Choosing Simplicity

The counter is clear now after being cluttered with dishes and food from yesterday’s company. Looking at it washed clean and free of a mess helps me to take a breath and smile. Somehow simplicity helps us to breathe deeply and feel rest within.
The same is true when I look at a week-at-a-glance and see chunks of whitespace on my calendar. It is almost as if those empty spaces give me permission to find pockets of peace. When the days are filled with lots of appointments and an overwhelming to-do list, I immediately feel the stress building inside.
The problem here is that we do not find those pockets of peace unless we are intentional about our choices. We must choose simplicity in this life, because it most certainly does not just happen on it’s own.
Jesus had a beautiful rhythm to His life. It was a rhythm of times alone with the Father and time with others, times of teaching the disciples and times of just being together, times of eating with friends, and times of healing the sick. It was a rhythm of work and rest. It wasn’t about rushing here and there to meet every need. There wasn’t any “tyranny of the urgent” in Jesus’ life. He chose simplicity. He chose a plan that coincided with His purpose.
Shauna Niequist in her book Present Over Perfect ran herself ragged for years until she realized what was important to her and simplified her life. Simplifying her life meant for some hard decisions of choosing less. Less clothes in the closet, less dishes in the cupboards, fewer speaking engagements, fewer trips, less people-pleasing, less doing and doing and doing more. It meant deciding what she needed to say “no” to.
I am realizing that, through the years, I have started many books and many projects. I find notebooks where I started a study, or taking notes on a book I was reading, but never finished. I also am finding bags with craft projects left incomplete. I hadn’t realized how scattered my busyness kept me, starting one thing only to get interrupted, forget it, and start something else. Now I am going back and trying to complete some of what I started. And, getting rid of what I no longer have interest in finishing because it is a different time in my life. I am seeing how I get too overwhelmed with too many balls in the air. It gives rest to my soul when I see myself heading in the direction of completing something I started. It is a path to simplicity.
It seems like busyness feeds on itself. You keep trying to find satisfaction in something else only making yourself busier and busier. Little by little, I am getting through what I haven’t finished, and it feels satisfying. I am choosing the simplicity of doing it at my pace, not pressuring myself to complete it with a deadline hanging over my head. I think we need to give ourselves the freedom to work at things at a comfortable rhythm minus the pressure.
We need to look at each step as progress rather than looking at the endpoint and seeing how close we are to it. We can choose to find enjoyment in each step, choosing to be firmly in the moment and living each moment with joy in our hearts. Joy because we have the opportunity to be who the Lord made us to be, in the place He put us, for His specific purpose.
It is too easy to go through life fighting Him all the way. He calls us to rest, and we say without any words,” later” and run on to the next thing on our list. Choosing simplicity means stopping to hear His call and meeting Him there. Yes, right in the middle of doing a sink full of dirty dishes, or getting the groceries. You may hear Him in that robin who is splashing and playing the bird bath in the backyard. You may hear Him as you see the trees sprout new leaves on their branches. You may hear Him speak into your heart the words you read this morning in your Bible reading. He shows us the reality of simplicity.
He reaches to us to take in this moment of life right now and rest in the love He is touching us with. Notice His presence. Take to heart the lessons He is trying to teach you. Don’t miss a moment of what He has for you. He has beauty, warmth, color, hope, peace, and so much more. See the beauty of the flower budding, feel the warmth of the sun, notice the color of the sunset, take in the hope in His word, and feel the peace that fills your heart as you breathe deeply.
We can get rid of the unnecessary clutter, and try to make time for what is really important, such as opening our hearts to those we love in our lives. We can say “no” to busyness, and find out what it is we are running from that keeps us on the hamster wheel. And all of that is moving in the right direction, but what really quiets the restlessness in our hearts is knowing His loving presence and growing in intimacy with Him moment-by-moment through our days.
The question I had to ask myself is, do I even know He is with me? Do I even take time to recognize and acknowledge this through the hours in my days? Do I see His hands at work in nature? Do I hear His whispers to me? Do I “taste and see that the Lord is good” in my days? The knowledge of His presence becoming a priority in my life brings simplicity of focus to it, He leads me to the green pastures for rest, and gives me refreshment by the still waters. When I choose Him, I have everything I need. I can stop striving to make everything seem perfect, I can let go of the shouts of “should”, and I can know simplicity in growing in the knowledge of His loving presence.
Choosing simplicity is intentionally finding Him to help me focus on what really matters, to help me learn what His purpose is for me in that moment, to see what He wants me to see, and mostly, to feel held in His love.
How will you choose simplicity today?

