Trapped by Complexity

Simplicity is constantly under attack. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that we are trapped by complexity, which seems to be our default setting, and simplicity becomes the casualty as a barrage of complexity invades our lives.

Our hurried lifestyles and constant scurrying after progress certainly add complexity to life by giving too many choices too often.

How can we discover who we truly are and what makes us happy if we are constantly distracted by choices thrown at us by progress?

Yet progress is impossible to completely ward off, and we soon discover that we must simply and deliberately choose to not take it all in. Even the Amish, who represent a long-forgotten simplicity in life, live lives more complicated than they once were. Even though they don’t personally maintain them, the fact that the Amish are the focus of many web sites and are themselves a tourist attraction shows the impossibility of keeping progress at bay even when simplicity is a religious doctrine.

Interestingly, the Amish are such a draw because of their simplicity. Life used to only become complicated mostly by choice. Now, complexity happens to us at the speed of progress.

Where the Journey Began

simple-and-healthy-lunch-1317488-1278x912Teaching my boys that value of simplicity is a focus of mine. These lessons include a deliberate limiting of extra-curricular activities, a focusing of time and efforts on fewer and better quality activities, and a prioritizing of events and opportunities that constantly present themselves.

We’ve also incorporated simplicity into our eating. With about 20 meals that we cycle through, my guys love that they get their favorites often. Because they feel the quality of their meals are better since they regularly have their favorites, they more look forward to meals. We also find simple joy sharing these favorites regularly.

When I first began to deliberately simplify my life, I thought I was pursuing simplicity in order to be healthy and strong. My initial push for simplicity came after undiagnosed food allergies created an environment where depression, anxiety and illness thrived. This experience not only forced me to simplify my eating habits, but it also directed me toward a less-stressful and more fulfilling career.

At first, I was very unhappy at what I saw as a severely limiting diet. But the illnesses caused by my food allergies provided the necessarily motivation to pursue lifestyle change.

For the first year, I convinced myself that having multiple food allergies (dairy, gluten, eggs, crabs and cashews) would cause misery for the rest of my life. I hated reading all the food labels, I quit going to my favorite restaurants, and I had to cook separate meals for myself. Oh, and allergen-friendly food is more expensive too.

Now, years later, adapting my diet feels quite natural, and I find that less food choices makes grocery shopping much easier. Plus, my husband and I no longer go through our usual back and forth “Where do you want to eat?” conversation when dining out. We basically have 3-4 choices most of the time, and choosing among those few is definitely much simpler than choosing among the myriad of options found in most cities.

So many people feel trapped by complexity. They feel hopeless because a way out keeps alluding them. At least, that’s how I felt when I just couldn’t climb out of the pit (turns out there is a labyrinth in the pit too). Yet, taking the first few deliberate steps toward simplification often starts the momentum needed to affect major change.

While I didn’t know what change needed to take place for me to be healthy, I kept looking and trying and adjusting. Eventually, I discovered many small changes that added up to make a huge difference for healing in my life.

Complexity pursues. Simplicity must be pursued. And while complexity will never cease to pursue, simplicity will begin to pursue as we allow room for it to do so by slowly pushing out the complex.

DISCUSSION: What is one area in your life you would like to simplify? What small steps could you take to begin that process?

How to… Pray for Others

Maybe I am over-thinking this. Maybe I compare myself too much to others. And maybe I’m just making excuses to keep from stepping outside of my comfort zone. Sure, I pray for others in the privacy of my own home, but ask me to pray when others can hear me… I’ll do it, but I end up worrying the rest of the day about what I said and how stupid I sounded. And even when I pray “in my head” for others, I usually fumble through with “please help…” and “please heal…” and “You know their needs…” What I’m praying just seems feeble and week. Not only that, but prayer sometimes feels awkward and uncomfortable to me, especially when I’m praying for others.

