The Role of Simplicity in Balance

Are You a Circus Act?circus

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

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

When focused only on balancing, we’re unable to consider the quality of what we’re trying to balance. Simplicity allows for better balance in that it allows us to put our focus on quality over quantity.

Longfellow

What is Simplicity?

The dictionary says that simplicity is the freedom from complexity, intricacy or division into parts. It’s the absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.

The dictionary also says that simple means easy to understand, deal with, use, etc. Simple means not elaborate or artificial, not ornate or luxurious.

As I think about each of those words and their definitions, I realize that simplicity and the words to describe it looks very different from one person to another. Ask 10 people what simplicity, simple, intricacy, luxury, ornament, etc. mean to them, and you’ll likely get 10 different answers.

Finding YOUR Simple

Like balance, simplicity exists uniquely for every person. We can get ideas, guidance, inspiration and direction from each other, but every one of us must individually discover simplicity. That being said, regardless of how simplicity looks in an individual’s life, it does play an important role in a balanced life for every person.

In my own journey toward a balanced life, simplicity plays a tremendous role in creating relationships with depth. But I find that I can only go deeper when I take the time to simplify myself first as an individual. When I do this, my relationships can then take a leading role in the activity of my life.

For me, simplifying myself involves the following 5 areas:

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

When I begin to feel overwhelmed and stop to consider why, the Holy Spirit without fail goes to one or more of these areas and says, “Simplify.” This is how simplicity works in my life for balance. How does it work in yours? What does simplicity mean for you?

How Parents Can Model Balanced Technology Use

1380315_40329376Parenting & Technology

My parenting has never not known technology. In fact, I’m not sure how my parents disciplined or entertained me when I was a kid.

Today, my relationship with my kids cannot escape the influence of technology. Like it or not, technology shapes my kids’ thinking and will forever be a part of how they interact me and with the world.

More and more though, technology also impacts how I think and interact with the world. And I’m discovering that if I don’t deliberately choose how that interaction takes place and especially how much that interaction takes place, it too easily replaces valuable connection with others.

Training a Child

According to the Pew Internet Research Project 75% of all teenagers have a mobile phone, and 58% of all 12-year-olds have one. Of those kids…

    • 90% send/receive texts
    • 50% send 50 or more texts daily
    • 80% use them to take pictures
    • 64% share pictures with others
    • 60% listen to music
    • 46% play games
    • 32% swap videos
    • 23% access social networking sites

But before we are too frustrated with our children’s seemingly constant use of technology and blame it for the disconnect all to apparent in way too many families, consider the following data from the Barna Group

  • Parents are MORE likely than their teens to use their mobile devices regularly.
  • Parents watch just as much TV, movies & use the Internet as their kids daily.
  • 2/3 of parents think technology (cell phones, computers & video games) make family life better.
  • 1/3 of parents say they do not regularly take a break from technology.
  • 49% of parents worry that technology wastes their children’s time.
  • 21% of youth say parents have a double-standard regarding technology use.
  • 17% of youth say their parents bring their work home too much.
  • 39% of parents and 27% of tweens/teens say they’re frustrated that technology makes face-to-face conversations more difficult.

This research tells us that while teens/tweens spend a lot of time on their cell phones parents are equally guilty with regard to their use of technology. This research also illustrates that the Biblical instruction to “train a child in the way that he should go,” (Proverbs 22:6) most certainly now involves technology use not just in our children’s lives but in our own lives as well.

Modeling Technology

How can Christian parents model a balanced use of technology in a culture seemingly obsessed by and revolving around technology? Consider the following suggestions:

  1. 1105898_27026966Make face-to-face communication a priority. Since only about 10% of our communication happens with our words, a lot of communication fails to take place when limited to only words such as through text and email. Make a point to model effective communication in all your relationships, so your kids see you placing consistent value on it.
  2. Set technology boundaries. In a study by Psychology Today of 55 families, 1/3 of parents used mobile devices throughout a family meal, and 40% of parents ignored their children by focusing on their mobile devices leading to kids acting out to get parents’ attention. Start by banning mobile devices & television during meals, and consider creating regular breaks from technology.
  3. Remember that you can’t have rules without relationship. In other words, boundaries on technology or in any other area mean nothing when true relationship doesn’t exist. Get involved in your children’s lives. Instead of spending the entire track meet or baseball game on your phone, enjoy that moment in your child’s life. Instead of complaining about your kids always texting or playing video games, text them and play video games with them. The more consistent you are in developing and maintaining relationship, the less impact outside influences such as technology will have on the depth of those relationships.

