December isn’t just a time for the same Christmas songs to be looped on all the muzaks, it’s also the time that all the end of the year lists and reviews come out! Facebook throws together a compilation of all the pictures you posted that got the most likes, Spotify puts together a playlist of the stuff you listened to the most, etc. These are all fun to look at, but how much do they actually tell us about that person’s life over the course of a year? Unless you’re the kind of person who uses Facebook like your psychiatrist’s couch, nobody really knows what’s going on with everybody else on there.
You post some pictures to show you have fun like everybody else, you post your political opinion to show that you’re involved like everybody else, but where’s the real you? This is something I think about a lot. Facebook has created an environment where we can superficially keep up with more people than we ever could have before, and this has wonderful benefits. Unfortunately, it also brings about the devolution of deeper relationships. You’ve heard all those complaints before, and this isn’t some long post about that. That’s just to say that what I’m about to do is let you see more of my actual personality than you ever get from the surface-level things on my wall. I hope this makes you feel closer to me.
2015 has been my favorite year of my life so far, which is essentially what I’ve said about every year from 2012 onward. The reason why 2012 is important was because that was the year that I finally realized that I needed to live my life for God, and not for myself. I was scared of this concept before and I ardently tried to avoid it, but a smorgasbord of circumstances that occurred in 2012 led me to realize what I really needed to be doing: Living life as a mission opportunity for God, delighting in His blessings and creation, and investing in things with an eternal nature.
Here’s the things that God really taught me specifically in 2015.
1. Take Action In Your Faith
I used to not naturally want to talk about religion, or think about it very much. I would rather think about how to level up in the video game I had just bought, or try to figure out out to get some girl to notice just how impressive I was. My life was pretty darn superficial. When I started investigating religion more, I felt more convicted to live differently, but I didn’t act on it. I chalked up a lot of things Jesus said to being “impossible” and something that He wouldn’t really expect of me, so I had a free pass to be an underachieving believer.
This was in about 2013, I’d say.
I was still reeling from the implications I was picking up from the previous year. I felt like I was stuck in a rut of my previous life that I couldn’t escape from. I felt like I needed an actual new start somehow that I couldn’t find. Then God delivered and gave me one. I found out around the summertime that my family and I were finally going to move back to Atlanta, GA after having lived in Orlando, FL for a decade. Talk about a new start! I was slightly sad to leave Orlando, but I mean “slightly” in its most extremely slim form. I was really totally relieved and renewed at the prospect of getting out of Orlando. Don’t get me wrong, there were friends I had to leave behind that really broke my heart. But it was the change I so desperately needed to move on with my life.
For 2014, I essentially took out a year to learn. I actually read 365 books that year, I held a “real” job that involved math and accounting stuff, and I started properly retraining my mind for God. When that year was ending, I felt like it was time to get involved with giving rather than receiving knowledge and wisdom. In March of this year I started up a class on apologetics in my church’s college ministry, and teaching that helped me to see this point more than I ever had before. I felt able to do what I had always wanted to in life since 2012: start sharing the Gospel everywhere I go.
I devised all sorts of ways in my mind to make myself as effective as possible for this. I’m still not perfect at it, and I wish I had done more throughout the year, but it’s something I’m actively trying to improve. One of my best friends, David, told me about how D.L. Moody would make sure that he told at least one person about the Gospel every single day. This is what I want my life to look more like. I try to think about how I can do my best work for the kingdom everyday, but I need to be more active in fully expressing what I believe to someone on a more consistent basis.
This is what I keep teaching my students and telling my friends is the most important thing in life. As Christians, we were given specific instruction on what to do when Jesus left us! He told us to “go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). This means that our life’s mission given by God is to go and bring people to Him, and mentor and build those in Him. It’s really very simple. Instead of avoiding the subject of Christ everywhere we go, we should be seeking how to reveal Him and glorify Him to the world everywhere we go! If you want more specifics on what I think we can do to make this a reality, I encourage you to contact me (you can message me on Facebook, or use the phone number I’ll put at the bottom of this article).
