Tag Archives: stress

Weary? Burdened?

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mathew 11:28).

I am so glad Jesus said this. Aren’t you?

Because we all, at times, have wearying moments. End of the rope collapses. Stress-filled, sleepless night watches.

And we all, at times, are weighed down by burdens. The painful burdens of empathy and concern. The heavy loads of love. The back-bending weight of work, duties, responsibilities. The soul-wearying strain of self-reliance. 

woman hammock

Jesus invites us to find true rest for our souls—in the light yoke of fidelity to himAnd this is more than just a “spiritual” invitation—for we are not merely spiritual beings. From the earliest pages of Scripture, we see that ours is a God of rest; he models rest and invites his people to rest. It’s an invitation to know and embrace our limits. To turn to him in the Sabbath principle of choosing time for rest. This is a critical part of carving out a healthy way of be-ing. Continue reading

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The Busy-Mom Life . . .

Connecting with God can be difficult in many stages of life, but I must say, the stage of young kids is an uber-tough one! Gone are the long times of quiet prayer . . . replaced by utter, blessed, beloved, mind-numbing family chaos!

And yet, through it all, courses a deep desire: For real intimacy with God. For meaningful connection . . . somehow!

Busy Mom's Guide coverWhat happens when the spiritual ideals of Brother Lawrence collide with the realities of mom-of-young-kids-life? Consider this excerpt from my book The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival.

 * * * * *

Picture for a moment what it might be like to live as a “Mother Lawrence.” Constant communion with God through diapers, wiping runny noses, cleaning toys, disciplining, dealing with continual interruptions—could it be possible?

Yes.

This isn’t about doing anything outwardly; it’s simply a re-focusing of our inner perspective. My friend Amie describes her mind-set shift this way: “I can’t count the number of times in the past six months that I have sat down to read a passage from Scripture or to pray or to enjoy a quiet moment when the cries of my son have broken in.

“I used to think that God wanted us to pencil him in—that he was as linear and Western-minded as myself and that he was really much more pleased when I had ‘prayer time’ and ‘Scripture-reading time’ and had my life sufficiently organized so that as long as he occupied a certain percentage of my day planner he was appeased and all was well. But he breaks in like a crying child. He is in the interruption. He shows me that he is always there—on the subway, while I am changing a diaper, in the supermarket, behind the window where the widow sits alone. And whether I choose to acknowledge him or not is up to me.”

Amie has zeroed in on the foundational idea of practicing God’s presence: simply recognizing the truth that as a result of our salvation, God’s presence is continually with us. We just need to attentively focus on this truth and not lose sight of it even in the midst of interruptions and distractions. Though outward demands of work or home can draw our minds away from God, “It is the heart…whose attention we must carefully focus on God.” Developing this type of mind-set (maybe “heart-set” would be a better term) requires some effort on our part as we constantly remind ourselves: God is here. God sees my life. God hears my heart. God knows my needs.

God doesn’t require that our prayers be “deep,” well-formulated, or profound; God doesn’t mind if on some days 99% of our conversation with him is made up of S.O.S. prayers: “God, help!” In the presence of our loving God, we can just be real. Our conversation with God can be as simple as speaking phrases to God like…

“I feel stressed right now. God, please help me to calm down”

or “Thanks for my son, God. He’s so adorable”

or even “Potty training drives me crazy! God, show me how to help my child learn this!”

* * * * * 

Consider reading, praying through, and trying out more of the ideas in my book The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival. You CAN connect with God and experience his presence during this stage! It just may look quite a bit different than other stages of life.

Sounds Great, But . . .

In my last post I shared a few quotes from Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God. Brother Lawrence was a monk who found he best connected with God during his daily duties – kitchen work. He experienced intimacy with God more in the context of his normal life than even the times set aside for prayer and devotions in the monks’ cells. His encouragement for believers to maintain a continual conversation of the heart with God can help us transform any – every! – moment into a sacred one!

But, let’s be honest.

stained glass prayerHe was a MONK.

He had NO KIDS!

He worked in a MONASTERY!

So how in the world can his advice fit within the context of real life? Because, let me tell you, it seems a LOT harder to have this kind of continual conversation with God in modern life than it probably was for him – at least in terms of the many distractions that assail us.

Yet Brother Lawrence offers us some insights that can yet help us navigate all that draws our attention from God.

• A conversation of the heart with God need not necessarily always be with our “mind” – with words. It can be an inner sense, in our heart, of being at peace in God’s presence. It is a state of contentment and intimacy with God deep down inside.

• When we have a task before us that requires our full attention, we can consider this advice from Brother Lawrence: “Before beginning any task I would say to God, with childlike trust: ‘O God, since Thou art with me, and it is Thy will that I must now apply myself to these outward duties, I beseech Thee, assist me with Thy grace that I may continue in Thy Presence; and to this end, O Lord, be with me in this work, accept the labor of my hands, and dwell within my heart with all Thy Fullness.”

