Fragile. That is how I would best describe myself these past couple days. Not that my body is particularly fragile right now, but rather my heart. I teeter between feeling like I have it together and I just might fall apart–all it would take is just the tiniest feather of a thing and I might just fall all to pieces.
I don’t always feel this way but sometimes life throws a lot at us and after a while it takes its toll. Stress compounds stress as we face uncertain circumstances, new challenges, life’s ups and downs, and all our day-to-day obligations .
Days like these I want to stay in bed, block out the world, and watch Hallmark movies all day in my fuzzy pants. I just want to switch off my brain, if only for a day and feel some relief from my own anxious thoughts.
I have found there are some circumstances I can easily give over to the Lord, confident that He is working and capable, allowing me to be filled with peace and confidence that His timing is perfect and His purposes will be accomplished.
But there are other times, especially when it comes to matters of the heart, or my sense of security, that I struggle to feel that same peace and confidence. Waiting on the Lord feels like an eternity in the wilderness, instead of a journey hand in hand with Jesus. It’s a continual struggle to keep turning my concern and circumstance over to God to reclaim His peace once again.
In these fragile moments, I have found that God is extra gentle with me. When I turn to Him in prayer, He reassures me that He’s got me and everything will be okay. He is a loving Father that comforts and carries my confidence for me when I have none left. He lovingly reminds me of truth–that He is my source of peace and security.
While we may feel fragile at times, we can be assured that our God is not. He is strong enough to carry us through whatever we face, powerful enough to clear the path before us, and gentle enough to wrap us in his protective embrace.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed… Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
Just like a fragile clay jar, we can feel cracked, broken or chipped. When life hands us a heavy load, we can end up feeling like we just might break. We are fragile beings and that’s okay. Our strength comes from God. He is our victory, our confidence and our protector. We will face difficult things in this life but we will always find victory in Christ. It’s through our frailty and weakness that God’s light shines brightest and His power is revealed. His strength is made perfect through our weakness.
If you are feeling overwhelmed by what life has brought your way, offer up your fragile heart to God. He is faithful and loving and will handle it with care. May God wrap you up in His strong and safe arms as you lean into His love today.
My heart sank at the scene in front of me. I stared at the pile of dishes, already stacked higher than I wanted them to be. “Don’t think about that right now,” I reminded myself, taking a deep breath. “The dishes can wait.You need to call the doctor, and we have to pick up groceries this afternoon. Also remember the kids have martial arts class later today… Oh no, did I put that wet load of laundry in the dryer yet?!”
I felt overwhelmed. Full time home-making and homeschooling wasn’t what I’d signed up for this year. I had been chomping at the bit to jump back into the workforce this year after a much-too-long hiatus and career swerve. But thereI was. And here we all still are, in many cases feeling stuck or frustrated, spinning in circles just to keep everyone fed, clothed, schooled, and somewhat sane. How could this be OK? How could this factor into God’s big plan? I thought He wanted me to be … successful!
Can you relate? Most of our lives look pretty different in this pandemic-focused culture. The façade is gone. No longer do we see ourselves as invincible, nor do we take our health or social lives for granted. Mindsets and habits that we hadn’t taken time to think about before now are being brought into sharp focus as our days shape-shift closer and closer to a stripped down version of our old constructed reality.
On this particular day, I was especially frustrated. I found myself peppering God with somewhat accusing questions like, “What’s going on here, God? I feel like I’m spinning in circles. What are you doing? You put all of these dreams and desires in my heart! How am I supposed to execute them and be productive for You in this environment? I love taking care of my family, but when do I get a break from all of this to do something really important and successful?”
But on this particular day, God was ready for me. No further had this string of questions left my thoughts then He swooped in with some questions of His own. He (very kindly) responded right back saying, “Well what IS success, Bethany? What exactly does that look like? How are you measuring whether or not you’re being successful?”
Me: “oh ………. well ………um…..”
I suddenly felt very exposed. I realized I had no good response. I was basing my vague idea of success on my own list of accomplishments and gauging how otherpeople saw me. But I was getting the feeling this wasn’t the right answer.
