Refocus

Disconnected?

Ever long to connect with God through his word but feel disconnected when you read the words on the page? I do.

Even after years of teaching Bible studies and doing daily devotions, I sometimes feel disconnected from God. Sometimes, my mind simply fails to connect with what the Spirit of God is trying to say to me through the words of Scripture.

Deferred Pain

When this happens, it’s usually an indication of something else going on in my life. Deferred pain, if you will.

That “something,” in my experience, is usually a combination of small somethings that added up slowly over time and created a big disconnect. So, my first step usually involves awareness of those smaller things and, essentially, addressing the sources causing this deferred pain.

Developing Awareness

That awareness comes though quietness and prayer. Through these practices, the Holy Spirit’s voice rises to the top of all the other voices vying for my attention.

He usually begins with reminders and directives:

  • Nothing is beyond the reach of my power.
  • Quit trying to force things to happen.
  • Wait for me to work.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I will direct you.
  • Focus your thoughts.
  • Quit letting your fears direct your focus.

Slowly, through meditation on His Word and just existing in quietness, I am redirected to looking at Jesus instead of trying to find answers and solutions.

Focus determines reality. A truth that I need continually reminded of in my life.

The Cure for Loneliness

Psalm 1391Many POWs tell stories about endless nights in dark, dank cells. They tell about discouragement over lack of compassionate human contact. Their stories reek of loneliness.

Most of us might struggle relating to a POW’s story of loneliness. After all, we live surrounded by people and comforts and activity, enough to keep the odor of loneliness far away.

If loneliness plagues you, you realize you don’t need a prison cell to experience it. Loneliness knows no social bounds. It hits in rooms full of opportunity for interaction and satisfaction. In fact, rooms filled with other people often seem more lonely than your own, empty living room.

And if loneliness seems to be your best friend at times, you know the weapon it often becomes in the enemy’s hands. He knows we’re less of a threat when we’re lonely. He knows loneliness brings an inner focus that drives feelings to run over facts. He knows that helplessness, depression and discouragement flourish in the confines of loneliness. If he can keep loneliness prominent, he knows he can keep us from effectiveness.

The Cure for LonelinessPsalm 1393

As with so many maladies that compromise the health of our psyches (the human soul, spirit & mind), understanding loneliness allows us to make tremendous progress toward victory over its, and the enemy’s, impact on the effectiveness of our lives. With that, let’s gain understanding of loneliness with the goal of making progress toward its defeat.

To defeat loneliness, we must understand that…

  1. Some parts of life are meant to be lived alone. Jacob’s transformation (Genesis 32:23-30). Joseph’s weeping (Genesis 43:30, 31). Jeremiah’s witnessing (Jeremiah 15:17). Nehemiah’s vigil for direction (Nehemiah 2:12-16). All give examples of situations a person often must walk through alone.
  2. God consistently addresses loneliness with companionships. God made Eve for Adam because it wasn’t good that he was alone (Genesis 2:18). God gave Elisha to Elijah to dispel the loneliness of depression (1 Kings 19:14-18). And God creates families to help overcome loneliness (Psalm 68:6). With unmistakable consistency, God dispels loneliness by creating opportunity for companionship.
  3. Companionship provides the greatest offensive for loneliness.  Companionship gives significant advantages, not the least of which involves ridding our lives of loneliness. Ecclesiastes 4:7-11 lists the benefits of companionship, including encouragement and increased effectiveness. Even Christ desired companionship during the greatest trial of his life. Though he failed to receive it, Matthew 26:36-45 clearly shows his longing for companionship as a source of encouragement as he walked a very lonely path.
  4. No matter how we feel, we’re never truly alone. The words of Matthew 28:20 likely sound somewhat familiar to most Christians… “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Many find great comfort in this statement. The words of David in Psalm 139 describe the depth of this reality in every Christian’s life… “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” (v. 7) The more this truth fuels a person’s faith, the less room that exists for loneliness.

Psalm 1397Even with a scriptural understanding of loneliness, many (myself included) still struggle with feeling lonely on a regular basis. How can this be true when God so clearly shows us his heart’s desire for our lives to remain absent of loneliness? The answer, perhaps, likes with understanding true companionship.

