Tag Archives: Stress

Where’s Your Focus?

Today is the last day of a 3 ½ day conference I’m attending in Florida for work. It’s been a great conference for the most part. I saw some good friends who I only see once or twice a year. I gleaned some tips and ideas that I will be able to implement back at the office to increase revenue and make my staff and me more productive and efficient. And I got to spend some time in the warm, sunny Florida weather, which has been a nice break from cold, rainy Oregon.

On that last note, I should have enjoyed just a bit more of that sun this afternoon instead of attending the final plenary session, but the topic looked interesting so I went. The topic was emotional intelligence. I thought I would come away with at least one or two tips on how to better deal with others, maybe something that would help in my role as a manager and program director. Alas, that was not to be.

This far too touchy-feely session was all quite odd. The “speaker” started by having us meditate for 7 minutes, during which time we were supposed to visualize ourselves next to a lake. Then he had us doing exercises to illustrate how we experience stress because of the fight or flight response of the amygdala of the brain because of the 99.9% of the human existence that involved running from tigers, followed by an exercise in which we were supposed to look into the eyes of another person for 2 minutes — twice — and I’m still not sure why.

In general, the “solution” to stress that he seemed to be offering — though he never came right out and said this — was to focus inwardly on our real self. He also suggested that we need to recognize the way things truly are.

I generally am not a very stressed-out person. Things don’t rile me up too easily and I don’t worry about all the things on my to-do list. I take one day at a time and one task at a time, and if no one is going to die as a result of my doing or not doing something, I don’t let it stress me. My solution to the problem of stress has been this:

  • I spend at least 15 minutes in prayer every morning, not focusing on me but on Jesus.
  • I concern myself more with the needs of those around me than with myself.
  • When I catch myself being “me” focused, I stop and ask God to refocus my thoughts onto Him.

I do agree with the second solution that this speaker suggested — that we recognize the way things truly are. And the way things truly are is that God is in control of the big picture, no matter what the little picture in front of me might suggest.

I thought of Peter who was able to walk on water, until he took his focus off Jesus. As long as we focus on the source of our strength, power, and peace, we will not sink into a sea of stress and worry.

I also thought of Daniel who was able to spend the night in the lions’ den without a scratch because he trusted in God to protect him. As long as we trust in the One who cares for us, we will have no need to engage in fight or flight behavior in the face of lions.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. Matthew 6:31-34 (NIV).

So where is your focus today? If you are feeling stressed and anxious, don’t look within for strength and peace. Focus on Jesus who is the Prince of Peace and cares for you like no other.

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Priorities in Practice

This afternoon I attended a session at the ACLEA conference I am at that was titled “Put Your Oxygen Mask on First.” It was all about taking care of oneself so that we reduce our stress and can then be available to accomplish those things we are called to do and to care for those people we are called to care for. This requires some sort of balance in one’s life.

With audience input, we came up with a definition of balance: “Prioritize things that matter most. Live according to your priorities.”

At the beginning of the session the speaker asked what movies, songs, quotes, or other things people used to reduce their stress. My answer, which he asked me to repeat into the microphone, was to remember Philippians 4:6: “Do not be anxious about anything, but by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, bring your requests to God.” This is my go-to quote when I feel stressed.

For me, my priorities are spending time with God and in the Word, spending time with and taking care of my family, taking care of my dog, giving my best when I am at work (but leaving work at the office), giving back to others the blessings that I have received, and staying healthy so I can do all of those things.

As I pondered the goal the speaker set before us—to do one thing differently—I actually came up with several things that I want to do in order to live according to my priorities.

  1. Almost two years ago, I decided I wanted to read the entire Bible again, but in the New Living Translation this time. As I survey in my mind the checklist of verses to be read in a year, realizing it’s been almost two since I vowed to read His Word each day, I see there are many checkmarks but there are also many chapters remaining to read tomorrow and each day. One thing I could do differently is to get back on track with my daily reading schedule.
  2. Something that always makes me feel better is to take my little dog Roman for a walk. It’s good exercise for both of us. I often see him nose his leash and I see the tennis balls lined up on the windowsill where he looks out onto the world. But I seldom take him for a walk. One thing I could do differently is to take Roman for a walk every day after work, even if it’s just a short walk.
  3. There are some songs that just make me want to dance, and I do love to dance, but I don’t do it very often. It is great exercise and always lifts my spirits. When I was younger I used to dance all the time. One thing I could do differently is to turn on music and dance a little while I’m making dinner several times per week.
  4. At work, my office is on the third floor. I know it’s only two flights of stairs to get there, but for some reason in the morning I’ve developed the habit of taking the elevator (even though it drives me nuts when it is so slow). I use the excuse that I’m carrying things, but it’s not really a very good reason to ride the elevator instead of climbing the stairs. Considering I sit most of the day for my job, taking the stairs in the morning would be really good for me. One thing I could do differently is to take the stairs up to my office each morning even if it does leave me out of breath.

So there are, not just one, but four things that I could do differently to reduce my stress level and help me live my priorities without feeling burned out by all that I have to do. What are your priorities and what could you do differently to live your priorities?

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Sit with Me

In this season of Lent, I’m feeling a desire to grow closer to God. Last week, one of my fellow bloggers wrote a post about resting in the Lord. Our lives are so busy, it seems it’s hard to just take the time to spend in prayer or reading God’s Word. Each day since Ash Wednesday I have set aside time to read the scripture in my church’s Wordstrong reading schedule for Lent. They are pretty short passages, but still I have found myself at the very end of the day finally sitting down to read the scheduled passage before crawling into bed.

