Social Connection… Not Easy But Best

Because introversion is a dominant part of my personality, I used to believe I did not need much social interaction. In fact, I once bragged I could go days without talking to anyone outside of my immediate family.

Gradually, I realized that just because I can doesn’t mean I should. What changed my mind? Three insights.

Introverted ≠ Anti-Social

After reading a lot about introverted personalities, and helping others learn How to Interact with an Introvert, I realized there are a lot of misconceptions about introverts. Unfortunately, I had bought into many of those misconceptions and turned them into excuses for living fully in my introversion.

First, just because so much is happening inside an introvert, as opposed to extraverts whose activity is much more visible, does not mean introverts don’t need to interact externally too. Introverts tend to prefer one-on-one or small group social interaction instead of large groups, but they do need interaction.

Also, the interaction introverts do have, and it is usually less than extraverts, tends to involve less small talk and to instead focus on more in-depth interactions. And after any social interaction, introverts need to recharge with alone time. That’s where we get our energy. Extraverts seem energized by the interaction itself.

Being alone is much easier for me than engaging in social interaction. But as my kids would tell me if they heard me say that, “Easier isn’t always better.”

In fact, most people are some combination of extravert and introvert, known as ambivert. This means that the vast majority of us need some level of alone time and some level of social interaction. It’s just different for everyone.

I finally realized I was taking the easier route, and it wasn’t better. I was often lonely, and I knew this was not how I wanted to live my life.

Social Interaction = Healthier Aging

The second insight came inadvertently. In an attempt to put more variety into my reading selections, I subscribe to a few different RSS feeds. One article sent me on an unexpected quest.

Let the “Black Mirror” References Fly: Britain Has a Ministry for Loneliness

The article initially caught my attention because I wondered what “Black Mirror” was. (In the article, Black Mirror refers to a show on Netflix.) I finished the article and forgot about this reference, instead focusing on how a country’s government would allocate funding toward making sure people are less lonely.

“For far too many people, loneliness is the sad reality of modern life. I want to confront this challenge for our society and for all of us to take action to address the loneliness endured by the elderly, or carers, by those who have lost loved ones, people who have no one to talk to or share their thoughts or experiences with.” (British Prime Minister Theresa May)

The brief article also provided these, to me, startling research findings:

  • Approximately 42.6 million Americans over age 45 suffer from chronic loneliness.
  • People with social connection have 50% lower risk of dying early.
  • Studies suggest that isolation and living alone impact a person’s risk for early death.
  • Loneliness is worse for health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

Additional research on my part showed these findings are accurate. The Brits were on to something, and I wanted in. After all, one of my life goals is to age gracefully, and now I saw that a healthy social life was a major key for that to happen.

God Encourages Fellowship

Even in my regular Bible studies over the years, I somehow managed to neglect the importance God places on fellowship. By no means does that mean a lack of awareness on my part. I knew what Scripture said about fellowship, but I foolishly thought that my minimal interactions fulfilled what God wanted.

The Holy Spirit used the above insights about introversion and loneliness combined with reintroducing me to what God’s Word says about fellowship to redirect the social focus of my life.

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:25)

There are many additional Scripture advocating for the connection we are to have to one another as Christians and to the benefits gained from that fellowship. So, really no surprise to find out that we are physically tied to the benefits of connection with others too.

What finalized the need to shore up my social life is how I finally really saw Jesus’ own interactons during his 3-year ministry.

  • Jesus took time to be alone while also making time with others a priority.
  • He never showed annoyance at those wanting his attention as he was walking from one place to another or as he was speaking to crowds.
  • He spent a great deal of time with his small group, his disciples.

Jesus’ examples combined with the many other references to fellowship in Scripture make me simply unable to deny the importance of social interaction for my own life any longer.

Be More Social!

Likely, I’ll always struggle with social interaction to some extent. Yet, I feel I will struggle less so now that I understand how intertwined it is with our physical and spiritual health.

