Depression Series

DEPRESSIONRecently, 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, the conversation is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one, the second one and the third one. I believe Bill’s plans are to publish the remaining to in the next two weeks.

Please take a few minutes to visit Cycle Guy’s Spin to read my depression series along with Bill’s others posts which are always thought-provoking. Thank you, Bill, for this opportunity to share a very personal story. I believe God will do amazing things with our connection!

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory (neuromuscular facilitation)…

“occurs when you have repeated an action enough times to have etched that pattern into your brain. The action becomes automatic, requiring no conscious input on your part.”

memoryGetting dressed, walking and tying your shoes are examples of activities completed by muscle memory. To get a feel of just how comfortable you are in your muscle memory, try changing your routine in any of these activities. Put your clothes on in a different order than usual. Try imitating how someone else walks. Change the way you tie your shoes. You’ll find just how comfortable muscle memory makes you feel and how hard it is to change it.

We also have negative habits established in muscle memory. Clenching your jaw and poor posture are examples. Take that a step further to our thought processes. Do you find yourself saying, “I can’t…” all too easily before even trying something new or changing a routine? These negative habits and thought patterns are examples of muscle memories too.

We need muscle memory to automate tasks that we don’t need to give mental energy toward, which allows us to redirect that energy toward that which requires active thinking and processing on our part. Our lives are filled with muscle memory activities, some of which make our lives easier and some of which present struggles we need to focus on and overcome in order to grow and mature. Muscle memory can both free us for bigger tasks and keep us from attempting them.

Spiritual Muscle Memory

Do you feel stuck spiritually? Consider reprogramming your spiritual muscle memory. If prayers feel aimless and/or worship seems a dry routine, perhaps muscle memory needs changed. And if loving others seems like a forced “should,” then changing spiritual muscle memory might lead to transformation.

The following elements, adapted from what psychologists and athletes alike use when breaking down old muscle memory habits to create new ones, hint at beginning steps for changing spiritual muscle memory:

  1. Repetition. Too often, a positive habit fails to get established in muscle memory because we fail to repeat the process enough times. Only through repetition can we effectively rid ourselves of bad habits and replace them with good ones.
  2. Consistency. Once you find out what works, stick with it. Keep doing what works (repetition) to establish it as a habit.
  3. Comfort. Creating new muscle memories and letting old ones go creates discomfort. Keep comfort zones for times of rest and recuperation that generate energy needed for the discomfort of stretching and growing.
  4. Brokenness. Sometimes, we must break down what is not working in order to create a new habit that will make us stronger. This gets at the idea of rooting out  bad habits holding us back and replacing them with new ones that helps us grow.
  5. Variety. Just like we need comfort in order to work through discomfort, we also need variety in order to not get swallowed up in the repetition of consistency. Establish consistent habits but allow for variety within them.

What can you immediately apply from this list to help you move forward and go deeper in your relationship with God? The principles of breaking down and establishing muscle memory were deliberately discussed generally to allow for more unique individual application. Take some time to consider how you can personally apply these principles, and share your ideas in the comments.

Note: This month’s focus lies with taking aspects of our physical selves and making spiritual connections. Also, this week begins a summer schedule for Struggle to Victory with a scheduled post every Tuesday and periodic posts at other times throughout the month (my attempt at being a bit more spontaneous). I’m open to publishing guest posts as well, so leave any interest in writing one in the comments below.

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.

A Biblical View of Balance

wineBorrowing from two disciplines, wine making and fine arts, let’s define balance in a way that helps better understand what exactly we’re working toward.

In wine making, balance means the degree to which all the attributes of a wine are in harmony, with none either too prominent or deficient.

In fine arts, balance involves the composition or placement of elements of design (figures, forms, colors, etc.) in such a manner as to produce an aesthetically pleasing or harmoniously integrated whole.

fine artTaking those two ideas and sort of combining them gives us the idea that balance involves harmony achieved when each part of the whole holds its proper amount, and all the elements work to create a harmonious state.

Harmony… that sums up the idea of balance well, doesn’t it? Especially when we consider harmony within and its relation to our outer state.

The Bible on Balance

While the Bible may not speak to every, specific life situation, I do believe a biblical principle exists to apply to every detail of life.

With that, let’s look at what Scripture tells us about balance. Without God’s Word and His Holy Spirit guiding, my struggles remain just struggles, and victory stays well out of my reach.

