Consumed With “Shoulds”

mercy not sacrificeAll to often, I become easily consumed with thoughts of what I “should” do to truly be a good wife, mother, friend, writer, church member, daughter, Christian, etc. Those ideas are usually based on what others say, think and do and how I appear in comparison. Of course, this comes all filtered through my own perceptions and assumptions. And this line of thinking always leads to internal defeat as I realize my desire to promote self and feel good about where I fall in the lineup.

In this way of thinking, activity becomes the focus. The more activity, the better. But I always end up feeling restless and unsettled. Never arrived. Never content. Why?

When my heart’s focus lies with appearances, with going through the motions of “shoulds,” I’ve filled my life with activity (with busyness) that appears meaningful but really exists as quite the opposite. Seems a lot like a focus on the rule following of the Pharisees, doesn’t it?

Filling our lives with the activity of sacrifice (busyness) provides ample distraction from addressing the true condition of the heart. Being busy (offering sacrifices)results in appearing accomplished but fails to consider the state of our intentions and motivations.

Inward Faith Before Outward Expression

Jesus used the phrase “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:12-13 & 12:7) knowing the generational familiarity it held for his listeners. The Life Application Study Bible says it this way:

God does not take pleasure in our outward expression if our inward faith is missing.”

Old Testament connections to this are many… 1 Samuel 15:22-23, Psalm 40:6-8, Psalm 51:16-19, Jeremiah 7:21-23, Hosea 6:6, & Micah 6:6-8. All get at this tenant point of Scripture… our heart attitude toward God comes first, then we can make acceptable sacrifices.

These Scripture represent the truth of what God asks of each of us. He doesn’t first ask for busyness (sacrificial activity) but for a sincere faith and devotion to him. He asks for loyalty and obedience. He asks that we are fair, just, humble and merciful. Only then is anything we do — our activity & our busyness — pleasing to him.

Isaiah 1:11-17 gives a succinct path for learning to live out this pattern of being over doing.

Respect. Follow. Love. Serve. Obey.

Of course, God exists as the object of these action steps. He exists as the focus of our activity. And as we seek to live this pattern, we find that the busyness of the world falls away. The “shoulds” disappear from our radar, and we move into the rhythm he meant for us to follow.

No longer do we focus on offering sacrifices — keeping ourselves busy with going and doing — but we instead find ourselves living in a way that naturally loves and serves. Only then do we live driven by our heart’s inward faith instead of trying to create the perception of an inward reality that we think makes us acceptable.

DISCUSSION: How does the truth “obedience over sacrifice” become a reality in the life of a believer?

Some Days…

Some days, all my writing sounds terrible Everything I write makes no sense; in fact, it’s horrible. This isn’t writer’s block, I promise. I could write for hours. Just some days, the words only sound stupid and useless. Like today.

way wrongToday, my inner self wants so desperately to write something meaningful, even profound. But the words that come out are trivial and childish. Today, I feel like giving up on dreams of becoming a successful writer (whatever that means). And when I let my imagination wander down this road, I always arrive at the same conclusion — What would I do if I did not write?

You see, I know writing is my calling. At some level, I’ve always known this to be true. Just some days, my heart and my head fail to connect in carrying out this calling. Some days, I lack the faith to walk down the path of God’s leading. Today is that kind of day.

cagedWhen I meet with this kind of day, which happens infrequently but still with some regularity, two very strong emotions rise to the top. The first is fear. Old feelings of depression and pointlessness surface on days like today, and I fear returning to my old life in the pit. The second is desperation. A part of me starts pacing like a caged animal desperately wanting what it sees standing outside the cage.

Only, I can’t exactly see what’s standing outside the cage. I know it represents hope and increased faith and removal of fear, but I can’t quite focus on the specifics. All I seem to be able to hone in on is the sickening feeling in the pit of my stomach that says I’m trapped.

