5 Crucial Principles for Managing Stress

Manage stressAn interesting progression took place while blogging about stress this past month – I became more stressed. No, writing didn’t negatively stress me. Stress, yes, but the good kind resulting in stretching and growing, the therapy kind.

Do you have any good stress in your life right now?

Maybe the increased awareness of stress in general played a role. For sure, a large part came from an increase in stressors, most through others and out of my control.

My first reaction, my automatic response, is to eliminate stress as much as possible. That’s not always the best option, though. Sometimes my focus must be on recharging and then continuing, letting stress be and not trying to control it. With that, I realize that I must…

Persistently pursue time to recharge and refocus.

Relieve stressIf Jesus needed to do this (Matthew 14:13-34), I definitely need this habit. So, instead of trying to fix everything (which is impossible and only adds to stress), maybe letting it ride, living within it is best. In other words…

Acknowledge the stress, then keep commitments and fulfill responsibilities by simply doing what’s next.

As I’ve learn to keep moving through the stress, I’ve also gotten better at not letting stress constantly eat away at me, at not worrying about what I can’t control. I’ve learned to counteract stress with healthy outlet activities (exercise, reading, talking, etc.), and I’ve learned to pray… a lot… about everything (Philippians 4:6). Do you have healthy outlets for stress relief?

In that, I begin to focus on controlling my attitude and responses during stress. Out of that comes a realization that I need to apply a principle I’ve told my boys many times, namely…

Understand what you can and can’t control, and refuse to dwell in the wrong place.

Prepare for StressWhen I realize what I can and can’t control, I must then focus my energy and effort on that which I can control, even if only slightly. One of the most difficult areas to realize control involves the volume of what we take on, what we commit to and assume responsibility for.

And what I see happening is a lot of people drowning in a perfectly floatable boat simply because they’ve weighed it down by taking on too much. They’re sitting in a sinking boat because they’ve put too much in it, and the only way to keep from drowning is to get rid of some of the stuff. Really, it’s best to never take it on in the first place, but at some point, we must…

Learn to say “no” – even to good – so we can say “yes” to better and best.

As stress ebbs and flows, and as I realize my inability to truly control its existence, I increasingly understand the importance of a habit of consistency regarding stress management. I realize that stress exists mostly as a mental battle, that it’s the atmosphere of my inner self that truly determines whether or not I sink or float. Do you have any consistent habits to help manage your stress?

Psychcentral says “most negative symptoms [of stress] can be corrected if you take action.” My experience with stress – and a crash and burn resulting from not managing it well – supports this fact. With that comes the final principle for managing stress…

Find ways to manage your stress on your own terms before your body forces you to on its terms.

Dealing with stress really isn’t an option. You WILL deal with it one way or another. The question is, will you deal with it by choice or by force?

DISCUSSION: What can you do today to better manage stress? What advice do you have for others?

Additional posts about stress:

Children & Stress

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

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

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

Biblical Parenting_scriptureSpecific Kid-Sources of Stress

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

An Immediate Response

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

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

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

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

A Biblical ResponseTitus 2

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to the Root Cause of Stress

398165_2008If you were to take the time to map out all the reasons for stress in your life, you’ll likely discover one main root cause. Yes, stress really is that simple.

What is the root cause? Fear. If we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we’ll realize that when we’re overwhelmed by stressed, we’re really acting in fear.

Fear of failure, Fear of letting others down. Fear of being let down. Fear of sickness and death. Fear of being controlled. Fear of not having enough money. Fear of kids rebelling or getting hurt or failing or embarrassing you. Fear of missing opportunities. Fear of making wrong choices. Fear of loneliness. Fear of mediocrity.

Oh wait, those are MY fears. Those are what cause MY stress. But maybe you can relate?

Unable to Wait

1078872_44288931As I thought more about the fears causing my stress, I realized at the heart is my inability to control people and events. And nowhere is this reality more evident than in my inability to wait for God.

Bob Sorge in The Fire of Delayed Answers says there are three temptations that derail believers trying to wait for God to speak into their lives.

