Beliefnet
Everyday Faith

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

~Hebrews 10:23

 

I was unpacking the last of the boxes that were in storage in Florida when I came across one that was filled with pictures taken ten years ago. The pictures actually made me laugh as I looked at myself posed in front of the Duomo in Florence, Italy. I looked so earnest; I was trying so hard to appear fashionable because I’d recently lost fifty pounds and thought the new skinny me in my new wardrobe would be my key to happiness. It was, in some respects; I had a great time. Yet it was still the same old me inside, with all of the same old insecurities.

As I looked at those pictures, I wondered: Do we ever change over the years?

I guess the reason this is on my mind is that I recently had one of those “milestone” birthdays.

When I was younger, I always looked to the future and thought of the things I would accomplish and how different I would be at some future date. Like when I “grew up”.

As I looked at those pictures of me, then considered the row of journals that sit on my bookshelf spanning the course of twenty five years of my life, and as I unpacked that beautiful white lingerie that I bought fifteen years ago to wear on the wedding night that never happened, I realized that really, despite all the milestones that come with age, we don’t actually change the core of who we are.

When I lived in New York and worked on Wall Street, I imagined the pinnacle of my life would be when I turned 45, and I pictured myself riding to the office each morning in the back of a limousine. Today, that would be my idea of hell. In fact, it was just that mental picture that inspired me to leave New York, nearly twenty years ago.

I never became that woman I thought I wanted to be. Instead, I did something completely different. Though I have finally achieved many of the things I hoped for, while other goals remain elusive, what I find the most disconcerting is that inside, I am still the uncertain young girl I thought I’d eventually outgrow.

I always thought that with time and accomplishing my goals, all those fears and insecurities would somehow melt away and with age I would become more confident. Surprisingly, I haven’t evolved into something different than I was back then. I’m still Suzanne, with all my overblown self-doubt, my fear that no one likes me, that I’ll always fall short no matter how hard I try, and that I am not talented enough to be the popular girl. And I wonder what the point of the journey is if we can never escape that person we wanted to change, no matter how much we accomplish or how far we travel from where we first began?

And then . . .

Just when I think I’ve found a great truth, and I’ve decided that the best course is to simply aim a little lower, I instead discover something that turns my conclusion on its head.

Recently my mother has begun to cook, which is something for which she never exhibited the patience or interest for the first eighty-three years of her life. Then this past weekend she picked up my old battered copy of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking and decided she was going to try a few recipes. She, who has been willingly displaced from her home (by choosing to join me in Colorado like Naomi from the Biblical book of Ruth) and who chugs along on a heart that operates at forty percent of its original capacity, has created a new life for herself here and found a grace and contentment that she never had before. What she seems to know instinctively (she’s always been a woman of action rather than the self-absorbed navel gazing that I excel in) is how to make the most of where you are geographically and spiritually. And as a result, her life is much richer.

My mother’s example reminds me that when we are willing to grow in our circumstances and allow God to lead us in our daily lives, we can accomplish our dreams, even as they change to reflect our spiritual maturity.

With new perspective, I look at the pictures of who I was then and compare them with who I am now, and I realize that as slowly and surely as the flow of water over rocks, God has smoothed my rough edges. He has brought me into a closer walk with Him. My journey is not complete, but I can see progress. Although it has been at times a painful journey, with many detours and delays, I am finally realizing the dreams I first dreamt when I decided to leave New York, twenty years ago.

Do we ever grow up? I believe the answer is yes, with the grace of God we can grow up and become the women that we’ve always wanted to be and, more importantly, the women that God has created us to be through the dreams he put in our hearts.

As you look back on the last ten or twenty years, how have your dreams changed? Is there one that you are still working on? Or have you embraced new dreams? Do you feel God calling you to revisit an old dream, or is He calling you to a new dream?

Even now, says the Lord,

return to me with your whole heart,

with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;

Rend your hearts, not your garments,

and return to the Lord, your God.

For gracious and merciful is he,

slow to anger, rich in kindness,

and relenting in punishment.

Perhaps he will again relent

and leave behind him a blessing,

Offerings and libations

for the Lord, your God.

~Joel 2:12-14

When Mom and I went to Mass for Ash Wednesday, this beautiful passage from the book of Joel was one of the readings, and it stayed with me afterwards, especially the line: “Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.”

God is interested in what is in our hearts. “Return to Me,” says God. Let’s use this time of pursuing our dreams as a journey of spiritual renewal in which we return to God and let Him speak to our hearts and renew our spirits.

I will confess that there have been times when I allowed my morning devotional to become a substitute for attending church, which it’s not meant to be. Personal daily devotions have one place in our spiritual life, and attending church belongs to the part of us that needs communion with others.

I am returning to God through my commitment to go back to church and work on a part of my faith that I’m not generally comfortable with, being part of a church community. I am choosing to overcome my public shyness and embrace my greater desire for communion with other Christians.

Are you part of a regular church community? If not, will you make plans to find a local church to call you spiritual home?

The Lord said [to Elijah], “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.

~1 Kings 19:11-13

GOD IS IN THE GENTLE WHISPER

This was God’s response when his prophet, Elijah, reached the end of his rope and was literally begging God to let him die because the burden of living had become too great.

God told Elijah that he would come to him, and he did. Not with a great show of force and fireworks. No. God chose a means that befitted the fragile psyche of the exhausted, depressed Elijah.

God was in the gentle whisper.

Sometimes, when I am feeling depressed and overwhelmed, this is exactly what I hope for. God’s gentle, comforting presence.

In your journal, write down times in the past when you have felt the presence of God in your life. In the coming week, ask God to help you to become more aware of His presence in your life. Make a note of what happens.

Submit to God and be at peace with Him;

in this way prosperity will come to you.

 

Today’s verses speak to me because this firm faith is something I am struggling with at the moment. Like Job, I am searching for evidence that these things are true. I am sowing the seeds but not yet seeing the fruits of my labor.

When we are in the middle of an unanswered prayer, it’s difficult to ‘be at peace’ with God.

Then, in the very next verse, we are encouraged to store the Word of God in our hearts and accept His instruction. I believe that’s exactly what we need to do when we are in the depths of unknowing.

It’s during these times, when we are called on to trust God the most, that we have the greatest opportunity to grow in our relationship with Him and to grow as individuals.

Open your Bible, find a verse that speaks to your situation, and pray that verse right back to God as if it was written from your perspective.

 

You will pray to Him, and He will hear you,

and you will fulfill your vows.

What you decide on will be done,

and light will shine on your ways.

 

. . . becomes:

 

I will pray to God, and He will hear me,

and I will fulfill my vows.

What I’ve decided will be done,

and light will shine on my ways.

 

I believe that when we pray God’s Word back to Him, with a humble spirit, we will be drawn into a closer communion with Him and will find not only answers to our prayers but also the peace that comes from God’s love.

Today find three verses that speak to you and write them out, as we have above, to pray them back to God. Commit to memorizing at least one of these verses to pray back to God several times a day.