Scripture tells us that…

  1. Balance involves timing. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
  2. Trusting God brings balance. (Matthew 6:31-34)
  3. God’s Word helps us adjust to maintain balance. (2 Peter 3:17)
  4. Our thoughts impact our ability to balance. (Philippians 4:8-9)
  5. Money & “things” can easily disrupt our balance. (Hebrews 13:5-6)
  6. We can receive peace and courage from God to help us maintain balance. (John 16:31-33)
  7. Balance involves avoiding what is too distracting for you. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  8. Keeping worries and cares to ourselves creates imbalance. (1 Peter 5:6-7)
  9. Being purposeful about rest has a tremendous impact on our ability to stay balanced. (Mark 6:30-31 & Genesis 2:2-4)
  10. Thinking first and seeking God’s will to help us adjust makes all the difference in maintaining balance. (Ephesians 5:15-17)

We know God is the author of peace, not of chaos (1 Corinthians 14:33). And we know Jesus came to restore peace (Romans 5:1). Knowing these truths tells me He desires us to live in balance, to have harmony and peace in our lives. In fact, He wants it so much that He provides the way for that to happen.

Doesn’t mean life will be perfect, but it does mean we can have peace, harmony and balance even when living in the chaos and imbalance of this world.

DISCUSSION: How does Scripture help you keep striving toward balance & harmony?

The Role of Commitments in Balance

Dobson

OVER-Commitment & OVER-whelm

When I look around at my too-busy friends, I think to myself, “Never again. I don’t want to go back there.” That “there,” is an OVER-loaded, OVER-whelmed and OVER-committed life. It’s feeling constantly tired, behind schedule and often simply inadequate. I was “there” once to the point of crash and burn, and I swore I’d never even get close to be that OVER again.

Yet, I do. Get close, that is. Far too close. I somehow let myself get OVER-committed all too easily, leading to OVER-whelm. My focus then gravitates to a to-do list and away from relationships. Projects become more important than people.

Yes, all to often, I find myself “there,” and asking, “How did I get here… again? How did I once again get so out of balance by becoming again OVER-committed and OVER-whelmed yet again?”

The Heart of Commitments

The heart of making commitments involves doing what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it, right? Making a commitment involves pledging or promising, obligating yourself, to someone or something. When you commit, you bind yourself; you promise you’re going to do something, usually under a reasonable time frame.

But OVER-commitment leads to broken promises and missed deadlines. It leads to disappointment and letting others down and perhaps even to low self-esteem with the realization of failure to keep promises.

Commitment Trends

Approaches to commitments seem to be following one of three trends these days. Many people just don’t fully make commitments anymore; instead, they contribute but can’t be fully counted on regularly. Others OVER-commit and see no problem with not meeting commitments or just partially meeting most commitments. Do you fall into either of these trends?

Another trend involves feeling trapped in OVER-commitment. This involves basically keeping commitments but often missing deadlines and never having the time for anything anywhere near excellence but instead settling too often for “good enough.”

Feeling trapped in OVER-commitment, often accompanied by its cousin OVER-whelm, involves a high level of stress from the never-ending to do list and the complete lack of any time to truly rest. Letting go of commitments seems impossible because doing so involves letting others down, saying the word “no.” At the same time, the pace of OVER-commitment is simply too much to sustain.

How do commitments impact balance?

Commitments provide one gauge of the existence or absence of balance in our lives. Too few commitments results in boredom and idleness, maybe even feelings of insignificance and unimportance, while too many commitments result in lack of consistency and settling for less than your best. Both extremes lack balance, both fail in effectiveness.

Instead, perhaps an approach to commitments with the goal of effectiveness may be what we need to reach and maintain balance. When I find myself “there” – in an out-of-balance state - that stressful place of OVER-whelm again, my focus is more on efficiency instead of effectiveness. In other words, I’m looking to accomplish as much as I can as quickly as I can and not looking much at whether I’m doing what’s most important. I’m not considering what activity makes my life the most effective.

Moving from Efficient to Effective

Somehow, focusing on effectiveness, on how my time is best spent rather than on how much can I get done, keeps OVER-commitment and OVER-whelm at bay. But how do we know the best way to spend our time?

