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.

Dealing With Stress

This text began a multi-day conversation with my son, a college freshman, as he attempted to prepare for his first round of college finals. This discussion not only stirred memories of my own college days over 20 years ago but also brought fresh ones to back mind from when I took my GRE a couple of weeks ago.

Because of this discussion, I began thinking about how I’ve dealt with stressful situations and seasons in my life. I realized that I’ve progressed in how I handle them and even in being able to mitigate their impact by the way I live life as well as by the mindset I choose before, during and after trials.

A Part of Life

Every person deals with stressful situations. You’re either going through one right now, have just gone through one or seem to be having an endless string of them. They are just a part of life.

Instead of expending energy to avoid them, the better approach is to expect them and be prepared for them as best we can. Realizing that the situation my son was going through was just a part of his lifelong development of learning and growing, I sought to help him not only get through his current tests but to learn an approach that would benefit him in the future as well.

The approach is nothing new, and many people will pass off this information as simply a “good reminder.” While we do need reminders since in the emotions that accompany stress we often forget how to best deal with it, we also need to realize that we are still learning and growing and adapting with each stressful situation we face. This never stops, and neither should our intention to improve how we move through life’s stressful situations.

Not IF But WHEN

We also have to remember that it’s not a question of IF we’ll go through trials and tests (stressful situations), it’s a matter of WHEN they’re going to happen. Knowing this, we can continually work on how we handle the load stress places on us. 

There are 5 areas that need continually addressed and maintained in order to ensure that we’re dealing with life’s stress to the best of our ability.

1.) Physical

Staying properly fueled, hydrated and rested are minimum requirements. Not doing these almost negates the other items we’ll discuss. In addition, stretching and exercising regularly will help us stay as ready as we can physically for the stresses of life. They’ll also help relieve tension in the midst of stress. We need to be sure to do what we can to head into any stress from a place of physical strength.

2.) Mental

Stress and burnout don’t come as much from what’s actually going on, from the situation itself, as they do from our thoughts about the situation. This is why we must continually renew our thoughts (Romans 12:2). It’s also why we have to remember that worry is distracting and mentally exhausting. Ask, “What would I tell someone in my shoes?” to gain an outside-looking-in perspective. Both of these approaches have served me well for strengthening my mental approach to life’s stresses.

3.) Spiritual

Addressing the spiritual aspect involves regularly making time for God through daily Bible study and prayer as well as through weekly church attendance. Also, staying grateful for blessings helps more than I can ever express. In my son’s situation, for example, him being grateful for the ability and the opportunity to learn and study at a quality university helped him realize how much he’s blessed to be where he is right now. My spiritual state is also immensely healthier as I listen to the Holy Spirit guiding and comforting me. The spiritual aspect of my life is essentially the glue that holds all the others together. Without strength here, nothing else will stay strong for the long term.

4.) Relational

Feeling alone infects any other positive going on in life. This can be especially true during heightened times of stress and burnout. It’s also why staying connected to others is so very important. This also involves asking for help and not stubbornly trying to do it all on your own. I’m grateful my son knows the truth of this and regularly connects with myself or my husband when stress begins to build and often before it gets too weighty for him. He’s great at listening then, too, which is essential in staying connected and warding off feelings of loneliness. And finally, laugh often too. My son is terrific at this. Actually, he’s often the source of this for me. Being strong relationally and refusing to be lonely is essential for living victoriously through the stress and burnout life tends to dole out.

5.) Situational

Making sure this area is working well involves doing what you can and not trying to control what you can’t control. In other words, prepare based on the information you have. Do your best. Simplify where possible. Refuse to dwell in areas you cannot control. Don’t let yourself become overwhelmed with what others are or are not doing since you have no control over them. For my son, that meant studying as best he knew how, and it meant not letting his imagination for what could go wrong get away from him. We all have made a situation worse by getting outside of the facts and what we control, so we all understand the need to limit doing so again in the future.

A Pattern of Life

Life is a pattern of ups and downs. The details differ from one person to the next, but the pattern exists for everyone. Look back on your own life, and you’ll see this to be true if you haven’t discovered it already.

As we learn from these seasons, we realize that the areas discussed above work together to either bring us victoriously through stressful times, or they make us feel like we just can’t win. Fortunately, we have a lot of control over what happens.

I’ve stopped trying to keep stressful times from existing in my life. First because it’s not possible. Secondly because the stressful times, really more than the good ones, help me learn and grow in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

Don’t you find this to be true as well?

Give In To The Craving!

Chocolates and sweets. Alcohol and soda. Salty foods like potato chips. Tobacco. Oily/greasy foods like French fries and hamburgers.  Coffee.

