How to Change What You Experience

As we start the new year, we have so many new experiences ahead, but we are also carrying some of the old year with us. We can feel like a hamster on a wheel, spinning, but not making any progress, or as if life has just been a hard march through dreary days but with a new year ahead, we have an opportunity for new perspective and a renewed vision of what God has in store.
Single mom, Elizabeth Cole, shares part of her journey to find a right perspective when things seem challenging and hard is in choosing to stay present in today rather than jump ahead. She shares that she often wants to look into the future and imagine new things ahead, to dream about new possibilities, to escape where she is right now. Imagining a brighter, easier future can feel a lot better when she’s juggling all she does as a single mom while also engaging in the work of healing and change.
Rather than facing the realities before her, focusing on the future is a coping mechanism that isn’t always helpful. Elizabeth notes that it keeps her from experiencing the joy of today and being present in the moment with those she loves. When life is difficult, she likes to look ahead to a time when things will be “better”, when her healing will be complete, when issues are more resolved. But, that desire - to “get past” the hard parts of today and jump into a more utopian future - impedes her ability to stay connected to her daily life now, whether related to work or her relationships with those closest to her. It keeps her from being able to see where God is moving in the day to day, and it keeps her from being able to make the necessary changes to get into the future she wants.
She compares it to being one of the crew on a large ship where the captain is calling out orders. God is our captain, and she imagines Him using his scope to see where to go next and giving instructions accordingly. Elizabeth finds herself crowding him out, trying to look out to the horizon herself rather than waiting to hear what the next move is that God wants her to make. When she’s busy looking ahead, not paying attention to what is happening now, she isn’t very able to listen and respond to what He is calling her to do next. Being present and staying in the moment, waiting for guidance on what to do, is hard and requires surrender and a willingness to wait on Him.
Maintaining that perspective isn’t simple. Elizabeth shares that being self-aware is important especially in helping her realize when her vison gets clouded. By that she means, recognizing when the vision of where she is at today gets lost in her attempts to jump past the pain of the here and now into the future. When she does that, she can’t see what’s right in front of her because she’s looking so far ahead of where she is today.
Elizabeth’s counselor shared that instead of shutting down feelings of shame or negative thoughts by jumping past them, it is helpful to give those thoughts and feelings a voice. When we do that, we can listen to what they have to say and began to understand where they came from. The process of allowing ourselves to lean into those areas is very healing and helps us rewrite some of our narrative around them rather than avoid them. We don’t need to try to fix it, deny it, or try to manage it. We can just let them inform our perspective.
Robert Beeson, founder of Solo Parent Society, shares that on his single parent journey, he was challenged to look at the painful parts of his story through the lenses of gratitude and expectancy. Having those lenses as filters helped him work through the hurts while maintaining a sense of hope and an awareness that God was at work in them. He adds that he can see how the lens of awareness is also important. Rather than seeing things through a default lens of complaining or negativity, we can discipline ourselves to see things in a different way. When we allow ourselves to filter our thoughts and feelings through the lenses of gratitude, hope, and awareness, we won’t have to jump ahead and avoid the hard things or stay stuck because we will be more able to accept them in the present and then be able to move on in a healthy way.
 We can’t change our circumstances, but we do have the choice in how we filter and process what we are going through. We can be careful about choosing a perspective that allows hope to enter in even while we are honest and reflective when things are hard. Gratitude and expectancy open the door to that kind of optimism and the awareness reminds us that we don’t have to pretend that things are easy, but we can choose our response to them.
Being deliberate about gratitude made a huge difference for single mom, Kim Mitchell. She remembers having a day where she just felt, “Woe is me”. God reminded her that even still her life was good because HE is good, and He was with her in the midst of all of it with her kids. He nudged her to look around and be thankful. 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18 says, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” This is His word to us – in everything, to give thanks.
We don’t get to choose our circumstances, but we get to choose how we react to them. “Sometimes we can scream and punch the pillow but then we can choose to smile and be kind”, says Kim. She remembers a time on New Year’s Eve when she wrote these words as a single mom: “I haven’t made any new year resolutions this year, nor have I sat with pen and paper and jotted down my thoughts and goals for 2014 as is my usual practice. I don’t know why. Maybe because “I don’t know” seems to be the current theme in my life lately. I don’t know what my dreams are. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know what today will bring. I don’t know what we will have for dinner. I don’t know if I will be married again or date. I don’t know if my kids will be okay or if I’m parenting well enough or if I will ever stop saying, “I’m tired”. Or if the bills will all get paid in the same month or if my life makes an impact. Or how to deal with the fact that I’m turning forty this year and will be the mother of a teenager this month.   I don’t know my five year plan nor what I expect from this new year. I just don’t know.
But this is what I do know. I want to love more even when it’s hard. I want to give more even when I’m tired. I want to be more courageous even when I’m scared. I want to lead my children better even when I feel like a failure. I want to trust God more that he really does know my future even when all I seem to do most days is question his ways. I want to be still more even when it makes me anxious. I want to disappoint more people by saying no when it’s right for my family even though it makes me feel guilty. I want to be more joyful even on dark days when smiling is a chore. I want to jump into action more even when I feel desperately inadequate. I want to be more beautiful which has nothing to do with makeup and clothes but has everything to do with my heart. I just want to be a better me even when I don’t know who that girl is sometimes, the me that God created me to uniquely be with all my brokenness and flaws. I want to be more thankful because this life I have is truly a gift. This is what I want, and this is what I choose for 2014. There will still be lots of “I don’t knows”. I’m okay with that and while I still wonder what this new year holds, I never wonder WHO holds it, and that right there is enough to make 2014 the best year yet.”
Kim wrote that seven years ago. She did date and get married. Her kids are still alive. She still doesn’t know what they’re having for dinner and she’s still tired. She doesn’t know what the five year plan is still… Sometimes she had “the pen in hand and wrote the chapters” herself but her favorite pages and the ones that had the most meaning are “the ones when God held the pen and wrote the story. She has learned that the story is much more beautiful when she lets go and lets Him do the storytelling. “It’s not a story of perfection but it is a story of purpose. And that is the story of us all. The pages of your life may look dark and dreary sometimes. The story may be filled with “I don’t knows” but I promise you one thing your story is written with purpose. Your life matters. The words that you are living out impacts the world. You may think it doesn’t, but it sure does so keep writing and living and handing the pen over to God because he writes the most remarkable stories of beauty from ashes and grace from sin and love that cover it all. Sometimes we just need to look back at the chapters that have been written and just thank God.  Gratitude is everything to me. It changes everything. It doesn’t necessarily change the stuff, but it changes me.”  
Gratitude, expectancy, and awareness are three important lenses to look through when we are seeking God’s vision for our lives and the new year ahead. As we reflect on this past year, we can use those lenses too, asking God to help us see things through those lenses and to consider them with His perspective in mind. While circumstances may be hard, things may be unresolved, and your days full of “I don’t knows”, we can look ahead with confidence in the God who does know.
When we deliberately seek His perspective, we don’t have to avoid the pain of the now to jump ahead into the future or get stuck in the hurts of the past. We can thoughtfully and prayerfully consider “all things” through His lens of hope today. We can stay in the moment with Him and with those He gave us to love. We can choose to look for things to be grateful for and when we do, we will find them just like the opposite is true. Our perspective and our focus matters. We can choose the lenses we look through. We can decide to be grateful, to be expectant, and to be aware of what we are feeling, thinking, and experiencing now. We can look for God at work and we can let Him write the pages or our story in the new year. This is how we can change our perspective for what we will experience in 2022. This is how we can look ahead with renewed vision.  

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