Monday, February 17, 2014

Seasons may change but God never does: Part 2

 "Isn't it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different..." - C.S. Lewis 

Seasons are designed to change, but God never does.

As I mentioned in the first post (and if you haven't read it, start here, it's short), I was in a tough growing season for a while. Sharp grow spurts aren't easy, nor are they always fun (though they can be!!), but the benefits far outweigh the pain. I have seen a lot of changes in my life in various areas. It's really neat to look back at the differences from even just a few months ago. God has been working on me, convicting me and challenging me a lot, especially about being satisfied with what I've been given rather than discouraged because of what I don't have.

I've spoken to a number of people who are going through different seasons in their lives about the tension in seasons, the waiting, the changes, the ups, the downs, etc. and I've learned quite a bit.

Personally, my most recent growth spurt started like this:

Living overseas can be lonely. Being single can be lonely. I miss my family, I miss my home country. I love this life, I really do or I wouldn't stay so many years! My expat community is fantastic, it's true. We have a lot of love for each other and form a psuedo-family by necessity. I'm not sure how long this overseas season of my life will last. For now, I don't see an end in sight. Being an expat is exciting, but it's a trade-off. When I'm here, I'm not there. That being said... I occasionally get caught in the comparison game, like many people do. Most of the time I know that's ridiculous. Harboring feelings of resentment just because someone else's life looks different from mine? That's jealousy, and it's dumb, cause helloooo my own life is pretty darn nifty as it is! Jesus is doing some great things here and WHY should I be unsatisfied? Comparison does no one a service. Why would I want to diminish the goodness of what God's doing in my life in this season because a different season (or the next great adventure) seems* full of so much new excitement and wonder?

*"seemscan be so deceiving. 


A while back, I was talking to a good friend who's in the "married & motherhood season of life" about this. She expressed surprise that I sometimes get discouraged or lonely, because "it seems like I have such an enviable life," because what she sees on facebook is all ADVENTURE IS OUT THERE! But then she came to the conclusion that it's not all that surprising after all. She mentioned that I'm "free and able to travel and experience new things," while she's the "wife/mom/church volunteer/part time worker bee/typical American MOM" and that we often get caught up in a grass is greener on the other side mentality. We're human. It's what we do.

Now, I've noticed a trend on the internet: we are all getting sick of the comparison game. We see each other's best moments highlighted on facebook, blogs, instagram, wherever, and we bemoan the fact that our lives don't look so perfect. I think I've read a dozen similar posts about this ridiculous comparison thing where we "should" ourselves into feeling bad (this one is by far my favorite)(this one's really really good too).

Along those lines, I took a break from facebook for a few weeks in November... facebook had become a negative thing in my life, colluding on feelings of loneliness and isolation. I was struggling with feeling satisfied with this season because I was coveting others' seasons. (Notice I said "feeling satisfied," rather than "being satisfied." Oh, all these feeeeeelings! Sometimes I am 100% sure that feelings are dumb. Feelings are such liars sometimes!)

In the fall, I found myself in a rut of bitterness, discontentment, and discouragement and I desperately needed something to change.

When my married-mom-worker-bee friend said that it seems like I have "such an enviable life," in a way she's right. I mean, there's a reason I moved overseas. The draw of the expat life: the unknown, the newness, the challenges, the adventure. As an expat, it's true that I have a chance to do crazy stuff that many people at home can't (or don't) do, BUT why must we compare? Not to mention, more of my time is spent doing non-expat-life things, anyway. Work, bills, groceries, coffee, friends, church. Normal, everyday tasks. I just happen to live overseas while I do them. (Not to mention, most people don't post pictures of doing laundry or (cough, *not*) cleaning their apartment. We'd much rather post pictures of the exciting things, which don't happen all the time. The little things that make up life here are much the same as little things that make up life at home. We only post the highlight reel.) 

My cousin and I also talked about it. She's working on her PhD in Psychology, so she knows her business. She mentioned that comparison is such a natural human tendency and it's much harder to internalize praise than it is to internalize negative criticism, "whether it comes from ourselves or others." I think that many of us internalize criticisms that are founded in comparison. We look at the lives around us, on facebook, wherever, and we scold ourselves for not being as _______ as that person over there.


Now. Why should I give my time and attention to feelings of inadequacy? I don't want anything to receive more time and attention than my relationship with God - not even good things and certainly not negative things. Isn't comparison just a way we indirectly complain about our circumstances? Ben Stuart (director of Breakaway Ministries) says it this way: complaining about circumstances dishonors God, just like complaining about food dishonors a cook. Why should I give my time and attention to comparison and bitterness?? Don't I trust God? Don't I believe that He has something better for me than that?

