Monthly Archives: August 2008

Be Anxious For Nothing- Part 3 – Thinking About Truth

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true . . . meditate on these things.

One of the ways we can overcome stress is to meditate on truth.  I often forget that a great spiritual battle is raging all around me.  I forget that I have an enemy and his whole band of followers who whisper lies to me all the time.  Sometimes, my anxiety and stress are made worse because I believe the lies.  When I change my mindset and fix my thoughts on truth, my anxiety and stress begin to fall away.  

What is truth?  First, it is based on scripture.  Second, truth is real and not imaginary.  (Hey, I never claimed this was rocket science! But it is amazing to me how often I forget this really basic, simple stuff.)

The lady teaching our Sunday School class the other week reminded us that some things are not real or true.  The past and thoughts of “if only” are not truth.  Those are accusations from the enemy who accuses us day and night (Revelation 12:10).  When my mind wanders to the past and I begin to beat myself up with “if only’s,” I have to take those thoughts captive to the truth.  The truth is that I am not condemned by God (Romans 8:1) and that I have been separated from my sins as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12).  The truth is that God wants me to forget the past and press forward. (Philippians 3:13)  

The future and worries of “what if” are not real.  Jesus Himself advised us not to worry about future troubles in Matthew chapter 6.  According to Jesus, each day has enough trouble of its own, so we don’t need to borrow trouble from the future.  Worrying about the future and stressing over the “what if’s” won’t change a thing.  The truth is that God is sovereign and He knows our needs and will take care of us.  (Matthew 6, Philippians 4:19)  The truth is that we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 1:3)  Every spiritual blessing has already been given to us!  What more could we possibly want?  We have no need to worry about the future.  We are children of God (John 1:12), and our Father has everything taken care of.  

Second-guesses about the motives of others is something else that is not real.  I cannot read other people’s minds.  I do not know what other people are thinking, and when I catch myself assuming what others’ think or second-guessing their motives or the thoughts behind their words or actions, I am believing lies rather than thinking about truth.  This is a big one for me.  I want everyone to like me.  I want everyone to think well of me.  Yes, I know it’s pure pride.  And that pride often causes me to make assumptions about what people must be thinking about  me.  The truth is I don’t know someone else’s heart.  Only God looks on the heart.  (1 Samuel 16:7)  The truth is I do not have a responsibility to read someone else’s mind.  If I have offended someone or sinned against someone, she has a responsibility to come to me (Matthew 18:15).  (By the way, if I don’t have a responsibility to read someone else’s mind, then nobody -including my husband- has a responsibility to read my mind.)  

Unmet expectations are also unreal and untrue.  When I find myself thinking, “This isn’t the way it’s supposed to be,” I am -in effect- questioning the sovereignty of God.  Instead, even when people misuse me or take advantage of me or sin against me, I can -like Joseph- declare, “You meant it for evil; but God meant it for good.” (Genesis 50:20)  The truth is we will have trouble in this world, but Jesus has overcome the world.  (John 16:33)  

2 Corinthians 10:4-5 tells us that one of the weapons in our spiritual battle is taking every thought captive to obedience.  One way we do that is by identifying the untrue, unreal thoughts and replacing those with thoughts that are true and real and noble and pure and lovely and admirable and excellent and praiseworthy.  This will take practice and prayer.  It is our Father’s will that we think about these things rather than lies, and we know that whatever we ask in His will, He will do it. (John 16:23, Matthew 21:22, Mark 11:24)  So if we ask the Holy Spirit to show us the lies we are believing and help us to replace those with His truth, He will answer that prayer.  

Let’s choose today to fix our minds on truth, reality based on scripture.  To get you started, I’m going to remind you of a few things that are true.  If we meditate on these things, we won’t be overcome by anxiety or stress.

