“People are instructed by reason, but they are inspired by passion.” 
– Jeanne Mayo

How many of us would consider ourselves to be passionate women? Maybe you’d ask yourself that question and nod your head, thinking something like, “Yeah, I’m a pretty fiery woman who has a mission and I’m living that out.” Or maybe you read that question and thought to yourself something like, “I’m not really passionate. I’m more reserved.”

Our culture has this funny way of making passion about personality, because our emotions are often expressed through the filter of how we’re ‘wired.’ If you’re extroverted and outgoing, you’re seen as intense, bold, and and passionate, but if you are more soft-spoken and introverted, you’re assumed to lack interest. I want to tell you today, woman of God – your passion does not come from and is not defined by your personality or the way that you were wired. It is a gift from the One who created you.
Galatians 5:12 encourages us that those of us who follow Jesus have, “put to death our earthly desires and the passions and desires that plague us.” So we lay aside our earthly passions, but what remains? When we are living lives sold out to the cause of Christ, we’re left with a passion that is from Him and for Him.

The past year has been a tiring and exhausting journey. We’ve lived through a global pandemic which brought about so much change, fear, and unknown for each and every one of us. We’ve had to navigate political and racial tensions in a way that, because of the pandemic, felt all-consuming for many of us. We’ve shut down our businesses, our schools, and our churches across many parts of our nation and our world. I feel exhausted just writing this and thinking over the events of the last year. And that’s not even all of it; for many of us, we also had turmoil or hardship in our personal lives. The national and global disasters of the last year did not put a hold on personal challenges, marital strain, or economic uncertainty. The pandemic didn’t push pause for our daily stresses or annoyances. In fact, for many of us, our “regular problems,” were actually made worse by the undercurrent of anxiety caused by the pandemic. So how in the world are we supposed to maintain any level of passion throughout all of this? When we’re barely keeping our lives, our families, and our communities balanced, how do we attempt to go above just surviving to try and have passion? Even now, as we start to see hope for a future with more security and possibility, what do we do about restoring our passion? Romans 12:11 tells us to, “be enthusiastic to serve the Lord, keeping your passion toward him boiling hot!” (TPT) But what does that look like?

First, I believe that we must recognize the extremes that we may be tempted to fall into. Our culture loves the idea of passion, but it’s almost exclusively reserved for the wrong things. Passion for money. Fame. Sex. Success. Busyness. We are even encouraged to have passion for things that can be good, but in excess, these things become idols or a place for gluttony to run rampant. For example, what about passion for Netflix, passion for your favorite sports team, or passion for your career? We are tempted to have passion for these wrong things. On the other hand, we can lean into the other extreme – a passion for nothing. Laziness and apathy are byproducts of the burnout caused by the pandemic, and because of them, we feel the need to disengage mentally and emotionally in order to push through and get done what needs to be done. We develop a passion for nothing, because we feel spent just trying to get through the day. If you fall into one of these extremes, that’s okay! Can you identify it and name what it is that has caused you to fall into this category? 

Also, we have to acknowledge that passion and motivation are not the same thing. Motivation is an outward response to an external pressure while passion is an inward movement of the Holy Spirit working within you. When we are motivated by a deadline, an encouraging word from a friend, or a challenge from our boss, that isn’t in and of itself a wrong thing. But is in line with the passion we have from being led by the Holy Spirit?
Romans 8:5 says that, “Those who are motivated by the flesh only pursue what benefits themselves. But those who live by the impulses of the Holy Spirit are motivated to pursue spiritual realities.” In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus teaches us to pray for the Kingdom of God to come to earth as it is in Heaven, which to me sounds a lot like the pursuit of spiritual realities here on earth, right?
The Holy Spirit will only lead you to pursue that which honors Christ (John 16:13-14), and while it may be in line with what motivates you, discovering and examining these differences in your life can make all the difference. I know it has in mine.

Finally, we should remember that the pursuit of passion begins with purity. In scripture, you’ll find that many examples of “passion” refer to sinful, lustful, earthly desires. However, a passion for the things that God has for you begins with a pure heart to seek God and submit our lives to Him. If we want to see God and have clarity on the things that we should be moving towards, we must have a pure heart. (Matt. 5:8) Pray! Ask God, “What is worthy of my deep devotion and dedicated emotion?” After all, who knows what you’re created to do more than your Creator? 

If you did a quick Google search for the definition of passion, you’d find the following: strong and barely controllable emotion, an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. 

In Matthew 22, Jesus tells His disciples to love God with all of their heart, mind, soul, and strength. The Passion Translation puts it this way: “Love the Lord your God with every passion of your heart, with all the energy of your being, and with every thought that is within you.”


If we love God in this way, wouldn’t that look like an intense desire and emotion? Wouldn’t loving God with all the energy of our beings be barely controllable? Wouldn’t loving the Lord with every thought that is within our minds create enthusiasm for Him? And for the things He’s called us to? 
Sister, I want to encourage you of this: you were created to live a passionate life that is vibrant, vital, and life-changing for those around you. Aligning your passion with anything other than the purpose of God on your life is wasted, but when you seek Him, root yourself faithfully in your identity as a beloved daughter, and begin to live from that place, He will give you passion like you’ve never known. And if you’re feeling burned out, tired, and lacking passion, God sees you. He’s with you in this season, and He has an invitation for you – Come to Him. Get away with Him and you’ll recover your life. (Matt. 11:28-30) And with that, your passion.

NEXT STEPS:
Passion Workbook from Propel Women – a small group curriculum or individual study

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Becca Easterling is our Editor In Chief and Content Director here at KNOWN. She’s an Enneagram type 8, an extrovert to the extreme, and loves musical theatre.

Not that B-word, rather the B-word that is: Boundaries. Ugh, yes, something everyone wants, claims to have, but in reality, only knows they are lacking until it becomes a problem. Well, this past year made me realize I also have that problem.

2020, and continuing, offered its own unique set of challenges for everyone. Unlike most people, I am an EXTREME introvert, almost to the point of being called a recluse. I am a home-body as well… a terrible combination. That being said, 2020 was not difficult for me because of the isolation. Instead, I will remember that year, not because of the virus, but because of the destruction it brought to my family.

To say that my parents separating and leading to divorce was unexpected would be a lie. Their relationship had its flaws like any other, and like most, they never worked, really worked, to fix or adapt to their shortcomings. My parents simply acknowledged there was a problem, mentioned it in a passive-aggressive style perfected in my family dynamic, and did not speak of it after that. I always knew there were problems. I was not blind or deaf to their lack of chemistry and array of issues. However, I never fully realized how extremely dysfunctional my family is until it all fell apart.

When the comfort and stability of my little nuclear family blew up, pun intended, I found myself inviting one of my parents seeking refuge to move in with me and my husband for however long they needed. Their stay unexpectedly turned into a little over 5 months. This was not a significant shift for me because it was weird to be living with a parent again or because the move-in was inconvenient. We were actually quite happy that we had a place to offer them. The real struggle came when I realized that the boundaries I believed that I had between my parents and me were really more of an invisible wall. (‘Invisible wall’ sounds better than saying non-existent.)

