Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain

5-14-13 Vacation brain

Vacation Brain discussed the mindset that happens when one fails to live life deliberately. The symptoms of vacation brain include increased comparisons, God neglect and flesh focus.

Let’s address each of these symptoms in detail.

Increased Comparisons

On sea days, cruisers spend a lot of time lounging around and being entertained. The entertainment staff provides an almost constant schedule of entertainment opportunities. However, my husband and I found people watching to be more intriguing than most of what they offered.

Unfortunately, I too easily started playing the comparison game while people watching. I naturally found individuals “better” than me in some way, and I deliberately looked for those “worse” to help me feel better.

I eventually realized the danger of living in a constant state of comparison and what it did to freeze my progress and growth. I mean, I could easily feel good about myself or berate myself depending on where I placed my focus.

This idea of how constant comparisons can negatively impact our lives gets more attention in the series Battling Boredom.

God Neglect

A cruise offers activities for virtually every interest. Comedy acts, dance shows, trivia contests, video games, casino gambling and club dancing are some examples. There’s no chapel on the ship that I’m aware of, and no Bible studies make the daily itinerary.  In other words, any focus on God does not appear to be a cruising priority.

I am not suggesting that everyone on a cruise ship totally neglects God. With over 3,000 people on the ship, I am certain some people spend time with Him. In fact, one couple at our dinner table on our second cruise prayed together each night, and we had some faith-related conversations with them.

I am suggesting that the cruise ship atmosphere does nothing to promote one’s faith. Routines are broken, and everyone seems to be living the good life. Unless an individual deliberately chooses to incorporate God, most of what is offered on a cruise ship does more to promote desires of the flesh than anything else.

While I believe that a God focus remains the responsibility of the individual, I also understand how the pull of our culture, especially in such an amplified way, can significantly impact an individual’s choices.

Flesh Focus

The draw of abundance is as clear as the surrounding ocean on a cruise ship. Opportunity for gluttony, drunkenness, laziness and poor stewardship abound. To make the ease even easier, cruisers receive a “sail and sign” card that allows them to “pay” for everything. In other words, no actual money exchanges hands when buying drinks, gambling or purchasing anything while on a cruise.

So, focusing on the flesh really requires little effort, and to some extent that is why cruises are so immensely relaxing. When this focus becomes a habit, though, an unhealthy life becomes a trap. Our fast-food, immediate gratification society cultivates this focus on the flesh, which then grows naturally if we do nothing to resist.

The post Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle? looks at how these symptoms undermine a productive and fruitful life.

DISCUSSION: As with any illness, symptoms can manifest themselves differently from one person to the next. Can you name additional symptoms of vacation brain?

Flat Spots Here and There – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 2-part series by Kathy Howard, author of “Fed Up with Flat Faith.” Kathy’s book inspired the series “Battling Boredom: My Struggle with a Flat Faith.”

4-23-13 Kathy Howard

Kathy helps women live an unshakeable faith for life by encouraging them to stand firm on our rock-solid God no matter the circumstances of life. The author of five books, Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and a certificate in women’s ministry. She has been teaching the Bible for over 25 years and speaks regularly at women’s retreats and events.

Kathy and her husband live in the Houston area and have three children, a son-in-law, and one precious grandbaby. When the family gets together there are also four dogs in the mix.  Find out about her books and speaking ministry and get discipleship tools and leader helps at her website: www.kathyhoward.org.

Flat Spots Here and There – Part 2

In my last guest post, I shared one of my temporary falls into flat faith and how God brought me out. Today I want to tell you about another that occurred about 10 years ago.

Life was good. My marriage was solid. Our kids were healthy and happy. Our bills were paid. We had lots of sweet friends and a church we loved. Other than that five pounds I wanted to lose, I couldn’t think of any real problems in my life.

In contrast, several of my girlfriends were dealing with serious issues like life-threatening illnesses, job loss, and rebellious teenagers. As I walked with them through these troubles I noticed something. They were growing spiritually, but I was not.

4-11-13 Flat Faith

My lack of problems seemed to be my problem. My spiritual growth had stagnated because things were just too easy. My friends were learning to trust and depend on God through their difficulties, but I could simply depend on myself.

God answered. Within just a few months our family faced numerous painful situations that forced us to lean on God. For instance, our house flooded. My mother-in-law was killed in a car accident. My husband’s job moved us from Alberta to Texas.My desire to grow more Christ-like moved me to do something risky. I began to pray that God would refine me. Even when He reminded me in His Word that He refines His children through the fire of trials, I continued to pray for spiritual refinement.

Please hear me on this. I am not saying God caused these things. But I do know God used these things for His purposes and my good. I began to learn to trust Him. To depend on Him to strengthen and provide. And I saw His loving hand in every circumstance.

