How to Retreat With Purpose

Retreat

A few weeks ago, I went on a writing retreat. At first I felt guilty for going away by myself and leaving my family to fend for themselves. Funny, since the retreat was my husband’s idea, and I followed through with it only at his encouragement and insistence.

As I thought about the idea of a retreat, and as I realized the deeper meaning of the concept beyond its obvious military application, I began to understand the value behind a focused retreat.

Retreat 2The planning as well as the actual retreat itslef convinced me of the value of making time to retreat. Below are the revelations coming from the planning and execution of my first personal retreat.

  1. Have a very specific purpose. The specific purpose of my retreat was to reach 50,000 words in a rough draft of a book I am writing. I already had 10,000 written but struggled dedicating time to the project. My retreat had no other purpose beyond this.
  2. Set specific goals. While my ultimate goal was 50,000 words, I quickly discovered the need to set smaller goals during the retreat. In the 48 hours I was gone, I set smaller word count goals and rewarded myself (coffee, snack, Big Bang Theory, etc.) when I reached a goal.
  3. Keep it simple. I went to a hotel about 1 1/2 hours from home. No glamourous location. Just a simple location where I could focus with minimal distraction.
  4. Focus. I refused to think much beyond my goal. All I thought about, except during break times, involved reaching 50,000 words.
  5. Plan some variety. While I spent most of the time in my hotel room, I found variety by visiting a Starbucks (good coffee = good writing) nearby for a couple of hours each day. This change-up helped me physically and mentally.
  6. Create a plan of action. Before going on the writing retreat, I developed a project outline. I also brought notes to read through to help generate additional ideas.
  7. Minimize distractions. I brought much of my own food, which saved a lot of time. I turned off the volume on my phone and did not log on to the hotel’s wifi except during break times. I did not bring any books to read either (that’s a big deal for me, btw).
  8. Plan ahead. I made sure I did not have any unrelated tasks hanging over my head to distract me while I focused on my goal.
  9. Work ahead. To prevent coming back to overload, I got as much work as I could done ahead of time. This takes a big of extra work on the front end, but it made a huge difference for keeping me focused during my retreat.
  10. Get enough sleep. One mistake I made was not sticking to my normal sleep routine. I was exhausted the second night just from writing so much, and the lack of sleep the first night caused me struggle a bit toward the end of the second day.

I plan to take regular retreats, perhaps one every quarter or at least twice a year, since this one was so productive. Specific purposes I am considering for these retreats include reading/researching, editing, and generating ideas. I want these retreats to be fulfilling and meaningful to me, which is why I choose to focus on writing.

DISCUSSION: What could you focus on if you took a personal retreat? What are your suggestions for planning and executing a successful personal retreat? Anyone going to do something like this in the near future?

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How to Have Consistent Focus Even When No One Is Watching

how-to-focus-hacks-infographicFocus Determines Reality

The object of focus as well as the existence or absence of focus itself determines the reality of a person’s life. Do you believe this?

The truth that focus determines reality drives me. I believe it to the point of frustration when focus remains allusive. When my mind continually engages distraction, anxiety and frustration set in and depression approaches.

Establishing & Keeping Focus

When I transitioned from working in an office where others held me accountable for my productivity to working for myself at home where only I truly knew my level of accomplishment, the discipline of focus taunted me while at the same time taught me a great deal about establishing and keeping focus. Here’s what I learned about establishing and keeping focus in that process:

  1. Know your purpose. This requires regular (daily) Scripture study & prayer before moving on to the specific tasks of the day.
  2. Eliminate distraction. Leave your phone in the other room. Work in a room without a television. Go for a walk or bike ride to brainstorm and plan. Find ways to reduce the temptations of distraction.
  3. Simplify. Reduce possessions to regularly-used items. Keep calendars simple and clutter free. Focus on simple, healthy meals. Establish routines to reduce decision-making. When overwhelmed, this one word – “simplify” – works wonders for refocusing.
  4. Talk. Working alone means I’m in my head a lot. Regularly scheduling exercise time or coffee with a friend gives opportunity to get out of my head and process thoughts in more tangible ways. Evenings with my husband and time with my kids also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Remove blockades (don’t “hinder”) the Holy Spirit’s ability to work in your life. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom He offers.
  6. Take small steps. Returning and staying focused happens through small steps (choices) that over time add up to make a huge difference.
  7. Establish accountability. Voicing my goals creates one level of accountability. Partnering with others creates another. Creating deadlines takes accountability up another notch. Make accountability a reality and not just a good idea.

