A couple of days ago, I celebrated my 21st birthday. Multiple times through out the day I was asked by different people the exact same question – the question we have all undoubtedly been asked on every birthday we have ever celebrated. “Do you feel older?!”
I never really know how to answer this question. I don’t think anyone wakes up on their birthday and just feels older. Nothing about the actual day changes anything. Yet, when I pause to look at the past year as a whole, and actually reflect on all that’s changed and all the ways I have grown – I can undoubtedly say that I do feel older. Not necessarily because of date on the calendar, but because of all that I was taught at age 20.
So I made a list, in between bites of leftover birthday cake, of all that I learned (the hard way) this past year.
20 Things I Learned at 20:
1.) Be exactly where you are right now.
This is such an important one…and such a hard one. Sometimes the season of life that you’re in, to be quite frank, isn’t the season of life that you want to be in. This was absolutely the case for me this past year! I would catch myself time and time again trying to rush through this season, to skip over the parts of life that I found to be less exciting, so I could get to the next season…the better season…the more fulfilling season that was surely lying just ahead!
In doing so, however, I was missing all that God was trying to do in this season, which I quickly realized I would never get back. I was robbing myself of all the highs and lows of the current season the Lord had for me by not really being present in the present. God has a purpose for every season, but if we’re not really there, we could all-too-easily miss that purpose entirely! There will always be a next season, but for now, let’s be fully and intentionally here in this season. As Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
2.) Make more time for people.
I remember the day so clearly. I had a to-do list as long and as wide as me. My whole day was going to be filled with errands. I had groceries to buy, deposits to make, bills to pay, a church to clean, a party to plan and baking to do. My phone went off in the midst of my hustle and bustle. The text I’d just received read, “Can we talk?” I didn’t have time to talk. I didn’t even have time to respond. To be honest, I was even annoyed at this friend for adding one more thing onto my to-do list.
Then, conviction hit me like a ton of bricks, and with that conviction came perspective. From an eternal perspective, which would be of greater value: using your day to make that deposit you’ve put off three times, or using your day to console and pray for a friend who’s struggling? The answer is obviously a no-brainer. Tasks are just tasks at the end of the day, and no matter how urgent or pressing they may seem, I promise you they’re really not. Prioritize God’s people, not tasks…Even when it seems like you don’t have the time. Make the time.
3.) Follow through and do what you say you’re going to do.
We do not serve a flaky God, who says one thing and then does another. My God is a promise keeper. He stands by His word, always. (Numbers 23:19 – “God is not a man, so he does not lie. He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act? Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”) This is clearly not the case with humans, however. I began to notice this year that I am genuinely surprised when someone tells me they’re going to do something and actually does it. I am surprised when plans are put into action. I am surprised when people don’t forget to meet me, or call me back, or follow through with their commitments.
But I think our word is a valuable thing and it shouldn’t be treated so flippantly. If God’s words are always followed by action, then mine should be too. If God is consistent, then with all that I have, I want to strive to be consistent as well. Consistency is rare. Consistency is surprising. Consistency is key. If we truly want to represent a God of His word, then let’s become men and women of our word.
4.) If you don’t know God’s love, you cannot possibly love anybody else.
Growing in and understanding God’s love is a lifelong journey, without question. I cannot pretend to fully understand “how wide, how long, how high and how deep His love is.” (Ephesians 3:18) Yet I do know what my life was like when I had no understanding of God’s love whatsoever. I know all-too-well the cheap imitation of love that our society tries to sell us. I bought into it for years and years. Until the day I personally encountered God, the God who literally is love.
Looking back now, I realize I hadn’t the slightest clue what love was or what it looked like! I didn’t know how to love others or even receive love from others. Only in knowing the God who personifies love, can we ever really love or be loved. (1 John 4:19 – “We love because He first loved us.”)
5.) Being “successful” in the Kingdom trumps being successful in the World.
I was once considered successful by the world’s standards, back when I was a freshman at a prestigious university, fast-tracking so I could attain my bachelor’s degree in three years instead of the typical four. You would never guess it if you were to look at my life now. I literally scrub toilets and change dirty diapers for a living. I live at home with my parents (yes, still). By no one’s definition would I ever be called successful…No one’s, that is, but God’s.
Believe it or not, I truly believe that I am successful. Not by the world’s standards, but by the kingdom’s standards. I love God and I serve Him wholeheartedly where I believe He has placed me. I am obedient to Him and His word: I honor my parents, I serve His church and I care for His children. It’s not always very glamorous (especially when I’m covered in spit-up), but it glorifies Him. And in glorifying Him, I have found a deep fulfillment that simply never came when I was living life according to the world’s standards. (I realize I may very well be the only individual to ever say that scrubbing toilets yields great fulfillment, but regardless, I stand by my statement.)