Now that you have the backstory, I would like to acknowledge that I am not about to offer my sage advice on how you can navigate your family problems, set boundaries, and emerge healthier than ever. I wish I had that advice for you and for me as well. This is more or less a guide of what NOT to do; the account of an epic fail… My epic fail. Throughout this past year, I kept searching for something to help me navigate my parent’s separation, dysfunction, and divorce as an adult and I kept struggling to find quality content. There are an overwhelming amount of blogs, studies, and books to help younger humans (ages 1-18) cope with their feelings and frustrations, but not much when you start adulting. I guess everyone figures when you’re an adult, your parents splitting is easier because you don’t have to go through all the mess, but sadly, they are very wrong. It’s a painful process, full of grief, uncertainty, and extreme sadness, even when you are all grown up. The lack of support and guidance lead me to fail in so many huge areas. However, all of these failures boiled down to faults of my own in one specific area: Boundaries.

So, the following words are my biggest takeaways and things I would change if I had it all to do over: 

DO NOT SETTLE INTO THE ROLE OF THERAPIST

There is a clear difference between comforting those who are hurting and becoming the person they come to with all their problems- especially in a family dynamic where you have skin in every game. The Bible is clear about helping those who are hurting, struggling, and in need, and you can do all of that without being THE person they share their deepest darkest sins and secrets with. The role of therapists can be less convoluted when dealing with close friends or a trusted confidant simply because they are not related by marriage or blood. Inhabiting the role of therapist often leads to choosing sides and picking a favorite, which is typically not very fair to the side you are hearing much less from. Not to say there is not a difference between right and wrong, but you know how the saying goes, “There are always two sides to every story.” A therapist with only one client and that one client is one of your parents only ever wanting to discuss what is wrong with the other parent will always prove problematic.

DO NOT TRY AND PLAY DETECTIVE

If you have not already heard, “Insert juicy gossip here,” then you probably do not need to know. It is like going over to the house of a friend, and they have THAT closet they shoved all their junk into before you got there. You know that closet is somewhere in the house. You know they are not really that tidy of a person and yet you ignore that closet. You do not go investigating to find that closet because what good would that really do? You would find that closet and open it only to have an avalanche of toys, coats, shoes, book bags, pillows, and that Christmas tree all fall on your face and suffocate you until you pass out of anxiety and exhaustion. It is just not worth it. That means you do not have any further questions, you don’t need all the details, and what happened between them should almost always stay between them. This all seems very specific to a parent-child dynamic, but really applies to any relationship. If the truth doesn’t involve you and isn’t something you need to know to help yourself, then it’s just excessive information that will most likely weigh you down. From personal experience, I wish I knew a lot less than I did now. The truth is painful and hurtful to hear, even when it doesn’t involve you.  

DO NOT TRY TO MAKE YOUR ADVICE THEIR DECISIONS

We all have different ways of coping when trials, tragedy, or heartbreak hit. Just because you would do one thing one way does not mean anyone else would react in that same way. There is not anything wrong with giving advice when you think there is a better option. In fact, I think it is necessary to ask in every situation, “How would God want me to respond to this?” You can ponder that question, come to a conclusion, and present your advice to the other in an attempt to help them, but you cannot become emotionally investing in that advice or their choice to do what they want or what they feel is best. Just because you offered a solution does not mean they will take it, and it is easy to blame yourself for not trying hard enough and ask, “What could I have done better?” However, at the end of the day, people make their own decisions, and we cannot be responsible for or bear the guilt of those decisions for them. We can only do the best we can do to help them and then control what we do and how we react. The rest is simply out of our hands.

I say all this to help you spot the warning signs before they cause severe damage. Setting up boundaries, especially in a family dynamic – messy or not, divorced or not – is difficult, but highly necessary, to protect your emotional well-being. Take it from someone who painfully realized their perception of their own boundaries looks more like a Pinterest fail meme in reality. The healthier we are in our own relationships and the more intentional we are about defining boundaries, the better we can serve and help those around us in the process.

NEXT STEPS:
BOOK – Boundaries: When to Say YES, When to Say NO, To Take Control of Your Life by Henry Cloud

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Stoher, our Creative Director at KNOWN, does her best thinking after midnight and cannot survive without at least one cup of coffee a day and a book within reach. She is an aspiring author of several unfinished novels (likely to stay that way), but she can’t spell a word if not for spell check and autocorrect. She is the definition of a cat lady, and oh yeah… Sarah is an unwavering believer in Bigfoot.

At 40 years old, I made the decision to quit smoking. This was a decision that I made out of a desire to pursue health and ultimately, it was informed by this scripture from 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

Still, I didn’t begin to truly live into this idea of honoring God with my body until almost a decade later, when I saw photos of myself at my son’s wedding and thought, “something has got to change.” I made changes to my diet, exercise, and lifestyle, and I feel like I am truly at a place where I am honoring God with my whole self – mentally, spiritually, and physically.

Before COVID, life was good. You know, I never realized just how good it was until it all came to a halt when the world shut down. I used to serve on the worship team at church, and I would go to the gym regularly to do cardio while listening to music that was scheduled for that week’s service. I own my own business – a salon – and would work about 3 days a week, which allowed me to travel, volunteer in my community, serve at church, work out, and spend time with others during the other 4 days. I am also a deadlift competitor and currently hold the state champion title in my home state. I had a life that I loved, and then it all changed. 

When the pandemic began, my entire social life and routine abruptly stopped, which I know many of you reading this can relate to. I lost my ability to run my business as usual, I stopped serving at church to minimize my exposure to others, and I was unable to volunteer with people the way that I was used to. My morning routine ceased to exist and I struggled to get my day started before 1 or 2 pm most days. However, I eventually realized that I needed to resume some form of normalcy and get myself back on track mentally, spiritually, and physically. 

(Check out, “Sinnarolls,” to read more about the unique way that I found joy serving others during COVID)

In this world where everything felt out of control, I asked myself, “what do I still have control over?” The answer was simple: my relationship with God. While everything else may have changed, I had the power to put things into place to grow that relationship; to get back into a routine that allowed me to live out 1 Corinthians 6:19-20. I began to practice self-discipline as I implemented daily work-outs, time in prayer and worship, and meal planning. I know, this might not work for everyone, but it worked for me.

The entire experience of praying, worshipping, and exercise isn’t just physical for me; it is a spiritual time to connect with God in a tangible way. It helps me to get my head and heart ready for the day and to ground myself in something routine in a world of chaos. It feels good, but still, it requires a high level of dedication and discipline

I have found so much joy in this, and not just because I enjoy competing in deadlift competitions or because I actually like the routine of meal-prep and planning, but because I have gained a stronger, more grounded and healthy relationship with Christ. We are spiritual beings with minds and bodies to care for, and I feel responsible to do my best to care for this body that God has given me. And at the end of the day, when I’m not at 100%, I struggle to find the strength to be a support for others. 

