Healthy Relationships During the Holidays and Beyond

Relationships 1Holiday Relationships

Relationships lie at the heart of holiday activity. For Christians, that first and foremost means an individual’s relationship with Christ. But we cannot escape that Scripture also advocates for a right relationship with other Christians. We are to encourage and build up the body of Christ. We are also to set an example of love for unbelievers to see.

The holidays seem to amplify the state of relationships; unfortunately, that includes making bad ones worse and often causing good ones to struggle. So much strain comes from already struggling finances, unmet expectations and inevitable disappointments.

As with physical and spiritual health, relationships can survive and even thrive during the holidays if deliberately considered rather than reacted to and given band-aid fixes.

Healthy Relationships

Consider the following advice as you work toward healthy relationships through the holidays and beyond.

  1. Be committed to caring. A focus on building bridges and not walls in our relationships, especially during the holidays, leads us to show concern for others and to focus on what blesses them.
  2. Cultivate respect. In the spirit of 1 Corinthians, the onus lies with the more mature spiritually and involves choosing relationships over ego.
  3. Develop & live out family convictions. State convictions and then allowed them to shape traditions.
  4. Be flexible. Flexibility is required to maintain relationships as life changes. Purpose to adapt, and refuse to hold tight to tradition for fear of change.
  5. Don’t let assumptions kill relationships. Make a point to respectfully express feelings, and don’t take for granted that others know how you feel. Say it both verbally and physically (hugs and smiles).
  6. Share responsibilities. Ask what you can do to help but also ask for help too.
  7. Engage people and be fully where you are. Put down the technology and make eye contact. Make sure your loved ones know you don’t prefer your electronics over them.
  8. Don’t allow expectations to kill relationship. Be realistic and have fair expectations of others. Don’t set them up for failure.

Depression and family contention hit their height for many during the holidays. Most likely, these two realities are closely related to the loneliness and disconnect so many feel this time of year.

Fortunately, a deliberate choice by individual Christians can make a huge impact for health and wholeness, healing and mending. As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, rely on the Lord to guide you toward healthy relationships during the holidays and beyond.

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Becoming Spiritually Healthy

Light 1

Jesus Changes Everything…

The biggest impact on my focus for lasting transformation and increasing joy during the holidays and beyond came when I truly met Jesus in the pages of Scripture and allowed His Holy Spirit to direct my focus. I’ve technically been a Christian my whole life. Yet, it took almost 30 years for my faith to become a significant driving force, for me to truly become spiritually healthy.

This doesn’t mean my faith didn’t impact my life before that point. However, when I finally realized and admitted my utter dependence upon Christ to work in me through His Holy Spirit for a joyful reality, my faith became so much more than mere fire insurance.

If You’ll Let Him!

Jesus desires for us to be spiritually healthy. He wants to increase the focus of our lives continually more toward God. But, He doesn’t force Himself on us. His Holy Spirit doesn’t force its way in as the director of our focus either. We must let Him change how we think… which changes our focus, which then changes our reality… if we are to become spiritually healthy.

Spiritually Healthy Habits

Usually, being led by Christ through His Holy Spirit involves many activities we already know to be spiritually beneficial. In other words, letting Christ lead us simply means doing that which Scripture extols as necessary habits for continually increasing spiritual health.

  1. Don’t neglect the basics. Keeping a consistent routine of Bible study, prayer & worship proves immensely beneficial. The basics keep us strong for the unexpected life inevitably handed us.
  2. Try simple & minimal. Take this approach with every aspect of life from schedules to clothing. Allow yourself the mental space to enjoy the people in your life by keeping the material aspects as simple as possible.
  3. Pay attention to physical health. While indulging feels good in the moment, the consequences usually outweigh any momentary, immediate pleasure. Consider the long-term impact of choices prior to making them.
  4. Make relationships a priority. Choose relationships over doing and going and accomplishing and impressing whenever possible.

Deliberately considering what I allow to direct my focus, the thoughts I allow to dwell in my spirit, helps me continue making choices that lead to a positive and joy-filled life. As I do so, and as I keep to these habits, living spiritually healthy becomes a more natural part of who I am.