* I am a friend of Jesus.  (John 15:15)

* I have been set free from the law of sin and death.  (Romans 8:2)

* In Christ Jesus, I have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.  (1 Corinthians 1:30)

* God leads me in triumph and knowledge of Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14)

* My old self was crucified with Christ and I am no longer a slave to sin.  (Romans 6:6)

* I am chosen, holy, and blameless before God.  (Ephesians 1:4)

* I am redeemed and forgiven by the grace of Christ.  (Ephesians 1:7)

* I have boldness and confident access to God through faith in Christ.  (Ephesians 3:12)

* I have been made complete in Christ.  (Colossians 2:10)

* I am God’s workmanship created to produce good works.  (Ephesians 3:6, 5:30)

Now those are some reasons to rejoice in the Lord always!

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Be Anxious For Nothing – Part 2

There are some practical ways to help handle stress and anxiety.  Know your stressors and develop plans to avoid or diffuse stressful situations.  As much as is possible, get enough sleep.  Eat well.  Drink plenty of water.  And, of course, there is the usual Christian advice that is so common we might forget how important it really is — remember to start your day by spending some time with God.  

Having said all of that, we all know there is no way to avoid every stressful situation.  Especially if you are smack in the middle of caring for babies and toddlers, your days will be marked by stress.  If you have children with special needs, you will have stress.  If you’re caring for aging parents or if you have a child off at war or if you’re battling an illness or if you’re grieving a loss, you will face anxiety and stress.  

At some point, I’ve seen a system for rating your stress level.  You give yourself so many points for certain events — a move, a job change, a death, a new baby, an illness, change in financial situation, etc.  I am pretty sure I’m high up on that scale because of all the changes we have experienced in the past year or two.  We moved.  We changed churches.  We enrolled the children in school.  We’ve faced some learning delays with one son.  Another son has shown full-blown symptoms of Tourette Syndrome and ADHD.  The changes have increased our daughter’s Tourette Syndrome tics.  We down-sized financially.  My grandmother recently died.  Actually, within the span of a year and a half, about 9 people we loved have passed away.  I had major surgery that involved a great deal of grief.  Some good friends have dealt with mental illness and a marital separation, which impacted us.  We sold our home.  We moved into an apartment, which brings all sorts of stress to the equation.  And there are even more stressors that push us up that scale.  

I say all that to assure you, I know stress and anxiety.  I also am telling you that I don’t always handle it well.  Just this morning, I lost it when I made a huge pot of oatmeal for breakfast and more than half the children didn’t want to eat it.  One son even told me it was disgusting.  For the record, it wasn’t disgusting.  He just doesn’t prefer oatmeal this week, it seems.  And though I needed to address his attitude and bad manners, I can’t say my reaction was based on a love for him and concern for shaping his character.  Take it from me, I do not always respond to stress in the way Paul recommends in his letter to the Philippians.  

In Philippians chapter 4, Paul writes, 

Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

This admonition comes just after Paul has addressed a disagreement in the church.  Two women were divided in opinions, and Paul wanted them to reconcile and find unity because of their relationship in Christ.  This was, undoubtedly, a stressful situation not just for the two women involved but also for the whole Philippian church; and perhaps, since the news of it had spread all the way to Paul, this situation was causing stress and anxiety for believers in other towns as well.  Paul’s advice for this particular situation, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is good advice for us in our stressful situations.  

Begin by rejoicing.  Choose to find joy.  If joy isn’t at all obvious to you in the midst of your anxiety, ask your Father to show you joy.  And then rejoice.  

Do not be anxious.  I think this means, refuse to live in a constant state of anxiety.  Choose not to dwell on worries.  You know, I don’t even realize I’m doing this until I start to get headaches and become unbearably irritable.  So it’s not even a matter of taking every thought captive because so much of it is subconscious for me.  But I can be aware of my indicators.  If I am having daily headaches and my family runs away when I walk into the room, I probably am living in a constant state of anxiety, and I need to move.  

How can we obey this instruction to not be anxious?  I think the how-to comes just after the command.  “. . . in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”  When I pray with thanksgiving, I acknowledge God’s sovereignty and the situation loses its power over me.  I would guess that most of us know to pray about stressful situations, but I know that I often forget the part about praying in thankfulness.  Choosing to be grateful is a key component in not being anxious.  

