Rest in What You Know: God

Stress can snowball. As soon as my mind starts whirling with “should’ves,” “would’ves” and “could’ves,” I intentionally stop my thoughts and worries in their tracks. As soon as I’m tempted to slip into a place of self-pity, anxiety or anything less than gratitude, I (try to) hit my mental pause button. Then, I purposefully redirect my thoughts back to where they need to be: off of me and back on Him. I remember a favorite Scripture about God’s sovereignty. I talk with Him through prayer or journaling. And sometimes I quite literally just sit and rest, choosing to actively accept the Lord’s exquisitely simple yet profound invitation.

His invitation is always there. We may RSVP with good intentions, but do we actually show up with our actions?

I’m not gonna lie. This isn’t always easy. In fact, it can be a bit like trying to stop a freight train. Many of us—myself included—have much more experience with worry and letting our own thoughts run away with us than not. But like anything else, it can be changed, and practice can help us make progress in the right direction. When we do so, we’re better able to intentionally choose God’s blissful rest instead of our own exhausting worry.

Here’s some simple steps that will help:

Choose to let God be your Rock. Refuse to let your feelings and emotions rock you.
No matter how we suffer, we can know that we’re held by the Beginning and the End Himself (Job 12:10, Revelation 22:13). Purpose to replace doubt, worry and fear with God’s truth: He works all things for good (Romans 8:28). He is always in control (Isaiah 45:7). He is our light when we sit in darkness (Micah 7:8).

Practice pausing to make room for change.
Be intentional about choosing to respond rather than react. Jesus Himself demonstrated this when He stooped down to write in the sand when confronted by the Pharisees for an answer on the spot (John 8:1-11). Follow His example and take yourself off the stopwatch. Rarely is an immediate response required. Instead, practice giving yourself the time you need to be thoughtful and purposeful, even in your own self-talk.

Remember that experiencing His rest requires effort on our part.
God’s graciously offered us rest and He’s provided all the guidance and instructions we need to experience it. But it’s up to us to act on it.  Jesus couldn’t have been more clear: “Take my yoke upon you…learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:29). Experiencing His peace and rest comes after we follow His instructions. In other words, taking action on His words is what enables us to be still when suffering threatens to rock us.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Ask for—and Act—on God’s Help

I was completely out of patience. Mark had blatantly disobeyed me repeatedly. By this time, it was early evening, and I was out of energy. While Mark’s long-term and short-term memory loss had trained me to be a broken record, on this day it had taken a particularly hard toll. Mark’s hearing was fine, and I knew he was listening. I had purposefully been using words that I knew he had heard before and could understand. There was just one problem: he was choosing not to obey.

“Mark, go to your room,” I said, not even attempting to hide my exasperation. I was about to lose it and desperately needed a moment alone.

“But why?” he said genuinely puzzled. “Why not I stay out here?”

“Do you really not know?!” I snapped back even though I already knew that he didn’t. Though Mark was being disobedient, it certainly wasn’t intentional. He was rarely noncompliant on purpose and truly nearly always wanted to please. Mark’s heart was incredibly pure and full of love. And that only added to my shame at this particular moment. I knew better, and I could do better. I just had no more energy left to do so.

“Mark,” I sighed. “Momma’s just all out of nice right now.”

And there you have it: the truth. Mark headed straight down the hall to his room and I fell down on the sofa. I needed a minute, a minute to figure out exactly how I was going to explain the error of his ways in a way that both made sense to him and was sensitive. (Again, I was momentarily all out of nice.)

After my self-imposed time-out, I picked myself up and slowly walked down the hall. All the way, asking God to help me. Help me find the right words. Help me practice more patience. Help me to help him.

“Mark? Can Momma talk to you?”

“You all better now?”

“I’m better, but I’m still frustrated. Do you know what that means? Have you ever felt frustrated?”

“No…” Mark answered honestly but with hesitation. Nervous that I was still in a fragile state, Mark didn’t want to confess to not knowing something.

“You know what it feels like,” I said. “I know because I’ve seen you frustrated.”

I sat down next to him on the bed, took one of his hands in mine and gently unfolded his fingers.

“See these marks?” I said pointing to some small, fresh scabs on the inside of his palm. “You clench your fists tight when you’re frustrated. When you don’t use your squeeze balls, you hurt yourself. That’s what frustration feels like. You get all tight and hot. It can feel like mad, but it’s different. And it can make you feel like you don’t know what to do. Do you understand?”

