Thanksgiving in August?

TitleEver heard of Christmas in July? Well, how about Thanksgiving in August? Seriously, the whole kit and caboodle… turkey, dressing, green bean casserole. Whatever your family traditionally does for Thanksgiving, why not make it happen this August too? While we’re at it, bring on the pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales at the same time!

No? Okay, maybe not. But at least let’s consider the spirit of Thanksgiving as we approach the back end of summer. For that matter, why not think about how to move from the yearly pilgrimage celebrating Thanksgiving as a holiday to a year-long “Thanksliving” frame of mind? (Thanks for the term, Steve Miller.)

In moving from Thanksgiving to “Thanksliving,” we must take a deliberate and intentional approach to thankfulness. In doing so, the actions of gratitude — the ways we show the thankfulness hopefully existing within us — become increasingly and continually visible.

Moving from simply knowing that I should live out thankfulness to actually following through in tangible ways is a struggle I’m not proud to admit exists. But, I’m learning to cultivate a heart of thanksgiving and to slowly but surely transition my life to be more consistently one of “Thanksliving.”

Changing my attitude to a more positive, thankful one is not going to happen by me wishing it. I must deliberately choose to pursue “Thanksliving,” and this happens by taking the time to regularly verbalize thankfulness — even when not encouraged by any holiday — and to also stop blocking God’s work in my life.

“Be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Colossians 3:17)

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Ephesians 5:18-20)

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Philippians 2:13)

We’re designed to show gratitude. Every part of us longs to give thanks, not just sometimes but continually. Everything we do exists as an avenue for living out this part of our spiritual DNA. We simply must take the time to pay attention to God’s workings in our lives. Doing so grows that desire and moves our focus beyond just celebrating Thanksgiving and into a mindset of “Thanksliving” all year long.

Question: What steps can you take live a life of “Thanksliving”?

Preventing Decision Fatigue

Decisions

The best way to become overwhelmed with decisions, to experience Decision Fatigue, comes through doing absolutely nothing to prevent it. People who consistently make good decisions & maintain consistent self control structure their lives to conserve willpower (their decision-making energy). In other words, they employ habits that allow for consistent regulation of decisions.

Scripture has a lot to say about decision making to help each one of us make better decisions and better direct our decision-making energy.

1. Develop a habit of preparedness. (Matthew 24:44)

Preparing requires spending time with the Father and learning His will. It means letting the Holy Spirit guide and direct decisions. Preparedness involves taking care of the physical self, which helps maintain a long-term focus instead of being driven by immediate needs.

2.) Simplify. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Many of us become overwhelmed because of unnecessarily complicated (heavy) lives. Simplifying means automating where possible and releasing where necessary. Very few things are truly mandatory, things we truly HAVE to do. Decide non-negotiables and then use energy for bigger decisions.

3.) Learn to say “no.” (Luke 10:41-42)

We don’t have to accept every opportunity presented. In fact, opportunities often distract from God desires for us. Many of our decisions involve deciding among good, better and best, not between good and bad. Jesus emphasized this when he said that what Martha wanted to do wasn’t bad, but what Mary chose was better. Know “How to Make Consistent Progress” by focusing on your purpose as Jesus did, and you’ll have a clear idea of what to say “no” to and what to accept by way of opportunity.

4.) Let others do their part. (Exodus 18:23-24; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Corinthians 12:27)

Jethro advised Moses to delegate, so Moses wouldn’t get worn out and the people frustrated. The disciples needed to delegate in order to focus on their parts and still ensure needs were met. The concept of the body of Christ tells us we all have our own work to do, which also tells us some decisions just aren’t ours to make. We must allow others to fully do their parts too.

5.) Refuse to second guess. (Matthew 4:18-22)

Just as the the disciples did when Jesus called them into ministry, make the best decision you can and fully commit to it. Second guessing wears you and your ability to make good decisions — or any decisions at all — down.

