Do Easy Decisions Make You Feel Dumb? You’re Not Alone

frustrated woman

How can this be? I’m a bright girl. I have lots to say. Some might even argue, “too much to say.” <ahem>

So why can’t I decide what to write about?!

I get so frustrated with myself.

This should be an easy decision. 249 ideas float through my head, and my task: choose one to turn into a blog post. It took less time to choose my son’s name.

This isn’t the only decision I’ve had difficulty with; in fact, I have a history of poor decision skills.

But at times I’ve made great decisions with speed and courage.

So why can’t I decide this one thing?

Do you ever ask yourself the same question? Or am I the only one who feels like a freak of nature who didn’t get the “Decision Maker Gene”?

You’re not alone.

Yep, we could hold meetings. Big ones.

“Hi, I’m Kendra and I have trouble making decisions.”

Hi, Kendra.

When I asked my Facebook friends what they have trouble deciding, their responses fell between whether to change jobs and what to wear.

Their most-cited difficult decisions?

  • When to ask for help
  • When to put their own needs ahead of others’
  • What to cook for dinner

WOW.

I’m not alone.

And here I felt dumb – and frustrated with myself – because I couldn’t decide something so simple.

But these are all bright people. They’re accomplished and sociable. They don’t seem like choices confuse them. They’re just like you, and me.

And when they can’t decide, they feel dumb, overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, anxious, or afraid. Sound familiar?

Ah, yes! We’re not alone. Let’s breathe that in together and give a sigh of mutual relief.

Ahhhh…

With evidence that I’m not alone, my curiosity peeks through: Why do people who can otherwise take care of themselves – and make great choices, with ease, every day – become paralyzed over some common decisions?

I put on my researcher hat.

There has to be a reason so many of us bright, independent individuals have difficulty with decisions.

More to the point, there must be an easier way to formulate a decision. Right?

You may be tempted to buy another book (or eight…) and hope wisdom will sink in once and for all.

But let’s face it, the book-hoarder approach doesn’t always work. If it did, my bookshelves wouldn’t be overfull — and I’d always eat healthy food, I’d never misunderstand my husband, and I’d be the picture of grace and calm as our kids navigate the teenage and young adult years.

Okay, books aren’t the answer. But the knowledge they provide, of how God created our bodies and brains to work, can be part of the solution.

So how do you move forward when you can’t decide?

I know what you don’t need to move forward —

  • harsh judgment – from yourself or anyone else
  • a buffet of new information – you’ve got your own tower of books piled beside your reading chair
  • the Ultimate Plan to Decide Anything – that’d be nice, right? But you suspect the perfect plan doesn’t exist

Here’s what you do need – what each of us needs – to decide —

  • a friend who celebrates your small victories and reminds you you’re not alone
  • bite-sized nuggets of knowledge to nudge you forward in love
  • regular reassurances that God’s in control and His is the Ultimate Plan

Over the next several weeks, I’ll help you decode your brain’s decision process so you can discern and discharge your next right step. For instance, I’ll share information such as:

  • 3 Things You Need to Know About Making Good Decisions
  • How to Decide When You Don’t Have All the Information, and
  • How to Make Fewer Decisions and Gain More Freedom

Right here. In this space. With you.

By the way, pretty sly how I decided what to write about, eh? Plus I have my posts planned for several more weeks. Genius!

To make sure you get these bite-sized decision-making delicacies delivered right to your inbox as soon as they’re available each week, sign up below — and learn to take control of your own decision-making process.

 

The One Thing You Need to Do to Make Your Prayer Life Flourish

To say “ivy blanketed the landscape” conjures the image of a manicured English garden. No, the summer I yanked the overgrown invader from my new backyard, I uncovered a sculpture, a chaise lounge, and a 10-ft long fence from beneath its tangled vines.

A formidable task, its reward was a blank slate on which to plant my garden.

Who knew this arthritis-inducing aspect of the work — uprooting, by hand, ivy stalks the diameter of small trees — would be the easy part of the process? Persistence and hard work were the sole requirements.

Learning to garden proved the more difficult task.

I read books. I searched the internet. I visited nurseries and garden centers. I asked experts. But the more information I took in, the more confused I became.

I read about plant varieties, the soils each likes, how to amend the soil to meet those requirements, the amount of sunlight each prefers, how often to water…

Hospitals discharge newborns with fewer instructions.

I knew there was a right way to garden — all the books said so. And my grandmother’s favorite refrain repeated in my head: “Anything worth doing is worth doing right.”

For all my good intentions, and in spite of my desire for a beautiful garden, the sheer volume of instructions paralyzed me.