The answer to that question, my friends, is truly at the heart of living a life of effective commitments that lead to balance. How do you think a person can move from a focus on mere efficiency to one of effectiveness?

Let’s figure this out together and help each other keep from going “there” again… to that place of OVER-commitment and OVER-whelm. I don’t much like it there.

The Role of Simplicity in Balance

Are You a Circus Act?circus

Ever watched one of those circus-type shows where entertainers attempt to stay balanced while gradually adding items to balance? These professionals balance people on people carrying a variety of items from plates to balls to flaming sticks. They’re focused on balancing more items than any normal person can balance, and all their focus goes toward keeping those items balanced.

Unfortunately, too many of us live like circus entertainers focused on balancing, except we’re not making any money for the show we’re putting on for our friends, family and coworkers. We’re balancing an amazing amount, but that’s all we’re pretty much able to focus on… balancing.

When focused only on balancing, we’re unable to consider the quality of what we’re trying to balance. Simplicity allows for better balance in that it allows us to put our focus on quality over quantity.

Longfellow

What is Simplicity?

The dictionary says that simplicity is the freedom from complexity, intricacy or division into parts. It’s the absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.

The dictionary also says that simple means easy to understand, deal with, use, etc. Simple means not elaborate or artificial, not ornate or luxurious.

As I think about each of those words and their definitions, I realize that simplicity and the words to describe it looks very different from one person to another. Ask 10 people what simplicity, simple, intricacy, luxury, ornament, etc. mean to them, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

Finding YOUR Simple

Like balance, simplicity exists uniquely for every person. We can get ideas, guidance, inspiration and direction from each other, but every one of us must individually discover simplicity. That being said, regardless of how simplicity looks in an individual’s life, it does play an important role in a balanced life for every person.

In my own journey toward a balanced life, simplicity plays a tremendous role in creating relationships with depth. But I find that I can only go deeper when I take the time to simplify myself first as an individual. When I do this, my relationships can then take a leading role in the activity of my life.

For me, simplifying myself involves the following 5 areas:

  1. What I think about… where I allow my thoughts to dwell.
  2. The words I speak… listen more and talk less.
  3. Appearance… comfortable but respectful.
  4. Focus… God. Family. Work. (In that order.)
  5. Commitments… not spread thin and having ample margin.

When I begin to feel overwhelmed and stop to consider why, the Holy Spirit without fail goes to one or more of these areas and says, “Simplify.” This is how simplicity works in my life for balance. How does it work in yours? What does simplicity mean for you?

The Role of Accountability in Balance

AccountabilityFor over 20 years, running partners made sure I regularly completed the miles needed for my goals. In recent years, I meet with a Godly woman from church for Biblical accountability. In writing, accountability comes through my critique partner as well as through Godly people I interact with online. And of course, my spouse provides accountability like no other person in my life.

What is Accountability?

Being accountable means being responsible & answerable. Accountability means not simply acting according to feelings, wants and desires but basing actions on what we believe is honorable and truthful.

Accountability keeps us from hurting ourselves and others by making us liable, responsible and answerable for our actions or lack of action. Without accountability, the door remains open for saying and doing just about anything we want.

Accountability and Balance

Accountability to God and to other Christians exists as a Biblical principle (see Galatians 6:1-5, Luke 17:3, James 5:16, Romans 14:12 & Hebrews 4:13.) It also serves to strengthen us in ways we could not discover on our own.

Accountability 2

But how does accountability help specifically with balance?

Accountability provides a source of wisdom for the adjustments needed to maintain balance and keep from toppling over under the pressure and stress of our overloaded and drama-filled lives. Simply put, allowing accountability to function properly makes balance easier to maintain. When I neglect and/or ignore accountability, my life quickly becomes unstable.

Accountability helps maintain balance because it…

  1. Encourages us. (1 Thessalonians 5:11) Accountability helps us know what we’re doing right and gives direction for decisions. It also helps us know we’re not alone in our struggles.
  2. Improves us. (Proverbs 17:17) We need others to alert us to improvements as well as how to go about making them. Attempting to stay balanced alone just isn’t possible because we simply cannot accurately see everything about ourselves.
  3. Makes us think about our words. The Bible says we’ll be held accountable for every idle word we speak (Matthew 12:36-37). Accountability forces us to not only think about what we say but also about what influences exist at the heart of our words.
  4. Builds trust. (Luke 16:10-12) Letting Godly people speak into our lives exercises humbleness. It practices our willingness to open ourselves up to necessary change, and this stretches us in a way that allows for bigger responsibility as we gain a reputation for honesty and transparency.
  5. Realigns us when we mess up. (1 John 2:1-29 & James 5:16) We’re expected to mess up. That’s part of life this side of Heaven. So, the real test of solid character shows with how a person reacts after messing up. A willingness to be reshaped by the Godly wisdom of another goes a long way in getting back on track after making mistakes.