For certain, there are a lot more ways we can model a balanced integration of technology into our lives. What are your suggestions?

What Can The Amish Teach Us About Technology?

Amish 2Much of my childhood involved interacting with the Amish. From age 6 to about 13, I spent time playing at one of three Amish neighbors living within a 1/2 mile of my home on a dusty dirt road in SW lower Michigan.

The Amish aren’t perfect. They’ve got family and financial challenges like the rest of us. But there are areas of life they seem to have figured out in a way that the rest of us constantly long for like a cool drink on a hot day. Yet, we act as if these accomplishments are uniquely available only to the Amish.

Simplicity and community stand out most as examples of this truth. While there are probably other reasons for their ability to maintain simple and community-oriented lives, the most obvious – perhaps because of its stark contrast to the surrounding culture – is the Amish approach to technology.

In “Amish Community Not Anti-Technology, Just More Thoughtful,” Jeff Brady explains their approach this way:

“The difference between Amish people and most other Americans is the deliberation that takes place before deciding whether to embrace a new technology. Many Americans assume newer technology is always better, and perhaps even inherently good. ‘The Amish don’t buy that,’ says Donald Kraybill… ‘They’re more cautious – more suspicious – wondering is this going to be helpful or is it going to be detrimental? Is it going to bolster our life together, as a community, or is it going to somehow tear it down?’”

Amish Studies supports Brady’s assessment by saying…

“The Amish do not consider technology evil in itself, but they believe that technology, if left untamed, will undermine worthy traditions and accelerate assimilation into the surrounding society. Mass media technology in particular, they fear, would introduce foreign values into their culture. By bringing greater mobility, cars would pull the community apart, eroding local ties. Horse-and-buggy transportation keeps the community anchored in its local geographical base.”

If we take an honest look around at our culture, we’ll have to admit that they are right. Technology seems to be doing exactly to our culture what they fear it could do to theirs.

Perhaps you’re wondering if it’s really working for them. Are they Amish truly not only able to keep most technology at bay, utilizing only what benefits their traditions and community, and still thrive and grow? Most of us believe we simply could not survive without our smart phones and laptops, so how could they with even less technology than that?

Not only are they keeping technology at bay and surviving without smart phones and laptops and even – gasp – television, but the Amish actually do have a growing and thriving community. Consider the following statistics provided by Amish Studies and combined with those from Conversant Life.

amish

Certainly, we can’t place all the blame on technology for the large exodus of today’s youth from our churches. However, we also can’t deny that it likely does have an impact, albeit a rather complex and difficult-to-understand one.

Adopting the Amish Approach to Technology

I’m not suggesting anyone become Amish, though I know of someone who did. What I am suggesting involves adapting their proactive approach to technology, which for many likely means no longer absent-mindedly riding technology’s superhighway.

  1. Be deliberate about the technology you choose to use and when you use it.
  2. Don’t assume new technology is always better.
  3. Consider if any given technology helps or hinders your life as a whole.
  4. Ask if a technology will bolster or tear down your relationships.
  5. Make simplicity a priority.

Technology seems virtually impossible to avoid for most people. To a great extent, we actually have little choice about if and how we use it. But as the Amish show us by their lifestyle and thriving church, we don’t have to be slaves to technology. We can choose not to let it define us.

DISCUSSION: What lessons about technology from the Amish can you immediately apply?

Note: I am also guest posting today at Cycleguy’s Spin, telling my “second-chance story” titled Kari’s Second Chance: Learning from Jonah. Stop by if you have a minute, and check out Bill’s other posts too. He shares from a pastor’s heart, and I am always blessed by it!

