I sat across from my friend at IHOP, listening as she unloaded her family struggles and boy problems and work issues. I nodded and drank my coffee and made appropriate “mm hmm” noises.
“What do you think?” she asked. “What should I do?”
I put my coffee down. “It sounds to me like you’re spending all of your time focusing on your problems instead of on Jesus.”
“But Charity, I try to do that. I focus on my problems, which leads me to thinking about Jesus, which makes me think I shouldn’t try to do anything else. When I focus on Jesus, I don’t care about my job or my family or my work or ANYthing!” she said as she waved her hands dramatically.
I smiled as I realized it was the second time within a week that someone had brought up a similar “problem” to me. Another friend had explained that if I’m always so focused on Jesus, I won’t have any time for a boyfriend or eventually a husband.
I turned my attention back to my friend and to my bacon omelet, and began to explain what I’ve been learning – from my church and from constantly processing Jesus (and my marital status) lately.
My pastor preached a sermon a couple of years ago in which he asked the question, “What are you putting your hope in?” Differently put, “What is your ‘if only’?” If only I had a husband, if only I had a KitchenAid mixer, if only I had a raise at work, if only I had a small fluffy doggy. Whatever your “if only” is, is what you put your hope in. Or, conversely, what do you fear losing? If something were missing from your life, would it be your “if only”?
That sermon/idea pretty much changed my life. At first, of course I thought, “Oh, I don’t have anything like that. I’m completely content with my job, roommate, apartment, etc. Of course it would be nice to live closer to my family, of course I’d like a husband; but I like my independence and love my city. So I’ve got it pretty good.”
But then, slowly, I started noticing “if only”s in the small things: If only I had chocolate right now, I could make it through the afternoon; if only I had a foot massage, I’d be happy; if only I had time to go to the gym; a shorter commute; a faster computer; caffeine…
If Only. Ifonly, ifonly, ifonly. If. Only.
And I had to repent. I had to tell Jesus that I was looking to other things instead of to Him to make me happy. One by one, as I noticed them, I had to bring them to Jesus and say, “Jesus, for some reason I think if only I had a triple-Venti café mochaccino, I could get through the work day. Please remind me that You are better than specialty drinks at the coffee shop around the corner.”
“Jesus, if only I had a minion at work to help me get through my piles of paperwork today, I could stay sane. Please remind me that even though I may leave work undone, you left nothing undone on the cross.”
“Jesus, if only I were going to home to a husband, life would be perfect. Please remind me that You’ve already given me everything I need to be complete in You, and that going home to an empty house right now is something You’ve already determined is in my best interest.”
As I purged my “if only”s, I found myself thanking God more; I found new ways that Jesus loves me; I found it easier to listen to the Holy Spirit. I stopped putting my hope in things or people or circumstances or plans, and I started putting my hope in the Savior of my soul.
But early on, this shift in my thinking begged the question, “So what’s the point?” If I put my hope only in Jesus, am I ever allowed to look forward to things? If Jesus is the only one worthy of my expectations, then is it a sin to ever be disappointed? Or, like my friend asked over breakfast that day, “If I’m focusing only on Jesus, why not just give up on everything else?”
Her question is a fair one. While God legitimately calls some people to live in caves or convents or temples and spend all their time praying and seeking His face, He calls most of us to live in a world with hopes and dreams and disappointments and sin.
What I’ve learned in answer to my (and her) questions is that there’s a difference between hoping IN something and hoping FOR it.
- I can hope FOR a chocolate fix at 2:00 pm; but if I hope IN it – if I start saying “If only” and thinking that chocolate will be more satisfying than Jesus – then I will never be satisfied, not even if I get the chocolate.
- I can hope FOR a car that works; but if I hope IN it – if I think that I’d take a working vehicle over Jesus, even for one commute – then I will never find joy in anything but a car.
- I can hope FOR a visit with my family; but if I hope IN it – if the fact that they live far away devastates me – then I will lose out on the fact that God has adopted me into His family.
- I can hope FOR a husband one day; but if I hope IN it – if I obsess over a wedding and fixate on what it will finally be like to kiss a man – I will never rest in Jesus, the provider of all rest and peace.
So even hope drives me to Jesus. Hope for a man, hope for an upgraded phone, hope for my plans to work out perfectly, for a movie night with friends, a Skype date with my dad – all of those things remind me of my source of ultimate hope. Sometimes, I get what I hope for, and that reminds me to run to Jesus in gladness. Sometimes, I don’t get what I hope for, and that reminds me to run to Jesus in sadness.