6.) Develop an eternal focus. (Psalm 61:2)

Developing an eternal focus involves prioritizing toward that which benefits eternally rather than just temporally. It means getting our focus off self and off of what satisfies only in this world and onto our Creator who knows what is best for us.

Overcoming Decision Fatigue

The path to overcoming and preventing Decision Fatigue requires unique steps for each individual, yet all can apply the same biblical concepts. For every person that means…

  • Examining hearts & removing idols of self-reliance.
  • Learning to say “no” to good and trusting God’s leading toward best.
  • Consulting with God regularly.
  • Being intentional about self-care.
  • Setting boundaries.
  • Living within God’s will.
  • Living in community.

Do you feel overwhelmed thinking about where to start?

Let that overwhelm draw you to Christ and to his power. Remember that the resurrection of the dead revealed God’s unsurpassable power, and that we have access to that same power (Ephesians 1:19-20).

Ask God where to start. Ask Him how to become less overwhelmed with decision-making. Let Him gradually lead you to a place of focus where you feel His peace and where you can live with joy and effectiveness rather than in overwhelm.

Do You Remember Your First Love?

Love quote

The anticipation. The excitement. The eagerness. The desire to please. Consuming thoughts. Irrepressible smile. Immense feelings. Overwhelming emotion.

Do you remember? If so, you probably realize you don’t still feel the same way you did when that love was fresh and new. Hopefully, though, the love you experience now is deeper and better, less based on emotion and more on relationship.

While this description certainly describes the time I first fell in love 27 years ago with the man who is now my husband, that’s not the love relationship I’m talking about here.

Do you remember the first time you truly realized how much God loves you? Remember when you discovered he wasn’t a distant God but a personal Savior? What Do you remember when you first realized that he loved you enough to come to this earth as God in flesh? And what about the knowledge that your sins are wiped away as if they never happened?

With that first love came a fervor, an unbridled enthusiasm. Along with it came an understanding of the seriousness of sin and the thrill of being forgiven.

Do you still feel that way?

Love verse

Have You Forsaken Your First Love?

When I think of what it means (and feels like) to fall in and out of love, I better understand the point God wanted to make to the Ephesians and why this message is so timeless and so very relevant for us still today both as individuals and as the corporate church.

Forsaking your first love means you neglect it. You find yourself going through the motions of life, doing the busyness of life much like the Ephesians did. Revelation 2:2-3 tells us they worked hard, persevered, resisted sin, sought truth & endured hardships all without becoming weary. Yet, they were still found guilty of leaving the love they had when they became Christians & formed the church.

In other words, they lost the fervor (earnest feeling, ardor, passion and zeal) they once had for God. They became apathetic and were simply “doing church” without truly loving God or other Christians. Been there? I have.

Remember. Repent. Return.

When my husband and I grow distant from each other, even if just a little, we find that returning to what initially helped our love grow — spending quality time together, listening intently to each other, intentionally doing acts of kindness for one another, preferring one another, etc. — helps us return to and even go deeper in our love for one another.

Remembering these varying degrees of love I’ve felt over the years for my spouse helps me better understand how to return to the fervor I once had for Christ before apathy and boredom crept into my life.

“Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first, or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place — unless you repent.” (Revelation 2:5)

The word used for “first” in this context means foremost, as in time, place and order, and the word used for “deeds” means toil or effort. In other words, get your priorities back in order and do the most important things again, things that seemed so natural at first.

For the Christian, this means putting your relationship with God first, making it your top priority. This begins when we realize what we’ve stopped doing that we need to go back to doing. It also means ridding our lives of that which draws us away from him. It involves asking for forgiveness for the neglect and the wandering. It means returning to a dependence on him to continually rekindle that first love within our hearts and lives. It also means making a habit of doing the things that continually deepen our connection with him.

DISCUSSION: What practices can you return to to rekindle your connection with God? What priorities need reestablished in order for love to be the primary driving force in your life?

