The thing about self-discovery is that it rarely reveals itself with positive feedback. What is often unearthed is a reflection of bad habits, personality imperfections, or spotlighted quirks. These newfound revelations do, hopefully, lead toward the betterment of ourselves. It is a process. I found myself in the big, thick, messy middle of this progressive self-discovery several months ago when faced with some seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I was ill-prepared to be faced with harsh critics, feelings of doubt and defeat, and insecurities that poured like water from a pitcher. Everything I tried to do to be a solution to my own issues led to more issues. It became a cycle of situation, attempt to handle situation, attempt blows up in face, new situation. Exhausting. There were days where I would talk to God and tell Him that I was trying my best to stand up for myself, to be a problem solver, to not give in to difficulties facing me. For weeks, it seemed to me that there must be an “On Vacation” sign hanging from Heaven’s door because my Guide was not answering me.
This brings me to a Sunday morning in February, tired and a bit untethered. I was reluctant to get dressed and get my family out the door for church. My husband nudged me with a wink and a not so subtle, “You could probably benefit from church this morning.” That’s husband code for “maybe Jesus can fix your mood.” I gathered my thoughts, readied myself and our little girl for church, and truly asked God to speak to me in some way.
The message dealt with speaking words of positivity and having a stronger willingness to walk away from the perils of negative commentary. A challenge was even issued to the congregation. The Go 24 Mission: Go 24 hours without participating in negative conversations while simultaneously committing to not be the source of contention on any level. At first, all I could think about was how I wished people who had recently wounded me with their words, actions, and responses would have chosen the path to positivity and had the foresight to see that words are hurtful. I became agitated that I was sitting in church listening to a message about such things when I had been on the receiving end of unpleasantness by others. And then, it happened. Self-Discovery started its slow climb. It did not smack me in the face like a cold wind or present itself in dazzling lights. But, it did seep into my thoughts little by little. It started with me declaring to myself that I am known for being positive. I am known for being an encourager. This would be no problem for me. I do this daily already. With that ever-so-humbling pat on the back to myself, I started to reflect on the happenings of days prior that had served as an emotional catalyst to my then current state of mind.
Attention to all – – It should be a very clear warning that God is trying to speak to you when you find yourself proclaiming, “Well this message is definitely not for me.” That means it most likely definitely is.
Ok, so the Lord had my attention. Now, to figure out how me, an optimistic, peace-making, loves-people-deeply-person needed to hear and apply a message about being more positive after dealing with people who seemed to pride themselves in tearing me down. Sounds backwards, right? But, I knew. I knew the Holy Spirit was trying to speak to me and to help my human brain decode this cipher. I was not sure how I could become kinder, more understanding, or further committed to no contention. It was not too difficult to accept the Go 24 Mission. I got this. Bring on Monday morning. I’m ready. And then, the slow self-discovery climb turned more into a sprint.
Within seconds, yes seconds, of my day beginning, I found myself face-to-face with someone wanting to interrogate me on what I might know about a situation that did not even involve me. I had details but did not want to be any type “source of contention,” so I politely responded that I was unclear on the whole situation and was just praying for those involved. In a surprising turn, the person became wide eyed and agreed that praying for them was a good idea. My response derailed the potential conversation that would do nothing more than fuel contention. Contention is what I like to refer to as a fully loaded word. It has powerful synonyms that paint quite the picture of its definition.
To be contentious is to be surrounded by or engulfed in disagreement, dispute, argument, discord, friction, strife, dissension, or disharmony.
If I engage in a conversation about someone that lacks any resemblance of positivity or redemption, then I am holding the spoon and stirring the pot. I’m cooking up some contention not disposing of it. I kept telling myself that I don’t add to stressful situations. I don’t make matters worse. I am a fixer. I spread joy. I sprinkle sugar. Don’t I?
That Monday was teeming with self-discovery. I could not even grasp everything the Lord was revealing to me. At home, in my workplace, in the grocery store, in a parking lot, at a playground, I was faced with choice after choice after choice. Choose to be a part of a negative conversation or walk away. Bite my tongue and hold back the rhetoric I felt I had every right to share. Respond to a disparaging comment with a simple, lighthearted reply. Remain alone with my thoughts rather than vent all in the name of feeling better.
You know that saying that talks about not being able to change others but try to be the change yourself? Ok, so, I was determined to connect the dots with what God was telling me. Be the change. See the difference. Stand the victor. I chose to tackle the issues I was dealing with head on and I was going to extend this Go 24 Mission to do it. The first week was one of the loneliest weeks I have had in a long time. Not to mention, I dealt with the fact that I had to hit the restart button on the mission numerous times because of my failed attempts. Loneliness and failure. Yep, those words really energized my already fragile mindset. But, alas, I felt a directive. Over a two-week period, I walked away from dozens of conversations that I began to see had no clear purpose other than to attach themselves to an already negative issue. I began to develop a keen sense of when and where contentious dialogue was going to take place and detoured myself from it. And, most shockingly, I began to understand the unbridled ways of my own mouth when it came to serving as a source for further instigating contention. Me. The happy, smiling, bring-your-own-sunshine-to-every-situation-girl.
I love being around people. They fuel me. I love being a hostess. Give me any reason to throw a party or set up a room for gathering. I want to know everyone’s name and favorite color. Tell me your preferred beverage. I will try to bring it to you. Let’s talk. Extroverts unite!
In this Go 24 Mission, I was not only dealing with having to hit the reset button consistently, but I had to remove myself from everyone in order to be quiet myself or not be part of someone else’s noise.
In those quiet moments, I longed to talk to people. But, this mission was taking me to a place that I can often find uncomfortable. It is a place of stillness. And, in stillness, self-discovery takes over. I began to download scriptures on my phone…the kind with pretty visuals. Holy Memes. I would read and re-read them. I would put them in the context for my current season of life. I would pray. I had many conversations with the Lord during these couple of weeks.
As I was mining through the scriptural gems that were discovered, such treasures as Proverbs 16:24 settled in my soul. It states, “Gracious words are like honey, sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.”
I also got knocked over by the glaring sheen of Exodus 14:14 declaring, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.” And, the ever simple, yet so profoundly difficult declarative, Matthew 5:14 told me to “Be the Light.”
A substantial amount of time has passed since I dove head first into my Go 24 Mission. It changed my circumstance. It changed my environment. It changed me. I am a better person because of this mission. Still flawed, yes. Still prone to negativity. Sure. I am closer to the Lord because of this mission. I am learning to love, forgive, and encourage in a new way. I am also learning more each day of what it means to speak with lips of honey rather that a mouth of discontent. I have no doubt that this will be a constant struggle with bruises along the way, but I am also confident and excited about its redemptive, gracious, life-giving benefits as well.