desert seasons” in my life, I can see the gifts that come out of dark times.

Gratitude: In my experience, painful seasons give us a renewed appreciation for all that is. We have eyes to see simple gifts in life—the changing seasons, moments of connection with the people we love, and even our capacity to feel sadness or other emotions.

Intimacy with Lord: My closest times with Jesus seem to always be in the desert. When life is easy and simple, I find myself depending on my own strength and finding satisfaction in trivial things. In painful times, I am especially aware of my need for the Lord and His unconditional love. This is such a gift.

Learning to hear God’s Voice: The desert is a quiet place. And it seems to me that the quiet is the best place to hear God’s voice. In the desert, I am stripped of other voices and distractions and can better hear what God is saying.

Empathy and Compassion: I think that the desert has the potential to enlarge our heart if we’ll let it. It always amazes me how God uses our pain to minister to the pain that others experience. However, in order to minister to someone else’s pain, we must be willing to first walk though it our self.

Surrendering Control: This is the hardest one for me. However, I find that in the desert, God consistently invites me to surrender to His will and His ways. In the desert, I recognize the stubbornness of my heart and my insistence on my own plan for my life. However, God graciously invites me into the mystery of not knowing all of the answers and instead trusting Him.

I recognize that 3 days before Christmas might seem like an odd time to write about the desert. However, I am becoming more and more aware that the Christmas season can be such a mixed experience for people. It can be filled with great joy and happiness for many people, but can also be a time of pain and sadness for others. In a season where everyone is rejoicing, the desert can feel even more pronounced.

However, the gift of Christmas is God’s presence.

The God of the universe came to earth and took on human form.

He is Emmanuel, God with us.

This means that we never walk through the desert alone.

I wanted to close by sharing one of my favorite songs by JJ Heller. I can’t seem to get this song out of my head lately. I love how she suggests that the desert isn’t something to be avoided, but rather God’s gift to us. I hope it encourages you!

God is Still Here, by: JJ Heller

Embracing Limits

“To be made in the image of God means that we’re rife with potential. We have the Divine’s capacity in our DNA… But that’s only half of the story. We’re also made from the dirt, ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’: we’re the original biodegradable containers. Which means we’re born with limitations. We’re not God. We’re mortal not immortal. Finite, not infinite.”

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer 

I just love this quote and powerful truth that it portrays. In his book, author and pastor John Mark Comer suggests that our success-oriented culture pushes us to reach our potential at whatever cost. While I believe that it is important to recognize our potential and work to improve ourselves, it’s equally important to accept our limitations.

I know from personal experience that ignoring my limits has detrimental consequences. When I transgress my God-given limits, I become burnt out, stressed, and anxious. In fact I’ve noticed that anxiety is actually a helpful sign that I am living outside of the natural boundaries of how I’m wired.

During the last few years, I’ve spent some time considering my limitations and trying to receive them as a gift from God rather than as a problem that I need to overcome. Some of my limitations include the following:

Living in a human body: For years, I transgressed this limitation. In college I tried to survive on 5 hours of sleep a night and I ate very sporadically. However, as a 3rd grade teacher with a very demanding job, I’ve learned that taking care of my body is vital. This means getting 8 hours of sleep at night, eating a good breakfast every morning, drinking lots of water, and prioritizing exercise. I’ve noticed that each of these habits actually decreases my anxiety and helps me foster a positive mindset.

An introverted personality: I have spent much of my life fighting my introversion. Oh how I’ve wished that I had more capacity for people. But the honest truth is that I quickly reach sensory overload when I’m with large groups of people for long stretches of time. Therefore, I try to schedule alone time before and after big social events. I also intentionally schedule plenty of solitude with Jesus into my week, including a Sabbath on Sundays, quiet time with Jesus each morning, and other small moments of quiet throughout the day. I find that I have so much more to offer the people in my life when my relational batteries are fully charged. 

A limited emotional capacity: I love people and find so much purpose investing in the lives of others. However, I also have a limited emotional capacity. I tend to take on the emotions and feeling of the people around me. And I can get very bogged down by negative emotions. As a result, I’ve learned that while it’s important to have ministry relationships where I’m pouring into others, I also desperately need mutual, life-giving friendships. I need safe places to process my feelings and emotions. I also sometimes need to put boundaries around relationships that are toxic or unhealthy.

A tendency towards melancholy and anxiety: Although God is bringing so much freedom to this area of my life, the truth is that I still have and may always have a predisposition towards anxiety and negative thoughts. As a result, I put a lot of effort into guarding my mind. This means spending time with wise older mentors, seeing a counselor, and asking friends to pray for me when my mind feels out of control.

