Though where we are is uncomfortable, getting to where we want to be can feel terrifying. Oftentimes we sit on the shorelines of our life, choosing familiar discomfort over our deepest longings. Between where we are and where we are going, we find ourselves in a sea of struggle or surrender. Everything changes when we invite the Lord into the misery of becoming, surrendering to him rather than our circumstances.
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You are listening to The Happiest Lives Podcast with Jill Lillard, Episode #4.
Hey everybody, I hope this finds you well today. As you are listening, spring is here. And your mind may even be transitioning to summer because I know many schools are out, and we are looking to what is ahead.
As I record this, technically, it is the first week of spring, but in reality, it's that kind of weird yucky in between. One day, it's really cold with a bite in the air, and the next day, it's nice, warm, and spring-ish. We have had the whole pendulum of temperatures from 30 to an unusual 80 degrees.
It's spring, but nothing in my yard has bloomed; there's only the brown and dead left from the winter. However, I know that blooms and buds are soon coming, and as you now listen to this LIVE, the green and blooms are here!
I was thinking about how much spring is like our lives. We anticipate the colors and the fullness even as deadness surrounds us. There's a promise of new to come.
In the middle of where you are and where you're going is this place of becoming, and becoming isn't always pretty. In fact, it's uncomfortable. But what I think is worse is not becoming. Resisting the becoming. Staying where you are. Sitting on the shoreline of your life, trying to avoid any struggle or pain.
You can't avoid pain. And when we pretend we can and don't allow ourselves to become, we die.
In our lives, we get glimpses of heaven. But because this is not our home, the momentary pleasures that we experience don't last. However, hopefully, even as your body is moving toward death, your spirit is growing stronger as you persevere in becoming who Jesus says you already are.
Today, I want to talk about how to stop struggling as we live here in the middle.
Don't get me wrong, when you're becoming, there will be a struggle. This is part of the becoming. I think of the caterpillar becoming the butterfly as he must go through this state of becoming. He has to work his way out of the cocoon. That struggle is part of making him ready to fly. If we helped him out of the cocoon so he wouldn't have to struggle, he would never be able to fly. The struggle is essential to the becoming.
What I am talking about is the undue struggle that takes place when we resist the tension of the already but not yet. When we think things should be different than they are, we increase our pain. We make hard things harder than they have to be when we struggle over the struggle.
When I attended Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, I had a professor, Dr. Richard Winter, who wrote a book, "Perfecting Ourselves to Death." In it, he talked about the blueprints of perfection in our DNA, as we're created in God's image and are longing for something more than what is.
He referenced the bookends of our lives, the perfect Eden and the perfect Heaven, where everything is beautiful, blissful, and peaceful in the valley. There are no sorrows, tears, or sadness.
And yet, here we are, in the middle. We live in the already, but not yet. Everything material is moving toward decay, even as we become who we already are.
We get these foretaste of heaven- these moments of beauty- but the glory soon fades. The party comes to an end.
You have experienced these moments of pure happiness and joy and want to sustain them, but they're soon followed by sorrow. I want to tell you that nothing has gone wrong. Everything is as it should be. This is all part of God's plan of redemption.
In John 16:33, Jesus tells us, "I have told you these things, so that in me, you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world".
And in James 1: 2-4, "Consider it pure joy my brothers and sisters whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything".
And Ecclesiastes, it tells us there's a time for everything. There's a time for death and dying and sadness. There's a time for joy, and there's a time for planting and a time for harvest.
In II Corinthians 12, Paul talks about a thorn in his side. We don't know what that thorn is, but Paul is struggling with his insufficiency to remove the thorn. He declared that this weakness kept him from boasting about himself. And instead, he put his trust not in himself but in the Lord as He persevered in his calling despite the thorn.
Hebrews 12, 6-7, "For the Lord disciplines, the one he loves, and he chastises every son he receives. Endure suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons, for what son is not disciplined by his father? If you do not experience discipline, like everyone else, you're illegitimate children and not true sons."
