Expectation Overload

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Excess stress! It’s something that plagues our society, robbing people of peace & freedom.  Instead of controlling stress, it often controls us, leading to sub standard health and emotional outbursts that impact not only us, but our nearest & dearest.

As I wrote about in a previous post, ‘Goodbye Stinkin Thinkin’, much of our stress is perceived, based on our learnt approach to life’s demands.  Seeing how our thoughts play a part in inducing stress is no reason to wallow in guilt & self blame.  Rather it’s empowering to grasp that much of the angst we experience can be altered with the right mind set.

One major cause of unnecessary stress comes from having too high expectations of ourselves.  We can have unrealistic expectations both about how much we do, and also the standard to which we do those tasks.  The combination of trying to do too much, too well, is a recipe for stress overload!

As mums we often internalise pressure to do a GREAT job in EVERY area.  Motherhood is the endless balancing act of juggling meals, cuddles, play times, bathing, parties, transport, organising, sorting, housework, community work, shopping, values teaching, employment…the list goes on! But crazily, amidst this never-ending list of roles & tasks, we still expect to keep all the balls in the air at all times.  When our attempts at the perfect juggling act start to go awry, we try harder & harder, but as balls go flying, we have this sense of constantly striving but not quite achieving.  There’s a sense of never quite being finished.  There comes a point where we need to lay some things down & cut ourselves a bit of slack.

A wonderful mum of 4 once shared this simple pearl of wisdom; we have to identify our priorities & let the rest slide!

Our priorities are what’s important to us based on our individual values & goals.  When it came to daily housework with 4 kids; having a clear bench, meals organised & the washing laundered were at the top of my mum friend’s list.  Those tasks kept family life running smoothly.  Anything else that got achieved surplus to that was considered a bonus!

A home is something that’s built to serve us & ours.  We were not meant to serve our home.  While we have young kids, lowering our expectations of how tidy & clean our house is can reduce unnecessary pressure & let us focus more on enjoying what happens inside it’s walls.  As long as it’s functional then its meeting its purpose to facilitate family life.  But priorities aren’t defined by our standards around housework.  That’s just one example.

A great way to evaluate one’s time use is to see it visually laid out in front of you.  Grab a nice big sheet of paper or open a Word document & list everything you regularly do in one column.  In the 2nd column, put the length of time you spend on each task & on the 3rd write why you do it.  Lastly, pray & ask God for insight & direction.

Are you doing something because it lines up with your values & goals, with your priorities? Or is it something you do out of habit, obligation, to find worth or to keep up with the Jones’s?  Does how we spend our time come from a place of pressure, expectations & stress? If so, it could be time to start using the word ‘no’ & often the person we will be saying ‘no’ to is ourselves.

Comparing ourselves to others is the thief of joy & causes people to spend their lives investing time in being great at things they were probably never meant to excel in.  We don’t have to be great or even good at everything we do.  We all do well in different areas and just OK in others because our priorities are different.  If I spend too much time trying to be good at something that isn’t important to me, I might not ever get to invest in my passions.  It’s okay to be okay.  And good enough is good enough! It’s also permissible to do a below average job sometimes because we prioritised something more important.  Don’t beat yourself up about what you haven’t done.  Look at what you have done.  Don’t create a pinterest worthy anything unless you want to & have the time to prioritise that!

Some of us have high expectations of ourselves because we once felt we could never measure up to the standards of someone important in our life.  Deeply ingrained is a sense that nothing we do will ever be good enough.  We end up with a distorted view of our achievements, seeing everything we do through a critical lens, with the bar of acceptance ever moving further & further from reach.  This needs to be uprooted & healed through prayer & scripture.

The bible says that people look at the outward appearance but God looks upon the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).  Although this verse is talking about physical appearance, I believe it can also be applied to the outward appearance of our works.  God’s made clear through his word that our heart’s condition when doing something is more important then the deed itself.  The pharisees did a lot of their deeds well and thoroughly.  They prayed long prayers in the streets & gave large amounts of money.  They followed the law to the letter…a bit like perfectionists.  But God was more pleased with the people that gave out of love, rather then to be good enough by their own works.  The Father considers a deed an offering, not because we did an excellent job according to our high standards, but because we gave what we had.  Like the poor widow who gave her only coin, we can simply give what we’ve got according to the gifts, ability & resources he’s given us. When we give for good reasons, our heart is in the right place & we experience joy and freedom in our doing.