These foods and drinks make up the top sources of cravings for many people. And when the craving strikes, the often irresistible and uncontrollable urge to fulfill that craving usually overtakes any existence of willpower.

Give in too often to these cravings, and the calories and fat eventually turn into extra pounds. We know this, yet we still often find ourselves unable to resist a craving when it hits.

Some experts say we crave certain foods because they offer comfort by bringing back positive memories, calming us in some way or somehow helping relieve stress.  Other experts believe food cravings indicate some sort of vitamin deficiency or chemical imbalance. For example, a chocolate craving can indicate a serotonin (feel good hormone) imbalance, and craving salty food can indicate a mineral deficiency.

Regardless of their source, we all understand the power cravings hold over us. We also understand the need to limit giving in to those cravings in order for our bodies to be healthy and strong.

While food cravings carry negative connotations, there exists a craving that not only benefits us, but giving in to this craving also carries eternal reward and blessing.

“As newborn babies, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.” (1 Peter 2:2-3)

Almost everyone has seen an infant ready to eat, and no one but momma can fulfill that need. This insatiable desire that we see in babies is the same type of craving that we need to have for God.

A Craving for God’s Word

A craving for God’s word exists in a desire for growth that, when fed, shows itself as a relentless passion for God.

Food cravings don’t just happen all by themselves. We train our bodies to desire these foods when we eat them too often and fail to place healthy foods at the core of our diets. We can also train our bodies and spirits to crave God’s word.

As we walk with God through all that life hands us and as we expose ourselves to His goodness and to the wisdom of His word, we develop an increasing passion for Him that can turn into a positive obsession. Being obsessed with God and craving the growth He offers through His word leads to joy, something that only comes from Him.

Imagine craving morning devotion and prayer time like you do morning coffee.

Consider a life motivated by an obsession for worship and praise like it is for chocolate.

What about expressing love to the family of God like we do for our favorite desserts?

What changes would you need to make in order to deliberately grow this type of craving for the living God?

Someone with an irresistible and uncontrollable craving for God finds comfort not through the temporal but through the eternal blessings offered by the Savior. A life obsessed with God is one that receives positive feelings and a sense of calm like none ever before known.

God can relieve stress and make up for any deficiency, and He can correct any imbalance.

Food cravings satisfy only temporarily, but the satisfaction that comes through a life obsessed with the Creator of the Universe provides a motivation that involves obeying God’s Word in a way that allows values to change. As values change, choices change, and as choices change, lives change.

When this transformation takes place, a new person emerges. That person focuses on building up and encouraging others, pursues love, mercy and grace, and seeks to meet needs rather than have needs met. This life obsessed with God is one that learns to trust Him more and more each day.

Just one taste of a life obsessed with God, and the craving starts to grow because it takes only once…

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

Tasting that goodness begins the only craving that can truly transform a life in a way that will last forever.

Working Toward Balance

Escape?

Don’t we all dream of escaping from life from time to time? A warm, tropical beach. A quiet house on the lake. Just a place where the noise of life stops, and we can hear ourselves think and breathe.

For most of us though, total escape is just a fantasy because it just isn’t practical. Family. Work. Church. Lots of commitments. Plus, life doesn’t stop just because you take a break.

Still, the lure of time and space to think lurks in the back of most people’s minds at least occasionally, and we usually make one of two choices when we become aware of these thoughts.

  1. Push any personal desires, wants or needs to that area of the mind specializing in forgotten hopes and dreams.
  2. Pursue selfish ambitions regardless of the impact on others.

Two extremes. Neither a great choice. Fortunately, there is a third option. We can also choose a more balanced approach somewhere between giving in to selfish desires and forgetting all sense of individual needs.

Choice #3 requires a more constant effort because it resists natural tendencies, whereas the first and second choices provide absolutes that push to extremes that seem easier to maintain. In other words, saying “no” or “yes” to everything is easier than saying “no” or “yes” to some things.

A 3-Step Process for Balance

This three-step process can not only help bring a sense of balance, but it can also help keep it there for the long haul.

  1. Plug In. Whether introvert or extravert, sanguine or melancholy, everyone needs connection. Connection with others happens in a variety of ways from personal interests to church attendance. Plugging in regularly to Christ on an individual, one-on-one basis is, of course, the most essential relationship and needs emphasis. Plugging in revolves around the idea of filling up the reservoir to be able to nourish others.
  2. Recharge. Failure to recharge batteries often enough, and in many cases at all, results in complete failure at some point. Recharging is about balance. Recharge regularly by eating healthy, exercising, and drinking enough water. Oh, and get enough sleep too.
  3. Unplug. Unplugging means alone time, a treasure so many of us crave and fail to get enough of regularly. Pick one or two things you enjoy that allows you time to unplug. Then, make them a priority. Finding small pockets of time for unplugging can be an quite effective method for finding balance if done consistently.