6.) Who I am is more important than what I do.
The American culture in particular seems to have this complex that you are defined by your profession. So often young children are asked what they want to do as a profession when they are older, but rarely (if ever) are they asked about the kind of people that they want to be. Eternally speaking, how we supported ourselves financially during our time on earth is of little consequence. My identity actually does not lie in my profession: I am not just a cleaning lady or a “glorified babysitter.”
My identity really lies in who I am in Christ. My character, not my job title, is what truly defines me. Instead of gazing outward at all that we could do, let’s instead fix our gazes inward at all that we ought to strive to be.
7.) He sees you when no one else does.
If only I had a dollar for every time I have said to myself in the past year, “Am I invisible?!” I have really struggled with feeling unseen and unheard, even at times by those closest to me. I’m sure, at least on some level, we can all relate to this feeling of being ignored and unrecognized. It’s not at all pleasant – in fact, it can be quite painful.
Yet, I have found, there is actually a quiet sort of beauty in invisibility. Because even when no one else sees you, even when no one else hears you…He does. He misses nothing, not a single breath you breathe, not a single word you say. And since He is the only One I am living for, I have learned to become content in having an audience of just One.
8.) He appreciates you, and that is enough.
Because He has the eyes to see you when no one else does, He also has the eyes to appreciate you when no one else does. When everyone forgets to say thank you, He thanks you for your sacrifice and your service. When everyone else takes you for granted, God knows how much time and effort you put in. Your blood, sweat and tears do not go unnoticed or unappreciated by Him. To be noticed by the God of this universe is no small thing, nonetheless appreciated! And I have found that is more than enough to carry me through many late nights of hard work that seemingly goes unnoticed by all… except Him.
9.) It’s okay to be REAL with God.
It’s more than okay, actually! God wants a real relationship with all of us – a transparent, vulnerable friendship that holds nothing back. This means speaking our minds to God. This means allowing ourselves to ugly-cry at His feet. This means actually voicing our frustrations to Him. It is okay to get messy before the Lord – I promise you that He can handle it. I even believe that He delights in it! He wants to be close to you, intimate and personal with you. That means inviting Him into your messiness. He doesn’t want people that have it all together – He just wants to be together in the messiness. Period.
10.) God is more human than we think.
Not a blasphemous statement, I promise. Jesus was 100% God, yet at the same time, He was 100% human. Sometimes I think we forget the latter. When we forget the latter, we often forget how easily Jesus actually relates to us. He is no stranger to anything that we are facing in this world. Rejection? He knows it all too well. Betrayal? Pain? Heartache? Loss? Check, check and check! When we choose to be intimate with Him, we aren’t crying out to some distant God in the sky who cannot empathize with us. We are actually crying out to Someone who has walked every step not only ahead of us, but beside us!
11.) Vulnerability is key to having REAL relationships with people.
We not only need to be vulnerable with God, but with His people. This was a hard pill for me to swallow. I used to purposefully only let friends get so close. As an extrovert, I liked having people around – I liked having someone to joke around and laugh with. But I didn’t like people really knowing me – vulnerability seriously scared me. All of my friendships, as a result, were surface-level.
God really challenged me this year to let people in for real. At first, I was really hesitant. I was afraid of trusting someone, allowing them to get close and getting hurt in the process. But what I’ve learned is that real relationship always involves risk. However, the risk is worth the reward. With a trusted few, I now have real relationships with people who really know me and do life with me.
12.) In our Christian walk, storms are bound to come.
No one is immune to them. Choosing to follow Christ doesn’t guarantee an easy life – quite often, it guarantees the opposite. Regardless of why or when storms come, they will inevitably come. Will they be trying? Yes. Will they hurt? Yes.
13.) God is good, even when circumstances aren’t.
His goodness does not depend on our present circumstance, and His goodness does not depend on our inability to understand. He is good always, not just because the Bible says it, but because time and time again I have seen Him work all things together for good. Even the things I deemed impossible and hopeless. Again and again, regardless if the circumstances ever really change or not, He proves Himself to be good in the midst of the trial and at the end of the trial, proves His goodness triumphs over all things.
14.) He is here with us in the midst of storms, and that’s enough.
Immanuel – “God with us.” Of all the names given to God in the Old Testament, this one is undoubtedly my favorite. God doesn’t promise us the absence of storms, but He does promise He will be there with us. And honestly, that’s enough! We don’t necessarily need our circumstances to change – what we undoubtedly need is God, always.