One of my current goals is to “Be more social!” I realize this goal is much less than what experts recommend for goal setting. It’s not specific or measurable. Yet, I’ve still made progress with it. That progress comes because of the motivation, the “Why?” that pushes me onward.

Ultimately, the “Why?” is to finally live in obedience in this area of my life. It also involves knowing that God encourages social interaction because He knows it makes this race of life better for everyone, much like running with a friend increases our endurance. Having research back up the benefits of social interaction is akin to God putting an exclamation point on my goal.

Social interaction is not easy for me. But, it is important, crucial actually. So, I push toward this goal every day, letting my “Why?” lead me ever on to the best way over the easy one.

Instauration

God Speaks to Us

God speaks to us in unique and varied ways. The Bible provides many examples of this.

Beyond Scripture, the lives of many Christians today hold testimony of how God still speaks to each one of us. Mine included.

One way God speaks to me regularly is through the variety of items I read, from books and periodicals to blog posts and news stories. He makes connections between the ideas in those and the truths in His Word as well as with the activity of my life.

What follows is an example of how this happens. This is meant not as a prescription for how God speaks to a person but as a way to expand your ideas of how God may be working in your life.

“Cool Words”

My mom and I have looked for interesting words ever since she talked me into playing Scrabble with her when I was six years old by allowing me to use a dictionary to find words. This started a lifelong connection we have to “cool words,” a connection my mom and I still share and that I also now pursue on my own.

Toward the end of December 2017, my Dictionary.com app presented the word instauration. The word caught my attention and was deemed “cool” for two reasons.

  1. It fits nicely with goal setting.
  2. It has an intriguing root.

Goal Setting

My family sets goals together around the end/beginning of each year. We don’t create family goals, though my husband’s and my goals often overlap, but we do talk about what we want to achieve or change in the coming year.

I also have Life Themes that have integrated into my life over the years. Those help in assessing the previous year and in narrowing my focus for the coming one.

In addition, I also sometimes choose a single word to focus on for the coming year. This is known as the One Word 365 approach. It provides yet another way for me to consider how I want to grow in the year to come.

Instauration

The word “instauration” pulled all of these goal-setting approaches together for me.

I love that the word combines four words into one, words that integrate well with most goal-setting efforts. I also liked that it has the same word source as the word “store” and “restaurant,” both of which help us renew, restore, renovate and repair, because now I have continual reminders of the word in my everyday life.

And while those are interesting connections, they are not what really brought this word into an intense light for me. What did is a one that led to focus again on my Identity in Christ.

The Greek root for the word instauration is “stauros.” Stauros was used when referring to an upright stake for a foundation. And now we’ve arrived at the really cool part. But first, a Bible verse, to which I’ll explain the connection momentarily.

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God.’” (Matthew 27:39-40)

The cool part? The word used in this Scripture for cross is the stauros that eventually led to the word instauration. In other words, this concept of renewal, restoration, renovation and repair — instauration — has its roots in the cross of Jesus.

When I learned the root of instauration along side its current-day meaning, I realized the connection the Holy Spirit was making for me between my goals and my identity having its foundation in Christ.

Accepted, Secure & Significant

If I’m not careful, I start to let what others think about me (or what I think they think) define who I am. I also let comparisons direct my attitude, actions and words. This leads to my goals becoming self-centered attempts at making myself into something of value.

Connecting instauration with my goals helped me more fully realize that my value — my identity — comes from Christ alone. What others think or how I think I compare do not define me. A Secure Identity is my reality because it is based on Christ alone.

Because my Identity is in Christ, even if I achieve none of my goals — or all of them — I am accepted, secure and significant.

Because of what Jesus did on the cross, because my identity is in Him, I am accepted, secure and significant.

Even while I am continually renewed, restored, renovated and repaired this side of Heaven, I am already accepted, secure and significant.

As I assess my goals throughout this year and as I think about how instauration plays into them, I am continually reminded about my identity in Christ too. I am also reminded that I have a Secure Identity that no Identity Crisis can undo or take away.

