September 8, 2016

Thankful Thursday

Yes, it is Thursday, and I am thankful. I am thankful today for many things, but mostly I am thankful that my life is good, that God has a good plan for my life, and that I am working toward the fulfillment of that plan each and every day. Yes, my life is good, it is so very good.

This is a good day, despite the fact that I am feeling anxious about some of the things I need to complete before the day is over. Yes, my anxiety is about a five right now (on a scale of 10), and while that is not too high, it is enough to set me on edge. I am confessing my dependency upon God this morning, placing my trust and my faith in His abilities to shepherd me through this day and into the weekend (praise be to God, it is almost the weekend!) Still, my insides are rocking a bit, and because of my need for coolness, calmness and order, well, I am feeling a bit unsteady at the moment. Nonetheless, I am believing in faith that God has me well-covered, and I am listening and heeding the call of His Holy Spirit in order to find that place of rest. I so want to rest today, to let this all go, and to lean on Him so that He can show me the way out, under, and through the difficulty I face today. He is good, so very good to me, and I know He will be faithful to me and will help me see my way through. He will do it. He is good, so very good to me! Selah!

Completing Tasks and Letting Go

Have you ever worked hard on a project, done your best or thought you did your best, and then when you finally finish all the work, you feel so let down? Or perhaps you go over all the details again, the project "musts," and you analyze how you might have done better? I do this at times, and rather than accept the conclusion that the job is done, I over-analyze every detail in order to see where I could have improved my performance, my efficiency, and yes, my productivity. I guess it is part and parcel to my analytical brain, my INTJ wiring, but in truth, the over-analyzing is a bad habit, and frankly, it is a habit in need of replacing.

Just yesterday, I let some details from earlier in the day cloud my judgment, and I ended up stuck in this analysis loop whereby I revisited my experience and recounted how I could have been "better," done "better," or just behaved differently. I hate it when I do this, when I sink into this spiral of "not good enough" thinking. I hate when I start to question my own abilities, my own efforts, and my own understanding, and I begin to "rethink" things. Ugh!

I woke up this morning with the feeling that I had performed badly yesterday, that I had somehow let my students down, and that I was one of the "worst" teachers on campus. Yes, I WOKE UP thinking this way. It is funny really because my former MIL used to say similar things whenever she would preach the word of God to women at conferences or events. Even though people would come up to her afterward and speak with her, give her testimony to let her know how her words ministered to their heart, she still would believe the voice in her head that said to her "Well, that was a joke! You were terrible, awful, and should not be in this line of work!" Yes, the voice she heard was her enemy speaking lies of condemnation and disapproval, and no matter how hard she tried to counteract them (and she did), the voice still shouted lies at her, taunting and teasing her for her lack of good performance.

I think it is interesting how the enemy attacks us in this way. When we are doing work that is ministry-driven -- meaning we are engaged in work that is for His good, His glory, and His kingdom -- the enemy likes to taunt us and attack us where we are weakest. For those who engage in public speaking, it is generally right where it smarts most -- in our need for approval. When you speak in public, present lectures, or publicly encourage others, you stand wide open to the opinions of your audience. They may like you or not; they may approve of what you are saying or not; they may agree with you or not; they may understand you or not. Teaching like any public profession is fraught with pitfalls. Teachers are human, and like all humans, we have good days and not so good days. We are "on" sometimes and "off" at other times. The hardest part for us is when we receive no feedback from our audience -- our students -- when we cannot determine if they "get" what we are saying of if they are lost.

One of the reasons why I never wanted to be in the "lime light" was because of the constant disapproval by the audience. I am sure all performers feel this way, how they feel compelled to "dazzle" those who are listening to them. I don't mean to say that I "perform" like an actor when I am in the classroom -- oh no! But there is an eery similarity to performance on stage. In my classes, I stand at the front and I lecture. My students listen, take notes, and pay attention to me. In many ways, I am that actor on stage. I feel judged.

