Life Themes, Part 2

Life Themes

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

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

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

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

Year In Review

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

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

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

Life Theme Application

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

1.) Focus determines reality.

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

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

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

2.) Refuse to quit.

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

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

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

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

3.) Take small steps.

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

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

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

4.) Keep it simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.) Wait on God.

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

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

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

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

Where Themes Meet Goals

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

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

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

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

What Drives Your Passion?

What is Passion?

Passion for anything, including my work, my kids and my husband, is misplaced if they exist as the focus and driving force behind that passion. That seems odd to say, but I think that’s because our definition of passion has gotten all mixed up.

Passion has several definitions.

  1. Any powerful or compelling emotion or feeling, as love or hate.
  2. Strong amorous feeling or desire; love; ardor.
  3. Strong sexual desire; lust
  4. An instance or experience of strong love or sexual desire.
  5. A strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for anything.

The key with passion is what drives it. If passion exists because of the object receiving it, if it is driven by that object, it’s misplaced. If the driving force is anything but God, our passion will lead us down the wrong path.

Living for God means both that his desires direct our passion and that the passion he doesn’t desire is put to death. In other words, any fondness, enthusiasm and desire we have must come from a focus on pleasing and glorify him, not satisfying our emotions or ego or fleshly desires in any way.

Scripture helps direct our passion this way.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” (Colossians 3:23)

“And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24)

We express passion through our attitudes, actions and words. For example, our alacrity reflects the state of our passion in any given situation. In other words, how we live shows the focus and driving force behind our passions.

The question then becomes, is the passion driving my attitudes, actions and words given and directed by God? Or, is it self generated and led by that which only satisfies my flesh?

Out of Balance

Inability to live as my God-given passion directs indicates imbalance in at least one area of life. Often, imbalance exists in multiple areas at the same time when my passion struggles for breath.

Too busy. Discouraged. Fatigue. Frustration. Just to name a few.

All of these block my ability to live life with passion. When this happens, when you know God is directing you a certain way but your motivations won’t cooperate, pay attention. This usually happens because two things are going on, sometimes one at a time and sometimes both at once.

  1. An adjustment of some sort is needed.
  2. An opportunity for growth is presenting itself.

When I’m too busy, my commitments need adjusting and cleaning out. If discouraged or frustrated, my focus needs adjusted back on Jesus. Constant fatigue generally means I need to adjust something physically like sleep, exercise, hydration and diet (often all of them).

Focus & Source

When I first enter a season of adjustment and growth, I rarely recognize it for what it is. In fact, I usually look for external sources out of my control to blame. While such sources are likely a contributing factor, they are not the root cause.

The root cause always lies with some physical, mental or spiritual source within myself. Often, it’s a combination of the three. Not diminishing external influences though.

Betrayal. Broken trust. Unemployment. Illness. Death.

Life certainly hands us plenty to knock us off kilter.

But our passion, if it’s focused on and sourced from God, can remain full and true regardless of circumstances. Sure, it will fluctuate because of the factors that influence it, but it can never be taken away when its source lies only in your Creator.

“Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” (1 Corinthians 8:6)

More Books Than Time

Some people feel the need to finish every book they start. I do not. I will start and not finish a book if it’s poorly written. I’ll also stop reading it if it just does not click with me for any reason.

There are too many books in the world for any one person to read in a lifetime. Why waste my time when there are so many other available options?

Sometimes, though, I actually get frustrated trying to decide how to best spend my reading time. It bugs me I can’t ever get to all the books I want to read. I feel like I’m missing out on information and inspiration key for my life.

More Books than Space

Some people have more books than the space in which to keep them in an organized fashion. The advent of electronic books has helped that situation considerably though.

Thinking of this reminds me of a particular comment the disciple John makes a couple of times.

“And I suppose that if all the other things Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books.” (John 21:25)

Jesus did so much during his three-year ministry the world could not contain a written account of all of it. So, all the books in the world together pale in comparison to what would be a complete written account of Jesus’ ministry.

For a bibliophile like me, that’s an amazing fact to try and grasp.

We Have Enough

I wonder what else would be recorded if electronic books were available in Jesus’ day. Would we just get more examples supporting what we already know? Are we missing out because we don’t know all Jesus did? Or, would having all that written down be so much information that reading it all would be a burden, kind of like reading all the books in the Library of Congress?