“But why you be frustrated?”

“Mark,” I started, looking for the just the right words as I said them. “I’m frustrated because I know you hear my words. I know you know what they mean, but you don’t do them. All you have to do is hear my words and do them. It’s that simple.”

“I frustrated too,” he managed to say through a stream of tears. “I not feel I do anything right.”

My heart broke and immediately my supply of nice was restored. In that exact moment, I understood completely what he meant and why. No one can follow through on what they don’t remember or even understand.

Sigh. How often does suffering and frustration crowd out what we already know to be true? How often does it rob us of remembering the safe harbor that exists for us at all times? How often challenges can falsely make us feel like there’s nothing we can do. In order to suffer well, we need to be careful to not fall for our feelings, not to fall for these lies.

Yeah, I understood exactly how Mark felt because I’ve felt this way, too.

If you’ve been there too, here’s some help:

Acknowledge how you feel. Choose authenticity over acting.
God already knows our hearts (Jeremiah 17:10, Romans 8:27), so we can be completely honest with Him. Refuse to let fear, guilt or shame prevent you for reaching out for God’s help.

Act on His guidance and instruction.
You wouldn’t just read the instructions on a bottle of medication and expect to get better. So, don’t treat God’s Word this way, either. It’s up to us to put to use what He’s already placed within our reach. Make a commitment to act on what you know is true rather than falling for feelings.

Accept His answers—whatever they are.
Trust isn’t just something we have. It’s something that we choose to do. Grow and strengthen your trust in God by reviewing His track record. Start by reading how He worked in the lives of others in Scripture and consider making a list of specific ways God has proven Himself faithful and trustworthy in your life, too.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Choosing Joy

A lot has happened as of late, and as a result I haven’t been updating this blog as much as I would like. But I’m going to be much more purposeful about changing that because—well—change doesn’t just happen. We have to be intentional about it.

I’ve learned that joy is the same way. Joy isn’t something you find or stumble upon. It’s something you can choose to have. It’s something you practice. And while practice doesn’t make perfect, it does make better. So, in the middle of—and I’ll be completely honest here—crappy circumstances, I can opt to practice joy, even when in the middle of messy, stressful stuff.

So, rather than go on a rant about what’s been happening lately, let’s focus on how exactly you, me or anyone can be intentional about practicing joy…

Practice being mindful of God’s presence—always.

These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. John 15:11 (ESV)

There have quite literally been countless times I have had to walk Mark through painful, scary situations and procedures. The only thing I could do was simply be with him, a powerful, stable, calming presence, a presence that reminded him that—no matter what—I was with him. And this seemed to have helped him tremendously.

God’s presence can do tremendously more for each of us—if we choose to focus on it, instead of allowing our circumstance, challenge or the chaos around us to compete for our attention.

Recognize that joy does not depend on things being easy. Joy depends on Him.

For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Psalm 33:21 (ESV)

There are admittedly days when I feel like I can’t catch my breath. My worries run away with me. But then it gets even worse because I realize that all my worries are based on factual knowledge about Mark’s future. Many days, I wish I simply didn’t know what I know. Peering into the future is not always a good thing.

It’s on days like these that I have to remind myself that it doesn’t matter how things are now or how they will be in the future. It doesn’t matter because I already know Who matters: the very One who controls it all and will work all things for good (Romans 8:28).

So, we can suffer and things can downright suck. But it doesn’t have to affect our joy because our hope—and our lasting joy—can only be found in him.

Invest in growing joy!

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Galatians 5:22-23a (ESV)

No garden flourishes without being tended, and neither does joy. So, invest in your joy-filled harvest by being purposeful about planning time to just be with God.

Honestly, I think I’ve been woefully lacking in this as of late. Sure, I faithfully read and study my Bible, but I’ve been so busy taking care of all my responsibilities that I’ve not made time to really rest in and enjoy God.

It helps me to be more intentional about this when I think of a seed buried deep within the dirt. It may look like nothing’s happening, but that’s far from the truth. While in hiding, it sprouts and takes in nourishment from the soil so that it will later have the strength to push through the surface and grow into all it’s intended to be. Likewise, we can make time to hide in God’s presence (Psalm 119:114) and be strengthened (Isaiah 40:28-31), too.

Tuning Out the Noise

We can learn a lot from the story of Noah—including how to quiet the noise around and inside of us.

