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.

Full Commitment

Cultural Commitment

Ask almost anyone over the age of 60 about commitment, and they’ll tell of a time when, “Your word was your bond.” If asked, they’ll explain that if a person said he would do something, he could be counted on to do it. Sure, there were those who did not follow through, but they were the exception.

Today’s culture looks very different. A person’s word is rarely fully trusted even when it is actually fully trustworthy.

In a culture where selfishness and greed seem to dominate, a fog of mistrust covers almost every relationship at least to some degree. Unfortunately, that’s because not keeping a commitment is almost acceptable, or at least not protested much.

Instead of accepting this cultural trend, let’s build trust in a way that can be a catalyst for change. Let’s be examples of trustworthy commitment with regard to work, family and faith.

Work Commitment

For children and teens, work means their effort in sports and school. For adults, commitment to work may involve a job, but it includes other areas like volunteering too.

Commitment to work, really, means fully giving the effort needed to accomplish a task to the best of one’s ability. It involves the following core principles:

  • Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it.
  • Do what you know is right. You only control yourself and no one else.

Be someone others can depend upon regardless of whether or not others are reliable.

Family Commitment

Family commitment revolves more around connection than activity. In fact, over-commitment to activity actually works against connection.

Commitment to family involves letting go of self and entering into a habitual preferring of others not out of obligation but out of love. It also means bringing the best of yourself to every situation.

Commitment to family also involves placing a spouse above others (yes, even kids). Remember, this is the one earthly relationship that most closely relates to the relationship we are to have with Christ.

Faith Commitment

Commitment to faith in Christ surrounds and permeates all other areas of commitment. How a person commits to the call of Christ on their life determines how commitment exists in every other area, including family and work.

We also must remember that faith is not yet another commitment to be balanced. Instead, faith in Christ is the scale that balances all other areas.

Consider the following when evaluating your commitment to Christ. How do your answers reflect your commitment in all areas of life?

  • Are you willing and ready to arise and be His voice, whatever and wherever?
  • Has Christ won your heart? If He truly has, are you running after Him and following His lead?
  • Would you lay down your life for Christ? What are you willing to sacrifice for Him?
  • Have you committed fully to the Lord? Are you allowing Him to pour you out as He sees fit?
  • How has Christ’s love changed you? Will you go and be where He wants? Do what He wants?
  • Will you follow the path He chooses and leads you down?

Answering these questions not only determines how your commitment plays out in the areas of faith, work and family, but it also determines the character with which you live your whole life.

Complete Commitment

We live in a culture where keeping commitments seems optional more often than not. However, while we are in this culture, we don’t have to be of this culture.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

As we commit more fully to Christ and increasingly give our lives to Him, commitments in other areas of our lives become more complete too. While we may live in a culture where selfishness is rampant, we must continually remind ourselves that we do not belong to the world. We belong to a Savior who deserves our complete and total commitment.

 

A Higher Standard

higher-standard

If you are truly Playing to Win, you must learn to seize God-ordained opportunity, work hard and stay humble, and develop a laser focus for God. Missionary Jim Elliot captured this mindset when he said…

“Wherever you are, be all there. Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The Playing to Win mentality ultimately means reaching for the higher standard set by the only perfect person who ever walked this earth.

Jesus set a higher standard. He focused on His purpose, which He received from God, and he never wandered away from that. Interestingly, Satan too has a laser focus, and Jesus placed them side by side when he said…

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Following this higher standard sets you apart. It makes you distinctly different from the world around you. Yet, it’s about progress not about being perfect. Pursue perfection — righteousness — knowing you won’t get there this side of Heaven, and rejoice in the grace of God that fills in the gaps left by your imperfections.

Look to the Old Testament to see this concept played out. Even amidst many, many mistakes, there are lots of examples of individuals pursuing this higher standard.

Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Joseph, Ruth, Elijah, the disciples, Paul and the early church.

All these people developed or were directly given a simple focus, and they seized the God-ordained opportunities presented to them. They prayed for boldness, then worked hard and stayed humble as they made their way toward perfection.

