Navigating our Way Through Jealousy

 

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It’s been quite a while since I’ve dealt with major feelings of jealousy, but yes, I do venture there from time to time. I think we all do & it’s not fun!  Jealous emotions can range from fleeting, mild pangs to intense waves of emotion that can influence the way we treat others and how we feel about who we are and what we have.  Ultimately jealousy can move us out of love and closer to evil.  A small amount of jealousy left to grow can rot the whole apple.

Paul Maxwell said this in his article ‘Hey, Jealousy’; ‘jealousy is tyrannical. It is catastrophic. It is metaphysical. It feels controlling and you cannot escape. It feels as if every particle of self-control you have in your entire being is vaporized in one fell emotional swoop. It brings people to the end of themselves in a millisecond, and they are no longer the same people’.

Have you ever felt like that?  Consumed by jealousy or another unruly emotion seemingly outside your control.  Your good qualities seem to fade from focus as the untameable beast of emotion starts to roar.

Jealousy has a lot of roots or triggers.  It’s probably impossible to cover them all as they are heavily influenced by an individual’s personality, beliefs and life experiences.   One example of a trigger can be when our own feelings of inadequacy are amplified by another person’s adequacy or success.  When someone is really good in an area we struggle in, it can make us feel inferior and hence the temptation to wallow in jealous feelings presents itself.  Sometimes we just want something that someone else has, such as a personality trait, material item or the response they get from others.  We may feel justified, like we have worked just as hard, so should have the same things as them.  Life feels unfair & coveting feelings are stirred.  At times we might feel overlooked while someone else receives the praise or acknowledgement we craved. The classic example of this, is when a hard-working employee is overlooked for a promotion at work whilst another person, who hasn’t been around as long, snaps it up!  In this situation, it is the sense of being overlooked, under-acknowledged & unappreciated that is the trigger for jealousy, even if the person also has feelings of happiness for the other person’s success.

Jealousy can leave you wondering who you are as a person.  It can leave you feeling very wrong & guilty for just having a feeling or at times we can feel totally justified.  The temptation to bury it or avoid situations that trigger these uncomfortable emotions is huge, but it’s the decision to face it that allows God to help us grow, rather than the devil getting a foothold into our hearts.  If our sinful nature is given control then jealousy can ultimately lead to us doing things for the wrong reasons…we might strive for something just because someone else has it, when it might not be God’s will for our lives.  What a waste of time!  What a waste of life!  What are we missing out on whilst chasing something because of jealousy?  Left to rule, jealousy can lead to revenge.  Now, when you think of jealousy fueled revenge, you might think of the classic ‘crime of passion’ i.e. ex-husband murdering the new lover, but although most jealousy doesn’t lead to such extreme revenge, smaller actions can be just as toxic.  Passive aggressive comments/ actions, avoiding people, withholding praise, judging them harshly, misrepresenting them or undermining them are forms of ‘revenge’ for them having what you want and for simply being themselves.  There are many other ways that subtle revenge can be enacted as a result of jealousy…and when it’s subtle, it’s easy to do it without even realising it.  The devil often likes to work little by little over time because if he came out with a dramatic show of toxicity it would be identified, confronted and dealt with.  A cliff erodes slowly over time, and it’s the same with a heart that isn’t maintained.  The devil wants to undermine the glory of God that’s wanting to shine through in our lives.  That’s why we must go to Jesus amid our jealousy…mild pangs or raging, feeling justified, ashamed or both!

God understands the emotion of jealousy.  Exodous 34: 14 says ‘you must not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God’.  Just like his wrath and anger, God’s jealousy is righteous.  He covets the things of this world that steal the hearts of the objects of his love…us!  He longs for us to return to Him instead of pursuing the things of the world that bring us nothing of eternal value.  So although God’s jealousy is holy and ours usually isn’t, we know that He understands how we feel.  He is with us when we feel consumed by emotion, wanting to be the compass that shows us the way out of turmoil and into peace.  But to start moving in His direction, we have to first acknowledge where we are instead of trying to repress it out of guilt, discomfort or shame.  It’s ok to feel jealous and to run to God with your straight up feelings and emotions.  He already knows why you feel that way but in telling Him your heart, you are communicating that you’re seeking His comfort, direction and wise counsel.  Because of God’s grace, we can come before Him as we are, without shame or fear of rejection.  Jesus has already made us clean in the sight of God through his redeeming sacrifice.  Yet the devil still tells us to hide our nakedness from God, like Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden.  He too has plans to use our jealousy, so he wants to get to us before God.  He wants us well away from our Father, where he can grow the seed of rebellion in our hearts and start to turn jealousy into bitterness, self-righteous judgement & hate.  He really just wants to inflict abuse on our hearts with our permission.  We don’t need to give him that.

So where do we go when those emotions don’t let up?  It’s not always a case of feeling 100% free from jealousy just as we can’t guarantee we won’t feel anger.  The same issue might repeat on us regularly, barging into our hearts when we least expect it, threatening to expose us and our insecurities.  Well I think a key is honesty.  Confessing jealousy to someone trusted removes us from the grip of shame and secrecy.  It acknowledges to ourselves that it is OK to feel jealous & when we confess to someone else our struggle we are operating in the freedom we have in Christ – freedom that says our sin, our emotions, our struggles no longer define us because of Jesus.  When we continue to be too embarrassed to get help from God or others, we agree that yes we are too filthy to come into the light.  Leaving pride behind and being willing to confess that yes we are human, we do have human emotions makes room for God and others to support us through tough stuff.  God will be with us in the midst of all emotions and can help us act in love regardless of our feelings.

Here’s another few suggestions that can help us nip most jealousy in the bud when it arises:

*  The good old cliche of ‘count your blessings’.  Yes I’m going there, because it works!  When we focus more on what we have & less on what we lack, we find ourselves overcome with gratitude!  We notice that everyone has been given unique blessings in life & although our ‘gifts’ from God aren’t the same as others, they don’t have exactly what we have, and vice versa.  There are many people who would love to have what we have.  Thank God for your unique skills, material possessions, relationships & circumstances.

*  Pray intently for the person you are jealous of.  Start to thank God for this person, their gifts and His goodness in their lives.  Pray a blessing on every area of their lives.  Every time jealousy arises, repeat…and repeat again!  Watch the Holy Spirit move as you put aside your feelings to obey God.

*  Appreciate and properly acknowledge your own skills and personality qualities.  Often we give more value to who others are then the person God created us to be.  We fail to see our unique gifts and focus more on our short comings.  To be happy for others it’s important to also value ourselves and what we have to offer.  If someone else being wonderful has cast doubt on your value, take stock of the amazing person God has formed in you!  If all flowers smelled and looked the same what boring gardens we would have!

*  Recognise wrong desires in ourselves for what they are, confess and repent.  Sometimes it’s not our insecurities that cause jealousy…at times it’s just pure and simply our sinful desires.  The desire to be top dog or better than others needs to be called out by us for what it is, and laid at the feet of Jesus.  As God exposes things in us, it’s in our best interest to choose the road of humility, leaning on and relying on Him to help change us from the inside out.

Lord as we go about our days and see others shining brightly, I pray that you would help us to know our own worth in you.  I ask that we would being fully aware of and thankful for the unique blessings you have given to us in this lifetime.  Please be near to us when we feel jealous and help us to focus on you and do the right thing, even when we don’t feel so great.  Lord, we confess that we are sometimes jealous of others, we surrender all jealous feelings to you and turn away from any temptation to rebel against your ways of love.  Thank you for your forgiveness and grace.  In Jesus name, Amen.

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Thought-life Overhaul: How to Change Poisonous Thinking

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It was just an ordinary day as I pulled into the bustling playground with my 3 year old daughter.  I’d been feeling down but going through the motions.  An inner sadness was threatening to choke all joy from my heart.  Craving help, my spirit turned towards God, but in a resigned sort of way, stuck in my mess, feeling alone & powerless.  But despite my resignation, He graciously spoke.  His words came to me, simple but confronting, “Sarah, your thoughts are becoming your poison”.  “Okay God, that’s heavy” I sighed, “I can feel in my spirit the truth in your words, but please expand”!  Thankfully for me, the Lord did.

Many a day I’ve come under a dark cloud of discouragement or low mood for no obvious reason.  I’d surrendered to this oppression of spirit which was far from the abundant life that God had placed within my reach.  Purpose & joy seemed to elude me.  Because, as I wrote about in ‘Goodbye Stinkin Thinkin’, there can be well worn thought paths that we repeatedly stumble down to get to low places.  We wander there on autopilot, winding up at familiar but unpleasant locations; conditions of soul & heart that the Son came to free us from.  Jesus desires to lead us back to abundant life but to navigate our way, we must pay due attention to our steps.  Yes, one step at a time, because lots of little steps make up a journey & with any trip there is always a destination.  We don’t have to keep retracing old paths.  Father God calls us out of lies and into truth.

Would you ever knowingly drink poison?  I know I wouldn’t!  The last thing I need is to be sick or suffering physically.  Nor do I desire an early death or to go through my days struggling to survive.  So I avoid known poisons & focus on generally consuming nutritious food.  But what about the diet of my soul?  Negative thoughts are toxic to our mind and emotions just as poison is to the body.  We can’t ‘feed on them’ and expect mental, emotional & spiritual well being.  Yet like junk food, we are drawn to destructive ponderings & like poor food habits, we can find an unhealthy thought life becomes second nature.  Overtime this leads to illness of heart & can contribute to staying in a state of low mood or discouragement  long term.

A quick google search reveals that one definition of the word poison is “a substance that is capable of causing the illness or death of a living organism when introduced or absorbed”.  Likewise many of us can die a slow spiritual death by thoughts.  We may not be dying but we may be ill of spirit/ not fully living.  God created our minds to be nourished & nurtured with the goodness of truth knowing that the diet of our mind becomes integral to who we are and what we do.  Eventually all of us become our thoughts.  That is why in the safety net of God’s grace & mercy, we must make the choice to direct/ control our thoughts.  Like little steps, each thought is part of a journey that leads to a bigger destination & when we arrive there, we start to act according to the surroundings we have chosen.  The funny or not so funny part is that we often aren’t aware of the little choices we made to get there, we are just aware of the destination we find ourselves in.  Because we don’t take responsibility for our part to play, we feel we are afflicted victims instead of powerful individuals with the potential to overcome.

Jesus placed a lot of emphasis on thoughts but many people in His time were focused purely on maintaining right behaviors such as observing the Sabbath and staying faithful to their spouses.  Many were convicted when Jesus took it a step deeper, revealing that wrong desires & thoughts or issues of the heart were what needed addressing first and foremost. One examples of this was when God, through the 10 commandments, commanded us to get rid of envy.  God knows where envy leads.  It starts with thoughts that we choose & when fed, it leads to actions that destroy relationships.

Many people claim that we can think about whatever we want as long as we don’t act on it. That argument has been used to justify watching objectionable & harmful entertainment amongst other things.  But God was very clear that what we fill our minds with impacts who we are & works out in our words & actions.  As Jesus said, ‘the mouth speaks what the heart is full of’ (Luke 6: 4-5).  Not only does the bible show us the right way to live, it also teaches us how to think in alignment with the truth & tells of the blessings that come with right thinking.

To overhaul our thought-life we must first become aware of what we are thinking.  Letting our minds run wild will find us lost, like a child allowed to wander off with no direction into the forest.  But with the Holy Spirit’s help, we can learn to identify negative patterns of thinking & correct them.  We can develop the discipline of embracing life-giving thoughts instead of depleting ones.

