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When Christmas Peace Falls to Pieces

17 Dec

A stressed young mom tried to wrap Christmas presents for her toddler while juggling her new infant. It was dogindiaper_akc-aboutdogdiapersafter midnight and she was so tired and not thinking correctly.

Imagine her husband’s surprise when he walked in to see the dog, Murphy, wrapped in one of the baby’s diapers.

“I didn’t have time to take him for a walk,” she said.

Now that’s stressed!

Some people get so stressed in December, they use their stress ball to throw at people who stress them out!

For many years, when I flipped my calendar to December, I flipped out!

My heart and mind started racing. Everything had to be “just so,” perfect for the holidays. I justified my heightened expectations with nice, spiritual-sounding statements: “I want everyone to enjoy the spirit of Christmas” and “God would want us to do all things with excellence in honor of Jesus’ birthday.”

But the reality was, I was a Christmas Control Freak.

I have a pretty ceramic plaque in my home that reads, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!” But if you asked some of my family members back then, they might not have agreed with that. Whenever I got into Christmas Control Freak mode, I created chaos in our home.

Christmas Control Freak mode is the quickest way to destroy Christmas peace.

Christians or not, there are times we all struggle with finding peace. We may try to generate it within ourselves with positive thinking. We may seek it in others, longing for the kinds of encouragement that will keep us calm.

Some people travel to far off lands in search of some kind of peace. Others go into seclusion, hiding from the stresses of life.

But the truth is, no one can give us true, lasting peace except the Lord, because He created a restlessness within us that can only be satisfied in Him! The apostle Paul says when we are “justified by faith”—when we have trusted Christ alone to rescue us from our sin—we have peace with God (Romans 5:1).

The Psalmist said “the Lord will bless his people with peace” (Psalm 29:11). This means there is no condemnation when we stand before the Lord someday (Romans 8:1); Jesus paid sin’s penalty, which we could never pay (Romans 5:6-8).

The world the peace gives can be good for a while, but it doesn’t last. Because we live in a fallen world, peace is temporary.

But Jesus says,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. . . . I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 14:27; 16:33 ESV).

So the peace of God is ours, but we must receive it. We must learn to stop our striving and rest in Christ’s peace (Matthew 11:28).

We have to seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14). We gain peace when we love the Word of God and fix our minds on Him (Psalm 119:165; Isaiah 26:3).

And we must not only receive it, we must let it rule our hearts (Colossians 3:15). When the Holy Spirit is in control, one of the results of being “spiritually-minded” is peace (Galatians 5:22-23; Romans 8:6).

Too many of us will not let peace reign. We insist on sitting at the control boards of our lives, manipulating and fixing things ourselves, when God calls us to surrender to His control—to trust and obey—so He can usher peace into our hearts.

I think Mary, the mother of Jesus, understood the importance of peace reigning in the heart. She responded to the angel’s announcement with words reflecting her heart surrender: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord, let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)

Peace in the midst of tough circumstances is especially hard. “Peace on earth” can become a struggle with strained finances, death of a loved one, loneliness and isolation, and other not-so-peaceful situations.

These days, when Christmas peace begins to fall to pieces, I am learning to pause and pray. I ask the Lord, “Where am I running ahead of you or focusing on things that aren’t important? and “What do you want me to do next?”

His answers to my heart sometimes surprise me.

  • “Come apart a while—be still and listen for My instructions”
  • Rest in me and find fresh strength.”
  • Be more relationship-oriented and less task-oriented.”
  • “Be less self-absorbed and more others-conscious.
  • “Help that person see Me.”

I’m reminded by scripture, those that have peace must learn to sow peace (James 3:18). We sow God’s peace (and love) as we seek to resolve conflicts, share our resources, spend time with others who are hurting, comfort the grieving, and act with compassion toward those who need it most.

Christmas peace is ours if we will receive it and let it reign in our hearts. Three of the quickest ways I know to realign with God’s peace is to be grateful, practice contentment and stay surrendered.

All three are choices we can make to pursue peace.

~ Dawn

Dog in diaper graphic on American Kennel Club site, regarding dog diapers.

 

 

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Give Me a Break!

12 Mar

When you take a break, be careful where you are!

EagleInTree_morguefileAn eagle sat high up in a tree, just resting and doing nothing—taking a break from soaring in the sky.

A little rabbit observed the eagle and called out, “I really admire how you’re resting up there. Think I can do the same?”

“Sure, why not?” the eagle replied.

So the rabbit sat on the ground at the bottom of the tree. He got himself comfortable. Just resting. Doing nothing,

And along came a fox and he jumped on the rabbit and ate it!

Moral of this quirky story: If you’re going to take a break, make sure you’re sitting very, very high up!

I’ve been pretty stressed lately. In the stress, I’ve caught myself saying, “Give me a break!” I need more planned rest. (Sort of like the old Calgon commercial: “Calgon, take me away!”)

I rationalized that I didn’t have time for a break. Dumb.

It may sound counterproductive, but taking breaks makes us more productive, not less.

In a 2012 article, Phyllis Korkki, a writer for The New York Times, offered words of wisdom about taking breaks. She said taking regular breaks from mental tasks helps us be more productive and creative; and it helps us avoid stress and exhaustion.

She quotes a school of management expert:

“Mental concentration is similar to a muscle, says John P. Trougakos, an assistant management professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and the Rotman School of Management. It becomes fatigued after sustained use and needs a rest period before it can recover, he explains — much as a weight lifter needs rest before doing a second round of repetitions at the gym.”

jesus_at_rest

Painting by Greg Olson **

We see in scripture that Jesus took breaks in His ministry. In the midst of His busy work, He often withdrew to rest and pray (example: Luke 5:16).

In Addicted to Busy,* author Brady Boyd wrote about Jesus taking many “well-deserved breaks.”

As often as possible, Boyd said, “Jesus withdrew to out-of-the-way places for prayer.”

“He withdraws in order to work through tragic news … to gain insight on important decisions … to enjoy time with his closest companions … as a means of teaching his disciples…

“When He senses it’s time to withdraw, he just goes. … Rhythmic—that’s how Jesus lived. It’s how we’re invited to live too.”

Brady described Jesus’s break strategy as: “engage, engage, engage, withdraw … engage, engage, engage, withdraw.”

We all need R & R (rest and relaxation). Whether a day off, a vacation, or even a short break during our workday, we all need to refresh our energy. We need exercise and sleep, and the luxury of “time off.”

Christ-followers need rhythmic refreshing for more productive, creative ministry. Besides all the things we do for our body and emotions to recharge, we also need prayer and time in the Word of God. We need spiritual refreshing.

“My soul finds rest in God alone” (Psalm 62:1).

We find rest in the presence of God (Exodus 33:14; Psalm 62:5Matthew 11:28).

Ah yes, rest in God. The perfect remedy for stress. 

Is it time for a break? Are you enjoying the rhythmic refreshing of Christ-like living—a pattern the Lord illustrates with His own life?

 * Book – Brady Boyd, Addicted to Busy: Recovery for the Rushed Soul (David C. Cook, 2014).

** Painting: © Greg Olsen | www.GregOlsen.com “Worlds without End. Used with permission.

Eagle graphic: morguefile

Movin’ Too Fast? (Six Ways to Slow Down)

28 Sep

God’s creativity is sometimes the blueprint for our inventions. Think about it … Long before human beings imagined modern technologies, tortoises and turtles had streamlined bodies, hard tops, retractable landing gear and mobile homes!

Think of the word “slow” and you’ll likely think “tortoise.” This sounds like Tortoise humor my granddaughters would love:

Question:  “What do you get when you cross a tortoise with a porcupine?

Answer: “A SLOW POKE!”

Tortoise_SlowDown_smallerI grew up in the era of Simon and Garfunkel, and one of my favorite songs was “The 59th Street Bridge Song” (better known as “Feelin’ Groovy”). You may remember the words:

     “Slow down, you move too fast. You got to make the morning last.

     “Just kicking down the cobble stones. Looking for fun and feelin’ groovy.”

It was a song that always made me smile. When I heard it, I slowed down and “smelled the roses,” so to speak.

As a Type-A+ woman, slowing down is hard for me. It’s easy for me to forget the “Tortoise and Hare” fable – that rushing through life does not equate to effectively “winning” life’s race, and certainly not to meaningful living.

With maturity – and frankly, after a season of illness complicated by stress – I’ve learned to slow down. To intentionally halt swirling activities and say, “Enough!”

Some time ago, Jeff Goin challenged his readers to slow down, and I smiled as I read his challenges. They were exactly the points God has led me to embrace since 2007, when my life spiraled out of control.

I’m still discovering in this process of “slowing down,” but wanted to share six things I do know that help. (And I’d welcome your tips for pulling the plug too.)

1. Be Intentional. Slowing down doesn’t just happen (unless we’re sick, dying, or lazy). We need to make the choice to slow down – to choose with purpose.

2. Reflect and Meditate. Today may be all we have. Reflection and meditation will help us use our time wisely, understanding the will of the Lord (Ephesians 5:15-17). Slowing down doesn’t mean we veg in front of a television all day or cop out from our responsibilities. We seek God in prayer and the scriptures, and examine how we are living. Then, in all our planning for tomorrow, we don’t miss what God is doing this day.

3. Focus. Multitasking has become the norm in many of our lives (I am such a multitasker!), but sometimes we need to weigh the benefits of doing many things at once with the blessing of focusing on one thing at a time. We can ask God where our focus should be today … this hour … right now.

4. Stay Steady. Remember that tortoise. He faithfully plodded down the road and got to the goal. If God has blessed you with a quick and ready temperament, praise Him; but don’t discount times when it’s wise to slow down, stay steady, and see the Lord work on your behalf.

5. Learn to Rest and Wait. With all the input in modern society, the tendency is to feel we must move quickly to use what we’ve just read, heard or learned; to be a part of the forward-moving crowd or to not miss out on another great idea or “opportunity.” Sometimes, God just wants us to sit and stew on things for a while, to take time to let new information soak in. Then we can go forward in His strength (Proverbs 3:5-7a; Psalm 27:14). While it’s important to move ahead quickly to make some decisions, resting in God and waiting for marching orders is usually wise counsel. It’s not passive; it’s active trust.

6. Savor Your Life. Taking time “to smell the roses” is the common metaphor for slowing down with greater sensitivity toward life. We take time to enjoy God’s creation. We notice the people around us and take time to build relationships. We enjoy a meal, sitting down, rather than rushing through a meal or racing through yet another fast-food line. We examine our closets, shelves and possessions, and then we appreciate the good gifts our Father has already given us, rather than racing off to the mall to get “more.”

Are you movin’ too fast? I encourage you to relax and slow down.

You’ll likely add years to your life and accomplish more.

These are the principles that are changing my life, helping me to slow down. Can you share some other helpful tips?

Tortoise Photo: Image Courtesy of Danilo Rizzuti at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

— Dawn

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