Your Why Makes the How Easy

When you chose to go beyond the minimum, past just getting by and “good enough,” you begin to live to a higher standard. When you push past distractions and decide on a simple, God-ordained focus, you keep the path clear for victory.

In order to maintain this Playing to Win mindset as a Christian, you must know your why. If you don’t, the how gets muddied and weighed down with struggles. But if you know your why and stay focused on it, the struggles simply become the how of reaching perfection.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23-24)

Make becoming a disciple, serving Christ and letting Him decide your reward, be the overriding purpose for all you do. Let working for the Lord be your driving force and motivation.

This is Playing to Win for the Christian. This is running as if to win the prize.

Playing to Win Instead of Playing to Not Lose

winPlaying to Not Lose

Sports commentators often discuss how teams need to decide to “play to win” instead of simply “playing to not lose.” In football, it’s the difference between going for a field goal or a touchdown. In a high school cross country race, it’s about racing the course and other competitors instead of focusing on running how you feel.

The difference between playing to win instead of playing to not lose? Usually, a mediocre and a winning record.

A playing-to-not-lose mindset involves being driven by fears and protecting what you have. It means reacting to others, essentially letting them decide your game plan, and not taking risks.

As Christians, playing to not lose looks like John’s description of the Laodicean church in Revelation as “lukewarm.” It’s the third worker in Matthew’s parable of the bags of gold. And it’s the person who refrains from the “don’ts” but neglects the “do’s” on Paul’s many lists in the New Testament.

Playing to not lose as a Christian involves just getting by. It strives to simply avoid any bad results. Eventually, the surrounding culture consumes such a person until no one can tell he is even a Christian.

winner

Playing to Win

Scripture directly addresses the idea of playing to win and connects it with our pursuit of righteousness.

“Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Many habits exist with the playing-to-win mindset. Three jump out as foundational.

Seize Opportunity

Over his high school cross country career, my oldest son learned to race smart. His coach taught him how to put himself in the best position to take advantage of opportunity. The result? My son reached most of his goals, including winning a race and receiving All County and All Region honors.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16)

Christians put themselves in the best position to seize opportunity when they first make sure the opportunity is God-ordained. Similar to training for a runner, this comes through daily habits. Prayer, Scripture and being Spirit-led set us up to know when God-ordained opportunity approaches and allows us to make the most of them without hesitation.

Also, we need to make sure not to miss God-ordained opportunity because we’re so focused on the forest we don’t see the trees. In other words, we too often miss everyday, small opportunities because we only look for the monumental ones.

Take a look at your daily habits and at whether or not you’ve set your vision too broad. If opportunity seems to regularly miss you, adjust your vision and your habits accordingly.

Work Hard & Stay Humble

A significant aspect of working hard, which sets us up to take advantage of God-ordained opportunity, involves humility. Without both hard work and humility, we’re likely to either not be ready for opportunity or be too self-focused to see it.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 2:3-5)

Successful teams – the ones that win championships, not just games – consist of humble players. The victory is all that matters. Credit doesn’t. Who gets the ball doesn’t. At the same time, these humble players work hard to make sure the team as a whole wins. It’s the same as the “All In” mentality that won the New York Giants the 2012 Super Bowl.

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” (Colossians 3:23)

As Christians, working hard and staying humble means pleasing God over men. It means preferring others and pointing them to Christ. And it means rejoicing when others win victories over sin and Satan. That mentality involves whole-hearted service and valuing relationship.

Focus

Inherent within every element involved in playing to win is focus.

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.” (Qui Gon-Jinn, The Phantom Menace)

In sports, commentators and analysts regularly talk about the importance of focus, whether because of its absence or its role in victory. In everyday life, focus plays an essential role as well, but we often don’t realize it until it’s absent. Simply consider The Toxic Impact of Multitasking to understand how significant loss of focus has become for most people.

The Old Testament as a whole gives us a poignant picture of focus too. It shows a steady and passionate God juxtaposed with wandering and fickle men. Story after story shows men losing focus and God drawing them back to Him.

As Christians, we are either God focused, or we’re not. There is no gray area. No other options.

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24)

Choosing simplicity helps us regain our focus. When we let go of the things of this life and focus on the eternal God, we gain a laser focus on that which lasts forever.

These three foundation habits – sizing opportunity, working hard and staying humble, and focusing – found in every person who plays to win, create A Higher Standard that sets a person apart.

5 Habits for Getting and Staying in Shape

athletic-2

The New Testament uses a variety of athletic metaphors to describe the life of a Christian. These references were certainly understood by those to whom the letter was written since the Olympic games, along with the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games and the Pythian Games, had been held for hundreds of years prior to any New Testament events taking place. And these metaphors are understood well still today in a culture where exercise and healthy lifestyles exist on a continuum from obsessiveness to belligerent avoidance.

These athletic metaphors were used in Scripture because many of the same habits for getting and staying in physical shape hold true for getting and staying in spiritual shape as well, not the least of which are similarities regarding the necessary mindset needed for both. Better understanding of these connections can lead us to effectively,

“run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Perseverance. Discipline. Self-control. All essential elements, along with many others, in both physical and spiritual vitality. These elements, all laced within the athletic metaphors used in Scripture, work with other related habits to create a solid training program applicable both spiritually and physically.

athletic-1For me, the following 5 habits for getting and staying in shape are crucial for my continued physical and spiritual health, both continual struggles even within consistent victories.

  1. Accountability. Physically, a gym membership and/or an exercise partner provide accountability, a key component to staying physically active. Likewise, membership in a Bible-believing fellowship along with connection to individuals through deepening relationships establish the essential element of accountability needed for spiritual fitness. Surrounding yourself with others for support and encouragement goes a long way in remaining consistently strong, both physically or spiritually.
  2. Variety. Exercise can become boring very quickly without variety. For this reason, my workouts vary from running and elliptical to biking and boxing to weights and video workouts. Relating this idea to spiritual fitness, avoid limiting yourself to one way of serving or studying God’s Word. Yes, serve in your area of strength (play on the worship team if you have musical ability) and have systematic approaches to reading God’s Word daily, but be willing to go outside of your comfort zone too (work in the nursery even though you normally teach adults or do a key-word study once in a while). Healthy variety not only helps prevent boredom, but it allows space for God to work in weaknesses, which ultimately makes us stronger overall (2 Corinthians 12:10).
  3. Rest. Neglect adequate recovery time between workouts, and injury will eventually occur. Spiritually, this equates to regular quiet time with God as well as getting physical rest since lack of proper rest inhibits the ability to confidently say “Yes!” when asked, “Are You Giving Your Best?” Being tired physically as well as spiritually significantly impacts effectiveness in every area of life.
  4. Stretching. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Are you will to try new activities? Stretching physically means trying new activities as well as regularly stretching muscles to make them better able to handle activity without injury. Spiritual stretching might involve getting to know new people, especially if you’re an introvert like me, doing an in-depth Bible study if you always just do a short devotional, or joining the choir even though you’ve never performed in front of an audience. Be open to the Holy Spirit’s leading for opportunities to stretch physically, mentally and spiritually.
  5. Refueling. Our minds and spirits are like cars with regard to fuel; they need it in order to function. Physically, a healthy diet gives us the energy we need. Mentally, proper fuel (what we eat as well as drink) allows us to think and reason clearly and effectively. Spiritually, our spirits need filled up regularly on the truth of God’s Word. They need constant filling by the Holy Spirit through prayer, praise and submission. Life constantly asks more of us, which continually drains our energy. Refueling properly allows us to give without being drained and to do so on a consistent basis.

Adding to the connection between spiritual and physical fitness is the realization that both involve also ridding our lives of negative influences. Physically, this means avoiding unhealthy habits such as a poor diet, smoking and drugs. Spiritually, this means avoiding those things like that Paul tells us in Colossians 3:5-9 to “put to death.”

