The Way Things Appear

As I look at different houses lining the path of my day, I sometimes wonder about the lives lived within them. Why is the house so run down? Why don’t they take care of their yard? How can they afford that? How much money does he make?

When I see people face-to-face at the store or coffee shop or library, I make more internal inquiries based on appearances. Why doesn’t she care enough to style her hair? How could he wear such sloppy clothes in public? Can she really afford that? Why don’t they discipline their child?

I also imagine what people determine based on my appearance. More so in previous years but still some today, I adjust my appearance to try and direct their imaginations. But then I think, maybe they don’t even consider me much at all.

When others do judge me based on appearance, or at least I think they do, I am offended, angry even. Why? Because they don’t know me. They don’t know my story. And they certainly don’t know my heart, my intentions.

Appearances 1

When I realize I’m judging others based merely on appearances, I have to stop and think and deliberately tell myself that there’s more to the story than I know… more than I could ever know on my own. Rarely are things exactly as they appear.

For certain with passing people as I go about my day and certainly to a great extent with the people ingrained within my life, never will I fully know their intentions, their heart. Appearances will always play some role in my thinking about others and their thinking about me. Knowing this, I must let myself be guided past appearances.

Going Beyond Appearances

We certainly don’t want to be like the Israelites who wanted a king based on what others around them had (1 Samuel 8:4-5). We don’t want to be like the pharisees obsessed with following rules to appear holy (Matthew 23). And we don’t want to live like the Ephesians, simply going through the motions of religion (Revelation 2:2-5).

Instead, we want to defy our human nature and go beyond mere appearances. We want to be like Samuel who let God lead him beyond what initially appeared to be the right choice.

Appearances 2

When God told Samuel to look beyond appearances in the search for the next king, He guided Samuel to the right person. David defied appearances. He did not look like the right choice for a king. (His own father didn’t even bring him up at first.) Several of David’s brothers better fit the stereotype of a king. Yet Samuel followed God’s directing, which led him to the person who would go down in Biblical history as the “man after God’s own heart.”

How do we take our vision beyond mere appearances?

On our own, we can’t. While we can look at appearances and behavior and make determinations based on a person’s whole body of works, we cannot know everything about a person. Plus, people don’t (and shouldn’t) disclose every detail about themselves. Also, some will outright deceive, pretend and mislead to hide reality. We’ve all done it.

Yet, God wants us to develop relationships built on trust and love, which necessitates going past what we see and discovering what lies beyond appearances. How can we do this in a way that encourages truth and nurtures growth?

Appearances 3

DISCUSSION: How do we let our minds become controlled by the Holy Spirit? How do we let God change the way we think? And, how does doing so change the impact of appearances on our vision?

Socialize Your Blues Away

Defeating the Winter Blues

social interaction 1In the post “Defeating the Winter Blues,” tip #7 mentioned the importance of socializing for the purpose of helping defeat the winter blues. This post delves into that point a bit more and gets at what the very obvious social nature of extroverts can teach those of us who struggle with and even avoid socializing.

I’m an introvert by nature who has occasional bouts of shyness too. Plus, I’m a writer and love to read. In other words, my natural tendencies and interests gear me toward social isolation. Balancing this area of myself, which I realize is both a strength and a weakness, requires a lot of deliberate effort.

Antisocial Tendencies and Depression

The journal of Clinical Psychology says, “Social isolation puts you at greater risk for mental health problems.”

My own experience confirms this research. The more antisocial I am, the more I struggle with mood and the easier I become depressed. On the other hand, the more consistently I engage in social interaction, the easier it is to maintain an optimistic and hopeful perspective. This truth also exists infused into my Christian walk.

The Socially Interactive Christian

Even though the words “though shalt interact with others” do not exist in Scripture, you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to realize that it’s a book about relationships. The 10 Commandments start with directives in our relationship to God and end with commands regarding our relationship to others. Paul’s statement in Romans 13:9 takes these commands and connects them with all we are to be and do as God’s children.

social interaction 2

Love requires action, which requires interaction with others. I’ve yet to find a way to truly love another person without human interaction. In my mind, and experience again supports this realization, I need social interaction in order to truly and fully live out God’s Word to love Him and others.

The Extrovert Example

In my experiences with social interaction along with my studies of personality styles, I wondered if extroverts, who seem to actually need social interaction, struggle much with depression. I even researched the topic and found little specifically – and nothing truly helpful – regarding extroverts and depression.