Learning to Focus

When talking to others struggling with focus, I hear excuses like, “I’m not just good at focusing,” or “I just get distracted easily,” as if they lack the ability to focus like some lack musical ability. In this ADD-culture, many seem to believe focus comes only for those blessed with unique ability or at the very least live absent of attention deficit.

My personal success in achieving a focused life convince me that focus is not a special talent like running speed but instead a learned ability. If you’re not yet convinced, consider the story of a young boy diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD & FAS at age 8.

All three of these disorders rip apart one’s ability to focus. Yet, in the past five years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner in a stable environment, this boy went from being several years behind in reading to reading just above grade level. He also gets As and Bs in school and stays out of trouble as much as any other 13-year-old boy.

My youngest son taught me anyone can learn to focus. While it may exist as more of a struggle more for some people than for others, anyone can improve their ability to focus.

A Biblical Formula for Focus

Let’s look at one more element involved in one’s ability to focus. Scripture provides a great deal of help on the topic, but let’s look at two passage in particular to finish our discussion on focus.

Focus all energy on one thing: Forget the past, look forward toward the goal, and work to reach the end and receive the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Refuse to focus on the temporary and instead fix your focus on the unseen, the eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Focusing where God tells us to focus results in an extraordinary ability to hone our effectiveness. Keeping eternity in mind as we plan our lives results in living productive and meaningful lives. No longer do we wonder if our daily activity matters because we know we’re connected with the eternal, with what matters most to God, so all we do matters.

Remember the question in the beginning of this post? Go ahead, take a look again.

When we truly believe – because we know for certain – that focus involves choosing to have it as well as placing God as the object of that focus, we find that our ability to focus grows in supernatural ways. We discover that an inability to focus may simply mean a wrong focus. We realize that an overwhelmed life often means a life focused on the wrong or too many different things.

No one can convince me that consistent focus ever exists as impossible for anyone. Learning to focus without being under constant watch by others taught me about the possibility, and my youngest son’s progress over the past 5 years further confirmed the truth. And both leave me excited to live a future focused on God and pleasing Him.

DISCUSSION: What struggles do you have with focus? How does the above advice provide hope for learning to focus?

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

Below is a guest post by Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure and become fully alive.

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

My heart is prone to forget. For seven years, my wife has struggled with a chronic health condition known as POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) – a form dysautonomia. From 2008-2011, we traversed the specialty medical circuit – VCU, Vanderbilt, Toledo, and the Mayo Clinic – as Karen underwent test after test, consultation after consultation.

Over time, it became apparent that she would be forced to manage the disease rather than be cured of it. Through the days, months, and years of pain and struggle, Karen has shown incredible strength and resolve. And as her condition became our new “normal,” our attention turned to growing our family.

Some doctors opined that we should hold off on having children. However, Karen’s POTS specialist in Toledo encouraged us to pursue pregnancy, stating that many POTS patients do really well while pregnant.

Yet after three miscarriages, we contemplated whether or not we should simply give up. Thankfully, we didn’t lose complete hope, even in the midst of some extremely dark days. Eventually, Karen got pregnant once again, and this time, everything seemed to be on track right up through the first several hours of labor.

I have a saying that few things in our lives seem to come easy, and the delivery of our son would be no exception. About 4:30 AM, the doctor burst into our room, jarring me out of my light nap. With a deep concern in his voice, he confirmed that both Karen’s and the baby’s heart rates were unstable. They needed to perform a C-section right away. After the longest hour-and-a-half of my life, she gave birth to our beautiful, healthy son.

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Prone to Forget

Six months later, my heart is prone to forget about the struggle and pain. I am more apt to go about our daily routine of diaper changes and battling acid reflux without spending a moment recognizing God’s blessing of a beautiful baby boy.