I used to feel a lot of guilt about my limitations and would try to change these things about myself. However, I’m starting to realize that my limitations are actually a gift. They remind me that I need God and I need others. I can’t manage life on my own. My limitations make me dependent on God and that’s one of the best places to be.

I love Psalm 16:6 which says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

This is so true. God has made each of us so uniquely with specific limits and boundaries around our lives.

Rather than fighting my limitations, I want to accept them as a gift from God.

I want to live within His boundary lines for my life.

Social Anxiety and Community

This is something I’ve wanted to write about since I started this blog. However, I just now feel like I can put my experience into words. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, finding a place in Christian community has always been challenging for me.

A couple of years ago, when my anxiety was at its worst, I became sporadic about attending church. I wanted to be at church so badly. In fact, I remember multiple Sundays when I drove myself to church, but just couldn’t get myself to go inside. This was a really dark and isolating season for me. I felt a lot of shame and as a result, I isolated myself even more from people.

God graciously brought me out of that dark place and has freed me from the bondage of social anxiety. I am now a part of a church once again and that has been such a blessing.

However, finding community is something that I still wrestle with. I want to share with you some of the ways that the Lord has helped me in this process. If you struggle with social anxiety, I pray that some of these ideas might encourage you. And even if this is not a struggle for you, I hope that my story might open your eyes to people in your own community that struggle in this area. May you be equipped to see those people and support them.

Asking God for his perspective: This was definitely the most foundational step for me. I think that one of the reasons community has been hard for me is that I’ve had painful experiences of rejection and exclusion by other Christians. As a result, for many years I had a negative association with the word “community”. At one point, God challenged me to ask for His perspective on this.

He reminded me of the beautiful, self-sacrificing love shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are the true model of what perfect community looks like. Since I am made in the image of God, I desperately need community — to know and be known by others. Community is a beautiful gift as God originally created it.

However, God also reminded me that because of the Fall, community is far from what it should be. Since we are fallen human beings, sometimes we hurt one another. Sometimes we fail to see each other’s needs. Sometimes we exclude and leave each other out. I know that I’ve been guilty of each of these sins in my own life. God challenged me that my frustration wasn’t with community, but with the way that we as humans have messed it up.

Now this doesn’t mean that I just reject the whole concept of community and isolate myself. Rather I need to adjust my expectations of what community looks like here on earth. I need to give people grace to be human and mess up.  I also need to give myself grace when I hurt the people around me. Therefore, I’ve consciously decided to not allow my disappointment or disillusionment to get in the way of embracing the beauty to be found in community with others.

Focusing on God’s presence: This idea might sound strange, but when I’m walking into church, I like to visualize God’s presence entering with me. Sometimes I feel lonely attending church as a single person with my family living far away. I think that this is a common experience for many people. This feeling of loneliness is often heightened seeing so many people sitting with their families. Therefore, it’s helpful to remember that I’m not alone. God’s presence is always with me and supporting me.

Getting my eyes off myself: This is huge. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, I can be way too self-focused. When I enter a group of people (especially people I don’t know well), I become very aware of myself. I worry about being awkward or knowing the right things to say.

God has graciously showed me the freedom of getting my eyes off of myself. When I enter a social situation, I’ll ask for God to give me special “appointments” with people. I think God has blessed me with an acute sensitivity to people who feel lonely or are on the fringes. I actively look for those people and see how I can bless them or make them feel welcome.

God also has encouraged me to find ways to serve. About a year ago, I started teaching Sunday School at my church and that has been so life-giving for me. Although I can feel anxious leading adults, I am incredibly comfortable in front of children. This has brought me so much joy. And it’s been great to form relationships with the other adults that I teach with.

Looking for smaller communities: Although I think it’s important to meet with the whole Body of Christ, God has shown me that my deepest sense of community will always be experienced in a subset of the larger community. Therefore as much as possible, I look for small group or one-on-one settings.

I’m a part of a small group at my church and that has been so life-giving to me. Although it’s still stretching for my introverted personality, I’ve learned so much from being a part of that group.  In my experience, community is different from friendship. We choose friends based on shared interests and perspectives. However, I love the way that being a part of community forces me to interact with people very different from myself. I see God’s image reflected in unique and beautiful ways in people I might not normally choose to be friends with on my own.

I also have found so much joy in embracing community with one person at a time. While big groups of people exhaust and overwhelm me, I come alive in one-on-one settings. As an introvert, God has showed me that I’m wired for depth more than breadth of relationship. Therefore I put a lot of time and energy into one-on-one relationships with people.

