Archive for January, 2014

On Sherlock Obsessions and Quiet Time

As I admitted to my class on Wednesday, I have recently developed a consuming obsession with the BBC show, Sherlock.  A friend introduced my to it a little over a week ago, and since then, I have passionately ingested every show in the first two “series.”  Thankfully, there are only six of them.  However, they are also each ninety minutes long, so watching them all has certainly taken some commitment on my part.  My newfound love was well-timed, since the third series started this past Sunday, and as an added bonus, I got THIS in the mail on Saturday:

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people.  Feel free to judge...

I may or may not have screamed, immediately taken a picture, and then texted it to multiple people. Feel free to judge…

Now, I might be a little more embarrassed to admit this obsession to you, were it not for the fact that so many of my friends on Facebook have shared this meme, so I feel like they know what I’m talking about:

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Exactly!  So yeah…you get it.

Here’s the thing about my quirky Sherlock obsession, though.  You see, I have this other thing called My Real Life.  And shockingly, Sherlock has served to distract me from my real life.  When I’m taking care of the important business of getting all caught up on Sherlock, it seems somehow much less important to…oh, I don’t know…do the dishes, or plan for Wednesday night class, or educate my children.  You know, little things like that.  At times this past week, Sherlock has obscured those priorities.  I mean, it’s just so much more fun to solve thrilling mysteries like how Moriarty accessed the British crown jewels in the Tower of London than to solve the mystery of how my family can have thirteen unmatched white socks in the laundry (<—not making that up).  

Of course, it’s easy enough to come out of my Sherlock obsession because I simply have to remind myself of this one little detail:  the show is not real.  My life, on the other hand, is real.  And that makes it more important than Sherlock.

Along those same lines though, I often get “trapped” in my own mind, just like I get trapped in a Sherlock episode.  In this case, however, my view of reality is not obscured by intriguing mysteries, delightful British accents, and fast-paced humor; instead, my view of reality is obscured by my own feelings and perceptions.  Let me give you an example of a time I got trapped in my own mind last week.  Now, read carefully, because I’m going to ask you a question at the end:

On Wednesday afternoon, I felt like exploding because my house was messy, and I hate mess and clutter.  I need things to be straight for my sanity, and when things aren’t straight, it drives me crazy.  I hate it when my house is so cluttered!

Okay, here is your question:  what pronoun is most prominently featured in that little rant?

Yes, the first person singular:  I, me, my.  Never mind that one half of  the “mess” was caused by a wonderful art project in which my kids were trying to paint their own version of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, and the other half was caused by all the supplies and prep I needed to host a party for the little girls at church on Saturday–two worthy endeavors.  No, all that mattered in that moment was my own, personal dislike of clutter.  I was trapped in my own mind.  And when you get trapped in your own mind, your perceptions and feelings become very, very important.  When you’re trapped in your own mind, YOU are all that matters.  And therefore, if something bothers youthen of course you should react.  Of course it makes sense to explode over something like clutter.  Because clutter bothers YOU.

Or me.  Whatever.

This week in class, I shared my #1, best strategy for getting out of the trap of my own mind.  For me, the key to that prison has always been found in some form of quiet time with God.  It can take many different forms:  maybe it’s reading something from the Bible, maybe it’s a silent prayer, or writing a prayer down, or meditating on a verse, or even just sitting in silence for a few minutes and quieting my thoughts.  Regardless of the form, just taking that time to step out of my own concerns and focus on something so much bigger than my own little life circumstances really helps me to realign with reality.  It puts my life into perspective for me, much the same way as, say, going out and looking at all the stars at night reminds me of how small I am.  Taking a few minutes to ponder God and eternity makes me realize that my petty preferences, such as a dislike of clutter, are just that:  petty.  They are certainly not worth exploding over, and they’re certainly not an excuse to be unloving to other people.

resources-bookIt turns out that I am not alone in this.  In class, several other women shared how time with God helped them to focus on what mattered in their day and to keep proper priorities.  For those who did not spend daily time with God, we talked some about what that looked like.  It can truly be done any time and anywhere where you have a few moments of quiet.  And it can take many forms, such as the ones I’ve listed above.  But the bottom line is that taking that few minutes to spend with God can help remind you that your feelings, your concerns, and your preferences are not the most important things in life.