Similarly, my heart is prone to lose sight of the cross and the brutal sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. I am so self-absorbed that I am more concerned about paying the bills than God’s work throughout the nations. I can stand in awe of God’s blessing one day and have completely forgotten about His favor a mere 24 hours later.

Maybe that is why the apostle Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing…” or why the Psalmist prayerfully offers, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

There are so many distractions in our world that it takes discipline to remain in firmly entrenched in God’s presence. Spiritual discipline. That’s not a phrase we hear bandied about too much anymore, even within the walls of the church. Discipline sounds so twentieth century. We live in the century of instantaneous pleasure and success.

I’m probably the last person who should be writing about spiritual discipline because my heart is prone to wander and is filled with inconsistencies. Nevertheless, an ongoing relationship with God cannot exist without spiritual discipline. Discipline is a word we often associate with routine and boredom. Yet by adding a little variety, we can keep our relationship with God alive and vibrant.

Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

We don’t have to sit in the same location to pray or read the Bible. We don’t have to attend the same church service and sit in the same pew we have been sitting in for the last 20 years. If your spiritual walk feels stale, it’s probably because it is. The goal of spiritual discipline is not discipline in and of itself, but to draw into a more intimate walk with the Father.

What are some ways we can add variety to spiritual disciplines?

Worship – This can take on so many forms. Why not look for creative and meaningful ways to worship? Work is worship. Art is worship. Singing is worship. The key is whether the worship points back to God or to self.

Prayer – I like to pray while I am walking on a nature trail. Sometimes I talk to God while driving. Other times, I prefer to pray just sitting in silence. We may need to break away for an hour and spend time with God in His Creation.

Acts of Service – There are an infinite number of ways to serve the church and community. They key involves utilizing our unique calling in a variety of others-centered ways.

Bible Reading – There are numerous, sound Bible translations available to us, and it may help to switch up every once in a while. In addition, we have limitless books, courses, Bible studies, and workbooks available at the click of a mouse. These resources provide a helpful way to inject life into devotional times.

DISCUSSION: Is your heart prone to wander? What other ways can we add variety to spiritual disciplines in order to make our hearts come alive?

 

Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

finish

When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

How to Maintain Balance

bicycle quoteAs I consider the times I’ve found myself out of balance, which is more than I like to admit, I realize that I only become imbalanced when I fail to adjust. When I neglect making adjustments as my life changes and as struggles arise, I lose my balance and fall over.

The answer, then, to how to maintain balance, involves making constant adjustments, to continually finding a new normal as circumstances change with the seasons of life. This requires honesty with yourself along with humility to admit the need to adjust. As we learn to live in this constant state of adjustment, which is really what balance is all about, we’ll find that we continually improve in our ability to balance.

Adjusting for Balance

Making the following adjustments on a regular basis helps me stay consistently balanced. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am always balanced… but I certainly live there more frequently the more I consistently practice these habits:

  1. cyclists dismountSlow but don’t stop. Refuse to give up and quit. Take time to slow down and rest if necessary, but keep moving forward.
  2. Maintain focus. Establish core values and align focus daily.
  3. Be a team player. Don’t attempt balance alone. Have regular accountability.
  4. Evaluate regularly. From work commitments to relationships, make sure priorities stay properly ordered.
  5. Find ways to simplify. Life is chaotic enough on its own; refuse to add complication.
  6. Be yourself. Balance and simplicity are unique to the individual. Find your balance. Find your simple. Find your normal.
  7. Know yourself. Find your niche, not someone else’s. Dan Erickson’s post “why you can’t have what your neighbor has” can help shed light on this idea.
  8. Avoid comparisons. I can always find someone better and worse at balance, but neither does anything to help me stay balanced.

All too often, I go from simply trying to balance the various elements in my life to juggling them. Trying to balance and juggle at the same time is hard; in fact, I can’t do it. Can you? Yet all too often that’s exactly where we live. It’s a place where I’m not just trying to keep my life balanced, but I’m also tossing appointments and commitments and projects and people around like juggling balls. In this place, I’m losing the strength and ability, the margin I need, to adjust for consistent balance.

