How to Have Consistent Focus Even When No One Is Watching

how-to-focus-hacks-infographicFocus Determines Reality

The object of focus as well as the existence or absence of focus itself determines the reality of a person’s life. Do you believe this?

The truth that focus determines reality drives me. I believe it to the point of frustration when focus remains allusive. When my mind continually engages distraction, anxiety and frustration set in and depression approaches.

Establishing & Keeping Focus

When I transitioned from working in an office where others held me accountable for my productivity to working for myself at home where only I truly knew my level of accomplishment, the discipline of focus taunted me while at the same time taught me a great deal about establishing and keeping focus. Here’s what I learned about establishing and keeping focus in that process:

  1. Know your purpose. This requires regular (daily) Scripture study & prayer before moving on to the specific tasks of the day.
  2. Eliminate distraction. Leave your phone in the other room. Work in a room without a television. Go for a walk or bike ride to brainstorm and plan. Find ways to reduce the temptations of distraction.
  3. Simplify. Reduce possessions to regularly-used items. Keep calendars simple and clutter free. Focus on simple, healthy meals. Establish routines to reduce decision-making. When overwhelmed, this one word – “simplify” – works wonders for refocusing.
  4. Talk. Working alone means I’m in my head a lot. Regularly scheduling exercise time or coffee with a friend gives opportunity to get out of my head and process thoughts in more tangible ways. Evenings with my husband and time with my kids also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Remove blockades (don’t “hinder”) the Holy Spirit’s ability to work in your life. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom He offers.
  6. Take small steps. Returning and staying focused happens through small steps (choices) that over time add up to make a huge difference.
  7. Establish accountability. Voicing my goals creates one level of accountability. Partnering with others creates another. Creating deadlines takes accountability up another notch. Make accountability a reality and not just a good idea.

Learning to Focus

When talking to others struggling with focus, I hear excuses like, “I’m not just good at focusing,” or “I just get distracted easily,” as if they lack the ability to focus like some lack musical ability. In this ADD-culture, many seem to believe focus comes only for those blessed with unique ability or at the very least live absent of attention deficit.

My personal success in achieving a focused life convince me that focus is not a special talent like running speed but instead a learned ability. If you’re not yet convinced, consider the story of a young boy diagnosed with ADHD, PTSD & FAS at age 8.

All three of these disorders rip apart one’s ability to focus. Yet, in the past five years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner in a stable environment, this boy went from being several years behind in reading to reading just above grade level. He also gets As and Bs in school and stays out of trouble as much as any other 13-year-old boy.

My youngest son taught me anyone can learn to focus. While it may exist as more of a struggle more for some people than for others, anyone can improve their ability to focus.

A Biblical Formula for Focus

Let’s look at one more element involved in one’s ability to focus. Scripture provides a great deal of help on the topic, but let’s look at two passage in particular to finish our discussion on focus.

Focus all energy on one thing: Forget the past, look forward toward the goal, and work to reach the end and receive the prize. (Philippians 3:13-14)

Refuse to focus on the temporary and instead fix your focus on the unseen, the eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18)

Focusing where God tells us to focus results in an extraordinary ability to hone our effectiveness. Keeping eternity in mind as we plan our lives results in living productive and meaningful lives. No longer do we wonder if our daily activity matters because we know we’re connected with the eternal, with what matters most to God, so all we do matters.

Remember the question in the beginning of this post? Go ahead, take a look again.

When we truly believe – because we know for certain – that focus involves choosing to have it as well as placing God as the object of that focus, we find that our ability to focus grows in supernatural ways. We discover that an inability to focus may simply mean a wrong focus. We realize that an overwhelmed life often means a life focused on the wrong or too many different things.

No one can convince me that consistent focus ever exists as impossible for anyone. Learning to focus without being under constant watch by others taught me about the possibility, and my youngest son’s progress over the past 5 years further confirmed the truth. And both leave me excited to live a future focused on God and pleasing Him.

DISCUSSION: What struggles do you have with focus? How does the above advice provide hope for learning to focus?

