5 Ways to Be Strong for the Stressed

Strength for stressedLife fluctuates. Sometimes we live in more struggle than victory. But sometimes, we get to bask in the mountaintop sunshine. Most of the time, though, we seem to live with a mixture of both struggle and victory.

Fortunately, for the most part, we each fluctuate at different levels and paces. For example, sometimes my exercise partner encourages me out the door. Other times, I’m forcing her to meet for a run. Sometimes my husband provides stability and help in my busyness; other times, he leans on me.

What relationships in your life reflect this same exchange of encouragement?

I remember a time when I did all of the leaning and needed all of the encouraging. I felt so buried in struggle I had no strength to lend to others. What others did for me during that time taught and prepared me for how to be strong for others later.

The following 5 ways to be strong for the stressed stand out as tremendous helps during my own season of needing to draw strength from my others:

  1. Encourage. While what encourages differs from one person to the next, finding small ways to encourage others helps them put one foot in front of another.  A “praying for you” text or even just a smile from across the room go a long way in encouraging someone when they are struggling.
  2. Listen. Simply listening to a person talk about struggles helps tremendously. Whether it just allows that person to vent or helps them find solutions, authentic listening truly relieves the intensity of stress.
  3. Create space. Find ways to help unload the person’s schedule. Take a friend’s kids for the evening or clean her house while she’s at work. Giving the gift of margin creates breathing room that might be just enough to encourage hope for more permanent relief.
  4. Pray. Often, someone who is overloaded got that way because they refused to allow others to help them. No matter what you can pray for them, and you can let them know you are praying for them. So many times, I could sense extra strength coming through the prayers of those who loved me.
  5. Create comfort. When stressed out, comfort seems absent and quite distant. Bring a friend coffee or make him a favorite meal or treat. Find out what brings comfort, even if only for a moment.

Strength for OthersFor the first time in 20 years, I’m less stressed than my husband, kids and most of my friends. A new experience, to be sure. Perhaps a better way to put it is that I am just balanced and in rhythm right now, and they are all going through times of intense struggle and less balance. I know this will probably change, that I’ll need their strength more and they mine less at some point. But for now, I can take what others did for me and pay it forward.

DISCUSSION: What other ways can you suggest to be strong for others who are stressed and overloaded?

Balancing Quietness & Confidence

scaleTwo Sided Struggle

There are those who seem to live in constant struggle. They’re confident of the coming victory God has in store for them, so they keep fighting, pushing and struggling toward it. There are others who quietly wait  for God to move. They surrender themselves fully to His will and purpose for their lives, seeming to continually wait in quietness and trust.

As I survey my life, I see both quietness and confidence existing. Usually though, I live in one or the other. But I am realizing that I can both live in confidence of the victory Christ has won and at the same time be journeying to full surrender.

Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers expresses this idea as he questions those who seem to exist at both extremes. He explains that there are those who stress that “God is more interested in your character than in your miracle” and at the same time others who say, “He’s my Savior, my healer, my deliverer, my provider, my protector, my supply, my, my, my…. [producing] a self-absorbed focus.”

Instead, Sorge says, both can exist together, that we can “become more Christlike in our attitudes and also experience the power of His resurrection.”

Surviving Times of War

The development and also true test of this balance comes both through the trials we experience as we live out life this side of Heaven and the more severe times of testing through crisis. Sorge expresses the sentiment this way…

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Times of war are the proving ground for faith. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers deepens this idea of our faith being proven in battle along with truly understanding that our battle is ultimately our own. Chambers says…

Chambers

War and Relationships

Our goal is to live lives that remain true to God’s character no matter what. And since the majority of our struggles and victories involve other people, relationships provide the ultimate proving ground for our faith.

Yes, our quiet confidence comes from our individual relationship with God. And yes, we are responsible for our own activity and not that of anyone else. Yet, at the same time, we struggle together even while we struggle alone. We gain victory together while we gain individual victory.

