5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

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In Michigan, there’s always some sort of road construction going on somewhere. They say you can’t drive more than 6 miles from any point in Michigan without coming to a lake (there are 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan), but I think that’s true with construction too. Road construction seems to take forever too. As soon as one area is finished, another begins. 

Construction on our character happens the same way. Always an area needing work, and progress often seems minuscule if existent at all. 

Then I think back over my life and take stock of the changes, the maturity and growth. Most of it happened gradually and seemed nonexistent until suddenly fresh demarcation lines appeared and the orange cones disappeared.

Construction — on roads or on character — frustrates me, and is only eased when I consider what happens when it doesn’t take place. The sides begin to crumble, then the cracks creep into the center and make the path bumpy and rough. Eventually, rough roads are avoided altogether.

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

road-signs-construction-1-1503521-1278x832Let’s begin by acknowledging that construction, while necessary and beneficial, is also uncomfortable and inconvenient. Let’s accept these truths and move forward into growth. With that baseline, we can begin to appreciate the process and operate in a way so as to not impede progress and possibly even help make it happen more smoothly.

To actually thrive — and maybe even welcome — construction, practice the following habits:

  1. Have patience. Getting impatient in the middle of construction holds no benefit whatsoever. Instead, it makes the wait seem longer and more unbearable. Take a deep breath and use the time to relax, think and pray. Take this opportunity to learn that you just can’t control everything. Realize that more often that not, waiting in patience produces the best results for everyone involved.

    “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

  2. Don’t rush progress. Trying to force progress usually harms rather than helps. Instead, take the pace the construction zone sets to allow time for navigating the rumble strips, lane changes and detours that accompany most construction projects. Refuse to only live life at the pace you decide, and consider that perhaps another speed might be better for your current season and that the obstacles placed in your way are beneficial instead of inconvenient.

    “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

  3. Stay aware. Awareness creates a safer space for construction and includes noticing internal and external signage as well as realizing the status of other people as they also make their way through the construction. Awareness also provides wisdom by making sure the construction process not only goes smoothly but that the work done remains the highest quality.

    “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

  4. Plan ahead. When you know you’ll travel through areas with construction, planning ahead simply makes sense. Sometimes that means allowing extra travel time while other times it means taking an alternate route. Planning ahead smooths out the construction process by avoiding having to rush as well as by making the process of interacting with others happen in at least a neutral and hopefully a more beneficial way than it would if you had to fight the clock.

    “A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9)

  5. Consider the results. Sometimes, the only way to endure a long season of construction comes by considering the end results — the smooth roads. Think of how good driving down a new road feels, how smooth it is. When time for proper construction is allowed, the end result is preferable in every way to the old. During this process, determine to be kind, knowing that everyone gets through the construction eventually and realizing that the consequences of not doing construction is far worse than the inconvenience it brings.

    “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

under-construction-icon-1242121Because of the heavy use along with the extreme temperature changes, Michigan’s roads will always need regular maintenance. The same holds true for my character, and yours too. Until Heaven, imperfection and sin will continue making our paths rough and in need of construction.

When it comes to any type of construction, we have to adopt the philosophy of progress over perfection. As we establish this mindset, we learn to be patient with others and with ourselves. We realize the importance of putting relationships above our need to control and manipulate the situation, and we instead allow the construction to continue as it needs to for the benefit of all those traveling toward perfection.

DISCUSSION: What can you change about how you travel through construction zones?

Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I

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“Busy” is the New “Fine”

Many people seem to equate being busy with being important. Somehow, being busy by living in a state of perpetual hustle and bustle and constant exhaustion seems to say, “I matter.” In fact, if you’re not crazy busy, others look at you with resentful longing.

This constant busyness leaves many feeling like they’re running an endless race with an illusive finish line. They feel trapped, but they remain ignorant of why. Being too busy to find balance is simply much easier that doing the hard work of changing.

I remember when most people answered the question, “How are you?” with “Fine.” Now, the pat answers more often than not is “Busy.”

After all, busy is what you’re supposed to be, right? If you’re not busy, you’re probably missing out on something. Or, maybe busyness just keeps boredom at bay. What would you do if you weren’t so busy anyway?

I remember when busyness kept me moving and gave me purpose. Those were the days when my “Busy” answer existed as both a boast and a complaint. I knew I was too busy, yet I didn’t know how else to be considered successful. Then one day I just couldn’t keep up anymore.