  1. The temptation to demand and immediate answer.
  2. The temptation to give up.
  3. The temptation to just “do something.”

When I think about the times I’ve given into these temptations, I realize they happen because I believe one of my fears is about to be realized. And in my refusal to wait, I’m usually just trying to save myself from that fear. At the same time, I’m allowing my feelings to control my decisions as well as rationalizing and justifying why I can stop the waiting.

The odd thing is that when I give in to these temptations, when I let fear get the best of me, I end up increasing my stress and allowing fear to gain more of a foothold.

How to Finally Overcome Stress

No fear in loveOne of the best stress relievers and probably one of the least pursued is quietness. We sometimes make stellar attempts at quietness on vacations only to return to chaotic lives. While times away have their place and value, it’s really a habit of quietness that addresses fears and derails stress.

As Sorge notes, we have to remember three important points about quietness. It’s does not mean silence, it’s not instant, and it’s easily lost. Quietness must become a habit in order for it to truly alleviate stress.

My own journey to a less stressful life reflects the truth of what Sorge says about quietness. In fact, as I learn to practice quietness, my fears lessen, which in turn reduces stress. Sure, life continues to generate stressful situations and seasons, but they are no longer flavored with fear.

Instead, I am experiencing “perfect love that casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) by seeking Him through:

  1. Reading Scripture: Simply reading the Word of God and letting it live and breathe within me on a regular basis.
  2. Praying Often: A regular conversation with my Creator transforms stress and overload into times of experiencing Him more.
  3. Seeking Input: Godly influence of those who’ve been where you are and are where you want to be is invaluable.
  4. Pursuing Health: Being physically healthy makes a tremendous difference in not letting fears take control.
  5. Simplifying: The simpler the life, the more likely quietness becomes a transformational habit.

As quietness increases and fears subside, as stress no longer rules and reigns, my inner atmosphere increases in peaceful consistency and reliability. And as this happens, I’m experiencing a transformation that only God could orchestrate.

DISCUSSION: How does fear impact your stress level? What are you doing to overcome that fear?

Join the Book club discussing Fire of Delayed Answers by Bob Sorge by leaving a comment below. You can also read more reflections on this book from Jason, Sarah, Dusty, TC, Glynn, and Joell.

GUEST POST INVITATION: For the month of April, my focus will be on guest posting. This will include some of my own guest posts, promotion of other’s blogs and guest post featured on Struggle to Victory. If you are interested in either writing a post for this blog or having me write a post for your blog, please contact me via email. There are still several slots available on the calendar.

New Nature Relationships

Looking Good

My youngest son likes to look good. He likes to wear stylish clothes and for everything to match. He’s also been known to make and wear his own jewelry. My oldest, like his dad, keeps his clothing choices very basic with jeans and a t-shirt being his favorite ensemble. My oldest would never say he’s wearing an “outfit,” while my youngest frequently refers to his clothing that way.

While our physical clothing differs greatly from person to person and reflects the unique aspects of an individual’s personality, every Christian is called to put on the same “outfit,” if you will, based on the new life Christ won for them. In fact, this clothing Paul talks about has tremendous impact on the quality of our relationships.

new life 3Impact of New Life on Relationships

Paul begins Colossians 3 by telling those who have new life in Christ, which he detailed in previous chapters of the book, to focus on the “realities of Heaven.” He follows this exhortation with instructions for cultivating relationships. The rest of the chapter, as well much of the next one, details what we are to take off and what we are to put on as we clothe ourselves in our new lives, and those activities center around getting rid of selfish desires and adding in ones that cultivate Godly relationships.

While Paul provides a list of specific old nature habits (Colossians 3:5-9), the main point involves getting rid of a focus on self. Since the old self died when we gained new life in Christ, the old habits need to go as well. Sure, you could check to see if your personal habits are in the examples Paul gives, but the point really involves getting rid of selfishness and focusing on the habits of our new natures.