That is my hope for you as well. Let your identity in Christ define and shape every part of your life. If you do, no matter what happens, you can always know you too are accepted, secure and significant.

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.

Life Themes, Part 1

Effective and Productive

Lots of people make New Year’s resolutions. In fact, about half of Americans make them. Unfortunately, according to Norcross & Vangarelli as reported in Psychology Today, most people fail to stick to their resolutions. Specifically…

  • 22% fail after one week
  • 40% fail after one month
  • 50% fail after three months
  • 60% fail after six months
  • 81% fail after twenty-four months

Reasons for this failure involve…

  • Unclear and vague goals
  • Failure to gauge one’s progress
  • Weak self-control and self-regulation

Honestly, not at all surprised by these numbers or by the reasons for them. They’ve certainly proven true in my life over the years.

What I have found to be effective instead is having life themes that integrate into every facet of my life. They have to be biblically-based, though, or even this approach fails to be effective over the long term.

These themes developed gradually and were born out of adversity and failure. And I’m grateful for this process because they now help direct me to being effective and productive in ways goal setting never did.

Focus & Motivation

You’ll may look at the themes I’m about to share and think they are simply positive-thinking mantras. And to some extent you’d be right. But they’re more than that. They also remind me of where I’ve been and what I’ve come through, and they motivate me to continue into where I’m being led.

Two passages in Isaiah not only encapsulate these ideas but also help weave these themes together.

“Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God’? Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:27-31)

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)

These, and other, scripture serve to remind me of the themes of my life. I need the reminders too. Without them, I just get overwhelmed by life. This is one reason I need to consistently study Scripture. Doing so helps these themes continually come to the surface not just in what I’m studying but in every facet of my life from teaching to talking to a friend or my kids to when I’m alone and working.

My Life Themes

Let me simply share these themes with you now. In next week’s post, I’ll go into some detail on each of them.

  1. Focus determines reality. (Isaiah 26:3; Galatians 5:16-18; Luke 12:34)
  2. Never give up. (Isaiah 50:7; Hebrews 10:35)
  3. Take small steps. (Hebrews 12:12)
  4. Keep it simple. (Colossians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 11:3)
  5. Wait on God. (Isaiah 30:18; Psalm 27:14)

If you were to spend much time with me or even to just read through a handful of posts on this blog, you’d run into each of these themes over and over again. In fact, there are quite a few people you could talk to who could name a few if not all of these since they’ve heard my say them so often. And that’s a deliberate goal on my part.

Which brings us back to the idea of goal setting. The Holy Spirit directs me to goals all the time. And when he does, He also lays out the plan for achieving them. Sometimes the plan comes all at once, but often it comes in just one or a few steps at a time. Always perfectly. And always, these themes saturate the plan.

This approach serves to eliminate unclear and vague goals because I’m following the Holy Spirit, not pushing for progress in my own efforts. As for self-control and self-regulation, that comes through a combination of Bible study and accountability, which both serve to remind me of the life themes planted in my spirit.

No, I have not eliminated all of what keeps most people from achieving goals. However, I do realize my inability to set and achieve goals in my own effort, so I try to continually turn that work over to the Holy Spirit.

As 2018 approaches, I am taking time to review these themes and to remind myself of the Holy Spirit’s continual activity in my life. This week’s and next week’s posts are reflective of that renewal. Including others in more of my life is a goal the Holy Spirit has recently shared with me, and these posts are, hopefully, reflective this too.

Dependent Independence

Leaving Season

This post is not about divorce. However, we must take a quick glance through it in order to get to our focus. When asked about whether divorce was okay, Jesus said the following:

4 “Have you not heard that he who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said ‘for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh?’ 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)

These verses were always tied to a single event for me… a wedding ceremony and the lifelong commitment being made. Now, however, they connect more to a season of life, especially the words “shall leave.”

Empty Nest

Children leaving home results in an empty nest. And for many parents, this produces what is known as empty nest syndrome.

