Defining good - let me tell you.

In 2017, my mantra was “live loved.”  About a year ago, I wrote a whole blog post about those words, crying during Communion at my church in Nashville, scribbling frantically in my seat while my friends stood singing around me.  For the first time, I put down on paper what was true and what was not about the ways I had wrestled with anxiety.

I wrote about how anxiety causes me what one of my favorite writers calls “soul amnesia,” forgetting who God is and, in turn, who He’s made me to be. I wrote about how anxiety causes me to live inside a lie that says love has left me. It goes beyond the reality that I don’t feel love, I can’t figure how I ever felt it in the first place, that I’ve forgotten He is love. It’s that I start to believe that there is something profoundly definitive about who and how I am in the world that marks me as unloveable rather than just unloved.  In this way, anxiety convinces me that God cannot be who He is because of who I am.  It takes God’s greatest gift, the thing that is truer than true about Him, and it convinces me that it cannot last as long as I’m around.

I named the lie I had been believing, and I wrote about why that is impossible and what is true: that God made me who I am because of who He is. Who He is flows through my veins because He put it there.  God is Love, and Love is patient and kind, and Love does not leave.  Claiming that truth is what allows me to live loved, and be the me that He made me to be.

But that was in January, and as 2017 went on, I began to realize that being that person, being her completely, sometimes has consequences for my relationships with the people around me.  2017 was a year of learning that I’m still not always sure how to live loved by other people.  It was a year I learned that sometimes anxiety doesn’t just go away, even when it makes sense that it should. 

And once I admitted to myself those things were true, 2017 became a year of redemption, of slowly but surely deciding that I don’t have enough of the answers for my own liking, but the ones I do have are the ones I need. I know who I am and who I want to be; what does it matter how I get there? It’s okay to let things have value in the way that they happened simply because they happened. It’s okay to make decisions based on who I am and not what my circumstances are.  It’s okay to love things for what they are, not knowing what they will be next.  And here is why.

While I wrote last year about the lies anxiety stirs up in my life and the truth I counter with, I didn’t give much attention to where that anxiety came from in the first place.  And at this point a year ago, I’m not sure I knew the answer.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:28

In the spring, I studied Romans 8:28 with a mentor.  The first half is used often in Christian circles in times of trouble to reassure us that there is a bigger plan, but let’s talk about the word good for a second.  It’s no wonder that we look to this verse to remind ourselves that “good” is something promised, that it’s a part of God’s plan.  But when we do, how are we defining good? 

The world and the voices in it have so many different conceptions of what is good for us and what is for our good that often don’t line up with my circumstances.  When this happens, I’m so often tempted to call God’s goodness into question.  Loneliness, disappointment, inconvenience – if it doesn’t feel good, how can it be good?  More importantly, how can it be a part of how God is working for my good? 

In my life, anxiety is waiting in the wings, wearing costume after costume, but always ready to play the same role.  It waits and watches for me to latch on to one of those definitions rather than God’s, and when I do, it slips lies of fear and failure in front of me, pulling me further away from what and Who is true.  And once it gets me, I have a hard time getting away.  Once I let one expectation define who I should be and where I should be going, I begin to believe them all.

That’s why the second half of the verse is so important, the part that identifies us as called according to His purpose.  It not only reminds us who we are, but also speaks to where we’re going.  The very next verse offers an explanation as to what that purpose might be.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
— Romans 8:29
For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
— Hebrews 10:14

Being made holy.  Conformed to the image of His Son.  That is our good.  It’s the only definition of good that will allow us to walk more confidently into the unknown, the messy, and the broken in the confidence that we are the people He made us to be.

The only definer of our good is God.  When I know that understanding how His plan is for my good comes down to a single question – can I see how this is making me more like Christ? – the truth stands out among the lies.  And when I claim God as the only definer of my good, I claim freedom from fear, freedom from failure, and freedom from anxiety.  It may take a lifetime for me to learn how to fully believe, but it’s the only thing worth believing. 

There are pieces of my story from the past year, there are days that sparkle when the sun hits them and there are people who love me better than I deserve and there are fragments where time stood still, that I could not have written in my wildest imagination. And because through all the late nights and stomachaches, through all the heartbreak and hurt, I still got lucky enough to hold those moments in my hand and let them be real, I firmly believe that Someone else is writing the words for me; all I have to do is step into them. They are good. They will get me where I need to go.