• And, ultimately, this isn’t about feeling guilty or like we’re failing when we aren’t doing “enough” to connect with God. Brother Lawrence advises a completely different perspective: one of joy, lightness, and delight in God! Consider this encouragement from one of his letters: “[God] requires no great matters of us: a little remembrance of him from time to time; a little adoration; sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favors He has given you, and still gives you. . . . He is nearer to us than we are aware of. We can make an oratory of our heart wherein to retire from time to time to converse with him in meekness, humility, and love.”

[**All quotes Public Domain.]

I personally find it discouraging to set the bar too high – to aim to connect with God in every single moment, as Brother Lawrence advises. But what DOES encourage me is to simply aim for more. To tune in to God’s presence more. To pause more to remind myself that God is with me. To be more grateful, at peace, in joy in the light of this reality. To be more focused on the unchanging reality that God is with me.

How can you remind yourself more often of God’s presence? How can you experience more of God’s near, faithful companionship in your life?

In every moment, you are there.

Oh So Much . . .

Merriam-Webster tells me gratitude‘s antonyms are ingratitude, thanklessness, unappreciation, ungratefulness.

But in soul-terms, much more could be added to this list. On the polar opposite end of the scale from gratitude we find habits and mindsets like worry, bitterness, spiritual malaise, self-reliance, pride, mistrust, over-busyness, selfishness, consumerism, and self-centeredness.

When our hearts are full of a pervasive and interwoven sense of thanks — a conscious awareness that God has given us oh so much — we’re able to live soul-centered in the peace and joy of the abundant life.

When we don’t? We start to buy into the lie that we don’t have enough, that we just need what’s more or what’s next. We live a life grasping out in all the wrong places for an elusive “satisfaction” that cannot be found in material things.

When we train our sight on the many goodnesses God has poured into our lives — loved ones, friendships, sunrises, smiles, bonds of love, church family, and a multitude of rich spiritual blessings — we’re buoyed when hardship or suffering comes. We can trust God because we know how God has come through for us in the past. We can rely on God even if things turn out badly, for we know from experience that God is good.

When we aren’t strengthening our souls in gratitude? We instinctively respond to trouble with worry and anxiety. Rather than relying on God, we turn inward in self-aggrandizing reliance on our own abilities and efforts to work miracles. And if things don’t get better? We become people poisoned by bitterness and anger. Continue reading

No.

There, I said it.

It felt great.

It’s a word that needs to be said often.

I’m not talking about disciplining children (my kids hear “no!” plenty in that context).

I’m talking about the personal spiritual discipline of saying “no” so that we can more fully say “yes.”

Consider these words from M. Shawn Copeland in Practicing Our Faith (Jossey-Bass):

“[S]pirituality is not a spectator activity. Tough decisions and persistent effort are required of those who seek lives that are whole and holy. If we are to grow in faithful living, we need to renounce the things that choke off the fullness of life that God intended for us . . . We must learn the practice of saying no to that which crowds God out and yes to a way of life that makes space for God.”

It’s a topic I’ve written about before, but I find it’s something I need to regularly remind myself about: Continue reading

Cutting Back Part 2

I wrote a short article for GiftedforLeadership.com in December 2008 that is, essentially, “Cutting Back Part 2” — a continuation of the discussion on the questions I asked in my last post. How, practically speaking, can we figure out if we are doing too much? How can we pare back our commitments to form a more healthy, focused way of life?

This article, “Taking a Sharpie to Your List,” candidly describes a moment I had when I was overwhelmed and needed to re-evaluate my commitments. It describes the painful conflict we feel between our need to please others and a determined focus to honestly ask God, “What do you want me to do, God? How do you want me to invest my time right now?” It involves letting go, giving up, being patient with dreams, and being content with God’s calling . . . for you . . . for today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article!

No offense, but I’m crossing your name off my list with a big black Sharpie.

I’m not crossing you out of my life — just off my list.

It’s not crossing you off because you’re unimportant or because I don’t care or because I don’t think you’re cool.

Blackening your name off isn’t easy for me, but I’ve got to do it.

It’s not you; it’s me.

And I’m not superwoman.

Sorry, but I’ve got to do this . . . 

 Screech!(Sound of Sharpie on paper.)

This one-sided dialogue was repeated in various forms in my mind throughout a revolutionary hour I spent with a blue index card, a pencil, and a big, bad, black Sharpie.

Before that hour, my life looked a bit like this:

There were the various groups I was already a part of: a book club, a ministry group, a home group, a Sunday-school-class group, and a few various committees peppered in here and there. Then there were the groups I felt interested in joining or guilty about not participating in or somewhat pressured to be a part of: women’s Bible study, a mentoring program, three more committees and ministry groups, and various parent volunteer groups at my kids’ schools.