Author Alicia Britt Chole once posed the question: “If God’s presence has led us into trying places, is there really any other place we would rather be?” I struggled with that question a little bit, but came to the conclusion that there actually isn’t any place I would rather be. Even in the midst of the storms of this past year and all the heartache and pain that came along with it. If that’s where God’s presence has led me, and He is there with me, then that is where I want to be.
15.) I don’t have to understand.
It is okay to not understand everything, or even anything! I don’t always know the why or the when. I don’t always understand the purpose behind the things that are happening. In this past year, it’s not that I’ve stopped wanting to know. Of course I still do. I want to understand, but I have learned that I don’t need to and I can be at peace with not understanding.
When I don’t understand, He understands. He knows how it will be used and He has a perspective far greater than my own. It’s okay not to understand, because the One who understands all is worthy of our trust and our confidence.
16.) A deep joy can still be found on our hardest days!
On the messiest, ugliest, hardest days, there is still joy. When the storm is at its worst and it seems there is no possible way out because all you can see is more storm clouds up ahead…there is still joy. And I’m not talking about a laugh or smile here and there, occasionally interrupting your pain and suffering. I’m talking about a deep, resounding joy that will not leave. An illogical joy that makes no sense when you look around at all your trials and tribulations. But regardless, it is there. It’s ours for the taking!
The source of that joy is undoubtedly Jesus. When I thought I had no reason left to sing, He became my song. When I thought there was nothing left to hope for, He was my hope. And when I thought I had nothing left to smile over, He became my joy as well.
17.) Hold onto His promises…But don’t carry them.
Almost a year ago now, the Lord gave me seven very large promises. As a disclaimer, I should probably state that of these seven promises, none of them have (yet) come to pass. The time between a promise and its fulfillment is, to put it mildly, challenging. In this season of in-between, my present reality was essentially the polar opposite of what had been promised to me. With each passing day, I found myself believing less and doubting more. The promises were so big and they felt difficult to carry. I felt that I was being crushed under their weight. But if I could no longer carry them, what could I do with His promises? I couldn’t forget them or pretend I’d never heard them. I couldn’t walk away from them. I felt stuck.
Then, through a dream, the Holy Spirit directed me towards the story of Mary in the Bible. Now there’s a woman who knew a thing or two about big promises and waiting on their fulfillment! I began a thorough study on Mary’s life and in Luke, I stumbled upon two monumental verses. Luke 2:19 & 2:51. Both talk about this idea of Mary storing things in her heart. For me, this was a game-changer.
We are designed to hold onto God’s promises undoubtedly, but I don’t believe we’re designed to carry them. I believe we’re designed instead to store them. In carrying the promises, I was buckling under the weight and crushing myself needlessly. In storing the promises, I am able to hold onto the promises and believe in them without bearing the weight of them. Instead, the weight and responsibility of them is given back (rightfully so) to the Promise Maker. He will carry the promises to pass – that’s His job. And I will faithfully hold onto them in my heart – that’s my job.
18.) Don’t get discouraged when His promises take time to come to pass.
C.S. Lewis once said, “I am sure that God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.” We serve such a good God, and He doesn’t put desires or dreams in our hearts to torment us. He doesn’t make promises without the intention of fulfilling them. Likewise, He doesn’t make us wait for no good reason. Even if we don’t understand it, He has a reason. We serve a God who delights in giving His children good gifts, a God who loves keeping His promises! So if there’s delay, we can trust that God has a specific purpose for our season of waiting.
19.) God takes His time…and that’s a good thing!
You can’t rush God. If you try, I dare say you will probably prolong things even more, because instead of submitting to Him, you are resisting Him. Simply put, God has a perspective we just don’t. He knows the full picture. He knows the exact moment on the exact day that the pieces will fall into place and He knows why it must be that exact day, and not a moment sooner or later. Isaiah 55:9 – ” ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.’ “
We must trust His ways above our own – they truly are for our benefit. Likewise, we must trust His timing, for His understanding is far greater than our own.
20.) Faith is believing without seeing.
As believers, we are called to walk by faith and not by sight. (2 Corinthians 5:7) It would be nothing at all to take a first step of “faith” if we were able to see ahead of us the entire path that we would walk. Faith is taking that first step when you can’t even see beyond that first step. In the midst of trials, unfulfilled promises and hopes deferred alike we are all called to do one thing: keep the faith. We are called, in spite of the present reality that we do see, to believe for what we do not see. ( John 20:29 – “…Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”) That is to truly trust the Lord; that is to truly walk by faith and faith alone.