In my past life (work life, that is), I held positions where I worked in a cubby somewhere and simply did my job well. I performed, but no one except for my boss was watching. I simply did my job, and I went home each night feeling satisfied that I had completed my daily "to-do" list. With teaching, I am constantly "on," and I never feel as if I have completed my tasks or performed well UNTIL I see some thing, some measure of success. Most of the time, I need to see just one student excel before I can "sigh a relief," and say that it is good, that I am good, that things are good. Oh, how I struggle, I stress, and I strive over performance issues. The worse part in all of this is that I suffer with the anxiety associated with performance, and over time, it simply wears me down. Sigh!

I've been this way for many years, performance and achievement oriented, and for the most part, I have learned to enjoy the "triumph" and the "thrill of victory." But, there has always been this down side, this hard reality, that has had a strong undercurrent of "crash and burn." When I was younger, I had this intense fear of performance, so much so that I would become ill if I had to perform on stage or even in front of others. I hated the laughter, the jokes, the remarks, and as such, I would hide in the dark corner, lurking mostly. I learned to avoid any spot light, and in this way, I simply could run past others without being noticed.

In work environments, I learned to do the same thing, to sit in the back corner and keep my head down. I just did my work. Granted, I did my work well. I often received awards and other praise from employers, but for the most part, I simply "existed" in the shadows. I liked that I could go unnoticed by others, and when I had to be "up front," well I would sweat bloody buckets of tears and ring my hands to the point where I would make myself ill.

Over the past 20 or so years, I have adapted in such a way as to temper the anxiety. I learned how to take criticism (ouch!), and with some experience, I learned how to accept suggestions and advice. It took time for me to let go of my need to be perfect, and to accept a "less than perfect" standard of measure.

I was good, for the most part, being in the shadows, doing good, but unnoticed work, and pretty much coming and going as I pleased. I liked it. I was safe. I didn't have to be in the spot light. Then the Lord moved me from the shadows to slightly off-stage, and He asked me to consider doing work that would put me up front. I didn't want to go at first. I didn't want to be in that uncomfortable place. He persuaded me, convinced me, that it would be good, it would be for His work, and that He would be with me. I relented, and I said I would "try it out," and I would trust Him to care for me. He promised me that He would be with me, help me, and not leave me stranded. In truth, He has kept His word to me, and He has held my hand as I moved into positions that have placed me in front of people, engaged me in ways where I had to lead, to speak publicly, and to be "on" more than I was "off" camera.

At first, I wasn't comfortable with the idea, but in time, I came around to it. He moved me slowly, of course, and He gave me time to learn my craft. He helped me, moved to places where I could learn, experience, observe, etc. In time, He helped me gain confidence in my abilities, and then when I was ready, He gave me more and more opportunities to practice my craft. Now, I am seasoned as they say, and for the most part, I am comfortable and content with the work I do. I still stress. I still worry. I still fear repercussions of my performance, but in all ways, He helps me. He cares for me. He covers me. He makes my way smooth.

Now, I feel as if He is asking me to take a bigger step of faith, to move even further into the light, and to stand in a place where I will be "fully on" all the time. This scares me, this causes me such fright. I want to go where He is sending me, and I want to do His work -- always -- but I am so afraid of rejection, of the pain that comes with the look of "disapproval" on the faces of those around me.

How can I do this, Lord? How can I lead others? How can I be in this place of power, of privilege, of position?

I mean, look at me? Who am I? I am a no one. I have no skill, no craft, no special ability. I cannot even speak clearly. I mean, I say words in the wrong way. I stumble and bumble around. I speak in riddles (often), and I am not the most succinct. My students sometimes are lost, and I know that is my fault. I am not clear. How can I speak publicly? How can I lead others when I cannot even lead myself?

In my state of panic, I think about the Old Testament patriarchs, and I remember Moses, in particular. Slow of speech, ill-tempered, and prone to flight -- yet -- God prevailed and helped him to lead His people out of Egypt and right to the promised land. Likewise, there was Joseph, a small and insignificant young man whom God chose to rise to the level of 2nd in command over the greatest empire of the era. More so, there was David, another small and insignificant individual, whom God chose to be His king on the throne of Israel. In and through scripture we see cases of individuals who God chose for mighty works, mighty acts, and who by their own standing and merit were considered cast offs, nothing special, or at the worse, culled from the dredges of society (as in Rahab, the harlot). So why does God use the weak and the powerless to demonstrate His authority, His power, and His goodness? Clearly, the Lord chooses whom He delights, and often, He chooses individuals who could not, in their own right, achieve the plans and purposes God has in mind for them.