I only rediscovered this verse last month, but it’s really the main theme of what God taught me in the last half year.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.”
– James 1:22-25
2. Exercise Patience and Persistence
When I was a kid, I was known among my family for having anger management issues. I even had a t-shirt with Donald Duck on it that said “I Failed My Anger Management Class.” That wasn’t too far from the truth. I’ve greatly mellowed since then, but it’s still a struggle to not get exasperated at things. One of the main things that exasperates me is having to be patient. Tom Petty said “the waiting is the hardest part,” and I really wish I had written that. There’s a lot of things in life that I’m waiting for that might never happen, and a lot of things that I’m not waiting for that will happen.
Earlier this year, I was talking with one of my friends at church about some of my disappointments, and he told me to just remember “The two P’s: Patience…. and persistence.” You’re supposed to read that with an extremely heavy molasses-slow Southern accent too, by the way.
This meant nothing to me the first time he said it. Of course, that’s obvious. I don’t need to put thought into it. But he kept saying it over and over! Alright man, I get it already! Patience and persistence! Loud and clear! As our conversation ended he said: “Now you’re going to remember what I said, right? Patience… and persistence.” Yes. Ugh. I will remember it. How many times do I have to hear this?
Well, I got home later and it was still ringing in my head. “Patience and persistence.” These axiomatic words just wouldn’t leave me. “Why is something this simple haunting me?” I wondered. I started to think that perhaps this was the Holy Spirit yelling something important to me and that I had to listen up. What I realized was that I didn’t really have patience or persistence. I wanted what I want right now, and if I didn’t get it when I wanted it I would just move on to something else. Piano playing could be one example. If I can’t play “Rhapsody in Blue” within a couple of days, I must not be good enough at piano and I need to go do something else.
Obviously, this way of thinking is erroneous and harmful. All things worth pursuing in life require a hefty amount of patience and persistence. It could be acquiring a skill, getting healthy, working towards a degree, etc. I’m quite prone to perceiving life as a sort of race. I see all my friends getting to do things I’m not capable of yet, or achieving things I wanted to do five years ago. It makes me feel like I’m falling behind and becoming a disappointment. Life isn’t actually a race though, and most of the time it just takes a whole lot of those good ol’ “Two P’s” to make it through.
3. How To Deal With Failure and Diminished Self-Worth
Speaking of feeling like a disappointment, I want to address this somewhat-similar topic while I’m at it. If there’s anything I struggle with more than anything else, it’s the idea that I am a failure. When I was a kid my favorite character in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts comics was Snoopy. I related to his boundless imagination and rambunctious sense of humor. Now as I revisit Schulz’s work I’ve realised to my horror that I’ve become Charlie Brown in many ways. “Everything I touch gets ruined,” and other ludicrously mopey things he says suddenly sounded all too familiar to me.
I have a lot of lofty expectations for myself. I think of someone like Emitt Rhodes (who made an album just as good or better than Paul McCartney’s solo stuff at 19 years old) and wonder “Why haven’t I achieved something like him yet?” I’m not just speaking musically either, I mean there’s all sorts of goals that I have that I constantly disappoint myself in. I feel like I’ve barely contributed anything of worth to the world. This is why It’s a Wonderful Life speaks so much to me. I constantly try to imagine a world without me, and it really doesn’t look all that different in my head.
If I express this I know people will try to say things to make it seem like my life has more worth than that, but I know in the grand scheme it really doesn’t. I can’t even remember my own great-grandfather’s name, let alone know what kind of a person he was! I’m his direct descendent and I don’t know a lick about him! You can’t live expecting to have such a wide-reaching impact/legacy that even your grandkids a couple generations down will remember who you were.
When I expressed my sense of failure to one of my friends, they said: “If you did your best, then there’s no need to think you failed. You gave it your all.” That’s a good point, I thought. I responded by asking “But what if your best isn’t what you desire it to be?” No response.
