Is my life truly mine?

“I wanted to be the captain of my own ship. I used to let circumstances control my emotions, and anxiety/worry would determine my happiness.”

Most often our perception of our own autonomy defines us; we seek solace and find comfort in our capability to function without need of others.

I grew up fostering the mentality that life truly began after high school. Upon entering college my aim shifted, and I just knew that life would really start after graduating college. Now in living life post-graduation I realize life began long before I started living it. My purpose then was dependent on my perspective of my place.

I found my identity in what I felt were my accomplishments:

  • Graduating with Honors meant I was intelligent.
  • Having a relationship meant I was lovable.
  • Having friends proved I was personable.
  • Working multiple jobs at once showed I was better than the average worker.

And I would gladly boast in all of these things. I was the one-upper if you thought you had it bad I would chuckle inside and think yeah right: try living my life.

What is twisted is that I created my hardship just to brag about it and give myself worth.

My identity was found in anything but Jesus. I was living for likes and acknowledgement, a slave to the functional savior called accolades.

I had misconceptions of what it meant to live for Christ- evident by the fact that I wasn’t living for Him at all. This culminated in four areas of my life: Prayer, Purpose, Peace, and Perspective.

Prayer:

Sure, I prayed- when I needed something, when I wanted to escape the consequences of my actions, when I had nowhere else to turn. My prayers were self-seeking and shallow at best.

Purpose:

My purpose was to impress people by them seeing all I was doing with my life. My purpose was to prove people wrong who had misjudged my character, or to spite those who make wrongful assumptions about my identity.

Peace:

My peace was dependent on my circumstances. If things were going great in a relationship- ahhh life was good (that is until the next argument or feeling of insecurity). If my grades were all A’s I could breathe (at least until midterms/finals week). As long as the road was smooth- I was down for the ride. Any first sign of bumps- I’d run around like Chicken Little. My emotional stability was a direct result of my circumstances.

Perspective:

I was a fence-looker. Everything looked better for those around me than my own life. I would secretly scope out social media posts, pictures, and people like they were competition. I wanted to measure up to the standards I had felt society had put in place. I started to put only my best foot forward by highlighting minuscule events in my life and making them seem grandiose- filtering a facade to appear authentic. I was comparing everyone else’s highlight reel to my behind the scenes, and I could never be good enough- so I just started to fake it.

What do all of these categories have in common? They all stemmed from self-centeredness. It was always a worry of how things would affect ME, not how I would affect others or how my actions should be part of a grander story than just my own.

Thankfully God is a gracious God, and giving my life to Him started to change my inward focus to an upward focus- with my eyes on Christ. The four realms of my life began to take a different weight in my heart, and I started to realize the true reason for living- to know Christ and make Him known (John 17:22-23).

PRAYER

Prayer should be my first response and not my last resort. Even when I don’t know what to pray for- or how to pray for it- I know if I just let my heart be still, God still receives my prayers. Romans 8:26-27 says: the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”

I started to look at examples of prayer in the Bible, specifically how Paul prays- such as in Ephesians, Romans, and Philippians. There is always greater purpose in Paul’s prayers, and they are not self-seeking. I’ve learned to ask myself this question- How far would the Kingdom of God advance if all of my prayers were answered? Would I be the only one benefiting from my prayers if they were answered? I need to remember to pray with the right motives in mind (James 4:3).

PURPOSE

What am I living for? I can be a huge success in terms of society and still fail at what matters most. I think of this when teaching my students. Some students are constantly busy in class- they just aren’t on task. What should my priorities consist of?

If I think what God wants for me is just for me to be happy- I am sorely mistaken. I shouldn’t equate obedience with happiness, but rather God grants me joy despite my circumstance (Philippians 4:13). But my circumstances have a greater purpose. We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. -Romans 5:1-5

I used to think how I treated others had nothing to do with MY relationship with Christ. But I learned how I treat others is not only a reflection of Christianity to whom I encounter, it is also an indicator of my relationship with God (1 John 4:20). Every human is made in the image of God (the imago dei- Genesis 1:27), thus deserving the same patience and love that I give those close to me. A new commandment I give you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35) It is easy to love those close to me, but I can truly start to reflect Jesus when I begin to show love and pray for those whom seem hard to love at times. Being spiteful towards people definitely doesn’t show them God’s love, and I’m learning that I won’t always receive appreciation or credit for showing love for people, and that’s OK.

