I’m not a huge Taylor Swift fan (I’m in my late 30’s and my go-to music are works by Yanni and the soundtracks to the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings trilogies, so you’ll have to forgive me), but while I might not agree with everything she does or says, I still admire her ability to keep her chin up in the face of criticism and I applaud her talent as an amazing singer and song-writer. Whether or not you like the twang of country or the beat of pop, her songs convey a relatable story and usually reflect a slice of her life. Several weeks ago at my writer’s group, I was introduced to one of her more recent songs, Shake It Off (thanks, Ashley!). It now has a place in my iTunes account. If you have never seen the video that goes along with this song, I encourage you to check it out here. It’s hilarious…and yet quite profound. Really!
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the song or won’t understand the lyrics because of the fast pace (cough—my parents—cough) (love you!), the gist of the song is this: Over the years, Taylor has been hammered and flogged by the press, tabloids, paparazzi, etc., who damn her in one breath, praise her in the second, and mock her in the third. She can either fold to their malicious talk and stew over every negative comment or she can…shake it off and continue to flourish in what she’s clearly good at—writing songs and performing for fans.
When I first heard the song and the reasoning behind it, I wondered how many of us need to shake off our own critics. How many of us would benefit from shaking off those voices inside and outside our heads that tell us we’re not good enough, or talented enough, or strong enough, or worth enough?
To take it to a spiritual level (because I’m a Jesus-follower and can’t help myself), it occurred to me recently that God wants me to shake it off—“it” being some false-teaching I received years ago from a brother in Christ when I still lived in Nebraska (yeah, sometimes I’m a slow learner). Now, in this man’s defense, he loves the Lord and has a heart to teach the Bible in an accurate manner. But because we’re all on our own spiritual journey, that means we’re not all at the same place in our faith and sometimes, we’re going to get things wrong. And this brother in Christ conveyed something inaccurately that caused the Bible to shrivel and whither in my life.
Suddenly I couldn’t approach Scripture the way I used to. Suddenly things I had believed since childhood didn’t necessarily make sense. I had a hard time applying positive, uplifting verses to my life, and all those biblical promises people talk about? I balked at them, certain that none of them applied to me since they weren’t written to me—they were written for an audience centuries ago.
Here’s an example to which some of you might relate: Many of us have heard people quote Jeremiah 29:11 that says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Are you smiling, Linda? You know where I’m going with this.) Okay, well, my brother in Christ told those of us in his class that this verse doesn’t apply to us today because it was a promise for the people of ancient Israel, not for the people of America—or any other present day nation (except, perhaps, for Israel :)). Oh, but how many times over the years have I heard this verse quoted by treasured brothers and sisters in Christ? And it always drove me batty. “You can’t use that promise for yourself!” I would want to shout out. “It doesn’t apply to you!” I kept quiet, of course, unless I was venting one-on-one with a trusted friend.
That is, until a few weeks ago when this piece of my past tumbled out in one of my counseling sessions (yes, I’m a Christian and yes, I see a counselor—who is also a Christian, by the way. I hope that liberates anyone else who feels like they could use advice and wisdom beyond the venting sessions with friends). With the help of my counselor, I realized I didn’t have to continue to hold onto these teachings when they had so clearly crippled my faith! We’re not talking baby faith, here; we’re not talking about the stubborn heart of a person who wants to do it “my way” and refuses good doctrine. Sure, I have moments of stubbornness and control-freak-itis, but those moments usually end with me crying out to God for His will and His knowledge. The point is my counselor encouraged me to shake off those bad teachings (not her exact words, but my mind did flit to Taylor Swift’s song as we talked). When I later reflected on the session, I felt like God was telling me I had hung onto those teachings for far too long, used them as an excuse to keep me shackled, and I needed to shake off those chains so I could progress down my path of faith.
When I said, “Okay,”—simple, right? Told you I’m a slow learner!—it was like breathing fresh air for the first time in years.That verse in Jeremiah? I came at it a different way and asked myself, “If I don’t think this applies to me then I’m essentially saying God doesn’t want me to prosper, He wants to harm me, and He doesn’t want me to have hope or a future.” Um…let’s all give a resounding NO! That is totally, utterly false! God doesn’t seek to harm us—duh! We suffer at times because we’re a product of sin and we live in a sinful world, but it’s not God’s desire for us. God wants us to have hope and a future—both here on earth and later with Him in Heaven—for without hope, why then would we bother sharing the Good News with others? And God wants us to prosper…but His prosperity doesn’t look like the American dream, so let’s get money and fame and the world’s definition of success out of our heads. Instead, He wants us to thrive in our relationships with other people—as spouses and parents and friends and neighbors, etc.; He wants us to thrive in our gifting, whether it be teaching or serving or giving or leading; He wants us to thrive in our talents, wherever they lie; He wants us to thrive in our faith and our relationship with Him.
1 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” Because God is active and living, His Word is active and living. It’s why different Bible verses pop out at us at different times in our lives; the same verse can be applied one way when I’m fourteen and a completely different way when I’m thirty-four, and yet another way when I’m seventy-four. So while we need to be careful about taking verses out of context and misapplying them, we also can’t stifle the Holy Spirit, for we never know how He’s going to use His Word to speak to us or a friend or a stranger.
…And let’s not underestimate His ability to grab hold of us through the refrain of a hit pop song!
What about you? Can you relate to my ramblings? Is there something you, too, need to “shake off”? I pray God would liberate you one step at a time like He continues to do with me.