Because relationship play such an integral role in our faith walk, we’re detailing in on relationships during the month of February. To begin, let’s discuss how finding an individual balance with quietness and confidence help strengthen relationships. Please leave your thoughts in the comments.

This post is a part of a weekly book discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge hosted by Jason Stasyszen of Connecting to Impact and Sarah Salter of Living Between the Lines. Be sure to check out their posts!

Heart Enlargement

enlarged heartWilderness times. Dry seasons. Physical affliction. Betrayal. Spiritual pride. Divine delays.

Struggles with flesh, struggles with temptation, affliction, tribulation and hassles. Tests from enemies and tests from friends. Some decisions — too many — made without consulting God.

While the details in my life’s story likely look very different than yours, they also probably hold many similarities.

Struggling toward maturity in Christ and a desperate dependence where prayer lives as a necessity, or as Bob Sorge calls it in The Fire of Delayed Answers, “a matter of sheer survival.”

Times of testing for purity. Times of delayed healing.

Times when these sobering truths, stated so succinctly by Sorge, knock the breath out of me:

“It is possible to remain loyal in our love for the Lord
but still miss His highest purpose for our life.”

“We can love the Lord sincerely but fall short of His highest purposes
by not consulting with Him in our decision making.”

“It’s possible to be sincere, have good intentions, with a heart to please God,
and be disqualified from God’s best for our lives.”

Realizing that even in my loyalty, I missed God’s highest purpose. Even in my sincerity, I fell short by failing to consult Him. Even with a desire to please Him, I lost achievement of His best.

Painful truths, to be sure, but necessary lessons in order for maturity and desperate dependence to grow. Agonizing delays waiting for stewardship ability. And embarrassing failure in the process of learning complete reliance.

“Enlarged” does not fully describe my heart, but “being enlarged” does. At times, the reality of an enlarged heart peeks through, but it quickly slips away as my focus goes to the cares of the world, to the struggle instead of to the victory.

Sorge says that an “enlarged heart”:

  • Is a heart expanded by God to carry the concerns of others.
  • Has a passion for reaching beyond the concerns and issues that affect our own personal life to embrace the needs of others.
  • Has a heart for the world.
  • Is a heart beating with the passions and concerns of God Himself.
  • Is given greater capacity to channel God’s love to others.
  • Finds its interests much broader than the confines of its own ministry involvement.
  • Freely delights in seeing blessings of God abound elsewhere.
  • Is free of jealousy, competition, and comparison.

Knowing the goal helps. Understanding what an enlarged heart looks like shows me the path God is creating in the wilderness and the refreshing streams He’s creating in the dessert (Isaiah 43:18-19).

As God continues enlarging my heart through trauma, crisis, troubles and even calls for radical obedience, the truth that this work comes from Him and through no effort on my part becomes increasingly real. The value of perseverance, patience and love in the midst of this pressure draws me closer to Him, pulling me to a new spiritual plane where weeping and tears along with tastes of divine pleasure flow from an enlarged heart that is also still being enlarged.

DISCUSSION: How is your heart both enlarged and being enlarged?

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

dead fishCulture simultaneously challenges us to break free from comfort zones while also providing for their longevity. With the constant offering of pleasures anew each day along with the comfort found in instant gratification, we live in a confusing and uncomfortable culture that promotes personal comfort. One that says,

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”

Does it really? This quote by Neale Donald Walsch made me question whether or not I needed to totally discard comfort in order to truly live life? Or maybe, I wonder, does comfort allow for the uncomfortable to flourish?

Perhaps living too much in one or the other – comfort or discomfort – is really where true living gets stifled. Maybe having the structure created by some level of safe, secure and familiar provides the security that allows for the regular experience of discomfort in a successful way.

Having an organized, comfortable home gives my kids the security they need to go on adventures and meet new people because they have a comfortable sanctuary for rest and recuperation waiting for them at home.

Knowing I can produce a lot of volume pretty quickly as a writer gives me the confidence to venture into the scary and challenging world of book writing. I find comfort knowing that the act of writing (and this in no way speaks to quality, just volume) comes easily, which inspires me to try new styles and genres that might not come naturally.