Understanding Companionship

When I feel lonely, even when sitting in the middle of a group of people, the reason usually lies with feeling disconnected. You see, loneliness goes well beyond a physical state and instead exists as a state of the mind. Only true companionship (affiliation, camaraderie, togetherness, union) truly dispels loneliness, not being in the physical presence of others. Consider the antonyms for loneliness to help understand this truth:

Together. Adopted. Cherished. Defended. Maintained. Supported.

Companionship, not simply proximity to others, provides the solution to loneliness by creating true connection that brings encouragement through valuing, accepting and protecting another. Only when we feel a togetherness and a belonging that creates a knowledge of encouragement and support do we truly see loneliness running off into the distance.

Psalm 13918The word fellowship, which also defines companionship, takes this reality to yet another depth by giving the idea of actually traveling together. There’s a reason we fellowship with one another and gather in fellowship halls. This idea of companionship as a way to travel through life together exists as a need at the core of our existence. When we truly experience companionship, when that deep need within us gets met, only then does loneliness become a distant memory.

DISCUSSION: How do we create or find the type of companionship that dispels loneliness?

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Managing Overload with Boundaries

overloadOverload Symptoms

Overload all to often flares up and disrupts life. For me, the symptoms include…

  • Productivity decline – Inability to focus. Jumping from task to task. Accomplishing little.
  • Short attention span – Nothing holds interest for long. Always seeking new and better.
  • Feeling overwhelmed – Too many projects. Too much information. Too much to do.
  • Feeling disconnected – Feeling forgotten, unimportant and alone.
  • Always on guard – Unable to relax. Tasks, goals & projects steal attention from relationships.
  • Think & speak in absolutes – “I can’t… because…” or “I have to… because…” or “I need…”

Obsessiveness covers all of these symptoms by amplifying their affects and creating a constant need to keep going and doing and thinking. Simply put, overload robs me of contentment and peace. Can you relate?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Creating Boundaries

Counteracting overload involves setting boundaries that then guide the creation of habits. Setting boundaries involves taking time to think by…

  1. Simplifying – Prioritize. Say “no” to good to be able to say “yes” to and go deeper with better and best.
  2. Seeking connection – Make face-to-face connections a priority over completing a “to do” list.
  3. Keeping truth in focus – This daily necessity not only helps with moral choices but with time and priority choices too by protecting the mind from the world.
  4. Stopping the flow – Stop reading for information & refuse to take in new information. Back off commitments and occasionally shut out the world. Allow thoughts to flow freely. Allow time to just be.
  5. Purging – What aren’t you reading that you can stop receiving? What can come off your schedule? What material items can you get rid of?
  6. Getting out – Find a change of scenery. Take a family vacation, short getaway or even just a day trip.

While creating boundaries, keep these two pervading rules constantly in mind:

Rule #1 – Relationships are the deciding factor. Choose relationship over tasks as much as possible.

Rule #2 – Limit overload by limiting information and commitments. Doing nothing means choosing overload.

When I consistently choose to live within boundaries, overload doesn’t exist. But, I also regularly need to reset my boundaries because overload always seems to creep back in somehow if I don’t give my boundaries regular attention.

So, I need to make setting and maintaining boundaries a habit, and I need to stay aware of the symptoms over overload in order to make necessary, regular adjustments.

DISCUSSION: What changes will you make to set information boundaries and protect your life from overload?

On a completely unrelated note, I also posted this week at my friend Dan Erickson’s blog Hip Diggs. If you are interested in landscaping, check out my post
Tips for Installing and Maintaining Landscaping.

On a related note, next month’s focus on balance will include more on the idea of creating boundaries along with taking a look at balance from a variety of perspectives.

2013 One Word 365

amplifyYear in Review

In 2013, I attempted a One Word 365 approach to goal setting. In previous years of traditional SMART goal setting, I achieved more than I would had I not written anything down, sure, but my goal reaching felt disconnected and unbalanced, kind of like having only part of my house clean.

So in 2013, my goal to amplify my life as a whole focused on taking what’s working well and making it better. (You can read more about it in Amplify, How to… Amplify and Vacation Reflections: Resolutions.) Not only did this change my approach in every area, amplifying became a part of what I do as daily habit.

Specifically, amplifying changed…

  • My writing life by increasing daily word count, focusing more in application and doing the actions on a consistent basis that make me a writer.
  • The way I teach. Instead of getting as much in as possible into a certain amount of time, I focus on a few important points and drive those home. We go deeper with a few rather than stay on the surface with many.
  • How I parent. I nag less & listen more. I pray for my kids as much or more than I talk to them about how and what (I think) they should be doing.
  • How I read. Instead of just getting from cover to cover, I reader slower and allow for healthy digestion of the material rather than wolfing down words and finding myself with nothing but indigestion.
  • My exercise routine. Instead of feeling like I need to be like others around me when it comes to exercise (especially biking & running), I focus on what works best for me, which means lots of variety and the goals of healthy and strong instead of skinny and competitive.

More progress than just that listed above existed in 2013, but these stand out as ones most linked to obedience to calling. These amplified areas of my life now fuel all the other areas, thus amplifying them as well.

What about you? Do you take a traditional approach to goal setting? If so, how do you feel about your success with that approach? Or, do you take a non-traditional approach such as One Word 365? If you do, what kind of success are you having? Please share successes, failures, wishes & dreams with regard to goal setting!

“The beacons are lit!”

One of my favorite scenes in Lord of the Rings comes in Return of the King when the beacon of Minas Tirith is lit to start a chain of lit beacons spanning Middle Earth and asking for any who can to come to the aid of a city on the brink of attack.

Why is this one of my favorite scenes? Because it involves someone humbling themselves enough to admit help is necessary. Also, because it involves others coming to help  even when they hold no obligation to do so. They choose to help because it’s the right thing to do.

Wouldn’t it be helpful for us to light beacons when we’re under attack? But we essentially do the opposite. We do what Lord Denethor did, retreat and “die in what way seems best.” In other words, we hide our struggles which often results in our own demise spiritually, physically and/or mentally.

Let’s be clear that I’m not advocating the airing of dirty laundry or even of many, if any, of the details of a situation. What I am saying is that we simply need to ask for help from someone with the ability to come to our aid. I am saying that sometimes the battle is too much for us to fight alone.

For Christians, this principle is akin to being a part of the body of Christ where “its parts should have equal concern for each other” and where “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12).

Another principle at play here comes from Galatians 6:2 which says, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” God clearly instructs members of His body to lift each other up when one part goes through a struggle. But so much of the time, a person goes through battles alone, never sharing struggles by asking for help. In other words, fulfilling this “law” becomes impossible when burdens remain unknown.

Being a part of the body of Christ means little when one member chooses to live as if independent from the rest of the body. This is, of course, impossible, since the rest of the body still becomes maimed when a member falls away.

So, what’s the solution? When you struggle, light the beacon. Tell someone you are struggling.

Recently, I struggled with feeling disconnected. I saw younger women hanging out together and connecting, and I felt alone. I saw myself as young, still, but I didn’t really fit in that group anymore. Yet, I also know that Titus encourages the interaction of younger and older as does the life of Timothy.

In the past when I struggled with disconnection, I fought the battle on my own. Sure, I turned to scripture and prayer, and of course God brought me through. Yet, I have come to believe that often God wants to bring us to victory through others. Sometimes, we hide ourselves in the Bible to avoid admitting our struggles and asking for help.

This time, I actually reached out to other women. I shared my struggle with disconnection and fitting in and felt almost immediate relief after doing so. No, the battle didn’t go away immediately, but sharing the struggle and having others bear it with me definitely encouraged me and gave me strength to endure.

What’s more is that I found that my struggle was not unique. Satan wants us to feel alone and as if no one can understand our struggles because he knows we aren’t as much of a threat when we struggle alone.

DISCUSSION: Do you struggle alone in something and need to light the beacon to request help? Are you preventing someone from “fulfilling the law of Christ” by hiding your burden and struggling alone?

Check out the related post Oh, God, I Am Lost and So Alone by T. Neal Tarver at A Curious Band of Others for more on this topic.

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