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.

Are You Strong Enough to Admit You are Weak?

What is weakness?

Dictionary.com defines weakness as…

“Lack of strength, firmness, vigor or the like; feebleness.”

“An inadequate or defective quality, as in a person’s character; slight fault or defect.”

While I understand these official definitions, I better connect with the following one:

“Any limitation you can’t change by yourself.” (Pastor Steve Miller)

I like the third definition of weakness because it gives hope. For me, the official definitions give too much of a discarded sense to the idea of weakness. Sure, weaknesses limit, but they also afford the possibility for improvement.

Improving Through Weaknesses

The best way to improve through weaknesses is by admitting they existConsidering my own weaknesses, while not pleasant to acknowledge within and then admit outwardly, takes me down a path of self-evaluation. This path, one we all must take if we expect to grow, also requires that we recognize how automatic our weaknesses seem to operate in our lives until we directly address them.

Walking With a Limp

Jacob walked with a limp, and it served as a reminder of His encounter with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Paul had a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) that served to keep him humble.

Both Jacob and Paul moved forward in spite of their weaknesses. They did so by depending on God for strength, which Paul helps us better understand with these words…

“Each time He said, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ So, now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

As with Jacob and Paul, our weaknesses can remind us of our dependence on God and can counteract the dangerous state of independence. In fact, the power of God will increasingly dominate your life the more you acknowledge your weaknesses and let Him be glorified as you limp through life.

Weaknesses Provide Opportunity

Our weaknesses can motivate us to keep in daily contact with God as we learn to rely on Him to overcome our limitations. Ministry opportunities also increase when we become aware of our weaknesses and allow God to use them. Weaknesses connect us with others who have similar weaknesses, and together we get to learn to let God use our weaknesses for His glory.

Weaknesses Promote Fellowship

As we become more aware of our weaknesses, we also become more aware of those who can partner with us. God works through others in amazing ways, including through balancing each other through strengths and weaknesses.

Being strong enough to admit you are weak means admitting the existence of your weaknesses. It means understanding that these weaknesses will not go away, that we really don’t want them to, and that only the power of God can turn them into great triumphs.

Finding Your Game

When athletes talk about finding their game, they refer to playing at their best on a consistent basis. Physical training supplements this, but truly finding your game primarily comes primarily through training at a whole different level. In fact, finding your game actually has little to do with the activity, sporting related or otherwise.

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” (1 Timothy 4:8)

The movie Seven Days in Utopia revolves around the idea of finding your game in life through the pursuit of godliness. This gem of a film provides many life lessons making the movie worth watching, but 5 lessons stood out as steps to take immediately to find your game.

5 Steps to Find Your Game

  1. Know your convictions. Ask yourself why you do what you do. If your purpose is excellence in a sport or in any area of life, consider what drives you. When we discover convictions that go well beyond the temporal, we find motivation in a deeper purpose our existence.
  2. Develop emotional control. Rhythm, balance and patience, essential elements for operating at your best, come through emotional control. When emotions control, rhythm, balance and patience cannot exist with any level of consistency. Instead, use emotions as gauges to make finding your game a continual reality.
  3. Be willing to deter from the expected. So often, we become trapped by expectations, both our own and that of others. Finding your game by stepping out of what’s expected and stepping into the will of God.
  4. Stay prepared. Some people naturally exude confidence. Others struggle with it. The core of true confidence exists not not in natural ability but instead comes through adequate preparation. Preparation creates a confidence that allows for handling the unexpected and the spontaneous with what often seems like a natural grace.
  5. Confront the lies. What lies drive you? Is your value is found in the game that you play? Or, is your value found in how and why you play the game? Knowing your value comes from Christ alone provides the convictions and confidence necessary for finding your game.

The Role of Mistakes

In addition to implementing the above elements to consistently operate at a higher level, realize the importance of how to best deal with mistakes constantly. Mistakes can easily knock us out of our game and into being off balance, out of rhythm and lacking patience, or we they can help build confidence.

Mistakes help build confidence when we use them to address the lies that say we’re the sum total of our accomplishments. They build confidence when we refuse to let them snowball and instead choose to see ourselves through through the eyes of Christ. This revolves around knowing Who are you as a Christian believer.

When we choose to not allow mistakes to negatively impact our self image, and we instead begin relying on our identity in Christ, we find that we are always acceptable. As we learn to be Living Stones, we discover that we can live and walk in repentance and bask in grace. In that, we finally find our game in a way that impacts eternity.

DISCUSSION: What adjustments do you need to make today to help you “find your game”?

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5 Principles for Focusing on the Now

Having a Balanced Focus

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

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

Balance must exist.