Advertisements

Finding Quiet and Learning to Play

Quiet…

Stillness…

Peace…

Rest…

Breathe.

Such beautiful words to our busy striving hearts. We can read through this list, but when do you experience these in your life? We often are not able to find time to rest until we finally flop into bed exhausted at the end of the day.

I’m a type A personality and I like to keep busy. I have a never-ending list of things I feel I should do and an even longer list of things I want to do. I have stressed myself out with my lists of what I want to accomplish to the point of raising my blood pressure and getting hives. The ridiculous thing about this is that none of the things on my lists of to-dos are of earth-shattering in importance. The world will not come to an end if I do not get them completed. When you’re constant striving begins to affect your health, you start to take it a little more seriously. You begin to make some changes. That is what it took for Shauna Niequist also. She describes in her book, Present over Perfect, how the pressure she was under affected her physically and how she kept going for quite a while at the same pace ignoring the symptoms in her body. She kept going until she couldn’t anymore.

Her realization that something needed to change led her to find out what was pushing her to keep going. She found her deeper need to know God’s love for her as she searched her heart. She began to learn about God’s love in ways she previously had not understood bringing her to realize she could stop striving. 

When we take to heart the reality of God’s love for us and His presence with us:

  • We realize that in Him we have what we need and then we really can slow down.
  • We learn to take time to talk with Him and learn more about what really matters to Him.
  • We begin to choose to do what matters to Him.
  • He gives us the soul-satisfaction that we search for.

I’ll be honest, I struggle with feeling the need to strive, I wrestle with seeking approval. And I search for ways to get love by doing. But I am improving. I am learning to choose moment’s of rest, explore ways to enjoy quiet, and find places in my days to breathe deeply. I am learning more and more about God’s love for me. It is something that we as believers should never stop learning about.

What about you? How do you find quiet?

Some of my favorite ways are

  • going for a walk
  • sitting on a beach early in the morning
  • whispering a prayer to the Lord
  • cutting vegetables for homemade soup
  • listening to baroque music
  • writing in my journal
  • watching creatures play in nature

None of these take a lot of time, yet each one quiets my heart and nurtures my soul.

Beyond finding quiet, Shauna Niequist also talks about learning to play. Some may think it sounds silly. And when we weigh the possibility against all we have to do it may seem impossible. But it is so important to our health and happiness. The Lord gave us so much on the beautiful earth to enjoy.

Growing into adulthood often squelches out the playfulness of our hearts. We take on responsibilities, jobs, family, expenses, and we can lose our whimsical spirits. When you take time to watch young children enjoy a game, giggle while splashing in a pool, or jumping up and down on a trampoline, you see the positive effect of play. Play can bring delight to our hearts and as we play together we show love and attention in ways we miss in our busyness.

We can say we are too tired or that we don’t have time for quiet and play, but I think that when we take time to do something relaxing and fun it nourishes us in unexplainable ways, We may be energized by taking time for either one of these. I believe that we may even find ourselves able to do a better job at the tasks that fill our to-do lists. Also, we may find that our spirits are lifted in gifting ourselves with a little stillness or a few moments of time to play.

It seems to me that if Jesus were walking the earth today, we may find Him playing with a group of children in a neighborhood backyard or going fishing and catching a nap under the shade of a tree. It could be that we would see Him sitting on a beach sipping lemonade or possibly enjoying a picnic at a park. Jesus took the time to enjoy people around Him and He took time to get away alone, especially to refresh His soul with His Father.