While the habits of our old nature produce only evil and decay, the habits of the new nature renew daily as we focus on Christ and not on a set of rules or requirements (Colossians 3:10-4:1). The focus of our new natures is to be on others and on building relationships. This does not mean forgetting yourself completely; after all, Jesus said to love others AS yourself, not INSTEAD of yourself, a point focused on in a future post.

Free to Be New

But sometimes, often actually, old habits just seem too hard, even impossible, to overcome let alone eradicate altogether. And on our own, shedding them truly is impossible. But under the new nature, we are not bound by the flesh and its desires because we are led by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 1:9-12). This is why Tongue Taming is possible, and this is why cultivating Godly relationships is also possible.

Plus, if we focus on what we are to put on in our new natures, the old habits won’t have room to even exist let alone operate within us. As we focus on clothing our new natures, we’ll find that we don’t even want that old stuff anymore. Just look at the new nature clothing:

new life 1

Then there’s the activity of the new nature to add on, sort of the outerwear on top of the main outfit.

new life 2

Personally, I could stop here. I could just focus on what we’ve discussed so far and no other part of Scripture and have plenty to develop the rest of my life. So even though Paul continues through the rest of Colossians with more instruction on building and cultivating Godly relationships, we’ll focus on the specifics of Paul’s advice that we’ve listed here as we go into even further into the details of relationships.

DISCUSSION: What stands out the most to you in Colossians 3 regarding the cultivating of Godly relationships?

Check Your Source

sf_overflow_03As a newspaper writer years ago, the source meant everything. In fact, editors insisted on at least three solid sources per article. Why? Because the sources determined the validity and impact of the words written.

When I taught writing and speech classes years later, I also stressed the importance of solid sources for conveying and supporting ideas. In fact, we spent a great deal of time determining how to identify credible sources.

The fact remains that the credibility of our words play a large role in our overall reputation. That holds true for individuals as much as is does in the media.

Considering the source makes all the difference in how the words of a person, whether writing or speaking, are received, accepted, believed and followed.

Careless words ruin a person’s credibility, certainly for the short-term. But the longer they precede a person and mark their presence, the more long-term, negative impact careless words have on a person’s reputation.

All About the Supply

Careless words usually indicate carelessness in some area of a person’s inner life, often symptomatic of a much bigger problem. Our words and actions indicate the condition of the heart and, when careless or unloving, usually point to an unbalanced state in some aspect of the inner self. And the more a habit of careless words receives room to roam, the greater the storm’s rage and the more numerous the careless words.

The only way to calm this storm is addressing the root cause. This means considering the source, the supply, of what’s coming out of a person’s mouth.

Begin the process by asking some tough but necessary questions. Does your source of supply – your automatic way of dealing with life – come in the form of acting, moving, talking and pushing? Is this your “go to” pace for life? If it is, consider how Isaiah 30:15 may have a much needed solution for calming every aspect of life from our schedule to the words we speak by bringing us to a stable source or supply on a consistent basis.

Sorge 2

The flow of careless words decreases and may even stop altogether when we quit trying to make things happen, for example when we try to talk people into things or attempt to justify our choices. More time spent in rest and quietness, as Jesus made a point to do regularly (Mark 1:35), reduces the number of unnecessary words by focusing us on the only source that can tame the tongue.

Bob Sorge in Chapter 10 of The Fire of Delayed Answers breaks Isaiah 30:15 down this way:

Sorge 1

When we’re out of control and not letting God direct our lives, not setting Him as our source of supply for all of our words, thoughts, attitudes and actions (Psalm 19:14 & James 1:26), we lose the ability to glorify Him. Our lives simply appear chaotic, holding nothing beneficial for others to desire to pursue.

Often, the root cause of our careless lives, which often becomes first apparent in the words we speak, involves failing to heed Isaiah’s advice. The more we purpose to implement these elements into our lives and allow God to be the source of all that we are, the more we’ll realize the value of returning to God, in resting in the quietness of His presence and in having confidence for Him to renew us.

Sorge 3

DISCUSSION: How can you purposely apply the advice of Isaiah? How will doing so change the words you use?