Problems and thorns are part of the deal here on Earth. However, as we persevere in the faith, our Father will use each trouble and thorn to fulfill His purpose, transforming us into who he says we already are. What the enemy meant for evil, God uses for good as we turn toward Jesus.
I can guarantee your life is gonna let you down. All the people they're going to fail you somehow, and you're going to let yourself down. As you yearn and long for more, it's tempting to think things should be different here.
You're going to get frustrated with other people; you'll be frustrated with yourself. You may even get frustrated with God. Notice that when you think that things should be different than they are, you fall into shame and blame, which is nothing more than a pit of despair and hopelessness.
And so I refer to the space between where you are and where you want to be - the space where the flesh battles the spirit- as a river of misery, a sea of suffering. Even though staying where you are and giving up any hope of change feels terrible, it can feel terrifying to move into this river that we must go through to get to the other side. It's a river of longing and pursuit.
We may try to avoid feeling disappointment by sitting where we are now and not pressing on. However, when we step into the water, leaning into the spirit, though it feels scary, we subject ourselves to not only growth but the real gift, an intimate place of relationship with God.
So while it's a vulnerable place, this is the spot your faith grows legs. This is where we experience the Lord as our banner, deliver, comforter, and teacher. He meets us in our weakness. I think this place is the most beautiful place of all.
In that place of suffering and misery and struggle, we can send out an SOS -a distress signal - that we need help. And the Lord is there to answer. He rescues us and often will show us some amazing things if we're listening. This is a place of surrender, not to circumstances, pain, or people, but to a loving, mysterious, faithful God.
The Sea of Suffering becomes The Sea Of Surrender when we quit resisting the circumstances and yield to the one who is Lord over all the circumstances.
Today I want to show you four ways to stop struggling so you can experience the power of surrender in your suffering.
The first tip is to get good at being in the circumstance you wish was different.
You may have a situation that doesn't seem to change no matter what you do. It could be because of another person's decision. It could be due to health conditions within your body that you can't find answers to. It could be because of an act of nature. You can keep praying for the situation to change, but I also want you to be able to come to trust the Lord. The situation does not determine your joy and peace, even if the thorn remains.
In the Happiest Lives Academy, we add a sentence to our perceived struggle by saying, "This is the part where."
This is the part where I feel frustrated.
This is the part where things don't go my way.
This is the part where my husband acts this way.
This is the part where I get sick.
This is the part where I'm weak, and He is strong.
When we use this thought add-on, we feel a sense of acceptance in our situation. Rather than thinking this shouldn't be happening, even though it is happening, we stop playing tug of war in our mind with reality. If we can't control it, if we can't stop it, then it SHOULD be happening because God Himself hasn't stopped it by overriding another's will.
And so instead of going "no, no, no, no, no," what if you exhaled and said, "Okay."
"Okay, this gets to happen. These are the parts I can't control, so I will go with it. I'm not going to fight the wave, I'm going to ride the wave."
What if you pushed into the pain rather than tightened up against it, not as a passive, helpless victim, but as someone who quits arguing with what she can't control and instead focuses on what she can, trusting the Lord with the rest?
When I was young, I took swim lessons, and we learned the Dead Man's float. It was a survival tactic, should you get dropped in the middle of the ocean or were lost at sea. The Dead Man's float was a way to conserve your energy and prevent drowning.
So here's how it's done. You lay in the water like a dead man--a dead woman. Put your face in the water, and you just lay there limp. Every now and then, you would turn your head to the side, breathe fresh air, and then put your face back in the water. You would keep repeating this. And so instead of struggling and fighting and resisting and trying to power your way, when the shore was hundreds of miles away, you would do the dead man's float.
I don't know if you're like me. I'm a doer. I like to fix things and solve things. I like to go to the action line. It's hard for me to sit still. But there are times that I think the Lord wants me to do the Dead Man's float. In certain situations, when I've done all that I can, my battle weapon is to stand and wait on him as he knits my heart to his, even though this feels very counterintuitive.
I like the phrase, "Give up without throwing in the towel."
