It was late. The girls were asleep. It was quiet. We’d turned the kitchen lights off so the living room lamps left only a dim light. And the near darkness seemed to match my mood. Several months into winter, sunlight in the Midwest was scarce, and my mental funk mirrored the constant cloudiness.
That night I broke down and the funk spilled out in tears and heavy sobs.
I can’t tell you that one particular event precipitated that moment, but the pent up frustration and overwhelming sense of disappointment found release in tears before I found any words to explain it.
“I’m tired. I’m sad. This is hard and it never stops being hard. This isn’t what I expected. I can’t keep do this anymore. I don’t want to live like this.”
I found myself wiping tears, feeling as deeply wounded and broken as I had years earlier when Richard died, but I hadn’t lost anyone but myself.
Somewhere along a road filled with detours and unexpected twists and turns, I’d slowly begun to believe the life I was living. Loneliness. Exhaustion. Disappointment. I felt overwhelmed by the sense that the outcome of everything in my life and the life of my family depended on me. The weight of that unrealistic burden meant I rarely had time to look beyond my own four walls, but whenever I did, I only saw more hurt, more disappointment, or more needs to be met.
I had plenty to celebrate in my life at the time, and much for which to give thanks. But the perpetual negatives running through my mind left little room for joy, and after years of always finding the silver lining, my eyes only saw grey clouds.
My soul pivoted that night. In a moment of utter brokenness, I found myself praying honestly, “How could the faith that came so easily in the midst of loss, seem so flimsy now?”
The answer I found, perhaps gently whispered to my heart by the Lord, was simply, “You believed then.”
My gut indignantly insisted that I always believed, yet in the quiet, I found myself looking at the life I lived, and realizing the gap between what I claimed to believe and how I lived.
I had elevated how I felt and those emotions ruled my thoughts and governed my behavior. And in many instances, I permitted how I felt to absolve me of my own role in bringing about the change I craved.
In my loneliness, I saw only the ways I had been excluded. I licked my wounds and blamed my sense of isolation on those who had not invited me into their community.
In my disappointment, I clung tightly to what I did not have, refusing to appreciate what I had received. I catalogued my lack and criticism crushed compassion.
In my fear, the worst-case scenarios plagued my thoughts and I resigned myself to defeat in battles I’d never been asked to wage.
It was an exhausting way to live. And it looked and felt nothing like the abundant life my Jesus promised.
That night I began to see the powerful difference in the subtle shift of words:
I was believing what I lived rather than living what I believe. Believing what I live places the burden of proof on the life around me, rather than the truths that inform my faith. Believing what I live leaves me weary, discouraged, and looking for real hope.
That night was the turning point that began this journey I’ve been on for the last few years. It’s a journey that’s led me to pause and ask myself, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” By taking the time to define what I believe, what I believe becomes prescriptive for how I live.
Sometimes too, I’ve found it helpful to own how I feel and hold those emotions up against what I believe. Doing so denies those emotions the power to take root in my heart, and prevents my emotions from ruling my actions. How I feel isn’t right or wrong, but what I do with those emotions becomes prescriptive. Indulgence extends emotions. That doesn’t seem like a bad thing if I’m happy, but it can be debilitating when I’m sad or angry. As I strive to live what I believe, I’m learning to take my emotions and weigh them against what I know to be true.
Truth trumps emotions every time.
Defining what I believe replaces the emotion with truth. When I take the time to define what I believe, I’m giving myself a compass for the uncertain road ahead. Twists and turns are inevitable and the detours are certain. Knowing what I believe provides direction when life doesn’t go the way I want or expect.
When I choose to live what I believe, I recognize my unique role in the change I wish to see in my life and the life around me. When I crave friendship, I create community. When I’m disappointed, I give thanks because it shifts my perspective. When I need a happy ending, I catalog God’s provision and presence. I rehearse His faithfulness and find cause to celebrate.
Over the last few days there’s been a lot of emotions in our country. What we choose to do with those emotions becomes prescriptive for how we live. I see it as a profound opportunity for each of us to consider, “What do I believe? Am I living it? Or am I believing what I live?” If we skirt these questions – or apply them to others without doing our own soul-searching – we risk accepting a life defined by what we live, rather than what we believe.
This week I’ve found myself repeating the mantra I wrote for myself after that particular dark night.
I had determined to live what I believe. I had distilled much of my inner angst into three concrete actions to reclaim the joy I had lost while believing what I lived. I needed a visual reminder so on the dry erase board in my kitchen I wrote: Seek Peace + Sow Love + Speak Life = Reclaim Joy.
It’s a daily decision to live what I believe. Sometimes that requires hourly, minute-by-minute choices to ensure I don’t slip into believing what I live. Over time these short declarative sentences have become guideposts for this journey of mine. They provide a filter to sift emotions against truth and ensure my life reflects what I believe.
What Do I Believe? John 10:10 * Philippians 4:4-8, 11-13 * 1 Timothy 2:1-2 * 1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 * John 15:9-17 * 1 Peter 4:8 * 1 John 3:14 * Proverbs 15:4 * Proverbs 10:19 * Proverbs 12:18 * Proverbs 18:21 * Proverbs 31:26 * James 1:26 * 1 Peter 3:10 * John 15:11 * Psalm 16:8-11