We can’t definitively answer these questions. However, we can know for certain that what we DO have written down in Scripture is enough. We can be certain that what we’re given in the Bible provides exactly what we need.

“Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31)

Complete Knowledge

We can also realize that even though our knowledge remains incomplete this side of Heaven, one day our knowledge will be complete.

“For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away, but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will fully know just as I also have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-12)

How many people actually witnessed much of what Jesus did — both what was written down and what wasn’t — and still failed to believe he was who he said he was? They teach us that belief doesn’t come with knowing everything.

Comfort in Knowing

These Scripture comfort to those of us who like to know lots of stuff. They help those who like to understand the why and what and feel frustrated when we can’t.

We can instead turn our efforts toward what to do with what we do know. We don’t have to try and wish away our circumstances and remain frustrated trying to understand what we don’t know.

Frodo: “I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.”

Gandalf: “So do all who live to see such times, but that is not for them to decide. All you have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to you.”

(Fellowship of the Ring)

We can’t do much with what we don’t know, though it can consume us if we let it. We can, however, determine what to do with what we do know.

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

waiting-lineWaiting in line. Waiting for dinner. Waiting for a train. Waiting for a package to arrive.

Waiting for test results. Waiting for your teen to get home. Waiting for guests to arrive.

Waiting for a phone call. Waiting for a headache to subside. Waiting for the storm to stop.

Waiting for coffee to brew. Waiting for an answer. Waiting for the light to turn green.

Waiting for your turn. Waiting for your flight. Waiting to hear about that job.

Growing impatience. Growing boredom. Time slows to a crawl. Sometimes fear sets in.

Maybe Tom Petty had it right when he sang…

“The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith; you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”

Why is waiting so difficult for most people?

wait-2Because waiting feels like it serves no purpose.

Because it seems like a waste of time.

Because we hate that we can’t control the situation.

Because it often comes with an unknown outcome.

Because we don’t want to miss out on anything.

Because we really don’t have to wait for much anymore.

Our on-demand culture certainly emphasizes the futility of waiting, of having everything “Your Way Right Away.” After all, we run full tilts on instant messages, fast food and push notifications. Unfortunately, waiting and getting what we want right away all the time only hacks away at our ability for patience in every area of life.

“The need for round-the-clock connection not only makes people more impatient, it also robs them of time for quiet reflection or deeper, more critical thinking. They tend to want constant stimulation, have less impulse control and get distracted more easily.” (Instant Gratification & Its Dark Side by Ronald Aslop)

My family went on a Caribbean cruise last spring. We turned off our phones and locked them in our room safe for the 10-day cruise as soon as we got on board. Many cruisers did not but instead opted to pay the significant fees for limited cell phone access. If a Caribbean cruise can’t lure someone away from the always-connected pace of life, might there be a significant problem at play?

We all know someone like this, right? We get frustrated when they can’t seem to part with their phone, when they pause a face-to-face conversation to have a virtual one. We easily recognize the vanishing effort to slow down our fast-paced, ever-connected lives to spend time simply breathing and thinking and existing… in others anyway.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Do they really? If this is true, why don’t more people seek to develop patience and their ability to wait? Why do they allow their impatience to drive them? Why do they let technology constantly drive their gratification in every area of life? Why do they think they need success in short order rather than after hard work and long-term effort?

Can we admit that sometimes, this “they” we’re talking about could be our kids, our spouse and maybe even ourselves? Can we see that instant has tainted — maybe even ruined — our ability to patiently wait?

If we take just a few moments, better yet an afternoon or a day, to let go of instant, I think we’ll realize that when we get whatever it is we want right away, we’re never really satisfied because there’s always more to want and have. If we take longer, say a week or more of vacation — a slow-paced one, not a frantic, see-everything one — and limit or eliminate instant as much a possible in our lives, we might discover a part of ourselves longing to get out more.

Learning to Wait Again

manikin-1154431-1599x1832Read a book. Make meals from scratch. Take walks without your phone; let it play dead. Play games. Talk. Look people in the eye. Ask questions, then really listen.

