Grace Notes

By Marybeth Bittel

As Christians, we often remind each other a key challenge of life is to trust and obey. We acknowledge God is in control, and we know our job is to accept whatever happens with faith, hope, and conviction. Implicit in all of this is the fundamental recognition that life can change at any time, in any way, for any one of us.

04_gracenotes_JN_SRI’ve spent the majority of my adult life as a lay minister, a small group facilitator, and a worship leader. Music, in particular, has been a cherished part of my life. As a longtime vocalist and instrumentalist, some of my most poignant and powerful moments have been spent helping to uplift a congregation through simple words set to melody.

We pray, as servant musicians, that God will get us out of the way; that those attending each service will see well beyond us as they open their hearts. I’ve often said, though, that I wouldn’t trade my vantage point for the world—because there’s nothing so indescribably moving as looking out over a gathering of people who are gradually breaking open, down, and through . . . communing with their creator from a place of such personal authenticity. There’s nothing so indescribably humbling as knowing God has used you to facilitate some tiny part of that.

Recently, however, I was forced to give up this vantage point because of a series of ongoing and worsening health issues. At present, I find myself unable to perform some of the most basic tasks necessary to make the music that has represented such an important part of my life.

As you might imagine, this latest change has been a pretty tough part of my walk. It’s forced me to explore what happens when our personal sense of identity becomes fractured beyond the point of quick or sure recovery. Does this forever extinguish our ability to lead others toward a loving God? Here are four and one-half lessons I’ve learned so far.

1. Matthew 19:14

I believe very strongly that God sees us as not only his children, but as the actual children we started out to be. It strikes me that so many of life’s greatest challenges hit us squarely where that inner child still resides . . . in that place that’s the most humble, hopeful, uncertain, awkward, and unformed.

I feel God uses these types of trials as a pathway to nurture, develop, and reshape our spirits. Getting in touch with this part of ourselves, this inner core of who we are, is one of the best ways I’ve found to sense God is alongside us in times of great adversity. Striving to perceive this aspect in others is one of the best ways I’ve found to empathize and encourage.

2. Ask a Different Question.

When hardships impact our ability to lead, participate, or even contribute, I think we all start asking questions like, “Why me? Why this? Why now? What next?” I’ve found these questions can begin to form a repetitive loop in our heads and our hearts, stunting our personal narratives, keeping us imprisoned by our fear and anger.

Questions are enormously powerful. The way we ask them can subtly shift a tone or steer an entire conversation. So I’ve come to believe that the questions we ask ourselves in times of suffering are especially imperative.

One of the best questions I’ve found is, How can God use me, exactly as I am right now? The answer may not sound very impressive or important to our human heart or ears. I suspect this may be a gentle prompt to put aside our pride.

3. Redefine.

As humans, we often equate the concept of “leader” with words like strongest or chief or top. This is no surprise. After all, the role of any shepherd is to guide and steer the flock.

But the etymology of lead is something I find intriguing. It has early roots in Proto-Indo-European terms like plou(d) (“to flow”), and in Old English terms like lædan (“to go,” “to go forth”). In Matthew 4:20, Jesus calls his first disciples saying, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (King James Version). The text notes they immediately dropped their nets and followed him.

Passages like this remind me that ultimately, as God’s children, every one of us is inherently expected to follow when called. Yet just as we’re all followers, we can all choose to keep going, to encourage hope, to let light flow from wherever we may find ourselves.

Maybe the situation doesn’t strike us as especially significant or meaningful, but we’re told that mountains can be moved from belief the size of a mustard seed. Instead of wondering how we can lead, perhaps we should ask ourselves where we can go and whom we can influence . . . then accept and heed that answer.

4. Embrace a New Growth Paradigm.

A Facebook quiz recently asked me what kind of flower I am. I was presented with a range of delicate, romantic-sounding options like rose, lilac, orchid, and lily. At a certain point in my life, any of these would have seemed worth striving for. These days, however, I think I’d rather be more of a dandelion—a common weed, unquestionably, and something most of us fight to eradicate.

But I suppose that’s precisely the point: dandelions encounter an obstacle and grow right around it. They push up through cracks in thick pavement. They’re sprayed, snipped, and pounded down into the ground, and they keep sprouting up over and over again. To me, that sounds like a worthy goal. Focusing on labels can tend to hang us up and slow us down.

4.5 The Path Unfolds One Step at a Time.

This is a half-point because it continues to evolve. I don’t know what will happen next, or how to prepare myself. I don’t know what it will mean for my life and my loved ones. I just know it’s important to keep stepping forward, holding on, reaching out, and looking up.

Tomorrow is out of our hands. But prayer requires only that we put our hands together. We learn more about ourselves in times of testing than in moments of triumph. This can help us be more authentic human beings, more trusting Christians, more empathetic influencers.

In the end, no person can always be the kind of leader she wants to be—but it doesn’t mean she can’t be the kind of light God needs.

Marybeth Bittel serves in marketing communications with Le Bon Mot Communications, Aurora/Naperville, Illinois. She has been a musician, vocalist, and worship team leader for much of her adult life. 

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  1. Mary Bittel
    March 10, 2015 at 8:53 pm

    Wonderful words of insight, encouragement and truth to apply to our lives. Our human need for understanding the changes in our lives must give way to trust. Marybeth gives us through her lessons learned some excellent guidelines to ponder our own life changes and challenges. These lessons can help one become unstuck in the “now” and move towards God and forward with His plan in one’s life. This makes me think of the words of the
    old Hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers… marching on…” yes, it is onward and upward on a moment by moment basis.

  2. March 10, 2015 at 10:37 pm

    Well thought out. I keep coming back to the themes of “quiet” and “refuge” in my life. With so much bombarding us every second of the day it’s difficult to have time and space to look within at our inner grace and the blessings He has endowed us with.

  3. David Cole
    May 1, 2015 at 10:23 am

    “We’re told that mountains can be moved from belief the size of a mustard seed.”

    Actually Jesus was speaking to his Apostles about one specific mountain, the temple mount, in the context of Covenantal change. Let’s be careful not to take passages of scripture out of context and apply them in ways they were never meant.

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