Establish your focus on the only person able to align all you are with truth, light and hope. Let Jesus continually and increasingly direct your focus and shape your reality. This is the only way to become and stay spiritually healthy.

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Aging Gracefully

Birthday Confetti Email SalutationEvery year as my birthday nears, I struggle with aging. Actually, I continually battle the thought of aging but fixate on it more when I must actually add to the number that captures the reality.

Yeah, I know the “age is just a number” sayings, but I don’t buy them. To me, that constantly-increasing number reminds me of my mortality, and I find I must deliberately confront my thoughts in this area in order to not find myself consumed by what sometimes feels like futility.

Maybe I love this world too much. Maybe I’m too attached to the desires of my flesh. Or maybe I simply struggle with the wasted time of my past, now lost forever. Regardless, I know I need to, as my pastor said recently, live forward instead of backwards, and for me this means confronting these thoughts that could paralyze me if I let them.

tent

While I struggle with aging, I’m also acutely aware that the number placed on my age only involves my current dwelling or “tent” as Paul calls it (2 Corinthians 5:1-10). I know that the real me, my spirit, renews daily (2 Corinthians 4:16)… it doesn’t age. I hold dearly to my future promised with Christ in Heaven, and I know I must “not think only about things down here” but must “also set [my] sights on the realities of heaven” (Colossians 3:1-2).

At the same time, I can’t deny my desire to extend this tent-dwelling life as much as possible, to live a long, good life on this earth. I simply cannot escape the deep sense that this mortal life truly matters even amidst its fleetingness.

Since this life does matter, I want to age gracefully. I want to live fully in a way that pleases my Creator because I don’t believe He would give me this life if it didn’t matter much, if He didn’t have a specific purpose for both now and into eternity.

Do you have a similar struggle with aging and/or a desire to age gracefully?

In my goal to age gracefully, the focus topic for August on Struggle to Victory, I’m looking to what Scripture says to help me live in victory even within the struggle. In that, I will explore what the Bible teaches about living a long, good life (which is actually quite a lot), attempt to understand the truth that “physical training is of some value” (1 Timothy 4:8) and look at what it takes to finish well.

DISCUSSION: What are your thoughts on aging gracefully?

Discovering Strength Through Brokenness

broken In 2009, I discovered my allergy to dairy and my intolerance to gluten. Sensitivities to several other foods (crab, eggs and cashews) also came to light. As I changed my diet to eliminate these foods, I began to feel dramatically better. In fact, I felt better physically and mentally than I had my whole life.

Then I reached a plateau about two years later. I felt a tremendous sense of isolation as well as frustration as I watched others enjoy any food they desired. I saw only limits. I saw a cage that separated me from others. My frustration increased as I realized that my body is also tremendously sensitive to a lot of stimulation.

In fact, inflammation rises at the slightest chemical imbalance. Too much of any food causes distress, but any of certain foods causes setback. In addition, a lot of noise bothers me, and too much information in too small space of time easily impedes my ability to think. I also struggle being in groups of people for very long, sometimes even at all.

At times, I’m simply at odds with understanding why I am so physically and mentally sensitive. Some days, I just feel very alone. But, this journey also brings to light my many physical and mental limitations and weaknesses and gives greater understanding of how God’s strength flow in a practical way through my weaknesses.

In this struggle, I learned a valuable lesson: Freedom comes through brokenness revealed by weaknesses.

Realizing utter helplessness to be healthy on my own truly set me free. The process began with salvation and seeing my inability to escape the grip of sin. And it grew when I finally understood that every weakness I have presents an opportunity for increased freedom from the flesh.

My weaknesses humble me. They force me to understand my inability to control. They lead me to increased reliance upon the only One who truly has control. They present a choice between letting those weaknesses define and control me or allowing them to direct me toward His strength.

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

My weaknesses constantly remind me of my need for Christ. They remind me every day of my lack of self-control and of my tendency toward acting based on feelings and emotion. Without Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit producing the fruit of self-control within me, I fall prey to the consequences of my weaknesses.