While I’m certain that some extroverts do struggle with depression, I don’t personally know any. Or, more accurately, I have not seen a true extrovert show visible signs of depression. Maybe extroverts are just better at hiding depression. Or, perhaps, they truly get depressed a lot less frequently or possibly just less severely than do introverts.

Since research yielded little information on the topic, I decided to look more closely at my extroverted friends to figure out how they ward off melancholy moods of any severity from a funk to the winder blues or doldrums, which everyone gets from time to time, to depression. Before I get to the two points about how extroverts seem to avoid any lengthy down moods of much severity, let me share two related observations.

First, I’m surrounded dominantly in my social circles (starting with my husband and youngest son with my oldest son being in the middle and then moving into my close circle of friends) by extroverts, though I’m not sure if this was subconsciously intentional or not. Second, my extroverted friends help me tremendously in what is one of my greatest weaknesses, the desire to be alone and the growth of social isolation, by nudging me toward regular, meaningful interaction with others.

As I asked myself why my social circles are dominated by extroverts, though my few introverted friends do hold a special place in my life, I discovered two tendencies my extroverted friends ALL have in common.

  1. They’re active.
  2. They’re interactive.

Extroverts tend to be more active in general than introverts, sitting less and needing activity more. They also maintain a very interactive social life and in fact gain energy from being around others.

Since my extrovert friends seem to have more consistent victory over depression or any other sort of mood struggle or disorder and since they ALL have these two points in common, I make a deliberate decision to apply their example and incorporate consistent activity and social interaction into my life.

While I will always need more alone time than my extroverted friends and while I will always get my energy from being alone and getting more rest than them, I am constantly reminded by their consistently upbeat moods that I must also maintain a certain level of activity and interaction on a regular basis. While the amount varies from one introvert to the next, it likely exists as a greater need than most will admit.

DISCUSSION: What are your experiences with extroverts and introverts regarding activity and social interaction as well as mood?

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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

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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?

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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.”

Struggling for Unity

UnityAchieving and sustaining real, productive unity seems more and more like grabbing a handful of water these days. Sure, we see glimpses of people uniting for a cause or to accomplish a specific task or goal, but those events seem more like a bandage on a gaping wound than any real gain toward unity.

Instead, many (most?) countries lack a unified people and/or government, and so many companies and organizations struggle in a constant state of mismanagement and overwhelm. Broken marriages divide families and erode trust. Even churches crumble under the weight of selfish disagreements leading to division and strife.

Unity Takes Hard Work.

Feelings often encourage one direction while unity requires another. The choice between self and others continually drives a wedge into any efforts toward unity.

Often, people attempt to avoid disagreement and struggle in an attempt to create unity, failing to realize that unity exists as individuals work through disagreement and struggle. In other words, we find unity as we persevere through differences in opinion and preference and instead work toward peace as we focus on a singular goal. Refusing to quit in the struggle usually leads to great gains in unity.

The Bible teaches on unity more than on Heaven or Hell perhaps because while Satan may not be able to steal our salvation, he can undermine our effectiveness through disunity. He knows that the church and God’s people need unity in order to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel. He also knows that unity flourishes as we obey the command to love God and others, and getting our focus on our own desires keeps us from taking the path of love that leads to unity.

Basic Truths About Unity

Let’s look at some basic truths about unity found in Scripture in an effort to realize the significance of the stability unity brings to God’s people, benefits that flow well beyond the body of Christ.