But when I continually adjust for balance, I’m better able to discover and live a harmonious life. And in that harmony exists the margin of peace amidst chaos. Try it… I know you’ll like it there.

DISCUSSION: How do you adjust for balance? If you feel like a circus act both juggling and balancing, what can you change to move toward less chaos?

Recently, Bill Grandi at Cycle Guy’s Spin ran a series called Second Chances. In it, I wrote about my struggle with depression. Through a series of questions and emails, Bill asked if I would consider writing more about my struggle and how I (with God’s help) overcame it. He sent me some questions, and we decided to run it as sort of an interview. Due to length, it is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one and the second one. The third will come next week.

Managing Overload with Boundaries

overloadOverload Symptoms

Overload all to often flares up and disrupts life. For me, the symptoms include…

  • Productivity decline – Inability to focus. Jumping from task to task. Accomplishing little.
  • Short attention span – Nothing holds interest for long. Always seeking new and better.
  • Feeling overwhelmed – Too many projects. Too much information. Too much to do.
  • Feeling disconnected – Feeling forgotten, unimportant and alone.
  • Always on guard – Unable to relax. Tasks, goals & projects steal attention from relationships.
  • Think & speak in absolutes – “I can’t… because…” or “I have to… because…” or “I need…”

Obsessiveness covers all of these symptoms by amplifying their affects and creating a constant need to keep going and doing and thinking. Simply put, overload robs me of contentment and peace. Can you relate?

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Creating Boundaries

Counteracting overload involves setting boundaries that then guide the creation of habits. Setting boundaries involves taking time to think by…

  1. Simplifying – Prioritize. Say “no” to good to be able to say “yes” to and go deeper with better and best.
  2. Seeking connection – Make face-to-face connections a priority over completing a “to do” list.
  3. Keeping truth in focus – This daily necessity not only helps with moral choices but with time and priority choices too by protecting the mind from the world.
  4. Stopping the flow – Stop reading for information & refuse to take in new information. Back off commitments and occasionally shut out the world. Allow thoughts to flow freely. Allow time to just be.
  5. Purging – What aren’t you reading that you can stop receiving? What can come off your schedule? What material items can you get rid of?
  6. Getting out – Find a change of scenery. Take a family vacation, short getaway or even just a day trip.

While creating boundaries, keep these two pervading rules constantly in mind:

Rule #1 – Relationships are the deciding factor. Choose relationship over tasks as much as possible.

Rule #2 – Limit overload by limiting information and commitments. Doing nothing means choosing overload.

When I consistently choose to live within boundaries, overload doesn’t exist. But, I also regularly need to reset my boundaries because overload always seems to creep back in somehow if I don’t give my boundaries regular attention.

So, I need to make setting and maintaining boundaries a habit, and I need to stay aware of the symptoms over overload in order to make necessary, regular adjustments.

DISCUSSION: What changes will you make to set information boundaries and protect your life from overload?

On a completely unrelated note, I also posted this week at my friend Dan Erickson’s blog Hip Diggs. If you are interested in landscaping, check out my post
Tips for Installing and Maintaining Landscaping.

On a related note, next month’s focus on balance will include more on the idea of creating boundaries along with taking a look at balance from a variety of perspectives.

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Capturing Thoughts

In Solving the Problem of Information Overload, we realized that the goal for reducing overload involves balance, which comes through deliberately capturing and filtering thoughts and by setting information boundaries.

When we receive information, regardless of its source and avenue, we react to it through our thought lives. The more aware we are of this process, the better able we are to deliberately make choices regarding our focus.

A large part of capturing thoughts involves creating a strong core of truth within us out of which our thoughts can then operate.

Capturing Thoughts

sf_spiritOfTruth_05Taking thoughts – the products of our God-given ability to reason, reflect and respond – captive means avoiding decisions based solely on our finite processing. This requires holding to a central truth to help govern those thoughts.