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

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

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

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

Principles for Living in the Now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Select Your Thoughts Like You Select Your Clothing

Enclothed Cognition

What determines the clothing you’ll wear each day? Weather? Activity? Fashion? Cost? Mood? Comfort? All of the above?

“You need to learn how to select your thoughts just the same way you select your clothes every day.” (Eat. Pray. Love. by Elisabeth Gilbert)

Since I work at home, I could wear sweats most days. I don’t, though, because I struggle getting into a work mindset if I dress too casually. I usually plan my clothes well ahead of time, based mostly on comfort but also largely on the task at hand.

We all give some mental energy to the clothing we wear. Those choices are impacted by many factors, the combination of which are unique to each individual.

In Mind Games: Sometimes a White Coat Isn’t Just a White Coat, the New York Times explains that studies show people are better test takers when they dress up. Researchers call this “enclothed cognition,” saying it’s the effect of clothing on our cognitive processes.

“Clothes invade the body and brain, putting the wearer into a different psychological state.”

Research proves that clothing impacts thoughts. The Bible shows that this truth extends far beyond our physical dress and into our spiritual dress as well. Essentially, both show that there’s definitely an intimate link between our clothing and our thinking.

Spiritual Clothing

“Clothe yourself with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t let yourself think about ways to indulge your evil desires.” (Romans 13:14)

“Dress yourself in humility” (1 Peter 5:5)

“Since God chose you to be a holy people he loves, you must clothe yourself with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12)

Our spiritual dress impacts our thinking. Where we allow our thinking to dwell affects our actions. We simply must continually consider how to dress ourselves spiritually if we are to please God with our attitude, actions and words.

Clean Clothing

Whether physical or spiritual, dirty clothing is easy to spot. Stains and smells almost always give them away. A washing machine and some detergent keeps our physical clothing clean. Likewise, our spiritual clothing receives cleaning too.

Unlike physical clothing, though, our spiritually clothing doesn’t wear out and become permanently stained.

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

How are we renewed daily?

  1. Encouraged by the hope of eternity. No matter what happens in this life, we have the promise of eternity. Be encouraged by and focus on this truth.
  2. Strengthened by the resurrection power of Christ. Christ conquered death. Is there anything going on in your life more powerful than death?

A transformation of the mind happens when we focus on and allow the Holy Spirit to work this daily renewal within us. The result?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

We get to choose what we wear, both physically and spiritually, which determines our thoughts. And a power greater than death washes clean any stain that gets on the spiritual clothing we choose to wear. This daily renewal serves to transform our thinking, which leads us to pleasing God with our attitudes, actions and words.

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

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

Make Becoming Christ-Like Your Goal

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

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

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

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

Walking Worthy

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

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

  1. Be equipped.

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

  2. Speak the truth in love.

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

  3. Be angry without sinning.

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

  4. Monitor what you say.

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

  5. Be kind.

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

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

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

Our Helper

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

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

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

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

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

Progress Toward Perfection

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

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

Stop the Spread of What is Wrong!

liquid-hand-soap-1504007-1280x960During flu season, the best way to stop its spread is to stay home if you’re sick and to wash your hands often. This way, you’re less likely to make anyone else sick and to contribute to an epidemic. If every person did this, flu season would probably be significantly shorter and less devastating.

In much the same way, you can help stop the spread of gossip, prejudice and offense. When they come your way, symbolically wash your hands of them and refuse to participate in their growth. If necessary, take time to rest and heal, but refuse to let these sicknesses multiply.

“God grants us the right and power to put an end to what is wrong if we are willing to pay the cost of absorbing it with and for Him.” (Dick Brogden, Live Dead Joy)

Confront or Forgive & Forget?

Following Brogden’s advice requires we learn “when to confront and when to quietly forgive and forget.”

Whenever possible, let an offense go and refuse to become offended. Realize a hurt usually comes from a place within the other person, that it involves their own struggles and probably has little to nothing to do with you. If necessary though, confront the offender with gentleness, kindness and patience.

Letting go and confronting both require forgiveness. Both involve humility. Both need saturated with love.

“Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

When we refuse to spread gossip, prejudice and offence, we choose to “have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies.” Instead, we make sure we’re not hindering anyone from seeing truth.

What are you doing to stop the spread of that which causes broken relationships?

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

waiting-lineWaiting in line. Waiting for dinner. Waiting for a train. Waiting for a package to arrive.

Waiting for test results. Waiting for your teen to get home. Waiting for guests to arrive.

Waiting for a phone call. Waiting for a headache to subside. Waiting for the storm to stop.

Waiting for coffee to brew. Waiting for an answer. Waiting for the light to turn green.

Waiting for your turn. Waiting for your flight. Waiting to hear about that job.

Growing impatience. Growing boredom. Time slows to a crawl. Sometimes fear sets in.