So, how will you find quiet today? How will you engage in play? Will you honor the Giver-of-Life by choosing something life-giving? If this seems too hard because of the structure of your life right now, talk to the Lord and ask Him to show you where you can have a space for quiet and play. He cares about you as His created child and He will show you out of His love for you. 

What’s in Your Treasure Chest?

What are you filling your treasure chest with for assurance and hope?

When we feel empty within, we search for things outside of ourselves to fill us. Shauna Niequist, in Present over Perfect, tells how she filled up on busyness, performance, recognition, and accomplishments, but ended up empty. Trying to find what will fill the emptiness, people reach for so many different things. It may be sex outside of marriage, alcohol, shopping, chocolate, drugs, or more and more work. What fills your emptiness within?

I have come to describe my heart to be like a sieve because the need for love within feels so great at times. It seems to get filled and then empty out, a constant cycle. Only God’s love, only God’s presence, only relationship with the Lord can fill or refill the holes.

Shauna says that when we carry God’s love and true peace in our souls as if our souls were a treasure chest, it is then we recognize that we don’t need to keep reaching and striving for more. The need inside feels so great but the Lord’s love is greater.

We need to consider what we are filling our lives, our hearts and souls with? What are you treasuring, running after, striving for? The Lord sees it as idolatry or adultery when we cherish anything more than HIm. He is the Treasure, His love is the gold that should fill our treasure chests. We should delight in Him above all.

Yet, we so easily get caught up in reaching for something here in this world when He holds out His arms and calls to us. He pursues us. Psalm 23:6 says, “Surely, your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Literally, that means He chases after us with His loving-kindness.

Take a moment to create a picture in your mind. First of all, picture yourself striving for, running after whatever it is you think will fill you. Now, look behind you, look again, do you see the Lord following after you yelling your name? He is chasing you, He has so much to give you, so much loving-kindness to bring to your heart, soul, and life. Did you get a clear picture of that in your mind?

How silly we look. Think of it this way, it is like you are running away from someone with a ton of gold, calling to you, saying “this is for you.” But yet, you continue running towards whatever you think will fill the emptiness. The Lord chases after you with His love and mercy.

Over and over again in the Bible the Lord displays His love to men and women who do not respond. The Israelites repeatedly turn their backs on Yahweh and sin. We do the same thing, sometimes not even realizing how we have been overcome with desire for some thing or some one more than what our desire for the Lord is.

What are you delighting in, putting your hope in, banking your assurance on? It if isn’t the Lord, then turn to Him and talk with Him about it. Why are you running from Him? I don’t think we even consider that we are actually running from Him, yet we do “run” after other things.

We don’t need to continue striving to fill that emptiness. It is in relationship with Him that we can find the love and peace to fill the treasure chest within. It is an ongoing choice throughout life. We have to choose to reach for the Lord daily, and especially in our desperation and emptiness rather than for some quick fix.

Proverbs 4:23 tells us that we need to guard our hearts. We can get influenced by so much in this world. So, as you go through your day, guard your treasure chest. Keep finding God’s love to fill it. He wants to fill your treasure chest with His love. He wants to give you abundant life as only He can.

Sharing Your Fragility

How do you think of yourself? Strong? Responsible? On top of things? The one who can and does take care of things? The one others come to when they need the job done?

Shauna Niequist, in her book Present Over Perfect, describes herself as having been all of the above. She got things done and more and more people recognized this fact. They expected it of her and went to her. And she said yes, time and time again, until she couldn’t anymore.

Shauna didn’t want to have to admit to being weak or unable to do something. She didn’t want to think of herself as someone who needed self-care. But she suddenly was faced with the fact that she wasn’t Wonder Woman. Shauna didn’t want to admit to being fragile, she was afraid people would think less of her. 

It was that word fragile that caught me off guard as I listened to the book on Audible in my car. Something about the word triggered tears immediately. I can relate to Shauna in being “the responsible one.” I always want to be the one who will come to the rescue and take care of things. I relate to her also in the exhaustion she felt and her feelings of being above self-care.

