Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape the fact that Scripture also clearly advocates for a right relationship with other Christians for the purpose of encouragement, building up the body of Christ, and for unity and peace by way of example for non-Christians.

The holidays have a way of amplifying the state of relationships, and, unfortunately, to make bad ones worse and cause good ones to struggle. Why is this? Likely, much of the strain comes from already struggling finances, expectations and disappointments that seem to surface at their highest intensity during the holidays.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered and approached rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes. What might this look like? Consider the following notes provided by my pastor during a teaching on Proverbs 3:5-6 and infused with my own thoughts and reflections.

My pastor titled his lesson, “Staying Healthy Through the Holidays,” and it largely inspired this series.

  1. A healthy family is committed and caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. An environment of respect needs cultivated. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Family convictions must be developed and deliberately lived out. These convictions must be stated and then allowed to shape traditions.
  4. Family dynamics change from year to year, and flexibility is required to maintain relationship through those changes. Purpose to adapt as people grow and mature and as numbers increase and maybe even decrease at family gatherings. Refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Assumptions can kill relationships. For this reason, make a point to respectfully express your feelings. Don’t take for granted that others know how you feel about them. Let them know verbally (say it) and physically (hugs, smiles, etc.).
  6. Many relationships fold under the weight of responsibility, which often increases during the holidays. Be sure to share responsibilities with others, which means not only asking what you can do to help but also asking for help too.
  7. This one may offend the technology-addicted, which is almost everyone these days… Engage people and be fully where you are. That means putting down the smart phone or tablet and making eye contact with people in the same room as you. And be sure to have alacrity, so your loved ones know you truly don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Like assumptions, expectations can also be relationship killers. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.
  9. As Scripture clearly points out, people are a priority. Because it’s important to God, be faithfully devoted to what will last… loving others.

Depression hits its height for many people during the holidays. So does family contention. And most likely, these two realities are closely related the the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year. Fortunately, a deliberate choice by the individual Christian can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you, and this directive certainly includes our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What are your recommendations for healthy relationships during the holidays & beyond?

Relationships 2

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

 

Spiritually Healthy During the Holidays & Beyond

Light 1Focus Determines Reality

In previous years when the holidays approached, my thoughts immediately went toward negative memories. The cat using the presents under the tree as a litter box. My parents telling me they were divorcing. No decorating or celebrating the first Christmas after the divorce.

Seems silly, really, since those years represent far fewer Decembers than ones with neutral or even positive memories. But since my focus dwelt there, my holiday reality existed in the negative for many years. This meant that depression easily met me each holiday season as well.

Slowly, as I learned how to be Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond, I discovered a desire and ability to choose my focus rather than just allowing it to happen.Light 2

Jesus Changes Everything…

The biggest impact on my focus for lasting transformation and increasing joy during the holidays and beyond came when I truly met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and allowed His Holy Spirit to direct my focus. I’ve technically been a Christian my whole life, but it took almost 30 years for my faith to become a significant driving force.

This doesn’t mean my faith didn’t impact my life before that point, because it definitely did. However, when I finally realized and admitted my utter dependence upon Christ to work in me through His Holy Spirit for a joyful reality, my faith became so much more than mere fire insurance.

If You’ll Let Him!

Jesus always wants to change the focus of our lives toward one of living for God. But He doesn’t force Himself on us. His Holy Spirit doesn’t force its way in as the director of our focus. We must let Him change how we think, which changes our focus, which then changes our reality.

And often, our “letting” involves those activities we already know to be spiritually beneficial. In other words, “letting Christ” simply means doing that which Scripture extols as necessary habits for continually increasing spiritual health. What might those activities include?