Often there are themes that drive our negative thoughts.  These could be described as roots or lies & as we know roots can go very, very deep.  We can discover the theme of a negative thought by asking God why we are thinking it.  How did we end up here?  Is the underlying theme rejection, fear of not being looked after, self-pity, powerlessness or us just contemplating doing something wrong?  If so, we can acknowledge the root & speak the truth of God into the lie that is operating.  One example of a root is the fear of rejection.  You may over-analyse things you’ve said thinking that somehow you can protect yourself by working things out so that you never put a foot wrong.  But this is taxing.  It feeds into fear & makes us feel uncertain & insecure.  It operates outside of grace & is in direct opposition to God’s desire for our lives.  We are left feeling anxious & down for an indefinite period of time.   But we didn’t have to agree with that lie & walk that path.  God has accepted us, loved us, and called us His own.  We could instead spend the same time & energy pursuing that truth & living in the freedom of agreeing with Jesus.

Jesus said ‘be TRANSFORMED by the renewing of your minds’.  Two definitions of the word ‘renew’ are (a) to “give fresh life or strength to” and (b) to “resume (an activity) after an interruption”.

Fresh life & strength comes to our thoughts through the word of God & the Holy Spirit who are always in agreement.  When it comes to our physical bodies, just eradicating unhealthy substances won’t produce health, we have to actively feed on the right nutrients.  A thought life won’t produce spiritual health merely by trying to reduce poisonous thoughts.  It’s not enough to get out of reverse and into neutral, we must put our foot on the accelerator to move forward.  To thrive it’s essential to feed daily on the truths in God’s word.  We must allow the Holy Spirit to lead us to streams of living water – His word that brings life.  Jesus lived on every word that came from the mouth of God.  Likewise our survival is totally dependent on us agreeing with the truth.

Godly thinking is something that MUST be resumed after the interruption of an impostor thought.  To be transformed we must repeatedly go back to what we know to be true…every. single. day. for the rest of our lives!  We can’t give up on pursuing life in our thoughts.  It truly is a matter of life or death!  Our thoughts do shape us.  They shape our legacy.  They are the difference between whether or not we overcome challenges.  They have eternal consequences.  We must make our thoughts submit & bow the knee at the feet of the Holy God.  He is the awesome Father who showed us the way of life out of His utter love for us, His children.

I’ve written a lot about concepts and ideas, but now let’s get practical!  How do we promote the renewal of the mind?  Here’s a few tips I’m working to apply in my own life.

#  Be Intentional.  Commit your thoughts to the Lord each morning, asking that they be based on His truth.

#  Run to Him.  Nip feelings of discouragement & low mood in the bud by spending time with God & in His word, sooner rather then later.

# Discern:  To think right we must be able to know when our thoughts are unhealthy in the first place & what truths are needed to replace them.  For this to happen we must spend enough time studying God’s word, so we can have a yardstick by which to measure all thoughts.  Good sermons, podcasts & teaching books are also helpful here but don’t take the place of studying God’s word directly.

#  Evict Impostors.  When you identify an unhealthy thought don’t let it hang around, treat it as an unwelcome guest. Counter it IMMEDIATELY with the truth. If God shows you the underlying root, spend time listening to what He has to say about it.  Paul writes that they demolished arguments and every pretension that set itself up against the knowledge of God.  They took captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians: 10:5 paraphrased).

# Declare!  Speak the truth OUT LOUD as a declaration instead of just thinking it!  Don’t be afraid to sound a little bit crazy to the kids if they are around!  Have some power statements like “I choose to trust God, I won’t be afraid” & verses like “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition present your requests to God” (Phillipians 4:6).

#  Sing!  Sometimes when I wake up discouraged, I sing some very basic worship songs.  The songs “This is the day that the Lord has made”, “It’s a happy day” and “I’m trading in my sorrows” are 3 of my favourites.  It’s amazing how my feelings about the day change when I bring forth child-like worship.  I’m reminded of God’s goodness & as a result have a happy awareness of Him from the beginning of the day, which is where the enemy wants to get me off on a bad foot.

#  Memorise scripture!  I never would have said this a few months ago & to be honest I’m not very good at committing to it.  But our ladies bible study challenged ourselves to remember about 10 memory verses & the few that I have memorized, have made a big difference to my thought life.  Memorised verses can be declared out loud at any time to oppose negative thinking and re orientate our thoughts.

# Share.  Sometimes we get caught in the cage of our own perspective and we need someone from the outside to help free us.  Sharing troublesome thoughts with a trusted spouse, friend, family member, leadership or counselor can really help us to overcome.  Secret struggles tend to fester, but when they are exposed to the light, the burden lifts and we can get the help we need to change.  I believe God loves to use people in His work.

#  Grace.  Grace.  Grace.  We are not perfect.  We don’t have to stress about this nor try to be perfect.  We can relax into God’s guidance knowing that He will lead us little by little to improve our thought life not because we want to be ‘good’ in our own strength but because we know God’s ways are life.  We don’t do this in our own strength.  We follow a gentle yet empowering Leader.

# Look upward & outward.  Lastly when we feel bad it’s so easy to get self-absorbed.  But true joy comes from spending a lot of time focusing on God & others.  We can’t fix ourselves.  But the more we focus on God and spend time in His presence the more whole, healthy and joyous we naturally become.  Having thoughts that look to encourage and bless others brings joy.

Lord I thank you that you give us life giving thoughts. Holy Spirit please show us when our thoughts are not based on your truth and lead us gently back to agreeing with you.  We commit our thoughts and moods to you & ask that you use them for your glory.  Thank you that your ways bring life & life to the fullest.

In Jesus name, Amen.

Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path. – Psalm 19: 105

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From Chaotic to Organised: Why Order as a Mother Improves Mental Health

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Having an organized household doesn’t come naturally to everyone, me included.  But having a more ordered life and home can do wonders for a mother’s mental health.

Over the years I’ve strived to model friends that created homes of order & routine but found that I often failed to sustain their level of organisation due to my personality.  Over time I found a happy balance, and as I implemented & improved my level of organisation, I noticed I was happier, less stressed and more efficient.

If you asked some of my more organised friends & family if I had an ordered life & home they might say “no way”! But the main thing is that I’ve made improvements & am seeing the benefits.  We all have different priorities and strengths in life, so the goal is not to force ourselves into someone else’s mould.  The goal is to develop ways of doing that benefit us and our families even if it takes a bit of training and self discipline.