Socialize Your Blues Away

Defeating the Winter Blues

social interaction 1In the post “Defeating the Winter Blues,” tip #7 mentioned the importance of socializing for the purpose of helping defeat the winter blues. This post delves into that point a bit more and gets at what the very obvious social nature of extroverts can teach those of us who struggle with and even avoid socializing.

I’m an introvert by nature who has occasional bouts of shyness too. Plus, I’m a writer and love to read. In other words, my natural tendencies and interests gear me toward social isolation. Balancing this area of myself, which I realize is both a strength and a weakness, requires a lot of deliberate effort.

Antisocial Tendencies and Depression

The journal of Clinical Psychology says, “Social isolation puts you at greater risk for mental health problems.”

My own experience confirms this research. The more antisocial I am, the more I struggle with mood and the easier I become depressed. On the other hand, the more consistently I engage in social interaction, the easier it is to maintain an optimistic and hopeful perspective. This truth also exists infused into my Christian walk.

The Socially Interactive Christian

Even though the words “though shalt interact with others” do not exist in Scripture, you don’t have to read very far into the Bible to realize that it’s a book about relationships. The 10 Commandments start with directives in our relationship to God and end with commands regarding our relationship to others. Paul’s statement in Romans 13:9 takes these commands and connects them with all we are to be and do as God’s children.

social interaction 2

Love requires action, which requires interaction with others. I’ve yet to find a way to truly love another person without human interaction. In my mind, and experience again supports this realization, I need social interaction in order to truly and fully live out God’s Word to love Him and others.

The Extrovert Example

In my experiences with social interaction along with my studies of personality styles, I wondered if extroverts, who seem to actually need social interaction, struggle much with depression. I even researched the topic and found little specifically – and nothing truly helpful – regarding extroverts and depression.

While I’m certain that some extroverts do struggle with depression, I don’t personally know any. Or, more accurately, I have not seen a true extrovert show visible signs of depression. Maybe extroverts are just better at hiding depression. Or, perhaps, they truly get depressed a lot less frequently or possibly just less severely than do introverts.

Since research yielded little information on the topic, I decided to look more closely at my extroverted friends to figure out how they ward off melancholy moods of any severity from a funk to the winder blues or doldrums, which everyone gets from time to time, to depression. Before I get to the two points about how extroverts seem to avoid any lengthy down moods of much severity, let me share two related observations.

First, I’m surrounded dominantly in my social circles (starting with my husband and youngest son with my oldest son being in the middle and then moving into my close circle of friends) by extroverts, though I’m not sure if this was subconsciously intentional or not. Second, my extroverted friends help me tremendously in what is one of my greatest weaknesses, the desire to be alone and the growth of social isolation, by nudging me toward regular, meaningful interaction with others.

As I asked myself why my social circles are dominated by extroverts, though my few introverted friends do hold a special place in my life, I discovered two tendencies my extroverted friends ALL have in common.

  1. They’re active.
  2. They’re interactive.

Extroverts tend to be more active in general than introverts, sitting less and needing activity more. They also maintain a very interactive social life and in fact gain energy from being around others.

Since my extrovert friends seem to have more consistent victory over depression or any other sort of mood struggle or disorder and since they ALL have these two points in common, I make a deliberate decision to apply their example and incorporate consistent activity and social interaction into my life.

While I will always need more alone time than my extroverted friends and while I will always get my energy from being alone and getting more rest than them, I am constantly reminded by their consistently upbeat moods that I must also maintain a certain level of activity and interaction on a regular basis. While the amount varies from one introvert to the next, it likely exists as a greater need than most will admit.

DISCUSSION: What are your experiences with extroverts and introverts regarding activity and social interaction as well as mood?

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Struggling for Unity

UnityAchieving and sustaining real, productive unity seems more and more like grabbing a handful of water these days. Sure, we see glimpses of people uniting for a cause or to accomplish a specific task or goal, but those events seem more like a bandage on a gaping wound than any real gain toward unity.