Ending the Reign of Stress in Your Life

SONY DSCA recent milk commercial shows a crying, distraught cow watching her best friend (a young girl) going to school.  The idea of emotional cows may seem ludicrous, but research actually shows that cows have best friends and do get stressed when separated from them. This unusual fact about stress helps illustrate the far-reaching impact of stress even beyond human uniqueness.

While a stressed-out cow may have little meaning for your own over-stressed life, perhaps the following facts about stress might.

Symptoms & Causes of Stress

Everyone knows that stress impacts physical, mental and spiritual well-being. But do we really realize the extent of its control? 

Symptoms of stress

And those are just the symptoms, not the actual causes. Here are just some of the causes:

Causes of Stress

When we consider the distance stress will take to rule our lives, should we not also consider the great lengths we must be willing to go to if we are to end its reign?

Drawn Tight

The term “stress” comes from the Latin word “stringere” which means “to draw tight.” Can you relate to a feeling of being drawn tight, perhaps as tight as you think you can go, as tight as you’ve ever gone before? Most people can.

Do you even remember NOT feeling that way?

Sure, we find moments of relief watching mindless television, tweeting, or shopping with friends. But the source of stress always awaits our return, ready to tighten the strings once again.

And stress’ domain seems to be growing, doesn’t it? Even in a culture with all we want continually, easily and readily at our fingertips, more people seem chronically over-stressed. Even kids and teenagers experience stress well beyond what their maturity level can handle. Why does stress seem to be getting worse when we have so many ways to relax?

This month we’re looking at stress’ reign in our lives, and we’ll consider the idea that perhaps stress grips so tightly because we let it, and maybe we live with the consequences of stress simply because we fail to create and implement habits to prevent them.

Want to change? Want stress to be a healthy part of your life instead of a fascist dictator? Want to feel like you’re running on smooth terrain instead of wading through thigh-deep mud?

Let’s get into the details of stress in our lives with the goal of finding permanent solutions. Let’s get at the root causes of stress rather than simply treating the symptoms and numbing the consequences of living chronically high-stressed lives. Are you game?

DISCUSSION: What exists as the root cause – going beyond symptoms – of stress in your life?

Are You Living a Cruise Ship Lifestyle?

5-15-13 cruise shipInterestingly, Isaiah actually describes a cruise ship lifestyle pretty succinctly.

“Woe to those who rise early in the morning that they may pursue strong drink, who stay up late in the evening that wine may inflame them! Their banquets are accompanied by lyre and harp, by tambourine and flute, and by wine; But they do not pay attention to the deeds of the Lord, nor do they consider the work of His hands.” (5:11-12)

The pursuit of strong drink? Check. Staying up late? Check. Lots of food and music? Yep, those too. Neglect of God? Unfortunately, most likely. Isaiah’s words here seem to be describing what a cruise vacation looks like for most people.

But how does this look off a cruise ship and as more of a lifestyle? Since it would be different for every person, let me describe what it might look like in my own life.

“Distress and affliction to she who gets up in the morning to pursue strong coffee because she stayed up too late the night before watching television. Her eating habits consist of potato chips and ice cream, and she does nothing but sit around and read all day long. She fails to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit wants her to do, and she completely ignores what He directs to her mind on a regular basis. No exercise. No writing. No housework.”

Once I got rolling on how this lifestyle might look for me, I had to force myself to stop. And it was actually an eye-opening exercise in what could so easily happen in my life should I fail to constantly renew my mind in a way that allows me to live counter-culturally and according to God’s Word.

While going on a cruise does not cause a permanent downward spiral away from a productive life, doing nothing to avoid this type of lifestyle will eventually lead one.

Preventing an Unproductive Life

Vacation Brain discussed the remedy to the symptoms as being a renewing of the mind, and Understanding the Symptoms of Vacation Brain helped create awareness of the power of these symptoms to disrupt life. And while renewing the mind certainly needs to be a refocusing tool, another approach involves preventing the symptoms in the first place.

Together, refocusing and preventing can help one live a productive life on a consistent, long-term basis.

Prior to going on our cruise, my husband and I set several goals that, if achieved, would equal a successful vacation in our minds. Having goals helps prevent the cruise ship lifestyle from impacting us negatively. At the same time, working consistently toward goals help us get the most out of every aspect of our lives.

Setting goals and constantly creating an awareness of where I want to be in a certain period of time helps maintain focus. Goals provide a status check that helps prevent being sucked into our culture and away from God, something that happens by simply doing nothing to stop it from happening.

Cruises Are Not Evil

Before ending this series, I feel the need to emphasize that I do not consider cruises to be evil. I have been on two of them and thoroughly enjoyed myself both times. We’ll likely go again in the future, perhaps taking our boys next time.

In fact, I believe cruises are a great way to shut off life for a while and to completely relax with hardly a care in the world, something everyone needs to do upon occasion. They also allow for a much-needed disconnection from the fast-pace of life.

What I am saying is that existing in an atmosphere where the desires of the flesh are catered to can be a dangerous place. I am also saying that this lifestyle can be so appealing that adapting at least parts of it into real life becomes increasingly easy the more one refuses to resist culture.

Finally, I am also saying that one can adapt a cruise ship lifestyle without ever stepping foot on a boat. Our culture, on land or at sea, caters to the desires of the flesh. And if we do nothing to prevent it, those desires will become our focus and will end up seriously derailing us spiritually, mentally and physically.

DISCUSSION: What additional thoughts do you have on preventing and remedying the impact of culture?

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Essential Elements of Vision Therapy

Many optometrists do not recognize when someone needs vision therapy. In fact, a person with vision problems can pass an eye exam with flying colors. This was the case with my son. I sensed we were missing something in his learning plan, but that something remained allusive until one of his teachers suggested I check into vision therapy.

Elements in vision therapy include the following:

  1. Comprehensive Vision Exam/Consultation: Before a patient begins vision therapy, an assessment by a qualified doctor takes place. This includes diagnostic evaluations identifying strengths and weaknesses with regard to visual coordination and information processing skills.
  2. Patient Conference with the Doctor: After the assessments, a doctor specializing in vision-related problems reviews and interprets the results. When vision therapy is recommended, a treatment plan is created with goals and expectations outlined. The patient must then decide whether or not to begin therapy.
  3. Weekly Therapy: Therapy sessions at the doctor’s office vary depending on each individual’s needs. Some patients have in-office therapy twice a week, while others have it once a month. Patients also often have tasks to complete at home to enhance the in-office therapy. The specific type and frequency of therapy depends largely upon an individual’s unique vision therapy needs.

This process works well within our spiritual lives too, if we’re open to it. This same sort of process can lead us to a place of preventing vision-related spiritual problems – such as double-mindedness, lack of or wrong focus, and absence of alertness or paying attention – that can plague our spiritual lives. After asking the question, Do you Need Vision Therapy, proceed to implementing the necessary elements.

Elements in spiritual vision therapy include the following:

  1. The Basics: Serving as an eye exam or vision evaluation for our spiritual lives, make sure the basics of regular fellowship, daily Bible study and prayer create the core of your spiritual vision health. (Colossians 4:2, 3; Acts 2:42) All other elements will be fruitless without these basics. Stopping regular practice of any of these habits leads to blurred spiritual vision.
  2. Consultation: A seasoned saint can provide the essential observations needed to make adjustments in one’s spiritual progress. Seasoned simply means more spiritually experienced and victorious in a particular area and maybe in general. In addition, regular accountability can help us see what we are blind to about ourselves. Talking out problems is often all that’s needed to find a solution. (Galatians 6:1, 2)
  3. Expert Advice: This can come through pastoral counseling, professional Christian counseling and Christian books. Some struggles simply need the experienced vision of a pastor or Christian counselor. Regularly reading good Christian books also provides expert advice that can be preventative as well as problem-specific.
  4. Practice: Vision therapy practice includes “homework” that produces daily application for growth. Spiritually, this means not just taking in the Word and hearing from God, but also “going into all the world” and practicing what God plants inside of you. (Mark 16:15)
  5. Continual reassessment: Realizing The Danger of Routine and Habit in Our Prayer Lives proves the need for continual reassessment in the life of a Christian. Just as someone receiving vision therapy will be reassessed by the doctor several times during and after therapy, Christians too much assess their habits and routines. Really, every area could benefit from regular, personal assessment in general. Check with the Holy Spirit daily in prayer and make a deliberate point of consistent personal assessment.

