I’m Giving Up

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I tend to hold onto things. Memories. Emotions. Notebooks from classes I took several semesters ago. When I get set on a vision, I rarely stray from it. When I think I know what’s right for me, I don’t compromise. You could say I’m a little stubborn.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, though. I know what I want and what’s important to me. So why do I often find myself wrenching my closed fists open in prayer? Why do I feel the need to lay it all down, however begrudgingly?

Because the Lord wants us to give up.

He wants us to give up any notion of control we think we have, because He has plans He swears to carry out (Isaiah 14:24). He wants us to give up our ideas of what we think is right for us, because He is powerful and wise beyond us (Proverbs 3:5-6, Isaiah 55:8-11). He wants us to give up our delight in other things, so that our desires are fixed on Him (Psalm 37:4, Matthew 6:33). He wants us to give up our hope in flawed institutions, because the hope He gives is perfect and infallible (1 Peter 1:23). He wants us to give up our fears and frailty because He loves us, and because He is strong enough to save us from them (1 Peter 5:7, Isaiah 59:1). He wants us to give up our very lives to give Him glory (Romans 12:1).

But we don’t just abandon all these things on the side of the road somewhere – we offer them up to Him. We have to trust that what He can give is more satisfying than what we thought we always wanted, and that can be scary. After all, giving up is so contrary to human nature. But, wonder of wonders, He doesn’t rob us of our humanity and leave us empty. This is the joy of salvation – that He makes us new, that we can be complete in Him (2 Corinthians 5:17, Colossians 2:10). To live is Christ, to die is gain.

So let’s just give up. What we gain in the process amounts to so much more.

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Let’s Be More Open About Our Sexuality

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Sex has always seemed nebulous and far off to me. I never got the infamous talk from my parents. Most of what I learned as a blossoming teen came from the cheap jokes of my classmates and awkward presentations in health courses. The media hasn’t helped much either. Throw in some squeamishness from Christians who are walking a hard line to stay pure, and you’ve got a big, boiling pot of confusion.

As believers, we like to challenge ourselves to gain all the biblical knowledge we can. We decipher the original Hebrew meaning of key words to clarify alleged inconsistencies. We fiercely debate predestination versus free will.

Yet, we put sex in the vaguest terms possible and expect people to have a deep and profound understanding of it. When the topic does come up, we act like we just stepped on something slimy in the ocean. As if, by merely talking about it, we’ll be consumed with unholy desires. Song of Solomon is practically a banned book. God intended it for marriage. Keep yourself pure. Wait for the right person. All these phrases do is sweep the topic under the rug.

In my personal experience, this has left me feeling strangely guilty about the idea of having sex. After being told it’s taboo for so long, how can I be expected to shed years of confusion, fear, and restraint when the time comes? Will some primal instinct take over and I’ll suddenly be endowed with wisdom from beyond? I don’t know! No one ever talks about it! It also makes me rather embarrassed that I don’t have a clearer, more godly perspective on such an important part of life. So often, it’s exploited and misconstrued, and I don’t know how to talk about it, let alone defend it. I’d like for that to change.

So let’s be a little more open about our sexuality, shall we? Hiding from it doesn’t develop reverence for it. It leaves us in the dark, making us scared to understand it – and we shouldn’t be scared of something God created for us.

Why I Dropped Out of College

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In the fall of last year, I was enrolled in the opticianry program at my local college. It was a promising program that boasted of an immersive learning environment that would prepare students for a stable career. My friends and family were proud of me for taking such a huge step, and I felt that it would be a challenge I would come to love. I bought the books and tools and buckled in for a crazy, but presumably rewarding semester.

And then I hit the brakes.

Okay, so my decision to withdraw wasn’t a sudden screeching halt – it built up over the course of a few weeks and through a lot of prayers and tears. But you get the idea. The deeper I got into the belly of the beast, the more I realized how much I didn’t belong there. It came to a point where I didn’t want to get out of bed because I dreaded studying the material I couldn’t bring myself to care about. But the biggest issue was that I knew I was running away from the interests and gifts that God had given me in order to pursue a sense of stability.

I received mixed reactions when I shared the news. Some were “concerned”, giving me shrugs and passive remarks. Some gave me encouraging smiles and pats on the back, respecting my choice and wanting me to be happy. Some high-fived me and called me brave, applauding my defiance of the system. In between all these things, I tried not to blame myself for taking a different path. I had to learn what it means to put my trust in God’s plans when mine fell through.

I spent my gap semester working, saving money, and researching career options. By the end, I had decided to take a leap of faith and go back to school for communications and marketing. I was always drawn to the broader fields, anyway. I still yield to uncertainty at times, but God is quick to remind me of His great provision. I’ve met some very successful graphic designers and media specialists (one of which I had an interview with recently). God used them to show me that I can use the gifts He’s given me in a career, and that His plan is not infeasible.