You might not be a writer, but that doesn’t matter. Just insert whatever description you have for your calling, and I’m certain you have days like I’m having today. At least, I assume this is a common human experience and not a corner of the world that only I know exists. Right?

Everyone has desperate days where they wonder if they missed a lane change somewhere or perhaps even took a wrong turn. Either we have these days and we know we have them, or we have them but have mastered the art of busyness to keep us from admitting we have them.

Since we all have had them and will have them again, the only question that remains then is “What do we do about them?”

What I feel like doing is hurling my computer across the room because it fails to put into words the ideas and thoughts and musings of my heart. Yet, I know the regret and shame that would soon follow, and so I refrain. What, then, is left?

First, I make sure I’m physically at my baseline. This means assessing if I’m hydrated, properly nourished and not overly tired. And where possible, I make needed adjustments.

Second, while all of Scripture exists as a guide for living a Godly life, most Christians have a “go to” verse or chapter or even book that always provide not only a place to rest but a place to reset. For me, that’s the book of Isaiah. I read the highlighted portions, sometimes stopping to read around them too, and if that doesn’t bring relief, I venture into other highlighted areas of Scripture.

Third, and really this exists infused within the other two, is prayer. While I feel what I’m feeling and as I try to convey those feelings in writing, a part of me prays for relief. I ask for the answer for this sudden onslaught of anxiety and fear and if not the answer, then simply relief.

Beyond these, I must refuse to think. Because if I allow my thoughts to further internalize what I am feeling, that’s when vain imaginations begin to take me down some very dark and all-to-familiar paths. Sometimes, if I am to focus on facts over feelings, that means simply not allowing myself to dwell on my feelings.

DISCUSSION: What do you do when you have days like this?

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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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5 Keys to Lasting Change

Change Managementchange quote

Change happens in everyone’s life. Sometimes our first reaction to change is fear. Sometimes our first reaction is to buckle down and resist. Sometimes we dive completely into change and sometimes run from it.

How we ultimately decide to handle change determines our success or failure in life. Fortunately, we can decide to change how we handle change.

The best way I’ve personally found to handle change — both the change that comes whether I want it to or not and the change I take initiative to make — is to lean on that which does not change.

When Nehemiah was presented with an opportunity to bring about change, he could have simply ignored the internal tug. He could have continued as cup bearer to the king and lived a comfortable, safe life. He chose instead to lead change. Before he took any action, though, he anchored himself on the eternal God who never changes.

Nehemiah’s Example

Nehemiah is often studied for his obvious leadership characteristics such as integrity, humbleness, courage, compassion and focus. Nehemiah also provides a tremendous example of how to institute lasting change that endures through struggles.

Nehemiah traveled over 500 miles to lead change with a group of people who were stuck in brokenness for over a decade. He then motivates the people of Jerusalem to work toward significant and lasting change. Nehemiah’s example during this transformation gives several points to consider regarding how to institute lasting change in our own lives.

5 Keys to Lasting Change

Far more than just a city, Jerusalem represented an identity for the Jewish nation. The city and its wall told of the Jews connection (or lack of it) to God. When Nehemiah heard that the city walls and the people’s connection to God were in shambles, he chose to take action. God then used Nehemiah to transform His people.

Nehemiah’s approach to change, as directed by God through prayer, can teach us a tremendous amount about how to make change in our own lives.

  1. Stay organized. Nehemiah always had a plan in place, but he was also flexible as needed. Staying organized allows progress to continue even when chaos surrounds. In fact, reorganizing even when chaos seems in control can be extremely helpful.
  2. Be resourceful. Nehemiah asked the king for help, he asked the people and leaders of Jerusalem for help, and he found creative ways to continue the work even while opposition threatened. You’ll find resourcefulness present in the lives of all great leaders and heroes because change rarely happens in its absence.
  3. Persevere. Nehemiah had a plan, a specific purpose, and a steady persistence through difficulties, obstacles and discouragement. He kept moving forward regardless of what the opposition said or did. He persevered because he was centered on God’s will.
  4. Be consistent. Nehemiah consistently prayed, stayed organized and remained resourceful. Consistency shows reliable character, a necessary element for lasting change, and that’s the type of person others will follow through change.
  5. Be reliant. Above all, Nehemiah’s example shows the importance of relying on God. Nehemiah prayed regularly, even spending months praying and fasting before taking action. Because he relied on God, his approach to lasting change took hold in a powerful way.