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Restoring Relationships

JosephIf anyone held good reason to not trust others, it was Joseph. Not only did his brothers betray him (Genesis 37), but Potipher’s wife lied about him (Genesis 39), and the cup-bearer forgot his promise to Joseph (Genesis 40). Many people would give up after betrayal by family. Most of the rest would give up after being lied about and thrown in jail. And the third incident would secure the existence of bitterness and anger for anyone remaining.

But not Joseph. He bloomed where he was planted, and his faithfulness in every circumstance proved and strengthened his character. As a result, Joseph was trusted with greater responsibility every step of the way.

The story of Joseph provides a familiar setting worth revisiting in terms of what it teaches about restoring relationships. Please take a few minutes to read through Genesis 42-45 with this theme in mind before proceeding.

Lessons from Joseph on Restoring Relationships

Joseph gives a terrific example on many fronts, including solid character, perseverance and trusting God. His story, especially the ending, also provides a terrific lesson on the restoring process relationships can undergo providing those involved admit mistakes, forgive where necessary, and have the right focus. With those thoughts in mind, let’s look at 5 lessons Joseph has for us regarding restoring relationships.

  1. Keep restoration as an option (Genesis 42:8). Joseph instantly recognized his brothers, while his brothers failed to recognize him at all. Sure, they assumed him dead for many years, but I find it strange they didn’t notice something… anything… reminding them of Joseph. Perhaps this comes simply because Joseph never lost hope for restoration with his family, while his brothers never had it.
  2. Provide opportunity for building trust (Genesis 42:14-17; Genesis 44). Joseph immediately provided opportunities for his brothers to build and earn trust with him. He gave them ways to show they had changed for good, and they certainly showed they had truly learned from their mistakes.
  3. Recognize and express emotion, but refuse to let it control actions (Genesis 42:24; Genesis 43:30-31). Don’t you love how Joseph truly felt emotion over first seeing his brothers and then over the prospect of restored relationship with them? Yet, he refused to let that emotion cloud the trust-building process and instead moved forward practically.
  4. Get God’s point of view (Genesis 45:5). Joseph continually focused on God, and I believe this allowed him to not just forgive his brothers but to work toward restored relationship with them. Joseph saw the big picture of how God used the bad in his life to work for good, and he refused to get bitter over the betrayal of those he trusted.
  5. Give God the glory when restoration succeeds (Genesis 45:6-7). Joseph gave God the credit for working in the whole of his life. He refused to focus on the human aspect of his situations and instead focused on God. Doing so also helped seal the deal for restoration as he purposefully eased the guilt his brothers felt.

The story of restored relationship between Joseph and his brothers gives me hope for the same story of renewal in my own life. It also helps me believe that people can truly change even after significant breeches of trust, especially when those they hurt choose to focus on God and believe that He truly does work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

DISCUSSION: What else can we learn about restoration from Joseph? What other examples can you think of in Scripture?

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Pursuing Unity

Be at peaceWhile studying unity, see “Struggling for Unity” for details on that effort, I could not escape the role of individual responsibility for the creation, growth and continual existence of unity. I did not necessarily like (in my flesh) what I found either because it requires significant change on my part both in action and in mindset.

Paul addressed unity a lot within the early church, and the issue remains a constant struggle still today for most (all?) churches. While there are numerous Scriptures throughout the Old and New Testaments touting the importance and even the absolute necessity of unity, one portion in particular strikes me as a sort of mantra for unity. Ephesians 3 provides the motivation for unity (because we’re called, saved & equipped with God’s power), and Ephesians 4 gets into the details of what unity in the body looks like. I encourage you to read all of both chapters now, but at the very least meditate on these key phrases from Ephesians 4 while considering your individual role in creating and maintaining unity.

“Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each others faults because of your love. Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.”

“One body… one Spirit… on glorious future… one Lord… one faith… one baptism… one God and Father…”

“… hold to the truth in love…”

“Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

“…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life…”

“So put away all falsehood and ‘tell your neighbor the truth’ because we belong to each other.”

“…be kind to each other, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you.”

With those verses in mind, consider the following statements as you contemplate your own role in the unity of the body. These statements simply reflect my personal agenda for positively impacting the unity of my family and my church.