Truth should shape us, not the information we take in. The information we receive and digest, whether overloading us or not, should not sculpt thoughts. If it is, we’ve got it backwards. Instead, let truth determine the shape & direction of thoughts. Information then becomes a tool for spreading truth.

Spending time in Scripture allows truth to become part of our thinking and to fuel our filtering system. This practice must exist at our core instead of as a problem-solving method only, and this only happens by spending time regularly dwelling with Him and allowing His Holy Spirit to guide our thinking (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

Reducing Overload

An overloaded mind produces a divided focus, and a divided focus fails to live fully by truth. So, in addition to establishing a habit of building core strength on truth, capturing thoughts involves limiting and managing the information we take in to allow for a more singular focus.

To reduce overload in a way that allows truth to direct and guide, first limit incoming information and then make sure what you do allow to dwell supplements your thinking instead of draining it.

This process requires taking the time to think about what you’re thinking by asking the following questions regularly:

  1. sf_beautifulMind_04What am I allowing to shape my thoughts? Psalm 1:1-2 says to avoid bad influences and focus on good. We’ll cover more of how to manage this in the next post.
  2. What am I allowing to dwell in my mind? If you think you can’t help what you think about, you’re wrong. Scripture tells us we can choose where to fix our thoughts (See Romans 8:5, Philippians 4:8 & Hebrews 3:1)
  3. What is the source of my thoughts? Do they come from the thinking of others? Or, do they flow out of the truth of Christ established in you? (See Colossians 2:8)

Overload blocks deliberate thinking and even an awareness of the thinking process itself. At some point, you just have to say “Enough!” and give yourself time and space to stop the inflow of information, consider what’s going through your head (writing thoughts down or talking them out can help), and pit them against God’s truth.

If you fail to capture your thoughts by thinking about what you’re thinking, you’ll be the one in the cage while your thoughts wreak havoc as you watch through the bars of overload. Choose to use information as a supplement and an avenue to spread truth instead of letting it overload you.

DISCUSSION: What experience do you have with reducing information overload? What role did God’s word play in that process?

Children & Stress

stress boysJonathan, an independent worker, gets easily frustrated, struggles with change, tends to over-analyze, and operates with a lot of “What if…” scenarios. Richard, a very social person, procrastinates, rushes through work, sacrifices quality for completion, and struggles focusing.

At least, when overwhelmed or not managing stress well, these descriptions fit my boys aptly. But when they manage their stress and keep balanced, they are very productive and positive.

I often forget to consider my kids’ stress. They are “just kids” and seem to handle stress way better than I do, after all. But when I see the signs and do nothing, I miss out on a valuable parenting opportunity.

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

Based on the lives of my two boys (age 15 & 13), both their own stress as well as what they describe as stress in their friends’ lives, the top areas of stress for kids include: School (grades, homework, tests, etc.); peer pressure; sports; parent pressures (chores, behavior, attitude, etc.); consequences of stupid choices; wanting to relax; thinking about the future; and divorced parents.

An Immediate Response

Realizing that most kids, and many adults for that matter, tend to react to stress without first thinking, a stress-management approach for kids must be sort of programmed into their brains (in the spirit of Deuteronomy 6:7). Keeping this in mind, I always ask them the following questions when they struggle with a stressful situation:

What can you do about it?
What can’t you do about it?
Who/what can you control/not control?
Who/what can you change/not change?

We also usually address the “fairness” issue, since kids often dwell here. They need to know that life isn’t always fair.

In addition to getting our boys to realize they can only control themselves and their reactions, we also try to provide stress-relieving activities or approaches for managing stress. Those include giving them a venue to talk out what’s on their minds and making sure they have enough physical activity and leisure time. We also make sure to have lots of family time as well as to provide structure that suits the child. And of course, consistency blankets all of these.

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

Advice on teaching our kids anything lies incomplete and ineffective without integrating what Scripture says about  preventing, managing and eliminating stress for our kids. With that in mind, lets make a somewhat unique application of some very familiar parenting verses.

