To Be Full of Confidence

Canoe

If you’re like me, you may not be feeling too confident about a lot of things right now. You’re not confident that schools will reopen or stay open, or various leaders will make the right decisions to keep communities safe. You’re not confident that everyone in your community will abide by public safety measures to protect one another. You’re not confident that you’ll keep your job or stay healthy. Perhaps most importantly, you’re not confident that you’ll be able to handle all this stress, fear, and uncertainty!

There’s a Hebrew word “batach” that means “to be full of confidence.” Not a tentative feeling of hope, but a bold sense of well-being that comes with placing our trust in God. A sense of security that never fully comes when we place our trust in things of this Earth…in our own actions, in other people, in institutions, or in material possessions.

In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
(Psalm 22:4)

Batach encourages us to ask the question: “Who’s really the captain of this ship?” It’s such a temptation to believe that we’re in control of our own destiny. The entire “American Dream” was founded on this belief. We are in charge! But what happens—as we saw this winter, spring, and summer with the horrifying spread of the coronavirus pandemic—when something happens to upend our carefully laid out plans? Something we did not expect and did not prepare for? We feel shaken. 

I have only been in a canoe once in my life. I hated the feeling of stepping into the shaky canoe and trying to gain my own balance while balancing the rocking canoe at the same time. (It didn’t hurt that during my one and only trip, my sister and I capsized the canoe trying to take a turn too sharply!) Nothing about the experience left me feeling in control and it was easier to never step foot in a canoe again. I chose the safety of my feet on solid ground.

What would it take to boldly place our trust in God? It’s tempting to resist this feeling of not being in control. But actually, it’s incredibly liberating! God is the “captain” of our ship and loves us unconditionally and is working for good in our lives. God can be trusted. Batach is the knowledge that God is leading us to our destiny and our only job is to follow.

What you put in God’s hands is safe. God can go where you can’t go. So why not put your life in God’s hands and let go of the need to control? If we relinquish our tight-fisted control over our own lives, we will achieve inner peace. When we put our trust and belief in something greater than ourselves, our world will open up in new ways.

The next time you get that scared or panicky feeling because you don’t know what’s going to happen in your life or in the world, take a deep breath and repeat the word “batach.” Imagine yourself placing the worry or uncertainty in God’s hands. Keep doing this until you feel more and more confident that God really is in control. It won’t eliminate the uncertainty from your life, but it will give you the calm sense of confidence that you can face whatever comes, because you won’t be facing it alone.

The Watering Can

Watering can

Since the COVID-19 outbreak first came to the United States months ago, how much time have you spent caring for others? Raise your hand if you’re doing (or have done) any of the following:

  • Working through the shutdown as an essential healthcare, transportation, grocery, or sanitation worker
  • Buying groceries for an elderly parent, relative, or neighbor
  • Running errands for someone who is under quarantine
  • Helping your children navigate online learning when schools were shut down this spring
  • Putting in long hours figuring out how to provide online learning to your students
  • Cooking meals around the clock for a house full of family stuck at home
  • Volunteering for local social services such as food banks, shelters, etc.
  • Showing up to march in protest for the equal rights of your black brothers and sisters
  • Sewing masks or collecting PPE to support your local hospitals or nursing homes
  • Providing connection and care to those who are lonely and isolated in quarantine
  • Talking to friends, children, or siblings who are scared and anxious and trying to help them work through their fears

Let me take a moment to tell you that you are wonderful! You are doing God’s work in caring for others during a time of crisis, and your work is appreciated. Today I would like you to reflect on this important question: How much of yourself are you giving away? Is this constant taking care of others taking its toll on your spirit? You can’t become so busy caring for others that your spiritual life suffers. Your relationship with God is the foundation that supports everything else. You can’t be the best YOU without it!

Think of yourself as a watering can. Every time you care for someone, you pour out a little bit of water to nurture them. What happens when the watering can is empty? What are you doing to refill it? Are you taking time to rest? Are you taking time to sit in the stillness and feel the presence of God all around you? Are you praying, meditating, taking long walks in nature, playing your favorite spiritual music, or finding other ways to connect with God?

Re-filling your watering can has to be a commitment. You can’t wait around for the time to present itself. With the state the world is in right now, it might not happen anytime soon. The work of caring for others never ends. There’s always one more thing you can do. Let it be a gift you give to yourself—making the conscious decision to stop and fill up your watering can in whatever way works best for you.

The good news is, you don’t have to do this alone. I’m sure you have someone in your life —a friend or family member—that you can always count on to lift your spirits. No matter how hard your day is, how tired or stressed you are, when you’re with that person, they make you feel good. That’s what God can and should be for you when your watering can is empty. Allow yourself to rest in God. To be refreshed by the peace and joy that can only come from God.

Then you will be ready to be poured out once again.

A Road Map to Balance

Stack of stones

Are you able to recognize when your life is out of balance? What does it mean…and what does it look like?

It often happens gradually and most of the time we are so caught up in the daily-ness of life, that it wouldn’t even occur to us that we might be out of balance. We work like crazy, pushing ourselves to the limit. We don’t realize that our minds are burned out, our bodies are worn out, and our spirits are wrung out. 

God created us to live a life of balance.

BALANCE OF MIND
A friend of mine told a story of a particularly busy time of working long hours for weeks on end because her job required it. She gave herself no breaks and took no time to rest her mind or recharge her batteries. She came home from work one night and her husband offered to pick up dinner. “What would you like?” he asked her. “Choose your favorite takeout restaurant and I’ll go get us something to eat.”  My friend had stretched herself so thin that she couldn’t even make that simple decision. Her brain just couldn’t do it. On the verge of tears she looked at her husband and said: “You know what I like. Can’t you just choose something?” This was a moment of a life out of balance.

BALANCE OF BODY
When your body is out of balance, you will eventually figure it out, too. Lack of sleep catches up with you. Poor nutrition can zap you of energy. Not drinking enough water can lead to headaches and even dizziness. And this idea of balance can go the other way too. Exercise and healthy eating can become a preoccupation. I’ve seen athletes push themselves to the point of injury because they didn’t pay attention to the signs from their own bodies.

BALANCE OF SPIRIT
When our spirit is out of balance, we tend to overly focus on one emotion or feeling—usually those emotions that do not bring us joy. We fixate on bitterness over love. Guilt over acceptance. Deficit over abundance. Fear over faith. The backdrop of our spiritual life can also fall out of balance. Solitude can lead to loneliness. Crowds can become overwhelming. If we put all our focus on doing one thing, our spiritual life will feel off kilter. Faith calls for us to live through prayer and action. Through time alone with our Creator and time spent helping our brothers and sisters.

God desires us to live a life of balance.  

Once we discover that we are OUT of balance, how do we get back on track? How do we achieve this balance in our lives? After you finish reading this blog post, take out a piece of paper and write down the following four questions:

  • What is important in my life?
  • What are some things I absolutely need in life to feel happy?
  • What brings meaning to my life?
  • What makes me feel inspired?

Over the next few days, weeks, or even months, spend some time pondering your answers to these questions. Write them down so you can refer back to them. This is your road map to balance. Anything you do that brings you closer to the things you’ve written will center you. Anything you do that drives you further away from these things requires further examination. 

Some of it may be necessary. We have obligations in life that bring stress and exhaustion and we can’t change it. But we CAN make smaller changes to weed out some things that are not important. To put less focus on the things we don’t truly need. To diminish that which does not bring meaning to our lives. And to lean into that which inspires us.

The changes might be internal. (Gently changing our thoughts.) They may be external. (Seeking out friends who help us achieve this balance.) They may be faith-based. (Asking God in prayer to help us stick to the things that really matter.) It’s an evolving, constantly changing process. We move toward balance, we fall out of balance, we move back again. But we know that in this journey towards balance, God is with us every teetering and steady step of the way.

