No Longer a {Control} Freak

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I’m a control-freak.  Well, at least I used to be.

My sanity revolved around carefully constructed plans, determined to the smallest detail, with every possible outcome weighed and accounted for.  And if not?  Fear reigned.

Because of this, I used to think that being so organised and reasoned in my thinking was a poor character trait.  But what I’ve since realised is that it is not the skill itself (indeed, a God-given gift) that is negative, but the attitude and reasoning behind it.

My motive for considering every detail had always been control, whether I had realised it or not.  I liked to be prepared so, naturally, I needed to examine every possible outcome so that I could prepare for it.  However, any deviation in my plan would render me stressed and anxious. That anxiety would manifest itself in a variety of ways – trouble sleeping; repeatedly playing out various scenarios over and over in my head; rehearsing conversations if I anticipated conflict and confrontation; tension in relationships… essentially, just driving myself crazy!

The funny thing was, I was never in control to begin with.  By desiring to control, I had essentially put myself in God’s role (no wonder I experienced so much anxiety!)  At the root of the desire to control I was simply stating, “my ways are better than God’s ways.”  Ouch.

My need to control situations – whether good or bad – was exhausting and sapped me of all my energy.  And it all came to a head in July last year.

For months I had been trying to control the various areas of my life – work, relationships, church – leaving me so drained that I was simply now running on maintenance mode and doing my best to avoid a crash.

I gave what I could at work, but I felt frustrated and ready to give up.

I was selfish in my relationships, only looking for what I could get out of them.

My attendance at church dropped, and I began to resent the ministries I was serving in.

The voices in my head condemned me for my failing attitudes and told me I was no longer good enough to serve God like I had once hoped I would.  I was now out-of-control, and I had never felt so anxious and lost.  But, thank God, He had not let go.  I had a weekend away booked – to Germany, as it happens – and He met me there in a very real way.

The weekend began like any other short break – laughs with friends, good food, a bit of sight-seeing, sitting in the sun – but what I really needed – rather, what my soul was craving – was time alone with God.

That Sunday afternoon, 3rd July 2016, I released my need to control and accepted something so much greater – the knowledge and true belief that God could be trusted.

As I sat and listened to worship music, journaled, read my Bible, and poured out my heart to God – the honest, vulnerable, uncensored cries – He began to overwhelm me with His acceptance and love.  As I reflected on the weeks and months past, I started to recognise answered prayers that I had been too blind and distracted to see at the time.  Despite feeling alone, I identified God’s quiet, consistent presence; His gentle hand steering me through some of my darkest days.  As I sat that day, staring up at the grey cloudy sky, I experienced real rest in His presence and the inner turmoil I’d felt in the preceding months began to melt away.

That summer I embarked on an exciting rediscovery of God’s kind nature – His love, forgiveness, acceptance, and faithfulness.  As I relinquished control of my own circumstances and simply sought to know my Heavenly Father more, my anxiety dissolved and my passion was reignited.

Prayer suddenly became my first line of defence, not a last resort.  I let go of my need to control because I knew the One who was truly sovereign over all things.  I knew He loved me more than I could ever imagine and therefore His plans for me were good and would not lead to disaster.

I no longer needed to feel prepared for whatever situations I faced – whether anticipated or not – because I trusted God to meet every need in every outcome.  I still had to be a good steward of what He gave me, and I reinstated disciplines to help me as I sought to be more Christ-like, but the best way to prepare for any outcome, I realised, is to consistently and entirely depend on God.

In the months since that revelation of true rest, my perspective has been completely transformed and His peace is what now guides me.  In relinquishing control I’ve experienced a new freedom; my once mundane and highly regimented daily routine is now viewed through the eyes of an Indiana-Jones-like adventurer, anticipating all the surprises God has in store for me every single day!  I have made it a priority to replicate often the atmosphere of that cloudy day in Germany so that my eyes remain fixed on Jesus, and not distracted by the circumstances around me.  I am still organised – yes.  I still make plans – of course.  But I am no longer seeking to control the outcomes of these plans like I once did because I rest assured in God’s sovereign purposes for my life and know that, no matter what I face, He is the answer that I need.

The Ten Year Wait

I remember the night well. I was sat in Deeside Christian Fellowship Church in Milltimber, Aberdeen – It was 2006 and I was part of the Senior Youth Fellowship (SYF) group, sitting on the back right of the dimly lit hall. One light shone brightly, illuminating the gentleman speaking at the front. He shared his experiences of many years on the mission field in southern Italy and my heart was stirred.

Overseas mission and the life of a missionary had always fascinated me. I grew up hearing the incredible true stories of great men and women of faith, such as David Livingstone and Jim & Elisabeth Elliot, who gave everything to spread the love of Jesus to those who had never experienced it.

As a family, we often hosted missionaries who visited the UK and, indeed, my own uncle spent a number of years on the mission field in Brazil.

As soon as I was old enough, I signed up to take part in short term mission teams. Firstly, around Scotland, then further afield in countries across Europe. Barely a year has gone by since my mid-teens when I haven’t spent time as part of a short-term missions team.

