It’s the end of 2017, and you’re supposed to be counting your blessings.
Assessing your growth in the past twelve months.
Looking forward to abundant new experiences in 2018.
But what if your life doesn’t feel very abundant?
What if you’re looking back and you can’t see any of those traditional things to be thankful for?
What if your 2017 brought sickness and pain instead of vibrance and energy?
What if your months were filled with loss, grief, void?
What if that was not only your 2017 — but also your 2016, and 2015, and 2014?
What if your year-end list reads more like: job disappeared, friendships withered, marriage fallen apart, loved one passed away…
What if your 2017 looked less like abundance and more like abandonment?
For lots of people, it feels like insurmountable reality.
I would know… I’ve had seasons filled with abandonment, too.
Such as a few years ago when my marriage of more than a decade was shattered by a public revelation of addiction and adultery. The resulting transition from established senior pastor’s wife to homeless single mom of two small children fell somewhat decidedly short of the pinnacle of my dreams.
Abundance wasn’t high on my mental priority list during that season. Life revolved around a scarcity mindset. Everything — financial, material, emotional, spiritual, physical — seemed in short supply. Hoarding felt necessary — clinging desperately to my few remaining shreds of dignity, self-respect, and security.
We all know there are times when it’s necessary to tighten your belt, hunker down, focus on essentials. Times when toxic relationships must be trimmed, when life’s priorities require a shakeup in order to rebalance and revive. Life cannot move on without sometimes embracing necessary endings. But that isn’t the full scope of what I’m talking about.
Part of the bitterly painful fallout of marriage to a sex addict hit me full force the day both my doctor and counselor urged me to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases. In a mental fog, I drove to the lab, handed over the medical orders, and waited my turn. I hoped the nurse wouldn’t notice which tests were ordered, prayed I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew. All day I blinked back tears of feeling thrown away, incomprehensibly broken inside.
Weeks later, I opened an envelope to find the laboratory bill. I didn’t have a job yet. The household which had belonged to our family was thinned down and packed into storage. I didn’t know where my two small children and I would live. Or how long my little savings could stretch.
I felt utterly defeated.
And now, on top of everything else, I was staring at the one bill that most reminded me of how many dreams had been shattered. How deeply trust had been betrayed.
Dazed, discouraged, I opened the next envelope. Pulled out a letter from the publisher who had just accepted my book, and…something else… my first small check.
I saw the amount, then glanced back at the blood test bill. Shaking my head in wonder, I laid the bill and the check side by side.
Down to the penny — they were exactly the same amount.
I burst into tears standing in my empty kitchen, and grabbed my phone to take a picture. I didn’t want to forget this moment — God’s tangible reminder that He still brings blessing. In the middle of my loneliness, He found a way to hug me. In my state of abandonment, I glimpsed abundance – not material bounty, but profound spiritual beauty.
In the years since, God has repeatedly showed similar care and compassion as my children and I traveled toward healing, through seasons of devastation and darkness.
Do times of hardship demand a scarcity mindset?
How can we access a sense of internal abundance and freedom when our world is turned upside down by unexpected tragedy or ongoing trauma or even the silence of extended isolation? Especially, if we’re experiencing all three at once?
A year ago, an old college roommate and I started spending a lot of time praying together. We’d talk about our week, our time with God, the lessons we’d been learning. One night, she shared her realization that God wants us to live with abundance regardless of our circumstances; that we are spiritually called to reject a mindset based on scarcity.
I instinctively recoiled.
What do you mean, abundance? My life is focused on survival, not abundance. Besides, materialism is unhealthy. We don’t need to accumulate stuff or stock up external props for self-promotion. Doesn’t the gospel stand in direct conflict with preaching a message of prosperity and prestige?
It was like she could hear my mental wheels smoking through the phone.
“I don’t mean relying on material things, or even tangible ones, to define abundance,” she said. “I’m talking about a mindset of generosity, of choosing to give even when we have less, and believing our own needs will be met because we are the beloved children of a kind-hearted God. I’m talking about a bountiful mindset that praises everything God is capable of doing — even if he hasn’t done it yet.”
Well… that… put a different spin on it.
I tucked it away in my mind and let it marinate.
A few mornings later, I was reading Psalm 23 in my quiet moments before dawn. If you’ve grown up around scripture, that’s probably a familiar one. Sometimes the over-quoted passages lose their punch when you’ve recited them since infancy. And then other days they punch you between the eyes…
I got down to verse five: You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.
While your enemies watch.
Your haters are gonna still be hanging around?
He’s protected you through the valley, He’s comforted and guided you, and now He’s telling you to feast while enemies are standing and watching over your shoulder?
Don’t you need to wait until the problems are solved before you feel like abundance? How can you rejoice while you’re sad? What does abundance during heartache even look like? Doesn’t your situation need to get better before you’re expected to wake up each day with some bouncy spirit of hopefulness and contentment?
But… that’s kinda the entire point. If you wait for circumstances to be perfect before you embrace contentment, then it’s not actually contentment — it’s merely convenience. If you are free to revel in material wealth and comfort, then a mindset of abundance requires little to no mental or emotional commitment – it comes easy.
Character only grows when we become so filled with appreciation for God’s goodness, we begin to recognize blessings where none appear tangibly visible. We start to see the good things hidden behind the parts that feel like curses.
