5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

A Common Concern

A common spiritual concern I hear goes something like,

“How do I get better at praying?”

Sure, it’s worded slightly different from person to person. It also sometimes comes in the form of a statement such as,

“I’m just not very good at praying.”

My response varies in detail and length depending on time constraints the person’s receptivity. As a whole, though, addressing this concern usually contains all or part of 5 recommendations.

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Prayer Life

These 5 recommendations, simply come from my own experience with answering the question for myself.

1. Pray Scripture

Though there are lots more, look at Ephesians 1:15-23, 3:14-19 & 4:14-19 as well as Colossians 1:9-14 for content to include in your own prayers. I actually have these marked in my Bible for this purpose. Be on the look out for other Scripture that you can use for your own prayers, whether the structure, content or both.

2. Read Scripture

Christians need a steady diet of God’s Word. A daily habit. This is sort of like eating regular meals and having a regular sleep schedule for maintaining a baseline of physical health. Reading the Bible daily maintains a baseline of spiritual health on which you can grow. Reading Scripture keeps you in tune with God’s heart and mind, like a healthy diet maintains physical homeostasis.

3. Study Scripture

This point gets at having a broader approach to studying the Bible as a whole. It involves regular, systematic Bible study. This can be doing a Bible study someone else wrote, or it can simply mean studying a book of the Bible in a structured way. Studying Scripture is in addition to daily reading of Scripture, though they can be combined. Systematic Bible study is how you grow spiritually.

Think of the health of your various relationships. How close you are to another person and how much a particular relationship deepens depends on the amount of quality time you spend together. Your relationship with God is no different. If you want your discussions with him (your prayer life) to grow and become stronger, then you have to consistently spend time with him.

4. Study Prayer

This gets at the idea of doing an intense look at the topic of prayer in the Bible. Studying prayer means looking up all the stories/verses that specifically mention prayer in some way to gain an understanding of the big picture regarding prayer. You can do this with any topic in the Bible, and it will help you tune into God’s heart and mind on that particular topic.

You can even do this on a smaller scale if you want. Take what is known as The Lord’s Prayer for example. Understanding that Jesus provided this as an example of how to pattern our prayers can really help transform your prayer life. See what I mean by checking out The Lords Prayer — An Outline for All of Our Prayers.

5. Be Led

Ask the Holy Spirit to lead you in progressing in your prayer life. Then, allow yourself to be led. In other words, be obedient to his leading. Don’t resist. This means making a habit of listening. So often, we pray to God but fail to listen for his response.

God responds in so many ways, from promptings through the Holy Spirit and insight gained as we read and study the Bible. God sometimes works through other people too, so be open to hearing from others through what other people say and do. Get in the habit of listening FOR God’s response at least as much as God listens to what you have to say.

Tools are Secondary

There are a lot of books and other tools (web sites, apps, etc.) about prayer available too. But, they are secondary to Scripture. If you’re not doing the above, then any tool you use or book you read will have minimal impact on your spiritual growth.

However, if you’re regularly reading and studying God’s Word, then additional tools can supplement those habits. For example, I regularly use a prayer journal or list to help me stay focused in my daily prayers. What I write in/on these often flows out of what I read in the Bible and how that connects with what’s going on in my life.

There are certainly a lot of good books on prayer as well as many terrific articles on the Internet. They can certainly help us see prayer from different perspectives and applications. However, avoid letting what others say about anything in the Bible be your first and primary source of what God has to say. In other words, make sure God’s Word — the Bible — is your primary source of what God has to say.

Progress Over Perfection

As with anything spiritual, remember that the goal is progress over perfection. So, keep taking steps of progress. Along the way, rejoice in how God is faithfully maturing you. Then give him the glory for what he’s doing in your life.

The Joy of Discovery

“There is no such thing as the unknown — only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood.” (Captain James T. Kirk, Star Trek)

I love to know stuff. Not the stuff of gossip, the nitty-gritty, intimate details of people’s lives, but interesting facts and stories within science, technology, medicine, history, space exploration, etc.. Really, almost any topic.

Making Connections

Making connections. Being inspired. Finding practical application. All motivate me to learn, discover, observe and explore.

Above all, though, I love making connections between that which comes from man’s discoveries and what Scripture tells us about God. Specifically, I’m drawn to those connections that help me better understand and apply God’s Word to everyday life.