Maybe Tom Petty had it right when he sang…

“The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith; you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”

Why is waiting so difficult for most people?

wait-2Because waiting feels like it serves no purpose.

Because it seems like a waste of time.

Because we hate that we can’t control the situation.

Because it often comes with an unknown outcome.

Because we don’t want to miss out on anything.

Because we really don’t have to wait for much anymore.

Our on-demand culture certainly emphasizes the futility of waiting, of having everything “Your Way Right Away.” After all, we run full tilts on instant messages, fast food and push notifications. Unfortunately, waiting and getting what we want right away all the time only hacks away at our ability for patience in every area of life.

“The need for round-the-clock connection not only makes people more impatient, it also robs them of time for quiet reflection or deeper, more critical thinking. They tend to want constant stimulation, have less impulse control and get distracted more easily.” (Instant Gratification & Its Dark Side by Ronald Aslop)

My family went on a Caribbean cruise last spring. We turned off our phones and locked them in our room safe for the 10-day cruise as soon as we got on board. Many cruisers did not but instead opted to pay the significant fees for limited cell phone access. If a Caribbean cruise can’t lure someone away from the always-connected pace of life, might there be a significant problem at play?

We all know someone like this, right? We get frustrated when they can’t seem to part with their phone, when they pause a face-to-face conversation to have a virtual one. We easily recognize the vanishing effort to slow down our fast-paced, ever-connected lives to spend time simply breathing and thinking and existing… in others anyway.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

Do they really? If this is true, why don’t more people seek to develop patience and their ability to wait? Why do they allow their impatience to drive them? Why do they let technology constantly drive their gratification in every area of life? Why do they think they need success in short order rather than after hard work and long-term effort?

Can we admit that sometimes, this “they” we’re talking about could be our kids, our spouse and maybe even ourselves? Can we see that instant has tainted — maybe even ruined — our ability to patiently wait?

If we take just a few moments, better yet an afternoon or a day, to let go of instant, I think we’ll realize that when we get whatever it is we want right away, we’re never really satisfied because there’s always more to want and have. If we take longer, say a week or more of vacation — a slow-paced one, not a frantic, see-everything one — and limit or eliminate instant as much a possible in our lives, we might discover a part of ourselves longing to get out more.

Learning to Wait Again

manikin-1154431-1599x1832Read a book. Make meals from scratch. Take walks without your phone; let it play dead. Play games. Talk. Look people in the eye. Ask questions, then really listen.

At first you’ll likely feel the itch to get back to instant. Resist the urge. Refuse to give in. Your patience has been dormant a while and may need time to stretch before it can move about again. As time passes, you’ll discover that simplicity, quiet reflection and critical thinking offer something you’ve longed for unaware. You’ll see that real connection happens face-to-face. And you might even create a desire for a less-instant life, one that comes only when pursued.

Learn to slow down and wait again. Teach yourself how to enjoy every moment. Let life’s pace decrease, so you can discover the good that comes through waiting and patience.

What small steps can you take toward less instant life today? What results do you hope to see in the pursuit of learning to wait?

How to Get Unstuck

stuck 2When our van got stuck in the snow years ago, it overheated and caught on fire when I tried to get it unstuck. In hindsight, I should have just waited for the tow truck my husband went to call. Not one of my better decisions.

Stuck in traffic. Stuck in the mud (or snow). Stuck in a rut.

Doesn’t matter what kind of stuck… Frustration grows the longer I’m stuck, whether mentally physically or spiritually. The more frustrated I become, the less patience I have, and the more stuck I feel.

Being stuck gets my emotions all riled up, and I simply become unable to make good decisions. Until the frustration, impatience and anger abate, I feel lost in an endless maze of emotions. So, feeling stuck too easily turns into more like being trapped unless I find a way to overcome the emotions and get unstuck.

For this reason, my first step when I feel stuck is to get out from under out-of-control emotions. Sometimes this means simply walking away from the situation if possible and letting the emotions abate. When physical space can’t happen, I try creating mental space through praying, reading, singing… whatever gets my mind off how I feel, which is rarely a good lens for handling a situation well.

After my emotions fade, I can see more clearly and am able to assess the situation and consider the root cause. I ask myself, “Why did I get stuck in the first place?”  Sometimes, the cause is simply a wrong turn. Other times, being stuck serves as a warning from my subconscious alerting me to a problem I might not recognize on my own.

stuck 1With our van incident, while a wrong turn led us to getting stuck, and my impatience resulted in a significantly worse situation, the whole incident alerted us to a problem with the vehicle’s electrical system.  In this case, we just lost the van, and no one was hurt. Had this particular situation not happened, we might have learned about the recall through a much worse scenario.

