Quiet Victories

This month we’ve talked about the importance of making time to be quiet and the value in doing so. As we finish out this month I wanted to share one last thought on being quiet. 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says:

“Make it your goal to live a quiet life, minding your own business and working with your hands…”

The Bible makes lots of recommendations in it on how to live a life that is reflective of being a Christian. While it may be hard to understand and apply everything in the Bible to today’s life and our culture which seems very different from that of Bible times, this verse is one that has stood the test of time. It encourages us to do 3 important things: 1-live a quiet life, 2-mind our own business, and 3-work. So what do these 3 things teach us?

First, while Jesus did many showy things during His time on earth, and there is a place and time for making a (grand) stand, the majority of our lives should be lived simply and quietly, and in a way that doesn’t negatively impact those around us. Second, gossip has no place in our lives. Yes, we can learn from each other and the lessons others have experienced to avoid making the same mistakes and failures, but there’s no reason to talk about why other people are divorcing, what’s ‘wrong’ with them or their kids, or pass judgment on things that you have no knowledge of. Third, hard work is good for you! Maybe you don’t work a physical labor job but the point is that you should be doing work to improve yourself, your life and the world you live in.

If you look at the lives of Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela their goal was not to be on the main stage in front of the world. They were interested in doing what they could do to help the world even if it didn’t seem like they were doing much. If that meant quiet sacrifice so be it. If that meant hard work so be it. If that meant a national stage with world-press of the atrocities they’re fighting, so be it.

So this week I encourage you to what God has called you to do, even if it’s just to make a difference in small, quiet ways.

Seeking this Holiday Season

This month we’ve been talking about taking time to be quiet.  It’s not easy, especially on a day like today, known as “Black Friday” with the hundreds of emails and ads you’ve seen promoting great deals from just about every company vying for your attention and money.  It’s also the beginning of the holiday season, a time of parties, celebrations, opening of gifts, laughter and some tears too.  It’s not really a time of the year that we intentionally set aside for quiet reflection.  But, the holiday season is about the search that closely relates to the search we do during our quiet times: it’s a season of seeking.

Throughout the season we’re looking for the best gifts, for brightly colored lights and decorations, for the best outfit to impress someone, for the mistletoe, for the snow, for Santa and for that feeling of peace and joy we’re told is part of the season.  Part of the reason we are looking is because we’re not sure what exactly we want (or not willing to admit what we do want). Part of the reason is because we’re unable or unwilling to accept how things are or what could be in our lives.  Part of the reason is we’re trying too hard to make things happen.  Part of the reason is we’re not willing to do what it takes to find what we’re seeking.  And there are dozens of other reasons that explain why you might feel unfulfilled or as thought you have to keep looking because you’re not finding what you’re looking for.

Part of the answer is in one of the reasons I listed: we’re not willing to do what it takes to find what we’re seeking.  If you really want peace, maybe the answer is as simple as stopping the seeking long enough to sit down and meditate or not think at all.  Maybe the answer is to ask for help and talk with a professional who can answer the questions you have and have been too afraid to ask.  But what I’ve learned over the years is that there are many things that can’t be helped by external things.  We may think what we really want is more money, when what we really want is more freedom for example.  But freedom isn’t something money buys necessarily, it’s more of a state of mind/life you have to create.  So this holiday season I encourage you to stop and slow down a little and see if what you’ve been looking for all along isn’t already inside you or part of your life.

“There is no need to go to India or anywhere else to find peace.  You will find that deep place of silence right in your room, your garden or even your bathtub.”  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Small and Simple Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving started with something very important but really small: two small groups of people being thankful for being alive and for the support they gained from each other.  It has built from that into a big thing with parades of all kinds, competitions and races, sporting events and more food than some people have in a month.  The transition is a good reminder for us that not everything has to start out big; we can start with doing simple things each day to improve our lives and in no time we’ll be amazed by all that has resulted from our seemingly simple efforts.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be this big event.  It can be really small.  The goal though is to take time to be thankful.  Why? Because when you’re thankful you’ll find there are more good things in your life than you ever knew, and more good things will be added all the time.  No, you’ll never be completely free of the bad stuff, it will still happen, but when you focus on having an attitude of gratitude and make it a point to look for things you can be grateful for and appreciate rather than pick apart and judge you’ll find your life is fuller, happier and more satisfying than it used to be.

So start small.  Look for one thing each day to be thankful for and maybe write that one thing down in a journal.  Soon one thing will seem like nothing and you’ll start noticing other things in your life you can be thankful for too!

“Begin by thanking Him for some little thing, and then go on, day by day, adding to your subjects of praise…until you see in everything some cause for thanksgiving.”  Priscilla Maurice

Thankful for Mercy

Thanksgiving is coming closer and closer! It’s one of my favorite days to celebrate because you’ve got family, friends, food and football plus the chance to talk about all the awesome ways you’ve been blessed over the past year.  As I was thinking about it this weekend it got me thinking about what we’re usually thankful for.  When we give thanks we’re not usually expressing gratitude over things that didn’t happen, at least not for very long.  You may think a little ‘thank you’ when you pass a cop and he doesn’t pull you over for speeding but that’s the extent of it, you don’t remember it after that.  We’re grateful for the misses in our lives but what we’re really grateful for are the good things that happen like raises at work, babies being born and being healthy.

But let’s face it, we’re not perfect and every moment is not a good one.  We’ve make plenty of failures and mistakes each day, things that sometimes we get caught doing and other times we are able to fix before they become big issues.  And while we may forget the not-so-great things we’ve done and near misses we’ve had, God doesn’t.  He sees and remembers each and every thing that we do both good and bad.  So in reality, the biggest thing we have to be thankful for this year and every year on Thanksgiving is for God’s forgiveness in our lives for all the ways we’ve screwed up or let Him down.