When I was willing to surrender my “easy” life to God’s purposes, He could work in the coming trials to refine my character and grow my faith. My experience with Him through these trials once again revitalized my relationship with Christ.

Most Christians will experience temporary periods of “flat faith.”  If you’ve been struggling spiritually or your faith feels dry, maybe you’re dealing with a bout yourself. Take a moment to check out this post. It defines “flat faith” and lists 10 possible indicators. God wants you to experience vibrant, exciting, pumped up faith, so don’t be content with where you are.

DISCUSSION: What steps do you need to take to experience a pumped-up faith? What steps have you taken in the past that have resulted in a pumped-up faith?

Flat Spots Here and There – Part 1

This is part 1 of a 2-part series by Kathy Howard, author of “Fed Up with Flat Faith.” Kathy’s book inspired the series “Battling Boredom: My Struggle with a Flat Faith.”

4-23-13 Kathy Howard

Kathy helps women live an unshakable faith for life by encouraging them to stand firm on our rock-solid God no matter the circumstances of life. The author of five books, Kathy has a Masters in Christian Education and a certificate in women’s ministry. She has been teaching the Bible for over 25 years and speaks regularly at women’s retreats and events.

Kathy and her husband live in the Houston area and have three children, a son-in-law, and one precious grandbaby. When the family gets together there are also four dogs in the mix.  Find out about her books and speaking ministry and get discipleship tools and leader helps at her website: www.kathyhoward.org.

Flat Spots Here and There – Part 1

I had several “fears” surrounding the release of my new book “Fed Up with Flat Faith.” The first was that no one would buy it. The second was that people would buy it and not like it. Of course, then the Holy Spirit reminded me that my purpose in writing is to obey and please God. The results are up to Him; God can do whatever He wants with it.

But I have another concern I think is legitimate and I want to talk with you about it over the two guest posts Kari has so graciously given me. I don’t want anyone to think my faith is 100% pumped, 100% of the time. That would certainly be discouraging for those who experience the normal ups and downs of the Christian life.

I have to constantly check my attitudes and discipline my behavior to stay in the middle of God’s exciting activity. And even then I occasionally hit lows. The difference between my “now” and my “before” is that now, “flat” is the exception. Before, “flat” was the norm. It was all I had even known.  (Read the first chapter of “Fed Up with Flat Faith” to hear more of my story.)

4-2-13 Flat Faith

One temporary period of flat faith hit me about fifteen years ago. It began when a friend received a cancer diagnosis. My initial reaction was natural and normal. Sadness for her and fear for what might lie ahead. Then came the anger – anger at God because He allowed this trial in her life.

Then I just simply started to shut God out. I spent less and less time fostering my relationship with Him. Soon, I got to a point where I didn’t pray or read my Bible at all.

It lasted six months. I woke up one morning with the Holy Spirit pressing in hard. I missed God. He was waiting. I got on my knees in repentance and turned back to the Savior.

In retrospect, I have a clearer picture of what went wrong. When I got the bad news I should have taken my hurt, questions, and anger to God. Instead, I shut Him out. My view of Him was too small. I didn’t trust Him to handle things. I had a limited, earthly perspective instead of an eternal one.

This period of flat faith was truly of my own making. I lost sight of God’s sovereignty and grace. I traded my eternal perspective for an earthly one. But God faithfully refreshed my memory and called me back to Himself.

DISCUSSION: What about you? Has there been a time where an earthly perspective threw you off track?

Be sure to check out the second half of this guest post in Flat Spots Here and There – Part II!

Battling Boredom: My Struggle with a Flat Faith – Part V

Now that I am more aware of the role boredom plays in my faith (Part I & Part IV) as well as alerted to the pinholes of lack of connection (Part II) and a focus on comparisons (Part III) that have led to a flat faith, I can get back on track to living and experiencing a vibrant and alive faith.

My Boredom Battle Plan

God has promised to continue the good work He has started in me until the day when Christ Jesus returns (Philippians 1:6). Trusting on that promise, I move forward in the battle plan the Holy Spirit has laid out as the path for that good work.

  1. 4-16-13 wavesFind variety in sameness. The wind and the waves appear to exist in monotony, yet they are not boring. Instead, they are obediently beautiful (Matthew 8:27). While my life’s routine needs to exist for a reason, I must realize that there is usually more than one way to accomplish a task.
  2. Connect more. The two greatest commandments are to love God and love others (Matthew 22:37-40). Connecting allows me increased opportunity to live love and to practice that which the Holy Spirit teaches me in times of solitude.
  3. Find ways to just be. Constantly occupying my mind distracts me from hearing the still small voice of God. In Fed Up with Flat Faith, Kathy Howard writes that “only the Holy Spirit can transform our faith, but we can obediently position ourselves to be in the center of His activity.” When I find ways to just be, I find that often places me where He is active.
  4. Regularly evaluate my habits. In Fed Up with Flat Faith, Kathy also talks about Eli the priest and how “his habit of faith got in the way.” This is contrasted with Samuel who grew “in stature and favor with God and man” (1 Samuel 2:26) and who “enjoyed a full, dynamic relationship with God.” As I am still before God, He will transform me by correcting bad habits, establishing new ones, and confirming what to continue.
  5. Gather tinder. Do you regularly remember your past experiences with God along with times you witnessed His glory?  Kathy calls doing so “gathering tinder” to fuel the fire of our faith. Kathy reminds us that if we are children of God, “His presence is not based on our feelings, but on His promises.” So, no matter how I feel, even when boredom becomes intense, I can know that He promises to always be with me (Matthew 28:20). As I deliberately review God’s presence in my life, I can dwell in the memories of His ever-abiding presence.

4-16-13 Flat FaithAn Eternal Perspective

As I went through my battle with boredom and my struggle with flat faith, another unexpected change took place within me. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, my perspective began to change. What once was more of focus on the here and now has turned toward more of an eternal focus.

Kathy also talks about how “living with an eternal perspective can generate an excitement and passion your faith has been missing.” As we remember who gave us our resources and as we use periodic self-evaluation to foster an eternal perspective, we can discover a “consistent eternal perspective” that leads us to “fulfillment and excitement in the things that last beyond the physical.”

A key element to maintaining and increasing an eternal perspective lies with obedience. Kathy notes that “obedience keeps the lines of communication open and fosters our dependence on God. Disobedience builds walls and cultivates stubborn independence from God.”

As I learn obedience and as the Holy Spirit fosters an eternal perspective in me, my faith will grow to be healthy and vibrant. This journey has developed a desire in me to leave, as Kathy puts it so well, my “safe faith” my “flat and dry” faith behind and to have it replaced with a “risky faith – a faith that yields all to God,” a faith that is “ready to burn.”

Thank you for taking this journey with me through my battle with boredom and struggle with flat faith. The Holy Spirit has certainly led me through the exact journey I needed to take. I pray the same happened for you!

DISCUSSION: How is the Holy Spirit working in your life to create “a faith that yields all to God”?

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, quotes are taken from Fed Up with Flat Faith by Kathy Howard. Also, be sure to heck out Kathy’s guest posts Flat Spots Here and There – Part I and Flat Spots Here and There – Part II.

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Battling Boredom: My Struggle with a Flat Faith – Part IV

4-11-13 path 2My propensity for boredom exists as a built-in barometer for many areas of my life, including my faith. When boredom starts to abide, especially within relationships or church or studying, I know that some area of my life is misaligned.

Sometimes, though, I get so wrapped up in feelings of boredom or depression or whatever and fail to realize that I am off track. That’s usually when the Holy Spirit steps up His game to get my attention. This happened recently during a significant battle with boredom (Part I) that ended up being an indication of a flat faith caused by lack of connection (Part II) and a focus on comparisons (Part III).

The Path to a Plan

When I thought of examples of boredom in scripture, David came to mind. One reason I think David was led to pursue Bathsheba was boredom. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be. He couldn’t sleep. He seemed restless and bored in the middle of the night with no late night television to distract him. (See 2 Samuel 11.)

Thinking about David’s boredom along with my own, four realizations came to mind.4-11-13 path 1

  1. Boredom can be from selfishness. Though God desires for us to enjoy life, the enjoyment of life is not to be our primary concern. The kingdom of God, not our own lives, is to be our main concern (Matthew 6:31-34). But when we focus on enjoying life, self gratification becomes the focus instead, the attainment of which is impossible.
  2. Boredom can lead to sin. Idleness, which often happens when we are bored, can lead to wrong choices, including sowing discord (creating disunity) among others (1 Timothy 5:13). In other words, boredom can be infectious if it’s caused by someone not doing what he is supposed to be doing. The result? Drama and sinful choices.
  3. Boredom leads to discontentment. Learning contentment is the key to curing boredom. How do we learn contentment? Rely on God’s strength, which he gives generously to lead us to a place where we aren’t disquieted and disturbed (Philippians 4:11).
  4. Boredom can be used by the Holy Spirit. Had David questioned why he was restless, perhaps he could have corrected the behavior that led to his restlessness. David did not lack resources, nor did he lack things to do. He simply lost his focus. I know when I lose my focus, the Holy Spirit uses boredom (restlessness) to get me back on track.

