When you are sixteen and you are so tired of being brutally uncool and overlooked, and the years of being sneered at pile up, you will do really stupid things. Sometimes it’s a lot of stupid things, and sometimes those stupid things will stay with you for a very long time.
For me, I found a double whammy way to both be accepted and to appear that I didn’t care about being accepted: cigarettes. Of course, this is also a great way to ruin your health, waste tons of money and time, and to discover the hardships of addiction. It took me years (and years) to put them down, and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And it wasn’t that it took me eight years to want to be done with them—in many ways I wanted out of the habit almost as soon as I got into it. Quitting, though, was hard, and I failed at it over, and over, and over again.
It’s January 10 and my hunch is there are a lot of us out there who have already experienced a blow up in our plans to make 2017 the year. Goals are falling apart. We don’t see how to make what we wanted to happen. We’re back in old habits already and we feel pretty crummy about it. Can we share a collective group shrug here and acknowledge this: Failure happens? It is so rare that any of us makes a goal and then follows a blissful, obstacle-free path to reaching it. But that doesn’t mean it’s time to let go of your goals. Here are five things you can do to get back on track.
1. CELEBRATE THE PROGRESS YOU DID MAKE
So, you messed up. You only got to the gym once last week—not nearly the five times you meant to. Or maybe you only made it a few hours before you yelled at the kids—again. Or maybe you caved and your sneak visit to Facebook stole yet another hour from your day.
Yeah, you’re not where you wanted to be right now. But no matter how far off your goal or resolution you are, you probably made some amount of progress. So often we are focused on the distance that still lies between us and our goal that we forget to look back and acknowledge that we made it a few difficult feet past the start line—and that we are closer than we were! This is important and worthy. Write it down, tell it to yourself in the mirror—do something to acknowledge that you made progress as you steel yourself to try again.
2. REMEMBER WHY YOU MADE THE GOAL
Why do you want what you want? Remembering this is key to wanting to start over again and try. Write it down. Or find a picture of something that represents your why and put it where you see it often. Think about it. Pray about it. Keeping the ‘why’ front of mind helps when you face the temptation to give up on it.
3. RE-ASSESS THE GOAL
Was it too lofty? Did it not have a number attached to it (having something to measure really helps)? Did you not make time in your days for something new? Did you forget identify, or to eliminate the thing that triggers the bad habit? Something happened that made it easy for you to fall back into the habit. Now you know, and you can make the change.
4. RECOGNIZE THIS OPPORTUNITY
I hesitated even to use the word ‘failure’ in this blog, except that it echoes back the language we often use. I have, in recent months, though, tried to re-frame what I have previously defined as failure into OTE’s—opportunities to excel, or “learnings”—opportunities to gain knowledge about myself or what I’m trying to do (h/t to Ben Crane and Amy Porterfield for those terms, btw). Both are far more productive ways of looking at things than to tell myself I’ve failed or to define myself as a failure.
After you’ve done the above, you are ready to get back up on the horse and try again. This is always a scary thing, but when we do the other steps, we are more prepared to succeed, and to get further along than we were before. Sometimes it takes one restart, sometimes it takes many restarts. But eventually success in some form comes and we can celebrate an accomplishment that means something big has happened in our lives!
I lost track of the number of times I had to restart on my goal to quit smoking. Certainly it was well into double digits. It was a terrible cycle to be in, but the road to finally accomplishing the goal took a lot longer because I didn’t always do the steps above. But eventually, with perseverance, I succeeded, and it was worth every failed attempt to finally beat the habit. Your goal is still out there--go get it!
...and endurance produces character, and character produces hope...
