At City Church, we have been in a series titled “Face Forward.” This series has been all about facing forward, looking to the future, being committed to the future, finding hope in the future, and constantly growing and moving forward. In my own life I have been struggling to move forward from some old habits and hurts that have made me feel like I am living in a perpetual cycle. If I could summarize the emotional state of my last 7 years on this planet, it would sound something like “I feel stuck and I don’t know why.” Although I didn’t really think too much of it when I started listening to this series on podcast, it has been exactly what my soul has needed to hear.
I began listening to this series on my daily 2+ hour commute to/from work this summer (along with some of Judah’s prior sermons). Each week I felt convicted yet liberated, raw and aware of my own struggles and how good Jesus is and has been to me. I spent many hours “feeling my feelings” in the car, as it was the one place I felt courageous enough to do so. In a house with 5 adults and a 4-year-old, the car was the only place I felt bold enough to truly be exactly who I was in the moment. This could look like screaming, crying, laughing, praying, singing, or even just sitting in silence as I let myself just be. Over the summer I learned a lot about who God created me to be, and he slowly began teaching me how to love myself in every situation - in and out of the car.
One day during my quiet time, God told me that he wanted to restore the immense joy that I had as a child before life sorta hit me square in the face. He told me that I used to be fearless, adventurous, and joyful. He was so right. As a child I used to be energetic, full of life, unashamed of who I was, and I knew my worth without a doubt. For God to say that he wanted to restore that in me is like saying he wanted to raise someone from the dead. It seemed impossible. I have been in the pits of depression for the last 7 years, and doing all I could to emulate who I used to be as a little girl. I’ve been on the slow road to mending my relationship with God for the last 2 1/2 years, but even during these last couple years I put on a mask for other people. I even went the extra mile to “put on a show.” I performed my way through middle school and high school. I kept the stage fun and exciting, and tried to make my production the most engaging. Only a very few people knew that before and after my “show” I was laying down in the dark backstage. I hid behind the curtains and cried or felt nothing at all. I was living, sure, but not nearly as alive as I seemed. For God to say that he could and would restore me to joy - if I let him - meant more than the world to me. His words were like a giant hug that encompassed my whole being with hope.
After I told the Lord that I would let him restore me, he began pulling together all the fragments of sermons and verses that I had been diving into for the last few months/years to create a new understanding of how I am to love myself and grow forward and be who I really am. He gifted me with conversations that were life-giving as well as challenging to get through. Though it continues to be a very difficult process, I believe that I am an extremely different person than who I was just last year. I am learning how to love myself enough to let me be who I really am in a more natural way.
That brings me to today. As Judah was teaching us about joy, he differentiated between joy that is fleeting, and joy that is eternal. God has been building up my eternal joy, this underlying sense of gratitude and freedom and pure love for the Lord. I have found that even just this week, in moments where joy that is fleeting has left, I always have something to be grateful for. Although I am not always happy, the joy of the Lord has been mine to grab hold of. When I don’t feel like being boisterous, the joy of the Lord invites me to allow myself not to perform. Instead, he asks me to speak with him in a moment of quiet reflection, away from the center of attention. At one point, Judah asked if there were any people who felt like they have been struggling to find their joy, and on any other Sunday I might’ve wholeheartedly jumped in with that group. I might’ve cried hot tears that burned my eyes and left me feeling empty but hopeful for change.
That didn’t happen today. Today, I beamed. I couldn’t help but laugh a little bit. I was filled to the full with peace and joy as God told me that I was no longer in a place where joy was missing from my life. I am absolutely still working on this concept of living with joy, and I am still in the process of learning, but God made it abundantly clear to me this morning that he follows through on his promises.
What a good God we serve.
If you are struggling to find your joy, or to live out of an authentic self, I highly recommend this Jesus guy that really loves you. Let him do the heavy lifting. All you really have to do is be willing to do as he says when it might be out of your comfort zone or apart from the character you have been portraying. Change will come. Growth does happen. Love does heal.
“He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds”