Learn To Single-Task Again

tolkein-bread-quoteIn 2010, I crashed and burned mentally. The official diagnosis involved adrenal fatigue, and many factors led to my state of exhaustion.

One of the biggest involved having too many commitments and going in too many directions. A constantly-divided focus led to a state of overwhelm and overload.

To recover and heal, I gave up a lot of poor habits and replaced them with healthier ones. That’s the only way to really heal from adrenal fatigue.

One area needing a major overhaul involved my belief in multitasking as an operating system. The Toxic Impact of Multitasking needed eliminated. Its replacement? Learning to single-task again.

The Brain’s Desire

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Our brains want to think deeply and creatively. As any multi-tasker knows, neither is possible with any consistency when your brain tries to focus on a multitude of different tasks at the same time. Instead, we end up reacting to life and living only a surface-level existence.

But, as Sandra Bond Chapman, Ph.D., tells Forbes, with concerted effort…

Anyone can leave the “chaotic addiction of multitasking behind” and see “immediate and immense” benefits as well as an increase in creativity, energy and focus.

I’m living proof of this truth.

Single Tasking Habits

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In addition to recommending adequate rest and exercise, Chapman gives three steps to reestablish single-tasking as a habit.

  1. Give your brain down time. Build in breaks throughout your day, and be sure to take at least a yearly extended break (called a vacation in case it’s been so long you forgot). Like a muscle, our brains need time to rest and recuperate. Ever feel like you make poorer decisions as the day goes on? We must choose to combat Decision Fatigue if we have any hope of not falling prey to its talons of dumb… bad… stupid… decisions.
  2. Focus deeply & eliminate distractions. Just like a person can’t go from couch to 5k instantly, deep focus needs worked up to as well. I certainly recognize that distractions find us all too easily. But with practice, we can develop the ability to focus deeply and attract fewer distractions. The more you reduce multitasking, the more you’ll excel at focusing.
  3. Make a to-do list. A to-do list kept a crash and burn at bay for many years and keeps me from regressing more often still today. Not only a tool to promote focus, a to-do list is also a terrific way to track progress. Remember too that you’ll get better at making and using to-do lists as you perfect what works best for you.

Commit to Change

Make a choice to break your multitasking addiction and instead to work toward a singe-tasking life. Be stubbornly determined to do so. Once the benefits begin, your belief in what Chapman claims and what my own experiences show, will increase.

As with any change, commit to it to make it work. Alter daily habits and admit that the way you’re working now isn’t the best option and that maybe you can trust the example of those who have gone before you on this journey.

Pursuing a Holy Spirit Led Life

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Growing up in church, I learned a lot about the Trinity. The idea of Father, Son & Holy Spirit, three in One, never struck me as odd. It simply always existed as truth for me.

With this upbringing, I learned a lot about God, mostly that he was like a grandmaster in chess and we the pieces on the board of life. Jesus became the focus at Easter and Christmas, and the Holy Spirit existed as a passing name in creeds and Scripture recitation.

Of course, we talked about all three together — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — whenever we talked about the Trinity, but most of our discussions centered around God. This is probably why I’ve never doubted God’s existence or who the Bible says He is and what it says He does.

Partly a gap in teaching. Partly me not paying attention. Probably partly a spotty memory of my childhood too. For whatever reason, the Holy Spirit never hit my spiritual radar much until my late 20s.

Holy Spirit Influence

“For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body — whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free — and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.” (Romans 8:9)

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.” (Ephesians 1:13-14)

When these Scripture referring specifically to the Holy Spirit finally opened up to me, I realized two important things:

  1. The Holy Spirit had been active in my life since salvation.
  2. The Holy Spirit constantly offered me more, and I had failed to see it.

Now, I see the Holy Spirit offering encouragement in my walk as a Christian. Even though most of my struggle is self inflicted, He still works within me to lead, guide and comfort.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27)

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14:16-17)

slide-12Getting Out of the Way

As I experience the Holy Spirit’s activity in my life, I want more. In that quest for more, I’ve come to realize that the way to experience lies mostly in what I need to stop doing.