Whether we are in need of complete rebuilding like the walls and people of Jerusalem in Nehemiah’s time or we recognize the call of God in our hearts to institute change in some way, these key provide a solid approach for managing that change. Most importantly, Nehemiah’s example of anchoring himself in an unchanging God provides the single most important key for change to truly endure.

DISCUSSION: What other keys do you find essential for lasting change, either by way of experience or through another’s example?

What To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do

God's way 1One spouse quits a marriage. A child rebells. A friend refuses to reconcile differences. A boss pushes productivity levels.

We all – likely too often – find ourselves in situations like these where we feel stunned, frozen and helpless, and we hear these words come out of our mouths in desperation, “I don’t know what to do.”

Ever felt that way? Ever said those very words?

When this happens, I must admit that what I initially want to do is turn on the television or open a book and get lost in a made-up world. You know, pretend my life — and especially my problem — doesn’t exist. I’ve chosen that path many times before, and it works… but only temporarily. Eventually, panic comes back.

Recently when I said the words “I don’t know what to do,” I actually received a helpful answer, one that changed my way of thinking about situations that leave a person feeling at a loss, especially when that person is a Christian. That response? “Do what you can. Do what you know to do.”

My pastor gave me this advice and then elaborated a bit and reminded me that as Christians, we have some very specific activity we always know to do even when a situation seems impossible.

  1. God's Way_scripturePray. From short, spontaneous prayers like Nehemiah (Nehemiah 1:4) prayed when King Artexerses gave him opportunity to share his troubles to lengthy sessions such as the one recorded in Psalm 88, prayer always exists as an option.
  2. Ask for prayer. Quit thinking you have to go through troubles alone… God wants us to pray for and with each other (James 5:16).
  3. Read Scripture. Get God’s thoughts on situations from the everyday ones to the impossible ones. Psalm 119:105 says God’s Word is a light for our path, so turn on the light!
  4. Watch where you lean. My own understanding when in a struggle, at least initially, is usually wrought with emotion. And when I’m emotional, I don’t think clearly and can’t see anything but the problem. Getting God’s perspective, through Godly counsel and Scripture, gives us a place of strength on which to lean. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  5. Give thanks. So many examples of prayer in Scripture involve spending time thanking God. If you’re not sure why this is, spend a few minutes simply giving thanks for all He’s done for you and all He promises for His people, and you’ll soon realize why giving thanks is such an important activity during a struggle. (Philippians 4:6-7)
  6. Guard your thoughts. Doubt and loneliness rise up at their strongest during a crisis. Don’t allow your thoughts to dwell in the pit. Instead, focus on God’s promises recorded in Scripture. (Philippians 4:8-9)
  7. Wait. Looking again to Nehemiah, we know he waited four months from the time he felt a burden for his people in Jerusalem until the opportunity to ask for the King’s help. Nehemiah didn’t force the issue; instead, he kept doing his job (what he knew to do) and trusted that God would give him the opportunity to act. (Nehemiah 1-2)

Unfortunately, my quality of thinking easily goes down the drain when the emotions of a helplessness hit (especially if I’m tired or hungry and definitely if I’m both). I need reminded of right thinking, which then makes way for the peace of God.

When we finally realize that the statement, “I don’t know what to do,” simply isn’t true for Christians, we see a whole new place of victory even during the struggles of life.

DISCUSSION: What do you do when you don’t know what to do?

The Babel of Unity

Babel

Most Christians know that God desires unity. We’ve also likely experienced the effects of disunity on individual as well as group effectiveness. So we get the basic concept that unity is good, and disunity is bad. Right?