You see, I have to admit it is hard for me to say I am fragile. It’s difficult to say it to those around me and it has been difficult to talk with the Lord about it. It wasn’t ok to be needy, somehow that is what I learned in life.

It takes coming to a place where you have no choice, where you really can’t do it anymore, whether it’s for physical, mental, or emotional reasons or maybe for all three. And at that point you just have to stop.

This is when you begin to wrestle with the reality of not being super-human. This is when you begin to try to figure out how you really need to take care of yourself with intentionality. You admit you are fragile and needy.

The word self-care begins to be a reality of day-to-day living. I began by making a list of what kind of self-care I thought would be beneficial. The list went something like this: sitting quiet on the patio. spending time petting my bunnies, taking time to journal to work through issues or to just ramble about what I am thinking about, reading a chapter, actually giving myself permission to do it when my to-do list is not completed. Watercoloring and creative journaling also made the list. There were many things on my list. The issue was learning to relax.

The way I went about it is I decided to add a few of these ideas to each day’s to-do list. But that really wasn’t a good idea because it added pressure for me to, seemingly, have even more to do. This made me more anxious and frustrated. I seemed to be accomplishing less and continually feeling more stressed out.

It was only recently that I came to a very important realization. Self-care is not something you add to your list, it is a way of life. It is similar with going on a diet. Going on a diet is futile because it means at some point you will go off of the diet and end up at the same point you were before or maybe worse. So it is with self-care, it needs to be a mindset for life.

  • Self-care is giving yourself ample time to accomplish the tasks you need to do.
  • Self-care is limiting what could be an endless of to-do’s to what is realistic for the number of hours you have.
  • Self-care is asking for help.
  • Self-care is choosing to stop when you need a break, not because it’s on your to-do list but because you recognize you need it.
  • Self-care is about being real, being transparent with others about what you can and can’t do.
  • Self-care is sharing your fragility with the Lord. Telling Him the truth about how broken, needy, and overwhelmed you feel.

This last one is the most important. We need to seek the balm of the Lord’s love and the words of His wisdom in order to go on. He already knows we come from dust. He already knows our weaknesses. It is nothing new to Him. And I am sure that it must make Him sad to see us in our personal pressure cooker’s struggling through life. You know how you feel when you recognize someone you love is in need but they haven’t come to you for help. You just want to show them love by being there for them. God’s love for us is so much greater than that, He wants to be our all-in-all. So, we need to remember to take our fragile selves to Him in prayer.

If you look in my prayer journal you will frequently find prayers of desperation like the one that follows. I pour it all out to Him.

Lord, I am fragile. I can’t do it all. I get frustrated and overwhelmed. Sometimes I don’t know when to stop or how to take care of myself. You see me. You know my struggles. Lord, help me to let go of the need to prove myself, to myself or to anyone. Help me order my day in a way that I find balance and rest. Lord, help me to talk with others about how I feel fragile. I need to ask for help. I need to set some to-do’s aside for a season. Lead me in wisdom in choosing who I share with and what I set aside. I ask this of the One who knows the depth of my neediness and loves me more than anyone. In Jesus name. Amen. 

I am starting to tell people that I am fragile, maybe not using that word, but by saying “I can’t” or “I need.” I am telling the Lord. I need to take care of myself, it is a way to honor the Lord. He gave us our bodies and this life as a gift. Won’t you share your fragility? Be authentic. Be open about where you are at. Be Present over Perfect.

 

 

The Plan of Love

God, in His amazing omniscience knew, before the foundations of the earth were laid, that man would fall into sin. Therefore, He prepared in advance a plan for man to be reconciled.

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

1 Peter 1:19-21 “but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake, Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead, and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”

Jesus came to this earth for the purpose of fulfilling the plan of salvation. He knew the plight of man apart from receiving the hope that He brings through His death and resurrection. And He humbled Himself and died on the cross. He paid the price for our sin. God raised Jesus from the dead.

Jesus died so that our relationship with God, the Father, could be restored and so that we can receive the gift of eternal life which is given freely if we believe.

This plan of salvation is the reality of God’s will and it shows the fullness of His grace, mercy, and love for us, His created children.