Many who read this will say something like this…

“Sure, that would be wonderful, but there’s no way I can make that happen in my busy life.”

You’re right! YOU cannot make that happen. Without a deliberate an intentional plan and the help of those closest to you, this process is not going to happen for anyone.

3 Essential Elements in the Process

Three elements that must exist for anyone to truly be able to take care of themselves in a way that allows for as consistent of a state of balance as possible.

  1. Be Deliberate and Intentional. Carefully consider how taking care of yourself not only makes you healthier as an individual but positively contributes to the health of your family as well. Purpose to find ways to regularly plug in, recharge and unplug.
  2. Focus on Small Things. Chances are that a week-long vacation alone is not going to happen for most of us, and even a weekend away is probably iffy. But, working in small pockets of time for plugging in, recharging and unplugging can add up over time to make a huge difference. Don’t be afraid to schedule time on the calendar for this either.
  3. Be Determined. Time to plug in, recharge and unplug will not happen by itself. Well, it won’t unless we run ourselves so ragged that illness or depression force us to stop. We must make a determined effort to schedule time for ourselves because it simply won’t happen otherwise.

Think of how balance is achieved when someone is riding a bike or standing on one leg… by making constant small adjustments. That’s the idea we’re getting at with the above steps and essential elements.

Keep moving forward. Keep making adjustments. Keep working toward balance.

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.

Spiritual Restoration

Health Benefits of Nature

Research shows that spending time in and near nature has a significant positive impact on a person’s quality of life. Business Insider actually lists eleven ways nature does this.

  1. Improved memory
  2. Improved mental energy
  3. Stress relief
  4. Better vision
  5. Reduced inflammation
  6. Improved concentration
  7. Sharper thinking & creativity
  8. Anti-cancer possibility
  9. Immunity boost
  10. Better mental health
  11. Less chance of dying early

Sitting on my deck under a shade tree. Going for a walk or jog at least once daily. Regular bike rides. Kayaking. Hiking. Just some of the ways I’ve learned the truth behind what this research shows.

Ecological Restoration

Our connection with nature goes beyond the health benefits it brings though. In fact, nature can actually teach us some valuable ways to amplify the above benefits. It can also show us how to use them to restore us from a damaged state.

One of those ways is through the concept of ecological restoration. If you visit public parks or nature centers, you’ve likely come across this term on a sign or in a brochure at some point. Ecological restoration is…

“The practice of renewing and restoring degraded, damaged or destroyed ecosystems and habitats in the environment by active human intervention and action.” (Ecological Restoration Alliance)

The goal of ecological restoration is to revive the native habitat and its ecological functioning. Examples include:

  • Removing or controlling non-native plants & wildlife
  • Erosion control measures
  • Reintroduce or reinforce native species
  • Controlled fires to promote mature growth, limit insect growth & prevent disease

Ecological restoration is “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates recovery.” The purpose is to restore the ecosystem to what it was before it was disturbed or to an improved state from what it was previously.

An ecosystem usually needs restoration when humans have in some way negatively altered it. Those ways include littering, pollution and even destruction in some way.

I realized that I often feel like I need the type of restoration described here. I sometimes feel like I’ve been destroyed or damaged by my culture and just life in general enough that I need to take deliberate steps to stop the damage and discover and/or create a restored state.

Essentially, ecological restoration boils down to removing negative elements and influences and placing in positive ones. Sometimes, that includes using what at first seems detrimental — fires for instance — to clean out those bad elements to allow the good ones room to flourish.

Is that really any different from what God wants to do for us?

Spiritual Restoration

Everyone needs spiritual restoration to some degree from time to time. From outright moral failure to neglecting time with God because of busyness to an unexplainable dry season, we all need some sort of intentional activity to aid in our continual restoration.

Fortunately, Scripture contains a slew of wisdom for the purpose of our spiritual restoration. And since we can’t go into detail on all of what it offers here — it is living and active after all (Hebrews 4:12) — we’ll focus on a few passages that emphasize nature’s overall role in the process.

“On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.” (Psalm 145:5)

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)

Nature tells us about God. It lets us know who He is and what He’s capable of doing based on what He’s already done. And this knowledge lies at the heart of any type of restoration we need.