“Do not quench [subdue, or be unresponsive to the working and guidance of] the [Holy] Spirit.” (1 Thessalonians 5:19, AMP)

In other words, the Holy Spirit stands ready to help, advocate, comfort and encourage, and I need to avoid hindering or quenching His work. Simply put, I must choose to be led by Him.

Personally, I “quench” (stifle, extinguish, put out) the Holy Spirit’s influence in my life when I get too busy, overwhelmed and focus on anything but God’s desires and glory. Conversely, when I quiet my life and focus on hearing from Him, the flame of the Holy Spirit continually burns bright and lights my way.

Make no mistake, I do nothing to generate or create the Holy Spirit’s activity in my life, but I sure can do a lot to impact how much I notice and follow it.

Pursuing The Holy Spirit

With these realizations, pursuing a Holy Spirit-led life consistently involves two main approaches for me.

  1. Don’t let my life get so busy I can’t hear His voice over the noise.
  2. Get into Scripture daily since it’s the primary way the Holy Spirit “talks” to me.

Simplicity creates space in my life for the Holy Spirit to move. Not that He couldn’t anyway, of course, but I certainly fail to recognize His beckoning when my life gets too busy and complicated. This pursuit of simplicity has deepened my faith and drawn me closer to God through His Holy Spirit more than any other practice in my life.

Can you see the Holy Spirit’s leading in your life? If not, why?

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?

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

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In Michigan, there’s always some sort of road construction going on somewhere. They say you can’t drive more than 6 miles from any point in Michigan without coming to a lake (there are 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan), but I think that’s true with construction too. Road construction seems to take forever too. As soon as one area is finished, another begins. 

Construction on our character happens the same way. Always an area needing work, and progress often seems minuscule if existent at all. 

Then I think back over my life and take stock of the changes, the maturity and growth. Most of it happened gradually and seemed nonexistent until suddenly fresh demarcation lines appeared and the orange cones disappeared.

Construction — on roads or on character — frustrates me, and is only eased when I consider what happens when it doesn’t take place. The sides begin to crumble, then the cracks creep into the center and make the path bumpy and rough. Eventually, rough roads are avoided altogether.

5 Ways to Thrive Under Construction

road-signs-construction-1-1503521-1278x832Let’s begin by acknowledging that construction, while necessary and beneficial, is also uncomfortable and inconvenient. Let’s accept these truths and move forward into growth. With that baseline, we can begin to appreciate the process and operate in a way so as to not impede progress and possibly even help make it happen more smoothly.

To actually thrive — and maybe even welcome — construction, practice the following habits:

  1. Have patience. Getting impatient in the middle of construction holds no benefit whatsoever. Instead, it makes the wait seem longer and more unbearable. Take a deep breath and use the time to relax, think and pray. Take this opportunity to learn that you just can’t control everything. Realize that more often that not, waiting in patience produces the best results for everyone involved.

    “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

  2. Don’t rush progress. Trying to force progress usually harms rather than helps. Instead, take the pace the construction zone sets to allow time for navigating the rumble strips, lane changes and detours that accompany most construction projects. Refuse to only live life at the pace you decide, and consider that perhaps another speed might be better for your current season and that the obstacles placed in your way are beneficial instead of inconvenient.

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

  3. Stay aware. Awareness creates a safer space for construction and includes noticing internal and external signage as well as realizing the status of other people as they also make their way through the construction. Awareness also provides wisdom by making sure the construction process not only goes smoothly but that the work done remains the highest quality.

    “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

  4. Plan ahead. When you know you’ll travel through areas with construction, planning ahead simply makes sense. Sometimes that means allowing extra travel time while other times it means taking an alternate route. Planning ahead smooths out the construction process by avoiding having to rush as well as by making the process of interacting with others happen in at least a neutral and hopefully a more beneficial way than it would if you had to fight the clock.

    “A man’s mind plans his way [as he journeys through life], but the Lord directs his steps and establishes them.” (Proverbs 16:9)

  5. Consider the results. Sometimes, the only way to endure a long season of construction comes by considering the end results — the smooth roads. Think of how good driving down a new road feels, how smooth it is. When time for proper construction is allowed, the end result is preferable in every way to the old. During this process, determine to be kind, knowing that everyone gets through the construction eventually and realizing that the consequences of not doing construction is far worse than the inconvenience it brings.