As I come to God today, I choose to let go of  feeling like I’m always striving to be ‘enough’.  I’m thankful that he lowered that bar, by His grace, so that I could scale it each day.  I choose to believe that my offerings of work, play, relating & giving are acceptable in His sight.  Not because my works are perfect but because of the Father’s grace.  I choose to orientate my heart & my actions to what’s important to the Lord.  May my priorities & standard of doing be God led & may he help me to see that my value is not earned by works.  My value was established when, despite by flaws, Jesus saw me, & considered me worth dying on the cross for.  Even if I could never do 1 more task or good work, He would still consider me acceptable…and even more then that, beloved & cherished! Because the Father’s love is unconditional.  Today, I rest in that love.

 

Run to God, not People

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When times get hard it seems easier to run.  But when we run away from one thing, we always run to something else.

When our inner storms rage it seems easier to try to find shelter & comfort then to face them with Go – to retreat into the comfort of the safe & known.  Or for me, to search for someone to show me I’m not alone in all this. To search for someone to make me feel okay.

I feel that God’s been asking me to walk a lonely road for a while now.  I have always gone to people for help before going to Him.  I rely on my husband so much to meet my emotional needs.  If I’m hurt & afraid I try to find safe people whose company I can escape into.  I use relationships & fun to distract me from the deep lonliness & pain I often feel.  Being around others & feeling accepted temporarily fills a void of worthlessness.  But more often then not, I leave these interactions lacking the deep connection & love that I crave.

God is drawing me to come to Him first, as my main source.  God longs to be my Father, my husband, my healer, my comforter, my advisor & my teacher.  If only I would go to Him as His bride & daughter, as His student & patient.

Lately I’ve run from intimately pursuing God because I’m scared deep down, that if I go to God, He might not be there for me.  I might still be alone.  I might still feel worthless.  For so long I’ve gone to people to fill voids in my life that only God can & I’m used to quick fixes like comfort eating & getting lost in social media.  The problem is that these temporary band aids only mask my hurts with short lived distraction & pleasure.

I’ve sought acceptance, love & affirmation from people because it was people that hurt me.  So I wanted it to be people that undid those lies & showed me that I was lovable, valued & important.  It’s been a hard lesson to learn that no person will ever be a reliable indicator of my worth.  Humans are fickle & my self esteem has been unstable and ever changing based on the cues of rejection or acceptance I’ve had from different individuals.

God says it’s time for that to stop.

Ive identified many areas for healing now.  I am taking steps to deal with these areas.  But God has impressed upon my heart that the next stage of healing involves pressing into Him, earnestly seeking Him & putting my relationship with Him above all others.  It’s going to be a lonely road initially but the purpose of this lonliness will be to lead me to Him.

No amount of binge eating, coffee dates with friends, heart to hearts with my husband or compliments will EVER compare with the inner comfort, sense of worth & transformation that comes from a close relationship with my Father.

It’s time to stop running from intimacy with God.  I need Him urgently! Not just in church on Sundays.  Not just in short prayers uttered during the busyness of my day.  But I need focused, uninterrupted times of listening to His voice & seeking Him. I need to soak up His presence & the goodness, love & truth He imparts.

So today I choose to walk on alone: alone in the sense that I will no longer rely on people as a form of escapism.  I choose to walk away from seeking human approval & into the arms of my Father.  God’s asked me to walk a lonely road for a while in order to truly have the company of the one who matters most.

An important part of healing is partnering with God & working closely with Him.  As Autumn is in full force & winter beckons I feel a sense of hunkering down, and of the dying off of old ways.  As I get closer to God in my spiritual Autumn, there will be a time of quiet.  The old must die off for the new to come.  It’s in those quiet months that deep, mysterious processes happen within plants so that they bring forth new growth in Spring time.

This time may be a quiet, lonely time in my life but it’s one where God is doing a lot of deep work.  I just have to be willing to run straight into His arms.

 

 

 

 

 

Goodbye Stinkin Thinkin!

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Our thought life is central to our emotional health.  Over our lives it’s easy to develop a pattern of ‘stinkin thinkin’.  This is how I found myself in a state of emotional squalor and near burn out!  But for a long time I wasn’t aware of how I got there.  My heart produced, in abundance, the fruits of unhealthy thinking – anxiety, low mood, stress & anger as well as actions to match.  I believed that I held little control over these mood states.  I felt like a powerless victim & this single belief compounded my state of negativity.