Dressing comfortably helps me be more social, which is uncomfortable for my shy and introverted self, because I’m just braver mentally when I’m comfortable physically.

Let’s spiritualize this a bit. Being comfortable with God, knowing He goes before me and with me (Deuteronomy 31:8) creates an inner comfort that makes me want to be brave and tell others about Him. Having this comfort zone with God compels me to make my life a transparent example of His grace and mercy.

So yes, “life begins at the end of your comfort zone,” but your comfort zone can also provide a structure for bravely venturing into the uncomfortable areas of life.

DISCUSSION: As my friend Joann often says, “What say ye?”

Devoted Conversations – Peace In the Chaos

copy-DCLogo (2)Today you’ll find me guest posting at Devoted Conversations. The post fits well into the themes of brokenness and peace in the chaos and taking the path created by God that seems to be interlaced through every area of my life recently.

Here’s an excerpt:

Right and Wrong

My longest stay with an employer. A growing department with a solidly positive reputation. Offered full time. Favor with leadership. Everything appeared right.

The problem? I felt all wrong. Unhealthy. No energy. Depressed. Anxious. Frustrated. Unsettled. Displaced. Overlooked.

Life and career appeared to be blossoming. But inside, only chaos.

How could my life be both right and wrong at the same time? This conflict between the atmosphere of my inner self and my outer life chipped away at me leaving only a shell going through the motions of life.

To read the rest of this post and to comment,
please go to Devoted Conversations.

Weak is the New Strong

Strength 2

Strength 1srength 1

Be Strong

Strength comes from the individual and is what you make it. Strong exists as the current beauty ideal. After all, “Strong is the new skinny,” and I need to let everyone to know that I am “Pretty Strong. Pretty Fast.” (I’m not, by the way, strong or fast but especially not fast.) Strong is how you want to be viewed; it’s your reputation’s goal.

Every corner of culture – television, magazines, fitness and even education – touts the necessity to “Be Strong.” In fact, being strong exists as the best path to success for self and to elimination of the competition.

strength scripture

Strength through Weakness

God’s view of being strong means bringing Him joy, depending on Him for strength and realizing that He IS strength. Strength comes through weaknesses as we allow His power to flow, not by focusing on destroying weaknesses through our own creation of inner strength.

In “Created to be God’s Friend,” Henry Blackaby says, “The provision for our obedience is always provided for us by God. Ours is to obey; it is for God to provide! What we in our weakness and limitations cannot provide, God in His infinite grace does provide.”

Even though we try to convince ourselves otherwise, we DO have limitations. We ARE weak. No matter how much strength we manage to muster, our weaknesses eventually show themselves and leave us naked and spent for all to see. And that’s the place where we realize that weak really is the new strong.

In “The Fire of Delayed Answers,” Bob Sorge says, “We don’t really know what it’s like for God to be the strength of our heart until our heart and flesh have failed.”

Have you reached that point? Do you know what having your heart and flesh fail feels like? Because if you do, then you know the life-changing impact of God’s power flowing fully through you. You know that as your own strength flows out through your weaknesses, God’s strength flows in through that same portal.

The only way to truly reach the point of God’s strength flowing through our weaknesses is through brokenness and through trusting God in that brokenness to give us strength for the day. It is at that point that weakness actually becomes the new strong.

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger in the group is reading and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We are taking 2 weeks per chapter and are currently on Chapter 8. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other participants include DustyGlynn, Joell, Rick, and TC.

Victory through Affliction

AFFLICTIONIn Chapter 7 of The Fire of Delayed Answers, Bob Sorge points out the many ways God uses affliction in our lives.

He uses them to refine and correct us, to motivate us to know Him more, and as catalysts for spiritual growth. Afflictions in God’s hands remind us of our dependence on Him and of His love for us. They also create compassion within us and make us encouraging to others.