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!

Thinking on Words

A friend recently said she planned on “wafing” at work the next day. At first, her word left me floundering to understand her meaning. But when I thought more about my friend and her approach to work, I somehow knew what she meant. The relationship created the meaning necessary to understand her words.

My friend also said that putting the word in quotes made it okay to use even though it is not a word. If that’s the case, then a lot of words need quotation marks.

Our conversation got me thinking about how people in general use words, both intentionally and unintentionally, how we create the meaning of the words we use, both real and made up, as well as the impact of relationship on the meaning of our words.

So, strap in, hold on, and journey into my thought process on the topic of words.

Words

Did you realize“unforgiveness” isn’t really a word? Not in my dictionary, anyway. “Impactful” isn’t either. Kind of disappointed since I use those words often.

Technically, adding “un” before “forgiveness” means taking back or undoing forgiveness. A very “churchy” (yes, another non-word) word, the assumed meaning of “unforgiveness” involves not forgiving or refusing to forgive, not so much an undoing of forgiveness given because of it not actually being given in the first place.

Impactful,”used to portray major impact or effect, is actually in some “online” dictionaries, but it’s not an official word according to Dictionary.com. And anyway, why not just use influential or effective? Unfortunately, I’ve used “impactful” so much over the years that I naturally think of it when describing something with great impact.

How many other words do I use frequently that don’t actually exist?

Words4

People constantly make up words. Some eventually become official words. (I’m still not over “ain’t” officially becoming a word.) Don’t we have enough words? Are we just too lazy to learn the ones we already have, so we make up new ones instead? Isn’t that kind of like being unable to find that thing you know you have somewhere, so you buy a new one instead of taking the time and making the effort to look for it?

Marketers, Tweeters (technically a real word) and “Facebookers” make up words all the time. Where do you think the Word of the Year “selfie” came from? (In case you’re wondering, second place went to “twerking.” Sorry, Miley!)

Ginormous” and “bestie” were also spawned “online” with “selfie.” The word “ginormous” combines gigantic and enormous, related synonymously, so why not just use one of the legitimate words? Can something truly be so gigantic and enormous that it needs both words to be described? Once something reaches enormous, does it need to be more? Or, is this simply our human tendency to add dramatic flare to everything?

Maybe my obsessive need to eliminate the little squiggly line under words creates an over-sensitivity to word choice. Or maybe my frustration over increasing laziness with the words we speak, over taking the time to communicate clearly and accurately, creates a need to consider the details of the words I use and the intentions behind them.

Words5

Take a minute to think about the words you use. Actually, think about how much you actually think about your words. Or, do you just let the words come forth without giving them much thought?

Scripture says a lot about using care with our words, and taking the time to consider these instructions strengthens character and relationships by bringing greater awareness to the fact that the words we speak – as well as how, when & why we speak them – reflect the atmosphere of the inner self with striking accuracy.

In January, we will look at how what we say, the way we say it and when we say it holds tremendous impact. In addition, we’ll look at how who says something matters along with the impact of the amount of words we speak (how much we say or don’t say). Finally, we’ll also look at the value of controlling our words along with ideas on how to incorporate this aspect of self control into the details of our lives.

DISCUSS: Take me on a journey into your thoughts on the use of words. Tell me what you think a detailed focus on this topic should include.

3 Ways to Reduce Busyness & Discover Simplicity

busyToo busy?

Recently, I overheard a friend say, “I am done with holidays.” She explained that holidays were just too stressful and gave her too much to do along with having to deal with the drama that often accompanies family gatherings.

Since I know this person well, I also know that these words really characterize her whole life. She always has too much to do, and she’s always stressed. Which basically means that the holiday (Thanksgiving in this case) undeservedly received the blame for her stress.

Why are you so busy?busyness

Our culture is one of busyness, and I truly feel burdened for those I know and love who are simply too busy. This burden comes from living in that reality, being broken by it, and rebuilding a simple life without the weight of busyness. In other words, I’ve been there and know the way out. More importantly, I know that there IS a way out.