And it’s not just non-fiction that does this. Fiction helps make connections and discover application just as much and in some ways more so than non-fiction. The best fiction comes saturated with truth, whether the infused truth is from science or medicine or history or human behavior. Then it proceeds to help me better understand life this side of Heaven and even into eternity itself.

Even fantasy fiction (think Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia) makes worthwhile connections. Though the truth it’s filled with — morality, bravery, connection, selflessness — is set in a completely made-up world, it still inspires me and elevates my knowledge.

Drawn By Discovery

I’m drawn by the discovery of the unknown. Great stories. Knowledge and information I didn’t have before. Inspiration. Motivation.

Discovery of the unknown so often means finding what I need in a way that makes me want to be better and do more. And, ultimately, it’s a gain that draws me to understanding more of and drawing me closer to my Creator.

Frustrating, But Worth It

Trivia fits well within my thirst to know stuff. On the one hand, I love trivia, at least when I know the answers. Trivia most of the time, however, frustrates me because it seems to point out what I don’t know well more than it shows what I do know. If I think about it too much, I actually get discouraged by how little I really know based on all there is to know.

Bible study does the same. The more I study it, the more I realize I don’t know, and that sometimes frustrates me. At the same time, pushing through that lack of knowing reaps rewards beyond what I could imagine. Every time.

Where I instead try to focus, rather than on how much I don’t know, is on the joy of discovery. I try to keep my intent on moving toward the time when nothing is hidden or not understood anymore.

“For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God].” (1 Corinthians 13:12AMP)

A Secure Identity

It’s astounding to think about that in Christ, our identity is secure. Christ paid for it through His death and resurrection. We really cannot comprehend this truth, especially in a world where millions of dollars are spent yearly to secure identities from nefarious people.

A secure identity is the goal, right? We want to avoid any type of Identity Crisis and remain secure in living out our Identity in Christ.

Since our Identity in Christ is secure, how should that affect our lives? In other words, how can we externally live out that internal, spiritual reality?

Living Your Identity in Christ

You live out our identity in Christ by letting what Jesus did for you drive you. Let it really be what defines you. How?

  1. Regularly take in what God says about you in His Word. Internalize it. Digest it. Let it become an integral part of you.
  2. Continually remind yourself of what He thinks of you. You are accepted, secure and significant no matter what happens or what anyone else says.
  3. Determine to let your identity in Christ permeate every aspect of your life. Let His Holy Spirit guide, direct and comfort you at all times. Let your identity in Christ ooze into every aspect of your life.

In other words, make what God says about you — the identity He gave you when you made Jesus Lord of your life — your focus. As you focus on your identity in Him, He shapes and directs your life in amazing ways. Your reality will be one of living out that identity.

It really is that simple… LET how Christ defines you define your life.

“Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Identity Crisis

Identity Determines Focus

Protecting your identity is a big deal these days, and for good reason.

  • 10 million Americans yearly are victims of identity theft.
  • Identity theft happens every 10 seconds.
  • Identity theft costs $50 billion yearly.

In addition to identity theft, there are also false identities to consider. From fake IDs to manipulating what people think of you online to the luring of children and teens through social media, false identities wreak havoc and destroy lives in many ways.

Mistaken identity wrecks lives too. With one mistaken-identity arrest daily, there are hundreds of individuals now in prison for crimes they didn’t commit.

A person feels violated when their identity is stolen. They are rightfully angry when someone hurts them or someone they love by manipulation through a false identity. And stories of mistaken identity never cease to baffle comprehension.

What is Identity?

Though our physical selves and identifying information are a big part of our identity, they are not the whole of it. Not even close.

Identity is the core of who you are as a person. It creates your values, which shape your beliefs, which direct your actions. Identity creates your focus, and your focus determines the reality of your life.

Identity is shaped by our early life experiences, by the roles we have and by what we think others think about us. It’s also shaped by our relationships, our aspirations, our personality and our interests.

Identity Crisis

“A period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aim or role in society.”

We most often associate identity crisis with teenagers and midlifers. Yet, it happens many other times and for various other reasons too.

We often see identity crisis as a result of an empty nest, job loss and retirement. We’re also now seeing more and more people increasingly confused about their sexual and gender identities for reasons that are highly debatable.