If your home is a bit chaotic & your life all over the place at times – congratulations you’re normal! Don’t get down on yourself, you may have other natural strengths such as being creative, flexibile, spontaneous, fun-loving & relational.  Just simply decide what aspects of organisation would add value to your life & spend time learning how to implement them.  They are there to serve you, not to provide a measuring stick by which to gauge your success.

I first realised the benefits of organisation when I became a stay at home mum of 3 kids.  Prior to full time mum life, I was used to external routines & structures ordering my time for me.  Things like set school hours, work rosters & lecture timetables at university had my weeks/ months/ years mapped out.  I was told where to be at what time & what I would be doing each hour.  I spent very little time at home & when I did, I simply worked in bursts of energy, knocking off as many household tasks & assignments as I could.  I could afford to do these housework/ study marathons as I didnt have multiple little kids to care for.  After about 18 years of school, work and uni ordering my time, I found it very difficult to be the sole organiser & master of all my time during the week.  It wasn’t until I was the one who had to order my day, structure my week & plan ahead that I realised I struggled with organisation, prioritisation and routines.  Not having many of these skills was causing me a lot of unnecessary stress.

As I spent more time around people who were organised, I learnt things that had just never occurred to me.  Still, after years of learning, I wouldn’t describe myself as organised, but I’ve made some small changes that improve my mental & emotional well being greatly when I implement them.  I also see more joy in my children when there’s a certain amount of order at home.

Here’s a few things that are helping me to increase the level of order, ease and peace at home.  I say ‘helping’ because I have by no means ‘arrived’…this is not a before & after success story. I am a work in progress.  These things take thought, discipline & will power.  Good things take time.

I’m learning to prioritise & order tasks based on their importance not my personal preference.

When it comes to getting family related jobs done my tendency is to plough through random jobs based on what I feel like doing first.  I could start off doing one job and find myself in another room doing something else when I hadn’t even finished the first job.  As a result I was often busy all morning doing bits here and bits there, but had little to show for it.  I got a lot achieved but not always what mattered the most.  For example, I might spend a lot of time tidying up whilst neglecting to put a load of washing on first thing in the morning.  I did the jobs I felt like doing first or the ones that bothered me the most on the day.  So as I went from 1 to 3 kids, the washing piled up & I was often under pressure due to poor time management skills.

A key for reclaiming sanity and control has been choosing my top priorities for the day & ordering them.  Until very recently I struggled with washing because I simply had not decided that it MUST get hung out every day no matter what!  I hadn’t prioritised it enough to commit to ensuring it happened above other things every single day.  I was blown around by the winds of spontaneity & impulsivity when I needed order.  I had to simply decide that it was important to keep up with the washing as an act of love & care toward my family & then stick to a routine.

Prioritizing the basics meant a lot less days of playing ‘catch ups’.  Things like getting clothes cleaned, children fed, a clear bench & preparing my family for the day are now happening before other things more often.  Having clear priorities for the day & ordering them means I’m less pressured & have more of a sense of control over my day.

No more late to bed, late to rise.

I’m still struggling with this one so this is a pep talk to me as well as any other mums that can relate!

Such a simple thing – sleep! Yet not enough of it can rob us of so much more then energy.  I am fighting a bad habit of staying up too late & then being so tired that I don’t get up with enough time to achieve everything before the school & kindy drop off.  I realise some people may cope with late nights & still be able to rise early but having fibromyalgia means I require more sleep then others & feel genuinely exhausted if I don’t get that.  I’m responsible for ensuring I’m not a ‘write off’ in the mornings by doing what is in my control – going to bed!

So many times rising too late in the morning has led to me getting annoyed at the kids, rushing them, leaving the house in a chaotic state & just a general lack of peace in the mornings.  I was growing to fear mornings and this was all because when I felt like staying up late, I did.  There’s many excuses I could give: time to myself, time with my husband, things to be done.  But at the end of the day, the price of all those late nights was too higher price to pay.  The legacy of love I wanted to create for my family was under threat because I wouldn’t go to bed!

So recently I’ve started to get up earlier.  The next step is to also go to bed earlier otherwise it won’t be sustainable. Already I’ve noticed how much more hands on I am with the kids in the morning.  We are enjoying more breakfasts together as a family & more tasks are being completed before we leave the house.  Most importantly, peace is being restored to our morning.

If you are getting up too late in the mornings due to too many late nights, consider tightening up your commitment to personal self care.  The short term enjoyment of late nights is not worth the impact it can have on your mental health.

Realise when old routines no longer serve you & change it up!

When 2 of my kids were young & 21 months apart I got used to doing things a certain way because I had a baby, a toddler & a school aged child.  Certain routines served me for a season but when those seasons changed, I often found myself clinging to routines that no longer added value to my week.  I just kept doing things a certain way because it was how I’d survived a past season.  I was reluctant to let old ways die hard!  But when I rethought my day & week & made the necessary changes, I realised that the wrong routine can make life a lot harder!  We should regularly look at our weeks and evaluate how we are doing things, asking ourselves if a particular routine is still necessary and beneficial.  Don’t be afraid to try a change in how you use your time.  We don’t have to be ‘locked in’ to routines simply because we got used to them.

Work with your personality & energy levels

As much as I want to be naturally organized I’ve had to accept in recent years that sometimes it’s best to work with who we are, rather then doing things the way someone else does them.

I really struggle with mornings so I decided a long time ago to put a load of washing on at night instead of trying to do it in the morning.  My energy levels are best mid morning so I allow myself to come home first after the school run & do some quick housework, before taking the kids on outings, going to the gym or going grocery shopping etc.  This is to accommodate me not having much energy after midday.  I know if I get the housework out of the way first, if I come home tired from an outing, most things are done. I’ve come to know when my energy levels are their worst & instead of ploughing through high energy tasks, I’ve managed to make things easier on myself in the evenings e.g. simplifying meals, doing a sit down job like folding washin etc.