My crash and burn forced a choice between doing the hard work to change, to become unbusy, or remaining unhealthy, depressed and miserable. After much searching in the form of doctor visits, counseling sessions, reading, studying and praying, I came to realize that not only did my approach need to change but also my thinking.

In this process of becoming unbusy, the road to balance became increasingly clear. Right action and right thinking — the steps and the path — must partner to create a balanced life.

Stepping Toward Balance

Finding balance is not about establishing the right time-management habits or organizational strategies. After all, none of these will matter if you have too much to manage and organize in the first place.

Finding balance begins with implementing actionable approaches that allow you to do the hard work necessary to become unbusy. For me, that involved three choices that daily direct my steps through the healing process and into a relatively balanced existence.

  1. Ask “Why?” and “What?” These questions serve to get at the root cause. Why do you feel sick all the time? Why can’t you sleep? Why did you say “yes” to that commitment? What keeps you at that job when you hate it? What pushes you to be involved in every activity that comes along? Continually asking “What?” and “Why?” questions can help discover motives at the heart of chronic busyness. They help you understand your life rather than continuing to live from one reaction to the next.
  2. Refuse to quit. Persevere. Keep asking “What?” and “Why?” until you have answers, then ask some more. Dig until an understanding of the root cause emerges. We live in an information age like none ever before us, and the answers are there for those willing to pursue them. You don’t have to live in ignorance of why chronic busyness plagues your life.
  3. Keep taking small steps. Most progress happens in small steps taken gradually over time that add up to make a big difference. Rarely does progress happen in leaps and bounds. Asking “Why?” and “What?” gives the steps to take, and refusing to quit makes taking another step a non-negotiable. Eventually, if you refuse to give up, you’ll look back and realize you’ve left busyness behind and have found balance.

These three approaches kept my actions headed in the right direction. At the same time, I realized that I could take right steps but still head in the wrong direction if I was on the wrong path. So while my choices to find the root cause, not give up and keep taking small steps gave me the motivation to keep moving forward, I also needed to change my thinking in order to make sure I was headed toward balance and not just another version of busyness.

Next week, we’ll explore the principles of balance that create the thinking necessary to leave busyness, overload and overwhelm behind and to achieve and maintain a balanced life.

DISCUSSION: How will you take steps towards a more balanced life today?

The Best Lessons from a Track Meet

track 1Track meets provide a unique perspective on being the best. At one meet, a runner can get the best time and win a race only to find himself less than the best at the next meet even if he runs the same time as in the previous meet.

Then there’s the idea of a personal best. Regardless of time in comparison to other runners, running a personal record (PR) trumps overall place and time. Even the slowest runner at a meet relishes the idea of a personal best.

Also consider the idea that the best in one race, say a 400 meter (once around the track) may very well fail to be the best in a sprint (shorter than a 400 meter) or in a 3,200 meter (8 times around track). In other words, the best in one race usually won’t be the best in every race.

track 2We tell our son, “We’re happy when you do your best,” whatever that might be on any given day. We remind him that his best will vary from day to day too. If he gets a personal record, we need not remind him of this. But when he struggles, like all of us do, he needs reminded of how best fluctuates but always remains the goal of the day.

The best involves giving all you have to the task at hand. It doesn’t mean living for chance but combining chance with preparation. Weather can impact your best, other runners can impact your best, even the crowd may impact your best. But your preparation, good or bad and sufficient or not, exists as an element you can control, and it also significantly impacts your best.

Best also never means that better isn’t possible, first because best varies from day to day and second because the element of growth always leaves open the possibility of a new best. The key, then, lies in progress over perfection.

Strive for the best.

Be your best.

Prepare for the best.

Appreciate the best.

Push beyond the best.

Progress over perfection.

DISCUSSION: Do you always strive for your best, whatever that is on any given day? If not, what needs to change for this to happen?

Decision Fatigue

Choice Overload

Choice 1As my least favorite domestic activity, grocery shopping looms on the horizon of my schedule like an approaching storm during a picnic. Never finished, I almost always start a new list before the bags get unpacked and the kitchen storage filled. Add to that the usual dissatisfaction with items both purchased and forgotten, the tempest continually stirs.

Worse than its constant, unfinished state is the vast number of choices that come with the endeavor. All these elements combine to make grocery shopping the bane of my domestic duties.

Maybe grocery shopping doesn’t pique your anxiety like it does mine, but I’m guessing you relate in some way to the reality of decision overload. In fact, the United States exists as a culture of choices with so many options that we get stressed out simply by the sheer number of decisions coming at us almost nonstop in almost every aspect of life.