I didn’t want to mess up. What if I spent the time, money, and energy to put plants in the ground, and then miswatered them? Or planted them in the wrong place? What if the flowers thrived but looked ugly together?

As the first frost approached, my “garden” contained only three small plants.

A Seedling Prayer Life

My prayer life once resembled my fruitless flower garden attempts.

I excelled at other aspects of the Christian lifestyle. I volunteered at church, attended Bible studies, and visited shut-ins. But these felt like top-dressing; they required merely showing up and doing the work.

I’d seen others’ walks with God and wanted mine to look similar. But I didn’t know how to achieve it.

Prayer seemed key, but it eluded me.

As with garden advice, prayer resources seemed infinite. I read the Bible. I searched books and websites. I visited churches, and I consulted experts. But the details bewildered me.

Let’s face it, poor communication with our Heavenly Father doesn’t just mean lost money and wasted time, as with a garden; it means a lost opportunity to cultivate a relationship with God.

We won’t merely forego a beautiful backyard, we’ll forfeit the chance to have our whole lives colored with God’s joy and peace.

So, how do we get this prayer thing right?

Look to the Garden

Over time, I created the flower garden I always wanted. (I loved it so much, in fact, it was difficult to move when I married my sweetie.)

How did I manage to get unstuck?

I asked an avid gardener friend for help. His advice: “buy some plants and put them in the ground.”

But where should I plant them?

“What’s the tag say?”

Full sun.

“Okay. Pick the sunniest spot in your yard and plunk them in the ground.”

But where, there?

“Doesn’t matter.”

What if they don’t look nice?

“They will.”

Then, how do I know when to water them?

“Water them when they get dry.”

He made it sound so easy. I wanted to believe him, but it felt wrong. Because all the experts said…

Except, this man was no slouch when it came to gardening; his backyard rivaled most public gardens.

Are you sure there’s nothing more to it?

“Except for a few principles, most books are filled with opinion. Plants are forgiving. Start small and keep at it. You’ll figure it out.”

How to Make Your Prayer Life Flourish

It’s a lovely story, but how do we pray? More to the point, how should we pray?

Because if you have difficulty praying, I suspect you think there’s a right way to pray, but you’re not sure what it is, and don’t want to get it wrong.

Could this be part of Satan’s plan? If we’re plagued with worry about how to approach our Heavenly Father, it’s improbable we’ll approach Him at all.

But maybe prayer doesn’t have to be difficult.

The Purpose of Prayer

The reasons we pray vary, as do the ways we can pray; but the purpose of prayer remains constant. We pray to communicate with our Heavenly Father.

Now, communication with Jehovah isn’t the same as with our friends and family, but it’s not a bad place to start. Remember my gardener friend’s advice? Just stick that plant in the ground.

Don’t forget, God wants us to communicate with Him, and He longs to give us wisdom. Admit you’re not sure what prayer should look like, and ask for His assistance. Trust Him to guide you in the process as you nourish your relationship with Him. Even when you’re not sure what to pray, His Holy Spirit intervenes on our behalf. (Matthew 7:7-8; James 1:5; Proverbs 3:5; Romans 8:26).

The Bible mentions a few prayer principles. But, as with gardening, the first step isn’t to learn everything there is to know before you begin. The first step is to begin. Start small and keep at it. God is forgiving. And you’ll figure it out.

What one thing do we need to do to make our prayer life flourish? Pray!

Like the roots of newly planted flowers, our relationship with God will grow deeper and stronger over time when we pray. And before you know it, you’ll experience the sweet blossoms of His loving presence daily.

If this encouraged you, why not share it with a friend who might be lifted up as well?

5 Reasons You Don’t Want to Pray (and Why They’re Wrong)

I open the classroom door, and the hum of conversation surprises me.

Of course! There’s an assignment due.

Students aim rapid-fire statements at me as I approach the podium.

  • “I didn’t understand #4.”
  • “It didn’t make sense to me, either.
  • “What about #7?”
  • And my favorite: “A bunch of us discussed it online last night but can’t figure out what you want.”

Stumped by the assignment, they expected their fellow learners to have valuable answers, but didn’t think to consult the assignment’s author.

I’m tempted to remind them that I have internet access, too; that I could have answered their questions quickly and easily; and that they could have spent the evening binge-watching Netflix instead of stalking their classmates. But I’m not sure how to phrase a non-snarky version, so I say nothing.

don't want to pray

Am I Like My Students?

Several days later, this incident forgotten, my brain spiraled out of control like an overtired toddler on a caffeine high.

I’d begun a new project with an overflowing to-do list, and had no earthly idea which task to start next. So I did the only rational thing: I logged onto Facebook. Surely one of my friends will know what to do.

It’s true — I have brilliant friends.

But as I was about to message them, the Holy Spirit nudged me: You should pray about it.