At the heart of any identity crisis lies identity theft, false identity and mistaken identity. We too often let our past define us, or we let what someone did to or said about us shape our identity. We also too often let what our culture says we should look like impact our identity.

I struggled with my identity as a teenager and then again when my parent’s divorced. I went into crisis when I became a mother and also when that same child left for college. The onset of mid life isn’t being too kind to my identity lately either.

What I have progressively discovered through this struggle is that I let the wrong things and people (and wrong doesn’t mean bad) define my identity, who I was at my core. As I increasingly focused on my Identity in Christ, however, I found a firm foundation, one that doesn’t change.

All those other things that gave me an identity vulnerable to crisis changed over time based on my mood or choices. Once I discovered and then better understood and focused on My True Identity, that instability began to gradually disappear.

Identity in Christ

An identity in Christ doesn’t ever change because it doesn’t depend on us in any way. We can take our focus off of that identity, however, since our focus determines our reality.

We’ll go into more detail on an identity in Christ in next week’s post. For now, meditate on the fact that the only secure identity to be had is one founded and secured in Christ.

“For no man can lay a foundation other than that one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:11)

“Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Life Themes, Part 2

Life Themes

This is a long post. Evaluating a year should take some time. Does for me anyway.

Not only do I need to go through this process for myself, I want to help others in their processes too. I found mine through trial and error. I read a lot about what others did and tried. I kept what worked and threw out what didn’t. My prayer is to inspire you to do the same.

Rather than looking at goal setting, though I do set goals, my focus for making progress revolves around Life Themes instead. Over the years, five themes have emerged and infiltrated my life. I use them to continually evaluate my progress and reset my focus.

These themes serve to help me understand where I’ve been and what I’ve come through in a way that builds toward progress. They help me see my struggles in ways that allow me to focus on victories. These themes also help motivate me to continue moving forward.

Year In Review

Looking regularly at these life themes helps me review my life in a way that sort of hits a reset button on my focus. I don’t believe a true reset is possible in a person’s life. At least, not in the way one can reset a smart phone. It’s impossible for life to start over from a factory default state. A new start, sure, but not a complete do-over.

However, resetting one’s focus is possible. Life themes help me do this. I look at how I’ve applied them in the past, how active they are presently, and how they’re directing  where I’m going.

While I do this periodically throughout the year, I usually look at them more intimately at the beginning of every new calendar year. What follows is a large part of that process.

Life Theme Application

Allow me to share these life themes with some detail and to attempt to provide application points. Use them as motivation for considering your own life themes, whether or not they exist and if you want to adopt any new ones or simply modify the ones you have.

1.) Focus determines reality.

Midlife and empty nest both descended on me this past year. Too often and for too long, I focused on what I was losing. When I reset my focus, I again became grateful for all that I’ve done and experienced.

I’m reminded of the importance of my focus often. Sometimes it’s simply in the movies I watch and books I read, two of my favorite pastimes. Continually, the Holy Spirit whispers this truth back into my life in many creative ways.

No area of life escapes this truth. Where we choose to focus determines the reality of our lives. And, we all get to choose that focus — the place where thoughts dwell and motivations begin. No matter the circumstances, we can always decide to focus on progress over perfection, blessings over trials and protection over limits.

2.) Refuse to quit.

Physically, my body cannot do what it used to do. Take running, for example. No matter how much I decide to do it, my body simply says, “Uh uh.” At least, I can’t do even close to the extent I used to or that I see others my age still doing. I wanted to just stop trying many times. Instead, I adapted. I turned to other types of exercises, lots of different ones. I refuse to quit pursuing physical health.

I wanted to quit in other areas many times too. When a loved one broke trust to a point I thought beyond repair, I verbally said, “I give up.” Multiple times. But, I didn’t follow through. I kept moving. Backwards then nothing for a while, then finally progress with still lots of back and forth. Not the same as before, but I’m finally glad I didn’t follow through on what my feelings directed me toward far too many times.

Perseverance becomes more natural when fueled by obedience to God’s will. Quitting ceases to exist as an option. I wear reminders of these truths daily. Literally, my necklace has two charms: “Persevere.” “Never give up.” Living this has kept me alive more than once, and it’s kept relationships alive too. It overrides feelings and gets me through the afternoon slumps that even now taunt me toward the couch.