God also uses afflictions to restore His people and to focus our gaze on Heaven. He uses them to point out His activity and to bring about radical obedience.

God always uses affliction in our lives to reveal His glory.

When faced with affliction, we must choose whether or not we will let God use it as a great refining work in our lives or if we will be immobilized by it. For years, it immobilized me.

As I find myself beginning what our culture terms “middle age,” I find myself asking, as Sorge notes of David & Hezekiah, “Lord, you’re taking me away in the prime of my life! I’m too young for this.”

I too often feel like the best years of my life were swallowed up in affliction, that it’s all downhill from here. Yet, something in me recognizes this as a lie. Out of somewhere deep inside, resilience knows to push through, to struggle, to persevere. But that didn’t always exist. Where did it come from?

Sorge reviews Romans 5:3-4, James 1:2-4 and 2 Peter 1:5-8, outlining the pathway to spiritual maturity that each provides. In doing so, he notes that “There is no pathway to spiritual maturity apart from perseverance. And there is no perseverance without pressures. Fruitfulness is found only as we endure through crisis and hardship.”

I’m not sure about the level of fruitfulness at this point, but I know I possess a level of perseverance born out of desperation, a desperation that pushed me toward Christ. As a result of what that desperation did in my life, I also pray for people I love get desperate too. Sorge says this of desperation,sf_HeavensChampion_01

“Affliction naturally produces desperation within us. Some people respond by trying to survive. Others respond by lashing out at everything within reach. Others collapse and live in a state of depression. God purposes, however, that we channel that desperation toward a fervent pursuit of His face.”

My own story of desperation involves all of these levels seemingly moving in an upward spiral toward knowing God more. For so long, I simply survived life. I lashed out at everything – and everyone – within reach. And I collapsed & lived in a state of depression way too often.

Life certainly involves struggle, this I know for sure. Fortunately, God uses that struggle to refine us and  draw us to Him.

But life is also about victory. It’s about knowing He already won the victory. It’s about refusing to dwell on the affliction or adversity and to instead focus on the victory.

“OVERWHELMING VICTORY is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger in the group is reading and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We’ll be taking 2 weeks per chapter. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other participants include DustyGlynn, Joell, Rick, and TC. If I missed anyone, please let me know whom in the comments below.

Stop the Beeping!

beep 2The beeping started at 4AM. Where is it coming from? Get the ladder & a new battery. Who put a dead battery with the new ones? Get another battery. Seriously, that one is dead too? Stop the beeping!

Not exactly proud of this, but I’ve watched every episode of Friends. Twice. It makes me laugh. (There’s one aspect of it that I wish was different, but that’s another topic for another discussion.) So, when the beeping started at 4AM and continued every minute for a half hour (seeming like an eternity), I kept thinking about the episode where Phoebe couldn’t stop her fire alarm from going off.

She took the battery out. She ripped the alarm off the ceiling. She smashed it with a shoe. Then, she wrapped it in a blanket and sent it down the garbage shoot only to have it returned to her by a fireman, the alarm still beeping.

So glad my husband handled the situation when the beeping began at 4AM, and he did so with patience even as I lay in bed chuckling every time a “new” battery failed to work. (It seems appropriate at this point to acknowledge that my husband is an insanely and frustratingly patient person. I would have went Phoebe if it was just me.)

As I lay there between bouts of chuckling & frustration, all I knew is that I just wanted the beeping to stop. And in my desperation, I was willing to do almost anything for that to happen. Where was my shoe anyway?

Then I realized how often in life I just wanted something to stop – pain, disappointment, fear, etc. – and was willing to do just about anything to make that happen. That never turns out well.

Stop the pain through substance abuse or self-mutilation. Stop the loneliness with inappropriate physical contact. Stop the chaos by finding comfort in food. Do anything and everything to stop the pain and discomfort. (These aren’t all mine. I just wanted to share the space a bit.)

A Better Way

beep 3I don’t fully understand how it works, but I can tell you that the love of God stops the beeping.