As we move into a (hopefully) post-pandemic reality, I’m grateful for this season of  growth in myself, because it has connected me to Christ in a new way. Jesus Christ is the foundation of all that I do, and in my pursuit of finding what I could control, I have surrendered it all to Him. He has given me a good life, a strong mind and body, and I pray that I will be able to inspire others to pursue wellness as an act of worship. 

“So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”
1 Corinthians 10:31

NEXT STEPS:
Can You See the New Thing God Is Doing?” from Propel Women

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Mom of two military sons, grandma, a salon owner, Jesus follower, sinaroll-makin’ deadlift competitor excited to serve her community. #BODYMINDSOUL

There has to be more to life than this.

Will I have to count my calories forever? 

Will I have to wake up with hunger pains at 2am and just ignore it while I nurse my newborn child?

Will I have to skip tasting the freshly baked cookies I make with my grandchild?

Welcome to my inner thoughts, in the thick of dieting over two years ago. I weighed myself every morning, tracked every calorie that went into my mouth, and hated every second of it. This was the first time I had found true success in losing weight – I was close to being 75 pounds less than I was at the start. I longed for the day that I could be done. I wanted so badly for life to be about something other than food.

Diet culture has been in my life for as long as I can remember. It was present in my mind at 5 years old when I couldn’t ignore the fact that I was the biggest girl in my ballet class. It was present in elementary school when I was terrified to eat my lunch in front of other kids because I wanted my classmates to think I was healthy. It was present when I asked my doctor to write me a note so that I could go to Weight Watchers before I was even in middle school. It was present in high school when I turned to self harm out of hatred for my size. It was not only present in my first relationship – it was the center of it.

Dieting, for me, would start off obsessive. It would be all I could think about for a period of time. Then the restriction would get to me and my thoughts would shift to every kind of food I wasn’t letting myself have. Inevitably I would cave, over indulge, and spiral into self loathing. Throw in a few weeks of putting off “getting back on track” and that cycle is how I spent a large portion of my life. My size, my hatred for myself, and food was my idol.

There has to be more to life than this.

Thank God there is! Here I am, at 24, and I have no idea what I weigh. No – really – not even a clue. I went to the doctor a few weeks ago and looked away from the scale. My only frame of reference for my size is the clothes I wear. I’m intentionally ending the diet cycle and fixing my relationship with food. It will no longer be my god. 

So why does God care about my relationship with food? Because God cares about anything that takes His rightful place as the focus of my time. He’s a jealous God (Exodus 34:14). He tells us to flee from idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14). I can’t be occupied with what I look like, what I want to eat, or even negative thoughts about how I dislike who I am without stealing the space in my mind that should be consumed with who God is, how He has delivered me, and who he says I am. 

If you struggle with your relationship with food, and you’re looking for a trick to find some balance, I can’t offer that to you. I wish I had an easy answer to help you silence the inner monologue. I can share with you some tools that are aiding me in my process, though. 

FEED YOUR THOUGHTS 

The constant struggle with how you view food is an addiction. Give yourself reminders that help you diminish its power in your life. Call it what it is – nutrition that helps keep us alive. Fill your time with dwelling on who God is and giving Him the praise He deserves. You can’t tear down an idol in your life without filling it’s place with truth.

FILTER YOUR SURROUNDINGS

Be aware of what triggers negative thinking for you. For me, I had to unfollow several “weight loss inspo” social media accounts. I evaluated what they posted and if it was steeped in diet culture, it went. If it was focused on sharing valuable information about listening to hunger cues, forming balanced meals, and ending the cycle of over restriction, it stayed. I knew I needed help to relearn how to take care of myself, but I was guarded about what I let in. I even had conversations with my friends about where I was at so they understood my process and knew how to engage with me. 

FREE YOURSELF

Give yourself some time to not have to get it “right”. You’re going to still have some ups and downs. Consider having a trusted advisor, counselor, or therapist by your side who can support you on your journey. Allow yourself a period of time for recovery and relearning with no expectations.

God desires to be the center of your attention. He has so much more for you than a cycle of unhealthy obsession. 

NEXT STEPS:
The article, An Open Letter to My Friends Struggling With Eating Disorders” from desiringGod
Biblical Fasting and Intuitive Eating, written by nutritionist Aubrey Golbek

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Madison Lloyd is our Executive Ministry Director here at KNOWN. She’s an Enneagram type 9, an introvert, and lover of deep, intentional conversation.

I’ll be honest – I’m incredibly nervous writing this. The topic of allyship feels daunting, and rest assured that this blog post is only the very tip of the iceberg for me as I write and for you, the reader. I’m very wary of sharing publicly about something that I truly feel so unbelievably unqualified to offer insight on. For clarity’s sake, let me introduce myself.
My name is Becca, and I’m a 24 year old white female living in Central Virginia. I am not qualified, nor is it my intention, to speak on behalf of the black community. I have never lived that experience and I am certainly not here to provide any anecdotes. While my greatest passion in writing, especially here at KNOWN, is to offer guidance and insight, and while that often leads me to writing in a “here are your steps to navigating this,” style, I am not going to do that today. While I share what has worked for me, I don’t intend to prescribe any “right” way of pursuing allyship. Simply put, it’s not my place. (More on that later.)
Instead, as the title states, I’m just here to share a few thoughts.

What is an ally? An ally is someone who resists injustice on behalf of hurting and marginalized people. They may even have privilege or social capital that those with whom they are allies do not. They are then able to use that power to expose and speak against the injustice and work to make change. This past year (2020), I found myself reconsidering my position as an ally to the black community, not because I had any change of heart, but because a conversation that began in my community finally led me to ask the question: does Jesus really call me to be an ally?
When you grow up outside of faith, sometimes this happens. Years into your relationship with Christ, as you continue to expand on your knowledge of scripture and seek to grow spiritually, you realize that you have beliefs and principles that are based on morality, but not yet founded in scripture. So, in true Vacation Bible School fashion, and truly out of an effort to build my life on a more solid foundation than “what Becca thought was right in middle school,” I ask myself: What Would Jesus Do?

I don’t claim to know whether or not Jesus would get involved in social-political movements, because I just don’t know. I have heard arguments for and against why Jesus would or wouldn’t defend a specific political party or movement, and quite frankly, my mind just isn’t made up there. But, I have asked myself: would Jesus look for ways to break social stigma? I think so. Would Jesus work to empower the powerless to know that they are equally loved and created for a purpose? I believe so. Would Jesus break bread and do life with people of every gender, class, creed, and social standing? Absolutely. As I read scripture, that’s the Jesus that I have come to know. That’s extremely simplified, but that’s where I land. Does Jesus call me to be an ally? Yes. Yes, he does.

The most important part of processing through considering allyship, especially in 2020, has been remembering that this is not my story, but how I behave is my responsibility. Simply put, I am white. No matter how many black friends or family I have or how much I get involved in serving and supporting the black community, I cannot own their experience. I also cannot hold my black friends and family responsible for educating me about institutional racism and the systems in our country (assuming you’re also American) that underserve and hurt this community. It is my responsibility to practice self-forgetfulness, not self-importance, responsibly seek out knowledge, and adjust my behavior accordingly.