  1. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). In fact, His last prayer before taking the road to the cross focused on unity among God’s people. He knew that Christians united under God could accomplish much for the Kingdom than individuals operating on individual agendas.
  2. Unity is a command (Ephesians 4:3). A church filled with believers focused on leading Holy-Spirit led lives leads to a unified body bound by peace. Peace and unity together create a strand not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  3. Unity brings God’s blessings (Psalm 133). Harmony among God’s people refreshes the body of Christ. The pleasant and precious nature of unity spreads and soothes even into areas where chaos reigns.
  4. Unity is a powerful witness (John 13). Simply put, unity and peace make Christianity – following Jesus – attractive to the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
  5. Unity meets deep, emotional needs (Philippians 2:1-2). Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Tenderness. Sympathy. Where these flow, unity and love exist in abundance.
  6. Unity comes through the spiritual growth of individuals (Colossians 2:2). Encouragement and strong ties of love come through confidence in the Gospel. That confidence results when individuals focus on knowing Christ.
  7. God gives us what we need for unity (Romans 15:1-6). Through God’s gifts of patience and encouragement for the purpose of preferring others, individuals adopt the attitude of Christ as a lifestyle, and unity naturally results.
  8. Unity is the strength (essence) of a healthy church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28). A unified church recognizes the need for every individual to do his/her part, each playing an integral role in the unified body of Christ.
  9. Love results in unity (Colossians 3:14). In fact, love exists as the most important piece of “clothing” a Christian wears because of its role in creating unity.
  10. We must guard unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Guarding requires deliberate attention, which means intentionally focusing on the elements that create and sustain unity.

Unity requires a lot of consistent hard work (Psalm 34). Doing nothing to promote unity means allowing it to evaporate and become all but invisible as the gaping wounds in individual lives, in families, in churches, and in countries fester and reach epidemic and infectious proportions.

On Thursday, we’ll look at our individual responsibility for the creation, growth and sustained existence of unity. Get ready… eliminating severe infection often requires pain and sacrifice.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about unity?

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Aging Gracefully

Birthday Confetti Email SalutationEvery year as my birthday nears, I struggle with aging. Actually, I continually battle the thought of aging but fixate on it more when I must actually add to the number that captures the reality.

Yeah, I know the “age is just a number” sayings, but I don’t buy them. To me, that constantly-increasing number reminds me of my mortality, and I find I must deliberately confront my thoughts in this area in order to not find myself consumed by what sometimes feels like futility.

Maybe I love this world too much. Maybe I’m too attached to the desires of my flesh. Or maybe I simply struggle with the wasted time of my past, now lost forever. Regardless, I know I need to, as my pastor said recently, live forward instead of backwards, and for me this means confronting these thoughts that could paralyze me if I let them.

tent

While I struggle with aging, I’m also acutely aware that the number placed on my age only involves my current dwelling or “tent” as Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). I know that the real me, my spirit, renews daily (2 Corinthians 4:16)… it doesn’t age. I hold dearly to my future promised with Christ in Heaven, and I know I must “not think only about things down here” but must “also set [my] sights on the realities of heaven” (Colossians 3:1-2).

At the same time, I can’t deny my desire to extend this tent-dwelling life as much as possible, to live a long, good life on this earth. I simply cannot escape the deep sense that this mortal life truly matters even amidst its fleetingness.

Since this life does matter, I want to age gracefully. I want to live fully in a way that pleases my Creator because I don’t believe He would give me this life if it didn’t matter much, if He didn’t have a specific purpose for both now and into eternity.

Do you have a similar struggle with aging and/or a desire to age gracefully?

In my goal to age gracefully, the focus topic for August on Struggle to Victory, I’m looking to what Scripture says to help me live in victory even within the struggle. In that, I will explore what the Bible teaches about living a long, good life (which is actually quite a lot), attempt to understand the truth that “physical training is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8) and look at what it takes to finish well.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on aging gracefully?

Muscle Memory

Muscle memory (neuromuscular facilitation)…

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Muscle Memory

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

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

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

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

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

The Role of Accountability in Balance

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

What is Accountability?

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

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

Accountability and Balance

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

Accountability 2

But how does accountability help specifically with balance?

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

Accountability helps maintain balance because it…

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

Establishing Accountability

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Filtering Thoughts

1430223_49148998 (2)Filters purify. They keep out the harmful and leave the beneficial. In any are of life, improvement comes through removing or keeping out bad and adding in good, through filtering.

A defective filter does little good. Only remove bad and fail to replace with good, and the bad comes back in full force (Luke 11:24-26). Only add in good and fail to remove the bad, and the good fails to have much – if any – benefit (Colossians 3).

Filters in our thought lives reduce overload by sifting through all the information and opportunities constantly coming at us. They allow for separating and removing what we don’t want and keeping what we do want. This filtering involves processing information received by placing it against truth, and with the Holy Spirit’s guiding choosing the appropriate response.

Filtering to Prevent & Reduce Overload

Applying filters involves creating habits and establishing priorities that help keep out negative and allow positive to shape us.