Take a moment to imagine the sights, smells, sounds and stress that Noah must have experienced during all that time spent on the ark. With all the rain, the sky must have been very dark. With so many animals on board, there must have been quite a heavy stench in the air. And surely all those animals weren’t silent, not to mention the sounds that were likely made as huge drops of rain pelted against the wooden ship. The only thing that got Noah through it all was his strong walk with God—a walk that ironically enough meant a whole lot of sitting around and waiting.

Yep, I’ll bet you have even more in common with Noah than you thought!

You’re likely inundated with similarly strong distractions, too. Maybe you juggle a job and taking care of your family. Maybe you struggle with worry. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with trying to make ends meet. Maybe it’s all of the above. No matter what the noise is, we can choose to give it our attention or develop ways to tune it out.

Here are a few ideas for just how to do that:

Squash molehills before they become mountains.
Worry is adept at snowballing. So, as soon as you feel it creeping in, stop it.
Jesus told us not worry. And while this may be easier said than done—like anything else—we can get better with practice.
So, intentionally choose to accept His gracious gift of peace (John 14:27). And make room for His peace by giving Him your worries (Psalm 55:22).

Don’t ignore the noise.
Keep it contained—with the right perspective.
Sure, stress may be screaming for your attention. In fact, it may be absolutely demanding it. But keep it in its place by framing it in the proper perspective. God created us as human beings, not human doings. Our first and foremost job is to focus on, worship and bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7, 43:21, Ecclesiastes 12:13, 1 Samuel 12:24). Everything else is secondary. Can’t seem to catch your breath? Close your eyes. Then, don’t just count to 10. Count on Him.

Get it out by writing it down.
Sometimes we truly can’t let things go or quiet our inner rumblings until we get it out somehow. This can meaning sharing with a trusted friend or spouse. But sometimes, things may be so private, fear-filled or shame-inducing, that even the idea of sharing with another person creates even more stress. So, write it down. Share it only with God. No shame or fear need be felt because He already knows (1 John 3:20) and still loves and wants to hear from us (Psalm 50:15). The act of putting our troubles (or anything, for that matter) down on paper actually helps us better process them, too. Instead of just noise, suddenly problems—and possible insights and solutions—can become much more clear. Worried about someone finding your private confessions and thoughts? Make a commitment to yourself to shred it afterward. It’s the process that’s important to quieting the noise, not necessarily the notes that remain afterward.

Holding On Can Harm

I was the stay-at-home parent. So, I was the one who knew the most about Mark’s medical, developmental and dietary special needs. I spoke his language fluently, a unique combination of what can only be described as sounds and verbal approximations at best. So, when my husband wanted to start helping out more—well—I had a hard time letting him.

I shrouded my excuses in simple truth-based statements. He couldn’t take that much time off from work. We couldn’t risk losing his employment. It’s was easier for me to manage Mark’s doctors’ appointments. Mark and I already have a system, and it works. And perhaps the absolute worst excuse of all: Everything’s fine. I’ve got this, that and everything in between. Yeah, I was stubborn.

Honestly, I thought accepting help would equate to admitting I couldn’t do it, that I was a failure. And no matter how Jason framed his offer of help, I simply wouldn’t accept it. I wasn’t willing to let him help shoulder the responsibilities of managing Mark’s care. But soon, what I was willing to do and what I had to do became two very different things.

To put it bluntly, my refusal to accept my own limitations—and Jason’s gracious offers of help—began to take a physical toll. My need to hold on to control was causing me physical harm. I was physically exhausted and emotionally an absolute wreck. Suddenly, caring for Mark was no longer my greatest challenge. it was me.

Pride was causing me to cling to control. I wanted to manage it all. I wanted to do it all. And handing Mark’s care over was a scary thing to do. Frankly, it was a scary process for me and for Mark. Prior to the adoption, Mark had been severely abused and neglected. So, trust was not something he placed in people easily. But it was equally important to everyone that he learn to do so.

Sometimes holding on does more damage than letting go. Sometimes we create our own stress by refusing to accept help. Going it alone was never God’s plan for us (Genesis 2:18). And remembering this and choosing to practice humility, instead, can help us manage stress, too.

Dear Father God,
You alone are my strength.
In trusting You, I will find help.
My help comes from You.
Help me to graciously and gratefully accept it.
Amen.

(Psalm 28:7 & 121:2)