For the sake of building unity in the groups of which I am a part, I commit to…

  1. Preferring others by not insisting and arguing for my own way, wants & desires.
  2. Allowing others to make mistakes without receiving criticism from me and to instead offer encouragement and sometimes instruction.
  3. Refusing to assume because I know that assumptions (always? often? usually?) lead to foolish behavior.
  4. Avoid operating on misinformation while at the same time realizing that some things are simply none of my business.
  5. Treating others with respect even when I don’t agree with them.
  6. Focusing on facts over feelings.
  7. Realizing there is often more than one right way to accomplish a goal.
  8. Accepting people where they are and encouraging them to always be growing.
  9. Making sure I’m always growing spiritually since no one is responsible for my growth but me.
  10. Refusing to give up on unity by continually praying for and working toward peace with others regardless of their efforts.

Consider taking time to write your own plan for building, promoting and protecting unity. Ephesians 3 and 4 were used as guides for my own statements, but really the entire book of Ephesians provides tremendous help toward playing an active role in making sure unity thrives in your relationships. Other Scripture driving home the point include 1 Peter 3:8-9, Psalm 34 and Psalm 133. I encourage you to make unity a priority in your life and to “do all that you can to live in peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).

DISCUSSION: What are you doing regularly to build and protect unity?

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Where Should You Place Your Trust?

TrustAnalyzing Trust

What or whom do you trust? Friends? Family? Spouse? Parents? Teachers? Doctors? Pastors? Authors? Children? Finances? Abilities? Talents? News? Television?

To some degree, every object of trust breaks trust at some point. We all know the sting of broken trust. If we’re honest, we all must admit to being the source of that sting at times too.

The level of trust you extend another depends greatly on your view of their overall trustworthiness, dependability and reliability. How much you trust also depends upon your overall ability to trust in general. In other words, trust exists specific to the trustworthiness of the person or thing being trusted, but it also exists based on your overall life experience with trust as well as on your individual expectations for trust.

For example, I trust my husband more than any other person because our shared experiences over the past 26 years prove his overall trustworthiness. Doesn’t mean he’s never let me down, but it does mean his life speaks to a solid character deserving of trust.

On the other hand, broken trust surprised me enough times over the years to the point of lowering my expectation for trustworthiness in general. People I thought I knew were not who I thought they were. Apparent character turned out not to be true character. And spoken values ended up as dust in the whirlwind of busyness and overload.

So, while my overall trust of my husband still stands strong and gives hope that trustworthiness still exists, my overall trust of people in general exists weaker today than it did five years ago.

Choosing Obedience Over Feelings

Unfortunately, today even with a trustworthy spouse, I stand questioning the trustworthiness of people in general. Befuddled by what seems to be an epidemic gap between the private self and the public self in way too many individuals, I expect the appearance of character to no longer match reality and am pleasantly surprised when it does.

My reaction to these feelings involves wanting to live an introverted life, a natural bent for me anyway. But even more than what seems natural, I find myself drawn away from connecting and gravitating toward keeping people at a safe distance emotionally.

Yet, a pull deep within me keeps me from withdrawing. It keeps the desire for connection alive even at the risk of hurt caused by broken trust. That inclination involves the Holy Spirit’s work within me creating a desire to please God, to do His will regardless of my feelings.

Scripture says to love others. It says to to connect and encourage and admonish and give advice and get advice. So, withdrawing goes against God’s desires. As I write this, I admit to being at odds with Scripture’s directive to connect with others. My desire to lessen the continual sting of broken trust rides high in my awareness, and I often struggle resisting it.

The sting of broken trust leads me to pull against what Scripture says about loving others. And since what I’m feeling does not match with what I know of God’s Word, I must discover the disconnect and better align my thoughts and feelings with God’s heart. With that realization, let’s consider what God says about trust.