Embracing who I am and what I do well has helped me to be positive & not get too down on myself when the wagon gets wobbly.  Allowing outlets for creativity, socializing and variety helps me not to get too bogged down by routine which can feel mundane.

A little time spent getting prepared for the next day pays off!

I find this hard because I like to blob in the evenings.  But boy does evening preparation make for a less stressful morning and day.

Practical things that I’ve found helpful are:

* When cooking tea, get meat out to defrost for the next night’s dinner.

* Get kids to lay out school uniforms & shoes

* Make school lunches & pack bags for following day e.g. PE gear, piano booklet

* Everyone tidys up the living areas before bed

* As soon as kids get home from school, bags are cleared & packed

Lists are your friend & so is your calendar

Holding multiple things in my brain without writing them down is disastrous for me and has caused a lot of unnecessary stress & mental overload in the past.  Once something is written down or keyed into ones phone, a little bit of mental clutter is cleared out making room to focus on what’s at hand.  Take advantage of external organizers like your phone calendar & note pad, alarms, wall calendars and paper note pads.  Have a magnetic list on the fridge for grocery items that need purchasing.

Beware of constant distractions & time wasters 

At one point my phone gave sound notifications for emails, messenger, Facebook, text and of course phone calls.  My phone was always ‘dinging’ & distracting me from tasks at hand.  Turning notifications off for non urgent messenger conversations, emails and Facebook has helped a lot with reducing distraction.

Most of the above I am still learning to implement consistently but they have made a big difference to my life.  When things start to go pear shaped I can come back to these basic strategies to regain order & control over my time.  When I operate with a basic level of organisation I am happier, my husband is happier and the kids are happier.  So for me organisation is well worth persuing in a balanced way no matter what ones natural tendencies are.

Lord please help us to have enough order in our lives so that we are good stewards of our time.  Help us to have functional homes & less stress in our lives. In Jesus name, amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Embracing the Gift of Sensitivity

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I often wish I just wasn’t so darn sensitive!  I respond to life like a sponge, absorbing a lot of what’s around me so intensely that I end up saturated with feelings.  These feelings often overwhelm & tire me mentally, emotionally and even physically. Why can’t I just live life less deeply?  Have a less tumultuous existence?  I see strength in those whose souls are like the tides – steady, calm & predictable.  And I count the erratic, changing weathers of my soul as weakness.

That is how I used to think.

Over the years the Lord has shown me that sensitive people, like others, are a gift.  We have important strengths that enrich this world such as compassion, insight & creativity.  But how do we thrive instead of withering? How can we stay emotionally healthy despite our tendency to stress, anxiety & mood fluctuations?  How can we cope with our heightened responses to the stress motherhood brings?

Like plants, we need tender care to thrive & bloom.  As gardeners under the guidance of our Master Gardener we need to create conditions that bring out the best in us, by respecting what we need as sensitive or highly sensitive beings.

So what do we need?

We need to recognise & embrace the strengths that come with sensitivity & reject the notion that we are weak.

Recently I shared my testimony at my women’s bible study for the first time. Although I felt it brought glory to God, I’d cried a lot as I shared the challenges the Lord had brought me through in my 25 years or so as a Christian.  After the ladies had gone home, I found myself ruminating about my lack of composure & feeling embarrassed.  Lies about who I was cried out to be heard.  They said “you’re weak and a drama queen.  You haven’t been through much compared to others, yet you cried”.  But then I heard the loving words of my Father.  He said to me…

“I’ve created in you a heart of compassion & that’s something very beautiful to me”.

My reality of feeling deeply had indeed come hand in hand with an ability to see pain in others, with a desire to walk alongside people & encourage them.  Through sharing vulnerably I may have been able to reach into others lives, touch some of their pain & point to hope.  Through digging deep & letting others in, I could help those battling with self esteem & show the depths of God’s faithfulness.

Sensitive people are often compassionate because we feel deeply & see things others don’t notice.  Subtleties in human behavior show up on our radars & we need to trust that God has given us this ability to be used for His glory.  The world needs listeners, carers, encouragers and those who are thoughtful.  Because we struggle regularly with emotion we are compelled to reach out to comfort & empathise with others.

Other strengths common to sensitive individuals include being highly perceptive to God’s voice & leading, appreciating the simple things and having good self awareness.  We often see beauty & capture it through creative outlets sharing the gems we’ve found with the world.

Through embracing the strengths that our sensitivity enables, we release ourselves to be confidently us.  We reframe how we see ourselves – not as weak, fragile individuals but as strong, powerful individuals who enrich this world. Because God created us to be sensitive & that’s something very beautiful to Him!

We need times of refreshment, spaciousness & quiet.

Everyone needs time to recharge!  But because sensitive people absorb a lot of what’s going on around them, they more easily get overwhelmed by high stimulus environments & need to retreat regularily.  If I go on too long ignoring my need for refuge I start to malfunction! Places like malls, grocery stores and even the colourful goings on in my own home can tire me out easily.  I need time on a regular basis to retreat from sensory overload to simple, relaxing places.  Two spaces I find restful are my bedroom & the outdoors.  In these locations there is minimal stimulation and what I do see and hear generally evokes relaxation e.g. trees moving in the breeze, my bed & birds singing.  These places are free from work that needs to be done, competing noises & things that demand attention. Spending time in low stimulus spaces helps to dissipate the feelings of ‘overwhelm’ by giving the mind & emotions a break.  They provide space to focus solely on reflection & ‘being’ rather then trying to manage our busy minds and busy worlds simultaneously.

As a mother, I have also learnt that sometimes I have to send the children outside when I need a break.  Or I might put a TV programme on for them so I can have a bit of peace and quiet.

What places refresh you?  How can you carve out time for mental space in your day?

We need to get good at positive self talk.

Sensitive people can get discouraged easily in life and we can’t always rely on other people to lift us up.  If you feel discouraged about yourself, a project or anything else, remember that you have the power to speak positively into your own life. God has given us plenty of tools and truths in His word to counter negativity, hurt & doubt.