Here’s what I know for sure:

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people.” (1 Timothy 2:1)

“Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18)

“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:13-16)

Clearly, scripture encourages Christians to pray for others. But shouldn’t those prayers be more than a child’s prayer of “Please help…” followed by a list of names. Shouldn’t they be more than saying a person’s name followed by “heal them” or “give them wisdom”? I use about 3-4 of those sayings (please help, heal them, etc.) that pretty much make up my intercessory prayers. Yet, I feel like there’s something missing. I mean, I can pray with great detail about my own needs. Shouldn’t I be able to offer something more for others too?

Until reading What’s Your Pleasure on A Curious Band of Others, I didn’t think too much about how I prayed for others. I even commented after reading this post that I didn’t struggle with intercessory prayer. But then came that small voice inside (a.k.a. the Holy Spirit) that made me rethink my approach to intercessory prayer.

Don’t get me wrong. Prayer of any sort offered with sincerity pleases God. But just like communication within relationships deepens and becomes more detailed as the relationship grows, so should our communication with God as we grow closer to Him. More for my own growth than as any sort of advice, the following 4 tips on how to pray for others are now offered. This is not a prayer formula; rather, it exists as encouragement for deeper conversations with the Lord.

  1. Use empathy. I can think about a situation that a person is going through and what I might need if I were in that same situation. Then, I can pray accordingly.
  2. Find models of maturity. There are those who are really good at praying out loud. Typically, they are the pastor or Sunday school teacher (though that’s not true in my case). While copying these individuals verbatim seems manufactured, certainly gain insight and ideas on how to pray from them. Just like a child learns from a parent, I can learn from those with more maturity in their prayer lives. Caution: I must refrain from feeling as if I need to pray exactly like these people. Instead, I must simply be willing to learn from them.
  3. Realize that deeper does not mean wordy. In fact, the Bible warns against wordiness. (Matthew 5:6) Maybe specific is a better word than deeper. When possible, offer specific prayers for others. In some cases, my past experiences will allow me to pray more specifically for someone than the actual person could pray for themselves because I’ve been through a similar and found victory already.
  4. Pray in the Spirit. Ephesians 6:18 says to pray in the Spirit. Henry’s Concise Commentary explains doing so as praying “by the grace of God the Holy Spirit, in dependence on, and according to, His teaching.” In other words, let the word of God and the prompting of the Holy Spirit guide my prayers.

As a Pentecostal, my prayers for others also often consist of praying in tongues as the Spirit enables (Acts 2:4).  What’s more, Romans 8:26-27 assures us that the Holy Spirit “helps in our weakness” by interceding for us. So, even though my prayers usually feel inadequate and even though I often stumble with the right words, I know that the Holy Spirit by far makes up for where I lack.

DISCUSSION: Do you pray regularly for others? What advice can you offer for making intercessory prayer effective?

For more reading on prayer, please see the following posts: A Plea for More Prayer and What’s Your Pleasure on  A Curious Band of Others

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Sunday Reflections – Living Sacrifice

As Living Stones, we are a holy priesthood. When Jesus died on the cross for our sins and came to life again in defeat of sin, death and the devil, the old system of sacrifice to atone for sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices at the temple are no longer required, nor are they acceptable, by God. Instead, Christians now offer spiritual sacrifices out of love and gratitude for the One who gave everything for their benefit.

The spiritual sacrifices we make do not die (as with the old system) when we offer them. Quite the contrary, each living sacrifice we make can become “a sweet-smelling aroma, and acceptable sacrifice, well-pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:18)

A living sacrifice first and foremost comes from the heart of a believer. You must take responsibility for your own sacrifice. No one can make a sacrifice for you. Most importantly, Jesus must be the number one priority in your life before an acceptable spiritual sacrifice can even be made. Once that life-changing decision takes place, continue in the journey toward holiness… toward being set apart.

So what does God look for in the sacrifices that we now each offer on an individual basis? Consider the following 5 elements when choosing to make your life a living sacrifice.

