It’s a hard question to answer well in the moment. Dozens of thoughts start swirling around, and we can never grab ahold of what we would deem to be “the most important” one.
So, for any of you who have ever asked that question, here are some more formulated thoughts. (And if you want more, check out our new book on the subject.)
1. Examine Your Foundation Carefully
Look deeply at what you value and what you believe about God and man and truth and reality. Then make it your own. Because it will affect every decision you make. Life has a way of picking you up and tossing you around, and you always want to nail the landing.
2. Remain Teachable
More specifically, find a mentor—a parent, a pastor, a teacher, a spiritual guide or just a person who is living as you would like to live. Spend time with them. Look and listen and learn. And, most important, be different because of them.
3. Dig Deeper Than Your Doubt
When waves of doubt rock your faith, don’t panic. Don’t despair. And don’t jump ship without very careful consideration. Instead, voice your concerns. Seek answers to your questions. And when you get hold of the truth, hang on.
4. Choose Your Community Carefully
Your friends will give shape to your life. They will either stunt your growth or spur you on. When you find good friends, keep them. They are like gold. Treasure them. Invest in them. Spur them on, too. Be the kind of friend you would like to have.
5. Feed Yourself
Feed your body, your mind and especially your soul. When your soul is starving, you can’t see straight. So learn what sort of nourishment you need: a group Bible study? A worship song? A long run? An art project? This is an individual matter, so take the time to figure out what fills you up.
6. Foster Good Habits
As Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” So don’t wait until tomorrow to get up early, go to bed on time, exercise enough, save money and so on. The patterns of your life today are the person you will become.
7. Learn to Rest
I (Kelli) am terrible at resting. I can trace this trouble back to my twenties—when I was single and lonesome and (more) insecure. To distract myself, I filled my days and nights to overflowing—a bit fuller and more frenetic each year. If I could, I would tell my twentysomething self that busy is not better, and your worth is not measured by the length of your to-do list.
8. Be Patient
Learn to wait well. You are used to getting things in an instant and on demand, but life doesn’t always work that way. Neither does God. His timing is rarely yours, but His is always right. He doesn’t rush, and He never delays. Instead, He unfolds a plan carefully designed and perfectly timed to bring Him glory.
9. Don’t Worry
It’s a waste of time, energy and emotion. Worry will tie you in knots. Keep you up at night. Make you cranky and crazy. Nothing good ever comes of it. Worry is fear for the future, but worry does nothing to actually change it. So instead of worrying, make the best decisions you can right now. That’s all you can do. Then let it be.
10. Adjust Your Expectations
So much of our disappointment and frustration—with people, with life, with God—occurs because we presume that life should go our way. In reality, we can’t control other people or situations, but we do have control over our own minds.
11. Take Risks
Follow God’s leading boldly into the unknown. Heed His call, leaving the outcomes in His hands. As a wise friend advised me when we were contemplating putting our hearts on the line to foster our now-adopted son Daryl, “Do what you won’t regret.”
12. Evaluate Your Emotions
Emotions are tricky, and they can be trouble. Often, they spring up from our triggered trauma. For example, let’s say (hypothetically) your husband says something about your blog. He might mean it innocently, even positively. But (hypothetically) you hear it differently. You immediately feel threatened, defensive, hurt. All of your (hypothetical) insecurity swells to the surface in an instant. You can go with it. Milk it. Act on it. Hurt him back. Or you can do the better thing and take it back to truth.
13. Press Into Pain
While no one wants to experience pain, you will. Don’t be shocked. Don’t run from it. Don’t ignore it. Don’t fight it. Let it burn. Let it melt your heart. But never fear that God has abandoned you to the flame. He is there. His presence is unwavering. He is pursuing you and purging the dross. You are not being punished. You are being purified.
14. Take Sin Seriously
There is no such thing as “getting away with it”—even if you don’t “get caught.” Though grace is gigantic and forgiveness is free, sin does still stain. And the spot will undoubtedly spread further and sink deeper than you can initially see.
15. Embrace Grace
Accept it with open arms and open heart. Hold it tight until it soaks into your soul. Then release it. Give it away. To your family, to your friends, to your church. A posture of cynicism and judgement helps no one, and it is not your place. Instead, be a conduit for grace.
16. Seek Healing
Don’t imagine that the trauma of your childhood has been left in the past. It simmers under the surface. And it will surprise you at how suddenly it can boil up or suck you under. The work of healing those hard places might involve reading books or finding counseling. Don’t be too afraid or too ashamed to ask for help.
17. Live Loved
Wake up every morning and—before you put your feet to the floor—let your mind and heart linger on the fact that the Creator of the universe loves you passionately, completely, unconditionally and eternally. Nothing matters more than this.
18. Cultivate an Eternal Perspective
Train your eyes on this hope, this inheritance, that will “never perish, spoil or fade.” That is “kept in heaven for you.” For it is in this that you are “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:4, 8).
19. Make God’s Glory Your Goal
When a big project looms, remind yourself that whatever happens, it’s not about you, it’s all about God. He will do whatever brings Him glory. That is all that matters. Remembering this removes all of the pressure.
20. Finally, Prepare to Be Amazed
Your life may look something like you envisioned, or it may take you places you never imagined. Regardless, hold on tight, because God is in the business of blowing your mind.