But God graciously revealed that I was reaching these ‘mood destinations’ through the mental ‘steps’ I was choosing to take.  These steps were negative thoughts.  With each thought I walked & sometimes leaped into states of emotional turmoil.  Negativity had become such an ingrained pattern that I’d arrive at ‘destination distress’ with no awareness that I’d elected to take the journey there.  The bulk of my stress was perceived and not actual.

Perceived stress comes from our flawed interpretation of what something means or the scenarios we imagine.  I habitually contemplated the worst outcomes in any given scenario.  I first realised this one morning when I had the bright idea of taking vegetables over to our neighbors, who we often overheard arguing and fighting.  I wanted to bless them, build connection & model generosity to my daughters.  But instead I worked myself into a state of anxiety, imagining any possible negative outcomes.  What if they were unfriendly or rude & I felt rejected?  What if I knocked on their door at an inconvenient time, interrupting them?  What if they turned abusive towards us?  Before I knew it, my heart rate had increased, I felt ‘on edge’ & offering vegetables to the neighbors became a huge, scary challenge.  My heart was in a state of turmoil!  Not surprisingly, no vegetables got delivered that day, but in my head I had experienced all the above situations, feeling all the emotions that the imagined outcomes triggered.  I had literally walked to the neighbors doorstep in my head, inconvenienced them, been rejected and received abuse.  I was in a state of stress without having faced anything.  Sadly my goal to bless, build connection & model generosity was stolen.  I’d gone through the stress without any of the reward of stepping out of my comfort zone.  And this was because of how I chose to think.

The occasional ‘vegetable scenario’ might not significantly impact our emotional health, but repeated negative thinking leads to a life of misery as well as ill health.  Stirring ourselves up to emotions like anger & anxiety produces actions that don’t align with how we desire to live our lives.  I increasingly experienced diminished emotional energy due to constantly processing the stress I created.  I’d act out of feelings such as rejection & meaninglessness which adversely impacted my parenting, draining me of joy!  I became burnt out, forgetful, extremely fatigued and often lashed out at my children due to stress build up.  I started to see reasonable requests from them as irritating because I was busy trying to cope with the mess in my head and heart.

It’s impossible to hit the bulls eye of being a whole person or a loving mother if we can’t control the arrow.  God’s bestowed us with a powerful weapon called choice.  If we choose to align the arrow of our thoughts with the truth of His word we will hit the target of a peaceful, fulfilling life.  Because the truth is, when I think stink, I feel stink & when I feel stink I often act stink!  But the good news is that when we think right, we feel right & act right.  And even when we do face unpleasant emotions, we have more emotional reserves to sustain us because we aren’t running on empty!

Do you need to overhaul your thought life?  If so the best place to start is by asking the Holy Spirit to prompt you when you are going down an unhealthy thought path.  In order to change we must first be made aware of the lie that needs correcting.  The Holy Spirit is described in the bible our teacher and comforter, so what better person to lead us?  When the Lord puts his finger on a thought, turn away from that wrong thinking by saying “STOP” and then replace it with the truth.  Ask the Lord to come into that thought and give you insight into what needs to change.  Sometimes it’s very obvious and just common sense but God can give us insights about what’s driving us to go down a certain train of thought.

If a repeated theme arises, start to choose reading material that addresses that particular falsehood.  Do you imagine others rejecting you or think about yourself negatively?  Study teaching that tells the truth about God’s opinion of you & start hijacking any contrary thoughts with truth.  You are beautiful!  You are capable! You are worthy of love! You have many strengths & qualities!  Repeating these true statements is called ‘positive self talk’ and if we tell ourselves something often enough, we begin to believe it.

Do you habitually imagine negative scenarios or continuously replay unpleasant experiences from the past?  It’s time to let those go with God’s help.  Often we over analyse the future as a form of self protection as we think that by imagining all outcomes we can protect ourselves from further hurt.  Likewise we ruminate about the past out of a need that hasn’t been fulfilled e.g. thinking about it validates what happened to us.  But God wants us to hand our worries about the future & hurts from the past into His capable hands.  It’s not that we should block out all careful thought & healthy reflection, but learning to become aware of when it is counterproductive is an important step in having a transformed mind.  It’s not enough to merely empty our minds, or cull a thought.  We must replace negativity with good, truthful thoughts.  A powerful way to do this is to pray & put the situation, past or present into the hands of God, trusting Him for whatever it is you need of Him.  Is it justice? healing? peace? protection?  Lay it down & believe that God will work the situation for your good.  You can also turn your attention to prayer/ worship, a hobby you enjoy, checking up on a friends or family, a creative outlet or something else that feeds your soul.