The Impact of Overwhelm

Choices 2We all understand the importance of making good decisions. Unfortunately, the ability to make the right decision matters little when overwhelmed with too may choices. Research proves that the more decisions made and the more options within those decisions, the less able a person becomes to make good decisions of any size.

In other words, as we make more and more decisions, we also make poorer and poorer decisions. And often, much of our decision-making energy goes toward a lot of small, often trivial, decisions, and this serves to increase the chances of the bigger decisions becoming epic failures.

Our ability to make decisions works much like a muscle that gets fatigued with use. Think of it this way, “decision fatigue” or “choice overload” is why…

  • Coaches and quarterbacks often make poor decisions late in games.
  • Judges grant parole less often as the day goes on.
  • Parents give in to their kids incessant pestering.
  • People make unhealthy dinner choices after a long day at work.
  • Exercise gets nixed for the couch & the television in the evening.
  • Families struggle with finances after habitually impulsive decisions.
  • Great men & women of God make worldly choices in their personal lives.

Decision fatigue also explains why many people become easily frustrated and irritable since a person’s brain becomes less able to regulate behavior the more decisions made. Thus, this fatigue also affects how we love others.

The Outcomes of Decision Fatigue

One of two outcomes generally results from decision fatigue. First, a person becomes reckless & impulsive and simply fails to expend the energy to think before making decisions. This creates a pattern of destructiveness that ends up making most problems worse.

The second result is doing nothing. Initially, this appears simply as the easy way out; eventually though, this route makes a person resistant to almost any kind of change since continuing unhealthy habits is simply easier than changing. When we suffer from decision fatigue, satisfying immediate needs is easier than developing the self control needed to make healthy choices.

The spiritual impact of decision fatigue comes when we just don’t have the energy left over for the bigger decisions or for seeking God’s will rather than simply following the feelings of the flesh. Instead, we spend our decision-making energy on temporal matters and either just don’t get around to deciding about eternal matters or simply don’t even consider the difference between decisions that are only important in this life and ones extending into eternity.

How does decision overload/fatigue impacts you on a regular basis.

After taking some time to analyze the existence of decision fatigue in your life, take the next step and being Preventing Decision Fatigue from happening in the first place.

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 elusive. 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:

  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 boys also help me cultivate and process ideas.
  5. Follow the Spirit’s leading. Put yourself in a position to regularly hear the wisdom God regularly offers.
  6. Take small steps. 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 convinced me that focus is not a special talent like athleticism but is 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 six years through the avenues listed above done in a consistent manner and 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 teenage 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 6 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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Finishing Well

startThere are 2,300 people mentioned in the Bible and 100 are prominent figures. Of those 100, only 1/3 finished well. Regarding the 2/3 that failed to finish well, most of them faltered in the last 1/2 of life.

When I look at many people older than me, I see the same trend with many struggling physically, mentally & spiritually. Many seem to have given up on aging gracefully and are just surviving, waiting for their last day to arrive. Many, unfortunately, have even given up on any kind of service to God, though they served Him fervently for much, if not all, of their younger years. “Let the younger ones do the work now,” they say. They are, at the moment, failing to finish well in the last 1/2 of life.

For much of my life, I dreaded growing older because I just didn’t see any older person who aged gracefully. All I saw were people getting more miserable with each passing day, and I knew I wanted no part of getting older if that’s what it was like.

Thankfully, my view of getting older changed in recent years as it is now being shaped by a few individuals who are aging gracefully. They serve God with increasing fervency. They possess joy, wisdom and peace that seems to come from a lifelong process of sanctification, an increasing intimacy with God that becomes immediately obvious in their presence. They still have struggles, but they never lose their focus on Christ. Their faith shines even in the toughest of times. And that, I want.

Likewise, there are that 1/3 of the 100 prominent who still serve as examples of how to finish well. I’m thankful for their example too. Combine the examples of people I know with those I read about, and I’m believing that I too can finish well.

How to Finish Well

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When I run in organized races, people I don’t even know cheer me on. Other runners cheer me on too. I also find myself encouraged by the others who finish the race and then go back down the course to cheer on other runners. And even though I know none of these people, I’m encouraged just to be told, “Keep going! Don’t quit. You’re almost there.”

The race of my faith life is also cheered on by people I don’t know, those who have gone before me and finished well. It’s encouraged by those running the race with, though a bit ahead, me too. My running is fueled by the words of Scripture acknowledging that the race is difficult but that finishing well is more than possible.

