On Focus, and Ignorance, During Hard Times

I decided to take a break from the Traits of a Godly Person series for this week. There are so many things going on in our world, and I often wonder should I talk about some of the more difficult issues. I like my blog to be a place of encouragement, whether it is to dress better or to grow in your walk with Christ. However, there are people out there, some of whom might be following my blog, that need a different kind of encouragement.

Life really can be stinking hard! Relationships are complex and often the source of our deepest and darkest pain. More often than not, people who are going through great difficulty do not feel at liberty to talk about the situations they are facing, which means, they are not getting any support or encouragement. People who are going through great loss, also, don’t always feel free to talk about their grief and pain. I’m not really sure, how we got to this point. Why is it that we are afraid to let people know that we are not okay? Why do we hide our pain behind a smile and tell everyone who asks that we are doing fine? Maybe it has to do with not being able to express the deep pain and sadness we feel. Perhaps we are afraid that others will think less of us, if we show them our reality. Maybe we are just too dang tired from trying to cope, that we’d rather not put in the effort to explain all that is going on.

Image by  lisa runnels  from  Pixabay

Image by lisa runnels from Pixabay

I think there is something much deeper and darker going on when we are struggling. Obviously, I believe in a real God and a real devil. I believe that Satan is our enemy and he is out to kill and destroy.

Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
— 1 Peter 5:8 (NASB)
Image by  steffenwienberg  from  Pixabay

Image by steffenwienberg from Pixabay

Our enemy is compared to a roaring lion. Why do you suppose Peter used the idea of a roaring lion, rather than that of a snake or some other creature? Obviously, lions are creatures to be respected. A lion can easily kill a man along with a host of wild creatures. Peter didn’t just make the comparison of the devil to a lion, but to a roaring lion. There is significance in the roar. Roaring commonly means, “This is my territory. Don’t get anywhere near.” Isn’t that interesting? Our enemy isn’t just trying to trip us up, he is trying to make us his own. He wants to claim us as his territory.

There are two problems that come up when we are going through difficulty that really affect our next step and our way of thinking. The first is our own focus. It is incredibly easy to focus on our pain. It is, our pain. The struggle is our struggle. Why wouldn’t we focus on it? This is made even harder when there is pain, illness, anxiety and broken relationships. Job loss is hard, but add to that a divorce and a persistent gall bladder problem and you are probably going to be feeling pretty overwhelmed.

Let your eyes look directly ahead
And let your gaze be fixed straight in front of you.
— Proverbs 4:25 (NASB)

Why is our focus so important? When you are walking you need to watch where you are going. This is especially important if you are walking on a narrow road, a path along a steep gorge or across a Lego filled living room. in those situations, it might be important to not be looking at your cell phone, reading a book or closing your eyes. This is also true when we are driving. The need for this straight forward, pay attention routine is even more important when things are getting chaotic, such as heavy traffic or passing pedestrians or bikers.

Image by  Free-Photos  from  Pixabay

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

When we are going through the hard bits of life, or even through the longer pits of life, we need to keep our eyes on our Savior. In fact it is even more important to focus on Him when we are faced with difficulty. I have been reading, Abide in Christ, by Andrew Murray. I started this book a while back, got about half way through and got busy, so put it aside. When I picked it up a week ago, I decided to start again at the beginning. There is so much good stuff in this book. Read these two quotes:

It is not the yoke, but the resistance to the yoke, that makes the difficulty; the whole hearted surrender to Jesus, as at once our Master and Keeper, finds and secures the rest.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Remember how Christ tells us if we are weary and heavy laden we should come to Him.

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
— Matthew 11:28-29 (NASB)

Murray was referring to these verses when he was talking about the rest that is secured in Christ. Now look at this next piece from the same chapter in Murray’s book.

With this grace secured, we have strength for every duty, courage for every struggle, a blessing in every cross and the joy of life eternal in death itself.
— Abide in Christ - Andrew Murray - Chapter 2

Christ is to be our focus. Come hell or high water, this Warrior Prince named Jesus, has our back for every duty, every struggle and every cross we have to bear in this life. All you have to do is come to Him and believe He will do it.

The other problem that arises when people are going through hard times is the ignorance of those around them. How many of you have been struggling with a situation, only to have a friend give you advice on how to solve your problem? How did that make you feel? If you are like me, when I was going through a very difficult time in my life, the last thing I wanted was advice. What I really wanted was an arm around my shoulders, a friend who would pray with me, not tell me they would pray for me, a sincere hug and two listening ears.