I can answer that. God has given each of us gifts and abilities that make us who were are. We can’t be the best at everything, or maybe even one thing. This is how He meant it to be, though, and claiming disappointment in your best is actually an extremely ungrateful way of thinking. The reason being because that is actually disappointment in God, and not in yourself. If you do your best to use the gifts that God has given you for His glory above all, and you do not languish them away because you feel they’re not good enough, than that’s all you can be asked to do. This is not even to go into the immense power the Holy Spirit gives us when we are in Christ.
To make a great story short, it’s the love and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for my sake that gives my life any worth. Without Him, I am nothing. In Him, I can try my best for His sake. I still struggle with the concept of being a disappointment to God and to my family and friends in my darkest times, but I’m trying my best to not think this way. Prayers would be appreciated on that.
4. Make Hard Decisions Now, Not Later
These last two points are not as heavy as the previous one, as I’m sure you’re relieved to hear.
The title really speaks for itself here. We all face a lot of difficult decisions in life that create all sorts of back-and-forth dialogues in your head where you’re trying to pick the best option. It’s a confusing process. What I’ve learned in this year especially though, is that we shouldn’t let these decisions languish for too long before making them. My friend Michael recently made a post where he said “ambiguity is never good, and indecisiveness kills.” I fully agree. This reminds me of one of my favorite Charles Dickens quotes: “Never do tomorrow what can be done today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”
I used to procrastinate constantly. I could get distracted by hundreds of other things. When I realized how short my time was here, and all the important things I needed to do first, it was the first step for recovery from this lifestyle for me. Now I’m much more decisive and focused. If you’re the kind of person who has New Year’s resolutions, I would recommend trying to build your ability to focus and make tough choices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve personally thought: “Wow, I’m so glad I finally dealt with that problem. I really wish I had made that decision earlier.”
Don’t waste your time away putting important things on the backburner when your whole life could be improved if you had the backbone to make the right choices now. I may feel more and more like Charlie Brown as I grow older, but don’t say I’m wishy washy!
5. Building Relationships Matters More than Anything
Last but most importantly, is the building of relationships.
The thing that just kept reinforcing itself to me throughout 2015 was the importance of maintaining and building relationships you have with others. I tell my friends frequently that there’s only three things you take with you from earth to Heaven:
1. Your relationship with God.
2. Your relationships with others.
3. The memories you made with them.
Because these things are the most important, I try to remind myself to build these on a daily basis in a deeper way. It can be as simple as messaging someone to see how they’re doing, or scheduling a fun get-together. Any interaction with others in this way is going to lead to stronger bonds.
When I moved from Orlando to Atlanta, the main thing I was worried about was making friends. I have a more difficult time making friends than most people do, and I had spent years of hard work and effort to make friends in Orlando. How could I possibly start over and do that again? I felt like I’d be in Atlanta for five years before I had a single friend! For a long time, it seemed like this would be the case. It wasn’t until August of last year that I started to really get connected with my church’s college ministry, and ever since then I’ve become friends with so many people that I unfortunately can’t keep up with them the way I want to! I really appreciate the efforts of the people who reached out to me in this time. They showed me how to meet others and be a good friend.
Not only are your relationships the most important thing in life to invest in (relationships are the most important key to evangelism, which is the most important thing above all), but they’re the thing that brings the most joy. The reason why 2015 is my favorite year so far is because of my growth in God, the relationships I developed, and the friends I’ve made. I’m so grateful for all of the relationships that God has blessed me with this year. I never expected anything like it, and I’m still floored by the opportunities God has given me to experience wonderful times with so many.
I really encourage everybody to take the time to build these relationships with others every day. One way I recommend is simply appreciating others. You don’t know how encouraging it is when someone tells you that they care about you, or that you’ve positively affected their life. I know it makes my day when people go out of their way to say something nice to me, and imagine if you could try to do that for someone every day! Not only is that building them up and giving them confidence in Christ, but it goes a long way in them becoming more open to you. Instead of criticizing yet another thing we find fault with, let’s take time to praise what we love.