  1. Attitude. God calls everyone to be a living sacrifice in whatever they do in life, yet activity means nothing when offered in the wrong attitude. We must follow Abel’s example and avoid that of Cain’s. One sacrificed with the right attitude, and one did not. One’s sacrifice was accepted, and the other’s was not. (Genesis 4:3-7) (See The Aroma of your Heart for a related Bible study on making your attitude “the same as that of Christ Jesus.”)
  2. Love. Loving some people takes little to no effort. Yet, there are those who make loving them difficult and sometimes seemingly impossible. (If we’re honest, we’ve all been that person at least once ourselves.) When a person gives nothing in return, loving them becomes a struggle. As living sacrifices, we choose to give expecting nothing in return. After all, isn’t this what Christ did for each one of us?
  3. Balance. Holiness happens in partnership with the Holy Spirit. Every Christian does his or her part through the deliberate and intentional choice to live out God’s will by choosing to become a living sacrifice. We should not expect the Spirit to do all the work, but we must allow the “helper” to come along side of us, for that is why He was sent to us. (John 14:16, 17, 26)
  4. Discomfort. Convenience has become way too important to us. Sacrifice requires inconvenience and discomfort. We must orient our taste buds toward desiring long-term (eternal) benefit. Doing so allows for intimacy with God, which occurs when we make an acceptable sacrifice. Sweet-tasting convenience is the enemy for an acceptable sacrifice. We must become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
  5. Teachability. A living sacrifice comes from a person being willing to learn, grow and change at the prompting of the Holy Spirit. God always provides the appropriate measure of time, talent and treasure to do His will. We hold responsibility for offering ourselves to Him through what He enables and gives us to accomplish.

An acceptable sacrifice comes through a contrite heart. A sincere and broken heart comes when we spend time at the altar prior to offering our living sacrifices and let the Holy Spirit lead us through an attitude upgrade. When we submit ourselves in this way, we then can “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is [our] reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1) Giving of ourselves completely certainly is “reasonable” when we consider what Jesus gave.

DISCUSSION: Submission begins by evaluating the status of the heart and asking tough questions. What good are you doing? What are you sharing? What sacrifices are you making for God? Are you too comfortable? Submission continues as we listen to the answers God gives us to these questions.

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Discovering Joyful Simplicity

The more I simplify my life, the more I realize that a Relatively Simple life is intertwined with joy. The simpler my physical life and surroundings, the deeper and better quality my mental state and spiritual life. For me, this means the more organized my house, the fewer activities with which I and my family are involved, and the more I reduce the trivial choices like what to wear or eat, the more joy I feel.

Perhaps it’s having a sense of control over my life, and perhaps my mind simply has less to deal with and thus can concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Whatever the reason, increased simplicity certainly made me a more joyful person. I no longer feel trapped by a complexity that took my life spiraling out of control.

What does joyful simplicity look like to you?

The following are 5 suggestions to help stimulate ideas for a simpler life in a way that also brings more joy:

  1. Be a kid. Coloring and doing crafts with my boys takes me back to my childhood. At the same time, they present an opportunity for simple quality time with my kids too. Adults are too wrapped up in adult stuff sometimes that they forget the simple joys that come with being a kid. Get in touch with that joy again. Not sure what to do? Ask your kids… they’ll have lots of great ideas!
  2. Turn of technology. When we play family games, my husband and I turn off the sound on our phones. When we go camping, I deliberately leave my phone in the car and refuse to participate in technology. Turning off technology forces me to enjoy simple pleasures like reading and watching birds. This is an amazingly relaxing activity.
  3. Go on a fast. My husband and I decided to go on a financial fast for the first quarter of 2012. This simplified our lives in that we just didn’t give much thought to buying. We just knew we couldn’t spend any extra money, and we focused on activities that didn’t involve doing so. A fast in pretty much any area of life lends itself nicely to the process for one to pursue simplicity.
  4. Purge. The idea of getting rid of excess is exceedingly freeing. For me, when I start to purge, I struggle stopping myself once I start. A yearly garage sale makes purging a habit for my family. Taking a look at what is no longer needed provides a terrific avenue for simplifying belongings. Like fasting, purging can occur in a variety of areas. For example, consider purging your calendar or your Facebook friend list.
  5. Help others. Tutor kids. Minister at a community dinner. Teach a Sunday school class.  Pray with a friend. Help a friend clean. Run an errand for someone. Call your pastor and ask what needs done at the church. Helping others provides a simple way to not only bring joy to another but to also know the simple joy of making another person’s life easier.