At first you’ll likely feel the itch to get back to instant. Resist the urge. Refuse to give in. Your patience has been dormant a while and may need time to stretch before it can move about again. As time passes, you’ll discover that simplicity, quiet reflection and critical thinking offer something you’ve longed for unaware. You’ll see that real connection happens face-to-face. And you might even create a desire for a less-instant life, one that comes only when pursued.

Learn to slow down and wait again. Teach yourself how to enjoy every moment. Let life’s pace decrease, so you can discover the good that comes through waiting and patience.

What small steps can you take toward less instant life today? What results do you hope to see in the pursuit of learning to wait?

Limitations and Strengths

2 corinthians 9

“It is not until we are comfortable with and thankful for our limitations that God empowers us to be used in our strengths.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead)

Fairly often, I’m comfortable with my limitations. Well, at last accepting of their existence. However, I probably spend an equal amount of time being frustrated by them. Mostly that means comparing myself to others, which only leads to increased dissatisfaction with my limitations as I desire to be someone I’m not and fail to appreciate the person God made.

Until just a few years ago, actually being thankful for my limitations never fell on my radar. Tolerance, a mix of apathy and acceptance, sure. But not thankfulness. Increasing frustration for certain when I thought about them too much.

The last few years have brought increasing comfort with my limitations as well as some measure of thankfulness much of the time. This came as I realized I’m not only protected by my limitations, but I’m directed by them too. You see, without my limitations, I’d more often that not head down the wrong path. I’d miss God’s will.

Take exercise for example. My goal now exists as general fitness and as good of health as possible. It used to be to project to others the image of an athlete, someone who could physically excel and be stronger, thinner and healthier than others. It was all about status and comparisons. My limitations? My body simply would not cooperate with the life of an athlete. I eventually saw those limitations as protection against a wrong focus, something that could easily have become an obsession.

So, I’m learning to be consistently both comfortable with and thankful for my limitations. I see their benefits more fully almost daily, and I realize the way God uses them to direct my focus toward His desires.

Paul talks about a thorn in his flesh in 2 Corinthians 12, and he talks about how it was there to keep him from exalting himself. Before reaching what seems like a place of comfort and thankfulness with this thorn, Paul asked God three times to remove it. I can relate. I asked God way more than three times to remove my food allergies and sensitivities, another major area of limitation in my life.

Eventually, Paul reached the point of boasting in His weakness, realizing that it was in his limitations that the power of Christ dwelt in Him. His conclusion on the matter finally being…

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’… For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

The truth of grace’s sufficiency becomes evident through our limitations — our weaknesses — as we realize our utter helplessness for meaningful success in our own efforts. Even what we’re good at, we eventually realize, exists with limitations in place for our good.

When we reach a point of comfort with and acceptance of our limitations, we become more focused on being used in our strengths, our gifts and abilities, placed within us by our Creator. Placed there for divine reasons, our limitations direct us to and help keep us focused on to His glory.

Projection, Amplification & Perception

faults

My teenage boys sometimes talk about certain people who consistently annoy and frustrate them. While I usually encourage them to try and see the good, some positive, in those people, I also let them know I understand the struggle.

My oldest son terms such a person his “mortal enemy” (he watches a lot of superhero movies), and I get the meaning behind this quip. Some people just bring out something in us we’d rather not see. Yet, it’s ultimately quite important that we not only see it but understand what that something is if we are to grow as individuals.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead to an understanding of ourselves.” (Carl Jung)

At mid-life, I now realize the humbling truth of this statement. I also realize how blind to it I was as a teenager and even through my twenties. Now, though, I look for it almost automatically when I’m irritated and frustrated with someone, and doing so almost always not only brings some revelation for my own growth but also helps me be more loving toward that person.

A college professor of mine talked about this idea as “projection and amplification.” He said that not only do we project something about ourselves — a weakness, bad habit, etc. — onto another, but we amplify it in them too. Doing so, we think, allows that same fault within us to not appear as prominent, if others even see it at all in light of how big it is in another person.

Here’s the hard truth of what both my professor and Jung were saying and what took me years to learn…

“Your perception of me is a reflection of you.”

“We do not see things as they are; we see them as we are.”

When we look at others, how we view them — our opinions of them — and ultimately how we treat them reveals more about who we are than it does about who they are. If we flip that, we realize that how others react to and treat us is often more a reflection of them than it is of us.