Remaining engaged in conversations about allyship has been vital, especially as I find myself living, working, and interacting in a largely white community. I have to recognize my position, my experience, and my privilege.
I have never feared mistreatment due to the color of my skin. I have never been followed around in a store or been scared for my life during a traffic stop. I have never feared judgement because of the way that I style my hair or been nervous about not receiving a call back for a job interview because of my last name. I have never had to fight for my voice to be heard in a conference room because, not only am I a woman, but I’m a woman of color. I’ve never suffered microaggressions about my ability to articulate or my assumed life experiences of the common black woman. The list could go on.

I am remarkably immature on this journey, personally. I want to do better, and I am actively seeking more wisdom and education on this subject. I’m grieving, as many of us who find ourselves on this journey must. As we uncover for ourselves the truth of centuries of racism and grief, we experience shock and grief, as well. It’s tempting to get tired and feel helpless, but take heart, sister. Remain engaged and let the good work that God is doing in you to propel you, by spiritual conviction, to doing good.
And if you, like me, feel unqualified to speak up, I would encourage you to do it anyway. This past summer, I was given the opportunity to begin a conversation with an influential woman of color in my community, and my only question was this: how do I speak up without saying the wrong thing? We discussed the balance of the responsibility that white followers of Jesus feel to speak up on behalf of anti-racism, but the pressure to also not speak for our black brothers and sisters (especially incorrectly!). We had a dialogue about pros and cons of speaking up or staying silent and ultimately, we landed on the fact that saying anything out of a heart to advocate and serve others is better than saying nothing. And almost just as important as speaking up, having a heart to receive correction is incredibly important. My humility and willingness to hear that I’ve gotten it wrong is just as important as my effort to do the right thing.

This work is exhausting and heart-breaking, but it’s important to remember that the grief is not pointless; every life changed by the progression of justice means so much to the God who formed and loves them. As for running the race of allyship, I always want to be asking myself, “does this grieve the heart of God?” And if it does, my prayer is simply, “break my heart for what breaks Yours.” I want passion and perseverance. I want to do this work for the rest of my life, keeping in mind the truth of our identity in Christ and the wise words of Dr. King that said that Black Americans, “hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community.”

We have an important role to play here. Let’s get to it.

“And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8

NEXT STEPS:
Reformed Church of America’s article, “Responding To Racism And Listening To The African American And Black Community
The University of Pennsylvania‘s article, “Becoming an Anti-Racist White Ally

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Becca Easterling is our Editor In Chief and Content Director here at KNOWN. She’s an Enneagram type 8, an extrovert to the extreme, and has a newfound love of Mochi ice cream that has taken over her life.

Beautiful. Confident. Strong.

I look at myself through my glimmering oversized mirror and nothing has changed. The mirrors are more extravagant now, but it doesn’t change what I see when I look at myself. Beautiful, confident, and strong are all words that never come to mind when I see my reflection. They aren’t even scratching at the surface. Those words are buried beneath years of rubble. I look at myself and wonder, “how did I get here?” That was a dumb question. I know exactly how I got here…

The idea of Neverland always intrigued me. Innocence, adventure, immortality, and bliss define this island, but life has never been that kind to me… or most likely to any of us for that matter. I always thought of Neverland as an escape from reality and a way away from my trouble. When I was young, Peter Pan and Wendy’s adventures made me want to be more bold and brave.

Much older now, in my COVID quarantine, I re-watched Peter Pan. I have always examined the literary symbolism in this movie, and each time I do, different things stand out or change their meaning. This time around, I saw that Peter’s shadow served as a reminder of the past. Like Peter’s shadow, my past also lingers. I can never get quite a good look at it, but I know it’s there, leaving a trail behind me and ensuring there is always a dark cloud moving in unison with my own steps. My past is like a parasite, eating away at my identity and reminding me that my innocence was lost long ago.

This all sounds very abstract and ambiguous, so let me give you a summary. When I was in high school, something was done to me that altered the course of my life forever. It is not an uncommon story, I’m sorry to say. This act of another yanked me out of my innocent bliss and burned a memory so deep in me that no amount of time could heal… not completely anyway. The details are unnecessary, but the repercussions have echoed throughout the years. This one day kickstarted the battle of taking back my identity and redefinining it; to restore it from what one man’s actions made me believe about myself to what He tells me about myself.

That brief paragraph does almost nothing to communicate the years of pain, but it is all to say that I now see Peter Pan’s shadow and can relate. For many years now, I too have had something dark following my every footstep. This thing influences my decisions, my emotions, my behaviors, my relationships, and especially the perception that I have of my self-worth. My life and my image are now defined by what happened to me. This shadow manifests itself in many different shapes and sizes but no matter what, I can see its silhouette in everything I do and even who I think I am. The connection between this past incident and my identity is bonded through my own wielding and reinforcement, but for me, removing that memory from who I am and from who I see myself to be is like, most things, much easier said than done.

I wish that I had 5 easy steps for you to take to avoid the turmoil that I’ve experienced from linking my past to my identity, but I don’t. I don’t have some super revolutionary epiphany or moment where time stood still and God reminded me of who I really am. But I do have mere moments sprinkled throughout the years where I can see God working to repair the damage and remind me of my true worth. I most often have moments like these in music. Songs like Who You Say I Am (Hillsong Worship) and You Say (Lauren Daigle) are anthems for me now.

I am chosen
Not forsaken
I am who You say I am
You are for me | Not against me
I am who You say I am

You say I am loved when I can’t feel a thing
You say I am strong when I think I am weak
And You say I am held when I am falling short
And when I don’t belong, oh, You say I am Yours

I speak these words over and over again so I will never forget that:

I am chosen.

I am loved.

I am strong.

I am not forsaken.

I am held.

I belong.

These aren’t just sentiments to help me through a difficult day. These are declarations and definitions of who God says I am. Despite what happened to me or what may come in the future, I can lean on these truths to define who I am as God sees me. I am not what was done to me and I am not the mistakes I have made.

Funny thing about reflections and shadows… they each show me versions of myself. Neither shadow nor reflection can exist without me. Most often, one follows me around while the other is something that I face head-on. My shadow moves as a result of my movement, but my reflection moves intentionally, directed by my movement. One is an outcome and the other is a decision.

The past doesn’t go away, just like how a cloudy day doesn’t mean my shadow is gone forever, and my reflection doesn’t magically whisper back to me that I am beautiful, confident, and strong. It’s a constant battle for me to remember and actively pursue the identity and worth that God gave me before my birth.

My identity isn’t defined by the lies and repercussions of my past. My identity is defined by my choosing to believe what HE says about me. If believing I am chosen means that one day I have to listen to those songs on repeat all day, then so be it. If believing I am loved means going through another day where I have to write down those lyrics several times a day, then so be it. If believing I belong means that the next day, I will stand in front of the mirror and recite those words to my reflection, then so be it.

My shadow will behave how it chooses, but I get to choose what my reflection shows me.

I choose to let His words shape my identity.

I choose to believe who He says I am.

