“We have a free will to choose what we think on, and our free will lets us choose how we respond.”

The topic of free will and choice was written in an email to a girl named Megan. It was a continued conversation that began around the bonfire of a retreat where I had spoken. We talked about the idea of “deserving to be happy.” In going through my files, I came across my letter to Megan, written almost five years ago. It reasoned, “Happiness is based on what happens to us, which means it is controlled by our circumstances. Joy is a choice, which means it is controlled by our response to what happens to us."

Debbie Griffith
Debbie Griffith

Nehemiah 8:10 is so true: "The joy of the Lord is my strength." Really? Yes. I want to remember that, no matter what happens, I can experience joy knowing I am liked, loved, approved and accepted because I am centered in Christ. I believe the truth of who He says I am, but do I always? Sometimes I become centered on myself and what I think will make me happy. But the girl you want to be around is the one whose life is based on the identity she has in Christ and not the girl who wants you to feed her insecurities. The person centered in Christ is more likeable, more attractive and more real than any self-focused self.

We allow Satan to steal our joy and peace when we become more focused on the people and circumstances that bug us and the ‘what ifs…?’ I have to stop myself, all the time, and say, "Debbie do you trust God more than your feelings right now? Do you expect He will vindicate and address this issue with the person who you got into a 'discussion' with on Facebook?"

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Yes. BUT…. This just happened to me yesterday and I knew that if I opened up, using my words on the keyboard, to respond to the hurtful things being said to me that, not only would I not be able to change this person’s mind, but the problem would only get worse. I prayed aloud: "Lord, talk to this person, please." I kept my mouth shut and no comments were made. Later, I received an apology and a “thank you” for not retaliating. It all comes down to trusting God and waiting on Him. It’s about leaning into His strength while knowing there is hope ahead despite what I feel.

I don’t understand how God works and all the ‘whys’ and I certainly don’t have answers to all your questions. But even though I don’t know why, I know God is the way. For all the ugliness in the world and the people trapped in horrific circumstances and those with broken families and relationships, hope may seem far away. Many ask, "If God is real, then why is there such evil in the world?" The answer is, "Because we are still here on earth and the fight isn’t against flesh and blood but against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places." (Ephesians 6:12)

God could wipe out the evil, but He would have to wipe us out, too. Instead, He sent Jesus to offer us a way to change our nature. That is what is meant by being “born again.” We have a choice: to continue with a sin nature or be “born again” with a new nature.

We live in a fallen world, and it will stay fallen until Jesus comes back the second time when the, “angels will come forth and separate the wicked from among the righteous…” (Matthew 13:49).

I’d say that, for my part, I don’t pray for specific things enough. I’ve had times God has awakened me to pray for a person that was in danger or hurting. Some names I knew and some I had no idea. God is bigger than the enemy and the story ahead is eternal hope. Many people stuck in horrific situations are simply praying to survive and they don’t dare think that there’s ever going to be change or that the hope or desire they have will ever come to pass. But prayer changes everything. God is always on the move and aware. There’s always hope and a way for all things to be redeemed.

The thing that God desires most from us is a relationship with Him, just like we want with our own children. When we have the security of God’s love, we want to do things that line up with what He has for us because He knows best. Proverbs 16:3 is gloriously good: "Roll up your works upon the Lord, commit and trust them wholly to Him and He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and so shall your plans be established and succeed."

I memorized that verse a few years ago. Memorizing verses has helped me hear God because He is the word. I try and pray one verse every morning and for weeks and weeks it will often be the same one. God is God and He cares about everything you feel and care about. He understands and loves you. He never condemns. He is not surprised by what you’re going through and it must pass through Him before it comes to you. So, yeah…. tell Him your heart and the needs and wants you have. Ask for wisdom and discernment. He will gladly give it and then expect you’ll receive that wisdom (James 1:5-6). Ask for the Holy Spirt to give you strength, too.

John 20:22 is a verse I pray all the time: "Holy Spirit breathe on me." Help. Thanks. Amen.

Don’t listen to the garbage of the enemy that tells you that you aren’t good or thankful enough. You’re loved right where you're at and not where you should be. You’ll never be where you should be or good enough. Yet, God is always good. Remember too that feelings are indicators but should not be dictators. I think the most helpful thing is simply to be honest with God. Tell Him, "God, I feel this but I choose to receive the peace You give and not the fear I feel."

What happens inside of me isn’t so much of a feeling but a knowing that God is on the move. Nothing is wasted with Him. You may still feel crummy, but there’s hope.

Megan, I know you shared about your sons and the struggle it can be with them. And oh, how I get that! But I know I can’t live their Christian life for them. I can ask questions like, "What could I do to make this better for you?" Sometimes I have to apologize and say, "I’m gonna make an effort to change what I can, but it’s a two-way relationship. You need to own your own stuff and make the changes God wants you to make." Ask God to talk to them and pray they’ll listen to Him.

Bottom line is this: "Let go and let God." Try not to fix and understand why. Try to find the humor or the story of how you “made it through” and this “drama” in your life might encourage someone else. I know this is a lot to think about, Megan, but the process of writing you also gave me a lot to think on and apply, too. I’m a sinner saved by grace and I need Him continually.

I pray this helps. I’m just me, on this earth journey, too.

This column is a regular feature of the Detroit Lakes Tribune's monthly Faith page. Debbie Griffith is a Detroit Lakes-born speaker, radio personality and writer who now resides in International Falls, Minn.