I turned twenty-three last weekend, and the days leading up to it I couldn’t help but reflect on the previous year. Year twenty-two was full of so much growth. Growth within myself and how I see myself; growth in relationship with people; and mostly (most importantly) growth with our Father and how I perceive Him and this relationship.
So I had a question that came to mind of “If I created an album about the twenty-second year of my life, what type of songs would it have on it?” And instantly I had a lot of ideas, but I’m not sure they all fit accurately. So I thought about it some more and realized there are certain, specific words that could summarize year twenty-two or at least certain parts of it, so I wanted to share with all of you.
I have to admit, and I’m not ashamed, that I listened to “22” by Taylor Swift so many times that it could probably just summarize my year by default, but that is too easy.
The first song or word that exists on the album of my twenty-second year is Identity. As most albums go, this one starts with the most exciting or upbeat song for the year. Not only did I learn what my true identity in this world is, but I stepped into it! For most of my life I have allowed the “idea” of being “a Christian” run my life, but I never let it sink in. This year, through study and revelation of the Holy Spirit, I came to realize that my real identity cannot be simplified or summarized as “a Christian”, for I am a son of God. That doesn’t take away from the fact that I am a follower of Christ (aka a Christian), it just means that there is so much more to relationship with God than claiming to follow Him, stamping my life with the “Christian” stamp and then never allowing what His Words say to impact me and lead me further along the journey. God doesn’t want mindless followers, He wants His sons and daughters to return to Him and experience true life and friendship and family and joy and peace at the Family table in the Kingdom. My identity is in my relationship with my Father, for I am His son and that’s what gives me strength and power because I am royalty. Royalty is a powerful thing because it means I power. And I don’t have that power because of anything I’ve done, it’s because of who my Father is that people can see my value.
The second, third, fourth, and probably fifth songs would look a whole lot differently than the first song on the album, though. They would be a story of Struggle and Bondage and Question and internal Turmoil (basically all of the things that led to the discovery of my true identity) but they would all have HOPE attached to them. I don’t look at these songs or phases of life as bad things, especially when I look back, because I know the greatness that came out of the struggle, I simply see them as life. We go through things, ups and downs, and sometimes they feel overwhelming and never ending, and hope is extremely hard to have because ‘I just slipped back into the thing I said I would never slip back into’, but you keep holding on to the Light because you know God has not given up. And then all at once, victory and breakthrough come and you are reminded how faithful God is. And things don’t always happen quickly. A lot of the bondage and turmoil I’ve walked out of this year has been built up over years. And all across those years I wanted victory but I never felt like I tasted it completely. But this year I found out that victory is actually when we are able to stand back up after falling and to continue to pursue our Father’s heart (even when we feel unworthy or gross) and to have hope that the God of creation will someday–SOMEDAY–make things different. That’s what hope is. Even when despair comes, His grace is what reminds us to carry on.
After those songs, actually paired right up with those songs, would be a never ending song of Forgiveness. Over the first twenty years of my life I believed the lie that in order to be a “good Christian”, I had to beat myself up over my sins. So instead of simply, and rightfully, accepting God’s forgiveness I thought I needed to earn my way back to right-standing with Him which is impossible because it only caused me to stumble more. But three years ago, when I discovered that this relationship with God is real, I also found out that He really does forgive us, and my heart changed! I know He has already forgiven us for all of our sins–that’s what Jesus’ death did–we just have to accept His grace. So for the past three years I’ve understood and finally accepted God’s grace over my mistakes. I’m talking truly accepted His love, not just said the words. It’s been a struggle to do it, but I’ve come to the point where I’m able to run back to Him after I stumble now, instead of run further away. Recently, however, I’ve realized that I really don’t like to forgive myself. I spent so long thinking that God was keeping track of my wrongdoings that it warped how I thought about myself, and it left me with almost a continual guilt and shame weighing on me. I knew God had forgiven me of my sins but knowingly or not, I held on to some of my mistakes and continued to beat myself up. Over the course of the twenty-second year of my life, however, I came to the point of discovery where I realized that I need to forgive myself, too. Especially if Father God, our Creator, looks at me with forgiveness in His eyes, do I need to move past my mistakes and forgive myself. So I’m working on that right now, and I’m sure it will be a daily thing, but now I have great joy in forgiving myself, and I do it with all of the strength I have.
And the song (or two or three) that would wrap up the album would consist of a powerful theme of Relationship. All of life boils down to relationship. Relationship with God and relationship with people. How we go about those two things really matters. All across this past year I found myself reflecting within certain situations and thinking to myself how blessed I am to have the people I do in my life. But not only that, I found myself reflecting on what each relationship across my whole lifetime has meant to me, and I think when I truly started to see how much people had done for me, I was able to value them on a level that I had not previously known. At the end of the day, it isn’t money or status or power that changes the world, it’s true love for the people in your life that ignites change and that’s what I’m discovering now. Love on an individual basis that knows how to interact with each person it comes across with, and a general love for people as a whole, no matter who they are or what they’ve done, continuing to give them a chance. So relationship has been the biggest theme of my life over the past year, and I’m sure it will continue to be a major theme for the rest of my life. After all, it is what God has called us to do–invest in His children. And it is what He has called me to pursue as a career–to truly care for and encourage the people in my life. Not to see people as a number or a face in the crowd, but to value each and every soul that I interact with.
Year twenty-two was spent doing so many things that I love. From playing football with my friends, to hiking in the wilderness, to quiet moments in my room with Father, I found so much joy because of all of the growth that took place. Discovering God is such a great adventure.
Because of this twenty-second year of living, I’m not afraid of the trials and the tests and the mistakes that will come my way, I know my God is faithful and I know that I will grow.
It’s impossible for me not to continue to grow, because I’m His son.
run after the Father’s heart. pursue it every day.