My friend’s words burrowed down into my heart. I began to focus on gradually developing a more intentional spirit of abundance. I actively sought how to find and cultivate an attitude of gratefulness even when life is chewing me up and spitting me out.
These are six secrets I’ve discovered along the way:
- Count The Lessons as Gifts In Their Own Right
When you find yourself facing a huge obstacle, or a crushing disappointment, or a painful loss — look for the lesson. What can be learned from this difficult experience? If there is a lesson to take away, if there is feedback to be heard, if your story can be channeled into help for someone else, then it is not a waste. The lesson can become the blessing, even when there seem to be no other silver linings to find.
- Remember — Pain is Not the Enemy
I’m certainly not suggesting we should seek out pain. But when pain finds us, it’s helpful to remember that pain isn’t the enemy. Sin is the enemy. Breaking relationship with God and community — that’s the enemy. But pain? It’s okay to immerse yourself in the pain until it passes. You never know, today’s pain may be laying a foundation for unimaginable joy tomorrow. The mindset you choose during pain trains you toward either increased gratefulness or increased negativity. Your call.
- Give Before You Gain
Don’t wait for material abundance before practicing mental abundance. Whatever you have, give. You don’t have to be gifted with the same resources as everyone else in order to be a blessing to others. Your giving can take the form of time, counsel, a listening ear, finances, tangible resources — whatever is in your hand. The more you give, the less time you have to feel discouragement about your own circumstances. For example, when my marriage fell apart, my children and I had to move out of our home, and were living out of our car and traveling from friend to family while we waited for a little house to become available. Once we moved into the new place, almost immediately we had the opportunity to host other women (and sometimes their children) who needed a safe haven of refuge. Our little place wasn’t fancy, and we didn’t even have an ample grocery budget — but knowing God had given us a place we could share with others made it feel like we were part of something bigger than ourselves. The joy of sharing our haven became its own blessing.
- Refuse to Compare
Comparing circumstances develops a scarcity mindset. When you’re constantly reminding yourself that other people have more of what you want, it’s impossible to focus on the blessings that are already yours. Instead, seek to intentionally rejoice for the abundance of others. It really wasn’t until my own life turned upside down that I began practicing the art of cheering others on. One of my girlfriends was married to a pornography addict, but her husband had chosen to walk away from his addiction and seek a purposeful path of recovery. One day I asked her how they were doing. “I really don’t want to make you feel bad, but our marriage is great! I’m so happy — I’ve just been afraid to tell you because I don’t want to make you feel bad since that’s not how your story turned out.” I realized didn’t want to be the kind of friend where people I loved couldn’t tell me their blessings because I didn’t seem equally blessed. I asked God to give me delight for my friends, to rejoice in their happiness, and grieve with their griefs. This wasn’t a generously natural skill for me, it required a massive shift. I had to choose intentional joy when beautiful things took place for my friends, choose to reject being consumed by jealousy or bitterness. But the more I did so, the more my spirit changed from one of angst to one of peace. I found myself feeling lighthearted and happy for them, even when the good things seemed to be always happening to someone else besides me.
- Remembrance Journaling
One of the best things to do when you find yourself comparing with others and counting trials instead of blessings, is to intentionally remember how God has blessed you. It’s natural to forget and feel God is neglecting us. Try keeping a journal — a physical notebook, a jar with slips of paper dropped in, or a note on your smartphone — and write down every good thing that happens. Periodically, go back and look through these notes, reminding yourself of the good things. If you have small children, go through the remembrance journal together every couple of months. Let them hear the things God has provided, to build their youthful faith in His goodness.
- Treat Scripture as Medicine
Bible verses possess transformational power when they’re tucked away in our minds and played over and over. Exploring and memorizing promises can reset your mind and retrain your thinking. Think of memorization like medicine, a way to give God healing access to your mindset, replacing bitterness with bounty, abandonment with abundance. (See some of my personal favorite abundance verses down below.)
As time passed — this perspective sparked a total transformation in how I look at challenging circumstances. I’ve realized that an abundant spirit is a choice, not a result. It’s not the end-game, it’s the catalyst.
So as I look forward into 2018, I can’t help asking — no matter your circumstances right now — does the anticipation of a new year invite your God-given capacity for abundance?
If you ask me… it does.
Want to take a stand against abuse?
Here are three ways you can support the abuse recovery cause right now:
- Like + Follow Sarah McDugal on Facebook: www.facebook.com/sarahmcdugalauthor/
- Join the Bucket Brigade, an open Facebook group, for education on abuse and healing, including videos and articles on how to handle and discern abusive situations
- Invite a friend who is seeking healing from abuse to join my Abuse Recovery Online Support Group here: https://www.facebook.com/events/541403722867301/
Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Psalm 37:3-4
You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence, and the pleasures of living with you forever. Psalm 16:11
Then I will rejoice in the Lord. I will be glad because he rescues me. With every bone in my body I will praise him: “Lord, who can compare with you? Who else rescues the helpless from the strong? Who else protects the helpless and poor from those who rob them?” Psalms 35:9-10
For I have chosen you and will not throw you away. Isaiah 41:9
Taste and see that the Lord is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him! Fear the Lord, you his godly people, for those who fear him will have all they need. Even strong young lions sometimes go hungry, but those who trust in the Lord will lack no good thing. Psalm 34:8-10
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Has my arm lost its power? Now you will see whether or not my word comes true!” Numbers 11:23
So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. Galatians 6:9-10