Much of this busyness comes from the seasons of life. Kids need attention, loved ones are sick, work is overloaded and ministry calls. This busyness, to a large extent, is simply the inevitable busyness of life itself.

But busyness reaches toxic levels when we, by deliberate choice, choose to do more than we are capable of doing. These are the things we say “yes” to because we “should” or because “someone has to do it.” They are the things born out of perfectionism and long-standing habits. This toxic level reaches epic proportions when we pile on “things to do” as a way to avoid doing the hard work of creating a balanced life focused on true priorities. Instead, we get lost in the multitude of activities, obligations and commitments.

When we’re too busy, we don’t have time for deepening relationships. We don’t have time to work through issues that created rifts. We don’t have time to read that which would deepen our character. We don’t have time to get the rest we need. We don’t have time to make healthy choices. And, worst of all, we don’t have time to spend one-on-one with God.

But my friend who said, “I am done with holidays” actually got at a very important point. Busyness and overload seem amplified during the holidays. We may casually notice at other times, but busyness suddenly jumps out as out of control during the holidays. The time between Thanksgiving and New Years seems to magnify the need to slow down and enjoy friends and family. It emphasizes the crucial need to worship God made flesh, which has a way of making us realize our desperate need for a simpler life.

Trapped in busyness?

Many people feel trapped in busyness. They realize that busyness creates an inner conflict that seems impossible to reconcile. This becomes amplified during the holidays and is really why my friend meant when she said, “I am done with holidays.” With that in mind, let’s explore three ways to reduce busyness and discover simplicity no matter the time of year.

busy 2Reduce Busyness and Discover Simplicity

1.) Make small changes. Small changes done consistently over time add up to make a huge difference. Becoming instantly un-busy won’t happen, but making small adjustments will slowly reduce busyness. Taking your time with this process rather than trying to “quit cold turkey” increases its staying power.

2.) Accept the painful truth. You will have to say “no” to some good things. You will have to let things you really want to do go in order to do the things that are truly important.

3.) Commit busyness to prayer. Ask God to show you how to become less busy. Ask Him to show you how to simplify. And most importantly, ask Him to change your heart towards busyness and to help you realize that obedience to Him does not mean saying “yes” to every opportunity that passes through your awareness.

Transforming a busy life is really hard. It requires brokenness. It requires letting go of attachment to accomplishments. It means admitting that under our own strength, we try to do too much. And it means admitting that without some help and without deliberate choice, we will continue feeling the increasing weight of busyness.

Essential Elements of Vision Therapy

Many optometrists do not recognize when someone needs vision therapy. In fact, a person with vision problems can pass an eye exam with flying colors. This was the case with my son. I sensed we were missing something in his learning plan, but that something remained allusive until one of his teachers suggested I check into vision therapy.

Elements in vision therapy include the following:

  1. Comprehensive Vision Exam/Consultation: Before a patient begins vision therapy, an assessment by a qualified doctor takes place. This includes diagnostic evaluations identifying strengths and weaknesses with regard to visual coordination and information processing skills.
  2. Patient Conference with the Doctor: After the assessments, a doctor specializing in vision-related problems reviews and interprets the results. When vision therapy is recommended, a treatment plan is created with goals and expectations outlined. The patient must then decide whether or not to begin therapy.
  3. Weekly Therapy: Therapy sessions at the doctor’s office vary depending on each individual’s needs. Some patients have in-office therapy twice a week, while others have it once a month. Patients also often have tasks to complete at home to enhance the in-office therapy. The specific type and frequency of therapy depends largely upon an individual’s unique vision therapy needs.

This process works well within our spiritual lives too, if we’re open to it. This same sort of process can lead us to a place of preventing vision-related spiritual problems – such as double-mindedness, lack of or wrong focus, and absence of alertness or paying attention – that can plague our spiritual lives. After asking the question, Do you Need Vision Therapy, proceed to implementing the necessary elements.