I suppose this means I’ve surrendered my title of college dropout, but the sentiment still remains: college isn’t for everyone. Just because a career path is stable, it doesn’t mean it’s the right fit for you. You could make all the money in the world, but if you’re pursuing something that God hasn’t called you to, you’re pursuing a false sense of stability.

A Social Awakening of Sorts

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About two weeks ago, I stumbled upon this article.

I’ll give you a quick rundown: Match.com released advertisements in London that suggested that certain physical characteristics are “imperfections”. They showed a close up photo of a woman’s face with freckles and red hair. This was paired with another ad that featured a man with heterochromia. The text overlay read “If you don’t like your imperfections, someone else will.” And “#LoveYourImperfections”. Seems a little counterproductive, but we’ll get back to that.

Enter angry mob with torches and pitchforks.

Internet denizens cried foul, accusing the advertisements of bullying. Twitter was ablaze with social justice warrior rants. Match.com eventually broke under the pressure and had the advertisements removed.

In the middle of all this, I had a social awakening of sorts.

I’m sure we’ve all heard the unpopular opinion that our current generation is overly-sensitive and that we’re creating a society of victims by crying bullying at everything. I’ve even seen articles comparing the soft, weak young men of today with the tough, burly young men of yesteryear who got drafted into wars. Because that’s a totally fair comparison. For the most part, I tuned it all out. I consider myself and my friends to be functioning members of society with healthy levels of self-esteem. We know where our worth lies and we aren’t so easily shaken. I believed the same was true of my fellow young people.

But, wow. Watching all of this drama unfold made me realize just how much power people give to anything that upsets them, particularly in advertising and media. I’m not about to deny that there’s some unfair standard-setting malarkey going on in the industry at large, but these ads were hardly bullying. They were tactless and clumsy at best, yet some couldn’t bear to look at them because they claimed it would make them feel awful about their physical appearance (you can read about this in the article). People are now priding themselves on another battle won against bullying, but really all they’ve done is shown that almost anything the media says will send the general public spiraling out of control.

As someone who possesses freckles, I was not offended by these advertisements at all. I was mystified by them more than anything. Their biggest crime was that they totally missed the tone that a dating website advertisement should strike. Up-close shots are often used to produce an uncomfortable or intense atmosphere. So they don’t exactly draw in the masses to find their true love. Also, that tagline. #LoveYourImperfections? Love my imperfections after you’ve implied that I don’t? Love the imperfections that someone else will love for me anyway? This doesn’t make any sense! Who green-lighted this mess? I digress.

There’s no need to go on a witch-hunt every time something in the media rubs us the wrong way. Let’s start choosing our battles a bit more wisely – if we don’t, anything and everything will eat us alive.

Learning to be Happy (for Others)

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With Valentine’s Day rapidly approaching, I thought it was appropriate to address an issue that many young people in the Christian community face today: learning to be happy for newly engaged couples while we endure the endless stream of “when will you find a boyfriend?” at every family gathering.

It can be hard to be happy for others. Maybe you’re wanting to focus on other things, but you feel distracted by the pesky desire to be in a relationship. Maybe you’re actually trying to find a partner, but not having much luck. Whatever the case may be, watching everyone pair off around you can be a source of stress and frustration. You may find yourself growing callous and cynical toward the blissfully unaware lovebirds, gagging at even the most subtle exchanges they share. This is all in good humor, of course. Hating love is the cool thing to do right now, especially if you’re a single twentysomething. So cast your stones! Boo and hiss! But be sure to counteract it with awkward jokes that mask how exasperated you really are.

Is it possible we’ve let this go too far? When scorn becomes the standard reaction to other people’s happiness, there’s definitely a problem, especially for Christians. It’s selfish, jealous behavior, and we need to stop excusing it under the pretense of trying to be funny. Singlehood will pass – why spend it being disgruntled? The Bible calls us to rejoice with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15). So let’s start rejoicing. Couples need love and support from their friends. Be genuinely happy for them. Attend the weddings with well wishes. Pray that their relationships will be centered in the Lord, and that they’ll grow in Him together. You’ll need prayers too, when your time finally comes. Trust me, it will.

He’s Just Not that Into You

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So, he thinks you’re cute. He flirts with you every chance he gets. You two become the laugh factory whenever you’re together. Now your heart’s all aflutter, and daydreams of him consume your every waking moment, all boiling down to that one flattering thought.

He thinks I’m cute.

This is such an exciting time! You’re making your way into the dating scene, and someone seems interested. You feel a new confidence in roping him in with your charm. You’re happy to know that someone appreciates you in this way, and you make much of it in your innocent little heart.

Time goes on, and he hasn’t asked for your number yet. At most, he’s added you on Facebook, but there haven’t been any playful exchanges on the social media plane. But, not to worry. You know you’ll see him again soon, and flirting will resume as scheduled.