Selecting and displaying related bible verses and/ or quotes on your walls can be a great way to visually prompt us to repeatedly think a positive thought, especially if we commit to saying the words out loud.  Put uplifting words on on your toilet walls and by your mirror, words that counter the negative self talk.  Listen to uplifting CD’s and talks in the car instead of music that’s reinforces negative ideas.  It takes intentional effort to reprogramme our mind daily.  Repetition is key.

There are times when we just can’t do it on our own!  When negative thinking overwhelms us so badly that our mental health is deteriorating, it’s important to seek the wise counsel and encouragement of someone insightful.   A pastoral or prayer team and trained counselor is ideal.  There are many great self help books for free at the library that can help us address areas of negative thinking.  Prayer is also invaluable & can be provided through your local church and Christian counselors.

Finally, I like to picture thought transformation like this… I am swimming at the beach. The ocean’s current naturally pulls me in one direction.  I have to keep my focus aligned with something on the beach to avoid drifting from my swimming spot.  Similarly, it’s essential to realign myself intentionally with God’s truth because the result of inaction is being swept away from where I want to be – right. in. His. will.

2 Corinthians 10:5 says this ‘We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.’  I pray you take hold of this truth today 🙂

 

Hearing God’s Call to Healing

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Discovering that we need emotional healing can be a long process.  We may not have realised how far we were falling until we hit rock bottom with a thud! As mothers we strive to be everything our children need, suppressing many of our own emotions & struggles in order to care for them.  We vow not to let our own struggles impact our parenting in negative ways, but sometimes as hard as we try, we wind up mothering out of our own hurts.  It’s during these conflicts between how we behave & how we WANT to behave that God’s call to healing becomes clearer.  Often, He has been prompting us to address heart issues for a long time, but we’ve said “Not yet, Lord” or “I’m doing OK” or “It’s too painful”.

We’ve learnt that regardless of how we feel, lunch boxes still need packing, children need bathing, and little hearts need constant nurturing.  Emotional upheavals look like very inconvenient intrusions into our busy lives; a strain on the emotional energy that already feels totally spent on loving our kids well.  But the first step toward healing is choosing to accept that we need it.

So how do we hear and heed God’s call to healing?

At first glance, taking the time to self-reflect and seek help can seem too costly.  What will be unleashed once we start aknowledging the pain or burnout that’s surfaced?  Will working through our hurts unplug a dam and cause us to drown in the process?  And what will that mean for our families?

To hear God’s call we first need to be willing to listen.  To truly hear Him, we must find a place of stillness amidst the chaos where we become willing to face what God is exposing within us & to be led by Him through the valley of inner healing. The bible says that the Lord gently leads the mothers with their young (Isaiah 40:11).  When a child runs crying to their mother with a badly grazed knee, they know they will be cared for.  She tenderly leads them through the process of cleaning, bandaging & nursing the wound. This process is often uncomfortable, but it is necessary.  Healing only happens because the child was first willing to run to their mum to reveal the injury.  That little one knew Mummy was trustworthy & that her way of assisting the wound to heal was best.  The child could not (a) carry on pretending they weren’t injured or (b) tend to the wound alone.  Both of those options could lead to a worse situation such as infection that could weaken the whole body.  Likewise hidden wounds fester when not taken and fully exposed to the Lord.

Are you willing to show God your ‘ouchies’? Will you run to Him like a child with a grazed knee knowing that He will guide you through the healing process whilst wrapping you in a big hug?

Pursuing emotional healing while simultaneously raising children is challenging.  It takes an investment of time – time in the word, time listening to the Lord, time pouring your heart out before him, time seeking wise counsel & prayer, as well as the time to put into practice what you learn along the way.  All this must be prioritised along with a mothers work.  But emotional healing is an investment not only in you dear mum, but in your family.  It’s rewards are reaped in the legacy of wholeness you pass on to your offspring.  The price of ignoring emotional wounds is much, much greater because ‘hurting people, hurt people’.  Any battles we fight & win now become one less burden for our children as they raise our grand-kids.

Has God been calling you to emotional healing?  Will you hear his calls & allow Him to tenderly lead you through brokeness & into wholeness?