Instead, many (most?) countries lack a unified people and/or government, and so many companies and organizations struggle in a constant state of mismanagement and overwhelm. Broken marriages divide families and erode trust. Even churches crumble under the weight of selfish disagreements leading to division and strife.

Unity Takes Hard Work.

Feelings often encourage one direction while unity requires another. The choice between self and others continually drives a wedge into any efforts toward unity.

Often, people attempt to avoid disagreement and struggle in an attempt to create unity, failing to realize that unity exists as individuals work through disagreement and struggle. In other words, we find unity as we persevere through differences in opinion and preference and instead work toward peace as we focus on a singular goal. Refusing to quit in the struggle usually leads to great gains in unity.

The Bible teaches on unity more than on Heaven or Hell perhaps because while Satan may not be able to steal our salvation, he can undermine our effectiveness through disunity. He knows that the church and God’s people need unity in order to accomplish the goal of spreading the Gospel. He also knows that unity flourishes as we obey the command to love God and others, and getting our focus on our own desires keeps us from taking the path of love that leads to unity.

Basic Truths About Unity

Let’s look at some basic truths about unity found in Scripture in an effort to realize the significance of the stability unity brings to God’s people, benefits that flow well beyond the body of Christ.

  1. Jesus prayed for unity (John 17). In fact, His last prayer before taking the road to the cross focused on unity among God’s people. He knew that Christians united under God could accomplish much for the Kingdom than individuals operating on individual agendas.
  2. Unity is a command (Ephesians 4:3). A church filled with believers focused on leading Holy-Spirit led lives leads to a unified body bound by peace. Peace and unity together create a strand not easily broken (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
  3. Unity brings God’s blessings (Psalm 133). Harmony among God’s people refreshes the body of Christ. The pleasant and precious nature of unity spreads and soothes even into areas where chaos reigns.
  4. Unity is a powerful witness (John 13). Simply put, unity and peace make Christianity – following Jesus – attractive to the world. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.
  5. Unity meets deep, emotional needs (Philippians 2:1-2). Encouragement. Comfort. Fellowship. Tenderness. Sympathy. Where these flow, unity and love exist in abundance.
  6. Unity comes through the spiritual growth of individuals (Colossians 2:2). Encouragement and strong ties of love come through confidence in the Gospel. That confidence results when individuals focus on knowing Christ.
  7. God gives us what we need for unity (Romans 15:1-6). Through God’s gifts of patience and encouragement for the purpose of preferring others, individuals adopt the attitude of Christ as a lifestyle, and unity naturally results.
  8. Unity is the strength (essence) of a healthy church (Romans 12:5; 1 Corinthians 12; Galatians 3:28). A unified church recognizes the need for every individual to do his/her part, each playing an integral role in the unified body of Christ.
  9. Love results in unity (Colossians 3:14). In fact, love exists as the most important piece of “clothing” a Christian wears because of its role in creating unity.
  10. We must guard unity (Ephesians 4:3; Philippians 2:1-5; 1 Peter 3:8-9). Guarding requires deliberate attention, which means intentionally focusing on the elements that create and sustain unity.

Unity requires a lot of consistent hard work (Psalm 34). Doing nothing to promote unity means allowing it to evaporate and become all but invisible as the gaping wounds in individual lives, in families, in churches, and in countries fester and reach epidemic and infectious proportions.

On Thursday, we’ll look at our individual responsibility for the creation, growth and sustained existence of unity. Get ready… eliminating severe infection often requires pain and sacrifice.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts about unity?

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Thinking on Words

A friend recently said she planned on “wafing” at work the next day. At first, her word left me floundering to understand her meaning. But when I thought more about my friend and her approach to work, I somehow knew what she meant. The relationship created the meaning necessary to understand her words.

My friend also said that putting the word in quotes made it okay to use even though it is not a word. If that’s the case, then a lot of words need quotation marks.