His love stopped depression from ruining my relationships. It stopped my self-hatred. His love gives me hope for a future and joy right now, yes, today. Focusing on His love removes guilt and brings new beginnings.

No, it doesn’t make sense. What the Bible says may seem crazy at times, and perhaps other paths seem more plausible. At least from a human point of view (Proverbs 21:2)

I simply can’t deny that my life was miserable and Jesus brought me out of the pit. Nothing else worked. Self-help and material gain only dug the pit deeper thus creating a harder fall when I got back around to jumping in again. The beeping only got louder.

Desperation

Out of desperation to just stop the beeping, we rush to temporary fixes, to Band-Aids that gush red. We just rip the alarm off the wall, forgetting that it’s there for our safety. Instead of patiently assessing and properly addressing the problem, we do whatever we can to quickly stop the beeping.

But our problems just keep returning. Until we have full batteries, the beeping won’t stop. We must address the source of the problem. And the only way I’ve found for that to happen in a lasting way is through the love of Jesus that covers all my mistakes on the cross.

DISCUSSION: How has the love of God stopped the beeping in your life?

Curing Spiritual Vertigo

VERTIGOSpiritual Vertigo feels like a rut, like being stuck in the muck and mire of a pit. Feelings dictate actions, and truth becomes muffled. When you have spiritual vertigo, you feel like you’ve hit a wall and don’t know which way is up.

Curing Spiritual Vertigo

Regardless of the reasons for Spiritual Vertigo, the cures that truly work remain the same. Consider these tried and true approaches for restoring balance when Spiritual Vertigo hits and even for preventing its onset in the first place.

  1. Go back to the basics. Are you praying daily? What about scripture reading? My pastor says that in 30 years of ministry, the one commonality among those who succumb to spiritual decline is neglecting these basics.
  2. Repent where necessary. Losing focus on God always means I placed other people, events or feelings (other gods) above Him. When this happens, ask God to make you aware of areas requiring repentance, and then ask Him to forgive you and help you move forward with renewed focused & refreshed energy.
  3. 220px-Circle_change_1Be still & be quiet. Often, the busyness of life leaves us feeling like our heads are spinning. We barely have time to breathe let alone stop and assess our spiritual health. While taking time for quietness and stillness may seem counterintuitive when your “to do” list rivals Santa’s naughty & nice list, doing so almost always clears the fog and helps reset priorities. (For the many who struggle with being still and quiet, check out this series on The Discipline of Silence.)
  4. Connect. Being a shy introvert, the last activity I feel like participating in when any area of my life is unbalanced, especially my spiritual life, is connecting with others. I realize extroverts are slightly different in this way, but I do see a protective barrier socially even with my outgoing friends when they suffer from Spiritual Vertigo. I’m always amazed how much more stable I feel after genuine connection. For this reason, I know it’s important to push past pushing others away and to obey the scriptural mandate to “bear one another’s burdens” (Galatians 6:2) which requires that we actually share them.
  5. Consider a change-up. My son has pointed out a “change-up” pitch in baseball several times to me because I struggle understanding what it is. Fortunately, I do understand the importance of a mental change-up when spiritual vertigo hits. For that reason, I regularly employ regular change-up habits to attempt to prevent ruts in my spiritual life. Those include reading a new author, changing my prayer location, trying a new activity and exploring a new hobby. Learning about another’s interests or unique skill and simply finding some way to take in new information or old information in a new way can provide the needed change-up to cure Spiritual Vertigo. My brain seems to get revived when I do something that creates new pathways or clears ones filled in by neglect. (I think there’s even research that supports this!)

Refuse to Give Up

Everyone experiences some degree of spiritual vertigo at some point in their lives. Regardless of what works to restore balance for you – and it may differ each time – one approach that works for everyone is not giving up.

Keep trying approaches until something works. Eventually, you’ll find what you need to hit your reset button. When you do, not only will the spinning life disappear, but you’ll likely discover renewed spiritual health like none you’ve ever known before. Just like our immune systems becomes stronger by successfully fighting illnesses, so too do our spirits when we push through spiritual vertigo. Just read the Biblical story of David for proof of this.