My mind jumped back to a verse I’d memorized in my college days:
“But what does the Lord require of you but to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8.
Hmm. None of that verse involved attention from other people. None of that sounded flashy or important. It was simple, and quiet, and … well, humble. Was that really it? Where was the part about having a career? Or finally getting the bigger house? Or making enough money to retire? Was living a “successful” life actually a whole lot simpler than I was making it out to be?
I was beginning to see it, but as I kept looking I found John 15:4:
“Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as a branch is unable to produce fruit by itself unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me.”
Remain in me. Stay connected to the vine. Fruit will come out of your connection.”
Ah. And I remembered. This is what Jesus took the time to talk to His followers about. Being with The Father. Staying connected to Him. How had I forgotten this? When had I decided that having an impressive resume and looking successful to others meant I was being a good Christian?
I thought about that all day, and then the next. Maybe I’d learned this all backwards. Maybe I’d learned that success looked like attention, and maybe that wasn’t actually true. Maybe all the success and fulfillment I longed for was actually waiting for me on the other side of seeking justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God. Or in other words, “remaining on the vine.” Maybe the problem wasn’t in my lack of success, but my very definition of it.
What if I could choose to change my definition? What if I could actually reach this kind of success and then celebrate it! What if I could “remain on the vine” while I was finishing the laundry … and cooking … and washing the dishes. I had a feeling this was going to change everything.
What’s your definition of success? Is it grounded in remaining on the vine? Let’s adjust our definition of success to include these beautiful God truths! And let’s do it together.
“Ping”. There it is. Another notification, another status update and late breaking news report. With the advent of social media and instant access to what’s happening all around the world, we are flooded daily with knowledge of more information than we are truly capable of processing. Major world-wide events, politics, and local tragedies stream in real time through a tiny hand-held screen. Sometimes for me it feels as though the never ending flood of information is inescapable.
During the week, I work as an on-air personality, reporting the daily news for a couple of local radio stations. Before I go to bed each night, I brush up on what’s happening out in the great, big world. Then when I wake up in the morning, I check in again to catch any of the late breaking stuff I may have missed while we were sleeping. I’ve rejoiced at seeing God at work in some of the stories I read, of neighbors helping neighbors and churches serving in their communities. The sad reality is that the majority of stories I read in the news are bad. That’s how the news machine works. I have to try to compartmentalize things and stay objective, keeping the negativity and suffering at an arm’s length and focus on the positive when I can. Some days though, a certain headline, or detail of a story will literally bring me to my knees.
One morning, as I was sitting at my computer, scrolling through the headlines, my eyes fell upon a story of a driveby shooting that injured several local teenagers. The article included an eyewitness account of a local mom who ran to the scene to help. I read her words and how she cared for these wounded kids, praying over them and speaking love and comfort to them in their moment of terror, and I found myself weeping uncontrollably. It was all just too much. I turned off my mic and held my head in my hands and sobbed.
As the tears rolled down my face, I worried that I might not be able to pull myself together in time for the next broadcast just minutes away. I knew that my shoulders were not broad enough, or strong enough to carry the weight of all the feelings flooding in that morning, and I began to pray. I prayed for the families that lost children that day, I prayed for the mom who stopped to minister to the wounded, for the group of young people who did the shooting, and for my fragile heart that only my Heavenly Father could restore from this overwhelming ache. When I whispered a weak ‘amen’, I breathed deeply and felt at peace. Even though I could not reach directly into these difficult situations in the world, I knew my prayers could. I let God carry the heavy for me, turned my mic back on, and finished the morning news.
You see, we are not meant to carry this much. Because of technology, we are privy to every tragedy that unfolds in almost every corner of the world. Our news feeds are full of them, stirring in us a sense of helplessness, hopelessness and profound anxiety. As fellow humans, we feel compelled to act, to speak out to do something. But what can we do? We can’t be everywhere at once and even if we could, we have limited resources, strength and wisdom to fix all the things.
But God can.