NEXT STEPS: 

Lisa TerKeurst’s book Forgiving What You Can’t Forget

Our last KNOWN post, THIS REALLY HURTS: Forgiveness, trust, and reckless vulnerability. & the subsequent IGTV series “This Really Hurts”

Live Original’s blog post Labels Don’t Define You

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Stoher, our Creative Director at KNOWN, does her best thinking after midnight and cannot survive without at least one cup of coffee a day and a book within reach. She is an aspiring author of several unfinished novels (likely to stay that way), but she can’t spell a word if not for spell check and autocorrect. She is the definition of a cat lady, and oh yeah… Sarah is an unwavering believer in Bigfoot.

“In this world, you will have trouble.”
Jesus Christ (John 16:33)

Throughout His time on earth, Jesus reassured His followers of many things – that He is good, trustworthy, and loving. He gave them answers about life’s questions, how to treat one another, and of course, this paramount truth: He is the Messiah sent to save them. In addition to all of these very important things, Jesus also took intentional time to make sure that we knew that in this world, we will have trouble. His message behind these words is simple. Life won’t be easy, and you and everyone you know is broken. You will go through pain, loss, and anger. You will be tempted to sin, and you will sin against others, even those that you love. Life on earth is not going to be easy. Jesus told us! And as we study scripture and live our lives, many of us come to some level of acceptance that we won’t see perfection on this side of Heaven. 

And yet, when we lose something, when someone that we love hurts us deeply, or when life just doesn’t turn out the way that we expect it to, many of us are ill-prepared and ill-equipped to cope. In my last blog post, I wrote about the process of supporting a loved one who is grieving or coping with pain. But today, I want to take a step back to consider the process of how we, as individuals and followers of Jesus, can process pain, betrayal, and loss for ourselves. And rather than beginning with abstract thoughts or biblical examples, I want to share about what’s happened in my own life. 

• • •

Like most everyone else on earth, I have experienced a great deal of pain in my life. I’ve been through breakups that I thought would crush me, and I have family drama that has brought the absolute worst out of everyone involved. I’ve moved away from friends, and I’ve lost people that were dear to me. I’ve survived loss and abandonment, betrayal and abuse, and I’m still here.
Through all of my own painful experiences, I have come to the very important realization that everyone’s life is hard, including mine. (Remember that – “in this world, you will have trouble” bit?) No one is excused from suffering.

Still, while I have been through some pretty challenging things in life, I have never experienced breath-taking, brain fog inducing, pit-in-my-stomach, heartache the way that I have in this most recent season. Recently, I’ve been grieving. I’ve been hurt deeply by the actions of someone who I love and trusted and respected deeply. I’ve been sad and angrier than I can ever remember being and for several days, I just couldn’t shake any of it.

Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you too have felt the sting of betrayal and the ache of loss all in one. Maybe you’ve had to grieve the loss of someone you love or a relationship that meant the world to you, not because of death, but because someone left, lied, or broke their promises. Maybe you’ve been hurt by the actions of someone you love, and maybe you’ve tempted yourself with the thought that if you could go back in time, you would do it all differently. You would change things, and even if you couldn’t change what they did, you’d change how much you trusted. You’d protect you and your’s, making sure that you didn’t get left feeling so lost, broken, and angry. Maybe you’ve been there. I know I have.

• • •

“If you could go back one year, what would you do differently?”

This question was posed to me just last week. Now, I think the person who asked may have been looking for a more measurable answer in regards to my work, my mental health in dealing with COVID, or something else more practical. But instead, my answer, with absolute resolve was this: 

“I would have trusted other people more.

I know, I know. The response to betrayal of trust is trusting more? How does that make sense? Well, biblically speaking, I believe that the teachings of scripture actually inform a very simple – “trust no man/only trust God” philosophy. So understanding that there is a difference between the kind of loving trust I can have for another person and the ultimate trust that I have in God alone is key here. 

The ultimate trust in God says that I lean on His understanding above all else (Proverbs 3:5), I find refuge in Him alone (Psalm 118:8), and believe with everything in me that God is real, He loves me, and He hears me (Isaiah 26:4, Mark 11:24, Psalm 9:10). I trust that God is perfect and will never lie, leave, or change. (Matthew 5:48, Deuteronomy 31:8, Hebrews 13:8)

In contrast, the loving trust that I have for another person is limited, not necessarily because of their actions, but because no man or woman can be infallible or faithful the way that God is. Jesus Himself actually experienced this in His lifetime! Think about Judas who famously betrayed him or even Peter – one of His closest followers – who would deny even knowing Him. Whether by malicious intent or a mistake informed by the instinct to self-preserve, we humans are prone to break trust at times. Because we are mortal and fallible people who are tempted by sin, we are not reliable. We are broken! And while we are unable to be ultimately trusted, the good news is that we do have a good and faithful God who is trustworthy.

That still leaves many of us with this question – then what does it look like for me to lovingly trust others?

If we are commanded to love one another the way that Christ has loved us (1 John 4, John 15:12), we have to look at what that love looks like. For one, that love never seeks vengeance (Romans 12:19, Proverbs 10:12), it holds others more highly than ourselves (Philipians 2:3-4), it withstands hardship (Proverbs 17:17), and it covers a multitude of sin (1 Peter 4:8). The love that we are commanded to give to one another doesn’t fear betrayal or inflict punishment (1 John 4:18). And finally, if the love that we give one another is supposed to mirror Christ’s love for us, it is sacrificial. (Ephesians 5:2, Matthew 5:48-52)
I know, I know – this is challenging. Our culture informs a love between friends that is conditional upon the other person’s good behavior or treatment of us. But one glimpse at 1 Corinthians 13 (our classic scripture reference on love) as well as all of the other scriptures sighted above has me convinced of this:

loving others like Jesus looks a lot like trusting them with your whole heart, knowing full well that they are capable of breaking it. After all, didn’t Jesus Christ pour out His whole heart for us, knowing full well that we would sin against Him over and over? 

• • •

So, let’s look back at my original answer to this question. Even in my wrecked, angry, and grief-stricken state, I would choose to trust more. Why? Simply put, because it’s worth it. It has to be worth it to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I love and trust openly out of a response to who Jesus is and always has been. It’s worth it, even when I have my heart broken by any person because I can still trust ultimately in God, knowing that the gift of His presence will be so very real in the midst of it all.

(see Heather’s blog from last week – ALL THAT’S LEFT: A story of God’s presence in the midst of great absence.)

