On paper, the life I lived a year ago looked good – plenty of serving, self-sacrificing, and putting others first. I was wife, mama, daughter, sister, aunt, teacher, worship leader, friend; the queen of multitasking and having it all. My value came from being the one you could rely on, the one everyone else needed. Life was very busy, very full, and very fast.
But in November, I started to get uncomfortable. The weight of the life I had built in my own proud strength became too much to bear, and I found myself starting to crumble. I wanted to make a change, to have time to love others well, but I had no idea where to start. I had become a slave to productivity, and I felt chained to a life lived in fast forward, facing the impossible future I had created for myself.
The subtle lie of self-confidence and pride whispered in my ear, and I decided that maybe I just needed to toughen up. Besides, I didn’t want to bother God with my problems when there were bigger, more deserving problems that needed His attention. “I’ve got this one, God. I’ll just read a book about being present, cut back on color-coding my to-do lists, and all will be well.”
So for two months, I tried to fix myself. I covered up my fear and resentment with a smile, but the pressure I was feeling wouldn’t go away. I sang songs of hope and victory and broken chains, but all the while my own chains grew heavier. Week after week, the pressure grew, until I finally had to admit the truth: I couldn’t fix this one alone.
I sometimes think in pictures, especially in moments that are too holy, too precious for words to fit. That is how I remember December. I found the end of myself, and it looked like a child crumbled to her knees, overcome with hopelessness and anguished tears. All of my well-intentioned striving was meant to be an offering. It was supposed to be a kingdom-building, dirt-under-my-nails, work-until-it’s perfect offering that I could present to God to make Him love me more. But instead, I was tired, I was empty, and all of the effort I had to give was gone.
With nothing left to offer, I held my emptiness in holy surrender, and found the loving arms of my sweet Abba waiting. His gentleness and faithfulness overwhelmed me. I had finally let my guard down, admitting to Him and to myself how desperately I needed Him. I stopped striving and working and worrying and planning. I confessed that I had been trying to do it all myself, and prayed simply and genuinely for Him to take control, for Him to build the life He wanted for me.
In the days and weeks to come, God didn’t immediately start to restructure my life, despite my continuous prayers for big steps. I yearned for Him to ask me to take leaps of faith to prove my trust in Him, but instead, I found myself in a season of waiting. I didn’t understand at first, but looking back, I see the gift of that time. Instead of asking His child, broken and weary from so much DOING, to immediately DO more, God gave me a season to be still, to be loved, and to learn what it meant to walk in confidence in Him instead of confidence in myself. He gave me a season to deeply and truly feel His love, which began to reshape my identity. I no longer felt loved because of what I could do for His kingdom; I felt loved because I was His child.
In time, my prayer for a big leap of faith was answered with a beautiful, terrifying response. For almost a decade, I had been an educator, teaching and caring for fifth and sixth graders. I loved my job, and I was good at it, but the busyness of balancing that career and the rest of our life had taken a toll on my spiritual life, our marriage, and our family. I wanted nothing more than to be home, with time to love God, my husband, and my family the way I felt called to love them. But my husband and I both have our masters degrees, and despite our hard work in our careers, student loans made living on one income an impossibility. Every year, every promotion, every bonus, we would revisit the numbers; and every year, every promotion, every bonus, my heart would break all over again as the numbers still fell short. Eventually, I gave up hope that I’d ever live a life where paying bills didn’t determine the direction of my days.
But then, God spoke – and told us it was time for me to quit my job.
Based on our own calculations, finances would be tight at best. We knew it would take a loaves and fishes miracle. But God had just answered one of my deepest, most desperate prayers, opening the door for me to be home, for me to have the space to slow down and love well, to be available whenever and wherever He called me, if only we would trust His promises and provision.
It was time for the rubber to meet the road. I had crumbled into pieces just a few months before as I begged Him to take control, and here He was… taking control. I took the leap later that month, with a mix of terror and expectancy, telling my administrator that I would not be returning after the summer. The voice of the bigger, faster, stronger American dream told me it was a mistake to leave my career. Didn’t I know how hard finding a new teaching job could be if this all crashed and burned, how hard it might be to live on only one income? But God had made my next steps clear, and we were determined to live a life of radical faith that left no doubt about God’s ability to provide for His children.
And just like He promised, God has provided. In the months since I quit, we have had unexpected blessings fill in all the gaps- a mortgage payment refund one month, an extra bonus the next – reassuring us that He will always be enough. We don’t know what His plans are for our future- and as a recovering control freak, that should be scary- but with every unexpected blessing, our faith grows, and it becomes less scary and more freeing to not be the one building this beautiful life.
This summer, I led worship at two conferences, something I never would have been able to do if God hadn’t already made the space in my life. During those two weeks, God moved in incredible ways. I experienced decades-in-the-making moments that could only be credited to our perfectly sovereign God, and I was acutely aware that I was living far beyond my own strength or ability the day I awoke with almost no voice, only to later stand on the altar proclaiming loudly and victoriously the power of Jesus’ name. There is nothing more humbling, more heavenly, than the moment you realize you are standing, filled with the breath of God, on the exact holy ground He has ordained.
During those conferences, I was introduced to a song that beautifully puts to music the summation of our last ten months, and our promise for all of our days to come:
”I will build my life upon Your love, it is a firm foundation. I will put my trust in You alone, and I will not be shaken.