-I turned 25.
-I celebrated my one year anniversary of being married to my wonderful wife.
-I celebrated my one year work anniversary at my first job (post college, post fellows program).
-My wife and I became members of our church (a first for both of us).
-I started this blog.
-I became an uncle.
-I went to the dentist for the first time in a few years.
As with any year, there were highs and lows. Some days I really struggled–in my marriage, in my job, in my faith, in my life. But also a lot of wonderful things happened: I fell more in love with my wife. I became reenergized while working on a series of creative projects (including this blog). I learned a lot and grew a ton.
That’s really what this blog is all about: learning and growing–from books, stories, films, failures, experiences, and life itself. Learning and growing in the gospel, in how to live, lead, and love better.
So without further ado, here are 10 things I learned in 2015:
If our identity is in Christ, we are free to take risks and pursue our art. Inevitably, the fear of failure prevents many of us from pursuing our art–even the art we have a natural gift for. It just seems too risky, like putting all our chips on the table. What happens if we fail? What if no one likes or buys the art we’ve created? And if we fail at the very thing people say we’re gifted at, where does that leave us? These were the fears that made me stop writing for several years. But whenever we listen to our fears and cease to pursue the risky art we were called to create, we cease to truly live. The only way we can find the freedom to recklessly pursue our art is to place our identity, worth, and value in something else–namely, the gospel of Jesus.
Taking risks and failing is the best way to learn and grow. When I started this blog, I had no idea what I really wanted it to be about (to be honest, I still wrestle with it all time). But I started somewhere, and amidst the failures and frustrations of running it I rediscovered my passion for stories and writing.
Nothing–no creative endeavor, achievement, or success–will ever fully satisfy us. Only Jesus can. I learned this lesson the typical, hard way: I got really excited about a bunch of creative projects I was working on (including this blog), but eventually they all let me down in some way. After a while, the excitement and fulfillment those projects gave me wore off. They were all good things–they had just become ultimate things. The only real, true, and lasting joy is found in Jesus. As C.S. Lewis says in Mere Christianity, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
Discovering your calling is a life-long process, not an epiphany. This is a concept I learned in the Charlotte Fellows program, but this year I relearned it largely through reading and listening to Jeff Goins. His concept of building bridges was and still is one of the most helpful and encouraging things I learned this year. (P.S. You can pick up a copy of Goin’s book, The Art of Work by clicking here. The normal price is $9.99, but if you buy before Friday, you can snag the eBook for only $0.99)
I love great stories. Here’s why: great stories say something true about the world, reveal our deepest longings and desires, awaken wonder in our hearts, and ultimately point us to the “one Big Story,” as Sally Lloyd-Jones puts it in the The Jesus Storybook Bible: “the story of how God loves his children and sends his son to rescue them.” It’s the reason why we love Star Wars, Hunger Games, Jurassic World, and The Avengers–deep down, we all long for a hero to come deliver us from darkness and evil.
No one ever really, fully gets the gospel / We’re all JV Christians / Spiritual growth is becoming more and more dependent on Jesus. I learned these things in the Charlotte Fellows, but I’m relearning it again and again through the amazing preaching/teaching at my church. I used to think that the gospel was for JV Christians and after a while you move on to Varsity doctrines. Now I realize that the gospel is the key to everything. As believers we grow as we continually relearn and reapply the gospel to every area of our lives. As Tim Keller says, “The gospel is not just the ‘ABCs’ but the ‘A-to-Z’ of the Christian life.”
Part of what it means to trust Jesus is simply taking him our real selves–our fears, anxieties, angers, joys, frustrations, sorrows, etc. Often times I live as if I must deal with my baggage before I come to God. And then I remember: we treat God as God when we depend on him, when we call out for help, when we take him our burdens. I learned this largely from the preaching/teaching at my church.
I am more sinful and flawed than I dared believe. Marriage (or any honest, close friendship for that matter) has a tendency to do this–expose us for the messes that we are (which is a gift). As C.S. Lewis said in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.” That certainly has been my personal experience. But marriage also has a tendency to bring home the next point (which is an even greater gift).
I am more loved and accepted in Jesus than I dared hope. As Sinclair Ferguson puts it in Children of the Living God:
“The parable of the prodigal son epitomizes the disposition of some Christians, even when they are restored to fellowship with God. Lurking in their hearts there often remains this sneaking suspicion: ‘I am not worthy to be God’s son, but perhaps I can struggle through as one of his hired servants’ [see Luke 15:19]. At the root of such thinking is an inability to believe that salvation is entirely of God’s grace and love. We contribute nothing to it; we can do nothing to earn it in any way. We are often slow to realize the implications of that. We are sons, but we are [always] in danger of having the mindset of hired servants….the Devil…will try to produce in us what our forefathers called ‘a bondage frame of spirit’… [When Paul says in Romans 8:15 that God sends us ‘a Spirit of sonship’ rather than a spirit of fear, he means] God sends His Spirit into our hearts, bringing us the deep spiritual and psychological security that rests on the objective fact that… we belong to the Lord.”
That’s why this blog is called Sons & Orphans–because the greatest truth in the world is that through faith in Jesus we can become sons of God. But even when that happens, we often live like it’s not true. Instead we live like orphans or hired servants, trying to do things to earn God’s love. That’s why as believers we’re constantly having to learn and relearn how to live like children of the King.
You really need to floss more. I also learned this one the hard way: through my dentist, his drill, four cavities, and a crown implant. Seriously, don’t make my mistake. Floss every once in a while.
So here’s to 2015, a year of grace and growth, failures and faith.
Can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store (hopefully fewer cavities).
What did you learn in 2015? Share your response via social media or in the comments below.