Brokenness opens the floodgates for His power to work perfection in spite of me. It allows for a Holy-Spirit-led life that does not seek to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16-18), desires that most clearly show through in my weaknesses. And this by nothing in and of myself but instead only through His strength filling in the spaces left by brokenness.

DISCUSSION: How has weakness led to brokenness in your life? What difference does God’s strength make in your struggle with weakness?

How to Maintain Balance

bicycle quoteAs I consider the times I’ve found myself out of balance, which is more than I like to admit, I realize that I only become imbalanced when I fail to adjust. When I neglect making adjustments as my life changes and as struggles arise, I lose my balance and fall over.

The answer, then, to how to maintain balance, involves making constant adjustments, to continually finding a new normal as circumstances change with the seasons of life. This requires honesty with yourself along with humility to admit the need to adjust. As we learn to live in this constant state of adjustment, which is really what balance is all about, we’ll find that we continually improve in our ability to balance.

Adjusting for Balance

Making the following adjustments on a regular basis helps me stay consistently balanced. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am always balanced… but I certainly live there more frequently the more I consistently practice these habits:

  1. cyclists dismountSlow but don’t stop. Refuse to give up and quit. Take time to slow down and rest if necessary, but keep moving forward.
  2. Maintain focus. Establish core values and align focus daily.
  3. Be a team player. Don’t attempt balance alone. Have regular accountability.
  4. Evaluate regularly. From work commitments to relationships, make sure priorities stay properly ordered.
  5. Find ways to simplify. Life is chaotic enough on its own; refuse to add complication.
  6. Be yourself. Balance and simplicity are unique to the individual. Find your balance. Find your simple. Find your normal.
  7. Know yourself. Find your niche, not someone else’s. Dan Erickson’s post “why you can’t have what your neighbor has” can help shed light on this idea.
  8. Avoid comparisons. I can always find someone better and worse at balance, but neither does anything to help me stay balanced.

All too often, I go from simply trying to balance the various elements in my life to juggling them. Trying to balance and juggle at the same time is hard; in fact, I can’t do it. Can you? Yet all too often that’s exactly where we live. It’s a place where I’m not just trying to keep my life balanced, but I’m also tossing appointments and commitments and projects and people around like juggling balls. In this place, I’m losing the strength and ability, the margin I need, to adjust for consistent balance.

But when I continually adjust for balance, I’m better able to discover and live a harmonious life. And in that harmony exists the margin of peace amidst chaos. Try it… I know you’ll like it there.

DISCUSSION: How do you adjust for balance? If you feel like a circus act both juggling and balancing, what can you change to move toward less chaos?

Recently, Bill Grandi at Cycle Guy’s Spin ran a series called Second Chances. In it, I wrote about my struggle with depression. Through a series of questions and emails, Bill asked if I would consider writing more about my struggle and how I (with God’s help) overcame it. He sent me some questions, and we decided to run it as sort of an interview. Due to length, it is divided into five conversations. Here’s the link to the first one and the second one. The third will come next week.

The Role of Simplicity in Balance

Are You a Circus Act?circus

Ever watched one of those circus-type shows where entertainers attempt to stay balanced while gradually adding items to be balanced? These professionals balance people on people carrying a variety of items from plates to balls to flaming sticks. They’re focused on balancing more items than any normal person can balance, and all their focus goes toward keeping those items balanced.

Unfortunately, too many of us live like circus entertainers focused on balancing, except we’re not making any money for the show we’re putting on for our friends, family and coworkers. We’re balancing – or at least attempting to – an amazing amount, but that’s all we’re pretty much able to focus on… balancing.

When focused only on balancing, we’re often unable to consider the quality of our balancing act… how much we’re dropping. Simplicity allows for better balance in that it allows us to put our focus on quality over quantity, to balance well will less drops.

Longfellow

What is Simplicity?

Simplicity is freedom from complexity, intricacy or division into parts. It’s the absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.