Saturday I saw a man working to prune four crepe myrtles that I have been privileged to see grow and bloom for years now. I am not a gardener by any stretch, despite my many failed attempts, so I'd have never noticed their need for pruning. But I saw the result of his work on a couple of trees, before he'd reached the last. The difference was stark. The pruned trees looked stout and sturdy, with many strong branches ready to produce the leaves and flowers that will come when the weather turns. At their base were piles of small, scrawny branches. The remaining tree to be pruned looked unruly and wild. I could see how those wild and unruly twigs could eat up nutrients while not being prepared to grow produce as much as the stronger branches below. It was a passing glance at the work this man was doing, but it was certainly noticeable that he was serving a purpose in pruning back the waste.
Then on Sunday, in our study on the Gospel of John, this:
"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." John 15:1-8 (ESV)
We had an interesting discussion on the process of pruning and purification that we go through as we work to abide more in Jesus. It is never easy. It is often painful. Let's face it--we have used our nutrients-- be it time, energy, money--to grow those weak branches, and despite the lack of return, it is hard at the time to see them be lopped off. Even when we know logically that the fruit we will bear will be bigger, richer, and more pleasing to God, it can be hard to contemplate taking the knife to them.
I've had two different careers that I've had to prune out of my life in order to be more fruitful. As a Highly Ambitious Person, it was not the easiest thing to give them up. I really loved my work, in many ways. There are still times when I'd love to be in a newsroom covering something important or interesting, or when I see a wedding I'd have photographed differently. But then I look at Galatians 5. Working the long and often overnight hours of television robbed me of my patience and much of my self-control. It was hard to cultivate goodness when I was surrounded by images of destruction and sorrow. Constant, ongoing competition to book weddings was never a place of peace. Never. Both took precious time from what I could have been spending helping my marriage and working with my children--easily the most visual potential fruit I have been given stewardship of, not to mention the ability to study more or to help others.
Another example: This past weekend the Grammy's were on. I know this not because I watched them, but because my Twitter feed was blown up with commentary on them. Quite honestly, I had no desire to watch them as I didn't want to assault my eyeballs with...whatever they were going to dream up to assault my eyeballs with that I could not then un-see. But in fact, I couldn't watch them even if I'd wanted to because we no longer have cable. (Full disclosure: I think there is a way for us to tune in at least one or two local stations, but about the only time I do is for storm coverage.) Cable was a hard-ish thing to give up, as I feared what I would be missing out on both in entertainment and in the ability to take part in discussions on the entertainment. However, the benefits of this pruning have been many. We have more money in our monthly budget. When we do watch TV, we watch whatever is available on Netflix. That means no commercials, and you know what happens without the commercials? You don't want all the non-essential stuff that is advertised so well as must-haves! My husband and I really don't watch much of what's on Netflix at all, and since it's always available to be continued, we are free to go to bed earlier, get up earlier, and have quiet time to study, write notes, plan our budget, go for a run. All of which, I think it's safe to say, are far more able to produce love, joy, peace, patience, and the other fruits of the Spirit than oh, say, anything that comes on in prime time.
The pruning process can look different depending on the individual, of course. Those are just two examples of what I personally have been through in recent years as I've been pruned and made more ready, I pray, to bear fruit. I know there is more waste that needs to go. Other things that I and those I know have cut off in an effort to be more ready to serve: friendships, romantic relationships, job promotions, expensive houses, styles of dress, social media (and even the internet all together), team sports, cars, extracurriculars... I'm sure there are more but those are some examples.
I can tell you this: Every time I've gone through the process, what is left afterward has been so much better than what has been cut off. The way I spend my time now is so much better than how I spent it before. More faith in God, more knowledge of scripture, more time to devote to guiding my children's hearts--honestly, even more rest!-- trumps less money, far less status, and less to contribute to a conversation about what was on TV in spades.
I hope, that if you are in the process of being pruned that you will look forward with hope at the fruit you will bear instead of looking down at the fallen twigs with despair. It is for this that we were made--to bring Him glory. And He knows best how to bring it about.
Well, it's January. Deepest, darkest January. (I'm pretty sure you are already aware of that.) I don't know about you, but I struggle with January. There are times I feel like I am in hand-to-hand combat with January. In ways, it is so nice to get back to a routine after the constant amusements, delights, drama and stress of the holidays. In other ways...it's January. Gray. Cold. Bleak.