Many times, I’ve become disheartened by the actions or lack of actions of other people.  When this happened I’d rely on people to lift me out of discouragement.  But in recent times I’ve realised I was letting people make or break me.  I now take more responsibility for how I perceive and respond to the things other people say & do.  We don’t have to ‘recieve’ every word, or action that’s handed our way.

Become aware of when your own thoughts are becoming negative & counter them with the truth in God’s word.  We become what we behold, so let’s behold the things the Lord approves of & take advantage of our ability to absorb deeply.  Decide not to take in beliefs, thoughts & experiences that harm you & instead tell yourself the truth.

Are you easily hurt or discouraged by set backs, your thoughts or other people? How can you  build yourself up with positive self talk & reflection when this happens?

We need to develop and create time for a creative outlet.

Creativity can be an amazing outlet for the sensitive soul.  But it’s often drowned out by the demands of life.  As a mother, I’ve dabbled in a few crafts intermittently and admittedly it was a challenge to find the time to get creative on a regular basis.  But when I did, I found great joy & emotional release.  It was a sort of meditation, a reprieve from my analytical mind as I focused just on creating.  I could express some of what was within me in a way that words couldn’t.

Many people think of creativity as arts & crafts but it extends so far beyond that!  Creativity can be anything from cooking, to project planning, from photography to writing letters.  It can be poetry, beading, dance, writing, music, nature appreciation & so much more.  Finding a creative outlet not only develops & blesses us but can add beauty to the lives of those around us.

We need to know our limits.

This has been the hardest one for me by far!  I said to someone once that I feel like Tigger trapped inside an Eeyore body! I love to live life passionately! I’m the person that wants to volunteer on all the committees, get behind causes, organize, help others, host lunches etc.  I’m a doer & reigning myself in for the sake of my health is something I do reluctantly.  The reality is that I can’t handle doing everything I want to do because I’m higher maintenance than I’d like to be! I’m easily stressed & have to discipline myself to say no in order to prioritize self care.   If you don’t have time to eat a healthy diet, exercise, relax and get adequate sleep then you probably need to say no to some things.

We need to learn stress management in order to stay healthy.

Sensitive people are vulnerable to experiencing excess stress.  In my article “expectation overload’ I discussed how the expectations we have of ourselves can cause undue ‘percieved stress’ & how to manage that.  But we all have unavoidable ‘actual stress’ in our lives that we need to manage in healthy ways.

Here’s a few stress management tips I find helpful:

  • Bible reading & prayer
  • Not planning too much in one day/ week & pacing myself.
  • Diaphragmatic breathing
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Listening to instrumental music
  • Thought stopping (stopping negative thoughts before they escalate).
  • Positive self talk (telling yourself the truth in a given situation)
  • Getting outside
  • Moderate exercise
  • Talking to a trusted person about my feelings
  • Saying no
  • Engaging in a hobby or just having fun with friends

We need to communicate our needs.

Our loved ones can’t read our minds.  They may not understand why we can’t handle music playing at a certain time of day, why we need some space or how issues affect us so deeply.  This can lead to misunderstandings as they are forced to interpret our behaviour.  But what we want is a mutual understanding of each others needs.  Therefore, it’s vital to explain how your partner, close friends or family can support you & what you are experiencing.  This requires an understanding & acceptance of who you are as a person as well as recognizing that your needs as a sensitive individual are valid.

The word says that God knit us together in our mother’s womb and the bible is full of those who felt deeply & weren’t afraid to express it.  Jesus himself was sensitive to the needs of others & He’s still sensitive to our needs today.

We can thrive as sensitive women and  mothers by embracing who God created us to be, aknowledging our needs & using the Lord’s wisdom in how we live our lives.  Thankfully we have a gentle shepherd who gives us this invitation…

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11: 28 – 30

How will you respond to His invitation?

11 Habits of a Loving Mother

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Lately I’ve been thinking about what makes a loving mum.  Not so that I can beat myself up about my shortcomings but so that I can have somewhere positive to aim instead of getting blown about by all sorts of influences like my mood & the current culture.

I want to direct my focus & energy into showing love in ways that cause my children to thrive! It’s easy to give the tasks of motherhood all our attention – perfectly good things like cleaning, healthy meals, party planning, errands etc.  But what are the daily actions & attitudes that holistically nourish our children & make them feel loved, secure & happy?

I tried to put myself in a child’s shoes to bring you ’11 habits of a loving mum’.  So here goes…

1.  She spends time communing with & learning from God.

This woman puts God first & knows He’s her main source of power, strength & love.  She learns something new in God regularly & from her revelations she imparts wisdom & joy into her children.  Because she spends time with Jesus, she becomes more like Him in character, demonstrating more & more of the fruits of the Spirit.

2.  She chooses her words wisely.

A Godly mother knows the power of words to uplift, direct & comfort.  She also knows that harsh words are destructive & can’t be taken back.  When her patience is tested, her reserves are low & anger arises, she has learnt to take some deep breaths & not speak every word that she thinks. Her words are full of kindness & love but also firmness when needed.

3.  She listens.

Not just with her ears but with her eyes & her body language.  Her children feel heard & important because she gets down to their level & looks them in the eye regularly when they speak to her, especially about concerns.  Her verbal responses let them know she’s listened & her nods & eye contact show her precious children that they are worthy of her attention.  She ‘listens’ even when they don’t speak because she observes & attends to her children, noticing their non-verbal cues & behaviors & how they’re feeling.  In short, she makes herself emotionally & mentally available.

4.  She is reliable. 

Her kids know their needs will be met because mum creates a routine that ensures they are fed, watered, clothed, cleaned, mentally stimulated, cuddled & rested.  They know what’s coming next & that gives them the security to relax & play.

5.  She smiles & laughs.

A mother who lets go, laughs & plays, taps into the heart of a child.  The mother sets the tone & atmosphere of the house.  Kids are sensitive to their parents underlying moods and attitudes.  A mother who seeks to delight in her kids & serve her family with joy, finds that it’s contagious!

