Seeing God Through the Trees

Have you ever heard the saying, “Don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees”? I don’t that well — I tend to see the trees and lose sight of the forest. I get into a “furrowed brow” mentality (that’s the only way I know to describe it) where my nose is to the grindstone, I’m focused, and getting things done. And typically when I stay in that mentality for long enough, I start to get weary and discouraged and frustrated.

This year I’ve seen myself go through this cycle almost every week. Energy & excitement leads to initiation and eager pursuit of people, events, and ideas and ways to improve and grow. That leads to a lot of work (the ‘furrowed brow’- planning, delegating, answering questions, getting to know people, asking questions, following up, studying and researching, thinking, budgeting, problem solving, errand running, etc.) and usually a jam packed schedule that leaves me little room to plan ahead, rest, or connect with close friends and family. That leads to any little thing that is added to my plate feeling like an enormous burden. That leads to me feeling bitter (like I’m misunderstood or taken advantage of), discouraged (like what I’m already doing isn’t enough), and weary (like I can’t and/or don’t want to keep going). That leads me to trying to figure out why I’ve gotten to the place I am, which is typically not helpful at that point because I’m not seeing clearly. That leads to me taking a big chunk of time to get things right in my heart with the Lord. And that leads me to being refreshed and full of energy and excitement. And the cycle begins again. This seriously happens on a weekly basis.

I feel like I’m bipolar.

I’m not kidding.

This past week I sat in an RD meeting and was able t0 hear from my fellow RDs about their lives and what they’ve been learning. During that time something occurred to me. I’ve been spending the past 5 months trying to figure out how I can stop being so up and down and always be up. I’ve felt discouraged that there isn’t more joy or happiness or freedom in my heart. I’ve been praying and begging God for joy, love, and help on a consistent basis. But somewhere in the midst of that meeting I realized that the fact that I am ever up and only sometimes down may very well be a testimony to the grace of God in my life.

See, two years ago when I decided to apply to be a Resident Director at TMC, I knew it was going to be hard. I walked into it knowing that it would cost me freedom, and that my life would no longer be my own, and girls would force me to be flexible and generous, whether I liked it or not. I knew I was giving up a lot and signing up for a life that wouldn’t be easy. I wrote a draft of a blog post at the time that I never published. Here is some of what I wrote June 1, 2008:

There are a lot of things I’m excited about in getting to be an RD but there’s another part of the job that I am increasingly aware of that will be painful and costly. There will be nights that I’ll be at the emergency room until 3 AM and nights that all I will want to do is go to sleep and I will be kept up by some discipline issue that I wish I didn’t have to deal with. There will be conversations about massive hurts and pains that I won’t be able to change, the calls to repentance that I won’t be able to force, and a pace of life that I won’t be able to control.

I’m on my way to a coffee shop to begin thinking through some of the things I want to be purposeful about in my ministry at the college. In light of this planning, I’m thankful that I was warned again today that “neither knowing or showing Christ is cheap.”

So I definitely knew what I was signing up for and that it would be costly. Gunner, the Dean of Men, (who always seems to be full of very memorable quotes) once said, “Ideas are great because they don’t have burdens. But actions have burdens, they come at a cost, they have scars.” I’ve come to find that the idea of being an RD didn’t have the burdens, costs, and scars that the reality of being an RD has.

This is why this past week I realized that God has been very gracious to me to allow me to enjoy something that I naturally shouldn’t really enjoy. I’m naturally a very selfish, greedy person with my time and money. I love the praises of men, love to be loved, and fear criticism and rejection. That means this job should be a living nightmare for me but instead I actually enjoy things about being an RD that make what I give up pale in comparison at times. I’m starting to see that He’s been sanctifying and transforming my heart to get me to a place where this kind of work would be pleasant and enjoyable to me at all. It’s a testimony of His grace because I’m constantly being asked to give my life away and in my flesh I want to hold on to every bit of my life I can.

In the midst of the late nights and early morning text messages, the knocks on the door and constant chatter & talking, the fire drills and meetings, silly dorm events and school functions, the planning and training and counseling and teaching, the lending of my home and my things, God is constant in His faithfulness to refresh, encourage, and strengthen me each new week. He has become a real refuge and source or strength to me during this season. He’s also given me girls who I care about and enjoy, who make me laugh and patiently bear with me, cover my weaknesses and sins in love, serve me and are kind to me, who somehow seem to love me in spite of who I am, invite me to do things with them, write me lovely little notes, thank me for my service and dedication, who are willing to share their burdens and struggles with me, ask me for advice & listen to my counsel, who appreciate what I do and tell me how I’ve helped them, who I get to see turning away from sin and toward Christ, who care for me in small ways that are significant to me and care for me personally as their friend. I’m very aware that I’m privileged to get to experience that kind of encouragement and sustenance in ministry. I can’t imagine what it must be like for missionaries who labor for decades without seeing any fruit — that makes me realize how very weak I still am.

So I guess what I realized is, I’m not yet what I will be. The reason for the up and down is because I’m still in the painful process of sanctification where I sin. I start to see what I’m sacrificing and the cost of what I do and begin to lose perspective. I don’t know what is right and wise, or I don’t like the messiness of it all and start clinging to my life and rights and possessions and slowly & subtly implode each week. But, I’m not what I once was. That is why I have “up” days at all. If you dropped me into this life on me 4 years ago, I would jumped right out because I wanted my life to be easy and painless even though I knew I shouldn’t. Christ has brought me to a place where I love and enjoy serving Him more today than I did then, so I’m able to sit in it just a little bit longer. God has stretched and strengthened me to a point where I’m happy to sacrifice and lose more today than I was 4 years ago. That means that being able to love and enjoy the ministry I’m able to do for a good 3-4 days at a time instead of imploding right away is a mark of grace.

I trust that in time I’ll get to the point where I’m thinking less and less of myself, where I’m stronger and able to endure more and more, growing in patience and love, progressively less earthly and more heavenly minded, less focused on the faults of others, and through that I’ll be able to enjoy ministering and serving (wherever and in whatever capacity that may be) even more than I am today. Perhaps the energy and enthusiasm and joy will last 5-6 days instead of 3. Or maybe even a few weeks. And that’s because God is gracious. Without His grace, I wouldn’t have a ministry and I wouldn’t have days at all.

So I’m learning to see my being cyclically up and down in this season as a generous gift from the Lord. That He would be so kind to change my heart & desires in a way that makes His work pleasant for any length of time is an incredible gift to a poor and undeserving beggar like me.

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