Re-evaluating Life

What do you do when your heart is empty and your schedule if full? I think all too often we keep pushing ourselves. We think that we must keep going.

This month’s Recalibrate Life Read is The Worn Out Woman: When Your Life is Full and Your Spirit is Empty by Dr. Steve Stephens and Alice Gray.

One of my favorite chapters discusses how Gray dealt with the overwhelm in her life. She says, “[one] day, when I was in one of my fed-up, hurry-up, always catching-up moods, I decided to schedule a one-day retreat for myself.”  She did so because “life had gotten so overwhelming.” Gray says that she had gotten to a place where she just wanted to quit everything. It all seemed like too much.

Have you been there? So overwhelmed you just want to quit? I know I have. But as much as we may very well know what we need, we do not often take the time to find a way to take care of our needs.

The mini-retreat that Gray suggestion sounds so life-giving. We need to create space in our days, weeks, and months to reflect and to look ahead as well as to evaluate so we can make wise choices.

Gray decided to go to a nearby retreat center for just an eight-hour period. I think that we each need to tailor such a retreat to what works for us. Maybe a retreat center is out of the question due to cost, but what about finding a quiet place where you can find solitude? Maybe an empty beach early in the morning, or a grassy park area, or a friends’ empty apartment during her work hours. Wherever you go, it seems that the focus is more important than the place. Gray took only three books with her; her Bible, her calendar and a blank notebook to record her findings.

When we recognize the overwhelm in our lives, the feeling of a life out-of-control consuming us, hopefully we realize our need for help beyond ourselves. And that is exactly what Gray sought as she cried out to the Lord for help to get her life under control.

What she found she needed most, after she spent time in prayer, was rest, and she took a long nap. This so reminded me of Elijah, and how the Lord ministered to him in his neediness in 1 Kings 19. In our weariness we need reviving, and sometimes that means a few extra hours of sleep.

When Gray woke up she was ready to take a look at her life and hear from the Lord. She pulled out her notebook and started out by listing her areas of strength and giftedness. She shares a list of question that are helpful in determining these. In fact she mentions using some of these questions to help herself as she reflected on her life.

This reflection led her to consider her legacy. It is important to give thought to the legacy we want to leave behind. Not only financial, but equally as important is your belief system, your values, and what you want others to remember you by. Gray found that contemplating this helped her to find better focus for determining the direction she wanted for her life now.

Another part of her retreat was spent in writing down her longings. She said that she wrote them “rapidly and with abandon.” There was no space given here for the inner critic. After taking time to meditate on Psalm 139 and getting in a walk, she returned to what she had written. Spending time in the Word, talking with the Lord, meditating on what He impresses on our hearts all lead us in the right direction.

Gray marvelled at the fact that she “had never stopped to think that [her] deep yearnings might actually be connected with God’s design for [her] life.” Taking more time to look through her list of longings she decided to especially pay attention to the ones that stood out to her, the ones that had been coming back to her for many years. We all have those longings that we have buried away and every once in a while we dust them off and look at them again. She realized that a few were unrealistic, or no longer fit, and she scratched those out, but she kept the rest.

Setting the list aside, she picked up her calendar. Looking at our calendars can tell us a lot about why we are feeling the way we do. Gray noticed that there were “energy drainers that did not line up with [her] areas of strength and God-given longings” which she weeded out. She saw many things there that she did not feel passionate about and there were also those commitments that were just about what others wanted her to do. I am sure each one of us would find similar items and all of these are a part of the reason for our overwhelm. Gray was able to eliminate some things immediately, but others she had to make more of a long-ranged plan of how to do away with them more gradually. Some were still necessary.

This kind of mini-retreat helps us to really see what is going on in our lives and gives us opportunity to make a plan rather than flying along by the seat-of our-pants, being pulled in every direction.