  1. Not neglecting the basics. This is never a good idea but especially not during the holidays. Personally, I get knocked off kilter much easier during the holidays, so keeping to a routine of Bible study, prayer & worship proves immensely beneficial.
  2. Renewing the Christmas story. The longer you’ve been a Christian, the more difficult having a wonderment about the Christmas story may seem. Yet, seeing it with fresh perspective can help renew your spirit. I do this by reading a Christmas book every year. Can be fiction or nonfiction, but it must have the Gospel message.
  3. Try simple & minimal. Take this approach with everything from gift giving to party preparation. Consider it with clothing and schedules too. Allow yourself the mental space to enjoy the people in your life by keeping the material aspects as simple as possible.
  4. Pay attention to physical health. Staying Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond is so very difficult with all the parties and special family gatherings focused around food. While indulging may feel good in the moment, the later consequences usually outweigh any momentary, immediate pleasure. Consider the long-term impact of choices before you make them.
  5. Make relationships a priority. Choose relationships over doing and going  and accomplishing and impressing whenever possible. Make Romans 12:18 a goal for all of your relationships this holiday season.

Focusing more on Christ, the Christmas story and beyond, even when feelings or circumstances work to steal that focus, creates habits that work toward a purpose beyond ourselves. Deliberately considering what I allow to direct my focus, the thoughts I allow to dwell in my spirit, helps me continue making right choices that lead to a positive and joy-filled holiday season. And each year, living spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond becomes a more natural part of who I am.

Establish your focus on the only person able to align all you are with with truth, light and hope. Let Jesus continually and increasingly direct your focus and shape your reality.

DISCUSSION: What activities help you obtain or maintain joy and stay spiritually healthy during the holidays and beyond?

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

For another take on how to stay healthy during the holidays, check out the post “How to Keep Emotionally Healthy This Holiday” by Laurie Wallin. While you’re there, take some time to look at the rest of her blog where she writes about how to “live with joy and confidence no matter what life brings.”

Recommendation: The Adrenal Fatigue Solution

Related to the post Physically Healthy During the Holidays and Beyond, this “extra” post offers a terrific resource for achieving your health goals. With that…

http://www.foxnews.com/health/2012/09/07/how-to-combat-stress-from-adrenal-fatigue/Several years ago, I experienced a physical, mental and spiritual crash and burn. While I’d had mental and spiritual struggles in the past, this was my first significant battle with all three at once and, most significantly, with a severe physical crash. This “crash” included multiple medical issues, severe digestive problems, significant sleep struggles, and inability to cope with any level of stress. Adding the element of struggling physically to my mental and spiritual struggles nearly sent me to the point of no return.

AFS SymptomsAfter much research and study along with many, many doctor visits as well as no small amount of dead ends and frustration, I discovered a couple of diagnosis to contend with if I were to become healthy again. One of those diagnosis – and likely the most significant – was adrenal fatigue syndrome (AFS).

The Adrenal Fatigue SolutionAt the time, no single and easy-to-understand and use resource existed to give me advice on how to recover from this syndrome. My answers came through a large variety of resources, all of which came only after days and months of my own research and asking questions. I wish I had had a resource like “The Adrenal Fatigue Solution” by Fawne Hansen.

The Adrenal Fatigue Solution” gives solid information on what adrenal fatigue is and how to heal from it. The book starts by explaining some necessary medical terms and then moves into giving very practical advice for healing from AFS.

Don’t skip the first half even though the terms may be difficult to grasp initially. My experience has found that knowing these terms helps tremendously in healing because, over time, you develop a more detailed knowledge of what’s happening in your body. This comes in handy when doing follow-up research and talking with medical professionals. In this respect, knowledge truly is power.

I could go on about how the information in this book is helpful, but I’ll simply say this: If you suffer from constant fatigue, high levels of stress and sleep problems, The Adrenal Fatigue Solution will help you regardless of whether or not you receive an official AFS diagnosis. And at just $19, it’s well-worth the cost simply for the time it will save you in having to research this information on your own. In addition, the book’s web site and blog offer a tremendous amount of helpful information.

DISCUSSION: Feel free to ask any questions about AFS or any stress-related issues you may be having.

Note: I did receive a free PDF copy of The Adrenal Fatigue Solution but was not required, only requested, to provide a review.

Physically Healthy During the Holidays & Beyond

waterOur goal of Healthy Holidays and Beyond begins by addressing the physical aspect of the holiday season – the extra food, the neglect of exercise, and the realization that these choices can significantly contribute to the demise of our joy.

After years of struggling with depression and having the holidays be the lowest point of the year, I finally realized this startling truth and began to understand how diet and exercise played a huge role in my mood & energy.

We simply cannot escape the fact that the choices we make regarding our physical bodies directly and significantly impact mood and energy level.

  • 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut. (Note: Serotonin is a chemical created by the human body that works as a neurotransmitter. It is regarded by some researchers as a chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance, and that a deficit of serotonin leads to depression.)

If your digestion isn’t healthy, what impact might this have on your mental health?

Is it possible that there are dietary changes you can make to achieve a more consistent mood?

What could 20-30 minutes, 3 days a week do to improve your energy levels?

Is there a way to establish a more consistent level of sleep for the benefit of improving your ability to think clearly?

Can you add just a glass or two more of water a day to improve your mood and energy?

These same basic principles operate uniquely within every person. The more and longer we neglect this impact, the increased likelihood of ill physical and mental health.

track

What benefit is this knowledge as we enter the busy and stressful holiday season?

Of course, the goal is a consistently healthy lifestyle all year long, but maintaining is certainly more difficult during the holidays regardless of individual levels of diligence and self-control. Incorporating the following tips can help you maintain physical and mental health during the holidays and beyond.

  1. Eat healthy food first. Choose fruit and veggies before heading to the dips, sauces and sweets. You’re sure to eat less of the unhealthy stuff when you eat the good stuff first.
  2. Find creative ways to be active. Park in the farthest spot from the entrance to the store. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Commit to a certain number of push-ups or sit-ups a day. You’ll be amazed at the impact of these small steps.
  3. Be diligent about rest & sleep. As much as possible, stick to a normal sleep schedule and have regular down time to rest. Don’t be afraid to take short power naps either.
  4. Drink more water. Comparable only to the impact of adequate sleep, staying hydrated significantly benefits mental and physical health. If you incorporate no other tips, drink more water and get enough rest.
  5. Take some basic supplements. A good multi-vitamin and a probiotic are likely to benefit everyone. You might be surprised at the changes you’ll feel mentally and physically after just a couple of weeks of taking them.

While these tips may not produce completely transformed health during the holidays, they will provide the small steps needed for a healthier lifestyle. Having this core base of health allows for flexibility in your diet and schedule, which often occurs during the holidays. It also provides the ability to rebound more quickly after the busy season abates.

You may not be able to control what is available to eat at parties or the busyness of the season, but you can do a lot to find more balance during the holidays. Be determined to control what you can by taking small steps toward a healthier you.

DISCUSSION: What small step can you incorporate immediately? Have you noticed food impacting mood & energy?

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

Blue JOY OrnamentWith Thanksgiving and Black Friday safely behind us, we move forward now fully entrenched in the holiday season. Unfortunately, for many (most?) that means overwhelm from shopping, family pressures, and expectations of joy from self and others.

Could this year be any different? Or, will an underlying melancholy once again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike. Even though I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will, not can but will, result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Green JOY ornamentFocus determines reality, especially during a season where many secretly live in depression and despair.

The holidays have a way of reminding us of strained and even failed relationships, ones we must face while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink.  And within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will eventually fade in the coming weeks, leaving us once again lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different, all the while knowing deep down it likely won’t.

I apologize for this seemingly downer tone thus far, but I find this need to admit these yearly struggles in order to maintain – and for many to obtain – victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year!”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentI invite you into a journey I take every year to some extent to continue moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year, perhaps even butting up with these same confessions – and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them – again this time next year.

This journey will first address the physical struggle many face from Thanksgiving through the fading of New Year’s resolutions. Then we’ll look at ways to address our focus and how to align it with truth, light and hope as we explore the spiritual dimension of the holiday season.