Does this realization change how you think about others?

For me, I try to understand what it is in someone who annoys and/or frustrates me that might be simply revealing a flaw or weakness in me. I attempt to let go of hurts others inflict because I realize there’s likely more going on beneath their surface than I could possibly know. I’ve simply learned that a struggle with another person can reveal much I need to learn about myself if I’m willing to see and admit the truth.

What can you do moving forward to apply this truth to your own life?

How to Get Unstuck

stuck 2When our van got stuck in the snow years ago, it overheated and caught on fire when I tried to get it unstuck. In hindsight, I should have just waited for the tow truck my husband went to call. Not one of my better decisions.

Stuck in traffic. Stuck in the mud (or snow). Stuck in a rut.

Doesn’t matter what kind of stuck… Frustration grows the longer I’m stuck, whether mentally physically or spiritually. The more frustrated I become, the less patience I have, and the more stuck I feel.

Being stuck gets my emotions all riled up, and I simply become unable to make good decisions. Until the frustration, impatience and anger abate, I feel lost in an endless maze of emotions. So, feeling stuck too easily turns into more like being trapped unless I find a way to overcome the emotions and get unstuck.

For this reason, my first step when I feel stuck is to get out from under out-of-control emotions. Sometimes this means simply walking away from the situation if possible and letting the emotions abate. When physical space can’t happen, I try creating mental space through praying, reading, singing… whatever gets my mind off how I feel, which is rarely a good lens for handling a situation well.

After my emotions fade, I can see more clearly and am able to assess the situation and consider the root cause. I ask myself, “Why did I get stuck in the first place?”  Sometimes, the cause is simply a wrong turn. Other times, being stuck serves as a warning from my subconscious alerting me to a problem I might not recognize on my own.

stuck 1With our van incident, while a wrong turn led us to getting stuck, and my impatience resulted in a significantly worse situation, the whole incident alerted us to a problem with the vehicle’s electrical system.  In this case, we just lost the van, and no one was hurt. Had this particular situation not happened, we might have learned about the recall through a much worse scenario.

Once we have a better idea of what caused us to become stuck, we can make the best choice for how to wisely work through the problem. If a wrong turn is the cause, the best solution is usually to just get back on the right path. Sometimes this means getting help, and sometimes this means backtracking. Either way, simply accepting the loss — and apologizing if needed — is often the best way to get unstuck.

In the past when I’ve felt stuck, I’ve generally made one of two bad choices for dealing with being stuck. Sometimes, I got stubborn and pushed (forced my way) through to progress. Other times, I did nothing and simply wallowed in my doldrums. Both of these approaches ended the same way… chronic stuckness from never actually dealing with the root cause.

Over the years, I’ve learned that being stuck is not necessarily a bad thing. It brings me to a standstill, to a place where I am unable to proceed or go back, and that makes me stop and think. When I get out from under my emotions and find the root cause, I also discover needed adjustments I would not have seen had I not gotten stuck.

Getting stuck never feels good, regardless of the details. Yet when we realize that the best adjustments in our lives often come because we get stuck, we see the benefit to this unavoidable waiting. We begin to understand that progress often comes with forced course corrections largely because we often don’t stop to look for them otherwise.

DISCUSSION: How do you get unstuck?

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

construction-sign-1311371-1280x960

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?

How to Not Exasperate Your Children

Do you exasperate your children?

Ephesians 6:4 gives this advice regarding parenting…

“Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”

Note: Just because this scripture singles out fathers doesn’t mean mothers are exempt. It just means that since fathers should be the spiritual heads of the house, this command is first directed toward them for setting the example.

Exasperate means…

“to irritate or provoke to a high degree; annoy extremely.”

Colossians 3:21 provides further detail on the concept by adding the component of why not exasperating your children is important.

“Fathers, do not embitter (exasperate) your children, or they will become discouraged.”

Children can become frustrated and discouraged because of their parents, and most parents know that frustrated kids are individuals who too easily head down the wrong path in life. As parents, we should deliberately choose not to frustrate our kids since there’s already enough in this world to exasperate them.