I have a friend who kept a gratefulness journal during one especially stressful period of her life.  Every night, she made herself write down some things for which she was thankful that day.  When we choose to look for blessings, for things to thank God for, our stress levels will lower.  We will be less anxious.  And “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”  When we remember God’s sovereignty and thank Him and ask Him for help, He will guard our hearts and minds (from worry, from divisive attitudes, from sin).  

Once we’ve emptied our minds of worry, we need to quickly fill our minds with something else or the worry will creep back in.  So Paul goes on to tell us (and the Philippians) what to think about. 

Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things.

When the stresses of life are closing in on us and threatening to choke us, we can choose to think about things that are pure and true and lovely and praiseworthy.  We can learn and recite psalms or other passages of scripture.  We can sing hymns or listen to praise music.  

It’s important to remember that we are in the middle of a spiritual battle.  Our enemy is the father of lies, and he whispers lies and accusations all the time.  But we can know the truth and counter deceitful thoughts with truth.  That is what part 3 will be about — thinking about truth.

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Stress And Anxiety — Coming Soon!

I promise I will write the second part of dealing with stress and anxiety — as soon as I finish washing and drying all the towels that soaked up the rain that leaked in through the 20 windows in our apartment.  I believe in testing out the tips before I share them with you!  I’m thorough that way.

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Be Anxious For Nothing – Part 1

Anxiety.  Stress.  I wanted to write this follow-up post much sooner.  I planned to do it last week, the day after I wrote the introductory post about stress.  But I was too stressed with school starting and unpacking and settling back into life that I didn’t have time to write about stress.  But God knew!  He knew my Sunday School lesson would cover Philippians chapter 4 and this very subject.  It was exactly what I needed to hear and exactly what He wants me to share with you friends.  

Before I start, I want to confess — I am not there yet.  I am going to offer advice that I myself need to follow.  I do not write anything as one who has mastered anxiety and stress.  I do not sit on a pedestal above the stress and preach at you.  No, I’m right here in the mess of life with my own heaps of stress and headaches from anxiety, and I’m learning.  Some days, I let the stress get on top of me.  I’m irritable and difficult to live with, and I just want to hide in my room with a bag of M&M’s and a book.  Honestly, lately, the stress has gotten on top of me more often than not.  But I am learning to run to my Father and let Him pick me up over the stress and anxiety.

To begin with, I want to discuss practical tips for handling stress, or better yet, avoiding it in the first place.  In Part 2, I’ll share some Bible verses and spiritual truths about stress.  

When I am at my best with handling stress, I try to plan ahead to avoid stressful situations.  Or, at least, to diffuse them.  For instance, when I had toddlers and needed to nurse a baby, I knew that a toddler playing in the toilet or dumping out an entire box of oatmeal would be stressful to me.  So I barricaded my toddlers in the living room with me while I nursed.  I put up baby gates or trapped them in play-yards and either read to them or put on a video or I put on some music and set up the Little People town.  This little bit of planning ahead avoided some potential stress.  

Another example — if 4:30 to 6:00 is a crazy time in your home, figure out why it’s so crazy and try to reduce that stress.  Is it because you’re making dinner and the children are hungry and fussy and you’re waiting on your husband to come home?  Perhaps you could make the crock-pot your best friend.  You can prepare dinner in the morning and have it in the crock-pot, freeing you up from 4:30 to 6:00 to take a walk or play a game or read books.  Perhaps your children are hungry and grumpy.  You can give them a healthy snack at 4:30 — maybe while you’re taking a walk or reading them a book.  