Elements in spiritual vision therapy include the following:

  1. The Basics: Serving as an eye exam or vision evaluation for our spiritual lives, make sure the basics of regular fellowship, daily Bible study and prayer create the core of your spiritual vision health. (Colossians 4:2, 3; Acts 2:42) All other elements will be fruitless without these basics. Stopping regular practice of any of these habits leads to blurred spiritual vision.
  2. Consultation: A seasoned saint can provide the essential observations needed to make adjustments in one’s spiritual progress. Seasoned simply means more spiritually experienced and victorious in a particular area and maybe in general. In addition, regular accountability can help us see what we are blind to about ourselves. Talking out problems is often all that’s needed to find a solution. (Galatians 6:1, 2)
  3. Expert Advice: This can come through pastoral counseling, professional Christian counseling and Christian books. Some struggles simply need the experienced vision of a pastor or Christian counselor. Regularly reading good Christian books also provides expert advice that can be preventative as well as problem-specific.
  4. Practice: Vision therapy practice includes “homework” that produces daily application for growth. Spiritually, this means not just taking in the Word and hearing from God, but also “going into all the world” and practicing what God plants inside of you. (Mark 16:15)
  5. Continual reassessment: Realizing The Danger of Routine and Habit in Our Prayer Lives proves the need for continual reassessment in the life of a Christian. Just as someone receiving vision therapy will be reassessed by the doctor several times during and after therapy, Christians too much assess their habits and routines. Really, every area could benefit from regular, personal assessment in general. Check with the Holy Spirit daily in prayer and make a deliberate point of consistent personal assessment.

One final connection between vision therapy for the eyes and spiritual vision therapy lies with the power of choice. In either case, the “patient” must make the decision about whether or not to begin the recommended therapy. Just like the eye doctor makes the vision therapy plan very clear, God makes the plan of action very clear for clearing up and even preventing spiritual vision problems. With both, commitment and then follow through are necessary for improved vision.

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Trapped by Complexity

Simplicity is constantly under attack. Perhaps a more accurate statement is that we are trapped by complexity, which seems to be our default setting, and simplicity becomes the casualty as a barrage of complexity invades our lives.

Our hurried lifestyles and constant scurrying after progress certainly add complexity to life by giving too many choices too often.

How can we discover who we truly are and what makes us happy if we are constantly distracted by choices thrown at us by progress?

Yet progress is impossible to completely ward off, and we soon discover that we must simply and deliberately choose to not take it all in. Even the Amish, who represent a long-forgotten simplicity in life, live lives more complicated than they once were. Even though they don’t personally maintain them, the fact that the Amish are the focus of many web sites and are themselves a tourist attraction shows the impossibility of keeping progress at bay even when simplicity is a religious doctrine.

Interestingly, the Amish are such a draw because of their simplicity. Life used to only become complicated mostly by choice. Now, complexity happens to us at the speed of progress.

Teaching my boys that value of simplicity is a focus of mine. These lessons include a deliberate limiting of extra-curricular activities, a focusing of time and efforts on fewer and better quality activities, and a prioritizing of events and opportunities that constantly present themselves.

We’ve also incorporated simplicity into our eating. With about 20 meals that we cycle through, my guys love that they get their favorites often. Because they feel the quality of their meals are better since they regularly have their favorites, they more look forward to meals. We also find simple joy sharing these favorites regularly.

When I first began to deliberately simplify my life, I thought I was pursuing simplicity in order to be healthy and strong. My initial push for simplicity came after undiagnosed food allergies created an environment where depression, anxiety and illness thrived. This experience not only forced me to simplify my eating habits, but it also directed me toward a less-stressful and more fulfilling career.

At first, I was very unhappy at what I saw as a severely limiting diet. But the illnesses caused by my food allergies provided the necessarily motivation to pursue lifestyle change.

For the first year, I convinced myself that having multiple food allergies (dairy, gluten, eggs, crabs and cashews) would cause misery for the rest of my life. I hated reading all the food labels, I quit going to my favorite restaurants, and I had to cook separate meals for myself. Oh, and allergen-friendly food is more expensive too.