Let’s learn from each other! Share your thoughts on achieving balance in the comments below.

 

Photo by Jeremy Thomas on Unsplash

Practicing Spirit-Care

Spirit Care blog post

Do a Google search on “self-care” and you’ll come up with over two billion hits. It’s a popular buzzword these days, and I’ve seen it described in lots of different ways in countless blogs, websites, and articles. According to the dictionary: “Self-care is the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.”

Most often self-care is recommended for people who spend the majority of their time taking care of others. Teachers, nurses, social workers, health care aids, and those who work in caring ministries. The truth is, we can all benefit from self-care, but many of us are reluctant to do so. We think of it as a luxury. Something we don’t have time for. Some of us even feel that self-care is selfish. There are too many people that need me! How can I take time away from my important work to do something for myself? 

What if instead of calling it self-care, you called it spirit-care. Does it seem more worthwhile? Isn’t it important to care for your spirit as a beloved child of God? Wouldn’t God want that for you?  

Would it make you feel better to realize that this was something Jesus often did? Even though he had incredibly important work to do during the three short years of his ministry, Jesus recognized when he needed to pause, to step away and take time to restore himself. He knew that if he was going to be able to do God’s will, he needed to be able to listen, pray, and to spend time alone with God.

  • From Luke 6:12 – One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
  • From Mark 1:35 – Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. (He did this after spending the night before healing many sick and driving out demons.)
  • From Luke 5:15-16 – Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
  • From Matthew 14:23 – After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. (He did this after feeding the crowd of 5,000.)

I love the fact that through his own actions, Jesus himself gives us permission to retreat. And that has long been my favorite method of spirit-care. I’ve often heard it described as a “sacred pause.” From the very first retreat I attendeda five-day silent retreat when I was in collegeI was amazed by how life-changing it could be to press pause on my busy life in order to focus on uninterrupted time with God. The importance of retreats became the hallmark of my ministry: Hearing God’s Whisper. Every blog entry that I post is meant to encourage a mini-retreat for the person reading it.

I think some people struggle with the idea of self-care because it seems too much like pampering…this sense that you’re doing something that completely and only benefits you, as if you are more important than anyone else. But when you retreat, you aren’t alone. You’re spending this time with your Creator. Spirit-care is a partnership. Spirit-care renews us so we can continue our important work of caring for others. Your spirit needs to be filled up from the inside out. Cars can’t run on empty. Watering cans can’t give life to plants if they’re empty. 

You need to be filled up before you can be poured out.

In the words of Christian writer Olivia Spears: “When it comes to things we care about like our family and our work, none of us aim to give the very last leftover bits of ourselves. Rather, we desire to give the very best of ourselves. So when we take care of ourselves, we are filled up, renewed, and restored so we can offer the Lord and the people around us the very best of who we are.”

Spirit-care can be relaxing, peaceful and restorative. It can be deep, wild, and creative. It is different for each person. But it doesn’t just happen. Remember…the dictionary describes it as taking an “active role.”  I like to think of it as a practice. Something you work on over time, because you value yourself. Because you believe that you are worth it, and the work you do needs the very best of you.

My prayer for you is that you will take time (or make time) to retreat. Whether it’s a weekend away or 10 minutes of deep breathing…give yourself that gift. Care for your spirit the way you care so beautifully for the people in your life.

Filtering out the Background Noise of Life

yoga

Last year I signed up for a weekly yoga class during my lunch hour. The class was called “Sweat and Surrender” and I thought it would be the perfect break to de-stress from my day and return to work relaxed and rejuvenated. The class was great, and the instructor was gentle and encouraging. There was only one thing preventing me from enjoying it…the very loud Zuumba class held in the room next door.

Yoga takes concentration. You need to focus and listen—both to the instructor and to your own body as you move through the different postures. The Zuumba music was so distracting, I could never reach this level of focus. I tried my best to ignore it. To tune it out. But I just couldn’t.