When the struggle gets to be too much, I cry out to God to “Help!” I should cry out before this point, I know. His reminder is the same every time: “Don’t quit. Don’t give up. Keep moving. Refuse to quit.” I hear the words over and over in my head. They push me forward, and I’m always glad I listen, especially when progress finally appears. And it always does.

3.) Take small steps.

Progress frustrates me. A lot. It does so because I too often don’t see it until I’m ready to give up. Also because I usually don’t see any progress until all of a sudden… there it is! Progress happens in such small increments that I just don’t usually see it right away. Most progress in my life, perhaps all, has happened this way. I simply need to remind myself of this often so the frustration doesn’t completely derail me.

This is where I find traditional goal setting most comes into play. Yes, it fits in the other life themes also, but the idea of small steps creating progress are what I need to often remember when I’m working toward a goal. Weight loss. Raising my IQ. Both goals of mine this year. Both will only happen with small steps taken consistently.

Regardless of the specific goal, educate yourself on the steps needed for its accomplishment. Then, keep taking them. Even if you don’t see or feel progress. Keep taking them. Even if you go backwards. Keep taking them. Pull in the other themes… stay focused and refuse to quit. You will make progress. I’ve experienced this truth enough that reminding myself of it convinces me to take the next step every time. The same will happen for you too.

4.) Keep it simple.

I was once an expert at complicating my life. Over-thinking. Over-committing. Over-emotionalizing. I was so good at this that it still often creeps back in unnoticed until it’s so glaringly obvious that I have to pay attention and do something about it.

Almost every time I start a new project, I venture toward the complex in the beginning. Actually, I do so throughout too and have to reset a simple focus periodically until the project is complete.

Whenever a problem arises in a relationship, I often make it worse than it really is too. Or, I create problems that don’t exist. I’m very creative, you see. I can imagine a lot about a person or situation and make things horribly complex all by myself.

Opportunity falls by the wayside when my life is complicated. I lose focus on Christ when I venture away from simplicity. I cannot keep on track with any of my life themes or goals when I complicate life. Neither can you. No one can.

Simplicity creates a better way to use our energy. It allows for maintaining focus more consistently. Keeping life as simple as possible results in increased productivity. This is true for all of us.

At the same time, simplicity is relative. What’s simple for me may seem boring to you. What’s complicated to me may be your best focus zone. Knowing what simplicity looks like for you and then not comparing it to how others live is key.

5.) Wait on God.

When I push for something I think I want to happen before I know for sure it’s right for me, my life gets complicated. Every time. I’ve done it enough to know it will happen. But I still do it sometimes. Okay, often. But, I don’t get as far as I used to before I hear “Stop. Wait.” And I’m pretty good at actually listening, especially if I do so sooner rather than later before emotions hijack my decision-making ability.

When I don’t wait and instead rush ahead based on emotions or superficial information or even what others think I should do, I end up with regrets. Like, every time. I also get overwhelmed and over-committed along with losing my focus.

When I wait, that means I’m trusting God’s timing. I’m believing He will make clear when I should take a certain step or make a commitment. It means I’m exercising patience, knowing His timing keeps me from overwhelm and overload. At least, the type of overwhelm and overload that runs me down and ushers in depression.

Waiting on God instead allows for the overwhelm that comes with realizing He cares for me more than I can even imagine. It brings me to a place where I am overloaded with His blessings in a way where I cannot out give Him. That’s a great place to be, by the way. That’s the place I seek and aim for every day.

Where Themes Meet Goals

The best way I’ve discovered to tell how I’m doing in any one area is by looking at how all of them are doing individually and how they’re interacting with one another. In other words, if I’m keeping my life simple, I’m better able to consistently wait on God and keep my focus. If I’m strong in my determination to not quit, I’m likely making solid progress with the small steps that I’m taking. Each life focus is intimately intertwined with the others.

What’s more, progress with more traditional type goals tells me how I’m doing with these life themes too. If I’m steadily working toward weight loss as well as toward raising my IQ, for example, I know I’m likely staying focused on my life themes too.

This whole idea of how themes and goals work in my life makes sense to me. It may not to you. If you’ve read this far, though, you’re probably looking for something — anything — that will work for you too. Let me encourage you to simply keep trying different approaches.