In my own life, I see this truth in clear light. I mean, as a student, I was an utter failure. I couldn't put a sentence together or even diagram it to show I understood my own language. I didn't learn grammar or the basics of writing until I was in college. I managed, praise be to God, to eek my way through school, but by the time I graduated from college, I believed erroneously that I was a failure in the making. I was "not good enough" because my parents, my teachers, and all my employers told me as much.

Yet, God, had a plan, and He kept me in positions where I was constantly being pushed and prodded toward excellence. I worked undercover, so to speak, and little by little, I did regain some confidence in my own worth. I learned that I was good, very good in fact, at some things, technical things, design and art things. I learned that I had a knack for understanding very complex ideas, and for theory and abstract thinking. I learned that I was actually very smart, just not "book smart." I learned that my ideas and my connections were often considered new and innovative, and that people "in the know," often would find my ideas interesting to consider. I still had many naysayers in my life who told me that no matter how much I achieved, I would still not be good enough or as good as "so and so." Of course, I had to deal with the negativity, but over time, God gave me rich and rewarding experiences where I excelled, achieved, and in time, I was able to see that I could do many things well.

Now, I am about to graduate with my PhD in Communication, and in truth, the only reason I am where I am today is because the Lord determined it would be so. Yes, I am about to finish one of the most difficult experiences of my life solely because the Lord asked me to "consider" it, to think about it, and to try it out. I am here today because God said to me, "You can do it, Carol. I will help you," and praise to His glorious Name, He was faithful and He kept His word to me. He helped me do it.

So as I consider the next steps He has in mind for me, one thing is for certain: God will ask me to go and do work that is beyond my abilities. He will not send me to a place of complacency or where I can simply "exist" and get by. No, this is not His style -- at the least -- it is not His style with me. I believe that where He sends me next, I will be challenged to grow and develop the spiritual and physical skills He needs for me to do His work. I will have to step out on faith, go to a place that is uncomfortable for me, and then in that place, learn to depend on, lean on, and trust in my God and my Savior for my every single need. He will be faithful because it is His nature to do so. He will not leave me or strand me because He has said so in His word. He will help me, guide me, lead me, and provide for me -- again -- His promises are always "yea, and amen!"

I, in turn, must rest in His authority, in His power, and in His provision. I must say to Him, "Lord, I am not afraid because thou art with me!" I must take my fear of failure, of performance, and all the anxiety associated with it, and cast it at His feet. In doing so, I cast off my need to be approved by others and accept my approval from the only One who matters -- my Lord. I say to Him, "Lord, others may curse me, cast me out, or treat me badly, but in all things, you approve of me, and you consider me worthy this good, good day." Yes, I must trust in Him more than I trust in myself. I must look to Him for everything rather than to my own abilities or resources. I must realize that what I have today is from Him, and what I have tomorrow will be from Him as well. In doing so, I will let go of this need to be accepted by society, by my peers, by my family and friends, and instead I will say "He has accepted me, claimed me as His own, and that is enough!" Yes, it is good enough knowing that I belong to my King, and as His servant, He is my over-shepherd. He is responsible for my coming and my going, and He is my Jehovah-Jireh, the One who provides for me, who sees to my every single need. He is good, so very good to me!

In Closing

Today is a good day. I am thankful for my day off, to be home today so I can rest and recover from my week and the stress of this past week. In many ways, I am right where He wants me to be, and this day, these thoughts have culminated in testimony to encourage me, to help me see that my experiences and even my doubts are all part of His provision and goodness in my life. Yes, even my doubts are there for a reason, and so long as I allow Him to use my doubts to help me see the truth in my life, then they are there for good, and not for ill. I pray today that as He leads me, He will provide for me. I pray today that as He guides me, He will show me exactly what I am to do. I understand that what He is asking me to do is beyond my abilities, and that I will not be "ready" so to speak to do this work. I will be asked to "trust Him," to try it out, and in that way, He will show me His skill, His ability, His power, and His might as we "endeavor together." May we journey together from this point today on through to the glory that is to come, and in all things, may His Name be praised, honored and glorified for He alone is worthy, He alone is worthy to receive all our praise! Selah!

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