I have been incredibly privileged. I grew up a pastor’s kid at a huge church in Houston, Texas. I was raised in a Christian home by two incredibly loving parents who worked very hard to provide everything we could possibly need. I have two beautiful sisters and a big brother whom I adore. We weren’t rich, but we had everything we needed and then some.
The greatest struggle I endured in my childhood was occasionally feeling left out by my wealthier classmates. I did a lot of comparing and wishing I had more cash to burn as one of the “staff kids” at my very affluent, private Christian school. (Thankfully, other than the uncanny ability to spot a pair of designer jeans from a mile away, I graduated thankful and very aware of how good I had it!) And then there was college, where my biggest heartbreak was not making the cheerleading squad at Auburn the first time I tried out. Total first-world problems, right?
When your life has been easy and, dare I say, #blessed, those small heartbreaks, tiny setbacks, and minor inconveniences can easily loom terribly large in your mind. It took having to climb some real mountains to show me that all I’d ever seen before were small hills. I was clueless and entitled, and I’m grateful that my friends who had already dealt with some serious tough stuff gave me heaps of grace when I griped to them about my small problems. There’s an old saying that “you don’t know what you don’t know,” and that was 100 percent me. I just had no clue what it actually meant to walk through something difficult.
In 2010 that all changed. My baby sister was diagnosed with an eating disorder. Over the span of a few months, we watched as she literally disappeared before our eyes, physically and emotionally. It is absolutely brutal to watch someone you know and love get lost in a disease like that. Fast forward to 2011. Three months after my wedding, my parents checked my older brother into rehab for alcohol and substance addiction.
It was crushing. I can’t tell you how many times I wondered if I had done something that caused those issues. It’s pretty human to want answers, but sometimes there just aren’t any. My siblings and I are close. More than just brothers and sisters, we’ve always been friends. Suddenly, I felt like I was losing them, and there was so little I could do to help. These weren’t childhood bullies I could intimidate for them. These weren’t hurt feelings I could soothe away by reading a book or playing their favorite games. These were battles that they really had to fight themselves. There was nothing I could do except remind them that I loved them and pray.
Then in 2013, we found ourselves in the midst of our infertility battle. I already felt worn down from my family’s other struggles when I got the news that having biological children would be almost impossible. I think that is part of the reason my grief was so profound. Have you ever felt like that? Like waves of struggle keep sweeping you off of your feet and carrying you out to sea, away from solid ground? Like there is no time to come up for air? Those years of uncertainty, doubt, fear, and heartbreak left my whole family feeling like Noah in his ark, adrift with no land in sight.
But even in the midst of all of that darkness, there was always a light. Each time another wave hit, I was faced with a decision.
Do I believe God is who He says He is? Do I believe His promises are true? And if I say I do, how does that look in my life? Does my life match what I say I believe?
Doubt crept in. Fear crept in. Shame crept in. I realized I needed a new game plan. I had been assuming life would be easy and good with only a few struggles peppered in. But that is not what God promises in the Bible. We aren’t promised easy or good. In James 1:2, James says,
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds.
Not if, but when. I realized that I would always be mad and frustrated and feel resentful toward God if I kept believing that struggles were going to be rare. I needed to embrace the idea that there would always be struggles. I needed to look at my story not as a “happily ever after” situation, but as an ongoing series of battles that, handled with faith, would grow and shape me to be more like Jesus. So that also meant that I needed to reframe the concept of grace in my mind.
When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in tis beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. — Genesis 8:11
Since struggles are a constant, that means that grace needs to be a constant as well. You may be thinking, “well, duh!” at this point, but this really was a revolutionary concept to me. I had been thinking of grace as a one-time shot to be doled out as the situation demanded. Wrapping my head around the need for a constant, ever-present stream of grace was trickier than I expected. In fact, it was easier to accept a future filled with struggle than it was to accept a future filled with grace. Crazy, right?