Then enters the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11:1-9. The people build this tower, working together in unity with one language, only to discover that God is displeased. Why? What about their unity upset God?

Here’s the point… While God does desire unity among believers, he does not want it at the expense of our obedience to Him.

To help understand this truth, let’s consider the following points from the story:

  1. The people settled in one place when they knew God wanted them to spread out and populate the earth.
  2. The people focused on “building a name” for themselves rather than on obeying God.
  3. Left alone, the people only focused inwardly rather than on God’s bigger purposes.
  4. The people were led astray by ungodly leaders.

In that basic outline of the story, I see my own struggle with remembering what God desires of me and with keeping His will as my focus at all times. And this struggle is not because God’s directives are too big or overwhelming. It’s because I’m an imperfect human being with a part of me that wants to go and do and be all on my own. I want to say and do what I want when I want, and I sometimes balk at this idea of obedience to anyone else’s way.

Reading stories like the Tower of Babel, along with the many others in the Old Testament, I realize how much human nature does not change. In these stories, I see how my life might play out should I continue to settle where I want, build a name for myself, and focus inwardly. So it helps me tremendously to think through these stories, ones I’ve heard and read many times during and since my childhood days in Sunday school, and draw lessons to help me avoid the same mistakes others have made.

With that, consider the following application points drawn from the Old Testament story of The Tower of Babel.

  1. Arrogance and pride lead to thinking we can match and even exceed God’s wisdom. (Proverbs 16:18)
  2. Desire for self-sufficiency leads to rebellion. (Isaiah 65:2)
  3. Building anything through relying on our own efforts rather than on God alone is futile. (Psalm 62:5-8)
  4. Be careful of following others into disobedience. (James 4:4)
  5. God will step in to diffuse rebellion. (Genesis 11:5-9)

When I think of the times in my life when I lost my focus on God, I usually (always?) replaced that focus with selfishness and independence. I also stopped moving forward, and I planted my feet in order to establish myself. I looked to my own wisdom and ability to achieve success, and I simply followed the whims of my fickle emotions.

Let’s be clear on one point, though: God always intervenes when his people head down the path of disobedience. The problem is, we don’t always notice his activity because we’re too inwardly focused. And the more we ignore Him, the less sensitive we become to His voice, and the more blind we are to our arrant ways. Eventually, God simply leaves us to our own devices (Romans 1:24).

BUT, if we listen to His still, small voice, and if we acknowledge our wrong ways and simply, as Bob Newhart says, “Stop it!”, we can avoid the confusion that comes into our lives when we take the path lined with arrogance, pride and rebellion. When we turn our focus back toward God, we’ll experience a rushing return of his grace and mercy, and his blessings once again will begin to flow in our lives.

But don’t take my word for it, take God’s word for it.

“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)

DISCUSSION: Can you think of additional application from the story of the Tower of Babel?

 For another take on the story of The Tower of Babel, see Loren Pinilis’ post “Why God May Oppose Your New Year’s Resolutions.”

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Infused with Alacrity

Have you ever been annoyed by someone’s enthusiasm? When someone consistently lacks authenticity and instead exists wrought with emotion & absent of action, do they grate on your nerves? When a person seems full of inflated enthusiasm that flares quickly and fades even more quickly, do you find yourself rolling your eyes in frustration at having to again waste your time?

Perhaps you’ve been that person who has episode after episode of enthusiasm that quickly waxes and wanes, and you wonder what’s keeping you from finally following through… just once.

Perhaps the key involves alacrity.

Alacrity 1

What is Alacrity?

Alacrity involves having a cheerful readiness, promptness or willingness as well as having a liveliness and briskness to what you do. Synonyms for alacrity include eagerness, keenness, fervor, zeal, sprightliness & agility.

The Latin origin of alacrity — alacritus — combines “lively” and “tasty” and gives the idea of an enthusiasm that “tastes good” to the point of craving more.