Image by  Anemone123  from  Pixabay

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

My dear friends, I can not emphasize enough how important it is to keep your mouth shut and refrain from giving advice when someone close to you is going through a hard time. Give hugs, give time, bring food, pray with them, listen to them. If they ask you for advice, then and only then, open your mouth and be sure you are speaking from the Lord, not from your own large vat of worldly knowledge. In addition to that, sincerely, truly and intensely pray for that person. You will not know all the details and that is okay. God’s bigger than you and will work it out. Just pray.

He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent.
— Proverbs 11:12 (NASB)
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
— Proverbs 17:28 (NASB)
Pixabay - hope

Life is difficult. Some of you are going through things that you never thought you would have to go through. Don’t give up. Keep you eyes fixed on the author and perfecter or our faith. And for those of you who are watching a friend or loved one suffer, don’t give up on them either. Pray, for and with. Love, help and even just sit in silence with them. For all of us, let’s remember this:

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence.
— Psalm 42:5 (NASB)



Stopping the Train Wreck

Over the course of the last few weeks I have been looking at how are thoughts can easily sabotage our efforts to form new habits, and be better people. Many of us, when we enter a new year want to reboot. We want to try again to tackle those extra pounds that we have cumulatively put on each holiday season. We want to go at those piles that pervasively appear in each and every room of our house. We want to be better people; more giving, kind and loving. Many of us begin a new regimen of exercise and dieting, clutter control and clearing out, and even invest in pod casts, books and other things to help us think and act differently. Why then, is it so hard to stick to it? Why after a few days, a few weeks, or if your are really good, a few months, do we typically fall off the wagon?

In my post of two weeks ago, When Our Thoughts are a Train Wreck, I examined three mentalities, I believe, contribute to our inability to stick to our new habits. These three thought patterns include being self absorbed, demanding our rights and not caring. I’d like to reexamine these patterns and discuss ways to change our thoughts.

Being self-absorbed

As I mentioned in the original post, taking care of ourselves is not a bad thing. We need to exercise, eat right, get enough sleep and stimulate our minds to give ourselves the best life. Being self-absorbed revolves around a preoccupation with certain ideas about ourselves. These can include thoughts that we do not measure up to some invisible standard that we think other people have set for us, and self-degrading messages like, “I’m too fat,” “I’m not good enough,” which can lead to self-destructive behaviors like cutting, addictions and even suicidal thoughts.

We all have self-absorbed thoughts from time to time. It is easy to get into that mind-set when life is hard and things are not going well. It is also easy to dress in this mind set when your past holds tragedy and pain. However, life cannot be lived to the fullest if we allow those things to imprison us.

I am not a professional counselor, but I’d like to suggest a few things that can help us to get out of the self-absorbed mind-set.

1 - Get Moving

This is partly about exercise and partly about behavior modification. Often when we get into an anxious or self-absorbed circuit, we are unable to get out of the loop. Much like a hamster running on his little wheel, our thoughts keep coming back around to the same loop. We revisit the destructive thought, the let down feeling, the disappointment in ourselves or others and round and round it goes.

Pixabay

Pixabay

It is a well known fact that exercise has good effects on our brains. From increased oxygen flow and release of hormones to antidepressant effects that reduce stress hormones, exercise really is beneficial for the brain. Movement helps to get us out of the loop. It doesn’t have to be rigorous exercise. If you are sitting down, stand up. If you are standing still, move. If you are going north, turn around and go south. Every time those thoughts come creeping back in, move.

Pixabay

Pixabay

I find walking very cathartic, when I am stressed. As I walk I do deep breathing and I purposefully force myself to look at the world around me, the neighborhood, the people, the trees, the snow, the icicles hanging from the roof tops. These simple things get me out of my self-absorbed loop and help me to think about other things. It also reminds me that the world is not coming to an end, even if it may seem like it today. As Scarlet O’Hara said in Gone With the Wind, “Tomorrow is another day.”

Pixabay

Pixabay

2 - Get help

You don’t necessarily need professional help, but if you do, or if others who care about you are recommending it, then do it. Otherwise, find a group of people to keep you accountable. Get an exercise and dieting buddy. Find someone who is going to accept you, but also encourage you to do better. Find an older person, who’s got life experience and ask them to mentor you and help you get out of your self-absorbed box. Or if you are an older person, who doesn’t have much human contact and your are still able to get around, volunteer at a dog shelter, a newborn unit at the hospital or a school. All of these things get us outside our own boxes.

