“Here we go again…right back where I started. Maybe worse. How did I even get here? I should have expected it. This always happens. I thought I had a better relationship with God than this. I’m just as sinful as I always have been…I haven’t changed. I’m never going to get there.”
My thoughts frequently throw punches, but these are some of the strongest. It’s always worse when we can’t find tangible evidence to push back against them, isn’t it? They sure do seem to tell the truth in the worst ways.
We all experience different seasons of life; different processes we go through, lessons we learn, opportunities we step into. Different jobs, relationships, feelings. I have had some great, and some not-so-great, seasons in my life. There have been many “ups” and many “downs”, and there will be more of both.
There are seasons when I feel like I am in step with God, walking so confidently with Him and talking boldly about who He is and what He has done in my life. I excitedly take opportunities to talk to people about Him or speak in front of crowds about how great, true, and faithful He is. These seasons feel awesome. They are fun. What could go wrong with God on my side?
Then, there are seasons where the opposite is true. Everything goes wrong. I don’t have any confidence in who God is, what He is doing, or who I am. I feel stuck in dark places, I feel out of control, I feel lost. I don’t want to talk to other people about Him, because I certainly don’t have any confidence to share, and quite frankly I am questioning His goodness and faithfulness myself. These times have a way of making me feel like I have jumped backwards in my relationship with God; discounting the good seasons I have experienced. I tend to cling to those bad times more than the good times, and after numerous “downs”, hope begins to fade even during the seasons when I consider myself to be in a “good place”. I get mad at myself, I lose faith in myself, I feel like giving up on myself. Surely that must mean God wants to throw in the towel, too. Enough is enough.
If you can relate, know that you are not alone, and I have some good news for both of us. God is gracious and His sweet endeavor to give us truth does not share our feelings of exasperation. He has been teaching me some great things that combat this type of mentality. Allow me to point out some major flaws in the thought processes I mentioned above:
1. “I’m right back where I started”
This is not possible with a God like ours. God is always moving, using every success and failure as building blocks for the work He is doing in and through us. Our “starting point” is when we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior. We like to base starting points and progress on tangible evidence and choices that we make. While those can definitely be indicators of where our hearts are in a given moment or season, it does not erase what God has done so far in us and it certainly does not take us back to square one. Earthly truth is not God’s truth. When we look through earthly goggles fogged up with feelings, we may be right back “where we were”. But, if we look through God’s goggles, we see a heart that has grown, is growing, and is constantly being molded by the hands of a Creator who only makes good things.
2. “I am never going to get there”
Where exactly is “there”? What does that mean? Do we really know? A flag needs to be thrown when discouragement we can’t even define steps onto the field. “There” is not something we need to strive for. What we need to strive for is Jesus and a relationship with Him. He has “there” in sight, which that is why we need Him and why we can trust Him. It doesn’t make sense to decide we won’t make it somewhere when we have less than even a slight idea of where that somewhere is.
3. “I lose faith in myself”
It’s not the loss of faith that’s the problem here, it’s where the faith was put initially – in myself. Anytime we put our faith somewhere other than in the Lord, we will be let down. Our confidence can be in God, and in God within us. He remains the same, no matter what we do. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” 2 Timothy 2:13. A loss of faith is never something that has to be a part of “failure” if your faith is in the One who cannot fail.
4. “I’m just as sinful as I always have been”
This statement is not incorrect, it’s the false assumption behind it that needs to be corrected. We are human and we have human nature, which is sinful. We will be sinful until we get to Heaven. Hierarchies for sin are dangerous, mainly because it puts our focus on the wrong things. We also need to be careful to separate labels from identity. In Christ, sin is not our identity. We all need the same amount of saving – Jesus’ death on the cross. No more, no less. The goal is not in essence to become less sinful, but rather to get closer to God and therefore simultaneously further from sin; taking hold of His weapons and fighting off temptation with Him instead of by ourselves.
5. “I thought I had a better relationship with the Lord than this”
God’s love for us is not based on what we do or don’t do, and our mistakes do not define who we are in Him. Our relationship with God is founded on the death and resurrection of Jesus, which permanently paid for anything we do to ruin the relationship. It is true that when we sin, we do allow something to come in between us and God, but the relationship from His end does not change at all. He does not back up or turn away. He reaches out to wherever we are and invites us to walk through any barrier, together.
6. “Surely that must mean God wants to throw in the towel, too. Enough is enough.”
God doesn’t have a towel to throw in. He never gives up on us (Matthew 18:12-14). Many of the things we have put in our “trash” folders are the very materials God is using behind the scenes to shape and mold us into the best we can be. He has a way of bringing things full circle, especially things we deem unusable. He combines things that He teaches us in different seasons; those we recognize and the many we don’t. He is constantly building the foundation of what can turn into huge leaps in knowledge, faith, truth and experience.
From the moment we are born God is working. He pursues us, loves us, and when we decide to surrender our lives to Him, He begins change that doesn’t depend on how many things we do “right” or “wrong”. God uses every experience to shape and mold our hearts; even the bad ones, even the ones we create.
Does life always make sense? No way. Am I finished with the ups and downs? Of course not. Are you? Not unless you’re at the Golden Gates. (If you are, and you’re reading this, I’m beyond flattered. Give God a high-five for me. Or, on second thought, go for the chest-bump). Life and humanity combined have a way of tossing our earthly selves around. But He can handle that, and because He can, we can.
He is working. He is moving. You are changing. Our feelings do not dictate His power or His will. Even when we can’t see or feel it, we can trust that He is building something in us and through us that will be far beyond anything we have imagined for ourselves. Moving forward, let’s claim the good times as real.
“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” Philippians 1:6