Embracing the gifts of my personality: I’ve spent a lot of my life wishing that I could be different than I am— that I could be loud and extroverted, that I could command a room of people, or that I could have a charismatic and charming personality. However, the truth is that simply isn’t how God has wired me.

I’ve found so much freedom in embracing my personality and celebrating the gifts I have to offer as a quieter, more introverted person. For example, God has given me such a heart for people who are lonely and anxious. I am a good listener. I am highly empathetic. I reflect deeply on things which gives me wisdom and insight to offer to others.

Rather than trying to be someone I’m not, I’ve found it so freeing to embrace the gifts God has given me and look for ways to offer them to my community.

I’d love to hear from you! What struggles have you faced in community? How has the Lord been at work in this area of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Thoughts on Judgement

“He (Paul) cares very little if he is judged by the Corinthians or by any human court. And then he goes one step further: He will not even judge himself. It’s as if he says, ‘I don’t care what you think— but but I don’t care what I think. I have a very low opinion of your opinion of me—but I have a very low opinion of my opinion of me.'”

-Timothy Keller, The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness

As someone who wrestles with social anxiety, I have a strong fear of judgement.  As a result, I find myself doing everything I can to avoid the judgement of people. I often adjust myself to meet the expectations of others. I carefully select the parts of myself that I think will be acceptable to them. And in the process I lose sight of simply being the authentic person God has created me to be.

God has also been showing me the danger of judging myself. I can be my own worst critic. It is so natural for me to dwell on the things that I don’t like about myself. My inner critic reminds me of all the places where I fall short. And in the process I lose sight of the person that God is shaping me to be. I focus on the flaws in who I currently am, not on the whole and healed person that I am becoming.

As a result, I loved the above quote by Timothy Keller. What a hopeful thought! God desires for me to be free not only from the opinion of man, but also from my opinion of myself.

People aren’t my judge.

I am not my judge.

God alone is my judge.

And He loves me unconditionally.

Since Jesus received all judgement on the cross, I am free from the judgement of man. And I am free from my own self-judgement.

I wanted to close this post with a song by Andrew Peterson. He is such a kindred spirit and I love his honest and authentic song-writing. This song has ministered to me numerous times when I’ve felt tempted to judge and condemn myself. I hope it speaks to you.

Be Kind To Yourself: Andrew Peterson

The Power of Truth

“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

I am convinced that at the root of every anxiety is a lie. Lies are so powerful because they keep me in bondage. They tempt me to doubt who God is and what He says about me.

I find that especially when I’m tired or physically weak, the lies of the Enemy have more power in my life. During these times I need to be especially alert and aware of potentially dangerous thoughts that so easily creep into my mind.

I fear that God isn’t trustworthy.

I’m temped to believe that life is a series of disappointments and losses.

I question if this world is all there is.

I feel a need to manipulate and control situations in order to be safe.

I fear that I’m not enough.

I am convinced that I need to do more to earn the love of God.

I feel pressure to perform perfectly in order to be accepted.

It’s so easy to accept these lies from the enemy and allow them to take residence in my mind.

However, I also know from personal experience that the truth conquers every lie. The truth sets me free and brings light to every dark corner of my mind.

God brings the truth into my life in so many different ways— through His Word, a friend or mentor’s encouragement, an uplifting sermon or book, words prayed over me, or simply through time in the quiet listening to His voice. In these times I remember who God is and what He says about me.

I remember that God is trustworthy even when situations seem hopeless.

I am convinced that God is using every disappointment and loss to draw me closer to His heart.

I remember that the life I prize is coming. One day all things will be restored.

I know that I am safe simply resting in my Father’s love.

I am confident that I am more than enough.

I realize that there is nothing I could ever do to make God love me any more or any less.

I recognize that the opinion of man is insignificant compared to how God sees me.

Recently I started keeping a journal of the words and promises God has spoken to me. This includes Bible passages that have ministered to me, words and prayers that people have spoken over me, ideas from sermons and books that have resonated with my heart, and words that God has spoken to me during times of solitude. I try to read this list each morning when I wake up and each night before I go to bed. I can’t tell you how powerful this practice has been in reshaping my thought life.

Little by little, these truths are starting to seep into the deepest parts of my heart.

And the lies that have become ingrained in my mind have no choice but to flee.

The Fear of Man

“The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”

-Proverbs 29:25 

I have become convinced that the fear of man is one of the deepest roots of my social anxiety. I think that to some extent everyone struggles with a fear of man. It’s just a natural part of being human. However, for people who battle social anxiety, the fear of man can be especially intense. People with social anxiety have a heightened awareness of how people perceive them. They are especially sensitive to how their presentation is affecting others and spend a lot of time analyzing what people think about them.