All of this helped her to set new goals that related to her dreams and longings. All that she discovered gave her a filter for her future choices, sifting out the kinds of things which led to much of the overwhelm to begin with. We all need a “filter.” The filter is determined by who we are, what our God-given strengths and gifts are, what the Lord is impressing on our hearts, what goals we can connect to our dreams and longings, and what kind of legacy we want to leave. When we determine those, we can sift through everything that is on our calendar and all that comes our way. We can choose the life-giving. We can begin to eliminate, or not allow so many of the energy-draining things to cling to us and suck us dry.

This type of mini-retreat has become on ongoing event in Gray’s life. She schedules time now twice each year. We too can choose to set aside the time to re-evaluate our lives, look at our longings, set some goals, and review our calendars to see what fits or doesn’t fit. Gray says that this practice keeps her from getting to a place of overwhem. Making life-giving choices can help to keep us from drowning in the demands of an out-of-control life.

I am making this a new goal for myself as I seek to recalibrate my life. I think that re-evaluation is a very important part of being intentional in life. Is there any part of this re-evaluation process that intriques you and that you think you may find helpful?

God doesn’t want His children living burnt out and broken down lives, He wants us to be energized to fulfill His purposes and to live to bring Him glory. We can’t do that when we are overwhelmed, exhausted, and frustrated with our lives. Is it time for you to do some re-evaluating?

 

*Photo from Unsplash taken by Annie Spratt.

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Living Intentionally or on Autopilot

Psalm 86:11 “Teach me your way O LORD and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.”

How would you describe your life — are you living intentionally or are you running through life on autopilot?

I have been working my way through the book “He Restores My Soul” by Jennifer Kennedy Dean. This past week focused on having a steadfast heart. She talked about setting our minds on things above (Colossians 3:2). A steadfast heart is an undivided heart. It is a heart with deliberate and intentionally focused on God and His Word.

In Jan Johnson’s book Abundant Simplicity, she states, “We allow purity of heart to grow by willing one thing only –an ever-expanding life with God. Our falling in love with God should be what decides everything in our lives. Johnson goes on to say that “[the] single-minded person does the next single thing that is needed in order to focus on God instead of giving into the automatic response of the past. To treasure God is to have a single-focused life (Matthew 6:19-23).”

Living in simplicity is all about focus, and as a Christian it is about focusing on God. My life to this point mostly would not be described by the word “simplicity.” I am sure busy, overwhelming, exhausting, and distracted are words that describe my life much more accurately. But on the road to recalibrating my life I am seeking simplicity in all of it. And in order to get there it will much more about being intentional, rather than living on autopilot.

So, just how do they look different? I think autopilot is all about doing what you feel you need to do, or what you know needs to be done. And sometimes that means running scattered as you put out fires. When we lack intentionality Johnson says we “[scatter] our time and energy among things that don’t fit with what we really want. And in doing so we live in frustration. Johnson attributes our frustration to not responding to God’s longing within us. In my last post I shared about how I was Learning to Long for God.

I have felt like I have lived on autopilot, racing through life with an endless to-do list and my pencil to check things off. And for the most part, without a thought about my longings or God’s longings. I only know I got to the end of most every day feeling very frustrated. I guess I always attributed that to not accomplishing everything on my list of to-do’s. But I am realizing it as more about my divided heart living with unsatisfied longings. This left me feeling discontent and restless. It always felt like there should be more. But who could fit one more thing into the day?

My endless to-do list kept me so busy that I had no time to listen to God or to the longings of my heart. But the discipline of simplicity gives us an invitation to “lay aside every weight that hinders us” (Hebrews 12:1). Sometimes the things we need to lay aside may be “good things” but they are things that lead us to be distracted and keep us from being focused. Whereas living intentionally, Johnson explains, “means replacing autopilot by living “deliberately” as Henry David Thoreau called it.”

When we choose simplicity and live with intentionality we have to take time to do some re-evaluating. I think the first step in this is taking time to soul-search deep within to better understand our longings. And from there we seek the Lord to help us learn how are longings lead us back to Him. We have to take time to hear Him speak into our hearts and lives.