Research on the health benefits of nature really just supports what Scripture already tells us. Nature, God’s creation, connects us with him in ways that give our lives vitality like nothing else can. It restores like nothing else can. We only need to expose ourselves to it.

“I love to think of nature as an unlimited broadcasting station, through which God speaks to us every hour, if we will only tune in.” (George Washington Carver)

Digesting God’s Word

Most of us read Scripture for our own specific purposes. We search for knowledge, inspiration, direction, comfort and wisdom. We have a problem, and we want guidance on how to handle it. Or, we’re anxious or sad about something, and we want God’s peace. God does certainly meet those needs through His Word.

What if instead we read the Bible with God’s purposes in mind before seeking our own? What if we let God’s Word change us as God intends rather than going in with a specific purpose to fulfill?

You Are What You Eat

Think of it in terms of the healthy way to approach your diet. When we focus on what will best nourish us, we’re healthier and have more energy than if we only eat what satisfies our cravings and stops or prevents hunger pains. We also ward off many sicknesses and diseases this way too.

Even more significant is that researchers have discovered that nutrients in food change how proteins are produced in almost every gene in our body. In other words, what we eat changes us at our most basic level.

You Are What You Read

This truth carries into what we read as well. What we read does the same for our mental health as what we eat does for the body. Research shows that reading…

  • Can slow the progress of Alzheimer’s.
  • Slows mental decline in general.
  • Can improve your memory.
  • Improves concentration.
  • Lowers stress.
  • May help with depression.
  • Helps you sleep.
  • Gives you better analytical skills.
  • Makes you more empathetic.
  • Causes heightened connectivity in the brain that persists after you stop reading.

What you ingest and then digest mentally programs your thinking. Sure, personality and nurturing play a role along with genetics and upbringing in developing how you think. But much of that can be reprogrammed by what you read.

Digesting God’s Word

Perhaps this truth about reading is why several places in Scripture emphasize actually digesting God’s Word. Here’s one example.

“When I discovered your words, I devoured them. They are my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God of Heaven’s armies.” (Jeremiah 15:16)

Additional examples include Ezekiel 2:8-3:4 and Revelation 10:8-11. Notice the impact of digesting God’s Word, of letting it nourish our inner beings, in each of these examples.

Eugene Peterson in Eat This Book expresses the impact that digesting God’s Word can have on a Christian by saying…

“Christian reading is participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images become practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love.”

When we read and digest God’s Word, it shows in our actions. We can’t help but be changed by what we read when we truly participate in the process. That means it’s more than a daily habit. It’s sustenance for our spirits.

“But He answered and said, ‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

5 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

Research proves sleep is important. In fact, it plays an essential role in a person’s ability to be productive and healthy.

While experts say that everyone needs 7-8 hours of solid slumber every night, many individuals argue they can be at their best with less. Regardless, the fact remains that a good night’s sleep, however you define that, is essential.

While I still sometimes struggle getting a good night’s sleep, doing so is no longer a constant struggle like it used to be. Most nights, I now sleep a full 7 hours and wake feeling refreshed. This doesn’t happen by chance. I’ve learned that I have a great deal of control over how well I sleep, something I didn’t always believe to be true.

5 Tips for Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

These tips are mostly based on my personal struggle with sleep over the years. However, what I learned by trial and error is actually supported by what experts recommend too.

  1. Consider supplements. Some people swear by prescription sleep aids, but I never liked the results and side effects. Some people take melatonin every night before bed to help them fall asleep quickly. For me, drinking tea with valerian and/or chamomile works best. Everyone is different, and it’s okay to experiment a bit in order to find out what works.
  2. Evaluate your environment. While my husband can sleep with the lights on or off and with noise or quiet, I need almost total darkness and complete silence. The temperature of the room matters too. I don’t like to be too cold, but my mother loves to have the window open when it’s freezing outside. Getting a consistent environment can go a long way in getting a good night’s sleep.
  3. Experiment with tools. Tools for sleeping include eye masks, ear plugs, white noise (a fan, for example), a body pillow, and an electric blanket. Again, play with these different tools to see what helps you sleep better. While the electric blanket is the only one I use at home (we live in Michigan, and the nights can get quite cold, especially when my husband is traveling for work), I do use ear plugs sometimes when traveling (like when camping). I have also used an eye mask in the past when I wanted to take a nap or could not control the room’s lighting.
  4. Change your bedtime routine. Caffeine and alcohol or wine too close to bedtime can affect how a person sleeps, and so can viewing any type of media screen (television, smart phone, computer, etc.). Think about what you do after 8:00PM that may be contributing to your sleep problems.
  5. Think about how you rest. Some people struggle sleeping at night because they replay their day over and over again in their minds. They struggle with how to relax. Counteracting this happens in a variety of ways. Ideas include writing down thoughts before going to bed and finding ways to relax during the day to prevent stress building up. Some people find that a power nap every afternoon helps them relax and feel less stressed at the end of the day. Others use full-body muscle relaxation techniques, and still others employ stretching and exercise to reduce stress.