The next step in the journey involves exploring the ways our relationships can actually grow and flourish during the holiday season instead of being increasingly and possibly irreparably strained. Finally, we’ll end with looking at the false hope often brought by New Year’s resolutions and how we can turn that potential failure into true change toward a more joyous and blessed life.

DISCUSSION: In what ways can you relate to the struggle described above? Perhaps you relate through your own experience of that of someone you love. How could this discussion benefit someone (you?) desperately seeking a joy-filled holiday season?

 Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

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?

  Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Struggling with Humility

You remember the song, right? While I haven’t heard it since I was a kid, the words came immediately to mind when I decided to study pride and humility. Go ahead & sing it… you know you want to.

Humble song But seriously…

Defining Pride & Humility

The NASB Life Application Study Bible defines humility as:

“Usually, an honest self-appraisal, characterized by the knowledge that one is merely human and by the absence of pride.”

The NASB Life Application Study Bible defines pride simply as

“exaggerated self-esteem.”

Both pride and humility begin in a person’s mind and eventually become visible in their conduct. Where humility shows through in an absence of pride and arrogance and instead involves being unpretentious and unassuming, pride shows through in a lofty and often arrogant assumption of superiority.

Moving from Pride to Humility

Scripture provides many examples of God both causing and expecting humility.

  • God humbles to reveal the condition of our hearts and to test our obedience. (Deuteronomy 8:2-3)
  • God promises forgiveness and healing to the humble even after grave sin. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
  • God leads toward and teaches humbleness. (Psalm 25:9)
  • God humbles those who don’t fear Him. (Psalm 55:19)
  • God opposes the proud. (1 Peter 5:5)

Resistance is futile. Resistance to humility, that is. Either we choose to let go of pride and to humble ourselves before a Holy God, or we choose to suffer the consequences of opposing God. Willingly choosing humbleness is a much better option that being humbled by God. Just read the Old Testament for proof of that fact.

Choosing Humility

Choosing humility involves taking the road to the cross. It requires following Jesus in attitude, action and word. It requires dying to self. While we may all truly believe that Christ died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead in defeat of sin, death and the devil (See 25 Verses About The Defeat of Satan), do we actually live that belief in the same spirit in which Christ made His way to the cross, the spirit of humility?

“Humility is not denying the power or gifting you have, but admitting that the gifting is from God and the power comes through you and not from you.” (Unknown)

Choosing humility involves realizing your value as a redeemed child of God, value from Him and not in any way earned or created by you. It means focusing on what God did for your redemption and then choosing to live that out in obedience by serving Him in whatever way He asks using the abilities, talents and gifts he gives.

Practical Humility True humility comes to us exemplified perfectly in the life of Christ. Applied to Jesus, the NASB Life Application Study Bible defines humility as:

“[Jesus’s] attitude of service to others and His willingness to forego the rights and exaltation that are properly His as the Son of God.”

Jesus’s one focus – to seek and to save the lost – led Him down a path of obedience to the Father all the way to the cross. This involved serving others, being criticized for associating with “lesser” sorts, and submitting to God’s will over His own. With every right for exaltation, Christ chose humbleness. At the very least, with no right at all for exaltation, we can choose to live lives of practical humility as we follow His example by:

  1. Humbling ourselves regularly before God. (James 4:10; Luke 18:9-14)
  2. Being humble in our dealings with others. (Philippians 2:1-11; James 3:2; James 5:16)
  3. Bearing affliction and wrong with patience. (1 Peter 3:8-17)
  4. Submitting to authority. (1 Peter 2:18)
  5. Staying teachable. (Proverbs 10:17, 12:1)
  6. Forgiving endlessly. (Philippians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 4:5; Matthew 23:11)
  7. Staying grateful. (1 Thessalonians 5:18)
  8. Always being willing to work toward trust.

We must, like Christ, be willing to serve others with no thought for what we’ll get in return, never considering ourselves too good for association with anyone as we realize Jesus came to save everyone, not just the socially acceptable.

