The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.
As more regular readers know, I’ve been struggling with a lot of things since my recent move. It’s been hard to feel established and make connections here. (Ohio’s winter weather doesn’t help.) I’ve been anxious, depressed, and lonely, and feeling far from God. I’ve been frustrated because ever since I began to consider leaving Columbus over a year ago, I’ve tried to do the right thing, but often found myself in situations I didn’t want–such as being at my stepdad’s for longer than I intended, and moving back to my hometown instead of someplace more wild and exciting. I thought this was what I was supposed to do, but I felt frustrated at every turn.
This process–especially most recently–has exacerbated old wounds and longtime struggles with beliefs that I have come to have toward myself over the years. Things like: I don’t belong anywhere, I’m not meant to have a purpose and a “niche” in God’s kingdom, I’m unworthy, God doesn’t care about me in particular, I’m unlikeable and worthless and my life is pointless.
For months, one of my best friends has been unfailingly encouraging and telling me that things are eventually going to get better, that God was at work, and that my efforts would see results. This was nice to hear, but I just got more discouraged because things never quite got better. There were good hours and good days here and there, but things did not seem to really change.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord, you will be named ministers of our God. You will feed on the wealth of nations, and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame you will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace you will rejoice in your inheritance. And so you will inherit a double portion in your land, and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them.”
Yesterday, I had a little bit of a breakthrough. I realized that I have been praying for changes in my circumstances, in the hopes that that is what would alter how I think about myself and make everything right. But I realized that, even if things happen the way I want, that won’t change how I see myself. I do have friends who care about me, who are petitioning God on my behalf, who enjoy being around me and want me in their lives. I’m appreciated at my job and I make enough (if not lots of) money. If this hasn’t been enough to change my mind, what will? No change to my circumstances was going to do anything. I had to leave it up to God to make the changes inside me that would alter my thinking and help me lead the life that I was meant to live and be the person I am meant to be. There was absolutely nothing I could do–and I hate hearing that.
With that in mind, I went to the young-adult church service that I’ve been going to for the last few weeks, that I mentioned in this post. There was worship and announcements and I saw S, the girl I met that first night. Then the pastor announced that they were starting a new series of sermons this week. The series title is True Lies: You Are What You Think.
Right away, I think, “Uhh. This sounds…relevant.”
The pastor told a little story to introduce the general idea of the series, but once he got into the actual sermon, I don’t think I stopped quietly crying until it was over.
He talked about how we are constantly bombarded with thoughts and messages, many of them lies: either from Satan/the Enemy, from society, or from ourselves. (You can imagine how much I was thinking of The Screwtape Letters the whole time.) He talked about how discerning truth from lies was important because what we believe, we act on. If we believe a lie, whatever it is, sooner or later that will become some kind of action. Some examples he gave were from his own struggle with pornography, such as, “God is holding out on you,” “It’s not that big a deal,” and, “You can control this.”
He wrapped up the sermon with asking, “What do you believe?” and “Who do you believe?” He then had us all anonymously write down a lie we believe and put them in buckets. The church leaders are supposed to pray over these cards and come back to them next week.
The whole time, I was thinking about how I see myself and what I’ve come to believe, and I was struggling so much. I kept going, “But what if it’s true? What if I’m not wrong? What if what I think about myself is true?” Then I thought, “Why do you want to believe the worst about yourself?” I didn’t have a good answer.
“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.” ~The Screwtape Letters
No one looking at me could have known what was going on in my head (though obviously they would have seen the tears), but I felt raw and exposed. I thought, “Wow, God sure prepped the soil for these particular seeds, didn’t He?” Then I realized, “If I’m here, and this is exactly what I needed to hear, and this could change everything, then God must care if He let this all happen.”
It didn’t stop there. It was the last week to sign up for small groups. I had signed up online, but I went to the signup table because I wanted to make sure they had my info. S was there with her husband, and she said, “Oh, we already have your info. You’re gonna be in A’s group.” (I met A the same night, and I had wanted to be in her group already.) S said, “I told him ‘Emily has to be in A’s group!’” And I was overwhelmed, thinking, “Wow, someone remembered me, and actually did something for me, and is trying to help me fit somewhere.” And then I got in my car and cried most of the way home.
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.
I really need this sermon series, and I needed the experience I had last night. Yesterday I reached the end of my tether and was going “God, I don’t know what You want me to do. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I don’t think there’s anything I can do. Whatever has to happen to my life, You’re going to have to do it.”
I kept thinking about how moving here created the situation that pushed me and frustrated me and drove me to a point that I was completely prepared to receive that sermon. And if I hadn’t moved here, not only might I not have been prepared to hear it, but I wouldn’t have heard it at all. And who knows what other fruit this will bear that I would have missed out on otherwise.
(By the way, did I listen to “Let it Go” on a loop while I wrote this post?