Our conversation got me thinking about how people in general use words, both intentionally and unintentionally, how we create the meaning of the words we use, both real and made up, as well as the impact of relationship on the meaning of our words.

So, strap in, hold on, and journey into my thought process on the topic of words.

Words

Did you realize“unforgiveness” isn’t really a word? Not in my dictionary, anyway. “Impactful” isn’t either. Kind of disappointed since I use those words often.

Technically, adding “un” before “forgiveness” means taking back or undoing forgiveness. A very “churchy” (yes, another non-word) word, the assumed meaning of “unforgiveness” involves not forgiving or refusing to forgive, not so much an undoing of forgiveness given because of it not actually being given in the first place.

Impactful,”used to portray major impact or effect, is actually in some “online” dictionaries, but it’s not an official word according to Dictionary.com. And anyway, why not just use influential or effective? Unfortunately, I’ve used “impactful” so much over the years that I naturally think of it when describing something with great impact.

How many other words do I use frequently that don’t actually exist?

Words4

People constantly make up words. Some eventually become official words. (I’m still not over “ain’t” officially becoming a word.) Don’t we have enough words? Are we just too lazy to learn the ones we already have, so we make up new ones instead? Isn’t that kind of like being unable to find that thing you know you have somewhere, so you buy a new one instead of taking the time and making the effort to look for it?

Marketers, Tweeters (technically a real word) and “Facebookers” make up words all the time. Where do you think the Word of the Year “selfie” came from? (In case you’re wondering, second place went to “twerking.” Sorry, Miley!)

Ginormous” and “bestie” were also spawned “online” with “selfie.” The word “ginormous” combines gigantic and enormous, related synonymously, so why not just use one of the legitimate words? Can something truly be so gigantic and enormous that it needs both words to be described? Once something reaches enormous, does it need to be more? Or, is this simply our human tendency to add dramatic flare to everything?

Maybe my obsessive need to eliminate the little squiggly line under words creates an over-sensitivity to word choice. Or maybe my frustration over increasing laziness with the words we speak, over taking the time to communicate clearly and accurately, creates a need to consider the details of the words I use and the intentions behind them.

Words5

Take a minute to think about the words you use. Actually, think about how much you actually think about your words. Or, do you just let the words come forth without giving them much thought?

Scripture says a lot about using care with our words, and taking the time to consider these instructions strengthens character and relationships by bringing greater awareness to the fact that the words we speak – as well as how, when & why we speak them – reflect the atmosphere of the inner self with striking accuracy.

In January, we will look at how what we say, the way we say it and when we say it holds tremendous impact. In addition, we’ll look at how who says something matters along with the impact of the amount of words we speak (how much we say or don’t say). Finally, we’ll also look at the value of controlling our words along with ideas on how to incorporate this aspect of self control into the details of our lives.

DISCUSS: Take me on a journey into your thoughts on the use of words. Tell me what you think a detailed focus on this topic should include.

How to… Live an 80/20 Life, Part 1

If 20 years of marriage taught me nothing else, it showed me that people view and handle stress uniquely. My husband and I sit on opposite ends of the spectrum with regard to how we handle stress. Simply put, he can handle a lot more than me. About 10 years into our marriage, I finally became okay with sitting and reading while he worked around the house. I realized that we were both dealing with the stress in our lives, just in very different ways.

Managing busyness also looks very different from one person to the next. My husband takes a “handle it as it comes” approach, while I tend to limit how much comes at me in the first place. While I can see how he handles stress and busyness, I don’t really understand it. I have come to accept it simply because it works well for him.

Over the past 2 ½ years, learning to better mitigate the stress in my life and to keep busyness in balance has brought what a friend of mine called “a peace” about me. And I feel more peaceful too. With that being said, the following two approaches largely shape how busyness and stress stay minimal and margin stays optimal in my life.