  1. Fight the good fight. Keep the faith. Cross the finish line. (2 Timothy 4:7)
  2. Complete the task Jesus gives you to do. (Acts 20:24)
  3. Discipline yourself & make sure what you teach matches how you live all the way to the finish line. (1 Corinthians 9:24)
  4. Endure to the end. (Hebrews 12:1)
  5. Stay qualified through the end. (Colossians 1:10-14 & 1 Corinthians 9:24)
  6. Let Christ complete His work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
  7. Stay confident. (Hebrews 10:35)
  8. Live forward, not backward. (Philippians 3:12-16)

To me, these Scriptures say, “Keep going. Don’t quit. You’re almost there.” They, along with the stories of the 1/3 who did finish well and those running just ahead of me today, encourage and cheer me on daily. They fuel my determination to finish well and to refuse to join the ranks of those who, in the last 1/2 of life wax and wane into average at best and flat out failure at worst.

DISCUSSION: What individual from the Bible do you think is the best example of finishing well and why? What motivates you to follow the advice listed above on how to finish your life well?

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?

Timing Matters

Timing 2Poor Timing

“Why doesn’t anyone listen to what I say?” My complaint probably sounded like a broken record to my husband. Frustration over someone failing to heed my advice resulted once again in stimulating this repeated source of relational frustration.

Then awareness hit me like a punch in the face. If multiple people from a variety of settings and types of relationships seem not to listen to me, perhaps the problem lies with me and not with others.

Some people (my husband) have a terrific sense of timing in conversations. Whether funny or serious, the flow seems as natural as breathing. Other people (myself), struggle finding the “right” words, which often (usually) come long after the conversation ends. And ill-timed humor only amplifies uncomfortable and awkward feelings.

For a while, past mistakes in conversations were just too painful to risk repeating. Additionally, extreme sensitivity created a constant awareness of every interruption, every misplaced comment and certainly every blank stare of confusion. So, to minimize these miscues in timing, I simply avoided face-to-face conversations.

As you might guess, avoiding talking to others is pretty impossible. Sure, I can do a lot of communicating via electronic methods, but they in no way substitute for the richness of connection made when talking to someone while at the same time experiencing the fullness of their presence.

Instead of allowing struggles with timing in conversations to suffocate relationships, either by lack of awareness or through over-sensitivity, a better approach involves taking time to increase understanding of timing in conversations. Perhaps in doing so, I can finally discover victory within this struggle.

Understanding Timing

Timing involves when something happens or is done (or said), especially when that timing is thought of as having a good or bad effect on the result. Timing also involves the ability to chose the best moment for some action, movement, words, etc.

Timing within conversations significantly impacts the success or failure of the contained communication. It also involves well-timed orchestration of the elements involved in successful communication.

Timing Awareness

As I thought about past failed communication, I realized that my poor timing had a huge impact. And that poor timing usually took place because one or more of the following were happening.

  1. Failing to fully listen because I’m thinking of what I want to say next.
  2. Getting distracted & being unable to hear what was being said.
  3. Talking before letting the other person finish talking.
  4. Focusing on giving advice rather than on understanding the person.
  5. Letting my emotions take over my flow of words.

Knowing that any one of these can knock the timing of a conversation off kilter, being aware of each conversation malady provides a first step for improving my timing when talking with others.

timingTiming Words

Poor timing with our words involves a myriad of factors. Poor social skills, loneliness and selfishness all impact a person’s timing when they talk to others. Being uninterested in others, having a lack of confidence and feeling intimidated can also impact how well we pace conversations.

Understanding that one or more factors may be at play in those to whom we are speaking helps in employing patience, but realizing theses issues may also exist within ourselves can help in making necessary adjustments for at least improving our end of the flow of communication.

Once awareness and understanding begin, we can then apply the following Biblical principles.

  1. Listen first and more. (Proverbs 18:13)
  2. Let relationships develop. (Proverbs 6:1-5)
  3. Use good sense. (Proverbs 11:12)
  4. Think first. (Proverbs 13:3 & 29:20)
  5. Use less words. (Proverbs 17:27-28)
  6. Be slow to speak. (James 1:19-20)

Notice that much of what Scripture reveals about timing involves not speaking but instead deliberately focusing on others in the conversation. Maybe this is because our words simply don’t matter when others don’t feel heard in a way that shows their value.

Focusing on understanding provides the key to proper timing in conversations. Sure, other people’s baggage impacts the conversation too, but your honing of timing certainly increases the probability of understanding and growth.

DISCUSSION: What impact has timing, or lack of it, had on your communication?