Simple means easy to understand, deal with, use, etc. Simple means not elaborate or artificial, not ornate or luxurious.

Simplicity looks very different from one person to another. Ask 10 people what simplicity, simple, intricacy, luxury, ornament, etc. mean to them, and you’ll likely get 10 very different answers.

Simplicity’s Role in Balance

We can get ideas, guidance, inspiration and direction from each other with regard to simplicity, but every one of us must individually discover what it looks like for us. And regardless of how simplicity looks in any individual’s life, it plays an important role in a balanced life for every person.

In my own journey toward a balanced life, simplicity plays a tremendous role in creating depth and quality in every area of life from relationships to work. But I find I can only go deeper when I take the time to simplify myself first as an individual.

Simplifying myself involves the following 5 areas:

  1. What I think about… where I allow my thoughts to dwell.
  2. The words I speak… listen more and talk less.
  3. Appearance… comfortable but respectful.
  4. Focus… God. Family. Work. (In that order.)
  5. Commitments… not spread thin and having ample margin.

When I begin to feel overwhelmed and stop to consider why, the Holy Spirit without fail goes to one or more of these areas and says, “Simplify.”

DISCUSSION: How does simplicity exist in your life? What does simplicity mean for you?

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Filtering Thoughts

1430223_49148998 (2)Filters purify. They keep out the harmful and leave the beneficial. In any are of life, improvement comes through removing or keeping out bad and adding in good, through filtering.

A defective filter does little good. Only remove bad and fail to replace with good, and the bad comes back in full force (Luke 11:24-26). Only add in good and fail to remove the bad, and the good fails to have much – if any – benefit (Colossians 3).

Filters in our thought lives reduce overload by sifting through all the information and opportunities constantly coming at us. They allow for separating and removing what we don’t want and keeping what we do want. This filtering involves processing information received by placing it against truth, and with the Holy Spirit’s guiding choosing the appropriate response.

Filtering to Prevent & Reduce Overload

Applying filters involves creating habits and establishing priorities that help keep out negative and allow positive to shape us.

Habits go a long way in directing our thought lives. For example, I make a habit of considering the impact of whatever I choose to read. This means reading very little romance or horror and also flipping between fiction and nonfiction as a routine. I also regularly consider the benefit of the various blogs and articles I read. This habit keeps me balanced since my thoughts are easily influenced by the written word.

Filtering thoughts also involves prioritizing. This means realizing that sometimes we have to say “no” to good things simply because we cannot say “yes” to everything if we hope to avoid overload. Prioritizing includes everything from the what to read, what movies to watch, who to spend time with, and even what commitments to accept or reject at church.

My husband and I have created a filtering system that orders priorities within our schedules. This system works well in keeping my inner atmosphere from getting overwhelmed with too many details and lack of focus and my husband from getting out of balance by failing to relax and rest.

Our prioritizing filter involves keeping each other accountable and not adding any large and/or long-term commitment to our schedules without consulting one another. We ask if the added commitment will tax the margin in our lives because lack of margin almost always results in an overwhelmed thought life.

Creating Your Own Filters

Start by looking at what overwhelms you easily and finding specific ways to simplify and keep overload at bay. Remember that a good filter usually involves the following…

  1. An accountability system.
  2. Acknowledging and recognizing limits.
  3. Prioritizing to maintain healthy margins.
  4. The Holy Spirit’s guidance.
  5. Consistent time with God.
  6. Adjustments with the seasons of life.

The idea that focus determines reality is never more true than in our thinking. This is why we must deliberately choose a filtering system based on absolute truth, God’s truth, and not on the relative truth of man that changes like shifting shadows.

“Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.” (James 1:17)

DISCUSSION: What filters can you apply in your own life to prevent and/or reduce overload of any type?

Reducing & Preventing Overload by Capturing Thoughts

In Solving the Problem of Information Overload, we realized that the goal for reducing overload involves balance, which comes through deliberately capturing and filtering thoughts and by setting information boundaries.

When we receive information, regardless of its source and avenue, we react to it through our thought lives. The more aware we are of this process, the better able we are to deliberately make choices regarding our focus.