Developing positive habits and eliminating negative ones helps strengthen our perseverance, discipline and self-control, all essential elements of getting and staying in shape physically, mentally and spiritually. Development in this way increases our effectiveness and productivity in amazing ways.

“…make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 1:5-8)

What habits can you adjust to become physically and spiritually stronger?

Consider studying this topic further by meditating on the following Scripture:

  • Philippians 2:16
  • Galatians 2:2
  • Galatians 5:7
  • 2 Timothy 2:5

Finding Balance in a Busy World, Part I

Busyness1

“Busy” is the New “Fine”

Many people seem to equate being busy with being important. Somehow, being busy by living in a state of perpetual hustle and bustle and constant exhaustion seems to say, “I matter.” In fact, if you’re not crazy busy, others look at you with resentful longing.

This constant busyness leaves many feeling like they’re running an endless race with an illusive finish line. They feel trapped, but they remain ignorant of why. Being too busy to find balance is simply much easier that doing the hard work of changing.

I remember when most people answered the question, “How are you?” with “Fine.” Now, the pat answers more often than not is “Busy.”

After all, busy is what you’re supposed to be, right? If you’re not busy, you’re probably missing out on something. Or, maybe busyness just keeps boredom at bay. What would you do if you weren’t so busy anyway?

I remember when busyness kept me moving and gave me purpose. Those were the days when my “Busy” answer existed as both a boast and a complaint. I knew I was too busy, yet I didn’t know how else to be considered successful. Then one day I just couldn’t keep up anymore.

My crash and burn forced a choice between doing the hard work to change, to become unbusy, or remaining unhealthy, depressed and miserable. After much searching in the form of doctor visits, counseling sessions, reading, studying and praying, I came to realize that not only did my approach need to change but also my thinking.

In this process of becoming unbusy, the road to balance became increasingly clear. Right action and right thinking — the steps and the path — must partner to create a balanced life.

Stepping Toward Balance

Finding balance is not about establishing the right time-management habits or organizational strategies. After all, none of these will matter if you have too much to manage and organize in the first place.

Finding balance begins with implementing actionable approaches that allow you to do the hard work necessary to become unbusy. For me, that involved three choices that daily direct my steps through the healing process and into a relatively balanced existence.

  1. Ask “Why?” and “What?” These questions serve to get at the root cause. Why do you feel sick all the time? Why can’t you sleep? Why did you say “yes” to that commitment? What keeps you at that job when you hate it? What pushes you to be involved in every activity that comes along? Continually asking “What?” and “Why?” questions can help discover motives at the heart of chronic busyness. They help you understand your life rather than continuing to live from one reaction to the next.
  2. Refuse to quit. Persevere. Keep asking “What?” and “Why?” until you have answers, then ask some more. Dig until an understanding of the root cause emerges. We live in an information age like none ever before us, and the answers are there for those willing to pursue them. You don’t have to live in ignorance of why chronic busyness plagues your life.
  3. Keep taking small steps. Most progress happens in small steps taken gradually over time that add up to make a big difference. Rarely does progress happen in leaps and bounds. Asking “Why?” and “What?” gives the steps to take, and refusing to quit makes taking another step a non-negotiable. Eventually, if you refuse to give up, you’ll look back and realize you’ve left busyness behind and have found balance.

These three approaches kept my actions headed in the right direction. At the same time, I realized that I could take right steps but still head in the wrong direction if I was on the wrong path. So while my choices to find the root cause, not give up and keep taking small steps gave me the motivation to keep moving forward, I also needed to change my thinking in order to make sure I was headed toward balance and not just another version of busyness.

Next week, we’ll explore the principles of balance that create the thinking necessary to leave busyness, overload and overwhelm behind and to achieve and maintain a balanced life.

DISCUSSION: How will you take steps towards a more balanced life today?

The Best Lessons from a Track Meet

track 1Track meets provide a unique perspective on being the best. At one meet, a runner can get the best time and win a race only to find himself less than the best at the next meet even if he runs the same time as in the previous meet.

