Social Connection… Not Easy But Best

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

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

Introverted ≠ Anti-Social

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

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

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

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

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

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

Social Interaction = Healthier Aging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God Encourages Fellowship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be More Social!

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

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

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

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

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.

Knowing God, Part 2

In “Knowing God, Part 1,” we discussed the need all people have to know and value themselves and to be important to others. We also looked at how only God can fulfill that need and how only He fully knows us. Let’s now explore the journey we get to take toward knowing God.

God is Knowable

God knows each one of us intimately. He formed us and planned our days (Psalm 139:13-16). He gave us purpose (Jeremiah 29:11). All of that is truly astounding, but there’s more.

“Oh, the depth of the riches of wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33)

God is unfathomable, beyond measure, infinite and unending. At the same time, He is also knowable and approachable.

“I too… do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.” (Ephesians 1:17)

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

Even though God is far too big for us to fully know Him, He invites us to journey toward knowing Him more. He also tells us how to do it. Even more astounding, He actually reciprocates our efforts.

How to Know God

Our faith lives revolve around an increasing knowledge of God. And while it truly is impossible to fully know Him, every day is an opportunity to know Him more than we did the day before. We don’t have to figure out how to do that either. God tells us.

Jesus is the only way to know God.

Any other proposed path to God is preposterous and leads to eternal destruction.

“Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6)

“And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.” (John 17:3)

Only after we admit our sin, believe Jesus died to save us from that sin, and confess Him as Lord and Savior can we begin the journey of knowing God.

Scripture is God’s word and His revelation of Himself to us.

A love for God’s Word is essential in knowing God. The Bible tells us who God is and what He desires of us, what He promises and what His will is. In that, it tells us how to know Him.

“You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is Jesus Christ. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:14-16)

Reading the Bible fully and regularly is essential for knowing God. It’s akin to how we know our spouse or best friend by spending time with them. Scripture is our training manual for living how God desires. It does this both through clear instruction and through the examples given in the stories about how He interacted with His people.

Obedience shows we know God and leads us to knowing Him more.

Obedience is also crucial to our knowing God better and better. In fact, obedience is proof that we know God and at the same time leads us to knowing Him more.

“He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought to Himself walk as Jesus walked.” (1 John 2:4-6)

The more we know God, the better able we are to do what He desires. At the same time, when we act in obedience without understanding, out of that flows knowing God more too. In other words, knowledge and understanding of God both fuels and results from our obedience.

All Worthwhile Knowing

The only times I’m ever satisfied with knowing and being known are when that knowledge flows out of knowing God. My marriage and friendships only bring real satisfaction when they exist based on what God desires. When my life’s focus remains on knowing God first and foremost, all other knowing gains tremendous value, purpose and motivation.

  • The only way good works have meaning is by knowing God and doing what He desires (Ephesians 2:10).
  • The only way I can consistently be light and salt in this dark work is through obedience to what God wants (Matthew 5:13-14).
  • The only way to truly love others, regardless of their attitudes, actions and words, is to first love God (Matthew 22).

Knowing God motivates us to live for His desires rather than our own. Knowing Him changes our want to; it changes our focus. Knowing God is the only way to meet the need we all have to know and be known.

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)

The Mark of Love

Human Maturity

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

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

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

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

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

Spiritual Maturity

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

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

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

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

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

The Mark of Love

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

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

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

Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Thoughtful Planning & Smart Work

“Some structures on Earth and beyond appear so graceful we cannot imagine the complicated designs, systems and procedures that made them possible. Architects, engineers, even astronauts must imagine fearlessly — anticipating problems, planning meticulously and course-correcting with split-second agility. Building successfully takes perseverance, teamwork, courage… and a willingness to try.”

~ Lego Interactive Display, Museum of Science and Industry, Chicago, IL

Tough Struggles & Humble Obedience

Some people in our lives, or maybe we see people on television or hear about someone in another city or country, appear so together and successful. They seem to be making a tremendous impact for God.

We cannot imagine the struggle, hardship, pain and growth that made being who they are today possible. Parents, pastors and even missionaries must pray fearlessly — confessing struggles, seeking wisdom and learning from mistakes — with continual humility and grace-filled obedience.

Building a Godly life takes perseverance, grace and mercy… and a willingness to die daily.

“When you bow down before the Lord and admit your dependence on him, he will lift you up and give you honor.” (James 4:10)

“But those who obey God’s word really do love him. This is the way to know whether or not we live in him. Those who say they live in God should live their lives as Christ did.” (1 John 2:5-6)

“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4)

How to Not Exasperate Your Children

Do you exasperate your children?

Ephesians 6:4 gives this advice regarding parenting…

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

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

Exasperate means…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put Your Behind in the Past

Lion King

In this scene, Simba finally moves forward after attempting to forget his past. He realizes forgetting is not only impossible, but doing so denies who he is as well as holds impact well beyond himself.

Our youngest son came to us when he was 9 years old. He brought with him a rough start to life filled with more disappointments, struggles and hurts than most people face in a lifetime. In the six years since he’s been our son, we’ve worked to undo the damage and bring him to a place of continued forward growth academically, mentally, socially and spiritually.

future-or-go-back-221x300One prevailing principle in his progress is the idea of learning from the past and then moving on. We deliberately talk often about how he can choose to overcome his past or let it define him. With every struggle we encounter, we talk in detail about the choices he made in that particular situation and how he can make adjustments for future decisions.

We also talk about how he can better handle life’s situations without reacting and letting emotion control him. Finding positive choices helps him grow and heal. These 5 questions help immensely in that process.