Once we have a better idea of what caused us to become stuck, we can make the best choice for how to wisely work through the problem. If a wrong turn is the cause, the best solution is usually to just get back on the right path. Sometimes this means getting help, and sometimes this means backtracking. Either way, simply accepting the loss — and apologizing if needed — is often the best way to get unstuck.

In the past when I’ve felt stuck, I’ve generally made one of two bad choices for dealing with being stuck. Sometimes, I got stubborn and pushed (forced my way) through to progress. Other times, I did nothing and simply wallowed in my doldrums. Both of these approaches ended the same way… chronic stuckness from never actually dealing with the root cause.

Over the years, I’ve learned that being stuck is not necessarily a bad thing. It brings me to a standstill, to a place where I am unable to proceed or go back, and that makes me stop and think. When I get out from under my emotions and find the root cause, I also discover needed adjustments I would not have seen had I not gotten stuck.

Getting stuck never feels good, regardless of the details. Yet when we realize that the best adjustments in our lives often come because we get stuck, we see the benefit to this unavoidable waiting. We begin to understand that progress often comes with forced course corrections largely because we often don’t stop to look for them otherwise.

DISCUSSION: How do you get unstuck?

Struggling With Patience

PatienceYears ago, I thought I had a patience problem. I needed more of it. So, I worked to be more patient. Unfortunately, trying to be more patient didn’t work all that well.

I then decided I instead had an anger problem. If I simply prevented anger, patience would increase. You know, walk away before anger gets out of control. Avoid trying situations that erode patience and promote frustration and anger. That didn’t work either.

My efforts toward increased patience and decreased anger weren’t a complete loss, though. I sometimes managed patience if I wasn’t hungry, tired or thirsty and if everything else was basically going my way and if it wasn’t too big of a deal and if the other person was obviously just being difficult, and if…

Honestly, consistency consistently eluded me with regard to patience.

At some point, I finally realized my struggles with patience stemmed from control issues — I wanted to control people and situations… yes, all of them. I lost my patience and replaced it with anger and frustration when that didn’t happen, which was most of the time.

Understanding Patience

We most often associate patience with putting up with another person, but it goes well beyond that. Patience also means waiting and not forcing a situation to happen according to your preferences.  Having patience means staying emotionally steady when a person doesn’t do what you expect or a situation doesn’t happen as you expect.

Patience involves making a decision to not force a situation, to instead wait and let it happen — or not — as it will. Having patience and not insisting on your will requires faith as a way to not simply get through something but to instead know the Lord will direct your actions (Proverbs 16:9).

Patience involves a refusal to insist on your own way. It means letting others make mistakes because that’s the only way they’ll realize they’re mistakes and because you want the same to happen when you make mistakes. It means forgiving when a person doesn’t know they should be sorry or knows and simply isn’t sorry.

Patience toward people and circumstances often requires knowing what your emotions want and choosing to head in the opposite direction. It means employing flexibility to the utmost of your limits.

Don’t Force The Situation

Somewhere along the way, I learned to tell myself “Don’t force it” when patience evaded my grasp and anger and frustration took its place. This motto enforces patience and reminds me to wait even when my feelings want to push and pull and control.

“Don’t force it” provides a practice that receives reinforcement through remembering all the times I did the opposite and found myself overwhelmed and overloaded in getting what I wanted only to discover it was not what I needed or that it distanced me from those I loved.

“Don’t force it” is a determination that keeps me from getting ahead of God and discovering I left His presence behind for the benefits of His promises (Exodus 33). It’s a reminder to let Him be God and to follow His leading.

Psalm 37

Focus Determines Reality

Patience says you trust God to work in another’s heart and mind to their benefit and His glory (Romans 15:5). It says you trust Him to present opportunities as you actively wait in what you already know to do.

It means placing an inner stillness over your desire to control and to instead focus on His presence. It’s a fruit of the Holy Spirit we make room for as we deny the flesh (Galatians 5:22).

Patience exists as an attribute, a requirement really, of truly loving others (1 Corinthians 13:4). It’s a habit that flourishes in simplicity of living (James 5:7). It’s an aspect of the Lord’s character we must pursue as we focus on who He is, not just what He does.

Victory In The Struggle

Patience now exists with consistency in my life, now that I know the root cause isn’t a lack of patience or an abundance of anger but a control issue. Sure, patience needed to increase and anger needed to decrease (and sometimes they both still do), but I now realize neither of those could happen until my need to control others and situations diminished.

Until my focus turned away from my own efforts and instead fixed on the One who holds all control, my reality remained in the muck and mire of out-of-control emotions.

Knowing He has ultimate control over all aspects of life brings me peace. Knowing He gives wisdom and guidance in every moment of life produces staying confidence. And knowing His Spirit plants and cultivates patience within me allows me to focus on the victory within the struggle.

DISCUSSION: How have you struggled with patience? How have you found victory over it?