Just Write

STRESS! LESS!

I work in Higher Ed. In that space, the concept of stress is pretty much daily conversation.

Academic stress
Athletic stress
Family situations causing stress
Roommate conflict stress
Health issues adding to or resulting from stress
And more.

Students talk about (or at least experience) stress often. So do all human beings.

A few weeks ago a student asked me to share some of the ways I personally deal with stress. As I answered their question and tried to then help them figure out what might work in their life, it felt like three main categories emerged. The more I thought about these categories the more I realized how helpful they can each be in my life.

First, sometimes I believe we just need to distract ourselves from whatever is going on. We need space away from what’s causing the stress. For me, these kinds of stress-busters include things like reading a book, watching a movie, hanging out with a friend doing something fun, playing a game, going for a walk or run, sometimes even scrolling the web or flat out taking a nap! There are times when I’ve thought so much about a situation or issue, that doing something completely unrelated truly does relieve stress and lets me come back to it later with a clearer mind.

But in many things we do actually have to “come back to it” which leads to the second way I think we all need to cope with the hard things that come our way in life: deal with it. If it’s an emotional struggle, for me, this often looks like journaling, talking with a friend, mentor, or counselor, or finding some way to sort through and process through what’s happening. On the work/homework/housework side of stress, this looks like actually getting something done; completing a project surely relieves stress! In relational issues, this involves having the hard conversations and figuring out how to best move forward. Sometimes we just have to DEAL with it!

At first I thought there were really only those two categories, but there really is a third (and maybe more… this isn’t scientific or anything, just my random thoughts)! A key stress-reducer for me is all about habits. There are things that I can do every day or every week that automatically position me to be in a better place when stress comes along. They set me up for success before I even need to respond. Things like getting enough sleep and eating well help avoid the “hangry” state that certainly doesn’t cope well with additional stress added on. Exercise releases tension from the day even if it wasn’t built up from anything specific. Connecting with friends regularly energizes me along with making sure I have a decent amount of alone time to refuel. Reading God’s Word, prayer, and connecting in a faith community add on-going stability in a way nothing else really can.

When I have all three of these things in motion in my life–regular rhythms, ways to deal with my problems head on, and even some distractions–I find I really do stress less. The challenging things that come along don’t rattle me as much as they might have in another season. I feel hope for getting through tough circumstances because I have options of what might help.

With three broad options on the table, and then specific ideas within each category, I can figure out a little bit better what I need in any given moment. Do I need to dig in and deal with this problem or is a night “off” just doing something fun what will refresh my body and soul? Have I been shifting to distraction and ignoring the problem, only adding stress to my life? Is the situation in front of me not really a huge deal, but my reaction to it seems to indicate I’ve let the life-giving habits slip lately? Have I stopped doing the things that normally put me in a better space to manage the everyday inconveniences?

The longer I live the more I realize, there will always be something else hard around the corner in life. This isn’t something I need to fear or despair… it’s just reality in the broken world in which we live. But God has also given us many tools, experiences, and resources to deal with the hard things that come our ways. My challenge for you this week: make a list! What are the things you like to do to handle stress in your life? If you want, perhaps use these three categories to help you brainstorm. What do you like to do to just “check out”? How do you best process and deal with the hard things in life without ignoring them? What are the ongoing joys and rhythms in your life that steady you through the ups and downs?

Comment below and share some of YOUR favorite stress busters!

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Just Write

Courage is Not A Suggestion

Courage is an interesting word and an even more interesting concept. What does it mean to have courage or to be courageous? How does that word play into the concepts of both encouragement or discouragement?

The dictionary defines it as:

the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.

I do know this… life takes courage. For some, it takes courage simply to get out of bed each morning. I see the courage it takes for my friends to parent their children. It takes courage to take risks in our jobs, ministry, and life. It takes courage to speak truth with love.

Life takes courage. And it seems God agrees. Joshua 1:9 has been a verse that keeps popping up everywhere I turn in the last year. As this book begins, God is talking to a man named Joshua before he took over the overwhelming task of leading thousand and thousands of God’s people:

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

“Courage” comes from the original words for “heart” and “age”. And perhaps as we grow older and age, courage does become a slight bit easier; we grow in our ability to stare right at the toughest parts of life and defiantly take one more step when everything about it says “I can’t”.  Yet, here was Joshua at an estimated 96 years old needing God’s reminder: there’s no need for fear, there’s no need to let things deprive your heart of confidence. I, the God of the Universe will be with you every step of the way. 

God called attention to the fact that courage for Joshua was not simply a suggestion, it was a command. And I think we all need a little reminder from time to time and perhaps that’s exactly what it means to encourage someone… to remind them… courage is in them and it’s not just a suggestion; it’s necessary.

So take courage my friend, not because you have your life together or know exactly what the next step is. Rather face into whatever lies ahead with confidence and strength knowing you never walk alone!

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Devotional, Just Write, Uncategorized

Enough Trouble for Today

One of my favorite passages to come back to in busy seasons is Matthew 6:25-34. The whole section is about how we don’t need to worry and be anxious in life because God knows our needs and cares for us. It ends with this verse:

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34)

In another translation that last sentence says: “Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

This is one of the phrases God brings to mind in seasons of my life when my to-do list seems overwhelming or I’m worrying too much about things in the future instead of what’s right in front of me. In those times, one of my favorite things to do is to take a piece of paper and write that verse at the top of it. Then, I draw a line down the middle and on the left column I write “Today”. The right column is then titled, “Not Today.” I start sorting out all the things I need to do in one category or the other. Having a space for the “Not Today” items helps me feel peace that I won’t forget them, while giving space to focus on the “Today” items.

This idea of not borrowing trouble from tomorrow is nothing new to me. However, God recently brought this passage to mind… but in reverse. Not only should we resist borrowing trouble from tomorrow… but we also should work to not ADD trouble to tomorrow as well. He challenged me to deal with today’s troubles in order to set myself up for success when tomorrow becomes today.

Troubles delayed = troubles multiplied.

Here’s an example: A few weeks ago I made a large meal for some people that involved using a roaster, three crock-pots, and other various dishes and bowls. When I got them all home, washing all of those dishes was the LAST possible way I wanted to spend my Friday evening. However, if I would have left those crockpots and roaster and serving utensils until Saturday, everything would have gotten hard and more difficult to clean. To keep the example going, left even longer, those dishes might have started to smell or even get moldy. What was an annoying but small “trouble” on Friday would have become a much bigger “trouble” days later.

And I’m not just talking about dishes.

If I leave that conflict with a coworker unresolved and keep putting off the tough conversation that needs to happen, bitterness makes me hard and resentment starts to grow like mold.

If I experience a stressful season in life or a traumatic situation but choose to ignore how it’s impacting me instead of walking through the hard, I “steal” from a future “tomorrow” and add to its troubles. That stress will eventually come back to the surface, my body will eventually revolt and I’ll be forced to deal with it along with whatever troubles that day already had going for it.

If I don’t face the sin in my life today and ruthlessly cut it out, seeking God’s grace and forgiveness, it will grow deeper in my soul deceiving me and hurting the people around me.

Don’t borrow from tomorrow’s trouble with worry and anxiety. But also don’t add to tomorrows trouble by ignoring what you need to take care of right now. Whether it be dishes or disease, laundry or loss, sorting socks or suffocating sin, we need to deal with today’s troubles.

“Sufficient for the day it its own troubles”

and sufficient is our God to help us deal with them… TODAY. 

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Just Write

A Soul Solstice

I found myself recently pondering the winter solstice. Actually, I found myself pondering the day AFTER winter solstice.

Somewhere around December 21 each year (in the Northern Hemisphere anyway) we experience the shortest day of the year, with the least amount of sunlight.  From that point forward the days start having a little bit more sun and a little less dark. Coming home from work and it already being dark out is never fun. I love the day after winter solstice, the day that marks the start of longer days. It’s as if the world takes a deep breath and hope starts to grow.

As I reflected on this I thought about the hard times in life… the times that seem like they’ll never end… the dark days of winter in life. I think about the moments after a loved one dies when the family and friends feel like the days just get darker and darker as they continue to grieve. I consider a friend who has been battling trauma and sufffering for more years than I even know, and just when it seems to settle, the darkness sets in again. I wonder about how many people around the world found out some horrible news today that will change their lives forever and a dark shadow was cast. We’ve all experienced (or will) at one time or another… the seasons when winter never seems to end.

But there is hope.

The day after the darkest day will come.

I was brought to tears recently as I heard a friend say, for perhaps the first time in 18 months, “I’m doing so well.” Her life is not perfect and the pain of this long “winter” season is not completely over with, but the days are getting longer, brighter… there is more light each day. There is hope.

In an earthly sense, winter will come again. It’s a cycle we can depend on. Winter turns into spring, into summer, into fall, and back to winter. On the emotional side of things we can predict this cycle as well… we will face hard times again. As long as we live on this earth, that is a given. But the cycle of literal seasons give us hope that spring will come again in the emotionally hard seasons. Also, there is hope for the day when that cycle will break and the light will grow ever brighter into eternity.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.  … I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” … And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory.” Revelation 21: 1-4, 23-24

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Just Write, transition

On Pain, Change, and Trust

I was talking with a friend back at the beginning of this year and he mentioned how he had been learning that only when our pain is greater than our fear will we be able to make positive changes in our lives. It was fascinating to hear him say that because I was wrestling at the time with a similar concept but from a different perspective.

I had been thinking about the concept of self-control and how to do the things that we want to do but somehow find so hard to do. (Romans 7 kind of stuff.) Just as an easy-to-understand example, let’s look at the ever-popular topics of eating health and exercise, especially popular this time of year! I think we all pretty much know that eating certain foods and staying away from others is how our bodies function best. We all know that finding ways to move more and get enough sleep helps us. We want to feel healthy … and yet we keep grabbing the sugar and skipping the exercise and cutting down the hours of sleep to pack more in our busy lives.

So how do we get to a point where change is possible and our resolutions don’t fall short on January 3. As the conversation with my friend suggested, sometimes pain is a great motivator. The diagnosis of a health condition, the threat of losing a job, the inability to play with kids… these are pains that sometime can force us into life change.

But I had been trying to figure out if there were other ways. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want pain to be the only way I can have positive change in life. Shaming ourselves (or others) doesn’t typically work and “just try harder” is possibly the worst advice anyone could ever give. But what DOES work? I was stuck… how do we embrace lives of self-control and discipline while still living in the freedom that actually leads to LIFE and not slavery to a system?

And suddenly I stumbled upon an idea, pieced together over a few days. Paul says it this way in Romans:

“But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting him. …” (Romans 9:31-32 NLT)

It makes me wonder… when our TRUST in God is bigger than our fear perhaps that ALSO leads to freedom, change, and abundant life.

As this concept processed through my brain I was reminded of this quote from Jessica Honegger:

“Self-control is really about these moment-by-moment choice we have to believe God. Do we believe that God is who He says He is and that He is enough?”

I heard that quote in a livestream of an if:gathering conversation last February between her and other women including Ruth Chou Simons who followed it up with:

“Self control is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s God’s work; you can’t muster it up. Don’t keep trying to staple fruit onto your tree. Hide and abide yourself in Christ.”

Self-control is probably one of the least popular fruits of the Spirit. We all want things like peace and love and joy… but self-control… hmmm maybe I’ll pass.

As I process these quotes, I wonder if we actually trust and believe God IS enough for us, especially in these areas we struggle to gain control over. Is he enough for our faults and failures, enough to satisfy our deepest longing, enough to bring peace in this chaotic would.

Hide and abide in Christ.

That really does sound a lot like trust. It’s hard for us to comprend because we think that we need a “7 steps to a better you” plan. Hiding and abiding can’t possibly be the key.

While God isn’t beyond using pain to bring about change in our lives if necessary, His preferred method is trust. Eyes locked in on Christ at every move; seeking His Kingdom first and letting everything else be added in after. Our God is so trustworthy, whether our hearts can believe it in any given moment or not. I’m still here, months later, trying to figure out exactly how trust practically leads to positive change in my life, but I have learned this in the process: without trust I’ll never take the risks necessary to find out.

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