“At a time when kings go to battle,” King David stayed home. As a result, he discovered himself in a place of boredom that led to discontentment and sin. What might David’s story be like had he been executing his battle plan as was expected of the king?

4-11-13 Flat FaithA New Perspective

I used to believe avoiding boredom was all about simply having something to do, with occupying myself. I even insist that my kids occupy themselves regularly. Through this journey, I’ve realized that boredom is directly related to contentment.

Contentment involves being able to just be without having to work on a “to do” item. It’s about connecting with Christ, with my family, with friends and even with people I don’t know. Contentment is about cultivating relationship.

Contentment means I don’t have to constantly evaluate my day and only count it as successful if tangible items were accomplished. It’s about realizing that sometimes the best way to manage my time is by doing nothing except just being with Jesus.

Contentment means staying attached to the vine (John 15:5). As Kathy Howard says in “Fed Up with Flat Faith,” contentment comes “when we maintain an intimate relationship with Jesus” because “He will guide us to the works He has planned for us and empower us to do them.”

This journey through my battle with boredom is almost complete. Part V lays out a battle plan that will allow me to move forward in victory having defeated my boredom caused by lack of connection and a focus on comparisons. Thank you for sticking with me!

DISCUSSION: What other Bible stories relate to this series on Battling Boredom that we have not yet covered?

Note: Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are taken from Fed Up with Flat Faith by Kathy Howard. Also, be sure to heck out Kathy’s guest posts Flat Spots Here and There – Part I and Flat Spots Here and There – Part II.

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Battling Boredom: My Struggle with a Flat Faith – Part II

When I first realized that my battle with boredom was really a struggle with a flat faith (Part I), my game plan changed. Instead of thinking I needed to simply change my routine, I realized I needed to address some heart issues. Those issues revolve around connection and comparisons (Part III).

Flat Faith and Connection4-4-13 Flat Faith

In “Flat Faith,” Kathy Howard says that “what we fail to realize is that our reluctance to seek help will keep us right where we are.”

Kathy also points out that “our culture does not hold up dependence, submission, and subordination as ideals to attain. In fact, the opposite attitudes reign supreme. Independence, self-gratification, and me first are king!”

For several years now, I have touted myself as being a “loner.” What I’ve come to realize is that my pride in being a loner was really a mask for avoiding dependence. I wanted to appear independent and in control of my life. In other words, the ideals of our culture had gotten into my spirit and negatively affected my attitude. And one thing our culture does well is breed discontentment.

My approach to living revolved around independence, and that clearly does not reflect God’s heart.

“But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you!’ And the head cannot say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you!’” (1 Corinthians 12:18-21)

A focus on self-sufficiency and independence definitely do not promote the inter-dependency that the Bible clearly teaches. Discontentment grew for me because my thoughts were fixed on appearing in control and being independent rather than on existing and connecting as a part of the body of Christ.

Like Kathy, I identified with Nicodemus who was “trying to do all the right things” but still felt “disconnected from God.” Unfortunately, this keeping up of appearances really plays into Satan’s hands, since he “loves to trip us up with pride.”

Since, as Kathy says, “God designed the body of Christ to encourage and build one another up,” I realized that I needed to depend on Him to create the relationships and interactions He knew I needed. That’s not happening when I keep to myself 80% of the time.

The reality, as Kathy puts it, is that “your full and complete spiritual growth and maturity depends on other members of the body obeying God. And their growth and maturity depends on yours.”

No wonder I was discontent. I was missing out on much of what God intended to play a part in my spiritual growth, interaction with other believers. And that interaction needed to go beyond weekly church services.

4-4-13 ConnectedThe Role of Accountability

For almost a year now, I have been meeting regularly with an accountability partner. In addition to meeting face-to-face, we also continue our discussions between meetings via email and text. This relationship provides an avenue for practicing transparency and for connecting over how God works in our lives. God used this relationship to bring me to a place that allows me to be transparent in my struggles with flat faith.

This accountability relationship helped me learn the value of connection, and I now more fully understand that limiting my connection with others to an extreme is partially to blame for the boredom I am experiencing.

As Kathy puts it, I need to truly embrace the “symbiotic relationship with other believers to become all God wants [me] to be and to receive everything God wants to give [me].” While I knew the importance of connection, I failed to fully embrace it. The result? Loneliness and a flat faith.

Thank you for continuing on this journey. The next leg, Part III, focuses on the role that comparisons have played in causing my flat faith. Part IV focuses more on the role of boredom, and Part V details my Boredom Battle Plan.

DISCUSSION: What role does connection play in your faith?

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotes are taken from “Flat Faith” by Kathy Howard. Also, be sure to heck out Kathy’s guest posts Flat Spots Here and There – Part I and Flat Spots Here and There – Part II.

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