What would it look like in your situation to give up in a way that you're not quitting-- you're not throwing in the towel. But you're surrendering. You're surrendering, not to the circumstance, but you're surrendering to the one who is Lord over all circumstances, all situations.
I also like to think about doing things in a way that doesn't all depend on me. I'm falling back into the Lord's arms. I trust that he has the wheel, and I let him drive. I don't have to be in control of all the things. I trust that he cares even more than I do, and he is guiding me.
The second tip I want to give you is to stay in the present.
Our brains want to go to the past. We hold on to our old identities. And yet, we can't become something new-- our relationships can't become something new if we're holding on to the old. We always want to release the past, including the good things, the not-so-good things, and the things we didn't necessarily want.
Release all of it- don't just pick and choose, but move forward into the new thing God is doing. When we hold on to the past, we keep imagining a future where the past is perpetuated, even though the past no longer exists.
The third thing is to have whatever experience you have between where you are and where you want to be. Have that experience without judging it, thinking, "I shouldn't feel this way. I shouldn't be thinking this way."
It's easy to start beating ourselves up because of questions we have, things we're thinking, and ways we're feeling. We may compare ourselves to what we believe a good Christian woman would be doing, feeling, or thinking in this situation. So stop all of that. It's not serving you.
The Lord meets us where we are. And so we want to move into the new, but we don't want to do that from a place of white-knuckling and trying to willpower ourselves there because then we get caught up in a works mentality. And the Lord working in us is always the work of the Holy Spirit, changing us, transforming us, making us new... this is becoming.
Thoughts like: "I should be handling this better." "I shouldn't feel this way." Just notice those thoughts and sit far from them as an observer. The Lord may gently convict you about what is true, but you don't need to sink into guilt and condemnation.
When the Lord convicts us, we can take a new direction, and we should. But when we do that, through our strength, we will fall flat on our faces. So that's the part where you need to surrender to the Lord. "Lord, I'm willing; I need your help. I don't understand, but I trust you." We're never looking to boast in ourselves, but we're looking to glorify the Lord.
If you want to stop struggling, my final tip is to get your eyes off the problem and onto the Lord.
Our struggles can consume us, or we can receive them as an invitation to experience God's presence. Our God is near to those who are crushed in spirit. And so if we turn to Him, we can be confident he has our back. Ask yourself, "What is standing in the way of experiencing God's presence at this moment?" then be still and see what comes up for you.
Allow yourself to get quiet and experience Him in that Sea of Suffering. Let it become your Sea of Surrender.
This is a place of relationship.
Often we experience Him most when we're hurting. Bring your anxieties to him with praise and thanksgiving, and receive His peace washing over you. Then shift your energy from the problem and yourself to His goodness, faithfulness, and love.
The Psalms are the perfect example of turning toward the Lord in our desperate state and ascending with new hope, focus, and direction. They begin with an emotional dissent focusing on the struggle. The Psalmist meets the Lord in His sea of suffering. And as he turns toward God with his struggle, he experiences God's presence, and his focus moves from lamenting to worship.
This space in between where you are now and where you want to be can be a place of struggle and agony, and pain. But you don't have to stay there. In those places where you experience sorrow and suffering, you can also experience the freedom and joy of surrender when you accept the Lord's invitation to meet with him.
And this is how you stop struggling. You send out your SOS, and you experience the presence of the Holy Spirit in a place that is beyond words and a place that supersedes our understanding. It's an intimate place where you are changed.
Remember that you already are as you are becoming. Ensure you're not seeing that middle space in between as the obstacle. Don't let it become a bag of excuses. It is the bridge that leads us to him. It is the place we find a relationship with Jesus.
Sometimes I'm in the middle, and I, like Peter, walk on the water, but as I get my eyes off Jesus, I begin to drown. I feel like the sorrow of life will swallow me. But when I see I am doing this, I turn my eyes to him and begin to walk on the water again rather than grasping for air. I'm learning to ride those waves of emotion and trials, so I don't panic. I don't agonize over my agony; instead, I'm learning to surrender more and more each day. And I hope you are too.
Thank you all for listening today. Let's hang out again next week.
See you soon.