Then there’s the idea of a personal best. Regardless of time in comparison to other runners, running a personal record (PR) trumps overall place and time. Even the slowest runner at a meet relishes the idea of a personal best.

Also consider the idea that the best in one race, say a 400 meter (once around the track) may very well fail to be the best in a sprint (shorter than a 400 meter) or in a 3,200 meter (8 times around track). In other words, the best in one race usually won’t be the best in every race.

track 2We tell our son, “We’re happy when you do your best,” whatever that might be on any given day. We remind him that his best will vary from day to day too. If he gets a personal record, we need not remind him of this. But when he struggles, like all of us do, he needs reminded of how best fluctuates but always remains the goal of the day.

The best involves giving all you have to the task at hand. It doesn’t mean living for chance but combining chance with preparation. Weather can impact your best, other runners can impact your best, even the crowd may impact your best. But your preparation, good or bad and sufficient or not, exists as an element you can control, and it also significantly impacts your best.

Best also never means that better isn’t possible, first because best varies from day to day and second because the element of growth always leaves open the possibility of a new best. The key, then, lies in progress over perfection.

Strive for the best.

Be your best.

Prepare for the best.

Appreciate the best.

Push beyond the best.

Progress over perfection.

DISCUSSION: Do you always strive for your best, whatever that is on any given day? If not, what needs to change for this to happen?

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?

Pursuing Encouragement

runnerDiscouragement, like people, comes in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of the shape or the size or the person, discouragement stinks. Deflated. Struggle without progress. Stuck. Directionless. Yep, stinks.

My discouragement with running really epitomizes my battle with discouragement in general. Sure, I’ve experienced periods of relative success. But overall, running exists as simply a 20-year struggle. One might ask, “Why keep doing it?” Well… I guess because it helps me stare discouragement in the face and tell it, “I refuse to quit. I refuse to let you stop me.” If I quit running altogether, that opens the door for me to give up in other areas… in writing, in relationships, in faith. In the midst of discouragement, I often don’t know what to do, but I definitely know what not to do… quit.

While my own discouragement leaves me lethargic and frustrated, my inner locus of control keeps me moving even in the absence of any perceptible progress. However, seeing those I love — my boys and my husband especially — in seasons of discouragement creates a whole new level of struggle and even gets me to believe the possibility of defeat. If I felt knee deep in miry clay before, I feel like I’m laying down in it now and letting the mud seep into my orifices.

When the ones who usually encourage you lack their own courage, and when the ones who you usually encourage can’t or don’t receive it, and when all of this happens simultaneously, life just feels frozen. Yet we continue about our days, continue on the treadmill of life, waiting for that moment when we see the upward path again and can jump off into progress.

If I’m not careful, debilitating loneliness creeps in when I’m discouraged. And if that isn’t held in check, depression usually comes next. I’ve experienced this process one too many times in my life, and I’m determined to not experience it again. Ever. And I don’t want my family to live in discouragement one moment longer than necessary either because I know all to well what comes if it lingers.

BeBold-Verse

Perhaps this battle with discouragement exists as an all-too-familiar place for you too. Perhaps you want to admit defeat and quit running, especially when the end seems hidden somewhere in the unknown depths of the mud. While I don’t know when this season will end for any of us, I do know where to go for encouragement within the struggle.

  1. Studying Scripture
  2. Pursuing the Holy Spirit
  3. Spending time in fellowship
  4. Allowing ourselves to be encouraged 

In our pursuit of encouragement, we must realize that truth often comes long before we believe what it’s saying — before the feelings take hold. Knowing this, I see discouragement as a struggle awaiting victory, and I believe encouragement happens in the midst of — not after — discouragement. What I also know is that the path to being encouraged, to becoming unstuck, lies right on top of the path of discouragement. In other words, struggling through discouragement is the only way I’ll find true and lasting encouragement. With that, giving up simply isn’t an option.

DISCUSSION: What testimony can you give regarding discouragement, struggle, encouragement and victory?