6.  She makes clear boundaries & sticks to them.

The children know what the rules & values of the house are, because they have been communicated plainly & there’s a commitment to consistent training/ discipline.  Children aren’t punished when they had no idea that they were doing something wrong or left wondering why they got in trouble.  Nor does this mother allow her kids to flout the rules, because true love is concerned with developing good character.  Children find security, identity & belonging in these shared family boundaries & values.

7.  She spends time playing. 

It’s so hard for her to pause the ‘to do’ list, but she does regularly because she gets to know her kids through play & knows they love spending time with her.  She had kids, not only to care for them, but to ENJOY them! So she lets some jobs go undone in order to enter the world of play with her children.

8.  She rests & invests. 

This mama knows that she can’t run on an empty tank.  So she takes the time to stop & relax.  She invests in her physical, spiritual, mental & emotional health & recognizes when she needs a break.  This mum prioritizes self care.

9.  She teaches. 

Over the years she’s gained wisdom.  She knows the road ahead has many ups and downs, highs and challenges for her children.  She believes in preparing her children for the road of life ahead.  So she is  prudent in teaching & training her kids in God’s ways, practical skills & through life experiences.

10.  She loves others.

This family does life alongside others because a loving mother’s heart extends to those outside her immediate family.  She fosters other quality relationships in her children’s lives & practices hospitality.  Her kids know what it is to have community.  Home is a place her kids feel excited to bring their friends.

11.  She protects.

As a guardian of the home she censors what comes into it by way of entertainment, music & people.  She guards her children from unhealthy influences & environments, making wise decisions about who she trusts to babysit her kids.

These are just some of the habits I want to aspire to.  Some go against my natural inclinations but thinking about what they mean to my children inspires me to focus on developing more of them.

What about you? What do you think makes a good mum?

Feel free to add your ideas below.  Or write your own list to serve as a sort of vision of motherhood that you want to aspire to.

Serving Our Families Joyfully – A Key to Happiness

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Today, the words ‘service’ and ‘serve’ are most commonly used to describe the paid services that we receive.  We might pay a cleaning service, get served a meal at McDonalds or attend a funeral service.  But, rarely do people refer to serving that is freely given, the type that mums do every day in the home.  Yet it was this selfless serving & laying down of one’s life that characterised Jesus’s ministry & a lot of His teaching.

To serve means to ‘be of use to, to do work for, to help or assist another person/s for their benefit’.  Serving has others at heart.

From the day she gives birth, a mother is called to serve, to nourish, to sacrafice, to do countless things daily for the benefit of her family.  This noble call on her life can be demanding, & tiring.  Much work goes unseen & unappreciated.  It’s during these times that she can give into negative thinking, become weighed down & lose her joy in serving.

I’ve been there.  Neck deep in laundry, dishes, errands and needs, I felt like I never seemed to stop serving!  Those boring old dishes and errands felt like inconvenient deviations from things I’d rather be doing.  I thought that performing the menial, lowly jobs made my life dull & insignificant.  It was like I was on a tredmill trying to keep up but no one seeing the effort it took not to fall behind!  There was a mental disconnect between my jobs at home & the God & family I was serving.  I had yet to properly capture a vision of my ministry as a wife and mum & of the loving home I was building.

Because a lot of my work days went unseen, I felt owed.  I wanted someone else to make me feel like my life was significant, that I was more then dishes, cleaning, packing lunches & dirty nappies.  I wanted more acknowledgement, appreciation & to be paid back in earthly recognition for my unseen serving.  So much of what I did for my family felt like drudgery…the messes, the constant food prep, the never-ending laundry.  Resentment grew as the recognition & praise I felt entitled to often eluded me.  Because I was always expecting a ‘return’ on my giving, God wasn’t at the centre of my service; I was.  As a result, I’d been losing out on His heavenly ‘return’ by not investing with a yielded, joyful heart.  I had been forfeiting the abundant joy that comes from doing things purely to please the Lord.

Now this isn’t to say that we have to pretend to enjoy every job.  Nor do I claim that serving is always easy or that we should burn ourselves out trying to do too much.  There will be times where serving with a cheerful heart is extremely challenging! That’s called true sacrafice!  Many deeds won’t be seen, let alone understood or outwardly appreciated.   But we can start to see the beauty in our daily giving as we usher God’s ways into our hearts.  Because, as a good friend reminded me, every time we serve another person, it’s like we did it for Jesus.  As we humble ourselves & serve with love, we become more like our Lord.  There’s freedom & healing in doing things His way.

Jesus came to earth & modeled a servant heart.  Even though He was Lord, He humbled himself to wash the disciples feet.  If anyone was entitled & owed, it was the Messiah, yet His yielded life & death on the cross was the ultimate act of service.  It was all for our benefit, that we might be reconciled to the Father.  He deserved worship & honour & yet he served knowing that many would not appreciate or acknowledge what He did.  Therefore as daughters of God, our service should not be dependent on us having our own needs met but on following our humble King’s example.

Jesus also promised a reward for unseen works.  He urged us not to do things for earthly recognition or gain but to store up everlasting treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:1).

So how do all these concepts play out practically?  Here’s a few examples of how I can choose to delight in serving.

Gratitude 

What a blessing it is to be able.  My first step of obedience came when God showed me that I was among those blessed with able hands, a sound mind & good health.  Because of those things, I have the ability to wash dishes, fold washing & feed my family.  These are basic tasks that the disabled & sick often do not have the priviledge of being able to perform.  Oh how they long to once again do the boring, hum drum tasks with ease as we can.  So as I wash dishes, I pray & thank him! I am blessed to be ABLE to serve!  Suddenly I find I’m serving with gusto & a renewed sense of appreciation for work.

Freely Give 

Let your reward be in the giving.  It’s said that it’s more blessed to give then to receive (Acts 20:35).  When we give, we shouldn’t do it with the expectation that we will receive something earthly in return.  Our reward was the privilege of getting to do something to bless & benefit another person.  Our reward is choosing righteousness before our Father, of walking in the way of love & of pleasing the Lord who sees all.  God is our audience and knowing we are honoring Him is such a joy that we don’t need recognition from others, payment or approval.

