From countdown to contented…and the beauty of weakness

From being around 16 years old, there was one thing I was completely sure of: I would not be living in Wigan for my entire life. Although it is my home and a comforting, familiar place, there is nothing about it that makes me want to stay here. And so when I returned at the beginning of July, I started a mental countdown. 6 months and a bit until I could leave again. In the meantime, I would rest and potter around and raise money for Hong Kong, and maybe go to church on a Sunday…but all my thoughts would be focused on the day I got on a plane to leave this home once again for a new home. One I loved with all my heart, one that I could see myself being in long-term, one that makes me feel like I belong and makes me feel like I can do great things.

Then my view of life was challenged. I realised I’ve been discontent with my circumstances for a long time simply because I chose to be discontented. There were so many things I wanted to do and I was impatient that I had to wait to do them. Instead of understanding what a blessing it is to be able to rest and relax, to simply be, I began wishing this time away without considering that I could use it for God’s glory and for my own development as a person and a Christian. How many of you reading this think of things they want to change about their life and immediately decide to change it ‘tomorrow’? Then tomorrow comes, and it is put off again ‘until tomorrow – tomorrow, I really will start this’. Tomorrow, I will start putting aside half an hour to learn Mandarin. Tomorrow, I will get up early and spend time with God. Tomorrow, I will go to the gym. I spent most of my time planning for tomorrow instead of thinking about what I could do today.

When this became clear to me, the first thing I did was pray that God would come into that part of my life and change it. Through spending time with Him and listening to His voice, I began to change my thinking. Now, I choose to be content with where I am. I am starting to invest more time in the things that matter to me, like my family. I am slowly becoming part of a lively and thriving church with a community of people who demonstrate real love. I delight in doing little things to help out around the house, like ironing and cleaning out the fish tank. By shifting my view from ‘why can’t I do x now?’ to ‘how can I use the time I have been given to love others?’ I have experienced a dramatic change of heart and I can profess that I am genuinely and truly content with where I am in this very moment, to the extent that I am beginning to desire more time here to invest more deeply in those around me – something which I was amazed at, considering my desire for years has been to move away from here for good. I keep imagining the things I can do here when I return from Hong Kong, the projects I can begin and the people I can help. In my acceptance pack for my year in Hong Kong (I’ll explain what I’m doing at the end of this post) there’s a little bullet point which says:

‘Be content, satisfied, in whatever situation or circumstance you find yourself. The outward may change or vary but be content on the inside.’

I feel like I’m finally achieving this just by changing the way I think about things and refocusing back on God; asking what I can do to glorify Him in these circumstances rather than whether these circumstances work for me.

However, having said that, I am by no means at the end of this path. Contentment has many different branches, and just because one is flourishing doesn’t mean the others are also well-nourished. Because I am no longer preoccupied with my circumstances, I have become very aware of a different aspect of contentedness I must work on: my self-esteem.

Those of you who know me will probably laugh at that, and a couple of months ago I would have done exactly the same. It’s not like I hide myself away, not wanting to talk to anyone or be in the spotlight. I am a confident and outgoing person, I love talking to people and I don’t mind being prominent and seen (if I did, I’d hardly write this and then post it to everyone I am Facebook friends with). But low self-esteem comes in a variety of different forms, and this particular form is one that I thought I’d gotten rid of years ago. I’m sharing it with you now for several reasons; I want people to understand that the common perceptions of self-esteem aren’t the be-all and end-all, I want those going through the same thing to know they are not alone, and I want this blog to be one of honesty and not shame.

My mind tells me that I am not worthy.

There are many different ways in which this is expressed in my behaviour and thought processes. I often overcompensate for my lack of worth by trying to serve others. I am rubbish at jobhunting because I feel guilty asking people to consider me for a job. There is constantly something about myself I am trying to change that is completely trivial, such as growing my hair, getting rid of my spots, toning my stomach. On top of this, there are things I feel guilty for NOT changing, such as wearing lenses instead of glasses, taking the time to dress fashionably, painting my nails, wearing makeup. Part of this is societal norms but the main reason is that I feel like I am lower than others because I am not as well put together as they are. I have trouble talking to new people when I am in their environment and not mine because I feel like I don’t deserve their attention; this has become glaringly obvious as I try to integrate myself into this new church and interact with people who have been there for ages, especially the pastor because my mind tells me ‘He’s far too important to waste his time talking to me, there must be other people he’d rather talk to.’ Although I am genuinely happy as a single woman, part of the reason I choose not to be open to a new relationship is that I am convinced nobody could see me in that way (that is only a small part of the reason though, honestly, don’t go getting the wrong idea!!)

I’m sharing all of this with you now so that you can see that although I have overcome one of my weaknesses, being discontented with my situation, I still struggle with things (there are many others where this one came from) and I am not this perfect, sorted Christian. And I don’t think I’ll ever have everything sorted. Maybe I’ll struggle with feeling worthy my entire life. Maybe I’ll finally overcome it just to be faced with something else I need to work on. But that’s okay. This morning my devotion actually had the perfect verse in it (well actually that’s a lie, it was a different verse in the same chapter which I was drawn to) which comes from 2 Corinthians 12:9 – a very well-known and well-quoted verse…

‘But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.’ (ESV version)

My devotion was all about receiving God’s peace by sitting and resting in His presence. There’s not a lot I can do alone to work on my self-esteem issues apart from trying to change the way I think and push myself to talk to people and act like this isn’t an issue. To overcome this, or persevere with it as Paul did with his weaknesses, I need Jesus to work through it just as He worked through my discontent with my situation. Relinquishing control of these issues to Him is something I’m not great at, but I’m learning and He is gracious. Going through these times reminds me of just how much I need God; I am confident that without Him I would not get through it even with all the wonderful friends I have to talk things through with. One step at a time, I learn how to focus less on myself and my own failures and more on His glory. And at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.

NOTE: I am in no way depressed or battling through an insanely difficult time. I am still genuinely happy and outgoing and loving life. Expanding on this issue makes it seem like a massive deal but I don’t want to make it seem bigger than it is; it is simply what I am working through at the moment. If you want to chat to me about it feel free to message me or email me at rledunn@gmail.com.

So what about Hong Kong?

In January 2014 I will be travelling to Hong Kong to volunteer with a Christian missions organization called Youth With A Mission (YWAM) for a year, essentially becoming a missionary and taking part in outreaches to witness to Jesus in Asia. Being in Asia is something I am very passionate about and excited for and being based in Hong Kong is like a dream come true! I’ve finally figured out how to do one of those fancy newsletter subscription list things and so if you want to sign up for updates about my time in Hong Kong, you can do so here: http://eepurl.com/E0lhb

I’ll be plaguing you all with more chances to subscribe to updates closer to the time but why not start early? (:

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