Read more about what has worked for others. Try those. Throw out what doesn’t work for you, and keep what does work. Above all, let the Holy Spirit guide this search and lead you to a place where you feel you are making progress too. That place is out there for you. I promise.

Life Themes, Part 1

Effective and Productive

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, about half of Americans make them. Unfortunately, according to Norcross & Vangarelli as reported in Psychology Today, most people fail to stick to their resolutions. Specifically…

  • 22% fail after one week
  • 40% fail after one month
  • 50% fail after three months
  • 60% fail after six months
  • 81% fail after twenty-four months

Reasons for this failure involve…

  • Unclear and vague goals
  • Failure to gauge one’s progress
  • Weak self-control and self-regulation

Honestly, not at all surprised by these numbers or by the reasons for them. They’ve certainly proven true in my life over the years.

What I have found to be effective instead is having life themes that integrate into every facet of my life. They have to be biblically-based, though, or even this approach fails to be effective over the long term.

These themes developed gradually and were born out of adversity and failure. And I’m grateful for this process because they now help direct me to being effective and productive in ways goal setting never did.

Focus & Motivation

You’ll may look at the themes I’m about to share and think they are simply positive-thinking mantras. And to some extent you’d be right. But they’re more than that. They also remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve come through, and they motivate me to continue into where I’m being led.

Two passages in Isaiah not only encapsulate these ideas but also help weave these themes together.

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

These, and other, scripture serve to remind me of the themes of my life. I need the reminders too. Without them, I just get overwhelmed by life. This is one reason I need to consistently study Scripture. Doing so helps these themes continually come to the surface not just in what I’m studying but in every facet of my life from teaching to talking to a friend or my kids to when I’m alone and working.

My Life Themes

Let me simply share these themes with you now. In next week’s post, I’ll go into some detail on each of them.

  1. Focus determines reality. (Isaiah 26:3; Galatians 5:16-18; Luke 12:34)
  2. Never give up. (Isaiah 50:7; Hebrews 10:35)
  3. Take small steps. (Hebrews 12:12)
  4. Keep it simple. (Colossians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 11:3)
  5. Wait on God. (Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 27:14)

If you were to spend much time with me or even to just read through a handful of posts on this blog, you’d run into each of these themes over and over again. In fact, there are quite a few people you could talk to who could name a few if not all of these since they’ve heard my say them so often. And that’s a deliberate goal on my part.

Which brings us back to the idea of goal setting. The Holy Spirit directs me to goals all the time. And when he does, He also lays out the plan for achieving them. Sometimes the plan comes all at once, but often it comes in just one or a few steps at a time. Always perfectly. And always, these themes saturate the plan.

This approach serves to eliminate unclear and vague goals because I’m following the Holy Spirit, not pushing for progress in my own efforts. As for self-control and self-regulation, that comes through a combination of Bible study and accountability, which both serve to remind me of the life themes planted in my spirit.

No, I have not eliminated all of what keeps most people from achieving goals. However, I do realize my inability to set and achieve goals in my own effort, so I try to continually turn that work over to the Holy Spirit.

As 2018 approaches, I am taking time to review these themes and to remind myself of the Holy Spirit’s continual activity in my life. This week’s and next week’s posts are reflective of that renewal. Including others in more of my life is a goal the Holy Spirit has recently shared with me, and these posts are, hopefully, reflective this too.

Dealing With Stress

This text began a multi-day conversation with my son, a college freshman, as he attempted to prepare for his first round of college finals. This discussion not only stirred memories of my own college days over 20 years ago but also brought fresh ones to back mind from when I took my GRE a couple of weeks ago.

Because of this discussion, I began thinking about how I’ve dealt with stressful situations and seasons in my life. I realized that I’ve progressed in how I handle them and even in being able to mitigate their impact by the way I live life as well as by the mindset I choose before, during and after trials.

A Part of Life

Every person deals with stressful situations. You’re either going through one right now, have just gone through one or seem to be having an endless string of them. They are just a part of life.

Instead of expending energy to avoid them, the better approach is to expect them and be prepared for them as best we can. Realizing that the situation my son was going through was just a part of his lifelong development of learning and growing, I sought to help him not only get through his current tests but to learn an approach that would benefit him in the future as well.

The approach is nothing new, and many people will pass off this information as simply a “good reminder.” While we do need reminders since in the emotions that accompany stress we often forget how to best deal with it, we also need to realize that we are still learning and growing and adapting with each stressful situation we face. This never stops, and neither should our intention to improve how we move through life’s stressful situations.