I think we all struggle so much with grace because, deep down, we all feel like we don’t deserve it. God doles it out with abandon, but we get so caught up in our shame and guilt and embarrassment that we keep our arms closed, refusing to accept His generous gift. If you were to write your story right now, what words would you use to describe yourself? How do you think God would write your story? Would it look and sound the same coming from Him? My guess is that your answer to that last question is a resounding no! When God writes our stories, He infuses them with grace and love. So why is it so difficult for us to do the same thing?
There is so much unnecessary shame that accompanies words like eating disorder, addiction, infertility, and all of those other words we use during the hardest, most trying times. Those words taste like struggle, like brokenness, like failure. Not exactly words you want to claim as your own, right? I was so scared at first to share my infertility journey. I could just picture the horrible things that people might say or think of me. What if they only saw my infertility and stopped seeing me? But attaching broken, failure-laden words to ourselves isn’t grace. Words and names have power, and we can choose which words to use when we tell our own stories. Choosing our words carefully is a form of grace that we see over and over again in the Bible.
Gods’ Words for His Children
The Bible is full of stories of the faithful people who have followed God imperfectly. They have all messed up and made mistakes, but God does not call them failures. Instead, He called them:
Friends (1 John 4:7-8)
Faithful (Genesis 5:22)
Highly favored (Luke 1:28)
A man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14)
A chosen people (1 Peter 2:9)
Treasured possessions (Deuteronomy 7:6)
Children of God (1 John 3:1)
Mine (Malachi 3:17)
Heirs of the Kingdom (James 2:5)
Prophet to the nations (Jeremiah 1:5)
How would you see yourself differently if you called yourself these names with God’s grace?
In the very beginning, God gave Adam naming rights over all of the animals. It was an important job that He trusted Adam with. Right there in the first book of the Bible, God makes it clear that names matter. Then there are the stories of Abraham and Peter, who both took up new names to signify their commitment to God when He called them. But my favorite is the story of Jacob. Instead of choosing to call the suffering of losing his wife what it was, Jacob recognized that there was power in a name. Rachel had named her son Ben-Oni, meaning “son of my trouble,” with her dying breath. Jacob renamed him Benjamin, meaning “son of my right hand.” Jacob chose to speak life over his circumstances and over his son. He called it a blessing, joy, hope, and a privilege.
Stop and Reflect
What positive label do you want to give yourself?
Is there a failure or struggle that you want to rename in a positive way?
How can you transform your negative attitude into a positive one, even during trying circumstances?
God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. — Romans 5:5
For a long time, I was consumed with how I’d chosen to label my life and myself. I told myself daily that my life was the pits. I complained that it was frustrating. I whined that it was depressing. I was convinced that my life was nothing but grief, uncertainty, pain, and hopelessness. I lived in that space of negativity, choosing to speak negative words over my circumstances that, in turn, reflected back on my life.
We are not in control of most things that happen in our lives. We want health, but we are handed a life-threatening illness. We want financial security, but we can’t find a job in our field. We want marriage, but we find ourselves single. We want to make our flight on time, but an accident delays us. None of those things are what we would have picked, and we can’t control them, but we can control our attitudes about and our responses to our circumstances.
I learned the hard way that my negative words and attitude were not the way to give myself grace. So now when I’m challenged, I take the time I need to process or grieve the situation, and then I act on the naming rights I’ve been given. I choose to shift my attitude, to lean into what God is teaching me, to open my eyes to the blessings in my life, and to give this circumstance a positive name. And you can too. You can take the label you’ve given yourself or that others have tried to put on you, and you can change it. You can take back your naming rights. Attitude is a choice we must make every single day, sometimes multiple times a day.
Help me to choose positivity and grace today. Help me speak to myself the way that You would speak to me. Thank You for Your Word that I can turn to whenever I need a reminder of Your grace for me.
In Jesus’ name, amen.
Excerpted with permission from Give Grace by Megan Smalley, copyright Megan Smalley.
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What positive label do you want to give yourself? Is there a situation you want to reframe positively? Come share with us! ~ Laurie McClure, Faith.Full