Closing out 2017 and entering 2018

Typically at year-end I would say that the year has flown by, but to be honest, 2017 has felt very long for me. For most of the year, I was struggling with feelings of hopelessness, faithlessness, and darkness - which I had never personally experienced before in my life. 

I felt overwhelmed by questions, challenges, and circumstances outside of my control, such as:
  • Embracing my singleness when many around me seemed to be getting engaged, starting relationships, or popping out babies
  • Fighting feelings of entitlement at work yet knowing that ultimate results were outside of my hands
  • Wondering what kind of opportunity I would want to take next in my career - geographically, industry-wise, etc.
All of these uncertainties made me subtlety question God's role in my life, and tested my allegiance and trust. I didn't recognize this until months later, but I'm grateful for the "little things" that helped me to slowly look up from the stubborn darkness.

A few lessons from 2017 I want to remember as we enter a new year:

1. Small steps of faith make a big impact.

At the lowest point of my year, I had not touched the bible, journaled, or prayed personally in months. Even though I knew in the back of my mind that I needed to get right with God, I had fallen so far behind throughout the year that even "small" spiritual disciplines I had developed earlier seemed like climbing Everest. I asked myself, 'What is one small step of faith I can take to get right with God?' and ended up committing to reflecting on one thing I can thank God for every day.

Part of me felt ashamed that this was all I could realistically commit to, but this was just what I needed at the time and helped me to slowly look up to Christ from my dark days. Regardless of where I am in my relationship with God, I hope I will never forget that small steps in faith make a big impact.

2. There are no "right" emotions in life. 

In the way that many of my "sleeping muscles" were awakened this year through physical training, I felt that many of my emotional muscles were awakened for the first time as well (thank God for Scazzero's book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality). When I experienced dark and low emotions I had never felt before, I spent a few months trying to figure out what I had done wrong, which didn't help me much. Then God spoke to me through another book (Depression: Looking Up from the Stubborn Darkness):
"When  your  emotions  feel  muted  or always  low,  when  you  are  unable  to  experience  the  highs  and  lows you  once  did,  the  important  question  is  not  “How  can  I  figure  out what  I  have  done  wrong?”  but  it  is,  “Where  do  I  turn—or,  to  whom do  I  turn—when  I  am  depressed?”  Some  turn  toward  their  beds  and isolation;  others  turn  toward  other  people.  Some  turn  away  from God;  others  turn  toward  him." - Edward T. Welch

I am out of the dark valley that I was slumped in earlier this year, by God's grace. However, I am very aware that I am not immune from experiencing these kind of low emotions again in the future, and praying that God would give me the grace to have joy in the midst of unrelenting pain.

3. Interruption in our lives can be a display of God's intimate care for us - if we're willing to look beyond our initial responses.

In the thick of my low year, I recalled a prayer that I had lifted up several years ago when I made the (difficult) decision to leave Michigan. As much as I wanted to stay, I remember feeling like God wanted me to "go", and be willing to be tested and put through the fire in a context different than the only one I knew. Since life after MI has felt exposing and less than glorious (aka not what I expected), I always secretly wondered if I had made the wrong decision.

As someone who loves to plan and predict (aka idolizing control), I've had a hard time with embracing times when God gives me something different than what I expect. Is God still good, when things didn't go exactly as I expected? It took some time, but this year God has helped me to see that sometimes he interrupts our lives to showcase his intimate care and love for us. He knows us and what is best for us. This truth is what I will cling unto as I enter another year, in faith that my life is in the hands of the maker of heaven.

"Now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold ...—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed." (1 Peter 1:6–7)