With that being said: I specifically want to thank some people who really made this year my favorite so far.
God, who deserves all the glory first and foremost, has made this year one of great joy for me. There is truly no words that can be adequately said of how thankful I am to Him. I fail everyday to properly give praise to Him, and while I know nothing I say will ever be adequate enough, I’ll just keep trying to say it.
To my family, who have always known the best and worst of me, and who influence me more than anyone else. Thank you for building me up and dealing with me another year. The first thing I always thank God for is that He blessed me with that I truly think is the best family possible. If I wrote down what I thought an ideal family would look like it would be you guys. I can’t express how extraordinarily lucky I am to be a son, a brother, a nephew, or a cousin to all of you.
To my Defenders fellows: Kevin, Jonathan, Cody, Bobby, Drew. You guys have helped me grow in ways that I didn’t know were possible. Dr. Craig may have taught me most of what I know about philosophy, but you guys showed me how to live it. God blessed me in bringing to me a group of like-minded guys like you to show me that I’m not the only person who’s a theology/apologetics nerd, but that I always have so much more to learn. Thank you for giving me much-needed humility, advice, and fellowship.
My college ministry peeps, you guys are what made Georgia home again for me. I’ll never forget how welcoming and open all of you are, and to start trying to explain all the various ways you’ve impacted my life would be virtually impossible. You’ve made me feel like there’s a whole group of people who truly care about me, and that I’m not alone. There’s so much more I could say, but I’ll try to thank each of you individually when I get the chance.
To my Facebook friends. I’ve gotten to know a lot of people over the internet who have impacted my life. Some I’ve eventually met in person, and others I haven’t. But I want you all to know that I deeply care about you, and that it’s such a blessing that we have the kind of technology that allows us to build friendships together even when we’re not geographically close. I pray for you all!
To Zach, my best friend always. It truly breaks my heart that I haven’t seen you in person in a year, and that we were both so ludicrously busy all year that we barely got to speak to one another. But the times we did talk affected me just as much as the times where we would talk on the phone every day. The impact you’ve made on my life can’t be overstated, as I’ve told you so many times. I hope you realize that.
I miss you a lot, and I can’t wait to visit you in Chicago sometime in 2016! Make reservations at a fancy restaurant under “Abe Froman” for me!
To Victoria, my best freind. It was really you that made this year what it was for me. I don’t know where I’d be without you, and I really mean that. You inspire me and support me more than anyone else. You ask all the penetrating questions I don’t think of and make me rethink all of my long-held opinions. You helped me step way out of my comfort zone when I needed it (335 feet outside of that zone precisely), and always listened to what I had to say even when I was rambling (your astonishing recall of small details of things I’ve said is unbelievable and somewhat scary). I wish I had more time here to ramble about you, and this is definitely not as good as I wanted it to be, but just know that you made my year. I only wish we had had even more time.
Thanks again to everybody who interacted with me this year and encouraged me, and thanks to people that I didn’t mention. There’s a lot of you out there, and I care about all of you.
Here’s to an even better year in 2016!
Love and mercy to you all!
Other Things From Over the Year:
Best Movie: The Force Awakens was fantastic, but the best movie this year was definitely Love and Mercy. Watch it. Watch it. Watch it. WATCH IT!!!!
Best Books (from earliest in year to latest):
Reasonable Faith – Dr. William Lane Craig
C.S. Lewis – Alister McGrath
Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Walt Disney – Neil Gabler
A Room With a View – E.M. Forster
The Law – Frederic Bastiat
The Everlasting Man – G.K. Chesterton
Watership Down – Richard Adams
The Complete Poems – George Herbert
The Gospel According to Tolkien – Ralph C. Wood
Walking On Water – Madeleine L’Engle
Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus – Nabeel Qureshi
Please comment or contact me if you have any questions, or if you just want to catch up more. 🙂