Before you think I’m advocating giving kids what they want when they want it, let’s look at how we can be parents who aid, assist, cooperate with, encourage, facilitate, help and support our kids. Let’s consider how we can avoid discouraging our children by evaluating our parenting in light of the following elements.

  1. Consistency. Children need security, and they need to know what to expect. They need to know they will be disciplined when they do wrong and that the discipline will be fair. They need to know they will be praised when they do right and that the praise will be appropriate. The more children know what to expect from their parents, the more secure and stable they will be overall.
  2. Availability. Being available for your kids doesn’t simply mean being a taxi service, cooking meals and meeting clothing needs. Availability involves truly listening (that means stopping what you are doing and making eye contact), and it means letting them express feelings and thoughts in a safe environment.
  3. Priorities. Children need to know they are important to their parents. They need to know their parents value them and consider them unique and special individuals. Sure, a parent can say this, but kids really need to see it through actions. This means scheduling time to simply hang out, play, talk, etc. with your kids. It means intentionally asking about their days, their friends and their struggles. While your kids may not be THE highest priority in your life (your relationship with your spouse and with Christ should be higher priorities), they need to be a top priority for sure.
  4. Integrity. There is always someone watching. This is especially true when you have children. children watch their parents to learn how to live life. Parents’ actions teach kids about integrity. The question all parents need to ask themselves is if they are the same at home as they are in public. If a parent is putting on a different face in public than at home, they send a confusing message about integrity. From the smallest to the biggest moments in life, you can teach your children about integrity in ways that will stick through them all their lives.
  5. Respect and Obedience. Having a zero-tolerance approach to disrespect and disobedience goes a long way in teaching children how to be successful adults. How many adults do you know who do not have a healthy respect for their bosses, coworkers or pastors? If someone struggles in this area, they likely struggle more in every area of life than is necessary. Teaching your kids respect and obedience sets them up for victory in life in a way that is dying out in today’s culture.

When parents focus on being consistent and available, when they make their kids a priority, and when they strive to teach them integrity, respect and the value of obedience to authority, they are giving them great advantages in life because frustration and discouragement will be less of an issue for them.

Not exasperating your children simply involves teaching them the character qualities that will allow them to focus on who God created them to be. They’ll learn contentment in this process as well, and they’ll one day thank you for instilling these values in them.

DISCUSSION: What advice do you have for fulfilling Ephesians 6:4 and Colossians 3:21 as a parent?

Pursuing Encouragement Through Scripture

Psalm 119During a season of discouragement, I can’t convince myself that it’s going to end. Current discouragement always seems permanent. When discouraged, Scripture often frustrates me. I understand little to nothing and struggle with wandering thoughts. So, I just go through the motions and do my best to fight through wondering, “What’s the point? Why bother?”

When I’m discouraged and feel like reading God’s word is pointless, I must remember that my feelings often inaccurately gage the impact of God’s word on my inner self. I must force my vision outside of my feelings and remember that all previous seasons of discouragement eventually ended, which means this one will too.

Never has consistently meditating (reflecting) on Scripture failed to significantly aid my struggle through discouragement. Though the process seems minutely gradual at times, that’s how progress journeys to visible growth. Perseverance is essential to spiritual growth in the struggle through discouragement.

While I cannot feel the progress during this current season of discouragement, I can replay the memories of moving through and out of previous ones. In doing so, I come to know the truth currently at play even though feelings fail to confirm its activity.

While there are many others, three portions in particular showcase why Scripture encourages me.

Encouaragement

God doesn’t just suggest encouragement, he actually commands it. What’s more, he gives us reasons to find that encouragement along with sources for making that happen. Scripture reminds believers that God’s promises continual support for his people, particularly when they become weary, depressed or disillusioned. And the encouragement it offers comes through a focus on God, not on ourselves or our problems.

For me, that focus consistently involves allowing Scripture to:

  • Shape my perspective
  • Give me boundaries
  • Keep me thankful
  • Guide my every step
  • Renew my hope

The most poignant times of discouragement in my life came clouded with depression and despair because of the absence of God’s Word in my habits and routines. Yet every time, God drew me back and drew me in. The seasons eventually ended, and I understood their role in my growth. Because he’s done this so many times before in my life, and because His Word promises He’s always with me, I know he’ll bring me through this season too.

DISCUSSION: How does God’s Word encourage you?