I can tell I'm not the only one struggling, this year in particular. Lots of people I've spoken with have expressed that they are having difficult times right now, for any number of reasons, many of which go far beyond the mere fact that it is winter. I know of those currently struggling with marriage difficulties, the deaths of parents and grandparents, discouragement because of unfaithful loved ones, despair over spiritual leaders who are not walking right, job problems... you name it, and this winter does not seem to be a kind one to many of us.
I had a friend directly ask me this weekend for a blog post, because, she said, she needed encouragement. So today, I would like to encourage you to do three small things that I think will bring some much-needed uplift to your day. They are small, easy, and effective.
1. First, read Ephesians 5:15-21.
"Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
2. Second, consider which of the things from the above scripture you can do today that would be wise in light of how dark, dreary, even evil these days might feel. I don't claim to know all the reasons why we are commanded to do what's listed here, but I can tell you there are clear benefits we can gain before from practicing them.
So first, make a plan. Walk carefully, Paul says (v. 15). That means, with care. If you are deep in despair or depression, it can be so hard to get out of the fog and actually do something. The first step I am suggesting is to carefully, mindfully, resolve to change something--and for now, make it just one thing. Anything grandiose may overwhelm you. Make the best use of your time (v. 16) in one small way today. Get that accomplishment under your belt, then let momentum from that spur you on. There are a number to choose from:
a. Understand what the will of the Lord is (v. 17). Get in the scripture and search for understanding. This never fails to bring focus and guidance for your day, even in very small doses, if that's all you can muster right now.
b. Do not turn to a source of comfort that is not going to aid you spiritually, and especially one that can harm you greatly (v. 18). Resist the temptation to wallow, or to use a comfort aid that is not God-approved. It will only hurt you in the long run, so steer clear. Paul has listed here several other clear methods listed here that will help you, and, believe it or not, even help others, through your tough times.
c. Reach out to someone, with spiritual encouragement. If you take the time to look up something that will encourage someone else... guess what? It will likely encourage you, too. As I'm writing this, I think of my childhood friend Polly sitting beside me at church, and the joy on her face when the song leader would choose "Sing and Be Happy." If the skies above you are gray, you are feeling so blue... She would look over at me and her obvious happiness would make me happy. I honestly can't imagine calling up a friend and singing to them, but maybe I should. I can certainly think up a few encouraging psalms and hymns though, and could pretty easily email or text the words to them. Finding them, writing them out, sending them, and then discussing them with a friend... really, how could that not be encouraging? Or having a cheerful tune or uplifting words stuck in my head the rest of the day and actually singing them aloud while I'm making lunch or driving to an appointment? It certainly beats wallowing in my thoughts right now, y'all.
d. Give thanks to God (v. 20). One of the most beneficial exercises I've begun to practice when I'm feeling low--and even when I'm not-- has become saying a prayer of complete thanks. No requests allowed. Just thankfulness and praise. When you really get down to brass tacks with the Lord and all He's done for you, despite current circumstances, it's probably not going to be a short prayer, and it can be a major mood-lifter and attitude-adjuster. You may be in a place where you have requests of God, and certainly He wants to hear them, but try doing a prayer that contains only thankfulness and gratitude and see if it helps. My hunch is, it will.
e. Call and see how someone else is doing--without revealing your current struggle. Trust me--someone else out there needs your help. This is an act of submission--putting down your desire to talk it out or vent and instead listening to and aiding someone else. Not only does it help them and glorify God, but it will be a few minutes spent not dwelling on whatever is plaguing you (sweet relief!) and may give you more perspective still on your problems. I am not at all saying that what you are dealing with is not legitimate and that you don't need help dealing with your own challenges. This is just one suggestion of many that might bring you comfort and get you out of whatever winter rut you may be stuck in.