Simple joy comes through a life free to answer the call of God. When life is simple and not overwhelming, the possibilities for simple joy seem to open up. Maybe this happens because life is no longer just happening to you. Maybe it happens because you finally have time to think and choose what you want to do with your time rather than letting time happen to you. Whatever the reason and whatever the path chosen, a simpler life equates to more joy.

DISCUSSION: What activities help you discover simple joy? If you need more simple joy in your life, what activities will you try today to make that happen?

How to… Find Your Game

When athletes talk about finding their game, they refer to being able to play at their very best on a consistent basis. Intense physical training can lead to this, but the way to really find your game exists through a different kind of training. And finding your game actually has little to do with what sport you play or if you actually play any sport at all.

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

The movie Seven Days in Utopia revolves around the concept of finding your game in life through the pursuit of godliness. (Note that there is a book on which this movie is based.) This gem of a film provides many life lessons that make the movie worth watching, but 5 lessons stood out as steps to take immediately to find your game.

  1. Know your convictions. This involves asking yourself why you do what you do. If your purpose is to excel in a sport or in any area of life, consider rethinking that which drives you. For when we discover convictions that go well beyond the temporal and start affecting eternity, we discover a deeper reason and purpose for existing.
  2. Find your rhythm, balance and patience. At the core of these elements lies emotional control. When emotions control the person, rhythm, balance and patience cannot exist. But when you use emotions as gauges, finding your game becomes a reality.
  3. Be willing to deter from the expected. So often, we become trapped by expectations, both our own and that of others. Finding your game may involve stepping out of what’s expected in order to step into the will of God.
  4. Confidence comes with being prepared. Some people seem to exude confidence naturally while others struggle with believing in themselves. The core of true confidence is not natural ability alone. Rather, true confidence results from preparation. Planning and preparing create a confidence that allows for handling the unexpected and the spontaneous.
  5. Confront the lies. What lies drive you? Do you believe your value is found in the game that you play? Or, is your value found in how you play the game? Knowing that your value comes from Christ alone provides the convictions and confidence necessary to find your game.

Within each aspect of finding your game listed here, the idea of dealing with mistakes constantly comes up. We can allow mistakes to knock us out of our game and into being off balance and out of rhythm and with little patience, or we can use them to built confidence. We can use mistakes to confront the lies that tell us we are the sum total of our accomplishments by not allowing them to snowball. We can choose to see ourselves through our failures, or we can view ourselves through the eyes of ChristWho are you as a Christian believer has little to do with who you are and everything to do with Whose you are.

When we choose to not allow mistakes to negatively impact our self image, which is how we think about ourselves, and begin relying on our identity in Christ, we find that we are acceptable. As we learn to be Living Stones, we discover that we can live and walk in repentance and bask in His grace. In that, we finally find our game in a way that impacts eternity.

DISCUSSION: What adjustments do you need to make today to help you “find your game”?

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Deciding to Pursue Simplicity

Simplicity for any individual is defined to a great extent by personality and temperament. Introverts, for example, in general tend to need slower-paced lives than do extroverts.

A person’s interests also direct what simplicity looks like to them. Just because someone else finds an activity relaxing, others may not find it to be so and may even discover that it adds a level of complexity that works to undermine their ability to discover a simple life.

For example, I tried scrapbooking but found the process too complicated with too many decisions to make and supplies to buy. My mind feels much more content with a simple photo album with dates of events written in the margin. For me, scrapbooking made life more complicated. For others, it’s a relaxing pastime.