DISCUSSION: What cures have you found for spiritual vertigo?

Note: This post and the post Spiritual Vertigo were inspired by the post Kilter by Bill Grandi at The Cycleguy’s Spin.

God as Savior, Friend, Daddy & Husband

For the first 28 years of my life, any desire for obedience to God stemmed from the idea of “should.” I should go to church. I should tithe. I should read my Bible and pray daily.

Unfortunately, “should” fails to stand up well under the desires and emotions of the flesh. “Want” provides a much stronger motivation than “should.”

Around age 28, the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus blossomed in my thinking. I already believed He died for my sins, but I never realized He wanted friendship with me too. My friendship with Jesus fulfilled a long-held, deep need inside of me for a loyal and encouraging friend who refused to give up on me even on my ugliest of days.

About 7 years after this paradigm shift, the realization of still more came into my awareness. Not only did God send His Son to die for my sins and save me from eternity in a fiery pit, and not only did Jesus desire a best friendship with me, God also wanted to fill the daddy void in my life.

While I never doubted that my earthly father loved me, I felt like he loved me because he “should.” His lack of involvement in my life left a void – a hole in my little-girl heart – that impacted me more than I realized for many years. One day about 6 years ago, God filled that void. I crawled into His lap and let Him father me in a way I had needed for so long. He became my Abba Father.

Savior. Best Friend. Daddy. Desperate needs fulfilled by one Holy God.

four words

But there’s still more…

“And it shall be, in that day,” says the Lord, “that you will call Me ‘my Husband,’ and no longer call Me ‘my Master.’” (Hosea 2:16)

The idea of calling God “my Husband” seemed quite strange at first. But as I experienced the unconditional love and acceptance, the encouragement and devotion of my earthly husband, I began to understand that this most precious earthly relationship provides a glimpse of the relationship God desires with me.

This relationship with my husband comes only after 20 years of trials and struggles, hurts and offenses. It comes through humbleness, forgiveness, courage and faith. Only because of wilderness times and times of seeming barrenness of hope can my marriage now flourish.

This same wilderness experience also taught me about God’s work in my life to draw me closer to Him as well as to increased intimacy (a word we’ve really misconstrued) with Him. Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers says it this way…

“God doesn’t impose the wilderness on us; instead, He puts a desire within us for His higher purpose, and so He allures us into the wilderness. We weren’t asking for the wilderness; we were asking for more of Christ. But God knew the wilderness would be the place where we’d gain more of Christ.” (Chapter 3)

Because of my earthly view of intimacy and my warped vision of what marriage “should” look like, getting to the idea of God has my husband fails to come easily. Yet, the recent growth of abundance in my own marriage after a long period in the wilderness opens the door to yet another paradigm shift, yet another dimension of the complete person of God.

“During the season of dryness and confinement, the Lord transforms our relationship with Him from Master/servant relationship to that of a Husband/wife relationship. God intends the prison to awaken deep bridal affections for the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Sorge, Chapter 3)

Because I experienced Jesus as Savior, I could then see Him as my Best Friend. As my Best Friend, the idea of Him also fulfilling the role of Daddy became possible in my thinking. And now, because these aspects of who He is exist as foundational realities that drive my faith, the shift of thinking to Him as Husband has begun.

And in this change in my thinking about God, I wonder if finally the impetus behind my obedience will now permanently move from fear and “should” to one of love and a desire to please Him.

DISCUSSION: How has your view of God changed over your lifetime? What do you think about the idea of a Husband/wife relationship between believers and God?

Welcome to the book club discussion of The Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge. Each blogger in the group is reading and then sharing on what inspires, encourages, or challenges them. We’ll be taking 2 weeks per chapter. Our co-facilitators are Jason and Sarah – other active participants include Dusty, Glynn, Joell, TC and Rick. If you know of others, please leave a link for their post in the comments.