“Empty nest syndrome is a feeling of grief and loneliness parents may feel when their children leave home for the first time, such as to live on their own or to attend a college or university.”

This syndrome is not something that just suddenly appears, though. In fact, the season begins well before children physically leave home permanently.

Sure, an empty nest is the definitive sign that it’s happened, but the process starts sometime in the teen years. For me, it began with both my boys at the same time even though they are two years apart. While the process can be quite difficult, it’s also a natural and healthy part of life.

Parents see it as their children pulling away. Some see it as a failure of their parenting. I saw it at first as something wrong and out of place.

In this season, teens want to socialize more with friends than with family. They become increasingly private. They want to make their own decisions and don’t want others to control their lives. They begin to decide what they believe is right and wrong and to live by those beliefs rather than by what their parents believe.

Psychological Autonomy

Technically, it’s called psychological autonomy, and there are three aspects of it when referring to teenagers.

  1. Emotional autonomy = changes that occur in the adolescent’s close relationships, most notably with parents.
  2. Behavioral autonomy = has to do with the ability to make independent decisions and to carry through with them.
  3. Value autonomy = involves the development of a set of principles about right and wrong that guide one’s thinking and behavior.

This process can lead to healthy adult relationships with adult children. Or not. In our culture, it seems the adult parent/child relationship often doesn’t mature to the leaving point. Or, there’s a constant disconnect and the relationship simply feels broken.

The key for surviving this season, I’m discovering, is remembering the parenting goals my husband and I set years ago. We swaddled these goals in prayer for many years and now need to trust what God is doing with them.

Dependent Independence

My husband and I agreed long ago that we wanted to teach our boys to be independent and to love God. If we did nothing else in the years they are ours to shape, we wanted to accomplish those two things.

This independence we want for them, though, requires dependence.

We want them to be strong men who make confident decisions. We hope they will take responsibility for their attitudes, actions and words. We also want them to understand that they alone make those choices. Sure, influences abound, but they choose.

At the same time, we want their independence from us and others to be directed by dependence on God. Our prayer is that they lean on Him in every detail of their lives and allow Him to direct their paths (Proverbs 3:5-6). In this way, they may be living in this world, but they don’t have to be of it (John 17:14-15). Hopefully, we gave them the roots they need to move confidently into the dependent life God desires for them.

Now, we have to let them work through the leaving process. Even though we still want to protect them, guide them, lead them… we are seeing the need to step out of the way and to now walk beside instead of in front of them. Sometimes, even, we’ll need to follow behind.

Teach and Trust

Only in the beginning stages of this leaving season, I have much to learn. More pain to experience too, I’m sure. At the same time, I rejoice in knowing that my faith is growing in the process as I learn to more fully trust God with my children. I also realize how crucial this whole process is for them to grow in their faith and to trust God more too.

“Teach your children to choose the right path, and when they are older, they will remain upon it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

We’ve taught them to love Jesus, though our teaching came out quite imperfectly. Now we must trust they will follow that path. Our trust isn’t in them, though, it’s in God. It’s time to more fully trust Him to lead them down the path of independence from us and to increased dependence on Him.

Spending Time With God

My husband and I have been married for 24 years, and we dated for 6 years before getting married. At this point, we know each other pretty well. Likes. Dislikes. Annoyances. Goals. Dreams. Fears. We started finishing each others thoughts after the 20-year mark, and we can anticipate needs and expectations better than ever before.

By spending time together, talking or just doing life together, my husband and I have gotten to know each other quite well. Of course, going through tough times together has a tremendous amount to do with how well we know each other too.

The intimate connection between a husband and a wife gives one of the best pictures of the intimacy — the knowing — that God desires with us. In fact, God actually uses the marriage relationship to tells us about Christ’s relationship with the church in Ephesians 5:22-32.

The Activity of Knowing God’s Will

You don’t have to be married to understand what God desires. God wants to know us, and he wants us to know him. Scripture is very clear on that.