That may be an elementary concept (couldn’t resist; just call me Sherlock), but it’s one that can keep us from exploding throughout the day.

This Wednesday, we are going to continue on to “stuffing,” but before we move on, Do you have any other tricks to keep from exploding?  

Four Battle Strategies for Exploders

This is our fourth class recap for the Wednesday night lesson series I’m teaching on the book, Unglued, by Lysa Terkeurst.

Since we discovered that many people in our class were “exploders,” we spent last Wednesday discussing ways to fight our tendency to “blow up” on others–especially the people we love the most.

The first strategy was one that I mentioned in the last recap:  Remember your goals.  As Christians, our goals should not be to make ourselves feel better or to cause others hurt for the way they hurt us.  Rather, our goals should be to glorify God and to strengthen our relationships with others.  Thus, any interactions we have with others, whether we’re angry or not, should aim to meet those goals.

resources-bookSecondly, we talked about how we can plan our response ahead of time.  Terkeurst calls this, “crafting our response template.”  In her book, she talked about a template for written communication, like email or Facebook messages.  However, the ideas of her response template can work face-to-face, as well.  Her suggestions were to start off positively (“honor the other person”), keep your words “short and full of grace,” and to “end by extending compassion.”  One of our classmates suggested the technique of the “compliment sandwich,” which she uses at school to correct children.  She always starts with something positive (and relevant) about their behavior, adds in the instructive part, and then closes with something else that is affirming to the child.  I definitely think that technique is good for both adults and children.  When we focus on the positive, we not only soothe the other person’s feelings, but we remember why we love that person–and that helps us to remember our goals!

Another suggestion Terkeurst gives is to practice self-control.  That kind of seems easy to say and hard to do, but I love the reasoning that she gives for controlling ourselves in stressful situations:  “My choice is whether or not to give the other person the power to control my emotions.  The one who holds their tongue is the one who holds the power.  When I react by yelling, flying off the handle, or making a snappy comment, I basically transfer my power to the other person.  In the case of my children, that means I am giving my power to one of my five teenagers.  Yikes” (72).  These words remind me that to lose control is to give up power over my emotions to another person.  That surrender is never in anyone’s best interest, least of all mine!

Lastly, Terkeurst reminds us of the importance of remembering Scripture in stressful situations.  This technique has definitely helped me in life when I’m tempted to explode on someone.  I remember, for example, being on a youth trip and getting frustrated with Greg.  It was years ago, and I honestly can’t remember why I was frustrated, but I do remember what helped me.  I had recently memorized Colossians 3:12-17, and in my frustration, I paused and recited those verses to myself:  “Therefore, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace.  And be grateful…”

After saying those verses in my head, I simply couldn’t stay mad about something so small (whatever it was!).  My anger evaporated without me ever having to even talk to Greg!

Colossians 3 is a great place to start if you are looking for verses to think about when you are angry.  Here are some other good ones:

  • “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”  Proverbs. 15:4
  • “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” James 1:19-20
  • “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”  Romans 12:18
  • “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.”  Ephesians 4:2
  • “Be self-controlled and alert.  Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Resist him, standing firm in the faith…” 1 Peter 5:8-9
  • “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Against such things, there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22

One thing I did for class was to make us each a little visual reminder of these verses, in case we weren’t familiar with them.  To do so, I simply did a Google image search of each verse, then copied the images onto a blank page on Microsoft Publisher.  I put nine images on a page, and made sure they were all the same size.  Then, I printed copies of the page, laminated them, and cut the verses apart.  I poked a hole in one corner of each verse and put them on a key ring.  Ta-da!  A quick, easy way to keep verses with us at all times.