Schedule Only 80% of My Calendar

This leaves a 20% margin for surprises that pop up and for extra opportunities to minister. I’m not naturally spontaneous, but this 20% at least gives spontaneity (often initiated by my husband) a good chance for success upon occasion.

Mostly, though, the 20% is for the down time that my laid back personality needs. Some days and even weeks go over 80%, but that’s okay when I have margin in sight. I make sure it’s always in sight too. Yes, this means saying “no” to some good people and activities. But, I have found that saying “no” actually allows me to more fully say “yes.”

Say Only 20% of What I’m Thinking

As an introvert, there’s a lot going on in my head. My husband loves me, but he doesn’t want to hear it all. (He actually gets more than 20% anyway.) No one but God wants to hear it all, and saying too much detracts from listening, which is more important anyway.

This 80/20 “rule” also keeps sarcasm at bay, which also comes a bit too naturally for me. Not only that, but my melancholy personality also gravitates toward the negative initially. So keeping those thoughts to myself really does benefit everyone.

My point in saying this really goes toward balance. Keeping much of my thoughts to myself brings more value to what I do say. I feel like it also shows more value for what others have to say. At least that is my intention. To me, that helps bring balance to my relationships.

You Decide!

These two 80/20 “rules” do not exist like rigid accounting principles. They simply provide guidance and help keep life simple. After crashing 2 ½ years ago, I was forced to rethink my approach to balance. These two rules are the result.

If one take-away exists from this post, let it be the importance of managing overload and maintaining balance. Overload happens when you do nothing to stop it, while balance and simplicity must be deliberately and uniquely pursued.  Decide now which state of mind will get the victory in your life.

Next week’s “How to…Live an 80/20 Life, Part 2” will discuss some specific tactics for living an 80/20 life.

DISCUSSION: What approach do you take to achieve and maintain balance & simplicity in your life?

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Essential Elements of Vision Therapy

Many optometrists do not recognize when someone needs vision therapy. In fact, a person with vision problems can pass an eye exam with flying colors. This was the case with my son. I sensed we were missing something in his learning plan, but that something remained allusive until one of his teachers suggested I check into vision therapy.

Elements in vision therapy include the following:

  1. Comprehensive Vision Exam/Consultation: Before a patient begins vision therapy, an assessment by a qualified doctor takes place. This includes diagnostic evaluations identifying strengths and weaknesses with regard to visual coordination and information processing skills.
  2. Patient Conference with the Doctor: After the assessments, a doctor specializing in vision-related problems reviews and interprets the results. When vision therapy is recommended, a treatment plan is created with goals and expectations outlined. The patient must then decide whether or not to begin therapy.
  3. Weekly Therapy: Therapy sessions at the doctor’s office vary depending on each individual’s needs. Some patients have in-office therapy twice a week, while others have it once a month. Patients also often have tasks to complete at home to enhance the in-office therapy. The specific type and frequency of therapy depends largely upon an individual’s unique vision therapy needs.

This process works well within our spiritual lives too, if we’re open to it. This same sort of process can lead us to a place of preventing vision-related spiritual problems – such as double-mindedness, lack of or wrong focus, and absence of alertness or paying attention – that can plague our spiritual lives. After asking the question, Do you Need Vision Therapy, proceed to implementing the necessary elements.

Elements in spiritual vision therapy include the following:

  1. The Basics: Serving as an eye exam or vision evaluation for our spiritual lives, make sure the basics of regular fellowship, daily Bible study and prayer create the core of your spiritual vision health. (Colossians 4:2, 3; Acts 2:42) All other elements will be fruitless without these basics. Stopping regular practice of any of these habits leads to blurred spiritual vision.
  2. Consultation: A seasoned saint can provide the essential observations needed to make adjustments in one’s spiritual progress. Seasoned simply means more spiritually experienced and victorious in a particular area and maybe in general. In addition, regular accountability can help us see what we are blind to about ourselves. Talking out problems is often all that’s needed to find a solution. (Galatians 6:1, 2)
  3. Expert Advice: This can come through pastoral counseling, professional Christian counseling and Christian books. Some struggles simply need the experienced vision of a pastor or Christian counselor. Regularly reading good Christian books also provides expert advice that can be preventative as well as problem-specific.
  4. Practice: Vision therapy practice includes “homework” that produces daily application for growth. Spiritually, this means not just taking in the Word and hearing from God, but also “going into all the world” and practicing what God plants inside of you. (Mark 16:15)
  5. Continual reassessment: Realizing The Danger of Routine and Habit in Our Prayer Lives proves the need for continual reassessment in the life of a Christian. Just as someone receiving vision therapy will be reassessed by the doctor several times during and after therapy, Christians too much assess their habits and routines. Really, every area could benefit from regular, personal assessment in general. Check with the Holy Spirit daily in prayer and make a deliberate point of consistent personal assessment.

One final connection between vision therapy for the eyes and spiritual vision therapy lies with the power of choice. In either case, the “patient” must make the decision about whether or not to begin the recommended therapy. Just like the eye doctor makes the vision therapy plan very clear, God makes the plan of action very clear for clearing up and even preventing spiritual vision problems. With both, commitment and then follow through are necessary for improved vision.

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How to… Not Need a Vacation After Your Vacation

The view from the balcony in St. Maarten.

Learning how to Plan for a Family Vacation Without Going Crazy, to Enjoy Traveling, and to Enjoy Family Vacations & Come Back Closer Than Ever all go a long way in making sure your next family vacation is the best vacation you’ve ever had. One theme that hopefully stands out in this series is making sure the time spent away is relaxing for everyone. Without that element, all the planning along with the best activities and locations will fail to produce a vacation that truly energizes and revives. If you come back from a vacation needing to recover from your vacation, did you really take a vacation more than in name only?

First, let’s take a look at WHY actually relaxing on vacations is so essential. Health Finds, a blog site providing News and Tips for a Healthy Lifestyle, provides some startling information about the benefits of vacations in the article Why Vacations Are So Important.

“A study published in the year 2000 in the medical journal Psychosomatic Medicine has shown that taking regular vacations is associated with a longer, healthier life. Vacations, along with sleep, exercise, and other leisure time activities, appear to be restorative and protective against the ill effects of psychological stress. Over 12,000 men enrolled in a heart health study were followed over nine years. The men who took vacations in most years were 20 percent less likely to die of any cause than those who forewent regular vacations. The vacationers were also 30 percent less likely to die of heart disease.”

Clearly, vacations are essential for a person’s physical health, but they also can provide tremendous mental benefit. In fact, in Why your brain needs vacation on CNN Health, Elizabeth Landau provides the following reasons for taking a vacation.

  • Visiting an unfamiliar environment can help give a new perspective on everyday life.
  • Traveling abroad helps with creativity through experiencing new cultures.
  • Vacations allow for the opportunity to be mindful, which involves seeing new things and breaking mindless routines
  • Mindful vacations can result in an “epiphany” and be a catalyst for permanent change.

So, to put special emphasis on the idea of truly relaxing while on vacation, the following tips are offered.

On the balcony with my e-book in St. Maarten.

  1. Schedule down time. So often, people schedule activity upon activity when on vacation resulting in fatigue that needs recovery time when they get home. Instead, schedule time to relax. Personally, my family and I schedule as much if not more time to relax than we do actual activities.
  2. Truly be on vacation. Simply put, don’t work. Turn off electronics, especially ones that relate to work, and leave projects at home. Shutting out work takes a deliberate decision. It will not happen otherwise.
  3. Clean your house. I hate the thought of returning to a messy house. So, my boys know that preparing for vacation includes cleaning the house. Knowing my house is clean allows me to relax more than I would otherwise.
  4. Get lots of R&R. Give yourself permission to rest and relax. For me and my oldest, that means reading a lot. My youngest son and my husband enjoy sports. For all of us, that means movies and games together. We also just sit and talk quite a bit, on the balcony if possible.
  5. Forget your routine. Allow yourself to sleep later and stay up later if you want. Give yourself permission to have an extra cup of coffee instead of heading out the door earlier. Eat lunch at 3pm if you want. Changing your routine is immensely relaxing and often enlightening.