One final connection between vision therapy for the eyes and spiritual vision therapy lies with the power of choice. In either case, the “patient” must make the decision about whether or not to begin the recommended therapy. Just like the eye doctor makes the vision therapy plan very clear, God makes the plan of action very clear for clearing up and even preventing spiritual vision problems. With both, commitment and then follow through are necessary for improved vision.

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Do You Need Vision Therapy?

Humans possess over 15 essential eye-coordination visual skills. When a child under performs due to one or more vision-related deficiencies, they are said to have a vision-related learning problem. These problems are often misdiagnosed as ADHD, behavior problems and/or reading disabilities. This is what happened with our youngest son, who is now nearing the end of a 3-month eye therapy program to correct the deficiencies.

Throughout his therapy, I have done my best to understand not only his visual challenges but also the steps for correcting the problems (thank God they are correctable). In this process, God once again proved Himself to be an Everyday God who shows Himself in the details of life. To that end, the following points not only teach about common vision-related learning problems, they also help illustrate some of the common reasons for vision problems in our spiritual lives too.

Convergence Insufficiency

This involves eye-teaming skills, which is the ability to coordinate the two eyes together. Symptoms include eye strain, fatigue, poor attention and avoidance of reading. Words overlap when reading, resulting in double-vision. Many kids with this problem don’t know that what they are seeing isn’t normal, and as a result say nothing about the problem.

James 1:8 tells us that a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. Just like convergence insufficiency leads to a child who struggles with stability (confidence) in reading, double-vision in a spiritual sense leads to avoidance of obeying God’s will. Like waves of the ocean, a double-minded man can be unpredictable and even volatile.

Accommodative Dysfunction

Eye focusing skills, such as the ability to focus for sustained reading and to shift one’s focus from near to far, fail to function properly with this dysfunction. Symptoms include miscalling easy words, complaints of headaches, tiring easily and poor attention and concentration when reading. Accommodative dysfunction is all about the inability to focus and results in blurred vision.

The Old Testament gives numerous examples from the lives of God’s people (the Israelites) of what happens when our focus moves from God to anything else. Psalm 1 also gets at this idea of focus telling us to be aware of the type of people we spend our time with for fear of them leading us down the wrong path. Blurred vision in our spiritual lives leads to fatigue at every level, inability to see God when He does speak to us and even failure to focus when we clearly know He is speaking.

Occulomotor Dysfunction

Occulomotor dysfunction involves eye tracking skills, which is the ability to point eyes on printed material and to move them from word to word. Symptoms include losing one’s place easily and needing a finger to keep one’s place when reading, slow reading, poor fluency and comprehension, inability to pay attention, and difficulty copying words. With this dysfunction, words appear to jump around on the page.

Luke 21:36 gets at the idea of constant alertness and paying attention since we don’t know the day or the hour when Christ will return again. Failure to have this alertness results in losing our way and wandering outside of God’s will, inability to pay attention when God gives us opportunity to move on His behalf, and struggle copying the example set for us by so many godly men and women. We jump around in life without any real focus or purpose when we fail to be constantly alert to the work God sets before us.

Vision-related learning problems affect more than just reading. My son’s ability to properly socialize, to keep focused in and out of school, and to enjoy much of life in general were compromised because of these dysfunctions. Vision-related spiritual problems have the same impact on our spiritual lives by negatively impacting our relationships, stealing our focus, and robbing us of joy.

My son needed vision therapy to correct his vision-related learning problems. Vision-related spiritual problems require vision therapy too. Next Friday, we will discuss what elements are involved with vision-related therapy.

DISCUSSION: What vision-related problems do you see in your own spiritual life?

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