How did life get to hectic and busy that we find it hard to spend time with God? Now, it’s not that I don’t think of Him often throughout the day, and lift up a prayer here and there when I think of it; but it does seem like so many other things are allotted so many more of the 24 hours in each day than I devote solely to God.

My friend’s blog reminded me of the song “Sit with Me” by Revive. This video of it includes an introduction to the meaning behind the song by the members of the band, plus a bonus rendition of “Chorus of the Saints” at the end:

That is what God really wants from us: To set aside our busy lives and just sit at His feet to learn and worship. Even Jesus spent time alone with His Father every day in prayer.

Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. Luke 5:15-16 (NIV).

In spite of the throngs who crowded about Him clamoring for healing and teaching, Jesus was always at peace. By His actions, He taught us that communion with God is so important so that the rest of the time we will feel at peace and will not be swept up in the stresses of life. There will always be demands on our time and resources; we can’t ignore our responsibilities and spend every minute at the feet of Jesus. But we can set aside a significant portion of each day to just sit with God so that He may instill His peace and truth in our hearts to be with us when we face the challenges of each day.

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Too Busy for God?

We live such busy lives it seems it is hard to find time for God, though He is the most important part of our lives. We have so much to do, between work, housework, taking kids where they need to be, cooking, entertainment, checking email and Facebook, doing our part for our church, and so much more. It leaves us stressed and uneasy, feeling like there is just too much, and yet there is never enough.

The band Revive sings a song called “Sit with Me” that sums up our problems in its two profound verses:

I know I’ve seen this before
You fill your life with so much more
Than you were made for
And as your days become so busy
You find your heart’s become uneasy
As you try to please Me

Troubled hearts breed troubled minds
And you’re running far behind
But you’ll say you’re fine
In your life you feel the pressure
To take control and make things better
But you just can’t get there

Some of our busy-ness is in the name of trying to please God. This is especially true of church work, but is also true of what we do in our homes, for our families, and at work. We want to be in control and “make things better.” I personally have said “yes” to too many committee positions in church before and have become exhausted trying to serve. I work all day, run home to make dinner for my family, then run off to some committee meeting or another. But I don’t think God expects us to always say “yes” to all these tasks. Especially if it keeps us from spending time with Him. 

“Be still, and know that I am God;
       I will be exalted among the nations,
       I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalms 46:10.

This is what God wants from us: to be still and know that He is God. How can we do that if we are always busy? Jesus died for our sins so that we could be reconciled to God and have a relationship with Him. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. He told Martha that Mary’s choice to sit at his feet was the better one. Luke 10:42. The chorus of “Sit with Me” sums up the cure for our stress and unease:

But leave your worries and fears behind
Let your heart be still with Mine
‘Cause I would rather you be with Me
Forget it all and just come sit with Me

I’m not suggesting that we should neglect our responsibilities; but if our busy-ness becomes a stressful burden, and keeps us from our God, then it’s time to take a break and just sit with Him. When you are feeling weary, remember that “those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31. Find the rest only Christ can provide.

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An Attitude of Kneeling?

This week, and today in particular, have been mentally exhausting. I had to prepare for a big presentation at work, which I gave this morning. The presentation went just fine and was very well received by my audience. But it resulted in a decision that will involve big changes for my department in the coming months, and so the mental exhaustion is really just beginning.

This week I’ve been listening to Audio Adrenaline in my car, and one of the songs fits my situation just perfectly. It’s called “Underdog” and the first verse is:

I am so weak and I’m so tired
It’s hard for me to
Find enough strength to feed the fires
That fuel my ego
And consequently all my pride has all but died
Which leaves me
Down on my knees
Back to the place I
Should have started from

The stress of what has been going on at work has literally brought me to my knees in prayer every morning for the past two weeks. Now for some of you, that might not seem like a big deal, but for me it is huge.

Until we remodeled our house last year, we lived in 768 sq. ft. of very crowded space. My bedroom and home office were in the same very small 1941-style bedroom, and there was no place physically big enough for me to kneel to pray. And so I would always say to God that I had an attitude of kneeling in my heart, and that was good enough. When the space was not there, He didn’t argue with me on this point. But now that we have remodeled I have a very large new bedroom with soft new carpet, a reading chair and footstool, and plenty of open space and quiet to kneel and pray. Several weeks ago, God reminded me of this, and I again responded that I had an attitude of kneeling in my heart, and that was what really mattered. Turns out I was wrong, and He let me know as much.

So for the past two weeks I have been literally kneeling to pray. At first it was strange for me, but now I wouldn’t want to start my day any other way. It is the best place to draw upon God’s wisdom and strength for what will inevitably be an exhausting and stressful day. My attitude about work and the changes that are occurring has improved immensely. I am trusting God more that He is really in charge of the final outcome. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.

Prayer is so important that I don’t know why I’ve neglected it at times in my life. I suspect there will be times in the future when I will neglect it again, though I will try not to. I want to remember that prayer is the perfect antidote for anxiety and worry. The apostle Paul wrote:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7.

I love that idea of peace that transcends all understanding. I don’t have to know how it works that prayer brings me peace in situations where I would naturally feel stress and anxiety. All I have to know is that it works. If I pray, God will grant me peace. He will grant you peace, too, if only you will kneel and pray. As Audio Adrenaline sings, this is the place we should have started from.

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