We can find pleasure in the joys of springtime, in the beauty of the changing seasons, and in the new birth we see. We can savor the sweetness of chocolate bunnies and fruity jelly beans, but Easter is the time to celebrate the hope we have in Jesus. On Resurrection Sunday we acknowledge and remember what Jesus did for us. We glorify Him with praise and thanksgiving for being our Savior, for granting us forgiveness, for robing us in His righteousness, and for giving us eternal life.

Jesus

Tortured

Nailpierced

Sweating

Bloody

Broken.

He cried out,

“Forgive them.”

Still loving,

He died.

Buried in

A borrowed tomb,

Three days passed.

He rose

Giving new life

As promised.

If you believe

Then repent

And be forgiven.

Be assured

Of eternal salvation

With Christ Jesus

In heaven.

Alleluia! Amen.

We must only believe. Jesus paid the price. He did it all. All praise and glory to His holy name.

May your Easter be blessed as you share the hope with those you love.

The Importance of Connection

How are your relationships with those most important to you?

We can become so over-focused and busy that our deepest connections are set aside. We personally end up hidden in the charades of performance, in the busyness of accomplishing, and the real self is lost. We become people-pleasers. We work hard to get ahead, seeking to get the accolades. But this only leads to our being unavailable to give to those we desire intimacy with.

Shauna Niequist, in her book Present Over Perfect, says that when you begin to say yes to everyone indiscriminately, you actually end up saying no to some very important people and things. It usually means that you have less to give to those you are closest to you, like your immediate family and dearest friends.

I know, as a teacher for many years, I spent endless hours at home preparing things and doing work that I did not have time for during the school day. I realize how “over-focused” I was on getting the job done. This left very little time for relaxing with and really being with my husband. Back then, it seemed like a must, like it just had to be that way, but now as I am prompted to think about it again, I know I would want to do it differently.

What is swallowing up you and your life so much that you are missing out on the important relationships in your life?

Change begins by answering that question honestly, and from there you must decide if it is worth it to you to have your life consumed in that way.

Shauna starts out by simply drawing concentric circles with herself in the center and then putting people within the circles according to the depth of relationship. When you take time to do this and look carefully at what you see on your paper, you can evaluate where your focus is and decide where it should be.

We all need connection in our lives but we personally decide who gets more of us. Intimacy doesn’t grow without making your heart and true self available. It takes time and effort. When we are physically and emotionally depleted by what we have given away, we become unavailable to those closest. Unavailable because of being too tired or too busy.

I recognized this when I was working a lot, but didn’t see anything that I could do different, and truthfully didn’t have the energy to change it. Now, looking back and seeing how my relationship with my husband has grown since I do have time to give to the relationship, I regret not having done it sooner. I always would want to do my best job, but when it is at the expense of those I love it becomes of question of choices.

When we look at Jesus we see that we could make concentric circles to show His relationships. He was, of course, closest to His Heavenly Father. But, here on earth, we see that He had an inner circle of three, those being Peter, James, and John. Those three were the men He had deeper relationships with and spent a lot of time with. He was in their lives. From there we see that He gave of Himself to the 12 disciples; teaching, leading, and befriending them. And then we see, beyond that, there were the 70, these had access to Jesus on occasions briefly, they weren’t consistently in His life. There were multitudes of people clamoring for Jesus’ attention, with needs and desires, and Jesus had to make choices. His choices were made through prayer. He spoke with His Heavenly Father about who the 12 should be. It wasn’t left to chance. Yet, He showed a level of love and compassion to all.

It is important to know in our hearts where we are going to be willing to put our energy so that we can be deeply connected to those we love. We need to make a heart commitment to a few and give ourselves mostly to them. When we spread ourselves too thin we become unavailable in important ways.

Connection, relationship, and intimacy are necessary parts to all of our lives, but we must make important choices throughout life. No matter what stage we are in, we need to make sure that we are available to those who should matter most.

