This year has been an adventure for me, in both good and bad ways, but God has still been working in the midst of it all. While God has worked, He has also taught me so much about how to live life in the midst of the chaos that is this world. Here are some of the things God taught me this year:
1) Be grateful for what you have.–In mid-February of this year, much of the city where I lived in, including my family, experienced either a water or electricity (or both) outage for days on end. Before this past winter, I took water and electricity for granted. I did not think about the precious commodity that water and electricity are. I was extremely grateful that during that time, our electricity still worked. However, we did not have running water for about 5 days. Thankfully, God provided snow for us to be able to boil so that we had water to at least flush the toilets.
2) Be compassionate and patient with others.– God showed me the pain and suffering some of the people around me are facing this year, either by the person relating their pain to me or through another person relating that someone they know was going through a tragedy, illness, or emotional distress. Through this, God taught me to be more compassionate to what others may be going through and not get easily angered or upset when people inconvenience me or are rude to me. God also taught me through this that when people snap at me for no good reason, sometimes their anger is not really about me, but about what they are going through at the moment. I don’t need to take it personally, or that they are spiteful.
3) Don’t be so anxious.–God has really been working to help me become less anxious. He allowed me to experience a drop in my performance to test my reaction to it. In the past, when my performance dropped below my expectations (note: NOT my managers’ expectations) or a certain number, I got really worked up and had an upset anxiety to my demeanor. Now when that happens, I may get slightly annoyed, but I do not really think too much about it anymore other than to try better next time. I also learned to anticipate these and other anxiety-provoking situations better, and plan what to do in case an anxiety trigger happens next time, so I don’t completely freak out.
Overall, I think this has been a good year for me, despite still being in a pandemic. I not only learned to be more grateful, to be more compassionate and more patient (but still learning continuously), and to be less anxious, but I also found some places where I could belong and to impact the world for the better.
This is for those who have bore the scars of harsh words and been a target of one who believed the lie that sticks and stones would break their bones, but words would not hurt them…but they still do.
This is for those who have believed the lies of their abusers and bullies that they are not worth anything to this world, and so struggle to find their purpose and their self-worth in life.
This is for those who have tried time and again to accomplish their goals and dreams, but have gotten discouraged and are tempted to give up because of their naysayers and seemingly insurmountable obstacles in their way.
This is for those who want to help a loved one, a friend, an acquaintance or others who have endured verbal assault and abuse and don’t know how.
I can relate to all of you, as I bear the psychological and emotional scars of years of verbal assaults and bullying by some peers and authority figures. I don’t tell my story so that you will feel sorry for me. I tell this story because I am a survivor and hope that by sharing it that other survivors will also triumph over their abusers and be empowered to believe the beautiful truth that God has told them about themselves, and not the verbal assaults and lies of their abusers. I was told by an authority figure that I would never drive and basically not amount to anything. I was told in so many words that I would probably never hold a full time job, that part-time was already an accomplishment for me. I was mocked by several managers when I first learned to operate a register about 15 years ago, because I did so poorly. I was told by a “friend” that I shouldn’t learn to operate a register about a couple years ago because she didn’t think I could handle rude customers or the functions of a register. I was constantly bullied in elementary and middle school about my appearance, race and other things that I had little or no control over.
Today, I still bear some of the psychological and emotional scars of the verbal abuse that I had endured. However, God put several people in my life who helped me to heal and to finally achieve what my abusers and bullies thought I could not. Because of these and other encouragers, I am happy to say that I am on the road to recovery.
Two of the people that came in my life were my mentor Jane* and my former manager Elizabeth*. They both believed in me when others did not. They saw what I could be, and not what I used to be or was. When I asked Elizabeth if I could train to be on the registers, she allowed me to train at least once a week for about 20-30 minutes. Not only that, but she allowed me ample time to acquaint myself with the functions of the register until I could do it efficiently and accurately. She was patient with me and my anxieties, unlike my ex-friend and others who basically told me to just give up on my dreams. My mentor Jane helped me to silence the naysayers and verbal abusers that were in my life by instilling in me a dogged determination and motivation to chase after my dreams. She never gave up on me, or let me give up on myself. For instance, she called various employment agencies to help me get a job in the first place and pushed me to learn how to drive myself without being afraid of failure or getting into an accident. When I got my first job (albeit part-time), I was already immensely grateful to Jane of what she had helped me accomplish. Then, I got another part time job that about seven months later became full time, and that is where I have been ever since. I am extremely indebted to her that I have been able to stay with the company I am at for over five years, which is almost an eternity in retail.
