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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Sunday Reflections – Living Stones

“You also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:4-5)

Being described as a “living stone” seems quite odd simply because stones are hard, dead and cold, not alive. We get the idea of stones being used to build a building, but the connection with our spiritual lives may be difficult to grasp. Perhaps that’s because while we may have respect for our church buildings, our reverence pales in comparison to that of the Jewish Christians (Peter’s audience) who were driven out of Jerusalem and scattered through Asia Minor. Peter’s original readers understood his analogy at a deeper level, especially because they were unable to even go to the temple at that time due to persecution of Christians by the Roman Emperor Nero. Although, still today, there are Christians in some places of the world who truly understand since they too live persecuted for their faith.

Peter’s words were a paradigm shift for the Jewish Christians in AD 63. For them, the temple was a place to offer sacrifices and make atonement. But Christ had come to replace this system of sacrifice. Peter’s analogy helped the Jewish Christians make a shift in thinking from the system of sacrifice handed to them through their Jewish heritage to understanding how Christ fulfilled that system so completely that physical sacrifices were no longer necessary. Because of this heritage, they fully understood the significance of the stones that created the temple building. They had an immense reverence for the temple building itself well as an understanding for what the analogy meant. (See Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14 & 28:16.)

Barnes Notes on the Bible explains the Jewish Christian’s view in this way: “The Jews prided themselves much on their temple. It was a most costly and splendid edifice. It was the place where God was worshipped, and where he was supposed to dwell. It had an imposing service, and there was acceptable worship rendered there.” Through Christ’s sacrifice on the Christ, a new way was introduced, and the Christians of Peter’s day were asked to change their thinking toward worship, sacrifice and the temple.

Regardless of the time in history, the application is no less significant or relevant. Consider the following 5 points in terms of applying the “living stone” analogy to the Christian walk. These points, based on 1 Peter 2:4, hold true regardless of physical location or state of physical freedom.

  1. You are being built up in Christ. While individually every Christian represents Christ, Christians collectively – each “living stone” placed one upon another with Christ as the cornerstone – are being built up together in Christ. In other words, “all true Christians are a chosen generation; they make one family, a people distinct from the world: of another spirit, principle, and practice.”
  2. You are part of a spiritual house of God. The house of God is not built with stones or wood but with “living stones” that hold the breath of God. As such, these “living stones” (Christians throughout time) have an immensely greater value and thus give His house significantly more value than any physical temple or church building built by man. Together, in unity and community, all Christians create the temple of the Lord.
  3. You are a holy priesthood. With Jesus’ final sacrifice on the cross, the old system of sacrifice for atonement of sin was abolished. Blood sacrifices through priests at the temple are no longer required. Christians exist now as a holy priesthood and offer sacrifices of a different kind.
  4. Spiritual sacrifices are the result. Since blood sacrifices are no longer required, what are we to sacrifice? “The sacrifice of prayer and praise.” (Hebrews 13:15 & Ephesians 6:18)
  5. Our sacrifices must be acceptable in God’s eyes. Fortunately for us, God looks at our sacrifices through Jesus. Through the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice, our prayers and praises become acceptable. They come through imperfect lips and hearts, but they go through Jesus as the “author and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

Just as the physical temple in Peter’s day was built to provide a place where priests would offer sacrifices for the people, so every Christian today exists as part of the temple of God. Prayer and praise exist as sacrifices when we offer our whole selves, holding nothing back. We realize that nothing we do or say is sufficient, but we offer what we have “with pure hearts that with the intention to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly.” (Micah 6:8)

DISCUSSION: How do you see your life as a “living stone”? What are your thoughts about the Christian walk as it relates to 1 Peter 2:4-5?

Note: This reflection was inspired by “The Building Project,” a sermon given by Rev. Steve Miller at New Hope Assembly of God.

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?

Sunday Reflections – Give in to the Craving!

Chocolates and sweets. Alcohol and soda. Salty foods like potato chips. Tobacco. Oily/greasy foods like French fries and hamburgers.  Coffee. These foods make up the top sources of cravings for many people. And when the craving strikes, the often irresistible and uncontrollable urge to fulfill that craving usually overtakes any existence of willpower. Give in too often to these cravings, and the calories and fat eventually turn into extra pounds. We know this, yet we still find ourselves unable to resist a craving when it hits.