Those were our four battle strategies we discussed last Wednesday.  Tonight, we’re going to talk about what I call, Battle Strategy #5.  This strategy, perhaps more than any of the others, helps me the most when I’m tempted to explode…or for that matter, to “stuff” my emotions in unhealthy ways.  I can’t wait to share it with you, and I hope it helps you as much as it has helped me!

Are Your Feelings Worth Sharing?

resources-bookIn our last Wednesday night women’s class, we talked about how we each tended to handle strong emotions.  We are working our way through Lysa Terkeurst’s book, Unglued, and Terkeurst describes two unhealthy ways of dealing with emotions:  exploding and stuffing.  When we explode, we spew our emotions onto others.  The “explosion” doesn’t have to be loud or violent; it just has to get the emotion out.  In contrast, stuffers bottle their emotions in unhealthy ways.  They trap them inside where the emotions harden into either barriers or what Terkeurst calls “retaliation rocks.”  The author makes sure to point out that people tend to use different styles in different situations, but in our class, we found that most of us were exploders.  And unfortunately, we realized that the people we “explode on” the most are our own families.  The reasons for the explosions were numerous:  stress from work, a messy house, resentment toward having to do too much in a relationship…the list went on, but the outcome,  in each situation was the same.  When our emotions got to a certain point, we tended to verbally unload on the people we care the most about.

In class we all realized, of course, that this was wrong and generally unhelpful.  At the same time, some honest comments were shared and questions were raised:

But this is how I feel.

Shouldn’t we be honest about how we feel?

I’m not a fake person; when I feel something, I share it.

Several times, this idea came up that it is best to be honest and that bottling up our feelings would be bad.  And really, I’m not surprised that these concerns came up.  We live in a culture that values honesty and authenticity.  No one wants to be thought of as fake or hypocritical, and this seems to be just as true in “Christian circles” as in the larger society.  It makes sense to value honesty, but Terkeurst points out that sometimes our “honest feelings may not be truthful representations of the situation.  I can be honest with how I feel and still exaggerate or misinterpret what is factually true” (52).  She calls this, “emotional spewing,” and asserts that even “in the Christian world we often use this kind of unbalanced honesty with little justifications such as, ‘I’m just keeping it real,’ ‘I’m just being honest,’ ‘Sometimes the truth hurts.’ (53). Such “honesty” can be really ungodly and hurtful toward others.

Okay, but then what do we do with these negative feelings?  Especially when they stem from issues that sincerely need to be addressed?  We can’t just sweep them under the rug, and we aren’t good at hiding them.  So then what?

My suggestion is that when we approach another person, we should always keep our bigger goals in mind.  When we go off on another person, we usually have goals, but they are not what you would call “big picture” goals.  Instead our goals are usually:

1.  To make myself feel better.

2.  To make the other person feel the hurt/frustration that I feel.

“Venting” our unfiltered feelings does usually make us feel better…at first.  But as Terkeurst points out, there is often a deep shame that comes from venting our emotions on someone else.  And even if we don’t feel the shame, we usually rupture that relationship to the point where it becomes very unpleasant.  And it’s hard to feel good when your relationships are unpleasant or dramatic.

And it’s true that exploding on others does help to “even the score” in some ways.  Someone upsets you; you upset them right back.  It’s like instant karma.  Only…then they feel like they need to even the score back…and ’round and ’round it goes.  Also, when you really “put someone in their place,” do they ever truly come around and see things your way?  Do they ever say, “You know, you’re right–I see how you feel now?”  I know I don’t react that way when someone yells at me.  It certainly doesn’t make me see things from their perspective.  It just makes me angry at them.