Not IF But WHEN

We also have to remember that it’s not a question of IF we’ll go through trials and tests (stressful situations), it’s a matter of WHEN they’re going to happen. Knowing this, we can continually work on how we handle the load stress places on us. 

There are 5 areas that need continually addressed and maintained in order to ensure that we’re dealing with life’s stress to the best of our ability.

1.) Physical

Staying properly fueled, hydrated and rested are minimum requirements. Not doing these almost negates the other items we’ll discuss. In addition, stretching and exercising regularly will help us stay as ready as we can physically for the stresses of life. They’ll also help relieve tension in the midst of stress. We need to be sure to do what we can to head into any stress from a place of physical strength.

2.) Mental

Stress and burnout don’t come as much from what’s actually going on, from the situation itself, as they do from our thoughts about the situation. This is why we must continually renew our thoughts (Romans 12:2). It’s also why we have to remember that worry is distracting and mentally exhausting. Ask, “What would I tell someone in my shoes?” to gain an outside-looking-in perspective. Both of these approaches have served me well for strengthening my mental approach to life’s stresses.

3.) Spiritual

Addressing the spiritual aspect involves regularly making time for God through daily Bible study and prayer as well as through weekly church attendance. Also, staying grateful for blessings helps more than I can ever express. In my son’s situation, for example, him being grateful for the ability and the opportunity to learn and study at a quality university helped him realize how much he’s blessed to be where he is right now. My spiritual state is also immensely healthier as I listen to the Holy Spirit guiding and comforting me. The spiritual aspect of my life is essentially the glue that holds all the others together. Without strength here, nothing else will stay strong for the long term.

4.) Relational

Feeling alone infects any other positive going on in life. This can be especially true during heightened times of stress and burnout. It’s also why staying connected to others is so very important. This also involves asking for help and not stubbornly trying to do it all on your own. I’m grateful my son knows the truth of this and regularly connects with myself or my husband when stress begins to build and often before it gets too weighty for him. He’s great at listening then, too, which is essential in staying connected and warding off feelings of loneliness. And finally, laugh often too. My son is terrific at this. Actually, he’s often the source of this for me. Being strong relationally and refusing to be lonely is essential for living victoriously through the stress and burnout life tends to dole out.

5.) Situational

Making sure this area is working well involves doing what you can and not trying to control what you can’t control. In other words, prepare based on the information you have. Do your best. Simplify where possible. Refuse to dwell in areas you cannot control. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with what others are or are not doing since you have no control over them. For my son, that meant studying as best he knew how, and it meant not letting his imagination for what could go wrong get away from him. We all have made a situation worse by getting outside of the facts and what we control, so we all understand the need to limit doing so again in the future.

A Pattern of Life

Life is a pattern of ups and downs. The details differ from one person to the next, but the pattern exists for everyone. Look back on your own life, and you’ll see this to be true if you haven’t discovered it already.

As we learn from these seasons, we realize that the areas discussed above work together to either bring us victoriously through stressful times, or they make us feel like we just can’t win. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over what happens.

I’ve stopped trying to keep stressful times from existing in my life. First because it’s not possible. Secondly because the stressful times, really more than the good ones, help me learn and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

Don’t you find this to be true as well?

Ordinary to Extraordinary

In His Majesty’s Secret Service

Mention of the British Secret Service brings to mind images of James Bond. Age probably determines exactly who Bond looks like… Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, etc. Regardless, Bond is always well-dressed, has cool cars, gets to use cool gadgets, and even has cool enemies.

In all likelihood, picturing a British Secret Service agent does not generate an image of C.S. Lewis. This is why fans of Lewis’ — whose most well-known works include The Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters and Mere Christianity — are surprised to find out that Lewis actually was part of the British Secret Service during WWII.

WWII Turning Point

The details of Lewis’ recruitment to the British Secret Service remain a mystery. However, some interesting facts exist regarding the unique role he played.

  • Lewis’ public speaking prowess made him better-suited for his assignment than his contemporary J.R.R. Tolkien, who actually had a better knowledge base for the job than Lewis.
  • Lewis was tasked to “help win the hearts of the Icelandic people” and thus secure Britain’s presence in Iceland for the remainder of WWII.
  • With a speech to the Icelandic people, Lewis “provided a touchstone between the Norse people and the English” that essentially accomplished this goal.