I sorely regret that, up until this recent revelation, I have reserved this kind of love and trust for only a select few. Throughout the healing process of this particular recent heartbreak, I have realized my own mistake of extending real, Christ-centered and Christ-inspired love and trust to only my few closest friends and confidants. Because of the ways that others have hurt me in the past, and out of the fear that I will have my heart broken again, I have withheld. That doesn’t mean that I’ve been a jerk to everyone in my life but a select few, but it does mean that I’ve withheld vulnerability – self-sacrificial, all-in, exposed love – out of fear of betrayal. I have been hand-picking a few “safe” people to share my whole heart with. And guess what? I still got hurt

I’ve been guarded. For most of my life, I have held my armor up, ready to wage war against anyone who would dare hurt me. I’ve trapped my heart inside of a prison-cell of my own making – fashioned to keep others out by keeping myself locked in. I know, “But Becca, doesn’t the Bible tell us to guard our hearts? Shouldn’t we be protecting ourselves?” I thought the same thing, so I dug in.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

Paul informs us here that guarding your heart is not a mechanical action of secrecy and privacy. It’s not an act of self-preservation initiated out of my own strength. Instead, it is all about allowing God to give me the kind of peace that guards my heart, and it comes as a result of prayers, thanksgiving, and allowing my anxious mind to rest in the knowledge of who He is.

So here I am… having experienced all of this junk, and having had my heart awoken to many truths about who Jesus is and all that He has for me. I’m here, feeling extremely convicted and encouraged by God to pursue a life of reckless vulnerability. But still, I’m left with the question that you may be asking yourself, “what does this even look like?” 

• • •

First, I’m learning to trust the process.
It’s okay to grieve, to feel the hurt, and to process the pain. We are spiritual beings who are given minds and bodies to care for, and if that means that I need to cry, scream, and eat a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, then so be it. Allow yourself to feel all of the ugly and painful feelings; let them exist and take up space and matter, because they do. Then, you can begin to do the hard mental work of accepting what has happened and getting comfortable in your new reality.

Secondly, I’m doing my best to remember that it’s not all about me.
We have a saying around our team at work – “believe the best.” It simply means that when we don’t like or agree with something someone is saying or doing, we believe the best about their intentions and who they are anyways. Listen, we all make mistakes. We are all sinful, and we are all capable of getting caught in a mess of sin that wrecks our lives and hurts others. But understanding that people’s dark, seemingly malicious acts, are likely to have absolutely nothing to do with me, has made all the difference.
Ultimately, sin is a spiritual problem with relational consequences. And while we can help one another along, it’s so important to take the pressure off of yourself and trust God with the things that you don’t control – i.e. another person’s actions. 

Third, I’ve made the choice that this part of my story won’t define me.
This painful chapter is a part of the story, but the pain was not inflicted by the author of my story; It was inflicted by a broken person. God didn’t change. He’s always been good and He still is.
I think I have always had this idea in my head that the things I’ve been through would always be something I had to carry. As if the traumatized little girl who was left behind has a permanent residence in my life.
But the betrayal of others, thier brokenness, and the way I’ve been hurt does not have to define my future. Yes, God works through all of these things, but it’s not my job to carry the pain around with me. What I’m learning is the real, true freedom means laying every bit of that down. 
We love the illustration that Jesus’ blood washes our sin as white as snow. But what about the notion that Jesus’ blood can wash the sins of others against us as white as snow? What if we can heal from that trauma, because the forgiveness of Jesus is bigger than what they did to me? (see attached Next Steps from Lisa Terkeurst)

And finally, I’ve settled on this – I trust God ultimately, and I will love others completely.
Vulnerability is hard, but not as much in light of who Jesus is. Trust is hard, but not as much when I remember that my ultimate trust is in God alone and that He calls me to be fully engaged, fully present, and fully loving to the people around me, and to be sacrificial and generous with my whole heart.

We might experience betrayal and rejection at the hands of broken people in a broken world, but we can still trust God for our good. And He is with us in the process. 

NEXT STEPS:
Forgiving What You Can’t Forget – Video Study with Lysa TerKeurst
Follow @known.139 on instagram and stay tuned for a three-part IGTV series with Becca on Forgiveness, Trust, and Reckless Vulnerability.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Becca Easterling is our Editor In Chief and Content Director here at KNOWN. She’s an Enneagram type 8, an extrovert to the extreme, and has a newfound love of Mochi ice cream that has taken over her life.

There are rare moments that can alter our lives so acutely that we can no longer go on as before – moments that define our brokenness and His Presence all in one. There’s a juxtaposition in the frame of our human lives, which are so fragile that they can be deconstructed in an instant, contrasted by the beautiful and undeserved faithfulness of a constant and everlasting God who shows up when we least expect it or deserve it. It is striking that His Presence shines through the cracks of what remains at the end of the breaking, but my experience has shown me that this is the truth.

My husband and I have two children, 3 and 5 years old. When our second child was born, a little girl, I was ecstatic. I had always wanted a sister growing up, and now my two beautiful, sweet girls had each other. I was grateful, but I was really struggling. Hormones are real, right? I was struggling to work full time and raise two little girls. Nobody was getting enough sleep. Our marriage was really difficult. And my family was close, but my relationship with my mom was hard during this season—hard like it never had been before. There was tension everywhere.

I felt like I was failing in every category; It was as if I’d been suddenly knocked down by a huge wave—and I couldn’t breathe. It felt like no one saw me, it felt like no one understood. I didn’t even understand. All I knew was that I was drowning.

And then, in the middle of my gasping for air, my clawing to find the way up, my mom died. She just died. She wasn’t even sick. My mom, who had always been my best friend, even when our relationship was in this hard season, was suddenly gone.

I remember lying face down in the field in front of my parents’ house and wailing like I never had before. I remember praying. For my mom. For some sort of miracle. And I remember feeling completely and utterly alone. I needed help, but the one person who could always help me, my best friend, was no longer on the planet. The world I knew was instantly and entirely shattered into a million pieces.

And there, broken beyond repair, broken beyond words, I realized that I only thought I was drowning before, but now I actually was.
I was drowning in a deep darkness.
And as I lay there, face down in the field wailing for my mom, I found that all I could speak was one word. Over and over, wailing in the darkness, in between my gasps for air, barely audible through my hoarse voice, I said ‘Jesus’. Over and over. Jesus.

And He met me there.

He did it in such a loving way, meeting me exactly where I was. His presence was SO tangible in the middle of the loss, the mystery, everything I couldn’t understand. He reached out and took my hands and lovingly wrapped me in His arms. And I know it was Jesus, because that’s how He meets people. He met me there the night my Mom went to heaven. And when my two grandmothers passed away in the year to follow. And when our marriage nearly ended shortly after. And when I wrestled through crippling anxiety.

Jesus met me there each time, in too many moments to mention. And He’s here, right now, too; meeting you right where you are, in whatever state you are in. In your brokenness, in your mess, in your struggle, in your loss. Jesus is here, too.

This year, as the Anniversary of my Mom’s death arrived, I was reminded of that even more so. I don’t mark the day on the calendar, but each of the last two years around the same time, with Mars in its proper autumnal trajectory, I become acutely aware (whether I want to be or not)… with the leaves lit up on display as they swirl in whimsical movements to the ground in the crisp, sweet air that smells of fires just starting to burn… in this season that reminds me that letting go serves a purpose and prepares for the season to come… I am reminded, subconsciously and then consciously, that this is the season I had to let go of my Mom from this earth.