And with that, I took a 21 day facebook-hiatus [back in November] to break the habit, to break the idol.

It was awesome.


As the seasons shifted, autumn to winter, I asked myself some tough questions, then I took an account of all that God has done. That process helps me release bitterness and focus on joy. I think it's good to periodically evaluate the seasons you've been traveling through. Spiritual exercise takes discipline.


Going off the grid helped a lot, freeing up a lot of time to be productive in other areas, even though it freaked my family out that I was suddenly missing!! The morning after I disabled my account, I woke up to, like, 7 missed calls and texts wondering where I went. It's good to know you're missed! **BIG realization there about how TRUE this is.** While my family loves that fb is an easy way to keep up with my comings-and-goings, I don't always realize that they're paying attention. When you're fb stalked, you don't receive the benefits of two-way communication, the community. Facebook has a way of taking the exchange out of relationships, lending to consumerism instead of connections. A short hiatus reminded me, and them, how we have to be careful about facebook lurking. It reminded us how important it is to interact and let people know you're thinking of them. It's good to know you are loved!

Relevant says it this way: "In reality, community isn’t always supposed to be comfortable. Real community is messy. Real community is unedited. Real community involves taking time to actually be with people, even if that means finding time by making sacrifices. It means investing emotion into someone else’s life—even if you get nothing in return. It means getting hurt and getting involved. It means taking the filters off and embracing the parts of your friends’ lives that haven’t been cropped out of a picture or have gone unmentioned in a status update."

I had been feeling very lonely and isolated, which was weird cause my family, friends, etc, were actually paying a attention to me, loving on me from afar, I just didn't know it. Going off the grid helped shift the way we interact on social media, and I believe helped us reevaluate what is important. We've gotten much better at this!



While I was off the social media grid, God kept sending me reminders that he IS there, he HAS a plan, he KNOWS what he's doing, and he DOESN'T make mistakes.

And while the seasons outside my window changed, I contemplated the similarities to seasons of life. 

I spent much more of my time digging into the Bible. It was an incredibly fruitful transition!! Jesus keeps growing me and maturing me in ways that I wouldn't expect and I. LOVE. THAT. I love looking back at the Zara who was and realizing that I'm not really her now. It's especially fun as a blogger because I can re-read old blog posts and laugh at myself. I am still me, of course. I am still Zara. It's just... It's like a tree...

I'm like a tree. 

A tree is always a tree but it looks so different in every season! For example, take the cherry trees that grow along my street. In the spring, they're bare at first, but slowly they grow light pinkish-white blossoms that float down like floral snow as the weeks go by. As the blossoms fade, their fresh green leaves bud and fill the branches. Through the summer, they're bright and clean, green and shady. In the fall, the leaves catch fire and astonish me with their vivid oranges, reds, golds, and faded brown beauty. As the winter approaches, their leaves drift away down the street to be replaced by snow and icicles or simple bare branches. The next spring, the changes continue but the tree has grown an entire year. It's not the same tree that saw the last spring, yet it is still the very same tree.

I didn't take a picture in the spring last year, but here's the general idea that I'm going for: 

Same street. Same trees. Same hills. Same hospital building in the distance. Same sky.

All seasons are a trade-off. Some seasons look prettier than others. 
For each season, you gain something. For each season, you miss something.

In nature,
seasons of planting.
seasons of growth.
seasons of harvest.
seasons of plenty.  seasons of want.

In humanity,
seasons of boredom.
seasons of adventure followed by seasons of frustration. 

seasons of Sabbath rest. 
seasons that are much more hectic than I think I can handle. 

seasons of waiting. 
seasons of life overseas. 
seasons of study, 
of travel. 

seasons of bitterness.
seasons of security. 

seasons of this career. 
seasons of that career. 

seasons of the next thing to come.

Have you considered that God designed seasons? They were His idea. God approves of the tension they bring. It's all part of the plan. I think it's important to remember the reality of seasons: love them or hate them, they're going to change.

Seasons are designed to change, but God never does.
(take comfort in that.)

"For I am the LORD, I do not change," 
     Malachi 3:6a

"Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change."
James 1:16-17

"Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today, and forever." 
     Hebrews 13:8

"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God." 
Psalm 90:1-2

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.

Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Sometimes I look at my life in wonder or confusion and I ask, "Jesus, what on earth are you doing?" Even so, I have faith that the God who loves me beyond reason has the best possible plan in store! Lord, where would I go but for you? I do trust you. You know what you're doing. I will continue resting in His providence, growing, looking different and yet the same from season to season, year to year. 

It was definitely a good season, even if it was a hard season, and now it's time for the next season. Through it all, God is so good. 

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