3 - Seek and Speak Truth

You know all those side effects you think you have because you got on the internet and looked up the medication the doctor gave you?

“Stop it!”

In reality, the side effects that are put on medications are put there to keep pharmaceutical companies from getting sued. The reality is the statistics on people who die or have severe reactions to medication are rare. It is an exception, not the norm. The same is true for so many aspects of life. As the saying goes, “Sh-t happens.” This is true, but most of the bad things that we think are going to happen, don’t. In addition, many of the bad things that happen to us we bring upon ourselves. Start researching what is true.

In addition start speaking truth:

“I am not perfect, but I am beautiful.”

“I don’t have a college degree, but I am smart.”

“I haven’t published a book yet, but I am not a failure.”

“I got mad at my husband, but I am a good wife who has bad days.”

“I yelled at my kids, but I am a good mom, even when I my hormones have me off kilter.”

Keep it real.

Demanding Our Rights

Once again, having rights is not a bad thing and an ideal that our founding fathers believed was very important for communities and nations to survive and thrive. However, the thought that the world owes us something is not truthful or beneficial. The mentality of, get it all and get it now, is also not an accurate way to approach life. How do we cope with these entitlement feelings we all have struggled with and still act like a caring, giving individuals?

1 - Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

There is no greater preventative to a rights demanding mentality, than to put yourself in someone else’s place. Being in the service industry I have seen people at their best and at their worst. I don’t even think people realize how rude and obnoxious they are at times. I have had helicopter parents demand that their child’s book be given to them free because it wasn’t on the shelf when they came in to purchase it. I have had people accuse me of racism because when I explained the parameters of their rental book I told them they couldn’t spill their lunch on it. I tell this to every individual I rent a book to. At the end of the day, I am just another person trying to make my way in the world, just like everyone else.

When I feel like my rights are being infringed upon, or that I am being taken advantage of, I try to look at things with new glasses; someone else’s glasses. Thinking about where another person is coming from, not only enables us to view the world differently, but it may even move us to have compassion on another person. You never know what another person is dealing with in their life. They might be dealing with deep hurt or disappointment, or they may be experiencing grief, illness or pain. Having compassion and empathy gets us out of our rights loop and enables us to be better, more understanding individuals.

Pixabay

Pixabay

2 - Recognize Rights Mean Responsibility

Having a right, does not give us a free pass to do whatever we want. In fact, having rights, means having responsibility. People who are for the right to bear arms, understand that owning guns means they are responsible to handle those guns safely and teach others that gun ownership requires safe handling and being responsible to use them wisely.

Many people think that demanding rights is a way to guarantee their freedom to choose to do whatever they want. The opposite is, in fact, true. Having rights means we are enslaved to the responsibility of using those rights for good, not merely personal gain.

Pixabay - bread

So what does this have to do with our thought patterns and becoming better people. My daughter and I have both struggled with our weight. We both love food, especially things that are full of carbs. Bread, sweets, chips are all on our radar of things we love. At one point my daughter said she wanted to be able to eat whatever she wanted. You might think that being able to eat whatever you want is true freedom. However, true freedom lies in the ability to make the better choice. Even if we were able to eat whatever we wanted and never gain weight, does that make it right?

True freedom is the ability to not be bound by our appetites, whether it be food, sex, money, popularity, alcohol, Netflix or any other thing that can become an obsession.

To enjoy freedom we have to control ourselves.
— Virginia Wolf

Not Caring

It is easy to get into the mindset of not caring. When life gets busy, or overwhelming, sometimes it is easier to just give up. Who cares if I eat that whole bag of Twizzlers? I don’t care if my coworkers like me? I’m failing that class, so what?

Pixabay

Pixabay

Take a look at a few of these quotes:

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have.
— Margaret Mead
Live so that when your children think of fairness, caring, and integrity, they think of you.
— H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.
— Anthony J. D'Angelo

It is important to care. Often, we just need to revisit the why behind the what. In other words, ask yourself why you should care.

Why should you care about your health? Because you are a valuable person who probably has others depending on you and who care about you.

Why should you care what your coworkers think? Because you are part of a team. You can have a positive impact on the people you work with if you care.

Why should you care about your grades at school? Because every choice you make now, will affect the choices you make in the future.

Start thinking about why you should care and maybe that will reignite your ability to care.

Next week will be the final installment in this series on New Year, New Mind. I’ll be looking at setting goals and how to realistically keep them. I will also have some spiritual insights as well. I hope you like this look at renewing our minds. Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

Have a fantastic weekend and to all my northern and midwest friends, stay warm!