PEACE

I wanted to be the captain of my own ship (FORGE reference!) I used to let circumstances control my emotions, and anxiety/worry would determine my happiness. I wanted to understand situations before I could rest in them. But God’s word says I don’t have to understand everything to have peace. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:6-7. Being a Christian doesn’t mean I won’t have storms, it just means I have a boat that no storms can sink.

I receive peace through Christ, knowing that I am saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), not in my performance or by trying to earn God’s love; this gives me a confidence and peace (John 14:27). Obsessing over the intricate details of my life was a forte, and I spent so much time worrying and wanting to understand each and every situation and why it was happening to me (Luke12:25). When I have peace in Christ, I no longer have to subject myself to emotionally influenced impulsive behavior.

What I failed to understand was that I was not the artist of my life; God is an impressionist painter. What seems vague to me is an intentionally placed brushstroke on the canvas of my soul. I can be secure without wavering. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.- Ephesians 4:14

I can’t pray and worry at the same time. Fear shows my lack of trust in God. I came to God with my requests and agenda and clung so tightly around my desires that I had no open hand to receive what God had for me. God is so much more than I can even fathom (Ephesians 3:20; Psalm 36:5; Psalm 119:90; 2 Thessalonians 3:3). Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. -Hebrews 10:23

PERSPECTIVE

Two words: Social Media. It is the current driving force of discontentment in America. I placed my worth in things and appearance, and completely forgot to look at myself through the lenses God sees me with.

I used to think if I had the life/time/money/spouse other people did I could be happy. I needed to stop comparing my behind-the-scenes to everyone else’s highlight reel; I had to start running my own race God had set before me (Hebrews 12:1-2).

I can’t run the race properly if I have my eyes on someone else’s lane- I begin to veer off track. “Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding”.  2 Corinthians 10:12. I should focus less on looking like the people on my newsfeed and more on looking like Jesus.

I constantly filter my life, and the more filtered my life become (both on and off screen), the more difficult it is to stay authentic. Partially because I would constantly reach benchmarks of what I felt defined success, which led to higher benchmarks “ it’s a never-ending process. We should rather set our minds on things above, not earthly things (Colossians 3:1-3). So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:18

Getting caught up in studying the fake- the facade so often portrayed through social media- I forgot what was real. In order to detect counterfeit bills, federal agents examine genuine, authentic dollar bills, so that they might better be able to discern and identify a counterfeit bill. Similarly, I should practice this; I should study God’s word to better understand how to discern between what God offers me (truth), and what is far from the truth. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:2.

I’ve worked hard for my success, so I have the right to boast about it. That’s how I felt, like all the hours put in, the work completed, and the behind the scenes struggles should be recognized and appreciated; it was a pride issue. I placed myself on the throne of my heart with God, and there wasn’t room for the both of us (War Room reference!). Apart from Christ we can do nothing (John 15:5).

God created us for His glory and to make Him known. He has provided for us and everything comes from Him (James 1:17; Psalm 24:1) Only when I realized the source of my good fortune could I accept that the glory should never go to me. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves- Philippians 2:3

It’s human nature to want to pretend we have it all together, and we’ve done it on our own- our culture perpetuates that ideology. I posed myself in seemingly prosperous positions, placing my performance on a pedestal for praise (Prov 27:2). Spending hours (okay, maybe just minutes) looking up song lyrics and quotes to use as captions, or thinking of clever one-liners for post-worthy wording is not abnormal in the culture I live in.

I wanted to appear wise and strong- even if my strength was masked and elicited through the very quotes I thought reflected or represented me (Romans 1:22). I may somehow manage to impress other people with my strengths, but I’ve learned that I connect with people through my weaknesses and vulnerability. When I admit my weaknesses, I allow Christ to shine as the source of my strength, not myselfSo now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

Comparing what other people had to what I didn’t became dangerous territory. I would think Why me? or more appropriately Why NOT me? Here’s the truth- there will always be someone who has more money, more fame, more success. But I should be reminded that God doesn’t weigh out my accomplishments or financial portfolio to equal my worth, and that I am intricately designed by Him (Ephesians 2:10). I praise you, because you are fearful and wondrous! Your work is wonderful, and I am fully aware of it. Psalm 139:14

Right now my life feels more fruitful than it has in the past; later I may experience a dry season. Either way, I know whatever season or place I am in is where God has me. It is no mistake. Instead of questioning why not me, I should ask what now? What is God trying to show/teach me in this season/situation? When my heart is aligned with God, my thoughts are affected. (2 Corinthians 10:5) The thoughts I feed, they flourish. I may not always know what race I am running until I arrive at the finish line, but I must never. stop. running. I must press into God and press on towards the goal (Philippians 3:12-16).

-Ashley Smith

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