It’s fascinating how God chooses to speak sometimes.
While the Bible is full of stories of God speaking through burning bushes, angels, and dreams, I’ve found that He often tends to communicate in subtler ways, too. Through thoughts, feelings, other people, and circumstances – all too intense for me to quite explain. All that are just appropriate enough for me to recognize they’re more than coincidence.
I tend to wonder, how many times am I missing God’s voice? How many times are His messages drowned out by my own anxious mind and inattentive heart? How many times have I missed opportunities to grow closer to Him because I wasn’t listening?
The thought makes me cherish the times when I do hear Him even more. In my life so far, there have been a handful of times that I can point to and say with certainty, “God spoke to me”. Each time has the same feeling in common. The same intensity. The same bewildering peace accompanying it.
A lot of those moments have happened this year.
For the past couple of years, along with setting some smaller New Year’s resolutions, I’ve done something else. I don’t remember where I heard of the idea, only that it didn’t originate with me. Instead of simply creating goals for the New Year however, the idea is to choose a focus word for the next twelve months.
This can be any word that represents something you want to focus on and learn more about. In 2019, I chose ‘love’. I memorized Scripture verses about love, prayed that God would help me know how to show more love to others, and actively sought out opportunities to show that love. Though my motivation sadly fizzled near the end of the year, the changes in how I thought about others was wonderful and has stayed with me.
For 2020, I decided I wasn’t going to let myself fizzle out. But I was also stuck on what word to choose. There were so many aspects of my life I knew I needed (and still need!) to work on. But after lots of prayer and thought into the events I thought would come up in 2020, one word came into my mind. Now, I’m sure it was God whispering it there.
It seemed perfect. With plans of finishing my last year of high-school, graduating, pursuing volunteer opportunities, and possibly college, I knew I needed to focus on trusting God’s leading. I didn’t know where this new chapter in my life was going to take me, but the thought of diving in without developing a firm trust in God was terrifying.
Turns out, 2020 has been more perfect for that focus than I thought.
I never could have dreamed of all the things that would change this year. Yes, I finished high-school, graduated, and have pursued both volunteer and further learning opportunities. But none of those things have turned out the way I thought they would. Suddenly final high-school events were canceled due to quarantine, the graduation ceremony was held with social distancing, and interviews and work have been carried out with masks.
It’s been such a blessing, and I’m so grateful for getting to do those things, even if they have been different then I’d imagined. But what I’m even more grateful for is the peace I experienced during the things I had to miss entirely; the events that were canceled, the activities that stopped, and the opportunities that vanished.
Peace has never come easily to me. When things happen that I don’t appreciate, my tendency has always been to stress about it. Even if it’s only inwardly (which it’s often not…), I often get resentful, anxious, and let my disappointment dim my enthusiasm for everything else going on in my life.
That’s why I didn’t even recognize myself when my first reaction to the COVID cancellations this spring was, “God’s in control”. It’s true of course! However, as much as it grieves me, it’s never been my first thought before. I usually have to go through a lot of whining, sulking, and railing before I accept that truth.
But this year, something in me has changed. It’s been very gradual, which is why the realization that I wasn’t stressing over the crazy events of early 2020 shocked me.
I believe God has been blessing my efforts to get to know Him better. To learn to trust Him, even when things are hard and disappointments are abundant. To have faith that He’s in control, He knows what has happened, is happening, and will happen, and that He’s working it all out for good.
Though I’ve definitely still been disappointed by the cancellations this year, I’ve been able to rest against God, and find peace in the knowledge that nothing will happen that hasn’t first gone through His hands. As the year has progressed, He’s given me nothing but more and more reason to trust Him.
For every event that has been cancelled or severely modified, a blessing has arisen that couldn’t have come without that disappointment.
Because the performances for my Senior play was cancelled, my siblings were able to act with me in a Facebook live version. Because the last high-school banquet I’d attend was postponed and changed, I had the humbling opportunity to offer a tribute to a dearly-missed friend. Because a writing conference had to be held online instead of in person, I was able to go, learning so much and meeting so many wonderful people.
Because I decided not to venture to college with everything going on right now, I’ve been able to spend a lot more time with my family, and also focus on my writing; creating many more stories and starting this site/blog. I’m even preparing to publish my first novel – a long-held dream of mine – with plans for many more.
Of course, that will depend on what God has planned.
Last year, the thought that things could go differently than my plans would upset and scare me. And I’d still be lying if I said I didn’t feel any apprehension at the idea. I still have a long way to go to trusting the Lord completely. But the difference I’ve noticed in myself this year is just another reason to trust Him. He’s met me where I am, an anxious, proud, and irritable girl, and tenderly coaxed me to becoming more and more like He wants me to be.
I know that His plans are infinitely better than mine. This year, I’ve watched Him work through what seems like the worst of circumstances. Through so many of them, incredible good has emerged. And that gives me hope for the ones that I can’t see the good in yet. It will come. God’s in control.
And He always will be.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in 2021. I don’t know what’s going to change. I don’t know what God has planned for the world. For each and every one of us.
But I know it’s all going to turn out as it should. As is right and perfect and needed for our world. Even when things are tough. Even when the circumstances seem like nothing good could ever come out of them. God is good. God is all-knowing. God is powerful.
As I choose a new focus word for 2021, I’m going to continue to trust the Lord. I know that as long as I do that, I can rest assured that I’ve placed my future in the hands that control it. I’ve laid my worries and cares in His lap and left them there. I have nothing to fear, and I can’t change anything by worrying anyway.
As this next year dawns, bringing a whole new set of challenges, twists, and surprises, I hope you’ll join me in putting your trust in God. I long for everyone to know the peace I’ve been blessed to experience. And you can. As I’ve been learning, God will bless our efforts to grow closer to Him.
And the closer you get to the Lord, the more you’ll hear Him speak.
Above all others, His voice is the one you want to listen to.
But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.
(Jeremiah 17:7-8 NIV)