I sit in the stillness of the woods, the sound of endless birds’ sonatas fill my searching ears. My heart is restless. I look around the enchanted view of overhanging trees and wildflowers, and I sigh. Why can’t I crowd out the ceaseless noise of one million thoughts? They dash around like unbridled lightning bolts unable to fix themselves to the ground. I had come to the woods — my sanctuary — at the hope of hearing from God and quieting my racing mind.
So much to do. So many unsatisfied dreams and longings. I desire more. More balance. More freedom. More peace. More joy. I’m flooded with a barrage of feelings of unfulfillment and the need to “do better”.
I need to eat better and exercise more. I need to improve my finances. I need to break unhealthy habits. I need to spend more time with God. I need to grow my business. I need to invest more in my friendships and family.
The list is never-ending and I feel haunted by it. I’ve agonized over my imperfections viciously, yet I’m overcome by frustration as I can’t seem to make any progress in the personal development I so desperately seek.
I don’t understand. I’m supposed to be “enough”, right? That’s what Jesus in His grace declares me. So WHY do I not feel it? Why am I so fixated on all the areas I feel I need to improve?
The hundreds of motivational talks and rags-to-riches stories I’ve heard over the years begin swarm my unsettled mind. “Just do it”…“quit making excuses”…”the only one holding you back from your dream life is you”. We are told over and over that joy will come in the “someday”. When you have ____ you will be happy. When you are finally “succeeding” in life you will be fulfilled.
And so, we make lists and write out goals. We try so hard to grow. Being a strong, healthy, productive good steward in this life must be a good thing, right? But if Jesus declares us “enough” could it actually be wrong to fight so hard to “do better” and “be better” in this life? There must be some balance, somewhere here, right? Someone wasting their life with unmet potential can’t be good thing. But is striving to be all your potential in contradiction to the truth of “being enough”?
I had come to a crossroads with one final looming question:
“How does one reconcile being “enough” while still striving in all areas of life to be the best person they can be?”
With an exacerbated voice I throw my question out to the tops of the trees….and close my eyes. I waited for the answer. After what seemed like an eternity, He did finally answer. But as He often did with his disciples, He answered with another question.
“How can one be justified while at the same time be being sanctified?”
Well THAT wasn’t what I was expecting.
I began to ponder…
Though we are instantly declared “righteous” at the moment of salvation (aka justification), we still have to work hard as we fight sin and our hearts and actions slowly change to be more like Christ (aka sanctification). Work hard. Jesus never promised us an easy life. In fact, He told us we would face adversaries and trials and that we would indeed have to work hard. He even promised us that He was PRAYING for us in the battle of life.
More thoughts flood my mind…
Sanctification is a life long journey. But we get there one day, one step, one inch at a time. We take two steps forward and three back. Then one step forward and two more back. But then one day, we take three steps forward and only one back. And slowly by slowly, little by little, inch by inch, we arrive.
But it takes a lifetime.
A new thought startles me: What if each step back is not a necessarily bad thing? What if every step back actually teaches us how to move forward? And even more freeing — what if God isn’t disappointed, when we take a step back? Because He knows we are learning. Much like a parent watching their child learning to walk, the parent isn’t disappointed when the child falls down.
He knows you have to fall down in order to be given the chance to stand!
So perhaps, if we feel overwhelmed when we look at our lives and the endless things we are trying to accomplish in order to better ourselves, we can breathe a sigh of relief by remembering that the journey of personal development, much like spiritual sanctification, is taken one small step at a time. One choice at a time. And that all the steps backward we take – all the times we fall down – are part of the growing process, too. Each set back gives us an opportunity to learn how to move forward. And all the while, God is cheering us on like a proud parent!
What about the balance of striving in this life with the truth that we are already enough?
As Dallas Willard so eloquently said, “Grace isn’t opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.”
In other words, striving in areas of personal development isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Just so long as so we do the hard work from a place of thankfulness, knowing we are already enough. And knowing we already have God‘s love and God’s smile of approval down on upon us.
This ties in beautifully with our propose in life.
Our purpose — our reason for drawing in each breath bestowed upon us — is to love like Jesus. To love others without expecting anything in return. To share the hope and the joy and the peace we have that only comes from God.
This means we can we work HARD to be healthier, to have more energy, to be more organized and productive, because it HELPS us live out our purpose!
Now, what about the times when you DO become tired and overwhelmed? We are human after all. Well, you call on Jesus. His name is also enough. It stills raging seas and overwhelmed minds. Go to the sanctuary of His presence. Cast your burdens on Him. Pour out your aching heart and endless thoughts to Him. He will take them and replace them with peace.
I drew in a deep breathe. The fresh smell of the forest filled my lungs. An hour had passed. As I reflected back at the things God had said I began to feel that peace. And so, as the storm in my scattered mind began to at last dissipate, God whispered one last thing to me:
“Yes, it’s good to have life goals. But the joy you seek isn’t found when you finally “arrive”. It isn’t found in achieving…in winning.
Joy is found in the moment.
By being thankful for the many gifts I have given you right here, right now.
Just open your eyes.”