There were also all sorts of various relationships I was trying to maintain: “outreach” relationships with neighbors, relatives, friends, international students, and a regular Jehovah’s Witness door-to-door visitor. Then of course there were the close friends who live far away in Portland and Boulder and Istanbul and Grand Rapids and Chicago. Then there were the Christian friends who are close by, from my present church, from my old church, from MOPS, from book club, from here, there, and everywhere. Then of course my family: my husband, my son, my daughter, my sister, my brother, my sisters- and brothers-in-law, my nieces, my parents, my parents-in-law, my aunts and uncles, and my fabulous seventeen-year-old cousin. Oh, and there were the people I’m trying to invest in and encourage, like a couple we go on double-dates with, the single mom I’m encouraging, a younger Christian I studied the Bible with on occasional Friday mornings, the mom-friends who I swapped parenting advice with and?well, trust me, I could go on and on.

 And along with groups and relationships, there were spiritual growth habits, exercise goals, personal aspirations, various other neglected hobbies, work commitments, and household tasks. I felt like Bilbo Baggins when he told Gandalf, “I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like… butter scraped over too much bread.”

 Ignatius of Loyola outlined the spiritual practice of examen or “examination of conscience” in his Spiritual Exercises written in 1522-1524. In essence, examen is the habit of prayerfully reflecting, with God’s help, on your thoughts and actions during a given period of time and considering how your life matches up with what God desires for you. Christians from various traditions throughout the centuries have practiced the habit of examen in various forms, from formal Ignatian prayers to John Wesley’s brutal accountability questions to simple private reflection on the life-giving and death-dealing moments of one’s day.

 I knew I needed to assess more than one day. I needed to look with God at my pattern of living over weeks and months and years. I knew that rather than living with purpose, I was aiming for hundreds of targets and missing most of ?em. Rather than living richly, I was left spiritually and emotionally poor. Rather than enjoying deep and meaningful relationships, I’d become thin, listless butter.

 Hence, the appointment with the Sharpie for some lifestyle-examen.

 I filled that card with every commitment I’ve got, every person I’m trying to care for and encourage, every task or person I feel guilty about not attending to, and every dream I’m neglecting. I jam-packed every centimeter of that poor little card. And then I sighed.

 And then I prayed.

 “Lord, help me,” I prayed. “Help me get a grip. Help me get a grip, first, on my outrageously huge view of myself. (I am not Atlas — nor do I want to be!) Then help me see your vision for my life and grasp onto it.

 “Then Lord, help me loosen my grip on all those other things I’m holding on to and trying to do but just . . . well, just can’t.”

 And after some prayer and after some silent staring and after quite a bit of inner wrestling with self-imposed guilt, I put that Sharpie to work.

 I crossed several commitments and goals off that list. (That wasn’t so hard.)

 But then I literally crossed several people off that list. (That was hard. It felt very . . . mean.)

 But that blacked, blotchy, barely legible card became a target for me. A clear, defined target to focus on that freed me to obey and follow God’s leading rather than chasing after all my own notions of what it means to serve him and live life.

 So if I crossed you off my list, I’m sorry. You’ll never know you got crossed out because I’ll still be kind and I’ll still enjoy being with you and I’ll still meet you for coffee if you ask.

 But I’m called by God to invest my energies elsewhere.

 And if that’s fine with him, it’s fine with me.

Cutting Back (or The Spiritual Discipline of Dropping the Ball) part 1

No blog posting from me last week. I dropped the ball.

But no apology. I did it on purpose.

I was busy finishing up a manuscript for a new book series (more on that later) and I decided to let the blog slide.

Ironically, decisions like that are a key aspect of practicing simplicity for modern-day women.

The Bible primarily speaks of two types of simplicity: financial/material as well as simplicity of one’s heart-focus. They are intricately related.

Simplicity in our use of time — and the degree of commitments we take on in our lives — is also intricately related to our heart-focus and our soul-health.

Sometimes we need to make our lives SO simple that we can take a few hours or even a day to just be with God (a personal retreat). But as a general practice in our everyday routine, we ought always ask ourselves if we have too much on our plate. And perhaps the even better question is who put all that stuff there?

There may be times when God puts a lot on our plate. But there may be other times when we’ve put a lot on our plate (maybe thinking we were doing God’s will) — yet we end up living unhealthy, divided, stressed out lives!

God does ask us to make sacrifices, but I don’t believe he’d ever ask us to live in a way that damages our relationships, skews our perspective, saps our emotional health, and wears our souls ragged!

As modern-day women, having a lot on our plates is just plain reality. For some this involves parenting. For some this involves work outside the home. For some this involves ministry. For all of us this involves relationships.

But are there things we can cut back on?

In order to serve God well and live healthily, are we aiming to do TOO much rather than doing less but doing it well?

Could a simplified approach to life — to commitments, tasks, goals, responsibilities, hobbies, extras — help me better connect with and focus on God in my daily living?

These are difficult questions, ones that I ask myself often. What are your thoughts on this matter?

(More on this topic in “part 2” coming in a few days…)

Love yourself? Deny yourself?

Kyria.com just posted a short article I wrote exploring service and the paradox of self-denial and self-care in the Christian life. If you’d like, you can check it out by clicking on the article title: “Spiritual Superhero or Stressed-Out Serve-aholic?”

(I’d love it if you’d add a comment to the Kyria site sharing your own thoughts!)