    “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58)

under-construction-icon-1242121Because of the heavy use along with the extreme temperature changes, Michigan’s roads will always need regular maintenance. The same holds true for my character, and yours too. Until Heaven, imperfection and sin will continue making our paths rough and in need of construction.

When it comes to any type of construction, we have to adopt the philosophy of progress over perfection. As we establish this mindset, we learn to be patient with others and with ourselves. We realize the importance of putting relationships above our need to control and manipulate the situation, and we instead allow the construction to continue as it needs to for the benefit of all those traveling toward perfection.

DISCUSSION: What can you change about how you travel through construction zones?

Cultivating Patience

sf_fruit_patience_07Some people seem more naturally patient than others. I’m not one of those people. But that’s not for lack of trying. Unfortunately, my “trying to be patient” never helped me maintain any consistent level of patience.

In Harry Potter Chamber of Secrets, Dumbledore tells Harry…

“It’s not our abilities that show what we truly are. It is our choices.”

Fortunately, this holds true for patience. We can make choices that serve to cultivate consistent patience. We can…

  1. Let the Holy Spirit cultivate patience in us. We do this by becoming increasingly aware of and following His convicting, guiding and encouraging us as well as His focusing, enabling and teaching us. (John 14:16-17)
  2. Make basic physical needs a priority. If I’m tired, hungry or overwhelmed, I have almost no shot at maintaining any level of patience for very long, if at all. (Genesis 25:29-34)
  3. Stop avoiding the difficult stuff. We cultivate patience by practicing it. If we avoid difficult situations and people, we simply won’t see significant growth with patience. (Romans 5:3)
  4. Look for examples to emulate. Spending time with patient people helps us see how patience is lived out. Twenty-seven years married to one of the most insanely-patient people I’ve ever met has drawn me toward patient habits.
  5. Live in forgiveness. Simply put, the quicker I forgive myself and others, the more patience I have with myself and others. (Colossians 3:12-13)
  6. Learn to control what you say. Talking about frustrations, especially when I’m emotional, decreases patience. The sooner I move on from the discussion, the quicker I get back around to patience. (Proverbs 25:15 & Proverbs 21:32)
  7. Stay aware of patience levels. Everyone has limits with regard to patience. We must stay aware of when patience is running thin and learn to walk away before it runs out much like Joseph did when Potipher’s wife continued pursuing him. (Genesis 39)
  8. Know what you can and can’t control. No matter how much I try, I cannot control other people. I struggle enough controlling myself. So, I’m learning to control what I can and to not let the rest eat at me so much. Knowing what I can and can’t control takes the stress off my patience muscle in a huge way.
  9. Wait for God’s timing. Now we come to the matter of faith touched on in Patience is a Virtue. Trusting in God’s timing, or “waiting” on Him, increases our faith as we learn that He handles a great deal of our lives if we simply let Him and refuse to get ahead of His will. (Psalm 5:3, Psalm 25:5, Psalm 27:14, Psalm 62:5 & Proverbs 20:22)

Wait on the Lord HD_mainKnowing I can partner with God and His Spirit to cultivate patience encourages me in tremendous ways because I realize that I don’t have to try and create and maintain patience in my own effort. Partnering in this way not only multiplies the tools available for cultivating patience, but it also helps me understand why patience is so important.

Why is patience important?

Personally, understanding “why” goes a long way in fueling my patience. But more important than asking why patience should be important to me, I want to know why it’s important to God. Here’s what He says…

  • Patience proves — shows evidence of — Godly character. (Romans 5:3)
  • Patience shows our love for others. (1 Corinthians 13:1)
  • Patience is part of our Christian clothing. (Colossians 3:12)
  • Patience shows us worthy of the calling of Christ. (Ephesians 4:1-2)
  • Patience illustrates our choice to follow flesh or spirit. (Romans 8:12-17)

We have to remember that we simply cannot consistently practice patience — or any of the other fruit of the Spirit — in our own efforts. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit partners with us to accomplish patience in and through us. And when we LET Him do this work in us, our Godly character becomes a testimony of patience to others.