Now, years later, adapting my diet feels quite natural, and I find that less food choices makes grocery shopping much easier. Plus, my husband and I no longer go through our usual back and forth “Where do you want to eat?” conversation when dining out. We basically have 3-4 choices most of the time, and choosing among those few is definitely much simpler than choosing among the myriad of options found in most cities.

So many people feel trapped by complexity. They feel hopeless because a way out keeps alluding them. At least, that’s how I felt when I just couldn’t climb out of the pit (turns out there is a labyrinth in the pit too). Yet, taking the first few deliberate steps toward simplification often starts the momentum needed to affect major change.

While I didn’t know what change needed to take place for me to be healthy, I kept looking and trying and adjusting. Eventually, I discovered many small changes that added up to make a huge difference for healing in my life.

Our complex culture and lifestyle attacks any intentions to simplify. Complexity seems to happen without any effort while simplifying requires intentionality.

Complexity pursues. Simplicity must be pursued. And while complexity will never cease to pursue, simplicity will begin to pursue as we allow room for it to do so by slowly pushing out the complex.

DISCUSSION: What is one area in your life you would like to simplify? What small steps could you take to begin that process?

Discovering Joyful Simplicity

The more I simplify my life, the more I realize that a Relatively Simple life is intertwined with joy. The simpler my physical life and surroundings, the deeper and better quality my mental state and spiritual life. For me, this means the more organized my house, the fewer activities with which I and my family are involved, and the more I reduce the trivial choices like what to wear or eat, the more joy I feel.

Perhaps it’s having a sense of control over my life, and perhaps my mind simply has less to deal with and thus can concentrate on quality rather than quantity. Whatever the reason, increased simplicity certainly made me a more joyful person. I no longer feel trapped by a complexity that took my life spiraling out of control.

What does joyful simplicity look like to you?

The following are 5 suggestions to help stimulate ideas for a simpler life in a way that also brings more joy:

  1. Be a kid. Coloring and doing crafts with my boys takes me back to my childhood. At the same time, they present an opportunity for simple quality time with my kids too. Adults are too wrapped up in adult stuff sometimes that they forget the simple joys that come with being a kid. Get in touch with that joy again. Not sure what to do? Ask your kids… they’ll have lots of great ideas!
  2. Turn of technology. When we play family games, my husband and I turn off the sound on our phones. When we go camping, I deliberately leave my phone in the car and refuse to participate in technology. Turning off technology forces me to enjoy simple pleasures like reading and watching birds. This is an amazingly relaxing activity.
  3. Go on a fast. My husband and I decided to go on a financial fast for the first quarter of 2012. This simplified our lives in that we just didn’t give much thought to buying. We just knew we couldn’t spend any extra money, and we focused on activities that didn’t involve doing so. A fast in pretty much any area of life lends itself nicely to the process for one to pursue simplicity.
  4. Purge. The idea of getting rid of excess is exceedingly freeing. For me, when I start to purge, I struggle stopping myself once I start. A yearly garage sale makes purging a habit for my family. Taking a look at what is no longer needed provides a terrific avenue for simplifying belongings. Like fasting, purging can occur in a variety of areas. For example, consider purging your calendar or your Facebook friend list.
  5. Help others. Tutor kids. Minister at a community dinner. Teach a Sunday school class.  Pray with a friend. Help a friend clean. Run an errand for someone. Call your pastor and ask what needs done at the church. Helping others provides a simple way to not only bring joy to another but to also know the simple joy of making another person’s life easier.

Simple joy comes through a life free to answer the call of God. When life is simple and not overwhelming, the possibilities for simple joy seem to open up. Maybe this happens because life is no longer just happening to you. Maybe it happens because you finally have time to think and choose what you want to do with your time rather than letting time happen to you. Whatever the reason and whatever the path chosen, a simpler life equates to more joy.

DISCUSSION: What activities help you discover simple joy? If you need more simple joy in your life, what activities will you try today to make that happen?