We’ve all experienced this type of enthusiasm — the type resulting in action with far-reaching impact. This type of enthusiasm is followed by well-thought-out planning built on garnered wisdom carefully crafted into an exciting vision. That’s enthusiasm infused with alacrity.

Regardless of whether you struggle living out your enthusiasm with significant, meaningful action, or if you simply want to take your enthusiasm to another level, focusing on alacrity might be the key.

Alacrity 2

Boaz & Alacrity

While studying the book of Ruth, I came across the term alacrity in an unexpected place. Easton’s Bible Dictionary gives the name Boaz the meaning “alacrity.”

In other references, the name Boaz is defined with the words swift, strong, powerful, mighty, fierce, safety, protection and quick. All of these sort of skim the edges of the meaning of alacrity, but they don’t explain how the word fits with the man Boaz in the story of Ruth.

So I reread the book of Ruth with the idea of alacrity in mind, and the term came alive in a way that stuck… a way that is helping me infuse my enthusiasm with alacrity.

(Note: If you don’t know much about the book of Ruth, I encourage you to read through its four short chapters now with the idea of alacrity in mind.)

Alacrity 3

Infused with Alacrity

Alacrity comes alive in Boaz’s example. Based on this example, let’s look at how alacrity can be infused into a person’s enthusiasm and become carried out through that person’s attitude, actions and words.

Alacrity becomes infused in a person’s character when they…

  1. Look out for the interests of others. (Philippians 2:4) Boaz made sure Ruth – and by extension Naomi – were taken care of in a right and proper way. Alacrity showed through in his willingness to help others.
  2. Are motivated by compassion. (Colossians 3:12) At first, Boaz’s motivation came simply when heard how Ruth took care of her mother-in-law. Alacrity showed through in his eagerness to help another person.
  3. Fulfill responsibilities. (Galatians 6:4-5) Once Boaz discovered his responsibilities as “kinsman redeemer,” he moved into action to immediately and fulfill them. Alacrity showed through in his readiness to meet requirements.
  4. Live deserving of esteem. (1 John 3:18) This doesn’t mean seeking respect; instead, it involves living worthy of respect from others. Alacrity showed through in Boaz’s agility, or natural willingness to live with godly character.
  5. Go above and beyond. (Colossians 3:17, 23-24) Boaz took initiative. He made the decision to act & then went well beyond expectation & obligation. Alacrity showed through in an enthusiasm that “tasted good.”

Alacrity 4

Alacrity Challenge

Does your attitude exude enthusiasm in a way that equips others?

Does it result in effective and complete action with long-term impact?

Do you live a life of integrity and effectiveness in a way that goes beyond the minimum required of you?

Do you use the opportunities before you and the gifts, talents and abilities God gives you to make a difference in the lives of others?

If not, what can you do differently to infuse alacrity into your enthusiasm?

Study it out: Read the book of Ruth. What other ways can you see alacrity come through in Boaz’s attitude, actions and words?

Defeating the Winter Blues

While debate exists over the cause and even the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), few doubt the impact of the dreary conditions of wintertime, especially those who live in areas with little sun in winter. For me, the term that best describes the blues that seem to hit in the dead of winter (December through February for the most part) is “doldrums.”

Doldrums

This term fits well for most who struggle with mood and energy during the winter months, about 12% of the population. Another 3% or so suffers true SAD , something I’ve also experienced. (Note: I migrated from SAD to the doldrums after finding victory over depression.)

10 Tips for Defeating the Winter Blues

Fortunately, much of what relieves the doldrums also helps with SAD (and depression too). So, for the sake of simplicity, let’s lump SAD and the doldrums into one category and call them the “winter blues.” However, realize that these exist along a continuum of severity. In most cases of SAD, there’s usually a significant biological reason (research shows that people with SAD produce significantly less seratonin in winter than in summer) that must be dealt with first with the help of a professional.

Based on my experience with the winter blues at almost every point along the continuum from SAD to a slight funk, I offer the following tips for defeating the winter blues.