I have learned so much from these two amazing and gracious women. One of the most important things I learned from them is to never give up on yourself even if everyone else gives up on you. To anyone who still has self-worth issues because of the verbal abuse you have endured: Do not give up on yourself! You are not worth what these abusers say you are. They have critical spirits. My pastor said (and I agree with him) that a critical spirit is one who say things to others in order to destroy them or tear them down. Often what is coming out of the mouths of those with a critical spirit towards you are lies from the pit of hell itself. In fact, in John 10:10 (KJV), Jesus referring to the devil as a thief, says Satan comes “but for to steal, and to kill and to destroy.” You could say that the people putting you down with a critical spirit are working with the devil! Don’t believe them. The devil is a defeated foe! And so will everyone who works with him to tear others down.
More importantly, these women have taught me that God can still use people who have failed or don’t meet the expectations of others. During the time when I was too afraid to drive and was struggling to find consistent work, I never thought God could use me the way He has. I thought I was going to have to rely on others for almost everything and that I was never going to make any real contribution to society. However, God has proven over and over again that He works miracles and that there is hope to overcome past trauma and failures and learn from them. It may be a long road to healing, but even starting on that path is very much worth it as I can attest today. Even telling your story of how you survived past trauma and lived to tell about it is a big accomplishment.
I hope by telling my story that those who have endured abuse and survived will share their stories of how they have endured and triumphed and give hope to others who are still struggling and are still being oppressed by their abusers. Because by telling our stories, we have the power to create awareness of what our abusers wanted to silence for so long.
*=names have been changed to protect the privacy of the people mentioned.
I can somewhat relate to Simone Biles, but on a smaller scale, of course. I can relate to the feelings of being overwhelmed and being pressured to be the Best by oneself and those around you. I can also relate to the feeling that you have let everyone down if and when you fail. I can relate to the burdens of having to conform to 1,080 (a hyperbolic estimate) or so expectations of you placed by those around you. However, God used my feelings of stress and overwhelm to teach me many things about being human and coming back stronger.
Last year, in late October, I became so overwhelmed with the pressures and stress of work that I had to take a leave of absence from work. I had just moved from the state where I lived in all my life, about six months prior, and suddenly I felt like everyone had just abandoned me because I didn’t meet their expectations. Additionally, since this was in the midst of the pandemic, I could not attend church or meet new people. I thought my life was over.
However, even though I had significant stress even in my leave, one of the good things God brought me from this situation is to make time for self-care. Often, Olympic athletes like Simon Biles and Kerri Strug are pressured to do so much for others’ viewing pleasure that they are forced to neglect rest and self-care. This needs to change. The Bible says self-love is wrong and is one of the negative qualities listed in 2 Timothy 4. However, I don’t think the Bible means that taking care of one’s physical and emotional health is wrong. What I think was meant by that passage in 2 Timothy is one that is self-indulgent to the point where they neglect others’ needs or that they love themselves in such a way that they become vain and self-serving. Also, not taking care of one’s own emotional and physical needs in order to meet someone else’s expectations could also be considered the self-love that is condemned in the Bible because we are withholding part of ourselves just so that people would see us a certain way or as stronger than we really are.
Another good thing that I learned during my time off work last year is to not worry so much about other people’s expectations of me. One of the things my friend Alex taught me is to be more comfortable in being who God has created me to be, and to weed out those who try to change me into the image that they think I should be. What if we valued these Olympic athletes, and more importantly, those we say we love and cherish the most, by demonstrating in word and deed that they are loved unconditionally? After all, the Lord also loves us unconditionally. It even says in Romans 5:8, “ But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (KJV).” Even when we were yet sinners, God loved us. Even when we were actively rejecting Him and His ways, He still loved us.
I still struggle with not worrying about others’ expectations of me, but I am seeing some light at the end of the tunnel. I am becoming more confident in how God made me, and this has in turn made me more able to minister to others who are struggling.
Through this trial, God also taught me to not be paralyzed by my fears. He has helped me through times even more recently where I felt like my performance at work wasn’t as good as it could be, and not delve into the belief that I am a complete failure. God has made me realize that being true to myself and glorifying Him are more important than meeting all the metrics that people may expect me to meet. Yes, I still want to do the best I can at work performance-wise, but I don’t want to stress if I cannot do as well as I (or others) may expect or want of me. I can also remember what one of my managers said to me, “ I assure you that all of the management team know your work ethic and how consistent you are so don’t stress out if you have a slower [performance] occasionally.”