First, Scripture clearly tells us where NOT to place our trust:

  • Weapons (Psalm 44:6) – Weapons (tools) exist as an outlet for expressing trust, not as a source of trust.
  • Wealth (Psalm 49:6, 7) – Wealth provides as a means for sharing blessing not as an object of trust.
  • Leaders (Psalm 146:3) – People make mistakes and fail; no one remains 100% trustworthy.
  • Man (Jeremiah 17:5) – Allowing people to be your source of trust brings curse, not blessing.
  • Works (Jeremiah 48:7) – Trusting in skills and abilities leads to captivity; works are never enough.
  • One’s own righteousness (Ezekiel 33:13) – We simply don’t possess the ability to obtain righteousness, to do enough to be completely trustworthy.

Scripture helped me understand the hurt caused by broken trust came because I expected trust from people and things unable to deliver complete trustworthiness. I expected too much.

Second, Scripture clearly tells us where TO place our trust:

  • God’s name (Psalm 33:21) – His name reflects His attributes, His character. God always holds true to His character.
  • God’s word (Psalm 119:42) – Scripture provides the answers needed for every struggle of life.
  • Christ (Matthew 12:17-21) – The hope of all the world rests securely on the perfectly trustworthy shoulders of Jesus.

We are to trust in His Word, in who He says He is and with hope in the death-conquering power of Christ. My trust should belong nowhere else. And as is the abundant nature of God, He also gives BENEFITS OF TRUSTING IN HIM:

Trust blessings

When reading this list of benefits of trusting in God alone, I wonder why I trust or have confidence in anyone or anything else. Which returns us back to the idea of obedience. Unless we truly want to live inside ourselves and void our lives of human contact – and ultimately go against what Scripture expects of us – we must trust other people even though we know they’ll let us down. On Tuesday, we’ll get further into this topic as we look at “Living Out Trust.”

DISCUSSION: In what state does your trust level exist these days? Why?

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The Impact of Other People & My Faith on Depression

The post below first appeared at Cycle Guy’s Spin as part of a series on depression with the focus of helping those who have loved ones struggling with depression but who have never themselves personally struggled with it. The depression series stemmed from my second chance story, which was part of a series on 2nd Chances on Cycle Guy’s Spin.

With depression coming even more to our attentions with the death of Robin Williams recently, I decided to repost the depression series here on Struggle to Victory.

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The Impact of Other People

Had I not had relationships that mattered to me or that I at least wanted to matter to me, I don’t think I would have had hope. The first was the hope of a relationship with God, but more on that in a minute. First, let’s address the other relationships mentioned in the question.

My husband joined this journey with me when I was only 5 years into it. Since I was about 10 years old when depression hit, you’ll realize we got together pretty young. I could never do justice to the junk (the kindest word I can think of to describe it) I put him through over the past 25ish years or to the patience he continually doled out. Simply put, he never gave up on me and refused to leave me. He looked me straight in the eye on more than one occasion and said, “I will never leave you.” I get choked up thinking about it. I realize today that him never giving up on me made me unable to give up either.

I grew up in a very rules-oriented church culture, one where God was this distant being who seemed more like a master chess player than like anyone who wanted me to know Him personally. So, the first 28 years of my faith life included what I “should” do, including believing in God. Around age 28, that changed. I began to discover who I was in Christ, and I learned that Jesus not only wanted a relationship with me but that He gave me His Holy Spirit to comfort and help me. I learned that the Bible was a guide for life and not simply a book of rules. This process of correcting my wrong views about God and seeing life from a full-Gospel perspective truly gave me a new foundation to build upon as I began to live more and more outside of the pit.

Not sure how to characterize my family’s role, so I’ll just dive in to some specific examples. My dad was absent a lot and pretty self-focused, which does not bode well for the self-esteem of a little girl. My mom always loved and accepted me no matter my emotional state, but she had struggles of her own to contend with at the time.

My extended family was a factor only through two people. One individual told me, “You’re average and will always be average,” and another said, “You’re just not as smart as the others.”  Those statements took years to be undone as truth in my mind and still haunt me during times of weakness still today.

My journey out of the pit really began after I had my oldest son. When he was a toddler, I realized that I did not want his memories of me to be ones of a depressed an unhappy person. So, I began the journey for him. My youngest son entered this journey only about 4 years ago, but it too was a pivotal experience in that he needed me to live fully and completely outside of the pit in order for him to not live in one himself. For him, I took steps to fill in the pit of depression that had been my dwelling place for so many years, making it no longer an option.