Find What Works for You

The combination of techniques is unique to every individual. In addition, work toward as much consistency as possible with your routine. This includes getting up and going to sleep at about the same time every day, even during vacation and on weekends.

The benefits of a good night’s sleep include increased productivity, consistent energy levels and improved relationships. It also results in a more positive outlook on life. In fact, a good night’s sleep is an essential building block for EVERY area of life.

Don’t neglect this crucial proponent of good health. Simply put, being well-rested is one of the best ways to be ready to “make the most of every opportunity.” (See Ephesians 5:15-16). This was a huge motivation for me to improve my sleep routine. Getting a good night’s sleep goes a long way in helping me to be consistently at my best.

If you consistently sleep well, how do you make that happen? If you don’t, what will you try to hopefully change that?

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)

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

In Should Assertiveness Be Your Goal? we talked about how some people often feel like doormats but struggle with becoming more assertive. We came to the conclusion that becoming Christ-like, which sometimes involves being assertive, is really the better goal. Let’s look at how to move toward that goal.

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

Christ was certainly assertive, but he was also humble. This truth is evident throughout Scripture, especially in the Gospels. His life illustrates the perfect balance between confident aggression and humility.

Knowing Christ more and becoming more like him is the key to knowing how we should live and interact with others. It’s the key to knowing how to be assertive and humble at the same time. It’s the only way to know when to go the second mile and when to voice our plans, preferences and desires.

If the goal is to become Christ-like, not to simply be more assertive, we must first realize that one blog post, book or sermon (or even 10 or 20 or 100) cannot cover all of how that happens. Instead, we can begin our lifetime journey of progress toward perfection. We can start by looking at a few basics to create a foundation to becoming Christ-like even when our flesh or the world encourage us to focus on being self-confident.

Almost any part of the New Testament can guide us in becoming more Christ like. We find a terrific example of how this works in Ephesians 4.

Walking Worthy

Right away in Ephesians 4 we find a list of how “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called… humility… gentleness… patience… tolerance… love… unity…” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

Throughout the chapter, we receive instruction on how to live this out. With just one or two readings through Ephesians 4, quite a few pieces of instruction jump out for how we  “learn Christ” and are “taught in Him.” In other words, how we become more like Christ.

  1. Be equipped.

    This is why we have pastors and teachers. They help us understand and apply the instructions given in God’s Word.

  2. Speak the truth in love.

    Essential to maturity and unity in Christ. Also a sign of stable growth. Learn to talk through difficult stuff and to do so in a loving way.

  3. Be angry without sinning.

    While we can appreciate that anger isn’t forbidden, it’s important to realize that we cannot let it linger whether justified or not.

  4. Monitor what you say.

    Avoid saying anything unhealthy and destructive. Instead, words should edify and build up.

  5. Be kind.

    Forgive as Christ forgave you. Be tenderhearted, sympathetic and compassionate. Often, we must show kindness even when it’s undeserved.

You can find these habits progressing in the lives of Jesus’ disciples in the New Testament as they spend time with him during is earthly ministry. They’re even more evident as they spread the Gospel after receiving the Holy Spirit. Even many individuals (Joseph & David, for example) in the Old Testament provide examples of these principles being progressively lived out.

Most importantly, you can find all of these habits exemplified in the life of Jesus during his 3-year ministry as well as implied in his life before then (Luke 2:52). Pick any Gospel and read about Jesus’ life on earth, and you’re sure to spot these habits carried out in perfection.

Our Helper

Jesus was certainly meek and mild. He balanced love and truth with courage. He was also proactive and commanded respect while also being humble and loving. His example shows us how to be assertive without becoming self-focused and over-aggressive.

As we seek to become more Christ-like, a lifelong endeavor to be sure, we can place our confidence in his desire to help us. Not only can we get this help in the pages of Scripture, but we have supernatural help us as well.

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever.” (John 14:16)

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)

“But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (John 15:26)

Progress Toward Perfection

As we progress toward perfection, we can have confidence knowing we have a perfect example to follow. We have imperfect ones too that can also help us in our goal to becoming lie Christ.

Consider the following posts to help in your effort of progress toward perfection: