Less Stress with Routines

“The way you begin your days sets the stage for the rest of the day.”

This month my 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. This is my last of the posts responding to this book. This post will focus on how to help make life less stressful by planning some helpful routines into your days.

Routines can relieve a lot of stress by removing the need to make decisions or solve problems when you might not be fully awake.”

I have definitely found this to be true in my life. But in order to reduce our stress levels and find a more positive ways to go through our days, we need to consider what is causing our stress to begin with.

It may be helpful to just go through your day in your mind and jot down what parts of the day cause the most stress. Some typical morning stressors may include breakfast time, meal planning (packing lunches, prepping for dinner), pet care, and deciding what to wear, etc.

Once you have made that list of stressors, you can key in on giving some thought to what may help to make those time periods a little more easy and relaxing.

I have found it is often not the actual task that stresses me out, but it is more likely just feeling that there is not enough time to get it done. Or feeling as though I do not have what I need so I can get it done, often because I did not take time to plan ahead.

Sometimes it is just helpful to try to prepare for the morning chores the night before. Breakfast cereals can be put out and the table can be set. Clothes for the next day can also be laid out. Even the children can get in a habit of choosing what to wear and laying their clothes out.

Packing lunches the night before can be helpful as well. Depending on the children’s ages they may be able to pack their own lunches with some supervision. And with the lunch packing, school bags can be readied for the morning with the necessary papers signed and completed assignments put in. The more that children learn to do, the more independent they become, and this relieves some stress for the busy adult(s) in their lives.

As I mentioned before, not having enough time in the morning is a stressor for me. Feeling panicked and rushed makes for a bad beginning. I find that I need to give myself adequate time to do what I want to get done at a pace that feels peaceful, and that sets the tone for the whole day. This means giving myself an extra early start in order to fit it all in,

I also know that my day feels much calmer and I feel more at peace when I have set time aside to spend with the Lord. Reading a portion of Scripture and praying while I sip my morning coffee always makes for a great start to the day. I have found that taking a nugget of Truth with me for the day can help me stay grounded. Most recently that has been a breath prayer that I can repeat throughout the day.

I also like to know that there is something special in my day to look forward to. In the book the authors refer to these things as “give yourself a boost.” They suggest things like reading a page on an inspirational flip calendar or reading a devotional, playing a few minutes with your pets, or kissing your spouse a little longer before you leave. I would add to that a few minutes to journal, writing down what is on my mind leads to such peace, and that makes it something I always look forward to. Also, chatting with or texting a friend, just a short conversation, or a prayer request. The sweet connection brightens my day and is always something to look forward to.

It is very helpful for me to make sure I have a plan for what needs to get done in a day. I like to have a weekly menu, so knowing any grocery items that need to be bought, or other errands that need doing helps to keep more unnecessary stress-makers from creeping into my day. I can remain much calmer when I know what is coming up, because there always seem to be those unexpected things that take us by surprise and add to our stress levels. And the parts of the day that are already filling me with anxious thoughts in the morning are the parts that I might journal about, as well as, take to the Lord in prayer.

Getting a good night’s sleep is very important also. I am much more likely to get easily agitated and stressed out when I am feeling tired. I have recently made journaling and reading one chapter of a book part of my before bed routine. I am always surprised at how much these relax me and I seem to go to sleep easily. I always appreciate it when I get to sleep quickly. I attribute that to the fact that my mind was quieted by the positive, calming book and journaling out the thoughts that had been running through my brain. And then, even more importantly, tying those thoughts into conversation with the Lord in prayer brings my heart to a place of calm. Writing a gratitude list usually is part of my journaling process also, but sometimes I take time do that in the morning instead.

I hope that you have found something here that has been helpful to you, a routine that you may want to add to your morning, or an idea that will help make your day run a bit smoother. I highly recommend this book, I still am going through study questions and choosing more areas of application, things I want to try.

Next month my Recalibrate Life Read will be: A Place Called Simplicity: The Quiet Beauty of Simple Living by Claire Cloninger. Simplicity is definitely goal in my year of recalibrating life.

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The Breaking

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24 NIV

Do you ever question why things happen to you? I think, especially, if we find similar things happen to us repeatedly we begin to wonder why.

I have noticed recently how it seems how things constantly are happening that change my plans. Someone else chooses for me, and it all is out of my control leaving me feel angry and frustrated.

I am a planner, sometimes down to the hour. I blame it on having been a teacher and always needing to have a lesson plan. A certain plan for every moment. So, I feel anxious when things are left unplanned. And I feel more anxious when things I have planned are randomly changed by someone else. This means I have to rearrange my entire schedule to accommodate the new plan. But it keeps happening, and I keep feeling anxious and frustrated.

Interesting. I just realized that the Lord is trying to get my attention. Now recently two days in a row in my time with the Lord, in two different studies, He has brought me head on with the verse printed at the beginning of this post. It seems that a part of my life’s recalibration will be about being broken and learning to surrender. Once again, I must willing to abandon control.

Jennifer Kennedy Dean explains what true brokenness means in this way:

“True brokenness means losing all faith in your own abilities, abandoning all dependence on human resources, and disavowing all outward pretensions of righteousness to cling to the Spirit of God as if to a lifeline.” (from He Restores My Soul: A Forty-Day Journey Toward Personal Renewal p. 27)

Definitely not an easy lesson. It screams trust and letting go and I am not good at either one. Even so, I know, God’s lessons are always for our good and His glory.

