My husband and I have both been reflecting on the amazing perspective afforded by gratitude and the way that reflecting on our blessings even in the midst of hardship, fear, and sadness can be deeply healing and refreshing.
But that perspective is often lost on me.
It’s really tempting to look around and idolize other peoples’ lives, to assume that they’re better, perfect, or more satisfying than my own.
But this is but a distraction from a vital, necessary, but often perplexing step to contentment: acceptance.
It wouldn’t even matter how perfect someone else’s life is or isn’t, because it’s not mine.
And while this kind of language often sounds like settling or becoming complacent with unhappiness, you’d be surprised how freeing it is to rule out the pressure of living anyone else’s life but yours. We simply can’t be anyone else or live anyone else’s life but our own and by embracing that fact, suddenly a bit of the dissonance clears and we are free to focus on what we’ve been given, what we are thankful for, and what we might want to change.
Lately I’ve been trying to be passionately committed to embracing my own life as it is. And when I look around with eyes for only my life, I realize how richly God has blessed me and how thrilled I am to be living this life that is uniquely my own. I try (though I don’t always succeed) at even embracing the hard stuff, the bad with the good, praising God for it all. And when I reflect on who God has uniquely called me to be in this life, there’s also some wonder in the clarity. Things that do not help me fulfill that purpose can fall by the wayside; things that can help me serve God more fully can be added.
Try it this weekend.
Take a few moments to let the lives of others’ around you fade into the background and focus on embracing your life as it is. What can you see that perhaps went unnoticed before? Where is God fiercely, actively, passionately loving you in your life now? How can you better serve God with the life and the resources you have? How can you maintain that attitude of gratitude everyday?
Well, operation-complete-a-revision-of-the-first-draft-of-the-dissertation-before-the-baby-comes is in full swing!
On Friday, armed with decaf coffee and hot cocoa, I tackled the first chapter and am happy to report that while it’s not perfect, it’s light years from where it was. I have a lot of motivation, of course, with a baby on the way. Plus, I’m signed up for a dissertation bootcamp through the writing program next week, and I really believe I can do this.
Still, there’s nothing like a baby to put your plans in perspective–to help you realize that your plans are yours and well, God’s are God’s. I sometimes imagine God chuckling, “Just try to control the timing of this baby, just try.”
I’m happy to report that I have a draft of my dissertation–all five body chapters–and am working to make revisions to these before the baby comes. Throughout the pregnancy, even though I haven’t felt great, I’ve been really active, continuing my normal runs (albeit shorter and slower) along the canal, and I’ve had a fair amount of energy, which I’ve been really thankful for.
Still, it’s been discouraging to hear unsolicited advice and comments from strangers or acquaintances warning that I’ll “get nothing done after the baby comes,” or that the energy, productivity, and passion that I have for my dissertation project will necessarily fall by the wayside.
I can’t anticipate what it’s like to have a baby.
I imagine it will be an uncanny mix of exhaustion, joy, and fear, and schedules and priorities will necessarily have to shift, but I have no way of knowing what’s really coming. It’s a completely new experience for my husband and I, and so these comments have, on occasion, sprouted little seeds of doubt about myself and the life and passions I seemingly will have to give up for a new baby.
I’ve been noticing, however, that I’m not a stranger to the unknown, and that through all the unknowns in my life, God has been decidedly faithful, providing possibilities I, myself, could have never foreseen. It’s been helpful as I approach the unknown of having a child to remember how my husband and I felt, for instance, before going to live in China. We had no idea what to expect, and yet, we prepared as best we could, seeking counseling, reading books, imagining potential conflicts, difficulties, and pitfalls, as well as looking forward to the excitement of a new experience.
I recently read a blog post about productivity from Zen Habits in which the author describes anxiety as a lack of trust in the future. While I think this makes sense, I don’t necessarily see a reason to trust the future per say, but I do want to be a person who trusts God with my future. God sees possibilities for us that we can’t, but we often struggle to let God be God when it comes to the future. For instance, the teaching experience that I just completed at Drew that was so formative for me wasn’t even on the radar until summer last year. If I had panicked and chosen something else, I would have missed out on one of God’s possibilities.
It’s funny how this kind of trust in God can impact not just the future, but the present. For instance, when I realized that the negative voices of strangers often came from a place of anxiety themselves, I gradually began to also hear the confidence and encouragement of friends who know me well. My spiritual director told me she’d never been more productive than when she had a newborn who slept all the time, my advisor never wavered from believing that I could complete both a dissertation and have a baby, and my friends only seem to be more supportive of me now that my husband and I are embarking on this new season in life. It means so much to have God using these friends and mentors to remind me who I am during this time.
I love a challenge–I always have, from that first trip to Mexico in high school to our life in China, to writing a dissertation, and finally having a baby–these are all things that at one point seemed impossible that God made possible. And so here I am, over eight months pregnant, working on a dissertation, expecting a baby, and wondering what possibilities God has in store for this coming fall.
And with God by my side, I hardly feel anxious.
It’s this challenge of faith, trusting the future to God, and leaning on God to yield contentment and peace in the present, that’s keeping me grounded, confident, and filled with gratitude. I don’t think contentment is about sliding into complacency. On the contrary, it’s about living faithfully with the uncertain, another challenge that God’s been guiding me through these past years. I just keep marveling on how much God can do with our lives when we bow them at God’s feet rather than wresting them from a God who wants to show us possibility.
How do you trust God with your future? How do you find contentment in your present? How do you worship God with your life?