I also wish all the Olympians and anyone else who feels pressured to perform at a certain rate would know that it is OK to fail sometimes or not be able to be the Best all the time. I wish those around them would remind them that they are still worthy as human beings even when they show vulnerabilities and shortcomings because we all do. No human is perfect, but every human has intrinsic value. That is what I ultimately learned during my time off work last year.
Dedicated to my friend Alex, who taught me how to let go of all that holds me back and to love freely
I have found that as I go through life, I have not been able to do everything that I wanted, say everything I have wanted to my loved ones, or even see everyone I have wanted to see at certain times in my life. I had to learn to let go of these expectations and desires. In fact, my pastor said, to a mostly younger audience, something like, “Don’t wait until you’re old to let go of things. Do it now while you are still young.” He also explained that as one ages, that one has to let go of more things, until things, both literal and figurative, fall out of their grasp. The three main areas I am learning and/or have learned to let go include: a.) past hurts and offenses. b) my possessions c.) my expectations, with c , being the toughest for me to release.
When I was even a decade younger, I had the most difficult time letting go of grudges. I would hold on to internal anger for years, if I deemed the offense serious enough to merit that much wrath. Every time I would see the person or person that hurt me, I had a mixture of terror and disgust. This grudge-holding greatly impaired my ability to fully be myself even around my closest friends. I was afraid that they, too, would hurt me, like my offender did. However, about a year and a half ago, I was able to finally let go of the grudges I had against several people. I remember that my grudge against one person was so bad, that I thought of how angry and hurt I was, even in church! The anger was so intense; I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. The grudge I had against them became all-consuming. When I finally saw the light and let go of my grudge, I found that I was able to feel compassion and even love for them. I realized I didn’t want to die holding a grudge against anyone. I wish I had let go of my grudges earlier, because I would have been a much easier person to be around. I would have become less bitter and less angry. I want to be able to love freely without a barrier between anyone else and me.
I have also been learning how to let go of some of my possessions. One of my friends has had to let go of almost everything he once owned or stewarded, including things he treasured. However, in letting go of these things, he has learned that he is able to love more freely. Through him, and what he has given me, I have learned that it is truly more blessed to give than to receive! Also, over time, certain things that I have had in my possession have either broken or gotten old. I have also learned to let go of certain material possessions because I know someone else needed it more than I did. In my sophomore year of high school, I remember getting really upset because someone had stolen my yearbook with people already having signed it! I recently gave my dad my old mp3 player because he needed one for our last vacation. Although that one is better than the one I have now, I don’t have much regret because I know that mp3 player will bless my dad. Over the years, through church and my jobs, I have learned the value of generosity and sharing, and that it is not good to hold on to “stuff” too tightly. One of the congregants in my church had described the process of letting go of stuff in this analogy:
Everything we own is on a big conveyor belt—our cars, our televisions, our houses, our food, etc. We are also on the conveyor belt enjoying our stuff. The conveyor belt is moving very slowly. In fact, it is moving so slowly, you don’t even realize it’s moving. But then, at the very end of the conveyor belt is a dumpster. Everything we own is ultimately going to be put in the dumpster—to be thrown away. Then, we get off the conveyor belt. The ‘getting off’ part signifies our passing from the earth.
The last thing that I am learning to let go (and still struggle with releasing) is my expectations. I absolutely hate it when circumstances turn out worse than I expect! For instance, I expect a day at work to be easy, but then it turns out to be a really stressful one. I tend to get upset at God and everyone else when that happens. One thing that I used to get really upset about is when I expect traffic to be smooth, but it turns out to be very jammed. However, when I went to where my relatives lived, I had to deal with consistently jammed traffic almost every day I was there. This situation helped me to let go of my expectation that traffic always be smooth every time I wanted to go somewhere, and also appreciate the relatively good traffic system here! Yesterday, I expected to be able to buy a book I needed for a class/bible study I’m taking at church. However, since my pastor (who was substituting for the pastor and teacher of this class/bible study) couldn’t find the books that the teacher had ordered, I will have to wait until at least Sunday to be able to get them. At first I admit I was a bit annoyed, but I quickly was able to enjoy and learn from my pastor without really worrying about the book. I learned that sometimes I have to adjust and make the best of the situation at hand, and not get upset and complain that things should be different. I also recently learned that even through these tough situations, God is still there for me and will give me the grace to handle these situations in a godly manner.
Everyone has to let go of, at least, some things in life. Even though we may not be able to do everything we want, say everything we want to say, or even see our loved ones and friends sometimes, we still can be content in our circumstances by letting go of the expectation that we have to get what we want when we want it. In letting go, I am realizing more and more, that there is a freedom in just letting things be. What do you need to let go of today? What are some things that you struggle or have struggled with letting go? Feel free to discuss in comments.