Some experts say that we crave certain foods because they offer comfort or bring back positive memories and also because they calm us and help relieve stress.  Other experts believe that food cravings often indicate some sort of deficiency or imbalance. For example, a chocolate craving can indicate a serotonin (feel good hormone) imbalance, and craving salty food can indicate a mineral deficiency.

We all understand the power that cravings can hold over us, and we also usually understand the need to limit giving in to those cravings in order for our bodies to be healthy and strong.

While food cravings carry negative connotations, there exists a craving that not only will benefit our lives in innumerable ways, but giving in to this craving also carries eternal reward and blessing.

“As newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,
if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”
(1 Peter 2:2-3)

Almost everyone has seen an infant that is ready to eat, and no one but momma can fulfill that need. This insatiable desire that we see in babies is the same type of craving that we need to have for God.

What does a craving for God look like? A craving for God exists in a desire for growth that shows itself as a relentless passion for God.

Food cravings don’t just happen all by themselves. We train our bodies to desire these foods when we eat them too often and fail to place healthy foods at the core of our diets. We can also train our bodies and spirits to have a craving for God. As we walk with God through all that life hands us and as we expose ourselves to His goodness and to the wisdom of His word, we develop a passion for Him that can turn into a positive obsession. Being obsessed with God and craving the growth He offers through His word leads to a joy that only comes from Him.

Imagine craving morning devotion and prayer time. Consider a life motivated by an obsession for worship and praise, for expressing love to the family of God and for winning the lost. What changes would you need to make in order to deliberately grow this type of craving for the living God?

Someone with an irresistible and uncontrollable craving for God finds comfort not through the temporal but through the eternal blessings offered by the Savior. A life obsessed with God is one that receives positive feelings and a sense of calm like none ever before known. God can relieve stress and make up for any deficiency, and He can balance any imbalance. Food cravings satisfy only temporarily, but the satisfaction that comes through a life obsessed with the Creator of the Universe provides a motivation that involves obeying God’s Word in a way that allows values to change. As values change, choices change and lives change. When this transformation takes place, a person emerges who focuses on building up and encouraging others, who pursues love, mercy and grace, and who seeks to meet needs rather than have needs met. A life obsessed with God is one that learns to trust Him more and more each day.

Just one taste of a life obsessed with God, and the craving starts to grow because in that one taste, a person can “see that the Lord is good.” (Psalm 34:8) Tasting that goodness begins the only craving that can truly transform a life in a way that will last forever.

DISCUSSION: What are you obsessed with? What do you crave? How would a life obsessed with God change you and those you influence?

How to… Take Care of You without Hurting Them

Calgon hit the bull’s-eye with the slogan, “Calgon, take me away!” Every woman, especially busy wives and mothers, dreams of escaping from her life. A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and she can hear herself think and breathe. For most women though, total escape is just a fantasy because most women realize this isn’t practical. Your family needs you in so many ways, and, if you’re honest, you need them too.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most women’s minds, and they usually make one of two choices. First, they push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams. Or second, they pursue all selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others. Both of these choices cause hurt in seemingly irreversible ways. Fortunately, there is a third option.

Option number three involves a balance between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individuality. This choice requires more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

This three-step process can not only help bring a woman’s sense of self back into balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, all women need connection. Connection with others happens through personal interests such as crafts, exercising and even shopping. Even more important is plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Plugging in leads to recharging. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Overcharging, however, also ruins batteries. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Recharging happens when plugging in and also through unplugging. Unlike a cell phone battery, a woman’s battery can be recharged in small increments. So, finding small pockets of time for recharging can be quite effective.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging can be thought of in two different ways. First, unplugging leads to using the energy stored up during recharging.  In other words, be the mom, wife and friend God calls you to be. (The problem usually comes with trying to be MORE than what we’re called to be.) Second, unplugging also means alone time, a treasure so many women crave and fail to get enough of regularly. (Think bubble bath, sleeping in and reading a good book.) Both ways of unplugging are important.

Many women who read this will say something akin to, “Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.” You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan that is carried out by the WHOLE family, this process is not going to happen.  To that end, consider three elements that must exist for a woman to truly be able to take care of herself so she can avoid hurting herself and the ones she loves.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes a woman healthier as an individual but the health of the entire family better as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug. Enlist your spouse’s and your family’s help.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most moms, and even a weekend away is a bit iffy for many. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Schedule a weekly bubble bath, daily time to read (even if it’s only 10 minutes, but at least a ½ hour is better), and perhaps a daily tea time (feeling British?). Again, enlist your spouse and kids to figure out ways to make these small pockets of time available. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar either. Kids tend to like that sort of structure.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Rachelle Disbennett-Lee, a personal life coach in Aurora, Colorado, says that when we establish “mommy time,” we are in fact helping our children learn independence, socialization, and an appreciation of what we do for them. We are also demonstrating that taking care of ourselves is important. For these very important reasons, we must be determined to take the time to plug in, recharge and unplug regularly. Initially, we take this time because we feel better, but in the long run the benefits go well beyond getting through the day or week with our sanity and families intact.