In the past couple of years, God has showed me that the fear of man truly is a snare in my life.

The fear of man keeps me silent when God calls me to speak up. 

It causes me to hide my unique gifts and abilities rather than offering them to the world. 

The fear of man keeps me from acting until I have everything perfectly planned out.

It causes me to hide my weaknesses rather than practicing authenticity and vulnerability with the people in my life.

If the fear of man is such a snare, how do we stop caring so much about what people think?

One of my favorite children’s books beautifully illustrates the solution.

In the book You are Special by Max Lucado, a town of wooden people called Wemmicks judge their friends by placing star and dot stickers on one another. Stars are given to the Wemmicks who are beautiful, successful, and talented while dots are given to the ugly, awkward, or untalented Wemmicks. In this story, a young Wemmick named Punchinello receives only dots. One day he meets Lucia, a Wemmick who has no dots or stars because they have simply stopped sticking to her. When Punchinello asks Lucia for her secret, she encourages him to go to the woodcarver’s shop and talk to Eli their maker. Punchinello goes to see Eli and is reminded that Eli loves him simply because he made him and that Eli’s opinion is all that matters.

You can watch a YouTube reading of the story here:

I can’t tell you how much this simple children’s story has impacted my life. I can so relate to Punchinello. Living in an externals-focused society, it’s amazing how many stars and dots I accumulate throughout the day.

I get a “like” on social media…there’s a star. I receive a word of criticism from my boss…there’s a dot. Someone compliments my haircut…there’s another star. I feel excluded from a conversation…yet another dot. Someone praises my performance at work…another star. Gossip spreads about something embarrassing in my life…another dot.

Like Punchinello, I’m learning that the only way to truly stop caring about what people think is to spend intentional time in God’s presence. In the quiet place I remember who I am and who God is.

During these times I’ll ask the Lord some simple questions and then listen for his answers. Some questions to ask the Lord are:

What do you say about me?

How do you see me?

What do you want me to do today?

How can I please you today?

The more I spend time in Jesus’ presence, the more that His opinion of me becomes what truly matters.

And the opinions of man start to fade away.

Made New

“At the renewal of all things, our hearts are going to be free from grief. The joy of this will far surpass our physical relief. Think of it— if God would offer today to remove from you just one of your greatest sources of internal pain, what would you ask him to remove? And if all your brokenness were finally and completely healed, and your sin removed from you as far as the east is from the west— what will you no longer face? What will you finally be?”

-John Eldredge, All Things New

I just love this quote. In his book All Things New (highly recommend!), author John Eldredge writes about the hope we have that one day all things will be made new. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. More specifically, though, he writes about how humanity will one day be restored and no longer affected by sin.

This thought has profoundly impacted me. Especially when I get caught up in the day to day struggles of my life, I need to remember the future hope that I have in Jesus. I’m not destined to forever struggle with social anxiety. In fact, social anxiety and all of its many causes won’t even exist in the new heaven and new earth.

It is so encouraging to think about the people that we will one day be. 

We will no longer have broken relationships. All of our relationships will be fully restored and healed.

We will no longer experience rejection. We will finally feel deeply accepted by God and by others.

We will no longer feel a need to prove ourselves as good enough. Instead, we will be fully secure in the love of God and one another.

And we will no longer experience fear and doubt. We will live with a deep sense of peace and certainty that no one can take away from us.

Our hearts crave hope like nothing else. Especially in seasons of anxiety, I need to remember the hope that I already have and that will one day be fully realized.

God is making all things new.

He is making me new.

This promise starts now and will last forever.

Vulnerability and Courage

“Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

-Brene’ Brown, Rising Strong 

In an earlier post I wrote about vulnerability and how it has been an important tool in fighting my social anxiety.  However, the more I practice vulnerability, the more I realize how much courage it takes to be truly known by people. I’m learning that vulnerability is risky business and that practicing vulnerability carries no guarantees.

Vulnerability often begets deeper connection, empathy, and intimacy.

However, vulnerability can also result in rejection, disappointment, and pain.

Lately, I’ve been wrestling with what to do when I risk vulnerability and it doesn’t work out.

I think that for people with social anxiety, experiences of rejection are especially painful. In moments of rejection, it’s so tempting to shut down the heart and vow not to risk vulnerability again.

However, I know that this isn’t the way God intends for us to live.

God intends for us to live in community with others— to know and be known. Although relationships can lead to hurt and disappointment, they are also one of the most powerful ways that God brings healing to our lives. Vulnerability is truly worth the risk.

It takes courage to get back up after a disappointment. 

But I’m determined to keep practicing vulnerability, even when it’s painful.