Knowing God’s Will begins with the Gospel of Christ, that we know with utmost certainty. To grow in that relationship, we can look to the example of a good marriage. The knowing of another person that happens in marriage gives insight into the specific activity that results in knowing God and his will.

That activity? Spending time together.

Just You & God

Spending time with other people (children, extended family, friends) is necessary and beneficial. However, time for just my husband and me has proved crucial for the success of our marriage. The same is true in our relationship with God.

Spending time with God helps you learn what he wants, what he expects of you and what pleases him. It helps you anticipate his desires and to understand what he wants you to avoid. Spending time with God also helps you know the right decisions to make.

As with any other person, spending time with God is the best way to know him better. The Bible calls spending time with God “abiding” in him.

“Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5)

Abiding — spending time — with God begins with some very basic habits like reading your Bible (God’s spoken word) and praying (talking to God) daily. It involves just sitting in his presence and listening for his voice. And it also means praising him for who he is and what he does. Knowing God and his will also results in our actions reflecting what we know.

“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Proverbs 8:17)

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let. Him who boasts in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

“No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6)

We need to interact and communicate with the people in our lives to have a good relationship with them. Likewise, we need to interact and communicate with God if we want a good and growing relationship with him. As we do, he promises to reciprocate.

“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” (James 4:8)

5 Principles for Focusing on the Now

Having a Balanced Focus

Many people live in the past. Some long for the glory days while others staunchly resist any change. Others live planning for the future and focusing on “what ifs.”

Remembering the past and learning its lessons is healthy, just like planning for the future is wise. Yet, dwelling in the past causes stagnation, and being obsessed with the future leads to missed opportunities, usually those involving relationships.

Balance must exist.

Instead, the past too often fades into the future with barely a glimpse at the present. At the same time, living only for the moment can become a dangerous thought pattern. When learning from the past and planning for the future are ignored, a dangerous self-centered pattern of behavior tends to grow.

But when living in the now involves applying lessons learned from the past along with using possible future destinations as tools for guidance, the present becomes an exciting time filled with ministry. It allows you to live what Paul writes about in Ephesians 5:15-16.

“Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”

Focusing on the now allows for creating memories that enhance the past and create excitement for the future. We become motivated by the goal and guided by the past while at the same time remaining focused on the moment.

Principles for Living in the Now

We can choose to let the past consume us with fear of change. Or, we can let the future cloud our vision of the present as we constantly gaze into the distance.

A better option? Choose to live in the now, being guided by the past and motivated by the future.

The following 5 principles encourage that balance to happen in a way that helps us seize opportunities presented every day without letting our free will constantly put up obstacles from our past or our imaginations.

  1. Give relationships priority. We shouldn’t push people away because they don’t fit into our schedule. We need to love as Jesus loved, and he made time for the people placed in his daily activity. Living in the now allows us to see and to act on the opportunities presented to us.
  2. Determine not to give up too quickly. Jesus tells us that we can do “greater things” than He did (John 14:12). So why aren’t we? Perhaps it’s because we often give up too quickly. Determine to push through even if that means simply persevering for the day in front of you.
  3. Discipline your free will. God never permits sin. Deliberate sin always hurts His heart. And while he does not give us permission to sin, He does allow for our free will to make our own choices. Using the past as a guide and the future as motivation, disciplined free-will creates a productive now that is pleasing to God.
  4. Understand that people are afraid. As opportunities to minister arise, we must understand that how fear drives people. Rejection is often a person giving in to all-consuming fears rather than a rejection of us. For this reason, be ready to minister over the long haul. Take the opportunities in the now knowing the road is paved with perseverance.
  5. Pursue simplicity. Distractions abound to draw our attention from the present. Frustrations and over-commitment steal our focus causing us to fail to enjoy living in the now, and life quickly becomes complicated. Focus on simplifying life and discover an unencumbered life able to take the opportunities God presents.