Now the stalking commences. Big mistake. He’s posted pictures left and right of him and his lady friends. They’re . . . having fun. All too aware of their cheeky grins. Cluttering up the hashtag space with inside jokes and pet names. There may even be some side-hugging involved. You feel righteous anger seep through your mind like blistering lava over peaceful country side. This is completely unacceptable! You’re supposed to be the one he finds cute! You begin to hate his stupid face, his stupid hair, his stupid smile, his stupid everything! Your picture of perfect bliss is eroding. Oh, everything’s wrong!

You assemble your wise council of gal pals and start retracing your steps. Surely there’s an explanation. Maybe he’s trying to get your attention. If so, this seems like a really inefficient way to do it. Why wouldn’t he just reach out and say something? Maybe he’s trying to make you jealous. But, what reason would he have to do that? It’s not like there’s some cutthroat competition for your favor going on (that you know of, anyway). As you muddle through the maybes, you slowly come to realize the ugly truth.

Maybe he’s just not that into you.

I mean, sure, you two have been flirting up a storm – but he hasn’t exactly moved heaven and earth to be with you. You don’t even have his phone number, for crying out loud. So why do you find yourself feeling so overwhelmingly discouraged? Because you got way too emotionally invested. You’ve created an image in your head of who you think he is. You’ve run away with your thoughts and made too much of it. You’ve set yourself up for disappointment.

You have to face the fact that if his interest in you is rivaled by his flirting with others, he’s just not that into you. If he’s not doing whatever he can to genuinely get to know you, he’s just not that into you. Sometimes when he says he thinks you’re cute, that’s all there really is to it. You’re not undesirable, but you’re not number one on his list of priorities, either. You’re only in the beginning stages of a potential dating relationship, should you choose to pursue this any further. If not, there will always be other chances. There’s no need for undying devotion just yet. Is that really such a bad thing?

You feel down for a little while, but you get your head back on straight soon enough. Your daydreams decrease significantly, and the idea that he’s just not that into you doesn’t seem as soul-crushing as it once did. You take a few steps back and find a newer, brighter confidence in yourself. There’s still so much that could happen. This winding road known as the dating scene is wide open before you, and you’ve learned not to get ahead of yourself. You take it slow from here on out.

He just thinks I’m cute, after all.

Rethinking Prayer

IMG_3274Prayer is exhausting. In many ways, it’s like a sport. There needs to be a genuine desire to participate, and it requires discipline to set the time aside to practice. Depending on the amount and depth of your concerns, it can feel like your soul is running a marathon every single day. Every now and again, you may just want to take a rest day – forget about all your worries and slowly fall asleep with your favorite show on Netflix playing in the background. After all, you’re only human.

But Scripture specifically tells us to pray without ceasing and with all kinds of […] requests. (1 Thessalonians 5:17; Ephesians 6:18). If this is to be taken seriously, there should be no rest days, no off season, when it comes to prayer. There truly is no rest for the weary.

Up until this point, I’ve tried to get through all my prayers at one time, usually at night. I’ve come to discover that there’s a few kinks in the nightly ritual. For one, it can be hard to stay focused for the long amount of time that prayer usually takes. My mind eventually wanders, I get off track, and my prayers feel less sincere. I’ve also found that while some “major” things receive passionate prayer, other “less significant” things get glossed over in the race to the end. Ultimately, with a list that seems to expand every day, and with so many dire concerns, I think I may have burnt myself out.

All of this is not to say that prayer is not a wonderful privilege. Open, consistent communication with the Father strengthens your relationship with Him. Praying for others causes you to care for them more deeply. The problem is that prayer can be a mountainous task, and we tend to put off such things. How can we be in prayer more consistently, more effectively? I think the answer may lie in time management. I propose that, instead of trying to get through all our prayers in one fell swoop, we should take them in segments. Allow me to explain.

  1. Break up your prayers throughout the day. Go through a certain amount of your prayers at one point during the day, and conclude at a later point. It may help to categorize your prayers. For example, I like to pray for the concerns of my close friends and family, as well as myself in the morning, and the general matters of life in the evening.

If you’re feeling adventurous…

  1. Expand your prayers over the week. Assign a few prayer requests to each day and go through the week. The benefit here is that you can take a day to give more attention to those aforementioned “less significant” things. It may be an interesting challenge to give deeper attention to specific concerns. Of course, if there are certain things you feel you need to pray daily for, continue to do just that.
  1. Whatever you do, stick to the schedule. If you set out to pray at a certain time, stay true to your word. Whatever your structure for prayer may be, don’t let yourself get distracted. That hilarious episode of The Golden Girls can wait. This instills the discipline that prayer requires.
  1. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. Inquire of the Lord. Ask Him to deepen your desire to draw close to Him and weaken your vices. Prayer upon prayer.

We’re all still going to forget once in a while. Days can be draining, and sometimes we fall asleep before we plan to. Don’t kick yourself for it, but don’t use it as an excuse to slack off, either. Prayer shouldn’t be the most stressful part of your day. Find a routine that works for you, and run with it.

Check out my video version of this post here!