  1. Don’t exasperate & discourage them. (Colossians 3:21) So often, my kids’ stress comes from or is made worse by my own poor stress management.
  2. Give them skills to deal with their feelings. (Proverbs 1:8-9) Be available to listen & to talk.
  3. Teach them ways to relieve stress. (Proverbs 22:6) Include them in your own stress relievers when possible.
  4. Tell them why managing stress is important. (1 Peter 5:3) Use yourself as an example.
  5. Model positive stress management. (Titus 2:7-8) Make sure what you say matches what you do.

I want my kids to realize that stress is not always bad. In fact, we need stress to grow and thrive. Take the amoeba – the most basic of life forms – for example. Scientists introduced it into a completely stress-free environment in a petri dish. What happened? The amoeba died. But when placed in a “normal” environment with all its challenges, the amoeba multiplied and thrived.

The same happens, essentially, with us. Without stress, we fail to thrive and grow. Plus, a stress-free life isn’t possible anyway.

Doesn’t good parenting, then, involve teaching our kids how to prevent, manage and relieve stress? Aren’t we living out what Scripture says when we train our kids to handle the inevitable in life to allow them to truly be not only productive and positive but to do so in a way that honors God and points others to Him?

Loving Others AS Yourself

Back to the Beginning

While immediately associated with romantic love, Valentine’s Day’s ties to romantic love actually did not take place until Chaucer’s poetry in the 14th Century. Instead, Valentine’s Day originated in commemoration of at least one early Christian saint named Valentinus, martyred between AD 197 and AD 496 for their acts of sacrificial love.

This focus on sacrificial love – of focusing on others over self – ties with what Jesus said that ALL scripture hangs on (is summed up in and depends on):

Valentine 1

Paul amplifies Jesus’ words by connecting them specifically with new life activity in our relationships:

Valentine 2

So, loving God above all and then loving others AS yourself not only provide THE most important principles for our lives, but also THE most important article of clothing for our new natures in Christ.

A long-time struggle for me in living this principle lies with fulfilling the second of these commands, loving others AS yourself.

What if you don’t love yourself?

For me, years of chronic depression involved a great deal of self hate. Outside of that struggle, failures in relationships led to significant self dislike, while comparisons showed even more reason for wishing I was anyone but me. And this selfish focus blocked my ability to love others.

Over time, the impact of Jesus’ sacrificial love changed how I viewed myself. As my focus went from feelings, emotions and comparisons to how He saw me, I began to realize not only the importance of self love but that it must be rooted in God’s view of me and how He exercises His love.

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Focusing on AS

Realizing God’s sacrificial love for me helped bring me to a point of self love that allowed a focus outside of myself, one intent on love God and others AS I am loved.

The commands to love others and to love self are not two separate commands. Rather, they are two parts of one command to live out love for God, a love that consumes the heart, soul and mind.

Love for self does not include selfish pursuits that make us feel good or happy, and self love does not justify fulfilling the flesh’s wants and desires. This selfishness provides only a temporary emotional happiness fix.

Instead, self love involves accepting ourselves – personality, physical appearance, even weaknesses and faults – because our own identity lies grounded in Christ’s unconditional love for us exactly AS we are right now. Out of this flows a love for others that comes through in our attitudes, actions and words as we live in relationship with them.

When our identity exists grounded in Christ, in His love for and acceptance of us, we discover a self love that gives us the capacity to love others AS Jesus exhorted. To help grasp this, think about what’s at the heart of you feeling loved, of your feeling genuine acceptance of who you are AS a person. Gifts and even kind acts mean very little in the absence of genuine acceptance of who you are AS a person.

Something significant happens in how we view ourselves when our our Christian identity involves being accepted by Christ and is not earned by works or moral standing. This creates a love for self that transfers to how we love others; it serves as an example of HOW we are to love others.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day

With the idea of Valentine’s Day’s original intent in mind along with understanding the tie between loving others and loving self, celebrate Valentine’s Day with fresh perspective. Celebrate the sacrificial love that seeks for the greatest good, that accepts how God made you and others. Celebrate a love that sacrifices any focus on self and instead embraces personalities and makes allowances for faults. Live love that comes only through complete focus on God’s love for us.

DISCUSSION: How does loving yourself change how you love others, and, ultimately, how God’s love exists in your life?