So that night, at just nineteen years old, when God whispered into my heart His call on my life to overseas missions, I welcomed His purpose with great anticipation. I would daydream about where God might be sending me and I very nearly quit university the following summer, ahead of my second year, to go to Bible College instead.

But that was not God’s plan. As the years went on, my anticipation dwindled and I began to doubt what God had said, or indeed, if I’d already missed my opportunity.

I was working as a physics teacher in a respected high school when, in 2010, I was approached by my Pastor and invited to join the staff team at King’s Community Church (KCC). With an invitation into full-time ministry, I recall thinking that I must have misunderstood God all those years previous. Yes, that must have been it. He had surely called me into full-time ministry, but not overseas mission.

Having then been appointed as Administration Manager in KCC, I thought I’d made it. I was working in full-time ministry – living my dream! – it was time to settle down, start a family, live locally and serve the church for the rest of my days.

I didn’t feel I had compromised in any way – I hadn’t disobeyed God – I was, I believe, in exactly where God wanted me for that season. But that’s just it. For me, it was only to be for a season.

My time working for KCC moulded me, shaped me, grew me, challenged me, and matured me, more than I could ever truly articulate and I’m so grateful for that season. Yet, throughout my four years on staff I was given several opportunities to co-lead short-term mission teams and my heart for overseas mission was stirred again.

Then in 2014 God began to transition me into a new season; one that would indeed lead me into overseas missions. “This is it!” I thought. And off I went to New York City.

I initially signed up for four months in NYC as part of the Metro World Child internship program but hoped that an opportunity would arise to allow me to stay long-term. As it happens, an opportunity did arise – three opportunities, in fact. Yet my spirit was not at peace with any of them. It didn’t make much sense to me at the time, feeling that the ‘overseas’ bit of my calling was about to be fulfilled, but I chose to return to Aberdeen nonetheless.

“I’m only back for six months,” I assured everyone. “I’ll be back in the States by the end of the year.” And as month by month passed, I was no closer to returning State-side. Was that it, I wondered, was that my calling to overseas mission fulfilled?  Had that been all that God had called me to?

And I began to spiral. By the end of that first year back in Aberdeen, as I turned 29 years old, feeling dejected and forgotten by God, I hit an all-time low (I’m sure you’ve read all about it by now, in Thirty Lessons to 30)

What now? Where now? Was it all over? Had my life ‘peaked’ and it was all downhill from here? Had I done something wrong? Had I made the wrong decision? Should I never have left NYC in the first place? Had I just been chasing a fantasy; the romantic idea of ‘overseas mission’, and not really counted the cost of all that that would entail?

The truth is – and it’s much easier to see it now in hindsight – that what was to follow would inevitably be some of the most difficult months of my personal and spiritual life to date, yet they proved absolutely essential in the preparation for what was to come.

Ten years on from when God first whispered the call to overseas mission into my heart, I am finally ready (well, ready for this initial step, at least!) That naïve nineteen year old lacked life experience, spiritual disciplines, leadership skills, and faith, among other things, to step out back in 2006. But this thirty year old has since been shaped and challenged by a number of different roles and relationships, developed spiritual disciplines and deepened her walk with her Father, honed leadership skills in an array of situations and seen countless evidences of God’s guidance and provision during that period.

I now have the wisdom to see that God’s call on my life is no romantic fantasy.  To be able to share such incredible testimonies, you must first face incredible challenges.  It’s going to take every lesson God has taught me so far to face this new season in Germany.  Every historic chip and bruise will help me to show compassion to those I meet and work with. Every previously answered prayer will inspire me to raise my hands once more and trust God to meet each need. Every past mistake and failing will remind me to lean on God even more heavily in the future.

Now that I’m thirty I see that I don’t have what it takes to fulfil God’s call on my life. I wonder, why me? Why choose me, God? But all God is really looking for in each of us is the willingness to obey Him. So I may not be able to fulfil His call, but I can answer it. I can walk this path with Him. I trust my Sovereign God and I believe that He knows what He’s doing. Therefore I step out in faith and obedience to Him, thanking Him for the Ten Year Wait; for the way He has prepared me and for all that He has taught me along the way.

So, to summarise the Ten Year Wait in just ten seconds:

  1. Don’t forget the promises God once whispered into your heart.  Don’t think you’ve missed your opportunity.  Don’t consider yourself not good enough, not holy enough, not young/old enough, not… whatever lies are swirling around your head.  Wait.  Wait well.  Wait with anticipation.  Wait with intention.  Prepare.  Allow yourself to be prepared.  And at God’s appointed time, be ready to just say “yes”.
  2. Don’t misread a delayed response to be a ‘no’ response.  We all have many tasks and roles that God wishes us to fulfil in His name.  Every season, every mountain-top experience, every struggle in the valley is shaping us and preparing us for all that God has for us.  There is no ‘peak’ until we reach heaven.  God always has more.
  3. It doesn’t matter how equipped or ready we feel, God knows best.  Trust His ways.  Trust His timing.  And be ready to obey Him when He speaks.  There’s no greater adventure than a life with God holding the map.