Faith

The Impact of My Faith

I don’t remember not believing in God. However, I do remember not really knowing who Jesus was and what role the Holy Spirit played. Learning about relationship with Christ changed everything. My growth in faith coincides directly with my progression through depression and out of the pit forever. Depression was the trial of my life that drew me always closer to Him; it was either that or end my life. Realizing my inability to overcome on my own led me to realize my desperate need for Him.

(Note: If we had time and space, I would also discuss the role of Christian counseling as well as of the books I read during the journey.)

DISCUSSION: How do you see your role in the life of those you love who struggle with depression? What questions do you have regarding living out those roles?

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

Below is a guest post by Chris Peek. Chris blogs at Trail Reflections where he offers content that encourages leaders to discover their life mission, live with intention, pursue adventure and become fully alive.

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Why We Need Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

My heart is prone to forget. For seven years, my wife has struggled with a chronic health condition known as POTS (Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome) – a form dysautonomia. From 2008-2011, we traversed the specialty medical circuit – VCU, Vanderbilt, Toledo, and the Mayo Clinic – as Karen underwent test after test, consultation after consultation.

Over time, it became apparent that she would be forced to manage the disease rather than be cured of it. Through the days, months, and years of pain and struggle, Karen has shown incredible strength and resolve. And as her condition became our new “normal,” our attention turned to growing our family.

Some doctors opined that we should hold off on having children. However, Karen’s POTS specialist in Toledo encouraged us to pursue pregnancy, stating that many POTS patients do really well while pregnant.

Yet after three miscarriages, we contemplated whether or not we should simply give up. Thankfully, we didn’t lose complete hope, even in the midst of some extremely dark days. Eventually, Karen got pregnant once again, and this time, everything seemed to be on track right up through the first several hours of labor.

I have a saying that few things in our lives seem to come easy, and the delivery of our son would be no exception. About 4:30 AM, the doctor burst into our room, jarring me out of my light nap. With a deep concern in his voice, he confirmed that both Karen’s and the baby’s heart rates were unstable. They needed to perform a C-section right away. After the longest hour-and-a-half of my life, she gave birth to our beautiful, healthy son.

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Prone to Forget

Six months later, my heart is prone to forget about the struggle and pain. I am more apt to go about our daily routine of diaper changes and battling acid reflux without spending a moment recognizing God’s blessing of a beautiful baby boy.

Similarly, my heart is prone to lose sight of the cross and the brutal sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. I am so self-absorbed that I am more concerned about paying the bills than God’s work throughout the nations. I can stand in awe of God’s blessing one day and have completely forgotten about His favor a mere 24 hours later.

Maybe that is why the apostle Paul urges us to “Pray without ceasing…” or why the Psalmist prayerfully offers, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.”

There are so many distractions in our world that it takes discipline to remain in firmly entrenched in God’s presence. Spiritual discipline. That’s not a phrase we hear bandied about too much anymore, even within the walls of the church. Discipline sounds so twentieth century. We live in the century of instantaneous pleasure and success.

I’m probably the last person who should be writing about spiritual discipline because my heart is prone to wander and is filled with inconsistencies. Nevertheless, an ongoing relationship with God cannot exist without spiritual discipline. Discipline is a word we often associate with routine and boredom. Yet by adding a little variety, we can keep our relationship with God alive and vibrant.

Variety within Spiritual Disciplines

We don’t have to sit in the same location to pray or read the Bible. We don’t have to attend the same church service and sit in the same pew we have been sitting in for the last 20 years. If your spiritual walk feels stale, it’s probably because it is. The goal of spiritual discipline is not discipline in and of itself, but to draw into a more intimate walk with the Father.

What are some ways we can add variety to spiritual disciplines?

Worship – This can take on so many forms. Why not look for creative and meaningful ways to worship? Work is worship. Art is worship. Singing is worship. The key is whether the worship points back to God or to self.