So those two goals aren’t really that great of goals to start with, and we don’t actually meet those goals when we explode on someone.  So instead of those goals, we need to step back and look at some bigger goals whenever we feel like we are going to explode on someone who we feel deserves it:

1.  Bring glory to God.

If we are Christians, this should always be our number 1 goal.  It is never met by exploding on someone else.  God is a God of peace, and he tells us that as far as it depends on us, we are supposed to live at peace with others.  Peace is not accomplished by emotional spewing.

2.  Strengthen the relationship.

In class, we mostly addressed family drama and conflicts between friends.  In these cases, the goal of our words should always be to strengthen the relationship.  That means that we don’t just avoid talking about the things that bother us–avoiding the issue will not strengthen the relationship.  But we talk about it in such a way that it makes us closer, instead of driving a wedge between us.  A closer relationship makes everyone happier…and it brings glory to the God who created us.

This week in class, we are going to look more at how to handle our exploding tendencies.  We are going to discuss ways to be prepared for the times when we want to lose control and look at some practical ways to respond when someone pushes all our buttons at once.  I think Terkeurst gives us some really great ideas, and I can’t wait to share them with you!

The Lamest New Year

It’s no secret that I love the coming of the new year. A natural navel-gazer, I relish this time where the general population actually engages with me in self-reflection, evaluation, and the forming of resolutions. And even though January 1 is just one day like any other, I like the idea of starting the new year off right, by engaging in the practices and habits that I hope to continue throughout the year. For whatever reason, January 1 has become deeply symbolic to me.

That’s part of why I was so disappointed that my whole family was sick this year.

Our New Year’s Eve celebrations are usually fairly lame, but this year was especially so. Greg, though ailing, was at a party for the teens at church while the rest of us sickies ordered pizza, watched Netflix, and went to bed at 8:00. We were all snoring by 9:00. A few hours later I woke up with a fever and chills. It was 12:35.

Happy New Year.

This morning saw a continuation of the “yuck.” Anna seems relatively unscathed, but the rest of us are battling this viral ickiness. After breakfast (take-out from McDonald’s because that’s the precedent I want to set for this year…), I crawled back in bed and stared at the new prayer journal Greg had given me for Christmas. The one I had saved until January 1 to start using:

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Ugh. How do I “carpe” this day, I wondered. After all, Greg and I had already ruefully laughed at his comment that, “It looks like January 1 is going to be the first wasted day of 2014.” But I opened my prayer journal, thanked God for bringing us through to another year, and asked Him to show me what it meant to live fully even in the midst of sickness and less than ideal circumstances.

Throughout the rest of my day, I feel like I got my answer to that question. A few days ago, my mom and I were talking about how to figure out what God wants from us in this life. For me, I feel like the answer to that question comes from looking at the resources He’s given you. And today, my resources were different than normal. I didn’t have a healthy body to serve Him with–none of us did. And our bodies all needed rest. So rather than feel frustrated by this lamest of New Year’s Days, I decided to embrace reality. We all rested, and I did so not resentfully, but gratefully. I was grateful for the chance to rest, to nap, to have ample time to read the new history book Greg got me for Christmas. I was grateful for a husband, who, though sick himself, made heroic forays to the outside world to bring us sustenance and medicine. I was grateful for Netflix and Chromecast, for one child who is a great “sick kid,” and another who is excellent at entertaining herself while the rest of us are down for the count. Sickness aside, there was really so much for which to be grateful.

So really, it wasn’t that bad of a January 1, all things considered. After all, I want the first day to set the tone for the whole year, and today, I was reminded of the importance of rolling with the punches. I don’t want to spend 2014 fighting reality or getting upset when my plans don’t work out the way I want them to. I want to accept the life that God gives me, and to use all my available resources to live a life worthy of Him. And sometimes I just have to understand that my resources will be less than normal.

Hopefully, we will all feel better tomorrow. But even if we don’t, I hope that I can react to whatever life throws at me with grace and pluck and not fall apart when my well-laid plans dissolve.

I hope that for you, too.

Happy New Year.

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