Vacations provide a terrific setting for extra bonding with the family, for exploring new cultures and for learning history. Above all, they can be the perfect setting for true relaxation that does not come with everyday life for most people. Sure, relaxing looks different for every person, but everyone does need to schedule time to relax. For many, it just won’t happen otherwise.

Sunday Reflections – The Danger of Routine & Habit in Our Prayer Lives

Our prayers can be hindered for a variety of reasons including Satan messing with them (Daniel 10:1-13), our own sin, selfishness and pride (James 4:1-3), a struggling or broken home life (1 Peter 3:7) and our unwillingness to forgive others (Mark 11:25).

As I checked my life in each of these areas and as I assessed the status of my prayer life, the Holy Spirit brought to mind an area in which my prayer life lingers dangerously close to only being lip service. For this reason, considering the danger of routine & habit needed to happen in order for renewal and growth to take place.

Honesty & Sincerity

Routines and habits allow us to stay in shape and to be healthy. They help us maintain balanced budgets and they keep our relationships healthy. The danger comes when routines and habits are accompanied by a lukewarm and indifferent heart. To phrase it another way, routines can lead to feelings of only “going through the motions.” Consider Isaiah 29:13, 14.

Then the Lord said, ‘Because this people draw near with their words and honor Me with their lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wondrously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men with be concealed.”

In other words, the people were going through religious motions and neglecting giving God their honest and sincere love and devotion. They claimed to be close to God, but they lived disobedient lives. When our routines and habits create a prayer life of going through motions but lacking emotion, we start down a slippery path that can lead to outright disobedience. The result, as verse 14 says, is judgment from God and removal of wisdom and discernment.

Stuck in a Rut

Routines and habits provide a great foundationfor many areas of our lives, including our prayer lives. Having routines and habits within our prayer lives not only helps us remember to pray but also provides consistency with which we ask for God’s help, guidance and protection in our lives. When kids are young, teaching them the habit of daily prayer at bedtime and mealtimes is essential to their spiritual growth. But just like I can drive to places I’ve been numerous times and not remember the drive, so to can I go through my prayer time and fail to connect with the One to whom I am praying. If routine and habit are ALL that we do and we refuse to ever venture outside of them, we then allow them to limit rather than strengthen us.

Renew and Refresh

Using routines and habits to provide a base is sound practice. However, if you feel like you are “stuck in a rut,” consider that perhaps your routines and habits need renewed and refreshed. Doing so can often bring a much needed perspective change and renewed enthusiasm.

First, pray in faith (Mark 11:24), in fellowship with the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26) and in accordance with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15). Second, break up the routine. For me, this means praying more out loud instead of only journal praying. It means spending more time in silence on my knees than drinking coffee comfortably in a chair. It also means praying in the spirit more. Third, keep what works. Spending a ½ hour each morning praying backed up with time in the word works well for me. Then, throughout the day, I include additional time in the word (such as when I’m eating lunch) as well as silent time in God’s presence (sitting on the deck/porch or taking a walk).

Conclusion

No, by the grace of God, I’m not to the point that Isaiah describes. Deliberate and intentional assessment of one’s prayer life can prevent this extreme state, and doing so is a lot easier when the rut is only a light footpath rather than a deep chasm.

DISCUSSION: Are you stuck in a rut with your prayer life? What habits do you need to keep, and what changes do you need to make? Is your flesh resisting change like mine is?

Note: Inspired by the June 3, 2012 sermon by Pastor Steve Miller of New Hope Assembly of God.

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