Prayer – I like to pray while I am walking on a nature trail. Sometimes I talk to God while driving. Other times, I prefer to pray just sitting in silence. We may need to break away for an hour and spend time with God in His Creation.

Acts of Service – There are an infinite number of ways to serve the church and community. They key involves utilizing our unique calling in a variety of others-centered ways.

Bible Reading – There are numerous, sound Bible translations available to us, and it may help to switch up every once in a while. In addition, we have limitless books, courses, Bible studies, and workbooks available at the click of a mouse. These resources provide a helpful way to inject life into devotional times.

DISCUSSION: Is your heart prone to wander? What other ways can we add variety to spiritual disciplines in order to make our hearts come alive?

 

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?

Time for a Paradigm Shift?

milkFood Substitutions

Because of a dairy allergy, coconut milk substitutes for cow’s milk. Because of a gluten intolerance, rice-based products substitute for those made with wheat flour.

“That’s got to be hard,” many people say to me. “No, it’s really not,” I respond. “I’m used to it.”

But the comment always reminds me of the beginning of the journey when I constantly felt frustrated. I looked at store shelves and even my own cupboards and saw only what I couldn’t eat.

Over the past five years, my paradigm regarding food shifted dramatically. Through this process, God also taught me more about Himself.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui-Gon to Anakin, Star Wars, The Phantom Menace)

cookiesAfter diagnosis of a food allergy & several sensitivities, I slowly adjusted my eating habits. My attention now goes to what I can eat, and I think little about what’s not on my menu anymore. When I focused on what I couldn’t eat, I felt deprived. When I focused on what I could have, I discovered new and enjoyable experiences.

In the Christian life, focusing on what God offers brings exciting and eternally beneficial experiences well beyond anything the world offers. What you “can’t” have no longer becomes what you want.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.” (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Ice creamIf I eat dairy or gluten, my digestion immediately slows almost to a stop. If I keep eating them, my body fails to get needed nutrients, and eventually adrenal fatigue and depression set in along with other unpleasant reactions. The consequences range from immediate and uncomfortable to severe and debilitating. I must live with a zero-tolerance policy regarding gluten and dairy.

I must also have zero-tolerance in certain areas of my spiritual life if I want to remain spiritually healthy. Days need to begin with prayer. Regular fellowship and worship need to exist. Bible study must happen frequently & regularly. Compromising in any of these areas leads to consequences that are devastating.

“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (William Shakespeare)

Upon first discovery of my food allergy and sensitivities, I felt like my life was horribly complicated. I struggled to figure out what I could and could not eat and felt not only like a burden when eating with others but an outsider as well.

Now I realize my diet simplifies my life and makes me healthier because most unhealthy foods filling so many dinner tables don’t find their way into my house much. Restaurant choices are limited (cross-contamination), but these limitations also simplify choices and save time. Once I accepted myself physically with regard to food limitations, I realized that simplicity was a gift that helped me and my family lead healthier lives.

As I learn to accept who I am spiritually, my life becomes simpler and more focused. Instead of wishing I was someone else with different gifts, talents and abilities, I find peace and contentment with who I am. Accepting myself as God created me is having wide-reaching impact on my life.

“[Jesus] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the whole world.” (1 John 2:2)

The integration of so many substitutions into my life also leads me to be more aware of the life-giving power that substitutions can have. After all, they created a healthier me than has ever existed.

The biggest truth that these substitutions bring to light for me involves the substition of Jesus for my sins, for everyone’s sins. No, I don’t think of this every time I make a food substitution, but I do think of it often, especially when I reflect on the journey my health and eating have taken over the past five years.

The connection between my eating and spiritual journeys exists as one of the major reasons I truly believe God wants to be in every detail of our lives. He also wants to use every detail to shape spiritual paradigms too.

DISCUSSION: How has God used a situation or journey in your life to make a paradigm shift?

Discovering Strength Through Brokenness

broken In 2009, I discovered my allergy to dairy and my intolerance to gluten. Sensitivities to several other foods (crab, eggs and cashews) also came to light. As I changed my diet to eliminate these foods, I began to feel dramatically better. In fact, I felt better physically and mentally than I had my whole life.