Isaiah 40:12-14 says “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance? Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor? Whom did the Lord consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge, or showed him the path of understanding”
God is truly Omniscient, knowing every detail of every situation before it even happens. He can see the past, present and future all in one view and knows exactly what to do. He is Omnipresent, able to be everywhere at once, reaching into situations that I cannot. He sees each and every person in their need and is closer to them than the air they breathe. He is Omnipotent, strong enough to carry the heavy. He commands the wind and the waves and will bring justice like a river. He lifts up the weary and gives us His strength, and brings down the oppressors, and one day He will set all things right again.
I think I sometimes buy into the lie that to be effective in the world, I must be all these things too. All-knowing, all-powerful and everywhere at once. When I find myself overwhelmed by the concerns and weight of the world, and I turn to God in prayer, the pressure fades and I am reminded of the truth. God did not create me to carry the world, He is already doing that.
God created me with a different task in mind. The truth is, while my influence and power are limited, God’s is not. I saw this best explained by a friend of mine, who shared the idea of 3 concentric circles. It gave me a great visual reminder of what I am called to carry and what must be given to God.
The center circle represents my circle of influence. Our circle of concern will always be bigger than our circle of influence. But when facing a problem or crisis in the world, it can be helpful to discern where we actually have direct influence.
For example, I cannot solve the evil that is racism. But I can have influence over my children and in my household. I can teach them that all are created in the image of God, and to see the belovedness and beauty in everyone. I cannot solve hunger around the world by myself, but I can feed my neighbor or volunteer at my local food bank. I can’t stop depression and anxiety for every person that suffers, but I can be intentional about caring for my own mental health, or call and check in on a friend and care for theirs.
God is glorified in all of these things. He has placed you exactly where you are, in this season, for a reason. He has good works prepared for you (Eph. 2:10)and has given you influence to make a difference.
Sometimes the big things happening aren’t so far removed. They are happening right under our own roof. Loss and grief, financial stress or difficult relationships. They all have the potential at any moment to feel too heavy to bear. It might seem easy to compartmentalize things we see out in the world, but how do we handle it when it’s right in our own family?
In Matthew 10:29-31 we find reassurance that no detail, need or concern is beneath God’s notice and care. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Dear one, the very same God that can carry the weight of the world, sees you and can carry you too. It may even be that someone else’s circle of influence will overlap into your situation, and they will be bearers of blessing, comfort and relief.
We can go to God with every concern (1 Peter 5:7). It is in prayer that God meets us where we are, shoulders our burdens and equips us for good work in every season. He is faithful and kind and big enough to handle anything life throws our way. God is the One that gave us hearts that care deeply in the first place. And then He placed us in positions of influence where He can guide us and shape our lives and the lives of others. Sometimes we can’t see it in the moment, but God is working through you right where you are.
If the world feels like a bit too much to bear right now, take stock of your circles. It’s ok for your heart to break over what breaks the Lord’s heart too. There are real and heavy things happening in the world. But God has already overcome the world! Ask Him to show you what you can and can’t influence, write it down, and then wrap all of it up in prayer. God is all knowing, all powerful and working in every detail. He’s got this, and He’s got you too.
Let’s be real, my sisters. Life can be overwhelming and uncertain, but this year especially has felt extra turbulent. The struggles are real. Cancelled plans, grief for moments and jobs lost, fear of what’s to come next, etc.
It’s easy to have joy when life is sailing along smoothly on calm seas, but when the waves begin to roar, our peace and joy seem to go overboard. Take a moment to picture a raging storm; see the ominous clouds swirling up above, hear the booming thunder that reverberates to your core and imagine you feel the darts of water from the crashing waves on your face. Got the storm in your mind? Your life may feel like that storm right now and that your joy is gone, but do you know what is happening a hundred feet below the storm in the ocean? All is perfectly quiet and peaceful. No sound, no storm, just stillness.
The truth is that our joy is not lost at sea, rather it’s within us. It’s hidden in the depths of our souls, far beneath the surface, unable to feel the changing winds of uncertainty. One of my favorite quotes is by Sam Storms, who said “joy is not the absence of suffering but the presence of God.” It is in God’s presence that we find contentment and peace that surpasses any of the outward circumstances we are facing.