Clothing is another example. I found myself constantly frustrated with trying to decide what to wear each day, and then I noticed I only wore about 20% of the clothing that I owned anyway. So, I systematically whittled my wardrobe down by over 40%. Yet, I have friends who love to try new trends and constantly mix up their wardrobes. They like to express themselves through their clothing.

Simplicity also pursues each individual in unique ways. For instance, significant foot (nerve entrapment) and back (slipped discs and spinal stenosis) problems along with Piriformis Syndrome limited my shoe options to only a few pair for a long time.

The limit came not from simple obedience to the doctor, either. The severe foot and ankle pain gave me the option of either wearing only those few pairs of shoes or not being able to walk. This is not a simplicity I had planned on or in any way pursued, but it definitely found me.

Small things quoteA principle of simplicity that seems inherently true regardless of the person is that small things done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. In other words, simplicity does not come through any one major event or leap. Rather, there exist a multitude of small changes and adjustments that together add up for big change and create a simpler life.

The combination of elements that create my simple life will look like no one else’s. But, the principles for achieving a simple life are essentially the same and involve one major decision… the decision to pursue simplicity.

DISCUSSION: What does a simple life look like to you? Have you made the decision to pursue simplicity?

10 Marriage Maintenance Tips

I’ve been there… to the pit of despair… several times… and back again. (Just like Bilbo.) Up until this point, my marriage has always returned to the pit after climbing out and living at the edge for a while. I hope this time will be different. But who am I to give marriage advice? My husband and I certainly do not have it all figured out, but we have struggled together long enough (about 20 years) to have some ideas. With that, I offer the following 10 marriage maintenance tips.

  1. Model godly marriages. Find marriages that have stood the test of time and model (that doesn’t mean copy) what they do. Go to church together. Pray with and for each other. Protect each other.
  2. Learn from broken marriages. Couples who have gone through divorce are often a great source of learning from others mistakes with regard to marriages. Listen to what they have to say.
  3. Spend regular and quality time together. Explain to your kids why them going to bed on time is important for mom & dad’s time together. Connect via email & text when apart. Play Scrabble together. Watch movies. Have coffee together regularly. Find ways to connect, daily whenever possible.
  4. Rely on each other’s strengths. One partner should not have to pull all the weight, but sometimes one does pull more weight than the other. Allow your spouse to be strong for you.
  5. Bring the best you every day. Yes, this changes from day to day. Yes, sometimes your best doesn’t feel like much, but still… Your best is all you ever have to give, and God does amazing feats with our meager best.
  6. Share the smallest details. The laughs the frustrations the stupidity. Share the details of life. No, this doesn’t mean bring all your junk home from work, but it does mean realizing that connection is often found in the details of life.
  7. Argue well. Disagreements and arguments will happen, so we might as well learn how to do them well. Sometimes, it’s even okay to argue in front of the kids. (For a terrific article on this point, please read Why I Argue in Front of My Kids      (Sometimes).
  8. Have fun together. Enjoy each other’s company. Tease one another and joke around. Let the kids see you flirting. Send “fun” text messages to one another. Find simple ways to have fun.
  9. Intimacy. Guys, this is a 24/7 commitment for you (women tend to be like crock pots). Remember this. Ladies, this is more of a physical need for men than for women (men tend to be like microwave ovens). Don’t forget that. And for both of you, remember that intimacy is not always just about the physical.
  10. Surprise one another. Bring home a special gift, like a latte or ice cream, that your spouse would enjoy. Men, clean the bathroom. Women, forget the pajamas. Surprises bring spice to a marriage.

Maintaining a healthy marriage involves deliberate effort. And, just maintaining isn’t really the goal, growth is. Always improve. Always grow stronger. Remember that “you’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” In addition to communicating, forgiving and sacrificing, the above 10 marriage maintenance tips can help move your marriage out of the pit and on to the mountaintop and even from one mountaintop to another.

Discussion: What is your top marriage maintenance tip?