Then I reached a plateau about two years later. I felt a tremendous sense of isolation as well as frustration as I watched others enjoy any food they desired. I saw only limits. I saw a cage that separated me from others. My frustration increased as I realized that my body is also tremendously sensitive to a lot of stimulation.

In fact, inflammation rises at the slightest chemical imbalance. Too much of any food causes distress, but any of certain foods causes setback. In addition, a lot of noise bothers me, and too much information in too small space of time easily impedes my ability to think. I also struggle being in groups of people for very long, sometimes even at all.

At times, I’m simply at odds with understanding why I am so physically and mentally sensitive. Some days, I just feel very alone. But, this journey also brings to light my many physical and mental limitations and weaknesses and gives greater understanding of how God’s strength flow in a practical way through my weaknesses.

In this struggle, I learned a valuable lesson: Freedom comes through brokenness revealed by weaknesses.

Realizing utter helplessness to be healthy on my own truly set me free. The process began with salvation and seeing my inability to escape the grip of sin. And it grew when I finally understood that every weakness I have presents an opportunity for increased freedom from the flesh.

My weaknesses humble me. They force me to understand my inability to control. They lead me to increased reliance upon the only One who truly has control. They present a choice between letting those weaknesses define and control me or allowing them to direct me toward His strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My weaknesses constantly remind me of my need for Christ. They remind me every day of my lack of self-control and of my tendency toward acting based on feelings and emotion. Without Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit producing the fruit of self-control within me, I fall prey to the consequences of my weaknesses.

Brokenness opens the floodgates for His power to work perfection in spite of me. It allows for a Holy-Spirit-led life that does not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), desires that most clearly show through in my weaknesses. And this by nothing in and of myself but instead only through His strength filling in the spaces left by brokenness.

DISCUSSION: How has weakness led to brokenness in your life? What difference does God’s strength make in your struggle with weakness?

The Role of Simplicity in Balance

Are You a Circus Act?circus

Ever watched one of those circus-type shows where entertainers attempt to stay balanced while gradually adding items to balance? These professionals balance people on people carrying a variety of items from plates to balls to flaming sticks. They’re focused on balancing more items than any normal person can balance, and all their focus goes toward keeping those items balanced.

Unfortunately, too many of us live like circus entertainers focused on balancing, except we’re not making any money for the show we’re putting on for our friends, family and coworkers. We’re balancing an amazing amount, but that’s all we’re pretty much able to focus on… balancing.

When focused only on balancing, we’re unable to consider the quality of what we’re trying to balance. Simplicity allows for better balance in that it allows us to put our focus on quality over quantity.

Longfellow

What is Simplicity?

The dictionary says that simplicity is the freedom from complexity, intricacy or division into parts. It’s the absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.

The dictionary also says that simple means easy to understand, deal with, use, etc. Simple means not elaborate or artificial, not ornate or luxurious.

As I think about each of those words and their definitions, I realize that simplicity and the words to describe it looks very different from one person to another. Ask 10 people what simplicity, simple, intricacy, luxury, ornament, etc. mean to them, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

Finding YOUR Simple

Like balance, simplicity exists uniquely for every person. We can get ideas, guidance, inspiration and direction from each other, but every one of us must individually discover simplicity. That being said, regardless of how simplicity looks in an individual’s life, it does play an important role in a balanced life for every person.

In my own journey toward a balanced life, simplicity plays a tremendous role in creating relationships with depth. But I find that I can only go deeper when I take the time to simplify myself first as an individual. When I do this, my relationships can then take a leading role in the activity of my life.

For me, simplifying myself involves the following 5 areas:

  1. What I think about… where I allow my thoughts to dwell.
  2. The words I speak… listen more and talk less.
  3. Appearance… comfortable but respectful.
  4. Focus… God. Family. Work. (In that order.)
  5. Commitments… not spread thin and having ample margin.

When I begin to feel overwhelmed and stop to consider why, the Holy Spirit without fail goes to one or more of these areas and says, “Simplify.” This is how simplicity works in my life for balance. How does it work in yours? What does simplicity mean for you?