DISCUSSION: How have you become more consistently patient over the years?

Mountaintop Experiences

Mountaintop1Skiing in Colorado always provides some pretty amazing views. The top of the mountain is the best, of course, and I often want to just stand there a while to enjoy the scenery and to rest. But the point of skiing is going down the mountain.

I’ve been hiking in Colorado too, and making my way to 11,000 feet took tremendous effort (getting to the top for skiing is easy) but was well worth the effort. For both skiing and hiking, though, getting to the bottom took effort.

Whether skiing or hiking, I simply could not stay on the mountaintop forever. Even though I kind of wanted to, and even though the view was amazing and I felt at complete peace, staying there indefinitely just didn’t make sense. The mountaintop is meant as a goal, not a dwelling place.

In Luke 9:28-36, we see that Peter wanted to capture his mountaintop experience and dwell there for a while too.

“…Jesus… took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters — one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.)

Peter got caught up in the mountaintop experience just like I have on more than one occasion. He likely felt the peace of the moment and didn’t want to give that up for lesser views.

Mountaintop2Dwelling on the Mountaintop

When we have mountaintop experiences in life, we want to stay and enjoy the view for a while. We do this because…

  • We feel God’s total control of every aspect of life.
  • We feel certain about the reality of the supernatural.
  • We know the memories of the mountaintop tend to fade once we leave.

So we want to stay, and sometimes we do stay. We want constant reminders of who God is and the constant feeling of the peace He provides.

Unfortunately, we sometimes stay much longer than we should, and we end up missing God’s intentions when we dwell there too long. After all, the effort of life — of becoming holy and perfected — happens on the up and down and, of course, in the valley.

“… [with joy] let us exult in our sufferings and rejoice in our hardships, knowing that hardships (distress, pressure, trouble) produces patient endurance; and endurance, proven character (spiritual maturity); and proven character, hope and confident assurance [of eternal salvation]. Such hope [in God’s promises] never disappoints us, because God’s love has been abundantly poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5, AMP)

Leaving the Mountaintop

The mountaintop serves as a goal. It drives us forward. But once we reach it and experience the peace it brings, we must at some point return to the mission field. That’s why Jesus and his disciples had to leave. Jesus’ mission — His death and resurrection — could not take place if he stayed on the mountaintop. It was still before him. Likewise, the disciples mission, which Jesus gave them (and us) later at the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), was still before them too.

What’s more, reaching a mountaintop does something inside us that can only work itself out in effectiveness as we traverse the side of the mountain and venture into its valley. That’s because mountaintop experiences…

  • Are a testimony to God’s work in our lives.
  • Continue to revitalize us in the valleys as we practice Active Remembering.
  • Point us toward ministry by helping us see God’s vision for what lies ahead.

We simply cannot dwell too long on the mountaintop trying to hold on to that experience if we want its effectiveness to spread to all areas of our lives. We can, however, take the feelings and lessons of the mountaintop experience with us as we journey down allow it to fuel the mission of our lives.

DISCUSSION: When have you dwelt too long on the mountaintop? When have you allowed a mountaintop experience to fuel your life’s mission?

Do You Remember Your First Love?

Love quote

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

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

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

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

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

Do you still feel that way?

Love verse

Have You Forsaken Your First Love?

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

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

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

Remember. Repent. Return.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consistent Stretching & Strengthening

Stretching 2Foot and leg pain began when I started running at age 14 because a boy I liked ran cross country. (Incidentally, over 20 years later, not only do I still run, but I’m married to that boy who also still runs.) My first memory of these problems were shin splints. My cross country coach faithfully taped my feet before every practice & meet to help alleviate some of the pain.

My mom took me to the podiatrist who fitted me with orthodics, which I don’t recall really wearing much (okay, not at all). In college, I ran very little, so the pain subsided, and I all but forgot about it.

Then the pain started again after college because I started running again. I also started teaching college classes, which meant a lot of standing, and the pain in my feet and legs gradually increased and returned worse than ever.

Stretching 1After trying orthodics again, expensive shoes & lots of rest, I finally sought to revamp my running form as well as to incorporate cross training activities. Still, the pain increased to the point of not being able to walk without a limp.