As we learn to focus on the now and not just on what we plan to do or what will be, we begin to realize that compassion and ministry are very tangible. We realize we can always do more with the gifts God gave us.

Living in the now allows us to show Christ in us more through actions instead of just with words. When we live in the now, we see more of the opportunities he gives us for ministry, and we begin to fulfill His will for us as disciples.

“And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15)

The Mark of Love

Human Maturity

Human maturity involves independence and self care. It involves taking responsibility for commitments. It also means refusing to make excuses and to instead always strive for our best.

As a parent, one of my goals has always been to teach my boys to become independent. I want them to know how to take care of themselves and to be responsible in a well-rounded way. This is the essence of human maturity.

Recently, my husband had to remind me of this goal when I expressed discouragement over my boys needing me less and less every day. My sadness about their pulling away from me became quite heavy one day, and he said…

“Remember, that’s always been our goal.”

Like independence is important in our development as humans, learning dependence on Jesus and His Holy Spirit is even more so in our spiritual maturity.

Spiritual Maturity

Unfortunately, I don’t think I taught my boys the idea of spiritual maturity very well, probably because I’m still learning it myself. And largely because dependence goes against the human part of me that desires to be in control.

“Spiritual maturity is counter to human maturity.” (December 20th, Live Dead Joy by Dick Brogden)

Spiritual maturity involves dependence on God and allowing him to actively care for us. It involves waiting patiently for him to unfold his will and then moving fully into it. Spiritual maturity also means continually acknowledging our weaknesses and realizing we can only be our best under His grace and mercy.

“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God.” (Hebrews 6:1)

Moving forward in spiritual maturity brings growth that obviously lies beyond any we could obtain on our own.

The Mark of Love

Spiritual growth becomes obvious to ourselves and others through one indelible mark.

“Jesus replied: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” (Matthew 22:37-40)

If we only mature in a human sense, we become increasingly self-serving and defiantly independent. But, if we also mature spiritually, we live in humble obedience seen through the mark of love on our lives.

Healthy Holidays & Beyond

For many people, the holidays mean overwhelm and overload. From shopping and family pressures to expectations of joy from self and others to eating too much and staying up too late, the holidays certainly can wear on a person.

Will this year be any different?

Or, will an underlying melancholy Blue JOY Ornamentonce again leave many people just getting through rather than celebrating and enjoying the season?

I’ve been to the place of feigning enjoyment while tension and depression cloud every interaction. I’ve felt sick and constantly tired during the holiday season. And I’ve struggled with the disappointing interactions and failed connections with friends and family alike.

I now live on the other side of simply surviving the holidays. Yet, I remain all too aware of how a lack of diligence will result in a return to a force-fed festivity during my end-of-year celebrations.

Focus Determines Reality

The holidays have aGreen JOY ornament way of reminding us of strained and failed relationships. We must face these while at the same time battle the temptation to self-medicate with food and drink. 

Within this struggle lies the sense that a focus on the glitter and glitz of material connections will fade in the coming weeks. When it does, we’re once again left feeling lonely and disappointed.

Then comes the hope brought by the new year and the attempt to convince yourself this year will be different. At the same time, you know deep down it likely won’t.

Admitting these yearly struggles is the first step in obtaining victory over them. So, let’s acknowledge them and point-blank stare them in the face and declare, “No! Not again this year! This year, I’m going to change my focus.”

An Unexpected Journey

Red JOY Christmas OrnamentLet’s journey toward moving beyond survival and into living true joy that will extend well into the next year. Perhaps it will even butt up with these same confessions  and quite possibly a declaration of victory over them this time next year.

This journey requires addressing physical struggles. It involves setting goals.  The journey also traverses through relationships and takes a look at spiritual health.

The following posts are meant to help make that journey successful:

This year can be different than past years. Change begins with a single step and becomes increasingly secure with each additional step. These small steps add up over time to make a huge difference. Choose to take that first step today.

Subscribe to Struggle to Victory by Email

Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.