When fears, anxieties and troubles arise in life, we must learn to lean into the presence of God to help us cultivate joy. Over the years, I have found a few ways that have helped me cultivate joy through faith in the midst of the fear and uncertainty:
1. Declare God’s promises, not your problems. When you talk with your friends and family are you talking more about your problems or God’s promises? The Scriptures encourage us to speak life not death. That doesn’t mean you can’t share your problems, but with it declare God’s promise. For example, “I may not know what to do in this time of uncertainty, but God tells me that He will never leave me and that He will make His path known to me.” Do you see how that adds hope to your situation? And then when we are hopeful we become more joyful. I work with my coaching clients quite frequently to help them create their Affirmation GPS (God Positioning System) Declarations that allows them to discover the truths that they need to use to guide them in the season they are experiencing and refuel their joy. You can do this too. Simply select a piece of scripture that you want to declare as God’s promise to you. For instance, “I AM blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3, NIV). Then write this down on a post-it note and display it in spots where you will see it and declare it over yourself.
2. Lean on God, not on your plan. I confess that I am a recovering control freak. So as long as I could plan ahead, it gave me a sense of security even if things didn’t always go my way. However, when the pandemic hit, I couldn’t even plan a few days out because things were shifting so fast. It made me realize how much I was leaning on my plans and not God as a source of peace and joy. Proverbs 16:9 says, “We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps” (NLT). As we go through times of uncertainty we need to step back, release control and simply ask God, “what’s the one thing I need to focus on next?” And then when that is done, ask the question again. Pretty soon what you will find is that you are leaning on God, your joy is being renewed and He is leading you through this time of uncertainty.
3. Look at the donut, not the hole. Okay so nowhere in the Bible does it talk about donuts, but it does talk about gratitude and thanksgiving. In times of uncertainty it is easy to focus on everything that is missing, everything that is going wrong and everything that is not what we planned. However, what Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:18 is to “give thanks in all circumstances” (NIV). The italicized word is my emphasis, because I want you to realize that God isn’t telling us we have to give thanks FOR all things but IN all things. When you look at a donut do you see the hole or the actual donut? When you look at the donut, you are essentially looking at all that you can be grateful for IN this situation. I don’t have to be grateful for the pandemic, but I can be grateful because I had people who checked in on me during the pandemic. I can be grateful that my job allowed me to easily transition to shelter in place and stay safe. Today, don’t look at the hole (what’s missing), look at the donut (what do you have). Remember “joy isn’t the root of gratitude; gratitude is the root of joy,” which is why the first note in my 90 Days of Delight journal/devotional is all about gratitude because it is the key to having joy no matter what circumstances you are going through.
4. Work while you wait in the uncertainty. When I am in an uncertain situation, I want it to change NOW, especially when I think God has something greater for me. But God wants us to wait expectantly, which means not sitting on the couch whining, but rather working on something that will help you move forward. A great example of working while waiting is the story of Ruth. She moved to a foreign country with her mother-in-law hoping that God would provide for them. Instead of sitting around waiting for her circumstances to change, she took an opportunity to work in a stranger’s field. Little did she know that that stranger would become her husband and she would go from poverty to wealth in an instant. The work she was doing during this time of uncertainty might have seemed trivial in the moment, but it led her right into the arms of her promise. Working isn’t just about a vocation it could be starting a new hobby, reading a book, helping a friend, all while you are waiting for God to bring you out of the uncertainty. When we shift our perspective and wait expectantly, we can allow joy to fill our days rather than fear. Like Ruth, it may lead you into a season of clarity and promise.
Even when you are facing uncertain situations, God’s presence and truth can be your anchor and source of joy. You don’t have to worry because He is with you. You may not know what’s to come or what your next move is, but He does. It may feel like a storm right now, but remember if you go to God you will find a deep joy that calms the seas and gives you a peace that passes all understanding.