  1. Did you ask for forgiveness? While granting forgiveness remains out of his control, asking begins the healing process. Related, we also make sure that he forgives where needed too, and we reference Ephesians 4:32 in that discussion.
  2. What can you control? The answer is always “myself.” This brings understanding about focusing on controlling his own attitude, actions and words.
  3. What can’t you control? The answer to this is always “others.” You can only control yourself, not others.
  4. What could you have done differently? This question helps him understand that while he may not have meant for something to happen, his actions or reactions set the stage for something to happen or somehow made a situation worse. The idea of a ripple effect is crucial for growth.
  5. What can you do to control your anger/frustration in the future? We then spend a few minutes discussing ideas, which usually include praying, taking a deep breath, walking away, taking a break, journaling and quoting scripture. Having tools he can use when struggles happen again is crucial to prevent repeating the same mistakes.

These discussions with our son also include talking about self-control and its importance, and we focus on how he can build trust through respect and obedience. We then end the discussion with a prayer and “hugging it out.”

Over the past six years, these questions have become automatic not just for addressing issues with our teenage boys but for tackling the struggles in our own lives. They provide an intentional way to Put Your Behind in the Past and allow you to learn the value of Going Backward So You Can Move Forward.

DISCUSSION: What techniques do you have for learning from your mistakes?

Becoming A Defensive Christian

Defense Wins Championships

Game planSuperbowl 50 brought a lot of controversy and drama. Fortunately, a good game took place too. In fact, the game produced one of the best defensive battles I’ve seen since I started watching football the year of the Super Bowl Shuffle.

Denver prepared by studying tapes of Carolina’s offense, and then they developed their defensive game plan based on what they saw. Good strategy because guess what plays Carolina used during the Super Bowl? Exactly what they’d been using all season. Nothing new. So, excellence in preparation met with amazing talent, and the Denver Broncos pulled out a win few expected.

Our Defensive Strategy

Christian Armor Email SalutationThe championship difference made by the Bronco defense in Super Bowl 50 reminds  me of how a solid defense is crucial to victory in the Christian walk too. (I love how God uses everyday life to speak his truths into my life.)

The Bible certainly calls for a defensive-heavy strategy for success as Christians. Though offense stills remains important, defense certainly receives more options.

There are four specifically defensive weapons in the Armor of God listed in Ephesians 6: the breastplate, shield, belt and helmet. The footwear and the sword could be considered both defensive and offensive weapons.

Defense protects. It keeps the enemy — the opponent — from infiltrating and taking over. Defense keeps the opponent from gaining victory. As Christians, we must become defensive specialists.

Become a Defensive Specialist

While the opponent changes from game to game in football, it remains the same day in and day out for Christians. Since “we are not unaware of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11), we can become defensive specialists too and keep the devil’s point scoring to a minimum. How do we do this?

“Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” (Ephesians 6:11)

Maybe you, like me, learned about the Armor of God in Sunday school but never really understood its application until much later in life. Not until I realized the value of a solid defense in other applications did I truly understand how it must also be a consistent focus in my life as a Christian.

Just as John Elway did with the Denver Broncos, I need to rebuild my defense and develop a strategy that will allow me to lead a more victorious life. I’m  tired of being defeated. I’m tired of feeling exposed. Time to fortify my offense through the strengthening of my defense.

What does a solid defensive strategy using God’s armor look like?

BE Encouraged

God gives Christians a variety of ways to receive encouragement, including through scripture, through the Holy Spirit and through fellowship with other Christians. All of these provide consistent and bountiful resources of encouragement for His children.

Even in this abundance, we’ve all come across a brother or sister who simply refuses to be encouraged. They’re usually identified by the words “Yeah, but…” in response to any sort of verbal encouragement and often appear blind to any other sort of encouragement.

With total transparency here, I must admit I’ve been that person way too often. Not only have I refused verbal encouragement at times, I could hardly stand to be in an encouraging atmosphere (worship service, for example).

At its heart, failure to be encouraged through the ways God offers encouragement exists as an issue of obedience. We can’t escape the truth that Scripture does in fact command us to “be encouraged.”

“These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Wait for the Lord; Be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14)

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

What I notice most about these and the many other Scripture about encouragement is that the focus of an encouraged individual lies outside of the self. In fact, the focus lies specifically on the Lord.

During the times I’ve refused to be encouraged, my focus fell on myself — my feelings and my emotions — rather than on what God has done, what he’s doing, and what he says he’ll do. The first nine verses of Psalm 77 show this state of mind, the one we find ourselves stuck in when we are discouraged.

I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted. I remembered you, God, and I groaned; I meditated, and my spirit grew faint. You kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak. I thought about the former days, the years of long ago; I remembered my songs in the night. My heart meditated and my spirit asked: “Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”

When we choose to focus on God instead of our feelings and emotions, we’ll experience a building confidence for the present and the future. We’ll realize that experiencing discouragement is inevitable, but being encouraged is a choice. The transition in Psalm 77, verses 10-12, shows this switch of focus.

Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

The rest of Psalm 77, verses 13-20, then take us through all there is to focus on with regard to God — His activity, His holiness & power, redemption and His creation. In doing so, we discover much-needed encouragement.

Your ways, God, are holy. What god is as great as our God? You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples. With your mighty arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. The waters saw you, God, the waters saw you and writhed; the very depths were convulsed. The clouds poured down water, the heavens resounded with thunder; your arrows flashed back and forth. Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked. Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

Turning our focus to God as Psalm 77 illustrates helps us find peace in chaos and to discover courage as we wait for God’s timing. Moving our focus from emotions and feelings toward God and His might, power and goodness, allow us to move forward in confidence because we know God goes with us as our constant source of encouragement.

DISCUSSION: If you dwell in discouragement, how can the encouragement God offers help you move forward?