I am reminded that my life will never feel the same on earth again, in the absence of a love I can still feel, though no longer see or touch. We don’t mourn as those who have no hope, and I have great peace in knowing that my mother is in her favorite place with her favorite Person, guaranteed to be worshipping non-stop like she did here, with the entirety of how she lived her life. My Mom was an exceptional person… you would have never known her struggles, that she never viewed as hardships or burdens, like taking care of my severely disabled brother every. single. day. She actually lived out loving God and loving others. And though I know she is thrilled to be in Heaven, and I surely rejoice at seeing her again one day, I miss her like heck here on earth. I long to hear her remind me again that “He never leaves us or forsakes us.” I long to hear her laugh. I even long to have her accidentally punch me in reflex when I startled her, apparently by walking into the room too quietly or waking her up (which looking back, I guess I did frequently). This is something I didn’t quite appreciate while she was on earth, but I sure do miss now….

After a year like 2020, though, I am also poignantly reminded that God is closer than we sometimes think. That He is indeed our Comforter. That He can and will work all things together for our good. EVEN the hard things. I can look back even now and see this evidence. I am reminded that God IS faithful. I am reminded of His presence, even in the mystery and the struggle, even in the wrestling, He IS with us even in this.

So whatever you are grieving… a loss, a tough season, isolation or loneliness, or even an expectation of a life that went nothing like you thought, He can be your Comforter, too… the Bible tells us that He is near to the brokenhearted; and it is true… And also, let me give you a big verbal hug, because it’s okay to grieve, too. Grief isn’t linear, it’s a weird and random ebb and flow. It gets easier over time to function in, but still surfaces when you least expect it. This is why you may see me driving down the highway crying at random times… it can be a song, a word, a smell, a place…
My husband always looks alarmed when he sees the tears start and then I see this look of relief sweep across his face when he realizes it’s actually nothing he did…
But seriously, the grief WILL ebb and flow. It’s a process. Give yourself some grace as you go through it.

And remember, even in THIS, you are not alone. I’ve discovered that God can handle our lamenting, our grieving… I think that’s possibly why he left passages like that in the Bible, so that we would know that we could and should come to him in our grieving… and He IS with you, even through this pain, even now.

My hope for you is that you will experience what I did. May you feel the comfort of God, the loving arms of Jesus around you, exactly where you are. In the mystery, in the things we’ll never fully understand this side of heaven, He is here. He is always near, always working.
The Bible promises He will never leave you or forsake you. Cling to that promise like life itself. Even in your brokenness, especially in your brokenness, He is faithful. I’ve found His Presence to always be more than enough.

NEXT STEPS:

The Garden: God’s Heart for Relationship With Youby Propel Women

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Heather Ailor is a friend of our KNOWN team, and a passionate follower of Jesus. She is a committed wife, mom to two amazing little girls, an outdoors gal, and foodie. She’s a sometimes writer, always learner, and goes from deep thinker to major goober in a jif.

“Sarah, what’s it like to lead in a man’s world?”
Cut straight to me breaking into song, socks on, sliding down the hallway singing “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman. And yeah, that movie has nothing to do with women leading in a man’s world but, that song does. Just to prove a point, I pulled a few lyrics: But I won’t let them break me down to dust / I know that there’s a place for us / For we are glorious. GLORIOUS. We are glorious. Bold people not saying “sorry” for who we are. Yup. That about sums it up. 

You know how some people have a thing that they do all the time, whether subconscious or fully aware? It could be correcting the grammar of another person while they are mid sentence, or using movie quotes or song quotes as their primary form of communication. Or even sneezing in a mouse-like fashion. You get the picture. Much like in The Greatest Showman, we all have a weird quirk – sometimes multiple. For a long time, my strange, recurring behavior was to constantly apologize for everything I did, good or bad. While that behavior stemmed from deeper issues, it had much to do with being self-conscious about almost everything – my appearance, the quality of my ideas, the value of my perspective, etc. And all of these insecurities boiled down to the one thing I lacked – BOLDNESS

I’ve never shied away from speaking my mind, but the setting always influenced the level of boldness I exuded. In college, I never spoke up. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even know I was there. At home, it is difficult to keep my opinions to myself. Around friends, I am slightly more reserved, only because I don’t want them to run away in fear. Balancing boldness in the workplace is not just hard; it’s almost a gift, and it’s one that I haven’t mastered yet.

There are many things I could talk about when it comes to women leading in the workplace – allyship, stereotypes, discrimination, mentorship, working from home, overworking, sexual harassment, and the list goes on – some good, some bad. While these would all be worthy of a discussion (and we should be discussing them all), the topic that influences most of those others is being BOLD. As I alluded to above, I am in no way a master of this yet, but it is a skill that I think is extremely important and demands our attention.

You may be thinking, “I can lead just fine without being bold,” but I would challenge that sentiment. If you are in a position of influence, then your opinion and perspective is valuable and cannot go without being heard. You can’t sit around and wait on the top dog to call on you for your voice to be heard. In my career, there is too much at stake for me not to speak my mind when I feel passionate about the subject. And I would venture to say that the same is true for you, too.

So how do we learn to be bold?
Non-conformity. Confidence. Calling it out.

Non-conformity.

Each of us is uniquely made in God’s image with a very specific set of traits, talents, abilities, tendencies, and characteristics. We are formed to be one-of-a-kind. I think it is often our desire to be wanted, liked, and welcomed. And while none of those things are particularly awful, they should not be our first goal in the workplace. We are made to stand out. To be different. After assimilating into a new work environment, we begin to accept their behavioral culture as our own. It’s hard to avoid that, but it is necessary to keep the things that make us, us.
Remember when I said we all have weird quirks? Just like your abnormal behaviors are influenced by your particular way of thinking, your work environment should have that same experience and gift of knowing your unmatched perspective. It is not only something that should be expressed, but it is essential to moving the needle forward. Your thoughts are valuable, so don’t accept others as your own because you think that is what is desired. Everyone else might be involved in groupthink, but your voice needs to sound different. We are called to speak differently.

Confidence.

When I think of the word confidence, I often think first of my self-worth and perception of my image, but confidence goes much deeper than what you see when you look in the mirror. It’s about knowing your worth as an individual. And not because of your appearance, but because of the gifts you possess that are distinct to your DNA. I see confidence flourish the most in the workplace with people who know what their talents are. Individuals who are aware of their God-given gifts and abilities don’t shy away from expressing them because they know it’s an area where they excel. They were born to express themselves through words, songs, dance, numbers, analytics, mentorship, public speaking, team building, strategizing, etc. Once you discover your passion or things you are uniquely gifted at doing, it won’t be hard to be bold in that area of your life. You will naturally excel at it because it is what you were born to do. That doesn’t mean you can’t always improve and learn new ways to tailor and craft your skill. In fact, you should do that, and when allowed to demonstrate your talents, you will flourish.

Calling it out.

This is the one I struggle with the most. I either speak too loudly at the very wrong time, or I don’t speak at all because I’m scared that my opinion won’t be valued (clearly related to the first two topics we just focused on). Most often, I struggle to express my opinion in a way that is helpful, not hurtful. When I believe in something strongly, there is no stopping it from coming out. I hurl my words like daggers at a wall, not caring what they damage in their path, just hoping one of them sticks when they hit the wall. It’s a problem. 

