A mirror never lies. It’s only distortion is that you see yourself slightly different than others see you, because you see your reflection, others see as you are, not your reflection. Every misplaced piece of hair, every wrinkle and line, the mirror shows it all. When I look in the mirror I see my age creeping its way into the laugh lines, and crows feet around my eyes. I see a face that was once plump and soft at a tender twenty years old, that face is now altered significantly. No, the mirror doesn’t lie. It conceals nothing, nothing except maybe the soul.
It is true when they say everything starts falling apart when you’re forty. I’ve seen my doctor more this year than in five years combined I think. From the beginning of January right after turning forty until this very last day of 2014, as I get ready for yet another appointment, I can attest to things in and on my body falling apart, hurting, tweaking, creaking and aches and pains on parts I didn’t know I had. My mind says “sure you can play football on the asphalt with your students,” until I fall, bruise my entire right side and limp for a week! My body isn’t what it used to be.
As I reflect on this past year of being forty, I have become far more intrigued though with what has happened in my soul than how my face and body have changed and aged. As I approached turning forty at this time last year, I was reluctant. My thirties had been delightful in many ways. I didn’t want to let that go. Now, having nearly finished this year of forty and reflecting on the journey that God has taken me on, I wouldn’t trade it for anything! Yet, these past three hundred plus days have been some of the most challenging days in all my life.
Turning forty started out with a question…”Will you follow Me? Will you trust Me no matter what?” My whole life long I’ve had trust issues, for reasons that may never make their way to the page. I’ve trusted God in some areas of my life, but this question was bigger than that. He was asking will I trust Him with everything, with every part of my life? Having been a “believer” most of my life, the answer was a “yes, but…..”. I can say I’m a believer, I can go through all the motions of churchy-ness, and serving, but following is trusting one small step at a time. Trusting is laying it at His feet, and seeing the proof over and over again. It’s coming to the place of understanding that He sees the bigger picture. He knows what He’s doing. It’s learning that when I’m believing that anything outside of His will could possibly be better for me, then I’m believing a lie, believing that His ways aren’t good enough for me. He asked me again….”Will you follow Me? Will you trust Me?” And with a silent nodding yes to my maker the journey of forty began. On faith, trusting Him, I took His hand into the unknown where I have absolutely NO control.
After taking a step in trust, He began to teach me that being a follower doesn’t mean happiness. I can hear all kinds of uproar right now, but hang on. Most of my upbringing and early Christian teachings were founded on the idea that if you do all that God has commanded, if you live the way He wants you to, do the right things, you’ll reap happiness in the end, because He will be more than happy to bless your efforts. Smack the cymbal of the Gong Show someone please, because THAT is SO not what He says in His word. Nowhere did He promise me a life of happiness, of unending emotional, physical and material blessing and bliss. No where! Yet I have believed this lie my entire Christian walk! (Sorry I’m a little angry about the lie right now.) Somewhere I was conditioned to think that as a follower I was entitled to get my way, and be happy all the time. Instead this year, He’s taught me the truth.
I learned (am still learning) that following Him is suffering. Following Him is dying. Dying to myself, my desires, my wants, my needs, my happiness, my dreams, my wishes of bliss. Following Him is letting go of all I’ve ever wanted and laying myself at the foot of His cross. Why? Because He redeemed me there and I’m no longer my own. To redeem, one definition I read is the “buying back of something lost.” So if I’m going to believe enough to accept His forgiveness and pardon from hell, then I must believe enough to give Him all of me, inside and out. I must lay all of me down, and follow where He leads me whether I understand it or not. Whether it makes sense to me or not. Whether it feels good or not. Whether my dreams come true or not. Whether it leads to happiness or NOT!
Now some of you may be thinking I’ve lost my mind and that surely Jesus wants us to be happy. Let us look at the definition of happy and happiness, shall we? Webster’s dictionary defines happy as “feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.” and happiness is defined as “the state of being happy : an experience that makes you happy.” Read them again. The key words that pop out to me are pleasure, enjoyment, life situation, experience. Those are NOT lasting emotions, because those are ever changing things. My life situation can and will change from minute to minute, so will my experiences, they will be both good and bad. And so there ebbs and flows my ability to be happy. Ahhh….but here’s the clincher. Here’s the part that won me over this year. While I may not live in an everlasting state of emotional happiness, I can in any kind of suffering or heartache have JOY! He DID promise me JOY! What’s the difference you ask? Give me a second and I’ll clarify.
Let me go back to the suffering for just a minute. I talked about dying to my needs and selfish desires; That following Christ means to suffer. This year was an internal suffering and dying to self that I have never known. This year I lost count of the nights I spent crying out to Him in loneliness, pain and heartache. The uprooting of selfish desires does NOT feel good, but it is necessary to follow Him. That is why He says to His his disciples, (to all followers), “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24 (ESV). For me this translates to a conversation in my head that goes something like this, “Becky, I know what you want, what you long for and dream about. I know the holes in your heart. I know the pain and the loneliness. But lay that here at my feet daughter. Anything you could possibly dream that you’d want will not compare to what I have waiting for you when you follow me.” Ok so it’s more of a monologue on His part and less a conversation, but that’s what He’s teaching me. That is also why He says, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39. And this then brings me back to JOY.
Joy by definition is similar in layman’s terms to happiness. But in Biblical terms it is so much more! Joy in its purest, truest sense is not something based on fleeting experience or circumstance. But real joy, the one I’ve learned about this year is something that happens in the midst of suffering that can allow you to smile at adversity. This joy is only found in His presence, which is where I’ve spent a great deal of my time this year. If I have to die to self I don’t want to do it alone, I can’t do it alone. And so in my nights of dying to self and crying and letting go, came the joy of His presence. He has proven Himself to be right there with me in the midst of whatever I have faced this year. Joy, unspeakable joy comes in His presence, NOT from an experience or situation. Scripture says, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11(ESV) and “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” Psalm 21:6 (ESV)…how about this one, “For you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” Psalm 63:7 (ESV) But perhaps one of my most favorites is this one…”Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy! Psalm 126:5 (ESV). True joy which I have now known with my Redeemer is hard to describe unless you’ve lived it for yourself. It doesn’t exist in my striving to make myself happy, it only exists in His presence, where I have completely died to myself.
Learning to love as He loves has been the last part of this year’s journey. I posted a blog back in June titled Under the Knife, which spoke specifically about the moment of Christ’s “surgery” on my heart. That moment in time has changed my view on what love is, forever. Love is not about me. It is not about my happiness, it is not about emotion or feeling. Love is not about what I’m going to get out of it. Love is often doing what I don’t feel like doing and many times NOT doing what I feel like doing. Love IS sacrifice. Love IS suffering. Love IS putting the other person’s needs before your own. Love IS looking past faults and imperfections to find the beauty of which God’s hand created in others. Love IS a whole lot of things I knew nothing about and I’ve never lived out before this year. (Read Under the Knife-June post to find out more about what I learned about what love IS.) 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 in speaking of what love is and what love does has never been more real to me than this year. It reads, “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” His love for us never fails. If I am alive in Him, then my love for others need not fail either.
As I reflect on being forty I can see how He’s been intertwining these things in my life this year through different means, relationships and so forth. But each of them, trust, joy in suffering and learning to love His way have made their mark on my heart and have changed this soul forever. Forty was hard, but God is faithful in all things.