Knowing a little background about Iceland’s role in WWII is helpful in realizing the significance of what Lewis did as a Secret Service agent.

  • April 1940 — Germans invaded Norway and Denmark. British troops counter the Germans in Norway but were too late to do so in Denmark.
  • May 1940 — Germans invaded the Netherlands, Belgium and France.
  • May 1940 (Same morning of above invasion) — British troops invaded Iceland, a strategic location for a naval and air base in the Atlantic region.

The British needed to remain in Iceland in order to help defeat the Germans, but they needed the cooperation of the Icelandic people to accomplish this.

“Though British control of Iceland was critical, Britain could not afford to deploy its troops to hold the island when greater battles loomed elsewhere, beginning with the struggle for North Africa. Holding Iceland depended on the goodwill of the people of Iceland who never had asked to be invaded by the British. If Britain retained Icelandic goodwill, then Churchill could occupy the island with reserve troops rather than his best fighting forces.” (C.S. Lewis Was a Secret Government Agent)

Lewis’ speech, “The Norse Spirit in English Literature,” to the Icelandic people helped turn the tide of war. Britain won their favor and were able to remain in Iceland. This presence was critical to winning the war.

Unexpected Service

Personally, I love the idea of this great literary scholar and lay theologian — and one of my favorite authors — also being an agent for the British Secret Service. Not only does it make for great conversation, it also provides a terrific illustration of Scripture.

“A man’s gift makes room for him and brings him before great men.” (Proverbs 18:16)

“Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (1 Peter 4:10)

“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.” (1 Corinthians 12:4)

“Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly.” (Romans 12:6)

Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30)

Lewis put his literary talents to work in an unexpected way and ended playing a major role in defeating the Germans in WWII. Yet, Lewis never touted this involvement that we know of. It appears he simply allowed himself to serve the greater good.

The work Lewis was given to do as a Secret Service agent, was directly in tune with his talents and abilities. In fact, his well-known voice is once of the reason he was likely chosen for the task since it would increase the likelihood of the Icelandic people listening to the message.

Uniquely Crafted

Learning that C.S. Lewis was a British Secret Service agent encourages me. It tells me that God can and does use the talents and abilities He gives us in obvious as well as unexpected ways. On the days when I wonder about my own usefulness, stories like these remind me to always be ready for any type of service.

Stories like this one also remind me that God uniquely crafts and genuinely calls every person. Like Lewis, I get to spend my days applying the gifts and abilities God gave me and at the same time staying ready for a call out of my ordinary and into the extraordinary.

Successful Transitions

Essential Transitions

In writing, transitions help establish logical connections between sentences, paragraphs and ideas. They go a long way in helping create a piece of writing that flows. Unfortunately, many writers neglect spending much time on transitions.

“Often, writers work on scenes but neglect transitions.” (10 Steps to Perfecting Your Writing Style)

Transitions in our lives really aren’t much different from transitions in writing. They help us handle change by connecting one area of life to another. Transitions help us move along and make progress rather than living a stuck life. They serve to create a unified whole.

When I relate how scenes in a story work as related to life, I think of the seasons of life and how I expect or picture them to play out. Those scenes get my focus, and I often forget that my mind, body and spirit need time to adjust from one season to the next.

Without proper transitions, I resist the change that comes with every new season even when it’s expected. When embraced, transitions help me adjust as life’s seasons move from one into another. They help me learn and grow within and through the change.

Transitions do this by drawing me into the wisdom necessary to navigate the progression of life’s changing seasons. They increasingly connect me with God and His plans for every season of my life.

Successful Transitions

Old Testament scholar Walter Bruggemann describes change and transition as a process where we go from being orientated where we feel secure to being disoriented and in a state of insecurity. As we successfully transition and let Jesus anchor us and give us meaning, we become secure again and find a state of new orientation.

Successful transitions require that we take steps to get and stay anchored in Christ even as the change around us makes the seas of life choppy and overwhelming. Those include…

  1. Waiting. Letting God work out the details and orchestrate the transition.
  2. Praying. Talking out struggles with God and listening for His wisdom.
  3. Focusing. Reading about hope as detailed in Scripture.
  4. Praising. Staying thankful and grateful regardless of surrounding circumstances.
  5. Preparing. Waiting in the activity God gives us to do during the transition.

