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.)

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.

When Worry Washes Over

I thought everything was okay. But one quick glance down at Mark immediately told me that it wasn’t. His fists were clenched tight. His jaw was sliding side to side as he ground his teeth. And his cheeks were slowly turning an odd shade of violet as he held his breath. I’d seen all these symptoms before. Sadly, Mark was falling apart.

Things were admittedly going downhill quickly, but there was still time to prevent a complete meltdown. So, I found a quiet corner and dragged Mark over.

It was the first day of school, so the cafeteria was a bustling and busy place. I couldn’t get Mark out of there. There just wasn’t time. But I could limit the chaos—at least a little. I could put myself between Mark and the overwhelming situation in front of him.

“Mark,” I said, holding his chin up firmly so his eyes would meet mine. “Give me your hands…”

He responded, quickly handing me his clenched fists. It was just as I feared. He’d already dug his fingernails in deep enough to draw blood.

I fished through my pocket for a piece of tissue to wipe off his hands as I continued calmly but with a strong voice, “Now, look at me. Relax your jaw and take a deep breath.”

It was a struggle, but he tried. And it worked. Thankfully, together we had averted what could have been much worse.

There was likely close to 400 kids in that one room. To say it was loud and overwhelming would be a vast understatement. So, Mark’s reaction was completely justified. In fact, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I was expecting it.

What I wasn’t expecting was his ability to follow my instructions. There were so many distractions, I worried that they would drowned out my directions. But much to my—and Mark’s—tremendous relief, he didn’t let them.

We can work to do the same for ourselves. Experiencing worry isn’t the problem. That’s human. It’s how we work through it and past it that matters.

Dear Father God,
You are my shield. Thank You for being my hiding place when I worry.
Help me to be still before You.
In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.

(Psalm 59:11, 32:7 & 37:7)

A Powerful Presence

The other day, I glanced down at Mark at just the right time. As he revealed a big ol’ toothy grin, I noticed a small growth peeking out from the top of his jaw.

Fast forward 2 weeks, and that once tiny bump had doubled in size and Mark and I found ourselves waiting in an exam room for an ENT specialist to take a look. I assumed that he’d push and prod and maybe even take a needle biopsy. That’s honestly all I expected. But that’s not what happened.

“I strongly suggest that it come out today,” he said. “How do you think he’d handle it?”

“What would be involved?” I asked. “Mark’s had Novocaine before and a few dental procedures. He did just fine with those…”

“Any laughing gas?” the doctor countered.

I correctly assumed that that question implied a bit more would be involved.

“No, Mark doesn’t do very well with that. Leaves him feeling sick,” I said. “Would you mind if I talk through the entire procedure?”

“Sure,” the doctor responded. “I don’t mind.”

“Then,” I said with a smile as I glanced over at Mark, “I think we can do it.”

The room quickly became a flurry of activity. The nurse came in with forms for me to sign. The doctor left to prepare for the procedure. What looked like a large flood light was wheeled in along with a tray of mysterious looking tools and equipment.

“Mark,” I said as I rested my hand on his knee. “Do you know that bump in your mouth? The doctor wants to take it out now…”

“Will it hurt?”

“Do I ever lie?”

Whenever I have to walk Mark through a painful or upsetting situation, I always remind him that he can trust me unequivocally. Without trust to hold on to, there’s no anchor, no stability for him to cling to during the scary uncertainty.

“No,” he replied as he looked down at his lap. I could see his jaw clenching up in recognition of what was to come. Unfortunately, we’d both been here before.

“Look at me. I want I eyes,” I began, allowing my voice to become louder in order to rise above the cling and clatter of metal instruments all around us. “You know I never lie. It will hurt for a few seconds, but then it will be over. All you have to do is listen to my words and obey them. Just listen. Do you want to squeeze my hand?”

“No,” he said, clearly attempting to be brave. But his emotions and worry were clearly—and understandably—overwhelming him. A glance downward revealed that his fingernails had already dug deep grooves into his knees.

“Remember, do exactly as I say and listen to me,” I said. “Sit on your hands…”

As I saw the doctor preparing the needle, I continued.

“Now, close your eyes. We don’t want this bright light to hurt your eyes! It’s like the sun. You don’t want to stare right at it…”

The entire procedure only took about 10 minutes. But it was long enough for all the color to drain out of Mark’s face. I wasn’t used to seeing his warm, gingerbread-colored skin so cold and pale.

“You did great,” the doctor said glancing at me with a smile. But the truth was, Mark did great. And I couldn’t help but reflect on my own weakness, my own inability to maintain focus and simply obey.

God can and wants to be for us the same kind of powerful presence that I am often for Mark. We all wade our way through hardships and struggles, but we don’t have to wonder and worry because we’re not alone. All we need to do is listen to His words and obey.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
Psalm 56:3 (ESV)