3. Now take the one thing from the above list and do it. Just one. It can be small. But mindfully, carefully resolve today to do one thing different than what you have done so far this January--especially if what you've been doing hasn't been working for you. If you need to do more--do them! Do all of them if you can, whether it's today or over the next few days! The practice will bring you joy and help you through this time.
Show January who is boss. God is the boss, and you have strong guidance from Him on how to handle discouragement. So do it. And while you are, remember, spring is just 66 days away.
This blog has been long-neglected. Not for any lack of thought on my part, but because much of my thinking has been going on in the background while things that required doing demanded my time more urgently. I am pleased to have the desire and the time to be back at a keyboard and writing this morning.
Lord, may I be single-minded, sincere, and constant in my love and service for you. May I teach your way diligently to my children, and may we all never stray from it.
You know those moments, when your child says or does something that, in that beautiful childlike way brings things into focus? Yep, had one of those yesterday. I told the girls we were having some neighbors over for dinner and my oldest said to me, “Oh good, Mommy! I knew that was going to happen but I didn’t know when.”
“How did you know?” I asked, just because I knew I had unintentionally neglected to tell them until that day.
“I heard you tell Mrs. Jennifer about it in the car the other day,” she said. And then, the articulation of her heart:
“I like to listen to grown-ups talk, Mommy. I do it all the time so I can know what’s going on. I don’t know why. I just like to listen to the grown-ups.”
Now, I try to be mindful of what I say in front of the kids. I don’t want them hearing me be negative, anxious, or grumbly. I do want them to hear me say kind things, praise others and work out problems. So certainly, this was a reminder that I need to continue on that track.
But it also brought to mind a phrase I first encountered as a child myself, reading The Little House on the Prairie series. Ma Ingalls would say, "Little pitchers have big ears." My child is listening to us. She wants to listen to us. And she does it with purpose: to learn.
And then I wondered… Am I listening to the grownups? Do I hear what Christians who are older, wiser, more experienced are saying, both to me and to each other? Do I want to learn?—because here seems to be an easy way to.
If I am listening to the grownups, what can I learn? A lot of them will tell me directly what I need to hear—thank God for those who take on the role of public and private teacher! But I have to be willing to show up, and to listen, and then to apply.
Still others will talk to me about their experiences; share their experiences. There is so much to learn there, if I listen. A lot of times the struggle there is in making the time to listen to them. If I am too busy rush-rush-rushing around, I don’t have time to take in what they have to say. That’s a struggle while wife-ing and parenting, but probably a struggle I need to fight. Those who have been-there, done-that have, quite simply, been there and done that and almost always have a few tips and tricks that will save me pain and heartache in the long run.
And then there are times I get the opportunity to listen to "the grown-ups" talk to each other. To hear their regrets, to hear the ways they care for each other, to “listen” to what their interactions with each other have to teach me about their hearts, and to mimic the good things they do. There is learning in the listening.
But most importantly, am I listening to the ultimate grown-up, my Heavenly Father? Do I really want to learn? Because He has said so much to me in his word! I am his beloved child. Just like I want my children to learn what is good and right and true from what I say, so He wants me to learn those things from that He has said.
One of the most infuriating things in my parenting is when one of the kids says “I didn’t hear you,” when the truth is, they weren’t listening to me. I have found that to make sure they are listening, I sometimes need to put my hands on their cheeks, gently turn their face to me and lock eyes with them. I’m pretty sure that in preserving scripture for us, God did the exact same thing for me. It is my job to listen. I need to lock my eyes with him, in devoted study of my Bible.
Today I need to speak less, listen more. Find the grownups. Read what my Father is saying to me. Have big ears and hear it. Apply it.
And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant hears.” 1 Samuel 3:10
Pray the simple prayer above; it will happen. May we all draw nearer to the God who made that ocean, those clouds, that sunset, and our eternal home.
7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:7-9)
Encouragement Spoken Here
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver." Proverbs 25:11