Establishing Accountability

Accountability only comes when we deliberately pursue it. This happens by being…

  • Open to it. This means not being defensive and instead being teachable. Accountability requires humbleness.
  • Transparent & honest. I need to share my weaknesses and struggles in order for another to truly be able to help me. The protective bubble surrounding my ego has to go.
  • Willing to receive it. Too many times, I’ve appeared open to accountability and then proceeded to ignore all wisdom coming my way. Be willing to apply and adjust using the wisdom gained through accountability.

Before I can be someone to whom another becomes accountable, I must make sure I am first willing to be accountable to another person. This in itself is another aspect of balance that accountability brings into a person’s life.

I wish I could say that I’ve always had this level of accountability in my life, but that would be a lie. Because I’ve been on the other end of the extreme, living a life completely absent of accountability, I can say with certainty that it is a necessity for maintaining a balanced life.

DISCUSSION: What role does accountability play in helping you maintain balance? If you’re out of balance, how can accountability help you find balance again?

Loren Pinilis at Life of a Steward offers additional insight into the topic of accountability in his recent post “The Key to Making Accountability Work.
Definitely worth taking the time to read!

Following a Core Value to Establish Balance

Core Value

This statement “God. Family. Work. (In that order)” exists as the first stated core value for the company where my husband has worked for the past 22 years. Armstrong International encourages employees to honor God as their top priority, to establish and maintain a strong family life, and to work hard and do their best in their jobs. But their jobs come third.

The Armstrong family knows a strong business comes from employees with balanced lives, especially within core relationships. And this emphasis is likely why the company continues full steam ahead after 110 years.

Armstrong’s emphasis on God first, family second and work third creates a solid foundation for establishing and maintaining balance in life.

God First

Relationship with God creates a solid foundation for a balanced life. This core strength creates a stability out of which meaningful relationships with others can flow. Without relationship with the Father, you might as well give up on a balanced life because He is the scale providing accurate measure for balancing all areas of life.

Relationship with Christ through Holy Spirit fellowship and time in God’s Word makes truth the foundation on which a person can build a consistently stable life. The quality of every other area of life directly flows out of this relationship.

As we are obedient to the greatest commandments…love God above all and love others as self (Matthew 22:36-4)… we discover that balance not only happens consistently but even exists amidst chaos.

Family Second

Our relationships, especially with those closest to us, provide an outflow for the abundant love of Christ. In other words, relationship with Him makes relationship with others exist naturally. We can’t help but share His love.

Relationships provide input into our lives regarding balance. As we consider the quality of the connections we have with those closest to us, we know where to focus for more effectively living the love of Christ. At the same time, our close relationships also challenge our balance and ultimately strengthen us as we make the adjustments necessary for maintaining balance.

In fact, when making decisions about how to balance by…

  • Simplifying
  • Choosing to say “no” to good things to be able to say “yes” to better and best
  • Limiting commitments

…relationships provide a solid guide for specific choices.

Almost always, choosing what benefits relationships with those closest to us – Christ first and family second – presents the best choice for establishing and maintaining balance in our lives.

Work Third

With God as our top priority and with confident, stable, core relationships, our work life then becomes another extension of who we are in Christ. With that, our work becomes a way to…

Following the core value of “God. Family. Work. (In that order)” to establish balance won’t free our lives from trouble or stress, and it won’t always keep chaos and drama at bay. It will, however, provide a stability – a peace even – within our inner circle of existence that allows us to better function in all other areas of life.

DISCUSSION: How might this core value simplify your approach to achieving balance?

Struggling for Balance

Every area of life requires and continually struggles for balance. We’ll look at that struggle at play in a variety of rolls throughout this month, but first let’s develop an understanding of what balance is and what it requires.