A recent study by Cigna found that about half, or one out of every two Americans, feels lonely. (1). In the age where everyone and everything seem more closely connected than ever, especially by the Internet and social media, this statistic is particularly alarming. Moreover, a study by the CDC, found that suicide rates are also increasing by as much as 30% over the past decade (2). In fact, during junior high through my sophomore year in high school, when I felt the loneliness, I often had suicidal ideations. Thankfully, God, in His mercy and sovereignty didn’t allow me to go through with that option.
We were all created for community. Even when Adam was
surrounded with animals, God acknowledged his need to be surrounded by at least
one other person when God said in Genesis 1:18 (KJV), “It is not good that the
man should be alone.” So, after that God created Eve from Adam’s rib. Even
Jesus, in order to fulfill the purpose which the Father had for Him, had to be
surrounded by people, at least some of the time. Believers in Christ or not, we are all
created to be with at least one other person. This doesn’t have to be in the
context of a romantic or marital relationship, but we do need some kind
of relationship with another to truly be content with our lives.
When I was growing up, I didn’t really feel connected with
my community at school and I rarely attended church. As I consequence, I
struggled on and off with loneliness throughout most of my childhood. Many people, especially the younger
generation, sadly feel the same way I did when I was growing up.
Though we are, in some ways, more connected to each other
than ever, through phenomena like globalization and the Internet, we can also
be more isolated. While we may have more
virtual connections, our face-to-face connections as a society have
suffered. Because many people may see
that their face-to-face connections are suffering, instead of confronting this
problem head on, they may be tempted to retreat into virtual reality. For instance, in my personal life, I found
that when I am stressed and/or feel lonely, I tend to isolate myself more.
One of the things that God has taught me through all that,
is not to isolate. For instance, about two weeks ago, I was so depressed I
couldn’t get out of bed to go to church!
However, later I decided I should try to go the evening Sunday school
class at church, so maybe I’d feel better.
Not only did I feel better, but some of my friends were able to help me
through what had been causing me to feel depressed in the first place! Also, when we are part of a community, there
is place for both accountability and vulnerability. (Yes, there are toxic
communities where people will not feel safe to be vulnerable or accountable. In
that case, I would find another, more genuine community, and not give up until
I found the right one.) . In a community, we can learn from one another, be
accountable, and can encourage one another. That is why, in Hebrews 11: 25,
Christians are encouraged not to forsake the assembly of believers (i.e…Don’t
neglect your local church community).
Another thing that God has been teaching me about combating
loneliness is the connection between being lonely and the temptation to forge
idols. I know several people who have
turned to idols, whether it be smoking, workaholism, alcoholism, gambling, or a
number of other life-dominating vices, because they sensed a void, or
loneliness, in their lives. One of my
pastors said that the reason that many people turn to idols because they have a
mistrust of some aspect of the character of God.
So, God has been teaching me, that In order to combat true
loneliness, I need to forsake any idols that I have used as a “filling in” for
any of my perceived feelings of loneliness.
One thing that I have realized combats both the loneliness and idolatry
is basking in God’s presence and learning about and believing His character. In my class that I attend Thursday nights at
church, when I learned about God’s steadfast love and that He would never leave
or forsake me, through Scripture, I found that I became more joyful and more
aware of His presence in my life. It goes without saying, that I no longer felt
stressed or lonely that day, in dealing with life. Also, I was surrounded by a
community of believers that were able to help and/or teach me to overcome some
of my temptations to idolatry, so I would be less likely to fall into that trap
God has also been teaching me that some people are lonely
because they feel afraid to forge connections with others, even though they may
crave it. This may be due to a number of
reasons, but one of the major reasons I found in what I have observed with
people around me, is that people don’t want to forge connections because they
are afraid of getting emotionally wounded by another person again. They have been wounded, manipulated, and/or
betrayed by so many people in their lives; they would rather risk loneliness
than be abused again. I don’t blame them for this reaction, but ultimately it
will ruin them as well. I used to be one
of these people who was afraid to be vulnerable and really connect with others,
and thus, I was constantly depressed and lonely. However, I found that when I
became vulnerable and was able to be myself that I not only became less lonely,
but I also became more confident of who I was and where I was going in
life. So, how was I able to be more
“real” and “vulnerable” with others?
First of all, I surrounded myself with people that really had my best
interests in mind and were supportive and caring, even in my darkest
times. I also strived to forgive those
who had hurt me somehow. For instance, I forgave several managers at work who I
had bitterness and anger against for a long time. Since a lot of people
respected them, I sometimes felt alone.