Are you deeply connected to a few or are you in the charades of perfection and busyness giving yourself away indiscriminately? Talk to your Heavenly Father, ask Him to lead you in the decisions you need to make regarding your connections and relationships. Jesus demonstrates a perfect example for us. Follow Him!

The Weight of Life

Are you seemingly sinking under the weight of life?

I have been doing a Kim Avery online-Bible study titled Life Overflowing, it is on the book of Ephesians. It’s an excellent study, with audio lessons and a worksheet for note-taking for each lesson. I was writing about it in my journal and inadvertently wrote “Life Overwhelming” instead of Life Overflowing. Those kind of moments help you to see where you are really at in life. We get so caught up in our lives, sometimes we don’t even realize how it is all affecting us.

Shauna Niequist, in her book Present over Perfect, tells about how she found herself at the point of hating her life. She had pushed and pushed, hustled and hustled. She tried to do everything to live up to expectations, and to fulfill obligations, and she came to the place of being exhausted as well as often sick. The weight of life had become too heavy for her.

Maybe you feel the same way. Maybe you have too many things packed into your days; too much to do, too many people to meet with, too much help to give, and an overload of work to accomplish. What is the bottom line? Shauna came to realize that she was trying to make things perfect, and trying to be the responsible one”” who could handle everything. She also found that her striving stemmed from a “cavernous ache” inside of her heart. It was about her need to be loved, so she tried to earn love that she didn’t feel she could receive apart from doing.

God’s love is unconditional. We are not loved by God because of anything we do or have done. He loves us because He created us. He wants a relationship with us. He loves us even though He knows our limitations.

You would think knowing these truths would help us to recognize that the pressure is off, but that often is not the case. We go on striving to find satisfaction within by doing more and more.

We end up believing the Enemy’s lies and then try to fill the hole inside with personal attempts to get love by doing.

All too often we try to impress others with our busyness, and our self-importance. Shauna explains how she chose to change that in her life. We can also choose to make changes. Like Shauna, we can make an intentional effort in our lives to encourage each other to find rest. We can find special ways to support one another. We can help others to see that they do not need to do more and more in their lives.

Shauna demonstrates the importance of knowing the Father’s love so that you no longer need to prove yourself.  When we know God’s love, we learn to love self in healthy ways and then show respect for others.

Reading about this led me to ask myself some questions, questions that I want to share with you for you to also contemplate. It begins by evaluating where you are in the struggle for perfection and also recognizing how weighed down you feel. So consider the following. I found that setting aside some time to journal really helped me.

  • Where are you finding your worth? Is your worth found in your accomplishments or in your busyness?
  • Is there something you are trying to prove?
  • What is the “cavernous ache” within you saying?
  • What is the need deep inside?
  • Who can you reach out to for help? Who can share the weight of life with you? Who can help you carry the heavy burdens of your life?
  • What do your feelings and response to life say about your relationship with the Lord?
  • Is His love enough? What do you need to talk with Him about?

These are important and difficult questions, some of which are only answered over much time and contemplation. But the answers can help you make important changes.

We have to decide what really matters. Each decision Shauna needed to make led her to consider two things. She began to base her decisions about how she would answer people’s requests for her to do something by checking to see if the choice at hand fit into her purpose and secondly, if it would bring her love. There was no more settling for an unsatisfying substitute in striving.

She discovered that often the things she pushed herself to do had not been about her purpose, and more often than not, she did not find love in the end. Instead, she found herself exhausted and feeling sick.  

The should’s, the have-to’s, the people-pleasing choices do not bring us love. They lead to resentment. They lead us to feel like we are carrying around boulders. There are only 24 hours in a day and we can only accomplish so much. What are the boulders in your life? What is weighing you down? Think about it and take it to the Lord in prayer.

  • We can speak honestly about where we are with our Heavenly Father. He knows.
  • We can come to Him with our worn-out lives and seek Him for wisdom and help.
  • We can find His love to fill the emptiness within to help keep us from striving in life.

And most importantly, we can find refreshment in His presence and in staying present in our lives.

I hope that you will find the refreshment our Heavenly Father longs for you to have in knowing the depths of His love for you.