7 Principles of Balance

In thinking about balance, several principles stand out as universal in our struggle. As we work to obtain and maintain balance, we must always keep in mind that balance…

  1. tree postRequires movement. To stay balanced, we must constantly move and adjust. Sometimes, the adjustments are small and invisible to others, but they always exist.
  2. Exists as a constant goal. Our physical bodies constantly work toward balance, toward homeostasis. The desire for balance exists as naturally as the function of our physical bodies. We can never escape this continual striving for balance.
  3. Needs focus. When doing a tree pose in yoga, focusing on a fixed point in front of you helps maintain balance. When your gaze wanders, balance becomes an increasing struggle.
  4. Can improve. The more you do the tree pose (along with a variety of other yoga poses), balance becomes easier. The more you consistently work at it, the better your ability to stay balanced.
  5. Keeps drama & chaos at bay. In some variety shows, acrobats show off their balancing skills by complicating the situation with people balanced upon people balancing a variety of objects. In real life, drama within balance only leads to chaos and overload.
  6. Looks different for every person. Everyone has unique limits. Every holds unique gifts and abilities. Because of these facts, our ability to balance looks different too. The basic principles stay the same, but we all obtain balance uniquely.
  7. Requires honesty & humility. We have to admit that we need to rest and readjust regularly. We have to admit our need for help in living a balanced life. Not admitting these means choosing the hard – and likely impossible – path to balance.

We’ll address the above principles later this month as we look at the role relationships, accountability, simplicity, commitments and faith all play in our constant struggle for balance. Before we can consider the activity of balance within the various aspects of our lives, though, we have to first realize the importance that having an accurate scale plays in achieving, maintaining and assessing balance.

An Accurate Scale

scale

The Bible talks about the importance of having a fair and just scale, one that accurately weighs and balances whatever it measures. That’s what we need for our lives too.

Comparisons are not accurate; neither are we able to accurately measure our own balance (2 Corinthians 10:12). God needs to be the scale. Only He knows what balances means for each individual, and He tells us through Scripture and through His Holy Spirit. The only way to obtain and maintain a balanced life is to have it continually weighed, measured and adjusted by the only accurate and just scale available to us.

DISCUSSION: Where do you feel you’re out of balance? What adjustments do you need to make?

Overcoming Overload with Balance

balanceLast month’s focus on technology was interesting because I didn’t realize the impact of technology in the details of my life. I didn’t realize how out of balance I truly was regarding my use of technology and my need for almost constant access and information.

I certainly don’t think technology is evil. I love the relationships, the access to information and the freedom to share thoughts and ideas. Yet, I also realize the need to master or be mastered by technology and its incessant call. I understand that I must refuse to follow the crowd and instead choose my own focus. In doing so, I can overcome information overload by focusing on creating balance.

Laying Down the Gauntlet

Just like overload looks different on every person, so does a balanced solution for overload. In Managing Overload with Boundaries, we discussed basic principles as a guide in creating a plan for awareness, prevention and management of overload.

In today’s post, I am issuing a challenge, playing off our focus last month on technology and playing into this month’s focus on balance.

CHALLENGE

The challenge is this: Decide one way you can begin to become the master over technology in your life rather than a slave to it. Think of some change you can make that clearly says, “I refuse to follow the crowd and will decide for myself how to use technology & how to manage the information it constantly presents.”

To help, let’s look at examples of others working to create balance in their lives:

These examples and suggestions hopefully serve to get your creative juices flowing as well as to inspire and motivate.

Choose to Think

With the gauntlet laid down, consider this quote from Rick Dawson of Planned Peasanthood, someone who always hits home with truth…

“God gave us the ability to think – we have to choose to do so, on a minute by minute basis sometimes, if we don’t want to be overwhelmed by the ‘drinking from the firehose’ condition of living in an always on, 24/7/365 world. In its own way? It can set us up for the same sort of response that primitive man had – always afraid, always on guard.”

Choose to get grounded with God, and let Him prioritize your day. Trust God to get you the information and connections you need instead of obsessing over the constant inflow from technology. Find YOUR balance by choosing to think based on the guiding and directing of the Holy Spirit.

While I see the convenience of technology, I simply cannot shake the fact that it never satisfies my deep need for connection. And for that reason, I choose today to pick up the gauntlet.

DISCUSSION: Will you pick up the gauntlet too? If so, how?