We all move through life with varying degrees of “background noise.” We try our best to tune it out, but it can become a significant challenge to hear—and really listen—to the voice of God. The noise is always there to distract us, pulling us away from the calm, the stillness, and the focus we need to listen to our Creator.

Can you identify the background noise in your life? For most of us, it begins with the general hectic pace of today’s world. We get used to it until we don’t realize how truly “noisy” our lives have become. It’s so important to retreat once in a while. To escape from the noise and be still. I’ve written about silence and breathing in the past. Both are excellent ways to minimize the background noise of a busy life.

Maybe the background noise you struggle with is negativity. Fear is always there, waiting to drown out any truths we might hear from God about trust, about God’s faithfulness, about God’s promises, and the knowledge that God is carrying us and caring for us always. Negativity can build up inside us like an automatic response, until it becomes a thick wall that blocks out God’s messages in our lives. It can take practice, but you can intentionally turn your thoughts towards God when you feel negativity creeping in.

And finally, our own Inner Critic can be a damaging source of background noise. Telling us were never going to be good enough, the voice of the Inner Critic is loud and constant and very hard to turn off. But if we’re aware of it, we can recognize it and name it and begin to strip this voice of its power. And once you do you’ll be better able to listen for the Voice of Truth—the Voice of your loving God. The Voice that says you are loved and accepted exactly the way you are!

During the month of February, I’ll be writing about the importance of LISTENING in our faith lives. When we pray, we do a lot of talking (Please! Thank you! Help me! Do this!) If you can be still and quiet long enough, you’ll begin to hear God speaking to you. Messages of love that are unique and meant for your ears alone.

I’ve joined a new yoga class this winter. It meets in the evenings in the library of an elementary school. The room is quiet and peaceful with dim lights and an inspiring, gentle-voiced instructor. It’s just what I was looking for…but never would have found if I didn’t make the decision to leave the noisy environment of my old class.

Take some time this week to examine the background noise of your life. What’s the “Zuumba music” that might be preventing you from hearing God’s whisper? How might you minimize that noise and focus on what really matters?

Share your ideas in the comments section below!

 

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

A Prayer for Everyday Grace

ocean boulders

Lord, I bring to you all that is on my plate. The noise, the clutter, the chaos, and the distractions. Help me to empty myself so that I may see you, hear you, and feel your presence. Empty the interior space of my soul that I may receive you and discover who I truly am.

Lord, I bring to you my fears and worries…all the things that are so heavy and hard to carry. I place them into your hands. Loving God, may your Spirit come to move my life. I place my trust and faith in you.

Lord, I bring to you my burdens. Things that I cannot control weigh me down like a heavy stone. On the days that I am tired, stressed, and weary, I know that you walk with me. I know that you are my rock—my cornerstone—and I can find rest in you.

Lord, I bring to you a heart that longs for healing. I know that when I choose to sin, I separate myself from you. Help me to remember that because of the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ, there are no longer any walls between us. Grant me wisdom to make good choices and the courage to seek to be reconciled with you when I do not. Help me to forgive myself and others as you have forgiven me.

Open my heart, O Lord, to receive your gift of amazing grace!

 

*Adapted from the closing prayer for Creating Space for Grace: A Retreat For Busy Women © Sheri Dursin, 2016

Just Breathe

tiny-white-blossoms

“Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”  (Genesis 2:7)

We all have those days. When nothing seems to go right. When we’re stressed out, or preoccupied, or wound up. We can’t get out of our own way. Our bodies are tense, our shoulders hunched, our faced scrunched into a permanent frown. Like a rubber band stretched so tight we’re about to snap.

We feel as far from “holy” as you can get. And sincere prayer seems impossible in the mood we’re in. The words won’t come and we can’t force it

It’s ok.

On these days your prayer can be as simple as breathing. Stop what you’re doing and just breathe. Plant your feet solidly on the ground. Relax your shoulders. If possible, close your eyes. With each breath focus only on the air moving in and out. Fall into a rhythm as you breathe slowly and deeply. Continue reading