However, when I let go of my bitterness and start to consciously think
good things about them, not only did I not feel alone anymore, my relationships
with these managers also started to improve dramatically! Also, in order to not feel lonely for a
prolonged period of time, we must persevere in forging relationships with
others, even though it may be difficult at times. People may irritate us, be
rude to us, or treat us unkindly, but that doesn’t mean we should give up on
relationships completely. Also, God may
want us to learn something, even if it is how not to be, from these rude or irritating people.
We were not created to be alone. That is why children and
adults who are isolated from others for a long period of time, may have
irrevocable damage and trauma from that experience. However, when we experience
true unity among one another, we can find love, joy, fulfillment, and community
in our lives that gives us purpose and hope for this hurting, broken world.
I believe that most of our problems in relationships stem from an “I-deserve-better” attitude. This past Friday (at the time of this writing), a disgruntled former employee opened fire and killed five of his co-workers at a manufacturing facility, about a half hour from where I live. I attest one of the reasons why he got so angry was because he thought he truly deserved the job, and when his bosses fired him, everything in this former worker unraveled before him. Though most of us would not murder when we don’t get what we think we deserve, we can still get tempted to get similarly angry when our “rights are being violated” or we think we aren’t “getting the good we deserve in this life.” This causes us, me included, unfortunately, to become defensive and angry at those around us…and even at God. However, a good thing to keep in mind, especially if you are a follower of Christ, is, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17a) and that we don’t really deserve anything! When we have a mindset that everything good in this life is undeserved and is a gift of grace from above, this entitlement attitude starts to disappear. However, in the society we live in, especially if you live in a Western country, this entitlement attitude is deeply ingrained in us, me included, that I think we need to learn how to embrace the “gift” mentality instead. Here are some things that I have learned about why we should strive to treat whoever and whatever comes our way as gifts, not as something “owed” to us.
When we think we are entitled to someone or something, we
are not acknowledging that God really owns it all. However, when we acknowledge that everything
we get is a gift from God, we are recognizing His control and His power over
our lives—an important aspect of true worship. My pastor said today that we
must be willing to be a living sacrifice in order to truly worship God, and
part of being a sacrifice is relinquishing our rights to His control. If you work, even the money we “earn” from
your job is a gift because it is God who gave you the abilities and skills to
do your job well enough to be able to sustain employment and thus a paycheck! I
wonder if the recent shooting on Friday could have been avoided if, when the
man who shot five people at his job got fired, instead of getting angry at this
perceived injustice, he just appreciated the money he had already gotten from
his job and just appreciated the gifts he still had in his life more.
When we see everything we have as a gift, and not something
that someone “owes” us, we become more able to be content with life, even with
its caveats and imperfections. Think
about how it feels when you get a gift that you totally do not expect or
deserve. Not only are you most likely to
feel intense joy, but also, more likely, an overwhelming sense of gratitude and
humility towards the person who gave you the gift. When we strive to approach our lives the same
way, each blessing we get will cause us to feel joy and gratitude. However, when we think we are owed something
or that we “earned” something, we are not as grateful because whatever we get
is our due, anyway, or so we believe. This is why most of us get upset when we
don’t feel we are getting what we perceive is owed us. We see it as an
injustice, a violation of our moral rights.
However, if we take away the “scoreboard” in our souls of things supposedly owed us,
this anger has no longer has any place to reside, and will melt away.
When we see everyone and everything that is given to us as a
gift, we tend to value them more. For
instance, if my friend gives me something that I perceive is from his or her
heart and that is not owed me, I tend to want to take better care of it, so
that I don’t lose the preciousness of the gift.
This not only applies to material gifts, it also applies to treating
each person as a gift from above. When
we treat each person as a gift from above, instead of someone or something
disposable or suited only to meet our needs, we tend to treat them better. I have witnessed and heard in many different
workplaces, unfortunately, of people being treated like disposable objects, or
at best, tools, if you will, instead of the precious, complex image-bearers of
God they are. This mentality seems to be
growing worse and more prevalent, not only in workplaces, but also in other
social constructs as well. However, when
we go against the grain and strive to treat each person we encounter as the precious
gifts they are, we can not only touch lives, we can change the world around us
for the better.
When we acknowledge everything we get is a gift, not
something we are owed, we are most ready to worship God rightly; we are more
likely to be content and grateful with our lives, and we will value those
around us more. This week God has been
teaching me over and over again that everything I get from Him is a gift, and
not something I could really deserve or earn.
When I realize all that has been given to me, I realize that I am
blessed beyond measure by a God who gives me more than I could ever deserve.