DISCUSSION: If you’re a wife and/or mom, what can you do today to be healthier and stronger for your family? If your a husband, what can you do to make sure your wife is able to plug in, recharge & unplug regularly? How can you involve your kids in this process?

Sunday Reflections – Aliens Among Us

The movie industry as well as a slew of book authors provide us with a seemingly endless supply of entertainment involving aliens. Sometimes aliens invade Earth to annihilate humans and take over the planet (War of the Worlds). Sometimes they come to take back what another alien stole and that they need to survive (Men in Black). Sometimes they just get lost here (E.T.). While here, aliens sometimes take over human bodies and sometimes they just eat them. Sometimes, humans and aliens make friends with each other. There are also stories about humans flying to alien planets in which case the human then becomes the alien (Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis). There are even many individuals who truly believe that aliens exist, have already come to our planet, and that the government is conspiring to cover up that fact (think Area 51). We are fascinated by the idea that other races and worlds may exist outside of our own.

As Christians, we know that we are in fact aliens in this world. (1 Peter 2:11) We are strangers in a place that is not our permanent home. Knowing this should change the way we live our lives. The fact that we are strangers and aliens should cause us to stand out, much like the aliens in the movies we watch and books we read. But standing out isn’t exactly about appearance; instead, standing out as Christians refers to the way we live our lives. Let’s examine 5 ways Christians stand out as aliens and strangers in this temporal world stand out.

  1. Gifts and abilities. Every individual has unique qualities that set them apart from others. I am naturally organized. My youngest son is pretty athletic. My oldest son has an amazing ability to memorize. My husband has an unusual amount of constant energy. Some people have a unique fashion style, some have amazing musical talent, and still others have natural leadership or teaching ability. Yet these qualities in and of themselves are not what should bring notice to a Christian. The way in which a person uses the gifts and abilities given them should be the focus. Does God receive credit for the ability? Does the church benefit from the ability? Does the individual operate in the ability or gift for personal fame or to glorify God? While only the individual knows for sure, actions often provide an accurate gauge.
  2. Perspective. Christians stand out when we realize that this world is not our home. We become comfortable with being uncomfortable in an ever-changing and increasingly hostile world. With one eye always on eternity, the Christian perspective exists as one that focuses on the eternal rather than the temporal. A Christian’s focus on eternity provides motivation and energy for living a holy (set apart) life.
  3. Motives. The question of motive gets at the reason a person does anything. When the motive is for personal glory, the reward may be immediate and temporarily satisfy to the flesh. But when the motive exists for the glory of God, then the reward endures for eternity. Asking “Why?” in every facet of life helps keep the Christian focused on the surpassing reward of pleasing the Father in Heaven. Being driven by this “Why?” will set a Christian apart in a world where selfish motives abound.
  4. Choices. Empty promises fill this temporal world (think politics, for example). Being sure exists only as an illusion in a culture of relative truth. What’s wrong for you is right for me, and both are okay. Right? Wrong! As Christians focus on the unchanging truth of God’s Word, they become set apart because they refuse to focus on the ever-changing truth of a temporal world. They focus on the Truth that satisfies the spirit instead of that which satisfies the flesh (and does so only temporarily).
  5. Balance. A balanced Christian lives in this world but focuses on eternity. A balanced Christians takes the gifts and abilities God gives, makes sure their motives and perspectives line up with His Word, and then chooses to focus on the Truth He places in their hearts.

This temporal world is one of roller coaster realities where there are highs that quickly plummet into valleys. But a Christian living as an alien uses those highs to rejoice in God’s goodness and the lows to depend on His mercy and grace. God wants His children to stand out, and He provides the tools for doing so. When we consider our gifts and abilities, our choices, our perspective and our motives and use those to build a balanced approach to living as aliens and strangers, we see that God has truly given us a myriad of ways to not only be set apart but to remain that way.

DISCUSSION: Do you live your life in a way that causes you to stand out as an alien in this temporal world?