By Jen Pfeiler

Happy New Year! I’m sure by now there have been plenty of emails streaming in, promising you deals on how to better yourself in 2024. As humans with an inner desire to grow and mature, we like the idea of a fresh start. We want to be determined that this year will really be the year we change for the better.
Unfortunately, we are all familiar with the dullness and drudgery that becomes the eventual fading out of a New Year’s resolution only to be replaced by our old habits and trends. The truth is, change and becoming the people God made us to be- the truest version of our best self- can’t be done by just choosing to be someone different all of a sudden.

The first step to becoming our best self, is to turn our relational circuits on. When we are relational, creativity and logic flow seamlessly between the two hemispheres of our brains, and we are able to foster an environment where attachment to God and His people flourish. What does this look like exactly? Well, since we can’t just “choose joy”, it is helpful to remember and reflect on times where we felt people were glad to be with us, a moment of peace, or a time God’s radical love marked our affections toward Him.
Remembering moments of joy and peace where we can associate even just a couple of the five senses can be an important tool when it comes to learning to engage our relational circuits. 

When we begin living relationally, we begin to see the stark difference between how we act when we are connected to the joy and peace that flows from heaven, versus when we live stuck in simple enemy mode. In the Life Model, we call this un-relational living, living from a false self, aka the “as-if self”. The as-if self is motivated by fear and unhealthy self-protection. Sometimes we even prefer living life as our as-if self because that is how we have learned to be accepted by people.

I remember a time when I was in between churches. I had been going to a church that very much enforced and encouraged people to live from their as-if self. From the outside, this looked like self-righteous behavior and a spiritual pride in being able to use human will-power to change behavior, while leaving the heart in disarray. I remember New Years in that time of my life being very disappointing, as I would feel the shame in my stomach of not being able to improve myself to the extent of some of my lofty personal goals or where I felt I “should” be at in my maturity.

When we rely on ourselves or people that claim to be more mature than they actually are, we are often let down. After a few significant events occurred, I left my church and spent some time church hopping. When I resettled into a church community, I could still feel the pain of not knowing what it was to truly be my best self. However, I found a few people who helped me scratch the surface of seeing how present and merciful God is, even in our weakness. It took me years to really let my guard down with Jesus, but even in the early stages of that learning process, I began to have sweet moments with Him in the mornings.

I was still in high school at the time, but somehow, I had the grace to wake up at 5:30am and fellowship with Jesus for an hour before school. I remember sitting up in bed, rubbing my eyes, and groggy, yet I was filled with peace all throughout my body, from my head to abdomen. It was a season where I learned a bit about myself. I learned that I enjoyed non-perfectionistic creativity. I wrote songs and painted (very much in a non-perfectionistic way, I might add). I started a wildflower garden.

When I learned that I didn’t have to be in self-protection, the creativity God placed in me began to emerge. When I realized pleasing Him didn’t come from sitting in a pew, I began to understand a little bit more about this Christ that fished with His disciples and engaged with humanity in very real, practical, and fun ways.

Jesus promises something so much more than what our as-if self can accomplish. He promises us joy, peace, and the fullness of life! There is so much more to gain when we release our fearful self-protection and allow him to transform us into gentle protectors that stay relational even amid overwhelming circumstances.

When we can’t remember what it’s like to be our best self, the scriptures carry these helpful reminders:
John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

John 15:11 “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
John 10:10 “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

Romans 8:15-16 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God…

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