This Thanksgiving I encourage you to take time, whether together with friends and family or alone, and really take stock of your life this past year.  Remember the not so good things as well as the blessings, think about how you can improve to finish 2015 strong and how you can conquer the new year like never before, and thank God for remembering you, forgiving you, and loving you even through the not-so-perfect moments.

“How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful, this God of ours!” Psalm 116:5

Hope for the Holidays

The past week has been a challenging one. We’re still here a week later and for that very life I’m thankful. I know there are many people around the world not as blessed as I am, and probably not as blessed as you are, even with whatever challenges we’re facing, which is a great reason to be thankful. Whenever tragedies happen I’m amazed at how people around the world stand up to support those in suffering. The advances in technology have made it possible for us to help and support people in any part of the world without ever going to them. Even the simple things like changing your Facebook photo or using a hashtag can mean the world to someone suffering. Last year with the viral Ice Bucket Challenge for ALS it was so encouraging to hear people standing up for what is largely considered a silent killer; it kills both those it physically inhabits as well as the families they are connected to. But to know that even people who weren’t personally touched by ALS were willing to do the challenge and/or donate made me thankful and gave me a bit of hope that maybe someday there would be answers to the disease.

The closer we get to the holidays the harder it is to face these violent events that speak of hatred and evil and are attempts to destroy the good and potential in the world. It’s more important than ever to make sure that we tell people we love that we love them and how thankful we are for their place in our lives. It makes me want to tell my loved ones how much they mean to me and do what I can to make the world a better place. It’s almost ironic that terrible events meant to hurt and divide us spur us to be better and do more for each other.

So as we head into another weekend I encourage you to keep your hope alive. Don’t give up on the world becoming a better place, on people working together and on solutions finally presenting themselves and being put into action. There is yet the possibility of victory, a possibility that grows closer to being a reality with each decision to stand with brothers and sisters who are suffering, to share your thanks and love with those in your life and to do what will make the world a better place.

“This celebration here tells me that this work is not hopeless. I thank you for this teaching with all my heart and lift my glass to human solidarity, to the ultimate victory of knowledge, peace, good-will and understanding.” Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

The Practice of Quiet

Have you ever taken a quiet walk in the woods either alone or with your partner? Maybe after or during a quiet snow fall or while the autumn leaves are quietly falling around you? There’s something almost unsettling about the quiet that surrounds you, with only the forest noises able to be heard besides your breaths and footsteps. Because it’s so very different from the noises we live with normally, the quiet noise of the woods sounds so foreign and unsettling. But when you get back to civilization do you notice how you miss that quiet, or how annoying the noise that used to be almost invisible is? That’s because despite the world we live in during most of our lives, we still need those quiet moments that get us back in touch with our dreams, desires, true selves, and inner peace.

The practice of traditional meditation is very popular for this reason. We’ve discovered that on a regular basis we need to stop so that we can refocus and let go of the distractions that have taken us in directions that won’t lead us to our goals or will only ultimately hurt us. We’re not meant to be on the go 24/7, our bodies can’t handle it. We need to make time each day to re-center, refocus and relax. The question is do we?

Most of us may try for a few minutes, but like our exercise “practices” and our relationship-building activities, our intentions are usually much better than the reality. But just like exercise, strong and stable relationships, and good eating habits all require work, part of the success with activity is that we can only go so long before we have to stop and take a break. The moments of peace and quiet can be just as valuable and important as those of connection and action, maybe more important if you’re stuck and frustrated with the actions you’re taking.

This week I encourage you to get out there and experience some of the stillness of nature. Remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of this world and reconnect with nature, even if only for a hour, and then make plans for quiet time on a regular basis each day, whether it’s in the bath or shower each day or a few minutes before bed or in the morning before everyone else gets up.

“True silence is the rest of the mind; it is to the spirit what sleep is to the body, nourishment and refreshment.” William Penn

Do You Matter?

Thanksgiving is less than 2 weeks away and (in case you can’t tell) I’m excited!! In past years (pre-diet changes) the next month and a half were always my favorites with all the cookies, pies and stuffing! While my excitement over food has changed a lot over the past few years it hasn’t dimmed my overall excitement for this time of year. With all the unpleasant things going on around the world it’s such a blessing to be able to celebrate despite or in-spite of those things and take time to remember all the good and blessings in our lives and in just being alive.

Today though we’re not going to talk about all the awesome things I love about this time of year but rather take a step back and be honest about the self-doubt that we experience during this time. There are tons of reasons for you to keep that checklist of ‘things people hate about me’ or ‘ways I don’t stack up’ or ‘ways I’ve let people down’ handy, family gatherings are known to bring out the worst in many of us, not to mention the embarrassing stories that always seem to get told every year. To be completely honest we don’t totally stack up against the standards or expectations that some people set for us partly because we’re not perfect and partly because we don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations except our own (even though we often do try to). It can be scary to choose not live up to their expectations for us, especially if they don’t seem to love us as much because of it, but it’s a big relief to be able to be ourselves and not whomever they think we should be.

Psalm 139:17-18 says “How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered! I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!” When we face doubts about who we are, why we were born, or how valuable we are the first place we should turn to is God. These verses remind us that we’re here because He created us with a purpose. God has plans for our lives, and if He has plans for us we’re not worthless no matter what anyone says. Not only that, but that God thinks about us for reasons other than selfish or judgmental ones, and often enough that we wouldn’t be able to count them if we tried.  That says to me that each of us is very special to God.  So when your family is coming down on you for not being who they wanted you to be or for some unrealistic expectation, know that you’re not alone and that God likes you just as He created you.