Transition can be thought of as a state of progress toward perfection. We won’t be perfect until heaven, but the seasons of change in our lives are the path in our journey toward that final destination.

Neglecting Transitions

A life of forward progress requires that we realize change is inevitable and the key to growing through it lies within the transitions. Neglecting the transitions in our lives usually means a resistance to change, which exists because transitions are often difficult and uncomfortable.

Neglecting transitions skips over that which is necessary for us to connect with God and to embrace the changing seasons as He has made them. Without transitions, we find ourselves overwhelmed by change. Eventually, if we fail to transition, we end up living life like we’re drowning in a sea of change that’s is swallowing us up. And at some point, we’ve simply given up trying to swim.

That’s no way to live. What’s more, we’re not meant to live that way. God has a better way.

“A man’s mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” (Proverbs 16:9)

Dependent Independence

Leaving Season

This post is not about divorce. However, we must take a quick glance through it in order to get to our focus. When asked about whether divorce was okay, Jesus said the following:

4 “Have you not heard that he who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

These verses were always tied to a single event for me… a wedding ceremony and the lifelong commitment being made. Now, however, they connect more to a season of life, especially the words “shall leave.”

Empty Nest

Children leaving home results in an empty nest. And for many parents, this produces what is known as empty nest syndrome.

“Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university.”

This syndrome is not something that just suddenly appears, though. In fact, the season begins well before children physically leave home permanently.

Sure, an empty nest is the definitive sign that it’s happened, but the process starts sometime in the teen years. For me, it began with both my boys at the same time even though they are two years apart. While the process can be quite difficult, it’s also a natural and healthy part of life.

Parents see it as their children pulling away. Some see it as a failure of their parenting. I saw it at first as something wrong and out of place.

In this season, teens want to socialize more with friends than with family. They become increasingly private. They want to make their own decisions and don’t want others to control their lives. They begin to decide what they believe is right and wrong and to live by those beliefs rather than by what their parents believe.

Psychological Autonomy

Technically, it’s called psychological autonomy, and there are three aspects of it when referring to teenagers.

  1. Emotional autonomy = changes that occur in the adolescent’s close relationships, most notably with parents.
  2. Behavioral autonomy = has to do with the ability to make independent decisions and to carry through with them.
  3. Value autonomy = involves the development of a set of principles about right and wrong that guide one’s thinking and behavior.

This process can lead to healthy adult relationships with adult children. Or not. In our culture, it seems the adult parent/child relationship often doesn’t mature to the leaving point. Or, there’s a constant disconnect and the relationship simply feels broken.

The key for surviving this season, I’m discovering, is remembering the parenting goals my husband and I set years ago. We swaddled these goals in prayer for many years and now need to trust what God is doing with them.

Dependent Independence

My husband and I agreed long ago that we wanted to teach our boys to be independent and to love God. If we did nothing else in the years they are ours to shape, we wanted to accomplish those two things.

This independence we want for them, though, requires dependence.

We want them to be strong men who make confident decisions. We hope they will take responsibility for their attitudes, actions and words. We also want them to understand that they alone make those choices. Sure, influences abound, but they choose.

At the same time, we want their independence from us and others to be directed by dependence on God. Our prayer is that they lean on Him in every detail of their lives and allow Him to direct their paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this way, they may be living in this world, but they don’t have to be of it (John 17:14-15). Hopefully, we gave them the roots they need to move confidently into the dependent life God desires for them.

Now, we have to let them work through the leaving process. Even though we still want to protect them, guide them, lead them… we are seeing the need to step out of the way and to now walk beside instead of in front of them. Sometimes, even, we’ll need to follow behind.

Teach and Trust

Only in the beginning stages of this leaving season, I have much to learn. More pain to experience too, I’m sure. At the same time, I rejoice in knowing that my faith is growing in the process as I learn to more fully trust God with my children. I also realize how crucial this whole process is for them to grow in their faith and to trust God more too.

“Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

We’ve taught them to love Jesus, though our teaching came out quite imperfectly. Now we must trust they will follow that path. Our trust isn’t in them, though, it’s in God. It’s time to more fully trust Him to lead them down the path of independence from us and to increased dependence on Him.