But it all reminds me to run to Jesus.
Two instances in my life come to mind – one time I hoped IN something, and one time I hoped FOR something.
For years, I hoped IN losing my single status. I expected God to abide by my timelines, I begged Him to bring me a man so I wouldn’t be a virgin anymore, I told Him that He wasn’t enough and that He owed me happiness in this area. Prayer after prayer, tantrum after tantrum, year after year, I was disappointed. Frustrated. Devastated. Because I was putting all my hope in a man (and my lists and my timelines), I was never satisfied. It’s only been in the last couple of years, as I’ve realized that Jesus owes me nothing and has loved me beyond imagining that I have truly begun to find satisfaction.
The second story is a bit more shallow. The live-action version of Disney’s “Cinderella” is coming out in March. I am completely, hopelessly, almost irrationally infatuated with the cartoon movie, and I have been looking forward to the live action movie for over a year. I saw a preview for it the other day, and I sat in my theater seat with a hugely stupid grin on my face and trembles in my heart because I cannot WAIT to see that movie. To make it even better, I’ve been asked on a date to see it – by a guy I like. Not to overstate it or anything, but going on an actual romantic date with an actual man (and not a sister or roommate) to see that movie would be a dream come true.
So as I watched the preview, I noticed my thoughts going to “What am I going to wear?” “Will we go out to eat before the movie?” “Will we hold hands during the movie? That would be sooooooo romantic.” “I wonder how I can guarantee that no one in the theater will open candy or cough or laugh at inappropriate times. I want my experience to be absolutely perfect, and if anyone ruins it, I will be devastated forEVER.”
Then I realized I was fixated on making plans for a perfect experience, and that I was super threatened by the thought of anything ruining this movie that gets my heart racing and makes me giddy and dying to dance the Viennese Waltz on a shiny dance floor in a pretty dress. That’s not healthy.
I had to reign in my thoughts and direct them to Jesus. And as soon as I started telling God what I was feeling and thinking, I gained a sense of perspective. I talked to God about it on the way home, and I was super convicted that I was holding the idea of an experience above His plans for me. I was holding so tightly to that idea that I felt that God would be letting me down if He didn’t give me what I wanted. So I had to take a deep breath and say, “God, I want Your will to be done. More than I want to see that movie or go on that date or even have a boyfriend, I want You to be glorified. If this movie comes between You and me, or between You and the person who asked me out, it’s not worth it.”
I’m still excited about the movie, for sure. And I still hope FOR a romantic date out of the deal. But my life would no longer be ruined if I didn’t get to see it for a couple of weeks after it comes out – or whatever.
So I thought I’d share those two stories of practical ways in which I’ve allowed (and failed at allowing) Jesus to take charge of an area of my life, and found peace greater than what any other experience or person could provide.
In my life, the thing that carries most of my hopes and dreams – the thing that makes me run to Jesus the most – is my singleness. Frustrated at waiting? Run to Jesus. Excited about a first date? Run to Jesus. Tired of being a virgin? Run to Jesus. No blog idea at 9:00 on a Wednesday? Run to Jesus. Run to Jesus. Run to Jesus.
Because nothing else I run to – not my roommates, not my family, not my favorite snack, not Netflix, not even my church – is going to bring complete satisfaction, complete joy, complete peace, or complete hope like Jesus does.
That morning at IHOP, I told my friend the story of how I used to believe that I needed Jesus to be more than He already was; I would say, “If only Jesus had physical form and could be my boyfriend/my administrative assistant/my snuggle buddy/my chauffeur.”
But when I gave Him my “if only”s and placed my hope only in Him, I found that He was already everything I needed. He was already my Savior. And THAT’s why
- focusing on Him helps me live better in practical ways. Because He is everything I need, I don’t need to be right in an argument with my roommate. Or happy with my commute. Or the best boss in the world. Or the most knowledgeable person about a topic. I don’t need to freak out if I find a typo in my blog, or make a mistake at work, or say something stupid in front of a cute guy. I don’t need all the answers to the “why?”s in my life.
- having time for Jesus will make me a better girlfriend/wife someday. Because in learning this lesson about “if only”s, I have learned to love Jesus – and, through Him, other people – better.
What I hope my friend learned by the time we packed up our leftovers was that when she focuses on Jesus – far from bringing her to despair about the rest of her life – He will bring all her life’s issues into (eternal) perspective.