Just last year, the Lord showed me that trying to change someone so things can be accomplished in my way and timing is a recipe for frustration. Besides He has a better way! I was amazed at how the He worked in the midst of the situation when I released control to Him. He worked it all out in ways I could not begin to manipulate. So now, once again, I am seeing there is more He wants me to let go of.

The struggle is and has been for a long time about “my time.” I want to and have continued to try to control what I think is “my time.” I am realizing that I am working really hard to please others, to do the right thing, yet I continually come away frustrated and resentful. Those feelings come out of doing things that feel like obligations in order to people-please and having the doing of them use up “my time.” So then when I come to the end of my day, or my week, and I find that my personal to-do list is left unfinished it leaves me feeling upset. Angry, resentful, and frustrated! But His way is different, it is all about being reckless in love, not about me and my list and timing!

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never any more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over. In the same way, anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go,  reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. “

John 12:24-25 MSG

When something is reckless, it is not necessarily planned out carefully. This “reckless love, ” He is calling me to live out, is all about being Spirit-led not planned out according to my timing. This means that the breaking is about breaking my will to control and have my way with “my time.” Surrender. And I have learned and continue to recognize the need in me at the bottom of all of this is still the need to earn love and hold tightly to it so as not to lose the love.

The problem is that my fists are clinging so tightly and I am trying to clutch the love I so desperately need but it seems that being reckless in love can only come out of trusting with reckless abandon. I cannot control it all. The Lord wants me to let go of control and trust Him with reckless abandon, and then in His gracious tender-heartedness He will provide the love I seem to so desperately need.

He has shown me this, and even so, I struggle with letting go, I continue to grab on and hold on to getting love in my way as if my life depends upon it. Like a little child I throw a tantrum when my life or plan is interrupted. I am obviously not there yet.

So, as I travel this journey to recalibrate life I can see that it is going to involve a breaking of self, a lot more trust, and more letting go than I had initially anticipated. Once again, I thought I had it a planned out, but God is showing me it is all about His timing and His plans. And, oh, His plans and timing are so very different from my own! My way is comfortable and safe, but it seems that will not be the road I will be travelling.

There is so much we must release to the Lord. Learning to trust is a life-long lesson, and often the breaking requires challenges that are very uncomfortable because we must learn to live by His ways. Thankfully, the Lord knows the path of brokenness and surrender, He has travelled it to the cross, and He is the One leading. So I can be confident in His wisdom and learn to follow, growing in trusting, even though the way produces fear in me as I slowly follow.

How about you? How is the Lord challenging you to change and grow? Are you with me learning on the path of brokenness and surrender?

A New Year and New Plans

James 4:13-16 “Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and are money. Why you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for  little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If  it is the Lord’s will we will live and do this and that. As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.”

I love to plan and these verses stop me in my tracks. James isn’t telling us that planning is bad in and of itself. He is telling us that the problem comes about when our attitude is wrong.

It is so easy to go about life in our self-sufficiency. Matthew Henry, in his commentary on these verses says that “We are always to depend upon the will of God. Our times are not in our own hands but at the disposal of God. All we design and all we do should be with submissive dependence on God.

Proverbs 27:1 “Do not boas about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.”

There is not one of us who knows when their last breath will come. Yet, we often assume that we are in control of our future and think that everything will go according to our plans. All too often we don’t give a second thought to God’s plan. Everything in our lives is dependent upon the will of God. We will live if it is His will, we will do this or that, if it is His will.

It is God who is in control of our futures. We are fully dependent on Him whether we recognize or acknowledge that fact or not.

James tells us we “boast” in arrogance when we discuss our plans separate from from God’s will. Yet, if we think that just using those words “if God wills” makes it any different, we are wrong. It is about what is in our heart. It comes out of our belief system.

Do you believe God is sovereign? Do you believe He is the One in control? We have what we have because of God’s grace. And James is reminding us here to recognize our dependence.

  • Our plans need to come out of prayerfulness.
  • Our plans need to come out of a submissive heart.
  • Our plans need to come out of wiling dependence.
  • Our plans need to come out of acknowledging His sovereignty.
  • Our plans need to be accompanied by thankfulness responding to what the Lord has given, done, and what He is doing.

It all starts in our hearts, and our hearts need to remember that our lives are about God’s purpose and God’s will He created us to serve Him and bring Him glory.

Job tells us “Remember O God that my life is but a breath…”(7:7a)

Our lives fly by so quickly and then they are gone. I remember on the wall above my bed, when I was little, there was a small plaque that said “One life twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” All of our best laid plans are worthless unless they are God’s will. So what will living according God’s plan and purpose look like for you in 2017?

I recently read Ann Voskamp’s book The Broken Way. I found so much of it thought-provoking. It is a book I will re-read and go back to often, there is so much I can take from it to help me in my walk. One of the things that captured my attention was when she talked about the mason jar of wheat seeds, the contents equaling about 70 years of life, a seed for each day. Her daughter wanted to know how many Ann had left in the jar. I did a little math figured out for myself  the number of days I have before age 70 comes. “…only what’s done for Christ will last” echoes in my mind. Life is a gift- how will I use my days? 

Some questions to ponder:

  • How will I determine to acknowledge the Lord’s Sovereignty as I consider my future day-by-day?
  • How will move forward in His will, living for His purposes, to serve and to glorify HIm?
  • What will that mean for my plan this day? this week? this month?

It all starts with living humbly before the Lord, seeking His will for His glory. I think that I will start by writing James 4:13-16 in my planner as a reminder. How will you move forward?