A large part of capturing thoughts involves creating a strong core of truth within us out of which our thoughts can then operate.

Capturing Thoughts

sf_spiritOfTruth_05Taking thoughts – the products of our God-given ability to reason, reflect and respond – captive means avoiding decisions based solely on our finite processing. This requires holding to a central truth to help govern those thoughts.

Truth should shape us, not the information we take in. The information we receive and digest, whether overloading us or not, should not sculpt thoughts. If it is, we’ve got it backwards. Instead, let truth determine the shape & direction of thoughts. Information then becomes a tool for spreading truth.

Spending time in Scripture allows truth to become part of our thinking and to fuel our filtering system. This practice must exist at our core instead of as a problem-solving method only, and this only happens by spending time regularly dwelling with Him and allowing His Holy Spirit to guide our thinking (1 Corinthians 2:10-16).

Reducing Overload

An overloaded mind produces a divided focus, and a divided focus fails to live fully by truth. So, in addition to establishing a habit of building core strength on truth, capturing thoughts involves limiting and managing the information we take in to allow for a more singular focus.

To reduce overload in a way that allows truth to direct and guide, first limit incoming information and then make sure what you do allow to dwell supplements your thinking instead of draining it.

This process requires taking the time to think about what you’re thinking by asking the following questions regularly:

  1. sf_beautifulMind_04What am I allowing to shape my thoughts? Psalm 1:1-2 says to avoid bad influences and focus on good. We’ll cover more of how to manage this in the next post.
  2. What am I allowing to dwell in my mind? If you think you can’t help what you think about, you’re wrong. Scripture tells us we can choose where to fix our thoughts (See Romans 8:5, Philippians 4:8 & Hebrews 3:1)
  3. What is the source of my thoughts? Do they come from the thinking of others? Or, do they flow out of the truth of Christ established in you? (See Colossians 2:8)

Overload blocks deliberate thinking and even an awareness of the thinking process itself. At some point, you just have to say “Enough!” and give yourself time and space to stop the inflow of information, consider what’s going through your head (writing thoughts down or talking them out can help), and pit them against God’s truth.

If you fail to capture your thoughts by thinking about what you’re thinking, you’ll be the one in the cage while your thoughts wreak havoc as you watch through the bars of overload. Choose to use information as a supplement and an avenue to spread truth instead of letting it overload you.

DISCUSSION: What experience do you have with reducing information overload? What role did God’s word play in that process?

Solving the Problem of Information Overload

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Information Overload

“I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. I need a holiday. A very long holiday.” (Bilbo in The Fellowship of the Ring)

Can you relate? While specifics vary from one person to the next, many people, myself included, feel spread thin by the constant flow of information and constant access available every minute of every day. And we largely bring it on ourselves through our unbalanced approach to interacting with technology.

This lack of balance leads to too much information coming too fast with no down time allowing for processing any information in a healthy way. Information overload does to our minds what indiscriminate eating and a sedentary life do to our bodies.

Infobesity

Information overload, known as “infobesity” or “infoxication,” has actually been around since the 1970’s. Over time, information overload leads to “information anxiety,” which distracts and negatively impacts an individual’s ability to be productive.

Even before any of these terms existed, George Miller hypothesized that humans have limited ability to process information and that overload results when these limits are exceeded. Evidence of taxed limits include…

  • Confusion
  • Poor decision making
  • Inability to generate original thoughts
  • Inability to have unique ideas

Nichoas Carr and Eric Schmidt agree with Miller and say that information overload could have an impact on though processes by…

  • Obstructing deep thinking
  • Blocking understanding
  • Impeding formation of memories
  • Making learning more difficult

This condition of “cognitive overload” results in diminished information retaining ability and failure to connect remembrances to experience stored in the long-term memory, leaving thoughts thin and scattered.

Simply put, information overload reduces our ability to think, understand, form memories and learn. It limits our capability for retaining information and accurately remembering experiences.