Next, I endured the most painful event ever in my life, nerve testing of my feet (seriously, huge crochet needs stuck in the side of my feet). No problems found. Next came hours of physical therapy on pretty much every joint & ligament from the waste down. Painful.

The point? I’ve done a lot to find relief from this chronic feet, leg & hip pain. But only one route brought any consistent relief… stretching & strengthening.

Physical therapy taught me how to stretch the tight muscles in my legs and feet. About the same time, I began to strengthen my core too. When I do these regularly, my feet and leg pain – along with any back pain – almost disappears. Missing a day or two here and there isn’t a big deal, but chronically missing them gradually brings back the pain and tingling sensation.

My lifelong struggle with foot, leg and hip pain and finally finding the solution of stretching and strengthening remind me of the importance of consistent Bible study, prayer and fellowship. When I do these activities regularly, my focus remains steadily on Christ and my purposes set toward His desires. When I don’t, I lose focus easily and find myself lost and unbalanced in a chaotic world. These activities, when done consistently, do for my soul what stretching does for my muscles… prepare me to better handle the stress and strain of life.

So, why don’t I always keep with the habits of prayer, Bible study & fellowship?Probably for the same reason I neglect my stretching & strengthening routine at times. When the pain goes away, I forget what brought relief. Conversely, when I feel the pain, I’m motivated toward the habits that keep me flexible and strong.

The same holds true spiritually. Unfortunately, I’ve sort of trained God that I need to feel pain and/or discomfort in order to keep to the good habits that provide for my protection. He knows I need to be reminded of the basic habits needed to remain strong and flexible in this journey of life.

Does your life reflect this truth? Share your story in the comments.

You Play How You Practice

As my boys progress in sports (cross country, track, football, basketball & baseball), they increasingly learn the value of practice. Largely, that means the value of repetitiveness for learning and improving. But equally important involves realizing that games and meets simply exist as reflections of how they practice.

SlideIn baseball, how my youngest runs bases in practice comes through clearly in his game performance. Any goofing off or slacking in practice results in a flat at best and mistake ridden at worse, game. Same with hitting and catching.

My oldest runs, and this principle applies equally to even the more individually-oriented sports. (That’s not to say running isn’t a team sport, because it definitely is.) My son used to run with his friends during practice, but this often meant he wasn’t running to his potential. As a result, his race times were mediocre and inconsistent. When he realized that pushing himself in practice resulted in faster races, he practiced with more intention. Not only is every race now hard and fast, he is one of the most consistent runners on the team.

runnerI began wondering if this idea transferred to other areas of life too, say my walk as a follower of Christ. If so, when did I practice? And when were the games?

“And they will know you are my disciples by your love for one another.” (John 13:35)

While there are other ways, essentially our interactions with other Christians reflects on how we will interact with non-Christians. In other words, our “practice” takes place around other Christians. Below are my initial ideas on this, and hopefully you also see the hints of Scripture within them without me pointing them out:

  1. If we love each other, our love for Christ shows.
  2. If we don’t love each other, non-Christians question the validity of the faith we profess.
  3. Preferring others is one way to love each other.
  4. We can improve at loving others the more we practice doing so.
  5. We both provide and have examples to follow when we love each other.
  6. Regular interactions (practices) with a “coach” (pastor, mentor, teacher, etc.) are essential.
  7. Serving allows for exploration and exercising of gifts.
  8. When love for one another lacks unity, we lose valuable energy for loving outside the body (in the game).
  9. Loving others in the body means helping the body as a whole, including the “weaker” parts, to become stronger.
  10. Game time takes place on the mission field of life.

To help with application, consider the following questions. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

What happens when we look at time with other Christians as practice that prepares us for game time (time with non-Christians)? How does this change our attitude, actions & words?

Do we too often view loving other Christians as the game and then spend all of our time & energy there? Do we practice a lot & then forget to show up for the game?

Or, maybe our practices aren’t very good, maybe we’re not trying very hard. Maybe we’re not living love. How does a weak practice time impact game time?

What if we just aren’t playing as a unit? What if we’re trying to put an “I” in team?

While not a perfect analogy, how does the idea of “you practice how you play” fit into your view of how we should live as Christians?

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.