Want to read more? Check out The Ten Year Wait (Part 2): Still Waiting.

The Uncertainty of Change

For most people, change is scary.  Perhaps, for you, The Change has manifested as marriage, a new baby, a career change, or facing an illness. Navigating change takes hard work, expends much energy, and raises many questions.

“How will The Change affect me?”

“How will life be different for my family after The Change?”

“What about my… home, job, finances, <fill in the blank>?”

Can you relate?

I find that I am often in the minority when it comes to change – I quite like it. You see, change brings challenge, and I love a challenge! The dormant physicist in me cries, “give me a problem and I’ll solve it!”

But what happens when I can’t solve the problem? How do I feel when I can’t see ahead to what The Change will bring? That’s when I find myself facing uncertainty, and that no longer feels like fun…

“I don’t know where I’m going to live.”

“I don’t know how I’ll pay my rent.”

“I don’t know where I’ll work.”

These are just some of the answers I’ve been repeating to friends, family members and colleagues over the past few weeks as I navigate a big change in my life – moving to Germany.

The Change, in this instance, is probably the biggest change I’ve faced in my thirty years on earth. It brings plenty of challenge – learning a new language, no less – but it brings much uncertainty too.

And how does that make me feel?

Honestly? I’m ok.

So I’m not over-the-moon about it. What control-freak would be? Don’t get me wrong, I’m very excited at the endless possibilities of this new chapter, but facing these practical challenges often leaves me feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. Yet I’m not afraid.

Fear is a terrible thing. A crippling thing. It sucks all the joy out of experiences. But fear is only present when we depend on ourselves. On our own problem-solving abilities, if you will.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to find accommodation 1000 miles away, I would have nowhere to go when I land in Frankfurt airport on 4th April.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to cover the mortgage on my own property in the UK as well as rent on a property in Germany while studying part-time, the financial burden would cripple me and most likely scare me into staying put.

If I was entirely dependent on myself to find work in a country where I don’t speak the language, I’d look for an isolated job where conversation was minimal.

The bottom line? If I was entirely dependent on myself to face this Change, I would have backed out months ago.

But I’m not. I’m not dependent on myself. I choose to depend on God. I’m not always good at it, and sometimes I try to carry some of the details myself, but it is only when I entirely depend on God that The Change becomes something I can anticipate with great excitement instead of being overcome with fear.

My answers to those questions listed above remain, “I don’t know…” But I rest in the fact that I know the One who does know. He knows the answers to all these questions. He knows the answers to the questions I’ve not even thought to ask yet. He knows everything that The Change will bring and we will navigate it together.

On the Shoulders of Giants

New Year’s Eve always causes me to reflect on the year gone by and inspires hope for the new year to come. This year my reflections are full of wonder and awe at the incredible work God has done in my life and the stark contrast of how I felt and where I was (literally and metaphorically) 365 days ago (for more on that, check out my previous blog post Thirty Lessons to 30).

This year I’m welcoming the new year at the ‘Jesus Saves’ conference in Germany with 850 other youth and young adults. With ages ranging from early teens to 30(ish) – I reckon I’m one of the oldest here! – I recognise the immense pleasure it gives me to see so many young people worshipping God so passionately and engaging with what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. However, I’m also left challenged by the incredible responsibility we have as the older generation to lead these youngsters and to lay the foundations for all that they will achieve in God’s Name in the future.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”  But this raises two challenges;

1. Are we developing ourselves to BE spiritual giants? And,

2. Do we allow the next generation to STAND on our shoulders?

Practically, this prompts me to consider:

  • Am I investing in myself with an earthly perspective or a heavenly perspective?
  • Am I laying firm foundations for those I influence around me?
  • Do I allow myself to be vulnerable and honest about my challenges so that they might learn from my mistakes and avoid repeating these same mistakes themselves?
  • Does my life act as a springboard for the next generation?

Yet we need to examine ourselves deeper still… you see, when you build a house, no-one sees the foundations. So am I willing to be unseen, unrecognised, without appreciation in order to be a catalyst for the future development of the Church? Am I secure enough in my leadership of the next generation – and in my faith in God – to allow them to identify and develop their gifts, even if it threatens ‘my’ ministry/role?

I’m passionate about seeing everyone, regardless of age or stage of life, identify and nurture their gifts and to walk confidently in the unique purpose God has called them to. But this calls for a generation of leaders willing to invest time, energy and wisdom into those that follow.

This morning I was reading 2 Kings and I was struck by 2 Kings 2:9 when Elijah asks Elisha, his successor, “what shall I do for you before I am taken from you?” And his young apprentice requests a double portion of his leader’s spirit.

Are we secure enough in God’s ways and wisdom to allow the next generation to be more, see more, believe more and receive more of God’s Spirit than we ourselves have experienced? Do we create opportunities and cultivate faith in such a way that catapults young people into an even greater Church than that of today?

As I look ahead to my hopes and desires in ministry in 2017, I’m challenged to be more mindful of the next generation and of my responsibility to them and to the future of Christ’s Church here on earth.