  1. Move. Any activity beyond sitting or lying down positively impacts mood. This can mean a 10-minutes stretching routine, a 30-minute walk, cleaning the bathroom, or a quick trip to the grocery store. Just move!
  2. Budget. Money concerns, especially right after Christmas when the winter blues hit their peek, can drag even the most optimistic person down. Get some control by creating – and using – a budget.
  3. Breathe. I’m continually amazed at how just taking 10 deep breaths improves my outlook. Not only does it lessen my winter blues, but it helps me deal with stressful situations too.
  4. Eat. While eating your blues away is often a bad idea since it usually involves poor food choices, that doesn’t have to be the case. Instead, learn about healing foods that help lift mood and increase the “feel good” chemicals in your brain, and then purpose to get more of those consistently in your diet.
  5. Drink. Drinking more water is one of the two main activities that most quickly improve overall health. Whatever amount of water you’re drinking now, drink more. Hydration plays a huge role in virtually every bodily system.
  6. Sleep. Here’s the partner to drinking water. Establish a regular sleep/awake routine and stick to it year round. Figure out the amount of sleep that allows you to operate at your best, and get it consistently.
  7. Socialize. When I’m at a low point, I often avoid social interaction. Unfortunately, I avoid a terrific way to improve my mood when I do. We’ll cover this topic more in next week’s post, but let’s say for now that positive interaction with others does almost as much to improve mood as sleep and water.
  8. Simplify. This one took me years to truly establish as a life principle. Now, when I feel a funk setting in, which I know will grow into the doldrums if left unchecked, I look for ways to simplify.
  9. Supplement. Over the past 5 years, I’ve learned what supplements I need to operate optimally, especially mentally. A naturopath helped me get established, but now I do my own research & assessment. Start by learning the basic supplements everyone needs.
  10. Enjoy. Take time every day to enjoy simple pleasures from a hot bath and great music to a sunset and fresh air. Do this daily to help ward off the winter blues.

Hopefully you’ve gotten the idea there are a lot of ways to successfully battle the winter blues, and the more tools you have, the better. Yet, I have found that none truly help for the long term without the existence of one, specific focus always present in my life to motivate and drive me toward victory. I’ll let C.S. Lewis explain and close out this post.

Happiness quote

DISCUSSION: What tips do you have for gaining victory over the winter blues? What tips from the above list will you try this year? Any questions?

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Setting Yourself Up for a Healthy 2015 & Beyond

 

New Years statsStatistics taken from: New Year’s Resolution Statistics from Statistic Brain.

On the one hand, I really dislike new year’s resolutions. All too often, they seem to set people (myself included) up for failure and increased self-abasement. Consider the following statistics related to new year’s resolutions as support of this fact:

45% of Americans usually make New Year’s Resolutions.

8% of Americans succeed in keeping their resolutions.

24% never succeed in keeping their resolutions.

These statistics hold little encouragement or motivation toward setting New Year’s Resolutions. Now consider this related statistic:

People who make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make them.

While the failure statistics speak loudly, a focus on the probability for success can determine the reality for meeting desired change. To help increase your chances of success, be sure to set resolutions that take steps toward a healthier you, that help you focus on that which leads to a reality of more joy, and that build and repair relationships.

If you don’t like the idea of “New Years Resolutions,” call them something else, like goals or say you’re working toward a healthier lifestyle. Either way, creating resolutions/goals, whatever you decide to call them, can significantly increase your chances for having a healthy 2015 & beyond.

Consider the following tips for helping increase the probability of success for your 2015 New Year’s Resolutions.