From the moment my children get home from school until my husband gets home at 5:00, the stress-factor in our apartment is astronomical.  We haven’t settled into our routine yet, so it’s really crazy these days.  But I have hope that it will get better!  Having dinner waiting in the crock-pot or waiting in the fridge to be popped into the oven really helps because I cannot help with homework and supervise chores and keep everyone calm AND make dinner without losing it.  I just cannot.  Having a routine also helps.  The children are re-learning that as soon as they come home from school, they put their shoes on the shoe shelf, put their backpacks away, empty their lunchboxes and put them away, and wait at the table for a snack.  This simple routine eliminates the stress that comes from backpacks and shoes strewn across the living room and children standing in the kitchen shouting about a snack.  

Know what your stressors are and plan accordingly.  I know that when the apartment is a total wreck, I am going to begin to shut down.  When everything is a complete mess, I get overwhelmed.  I have horrible headaches and I don’t know where to begin, so I tend to want to nap or spend time away from home so I don’t have to see the mess.  Avoiding this level of mess by routine de-cluttering and keeping up with the dishes and laundry and picking up the toys and stacks of papers really helps keep my stress levels low.  I am not always successful in this plan, though. Sometimes life just comes at you and messes happen.  Big messes happen.  And the stress suffocates me.  That’s where the tips in Part 2 will be helpful.  

All the planning and preparing cannot prevent stressful things from happening.  I know that, perhaps better than anyone.  However, some planning can help.  Observe your life for the next week and make note of those times that are most stressful, those times when anxiety threatens to over-take you.  Prayerfully think about what you can do ahead-of-time to avoid those situations or, at least, diffuse them of some anxiety.  

Next, we’ll take a look at what God’s Word says about stress and anxiety.  And we’ll review Paul’s advice for battling anxiety.  

In the meantime, don’t be too hard on yourself.  We are all in process.

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Back In The Saddle

Whew!  We got back home from our long road-trip and hit the ground running.  I haven’t even unpacked everything yet because we’ve been getting ready for today — the first day of school!  This morning, I kissed two-thirds of my children goodbye and sent them across the street to begin first grade, second grade, fourth grade, and fifth grade.  

I can barely believe it!  It seems just yesterday I had a house full of preschoolers and was always pregnant or nursing babies.  At the time, I felt I’d be in that stage forever.  Now, my baby is nearly three.  Every child can walk and talk and put on his or her own shoes.  Everyone can go up and down the stairs without being carried.  My children can toast breakfast bread, spread cream cheese, and pour cereal, and the older ones help the younger two. I have a ten-year-old who can cook an entire meal by herself.   We’re moving on to the next stage of life.  

The stresses I have now are different than the stresses I had five years ago when I had four preschoolers and was in the throes of morning sickness and trying to start kindergarten with Lauren while a construction crew took off our roof, put on a new one, and built a new room onto the front of our house.  

Now, I don’t have morning sickness and I don’t spend my whole day changing diapers, and we don’t even live in that house anymore.  I’m not trying to figure out how to get a baby, a toddler, and two preschoolers in and out of car-seats and through parking lots.  Instead, I’m helping two children learn to cope with Tourette Syndrome, and I’m encouraging their older sister to cope with their sometimes embarrassing, sometimes annoying behaviors.  I’m navigating my way through conferences at school and learning to be an advocate for a son with learning delays.  I’m trying to decide when I feel up to potty-training my last child.  (Not today, I’ve decided.)  I’m trying to decide when my four-year-old needs speech therapy, and then I’ll need to work with a new school system in this town I’m not all that familiar with.  I’m scheduling appointments with neurologists and developmental specialists, along with doctors and dentists.  I’m making chore charts and supervising homework and trying to not say words I shouldn’t say when I step on yet another tiny LEGO that didn’t get picked up with the rest.  

So I’m learning that in every stage of life, there is stress.  Well, maybe I already knew that; but I’m experiencing it first-hand.  There will always be something to cause stress and anxiety.  Sarah asked in a recent comment about anxiety, which I thought was especially timely considering the stress and anxiety I have been feeling lately.  So how do we handle anxiety and stress?  I’m going to plunge into this topic in my next post.  In the meantime, feel free to share your suggestions in the comment section.  What has worked for you?

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