Finding Balance

To a great extent, we cannot control how much information comes our way nor how much we have to use technology. However, we’re not helpless either. We can find balance and avoid feeling spread thin by overindulgence.

Balance comes through setting information boundaries that mitigate the negative impact the constant flow of information has on a person’s ability to think, reason and remember. It also comes through deliberately capturing  and filtering thoughts.

(Note: The next two posts will look at the idea of capturing & filtering thoughts in relation to technology and information overload, and next Thursday’s post focuses on providing ways to find balance by creating information boundaries.)

Creating balance in the atmosphere of the inner self requires developing ways to regulate and filter the information entering our lives. Doing so helps create a state of  information balance instead of information overload in our lives.

DISCUSSION: What symptoms do you see of information overload in your life?

Addiction, Avoidance, Distraction & Technology

texting 2Electronic Fellowship

In a hallway between the sanctuary and fellowship hall at my church sits a pew where most Sundays a half dozen teens fellowship with their cell phones, Ipods and Kindles. During service, their fellowship continues, and many adults join in the fellowshipping with their Ipads and smart phones too.

This electronic fellowship ceases – sort of – during worship but returns fully at sermon start, continuing until the “stand and pray.” Sure, some may use their devices for Bibles, but I’m pretty sure doing so involves less thumb movement.

I realize the caution needed here regarding law and rules and judging others, so let me turn this on myself. I leave my cell phone at home on Sundays and Wednesdays when I go to church because if I don’t, I’ll fellowship with it instead of fellowshipping face-to-face. No matter how much I say I’ll leave it in my bag, the temptation to check it usually wins out at some point.

And yes, I’m even tempted during the sermon (sorry, Pastor) to check messages. I’m simply better focused on connecting with the body and hearing from God if my handheld device gets alone time at home while I’m at church.

But I can’t help but wonder…

Do so many teens stay on their devices while at church because they don’t want to talk to other people? Or, are they simply that addicted to texting or gaming or whatever they’re doing? Do the adults on their devices during the sermon simply have an addiction to staying connected? Or, are they using them to distract themselves from what they know they need to hear but don’t want to hear because then they’ll have to change?

For my part…

I know it’s addiction since I sometimes just can’t seem to resist the lure. It’s avoidance too, because some days my introverted self finds my cell phone much easier to connect with than the people around me. And while I’m at it, I’ll admit that its also distraction. After all, mindlessly surfing the Internet is a great way to not deal with life and forget about mistakes.

Beyond the Church Walls

Certainly, this is not a church-specific problem since this particular challenge with technology exists abundantly outside the church walls too. And unfortunately, our obsession not only allows for easy avoidance and distraction, but it is also creating some serious social issues with far-reaching impact.

According to Psychology Today, a prolific use of technology causes…text 3

  1. Isolation – We feel socially isolated because we end up substituting or mistaking electronic relationships for physical ones.
  2. Unhealthy substitution – Reading LOL in no way lifts your spirits like hearing a person’s laughter. Likewise, electronic confrontation limits effective resolution since emotions rarely come across as accurately when written as when experienced in person. These types of substitution limit the necessary human contact relationships need to deepen and grow.
  3. Loss of etiquette – Many people say online what they would never say in person. Likewise, electronic communication allows for avoidance of difficult situations simply because ignoring and sidestepping is easier electronically than face-to-face.

These are just some of the challenges presented by over-use of mobile devices, challenges that happen when we choose electronic communication too often over face-to-face connection. And, unfortunately, this causes us to become increasingly uncomfortable experiencing and expressing true emotion but at the same time craving it to the point of desperately seeking it out even more and usually in the wrong places.

In closing, consider the following quote by Jonathan Safran Foer in “How Not to Be Alone.

“Technology celebrates connectedness, but encourages retreat… My daily use of technological communication has been shaping me into someone more likely to forget others. The flow of water carves rock, a little bit at a time. And our personhood is carved, too, by the flow of our habits.”

DISCUSSION: Weigh in on how you see addiction, avoidance and distraction with regard to the use of technology. Please offer any solutions and bring in any relevant Scripture application.