Then once we have taken the time to allow our longings to lead us back to God, we can begin to choose deliberateness in life, and we can choose what we want to be intentional about. Those choices become our focus. We stop running in twenty different directions and choose a few things.

I look at our home and see closets filled with various projects left undone. Books fill my bookshelves, many I began reading and never finished. It seems life on autopilot follows any whim. But recalibrating my life now means choosing intentionality. So I am being deliberate about what fills my home, my mind, my calendar, and all of life. My longings, the ones I followed back to God’s heart lead me. I have chosen a few important points of focus for my life right now.

1- Loving my husband and those closes to my heart with the love the Lord lavishes on me.

What this means for me is that I deliberately choose what demonstrates that love, and as I do I feel the Lord feeding and satisfying my love-hunger. The Lord is love, yet I have consistently tried to earn love from people in this world by striving and manipulating and sad to say, it has mostly left me empty. So my longing for love leads me to the only One Who can satisfy my heart with His love. And He leads me in learning how to love others.

2– Writing (blogposts and hopefully, a book.)

I have loved to journal and write from little on. But again writing can become another place to strive– a place to earn accolades. And so when I take the longing of writing to the Lord it becomes about sharing His truth. I see that what so often turns into pressure to grow an audience or complete a book or just write more to say I did. But now it is no longer about those things. I am finding joy in touching one heart at a time with God-truths as He grows faith in me and helps me to know Him more and more. It goes back to letting the Spirit nudge my heart with a verse or a word that prompts a post or a chapter. It’s about learning of Him and His love and sharing that. What feeds my writing is being deliberate and intentional in spending time with Him and in His Word.

3– Making a simple life by simplifying my home.

Clutter leads to anxiety and chaos. And seeing closets full and boxes filled with old projects or unnecessary on-a-whim purchases that have gone unused leads me to long for a simpler way. I want to focus on what we need and what is easy to keep clean. I want our home to only hold within its walls things that we love which have meaning and usefulness. Overwhelm and busyness can be created in part from having to constantly organize and clean stuff.

So taking my longings for peace and quiet in life to the Lord has led me to see all I can give away. And, in doing so, it makes room for so much more. No, not more stuff, but more time to enjoy what I have and those I love and the things I want to do. Wanting more, trying to fill the empty hole inside is a sin-sickness that I am taking to the Lord. I can never fill that hole and find contentment on my own. The contentment comes from the One Who satisfies my soul as I seek Him for gifts that really matter.

As I took my surface longings to the Lord, I found that my deeper longings are about being treasured and cherished, listened to and seen, being loved and having community, and about knowing peace and contentment within. Yes, there are definitely outward things I desire but I cannot make them satisfy my deeper longings– only God can. And it is in being intentional and focused on my life in the Lord and His Word that I can grow in my day-to-day life finding joy in abundant simplicity of my own choosing.

I am trying not to live on autopilot anymore, but instead, in this season, I am trying to recalibrate my life by living intentionally. What about you, are you living in autopilot or are you living intentionally?

*Featured image photographed by Paul Varnum on Unsplash.

Learning to Long for God

Contentment, or the lack of it, is really an issue of the heart. In order to really understand our own feelings we need to look at our wants and longings. We cannot be content apart from knowing what we want or long for.

I took a long hard look at my wants and longings when I went through my first Recalibrate Life read, Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Haley Barton. And I revisited the responses of my heart again as I read Abundant Simplicity by Jan Johnson in February.

One of the questions at the end of the second chapter in Abundant Simplicity is,”How would you like to see your life progressively more organized around God and His eternal life?” This is a question that intrigued me– especially since it came near the end of a chapter about contentment, wants, and longings.