  1. Pray before you set any resolutions. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the resolutions that direct you down the path of God’s will for His glory, not yours. (Proverbs 16:9)
  2. Keep it simple. Simple does not necessarily mean easy, but it does mean more focused and true to who you are in Christ. A mistake many people make with goals and resolutions involves setting too many or not making them specific enough. Instead, consider setting a few (1-3) specific resolutions over 10 more general ones.
  3. Use the small-steps approach. Never underestimate the power of small steps to add up over time to make a huge difference.
  4. Write down your resolutions. Dr. Gail Matthews, a psychology professor at Dominican University in California did a study on goal setting with 267 participants. She found that people are 42% more likely to achieve their goals just by writing them down (See the article “What the Science of Goal Setting Tells Us about Accomplishing More of What Matters Most” by Michael Hyatt for more on this topic.).
  5. Pray over them frequently once they’re set. Put your written goals somewhere you’re likely to run across them frequently.

Now that we’ve covered the positive side of setting goals and given statistics supporting the benefit of making them, let’s take a look at some criticisms of goal setting and how we can combat these potential negatives.

  1. Resolutions too often focus on weaknesses rather than strengths. To combat this, be sure to set resolutions that build on strengths. Instead of focusing on fixing the past, focus on creating a better you in the future. Live forward, not backwards.
  2. Our goals often come from a place of comparison to others. Avoid this mistake by looking at who you are and who God wants you to be, not how you stack up in any way against another person.
  3. Goals & resolutions often set us up for inevitable failure. Get at root causes instead of symptoms. Start by simplifying life and reducing busyness and by gradually working toward creating a healthier lifestyle.

Personally, I’ve fallen pray to each of these criticisms in year’s past. Only by taking more time and prayerfully considering my resolutions before I set them have I been able to combat these criticisms which are all-too-easily a reality when nothing is done to prevent them.

Remember that this blog as a whole focuses on struggling to victory BECAUSE focus determines reality. With that, ask yourself what reality you want to struggle toward this next year. And remember, too, that a reality of true joy and one where truth determines focus lies at the heart of a struggle that truly leads to victory.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on setting New Year’s Resolutions as way to have a healthy new year & beyond?

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Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape the fact that Scripture also clearly advocates for a right relationship with other Christians for the purpose of encouragement, building up the body of Christ, and for unity and peace by way of example for non-Christians.

The holidays have a way of amplifying the state of relationships, and, unfortunately, to make bad ones worse and cause good ones to struggle. Why is this? Likely, much of the strain comes from already struggling finances, expectations and disappointments that seem to surface at their highest intensity during the holidays.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered and approached rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes. What might this look like? Consider the following notes provided by my pastor during a teaching on Proverbs 3:5-6 and infused with my own thoughts and reflections.

My pastor titled his lesson, “Staying Healthy Through the Holidays,” and it largely inspired this series.

  1. A healthy family is committed and caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. An environment of respect needs cultivated. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Family convictions must be developed and deliberately lived out. These convictions must be stated and then allowed to shape traditions.
  4. Family dynamics change from year to year, and flexibility is required to maintain relationship through those changes. Purpose to adapt as people grow and mature and as numbers increase and maybe even decrease at family gatherings. Refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Assumptions can kill relationships. For this reason, make a point to respectfully express your feelings. Don’t take for granted that others know how you feel about them. Let them know verbally (say it) and physically (hugs, smiles, etc.).
  6. Many relationships fold under the weight of responsibility, which often increases during the holidays. Be sure to share responsibilities with others, which means not only asking what you can do to help but also asking for help too.
  7. This one may offend the technology-addicted, which is almost everyone these days… Engage people and be fully where you are. That means putting down the smart phone or tablet and making eye contact with people in the same room as you. And be sure to have alacrity, so your loved ones know you truly don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Like assumptions, expectations can also be relationship killers. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.
  9. As Scripture clearly points out, people are a priority. Because it’s important to God, be faithfully devoted to what will last… loving others.

Depression hits its height for many people during the holidays. So does family contention. And most likely, these two realities are closely related the the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year. Fortunately, a deliberate choice by the individual Christian can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you, and this directive certainly includes our relationships.

DISCUSSION: What are your recommendations for healthy relationships during the holidays & beyond?

Relationships 2

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