Finding the balance between being bold about what you believe and not hurting others in the process has everything to do with empathy, listening and personal relationships. Before we start throwing knives, we need to take a step back. Express our opinions by first stepping into the shoes of those around us, considering how they will accept our ideas and input. This doesn’t mean that you have to water down what you are passionate about, but there might be a different way to say the same thing without the same consequences. Similar to anticipating the reaction of others, it never hurts to hear where others are, and if there is a better time to express yourself – timing is everything.
And lastly, developing a personal relationship with the people at the table will go a long way when you speak, and it occasionally doesn’t come out exactly how you planned. Relationships help others to be more gracious and empathetic towards you while also allowing them to hear what you have to say.

There are many specific challenges with leading in a man’s world, but one small step we can take is practicing being bold and not being afraid of who we are. In the words of The Greatest Showman:  I am brave, I am bruised / I am who I’m meant to be, this is me / Look out ’cause here I come.

NEXT STEPS:

Lynn Cowell’s book Make Your Move

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sarah Stoher believes imagination is a gift that should often be exercised as a reflection of the creativity in the designs of our Creator. Here at KNOWN, she is the branding guru, crafting and formulating all things aesthetic.

Whether on the internet or in the real world, we’ve all seen this meme or something like it at some point in our lives. The art of comforting someone who is grieving, angry, or just working through their feelings is a difficult one to master. It is a particular set of skills that I was not innately gifted and thus have crafted over the last several years. I have the privilege to be trusted as a source of counsel through my work in ministry; Due to the nature of my position, I needed to develop these skills with a pretty high sense of urgency. It’s been a sink or swim sort of situation in many ways. Whether you’re a teacher, colleague, sister, pastor, or friend – as followers of Jesus, we have the responsibility and privilege to care for those that we call ‘neighbor’ in a special and unique way – by loving like Jesus.

And to love like Jesus, we have to look at his example. When I think of Jesus being a friend to someone grieving, John Chapter 11 comes to mind for me. Maybe you’ve heard the story – the one where Mary and Martha’s brother Lazarus died. Mary loved Jesus and always trusted Him to show up, but she had just watched her own brother die right before her eyes. She was broken-hearted, and from her perspective, there was no good to be found in this. There was no more hope, no bright side, and no way around the simple fact that she had lost what could not be replaced. That feeling has been, in many ways, familiar to us over the last year. 

Over the last twelve months, I have personally seen more anxiety, grief, and emotional fatigue in the lives of those around me than ever before. We are struggling globally. And the jokes about 2020 being a dumpster fire of a year won’t stop there, because our world will always be broken. I don’t want to dive too quickly into the deep end, but let’s face it – life on Earth is promised to bring us suffering – Jesus told us so. Our world will never be perfect and people will always be hurting, so what are we to do about it? We’re not perfect, either! And the last time I checked, there is no, “Helping Your Friends Through A Global Pandemic, Social Unrest, and Crippling Anxiety For Dummies,” book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. So how are we supposed to know what to do?

Well, let’s look back at that example in the book of John. When Mary lost her brother, she angrily accused Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (v.32) And Jesus, in this space as Mary’s friend, teacher, and trusted counsel, did not silence Mary’s outburst with a word of caution about her lack of faith or disrespect for who He is (we are talking about Jesus – King of Kings and Lord of Lords, after all). He also didn’t immediately take her pain away, but instead chose to honor it and encourage both sisters to feel their grief at the tomb. He didn’t make promises of healing or resurrection, and He didn’t distance Himself from the pain either; Jesus wept with those who wept. As Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus sat with those who followed Him, even in heartbreak and hopelessness.

So, how do we do the same? What does this look like for us today?

PROVIDING SPACE

Our first human instinct is to silence the voice that cries out in pain. We want to put an end to our friends’ sadness or anger, so we hush their weeping with hurried attempts to give advice. We are made so uncomfortable by the ugliness of grief that we decide, often with the best of intentions, to rush into sharing our experiences or common anecdotes in an effort to calm the situation at hand. But following Jesus’ example, we know that there is value in simply honoring the need for someone to give space to their feelings – allowing the heaviness to settle and the cry to be heard. What Jesus shows us at the tomb of Lazarus is this: in our pain, we are not alone. In the space where our feelings take over, Jesus meets us there without judgement… and he listens. He provides space for the ugly, the uncomfortable, and the overwhelming. 

GETTING MESSY

As we learn to provide space for the feelings of others as they come to us, we must also learn to engage with the mess of it all. We must get comfortable allowing ourselves to feel, as well. Remember when I said Jesus didn’t rush to provide promises of hope or healing? Well, we shouldn’t either. He allowed for Mary’s questions to be asked, as daunting and offensive as they were. And Jesus wept with her, showing us that there is something sacred about the space where grief is empathetically felt. Weep with those who weep, and expect it to be messy. 

LOOKING UP

Just before Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, some of those gathered at the tomb began to question, “Could not He who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Now, they likely intended for this to be a slight at Jesus who, as far as they knew, just let their friend die when He could have stopped it. However, this also shows us that even those who wept knew what Jesus was capable of. They knew of the miracles of Jesus. They knew that this was the same Jesus who healed the sick and fed the thousands, but they still didn’t believe that He would again be moved by compassion to bring Lazarus back from the dead. Jesus even goes as far as to say that He was glad that He couldn’t be there to heal Lazarus, so that Mary would believe. 

The truth is this – there is something beautifully comforting in knowing that there is work that only God can do in our heartbroken places, so that we would learn to believe and trust Him more. We will never learn to allow our faith to rise up in our fear, pain, and loss, if we don’t allow the suffering to take place. As friends of those who grieve, we have to remind those that we love that there is hope. While we don’t have all the answers, we can offer peace in the midst of pain because of who Jesus is and all that He has promised.

If we, as women of God, can learn to be led by the example of Jesus and the Holy Spirit guiding us into this place of relational and emotional maturity, then we can become a safe space of support and counsel for hurting people. Rather than women who offer temporary advice and the well-meaning, “I can’t imagine how you feel,” we can be women moved by compassion to provide space for our neighbor to feel. We can empathetically express love through sharing in grief and carrying burdens, and most importantly, we can offer the hope of the Gospel. 

As you learn to be a friend to those who hurt, it will be overwhelming, and awkward, and uncomfortable. But that’s okay. Allow yourself to feel the powerlessness and helplessness and know that you’re not alone. I see you. God is with you. May we be women who can honor heartache and pain while also declaring the power of Jesus in the midst, so that others will come to believe.

NEXT STEPS:

Georgia Brown Faith & Friend’s Podcast Growing in Grief with Olivia Weaver on Apple Podcasts and Spotify

The Gospel Coalition’s article How to Care for Friends with Anxiety and Depression

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Becca Easterling loves tackling a good to-do list, thinking outside of the box, and brainstorming about new projects. She’s the chief wordsmith here at KNOWN, leading our writing team and authoring and editing publications like our blog and podcast.