The question took me back to my responses in Sacred Rhythms on my wants and longings. The act of talking with the Lord about my hearts’ desires was very precious, it was a very tender time. I shared about this in my post last month, My Response to Sacred Rhythms. I think this was true because I finally realized that all of my longings come out of a deeper neediness for more of the Lord.

In a way that surprised me, even though I knew this truth as head-knowledge. But the things we want whether it is about money, deeper intimacy in our relationships, feeling more loved, having more or better possessions, or accomplishing certain goals, are all rooted in our hunger for God and His love. I believe our longings are God-given. But, our longings are put in us to draw us to know Him more, to depend on Him more, and to find what we need in Him more.

In looking at my personal longings and seeking to reach for them, I realized that when I am not reaching for the Lord and especially for Him to meet my hearts’ longing, I am on the wrong path. If I am instead pursuing the end product or result for my own glory or others’ acceptance or personal security, I am missing the point.

The Lord delights in meeting our needs and satisfying our hearts’ desires, but if He sees those desires leading us away from Him, He will try to turn our focus back to Him.

So, back to that question, the one that has really tugged at my heart: How would you like to see your life progressively more organized around God and His eternal life?

Simplicity and contentment of heart depend on my focus. If my focus is scattered and I am living distracted, going after all of my desires to fulfill my own longings, the Lord will intervene. He will intervene because that is the wrong path. and He knows that I will not find contentment in the chaos that brings.

When I pursue God and my focus is on my relationship with Him, when it is on pleasing Him, and living for Him and His will, then, that is where I will find the heart of simplicity. And I have found that He will grant me contentment as I recognize Him as my All in All.

So, yes, I may want to grow my blog or finish my manuscript. But what do I do with that longing? My goal is to connect with the Lord in each longing. It is about wanting to bring Him into the longing, for Him to be at work within it and within me. And in that longing, as I prayed, I realized that I want Him to work in me and my life so other lives can be touched by Him through my words. I need to know Him more. I need to see His hand and heart touching my life, so I can share the glory of His wondrous work.

This demonstrates “organizing my life around God and His eternal life.” No matter what the longing is, if my life is to be more organized around God, I have to see that He is always what I want, or Who I want more of, more than anything else.

Our longings can so easily be mixed up with wrong motives. That is why Johnson’s question is so important to explore. We can get so caught up in self and self-sufficiency. We tend to live so unaware of the relationship of our longings and our need for God. It is so very important that we take it all, each of our longings, into His presence.

As I took each of my longings and brought them back to my deep need for the Lord, I sought to see Him as the center of my longings. This process helped me to see the path to simplifying my life. I also came to learn much about my deep-ceded personal fears. Fears of rejection, fear of replacement, fear of not belonging, or of lack of acceptance, fear of being misunderstood, and the fear of not having all I think I need. I discovered lots of fears within my longings. But all of this took me back to seeking God. That is what organizing my life around God is about.

Johnson says, “If we want to want God our next step is to come to terms with our underlying fears. We start where we are. We invite God to work with us on these fears so we can begin drinking God’s living water, God’s own Spirit…”

I know that I want to want God more, I want to love Him with all of my heart, mind, soul, and strength, but I continuously fall short. So I must daily look at these inner longings and talk with Him about them. I need to look at my calendar and my planner and see what my life and my schedule really say about what I want. Where am I spending my time? How am I spending my money? Where am I seeking security and acceptance? The proof and truth will shine brightly there.

This isn’t a “one-time-and-done” response regarding how to organize life around God. It is an ongoing check and re-check of our longings and what our lives are says about how we are living them out.

So, I am learning to long more for God in all of life. And it takes time and focus and prayer and soul-searching. I want to live my life longing for God moment-by-moment. This is becoming an important part of learning to recalibrate life here in 2019.

What about you? What are you longing for? Have you looked deeply at your longings and how the Lord is such an important part of your hearts’ cries? Take some of your longings to Him today. He wants to hear about your deep desires.

 

 

*Note the featured image is a photograph by Paul Varnum on Unsplash.