Trusting God with Unmet Needs

One of the biggest obstacles to joyful serving can be unmet needs or wants.  In our hearts we can think “Why should I? He never does this or that for me” or “When was the last time someone though of my needs?”. But, I want to serve lovingly because it’s important to me to live the life of love God’s called me to.  I don’t want how I serve my Father to be dependent on whether people are blessing me. I am accountable to Jesus for my actions.  So I need to trust Him when I feel like my needs aren’t met the way I want them to be.  My husband, kids, friends & family are not perfect.  They will disappointment me just as I do them.  Many times God will call me to continue to serve faithfully through hurt & disappointment, yet I can do it with delight knowing I’m in His will.  I can communicate my needs to others & trust God to strengthen me through times of lack.

So how has choosing to serve joyfully helped me heal emotionally?

Well I got away from a victim mentality.  Instead of feeling trapped in a obligatory cycle, I started to find ‘kingdom purpose’ in my labours.  I saw how each plain, ordinary, brick that was laid, built the walls of something majestic.  I wasn’t trapped, I was a powerful partner with God in building a legacy of love & godliness in my home & community.  The lowly jobs were beautiful in His sight and I started to heal from feelings of worthlessness, insignificance, bitterness & low motivation.  In their place grew a strong sense of my worth as a mother & wife.  I found my importance in caring for & ministering to my family before the Lord as an act of worship.  I forgave my husband and kids for not always appreciating me & freed them from meeting needs that only God could!  If serving was good enough for my King, treasured by Him & modeled by Him, then surely it is good enough for me!

So as I serve my family a meal after a long day, I choose to do it with a smile.  As I fold the washing, I thank God that I can clean my families clothes & make them feel safe & warm.  As the good Lord says ‘whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving’ (Collossions 3: 23-24).

It is an honour to follow in my Lord’s footsteps and to live a life of service.   Though I fall down daily, He guides me back to his life-giving ways.  We don’t have to wait until heaven to experience that abundant life.  When we seek first His kingdom we find healing & blessing flows.  The time to serve joyfully is now!

 

The Power of a Thankful Heart

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I was anxious! It was the 4th day of the school holidays & my 3 girls & I were on our way to a cardiologist appointment to follow up some heart issues I’d been experiencing.   Trying my best to keep my nerves at bay and grasping for inner strength, I began to pray out loud, committing the day to Jesus.  As I drove nearer the hospital, I noticed the lush, tree covered hills surrounding our city and the sunny, vibrant blue sky! It was a beautiful Autumn day! My response was to declare thanks to God.  As I spoke, anxiety faded & peace & joy arose in my heart.  Of everything I’d prayed, it was the words of thanks & praise that comforted my soul! Later I realised this…

One of the greatest weapons we have at our disposal is a thankful heart!

Something shifts in the spiritual realm when we declare gratitude & praise in any circumstance.  When we start taking notice of what God has done, is doing & will do. But why exactly is being thankful such a key to our wellbeing…?

It’s God’s will – plain & simple! Every way of the Lord produces blessings.  The good book says “rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18).  When we act in obedience to God’s will, we experience the life giving benefits that flow from it.  He spurs us toward righteousness because His paths lead to life.  The alternative route is one of death & destruction.  When a difficult circumstance gets ALL our attention, we are prone to wallowing in discouragement, doubt & self pity.  When, by inattention, we make God smaller then our circumstance, we magnify our struggles so much that they crowd His immeasurable goodness out of the picture.  Before long we are overwhelmed, as the problem, which was really very small compared to God, has taken over our emotional wellbeing.  Thankfulness is the key that takes the magnifying glass off our problem or circumstance & makes us realise how small it is compared to the glory of God!  When God’s greatness comes back into focus, we find our peace & joy returning.

Thankfulness that accompanies prayer is an act of choosing to trust & this leads to peace.  When I ask God for something and simultaneously thank Him, I declare my trust in His provision by showing gratitude in advance.  Even if my request is not granted, thanking Him regardless is still fitting because His will is superior in every way.  He urges us not to be anxious about anything, but in EVERY situation, by prayer and petition, with THANKSGIVING to present our requests to Him.  When we do this, His peace, which transcends all understanding, will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4: 6-7).  Notice that we’re to ask WITH thanksgiving, not after we’ve received.  It’s this laying down of anxieties & gratefully trusting in Him that leads to mental & emotional peace. 

Thankfulness causes us to appreciate things that we can easily take for granted.  Humans have a tendency to quickly get used to what we have & what’s going right in our lives.  On the other hand we tend to be acutely aware of what isn’t going according to plan & what we don’t possess.  We have a bent toward discontentment, but choosing thanksgiving releases feelings of happiness & contentment.  When we consciously go looking for the good in our lives, we notice that we are blessed beyond measure & with many things that we did nothing to acquire.  Even our very existence, the flowers, our eye sight, the beauty of a child’s laughter, a sunny day, the taste of an orange, a faithful friend…the eternal love & blessings of our magnificent God!  Thankfulness mentally reframes the picture we have of our lives, reorientating our focus & causing us to rejoice.  We live our lives differently when we are thankful.  We are humble.  We give more, smile more & make the most of our lives.  This is the perfect example of the thought – emotion – behaviour connection.  

So coming back to Thursdays anxious trip to the cardiologist.  Did being thankful get rid of every shred of anxiety? No.  Do I think that thankfulness is the ‘magic pill’to cure all painful emotions? Certainly not.  But I acknowledge that with thankfulness came a greater measure of peace that day.  It shifted my mind off the ‘what ifs’ & onto my Father’s immeasurable goodness.  Through thankfulness I chose to acknowledge God’s hand in my life & in light of that, my worries shrank significantly.

Many times grattitude has lifted me out of the pit of discouragement, negativity, self pity, doubt and discontentment.  It fosters an inner strength and hope that gets us through the hard times in life.  So next time you feel like life is getting on top of you, try looking for things to thank God for.  After a while you may just find yourself rejoicing!

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   nd the peace of God, which transcends all understan 4: 6-7)