We must also be willing to give up our own wants and desires to pursue God’s will. Choosing humility does not, unfortunately, mean pride remains forever absent from our lives. We will still continue Struggling with Pride. We will still have moments where pride rears its ugly head, but those are the moments where we can once again choose humility.

DISCUSSION: What does practical humility look like in the life of a believer today?

Living to Please God

1 Thess 4

DISCUSSION: How does this Scripture speak to the idea that “focus determines reality”?

Struggling with Pride

Pride

“The Great Sin”

In one episode of the Big Bang Theory, Raj accuses Sheldon of arrogance. While funny, the clip aptly illustrates the pride and arrogance constantly oozing out of Sheldon. Perhaps, like me, you find Sheldon’s arrogance amusing because, well, you can relate yet remain certain your own arrogance pales in comparison.

While we can laugh at others prideful antics on television, we also must admit to the reality of pride’s severe impact on culture. And it’s not at all funny.

Consider the following all-to-real examples of pride:

  • Politicians pursuing personal agendas.
  • Business and financial catastrophes like WorldCom and Enron.
  • Attention-seeking TV & music entertainers.

Pride exists abundantly within Christianity too. Stories of pastors living in extravagance and debauchery along with the many examples throughout Scripture tell the tale well.

Pride touches every aspect of life and culture throughout history. And while the widespread preoccupation with self continues making light of pride and even seemingly promoting it, as Christians we cannot consider pride humorous at all. In fact, we must consider it, as C.S. Lewis did, “the great sin.”

An “Anti-God State of Mind”

Seeing pride in others is easy, but seeing it in ourselves… not so much. Consider what Lewis says to ask yourself to find out if pride is a problem for you:

“How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronize me, or show off?”

Our annoyance and frustration with others too often points to our own problem with pride by revealing a desire to elevate ourselves in some way above others. Pride is very much a struggle of the competitive nature within every one of us.

Lewis describes the struggle it this way:

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man… It is the comparison that makes you proud, the pleasure of being above the rest.”

Pride, as Lewis describes it, creates an “anti-God state of mind,” living within us as a “spiritual cancer.”

The Pharisee & The Tax Collector

The story Jesus told about a Pharisee and a Tax Collector proves Lewis’ point well. Please take a minute to reacquaint yourself with the passage found in Luke 18:9-14.

The Pharisees words and actions show that pride involves:

  1. Thinking we have any merit in our own abilities.
  2. Seeing others with contempt and disrespect.
  3. Placing ourselves above others.

Lewis’s describes this “anti-God state of mind” with these words:

“In God you come up against something that is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that – and, therefore, know your-self as nothing in comparison – you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”

The words and actions of the tax collector, however, give us a needed view of humility. The tax collector stands at a distance and shows that he knows he is a sinner and in need of God’s mercy and grace. He can’t even look at God because of the contrast between God’s holiness and the man’s own sin.

Identifying Pride

Fortunately, Scripture provides the necessary instruction for identifying pride in our lives.

  1. Ask God to reveal your pride. We must ask God to show us our pride, because we likely won’t see it otherwise.
  2. Earnestly seek God. And remember, eradicating pride is not a one and done deal.
  3. Seek accountability. God encourages us to seek others help in eliminating sin.
  4. View humility as essential. Christ’s example of humility sets the standard.
  5. Look in the mirror of Scripture. The Redeemer Church of Dubai offers a list of “30 Biblical Indicators of Pride in Our Lives” and gives a great way to use Scripture as a mirror for identifying pride.

Pride blocks our ability to see God (Deuteronomy 8:14). Humbleness, on the other hand, involves awareness of the heart’s true condition, one of sinfulness, hopelessness and utter depravity without the redeeming work of Christ. We’ll look at humility in detail In a couple of weeks.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on pride?

Two resources in addition to Scripture played a tremendous role in this very personal study on pride: Pride & Humility by Thomas A Tarrants & The Great Sin by C.S. Lewis.

  Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email