Habits go a long way in directing our thought lives. For example, I make a habit of considering the impact of whatever I choose to read. This means reading very little romance or horror and also flipping between fiction and nonfiction as a routine. I also regularly consider the benefit of the various blogs and articles I read. This habit keeps me balanced since my thoughts are easily influenced by the written word.

Filtering thoughts also involves prioritizing. This means realizing that sometimes we have to say “no” to good things simply because we cannot say “yes” to everything if we hope to avoid overload. Prioritizing includes everything from the what to read, what movies to watch, who to spend time with, and even what commitments to accept or reject at church.

My husband and I have created a filtering system that orders priorities within our schedules. This system works well in keeping my inner atmosphere from getting overwhelmed with too many details and lack of focus and my husband from getting out of balance by failing to relax and rest.

Our prioritizing filter involves keeping each other accountable and not adding any large and/or long-term commitment to our schedules without consulting one another. We ask if the added commitment will tax the margin in our lives because lack of margin almost always results in an overwhelmed thought life.

Creating Your Own Filters

Start by looking at what overwhelms you easily and finding specific ways to simplify and keep overload at bay. Remember that a good filter usually involves the following…

  1. An accountability system.
  2. Acknowledging and recognizing limits.
  3. Prioritizing to maintain healthy margins.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s guidance.
  5. Consistent time with God.
  6. Adjustments with the seasons of life.

The idea that focus determines reality is never more true than in our thinking. This is why we must deliberately choose a filtering system based on absolute truth, God’s truth, and not on the relative truth of man that changes like shifting shadows.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

DISCUSSION: What filters can you apply in your own life to prevent and/or reduce overload of any type?

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Capturing Thoughts

In Solving the Problem of Information Overload, we realized that the goal for reducing overload involves balance, which comes through deliberately capturing and filtering thoughts and by setting information boundaries.

When we receive information, regardless of its source and avenue, we react to it through our thought lives. The more aware we are of this process, the better able we are to deliberately make choices regarding our focus.

A large part of capturing thoughts involves creating a strong core of truth within us out of which our thoughts can then operate.

Capturing Thoughts

sf_spiritOfTruth_05Taking thoughts – the products of our God-given ability to reason, reflect and respond – captive means avoiding decisions based solely on our finite processing. This requires holding to a central truth to help govern those thoughts.

Truth should shape us, not the information we take in. The information we receive and digest, whether overloading us or not, should not sculpt thoughts. If it is, we’ve got it backwards. Instead, let truth determine the shape & direction of thoughts. Information then becomes a tool for spreading truth.

Spending time in Scripture allows truth to become part of our thinking and to fuel our filtering system. This practice must exist at our core instead of as a problem-solving method only, and this only happens by spending time regularly dwelling with Him and allowing His Holy Spirit to guide our thinking (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

Reducing Overload

An overloaded mind produces a divided focus, and a divided focus fails to live fully by truth. So, in addition to establishing a habit of building core strength on truth, capturing thoughts involves limiting and managing the information we take in to allow for a more singular focus.

To reduce overload in a way that allows truth to direct and guide, first limit incoming information and then make sure what you do allow to dwell supplements your thinking instead of draining it.

This process requires taking the time to think about what you’re thinking by asking the following questions regularly:

  1. sf_beautifulMind_04What am I allowing to shape my thoughts? Psalm 1:1-2 says to avoid bad influences and focus on good. We’ll cover more of how to manage this in the next post.
  2. What am I allowing to dwell in my mind? If you think you can’t help what you think about, you’re wrong. Scripture tells us we can choose where to fix our thoughts (See Romans 8:5, Philippians 4:8 & Hebrews 3:1)
  3. What is the source of my thoughts? Do they come from the thinking of others? Or, do they flow out of the truth of Christ established in you? (See Colossians 2:8)

Overload blocks deliberate thinking and even an awareness of the thinking process itself. At some point, you just have to say “Enough!” and give yourself time and space to stop the inflow of information, consider what’s going through your head (writing thoughts down or talking them out can help), and pit them against God’s truth.

If you fail to capture your thoughts by thinking about what you’re thinking, you’ll be the one in the cage while your thoughts wreak havoc as you watch through the bars of overload. Choose to use information as a supplement and an avenue to spread truth instead of letting it overload you.

DISCUSSION: What experience do you have with reducing information overload? What role did God’s word play in that process?