Now, I’d like to say I’m immediately obedient to the Holy Spirit’s nudges. But alas, I‘m a work in progress.

So, as I messaged my friend, the classroom scene from three days earlier came to mind.

Well played, Holy Spirit. Well played.

When I seek my friends’ guidance before I seek God’s, am I responding to life the way my students respond to a difficult assignment? Am I asking fellow learners for advice without consulting the Great Teacher?

Uh-oh.

Sometimes I’m exactly like my students when it comes to prayer.

You, too?

On occasion, it doesn’t even occur to us to ask God for help. But often, we do realize He has the answers. So why don’t we go immediately to the Ultimate Source of Knowledge?

Why We Don’t Want to Pray

It turns out, we don’t approach God in prayer for the same reasons my students don’t contact me when they’re confused.

1. We think God is unapproachable.

We forget that the point of Jesus’ death was to make God accessible to all of us. We no longer need to approach Him through an intermediary human priest, as in Old Testament times; Jesus has become our mediator, and the curtain separating us from the Holy of Holies has been torn in two, giving us instant access to our Teacher and Creator.

See Hebrews 10:19-22; Hebrews 9:24; Matthew 27:51

 

2. We want to do it on our own, or we think it doesn’t count if we ask God for help.

Sometimes we think God is a last resort, that we should approach Him only after we’ve exhausted all other options. Perhaps we’re embarrassed to ask Him for help, because we feel we should be able to solve the problem on our own. But God wants to help us, and the Bible reminds us to prayerfully approach Him about everything.

See Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13; John 16:23b-24; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:17; James 5:13a

 

3. We don’t want to look or feel foolish in front of God.

Of course, this presupposes God doesn’t already know the troubles we’re having. Or that He’ll judge us because of our ignorance. Fortunately, our Heavenly Father knows our needs and concerns long before we approach Him, and His mercy and forgiveness are abundant.

See Matthew 6:8; Luke 12:30; Matthew 6:32; James 1:5; Lamentations 3:22-23

 

4. We don’t want to “bother” God if we can get the information from our friends instead.

As Christians, we’re obligated to meet together and encourage one another regularly. Our friends can give us wise counsel, pray for us, and remind us that sound judgment and insight belong to Jehovah. Besides, if our friends’ counsel is beneficial, how much more useful will it be if we approach God in prayer alongside them?

See Hebrews 10:25; 1 Thessalonians 5:11; Hebrews 3:13; Proverbs 15:22, Psalm 37:30; 1 Thessalonians 5:25; Proverbs 8:14; Psalm 32:8; Ecclesiastes 4:12; Matthew 18:20

 

5. We may not want to hear what God has to say.

Perhaps we foolishly assume we already know His response. Or sometimes we want to grumble and groan about how difficult and unfair life is instead of seeking a real solution to our problem .

See Isaiah 55:8; Philippians 2:14; Exodus 16:8

 

Trust God

Being human means we don’t have all the answers. But fortunately, we can go to God in prayer.

He promises that if we trust in Him with all our heart, don’t lean on our own understanding, and acknowledge Him in all our ways, He will make our paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

And just like with our earthly teachers, the more often we talk with God, the more approachable He’ll seem; then talking with Him will become second-nature.

So let’s erase these excuses from our minds and get in contact with our Heavenly Father!

Not sure how to pray? I’ll cover that topic next week. (Sign up below to get an email when that post is ready!)

 

How to Free Others From Past Mistakes: What My Cookbook Taught Me

cookbook

The comment sears my heart, but instead of reacting, I laugh and excuse myself to check on the soup that doesn’t need checking.

I squeeze my eyes to blink away tears as the comment ricochets through my brain.

Is that the cookbook Kendra burned?

It’s become Family Lore.

Looking frantically for space, I had squeezed the cookbook onto the counter and realized too late that the cover rested on a burner that moments before heated brussels sprouts.

So, yes. My cookbook has a big burn mark on the front of it. Huge, really. I mean, pieces of burnt cover still flake onto my bookshelf — six years later. How embarrassing!

I Know What You’re Thinking

Why don’t I just buy a new cookbook? It’s not like they don’t make that one anymore.

And the latest version probably has a section for gluten-free, dairy-free, paleo meals. They all do now, don’t they?

Buying a cookbook isn’t generally a problem for me.

Or sometimes even a decision.

Cookbooks regularly make their way into my shopping cart and before you know it, they’re spattered with tomato sauce and living on the den bookshelf with dozens of others.

But this is my trusty Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, circa 1990.

I don’t want to give it up. And I can’t throw it out.

Honestly, I’m not even sure I could start over with a new version.

Where would my notes be?

  • The one that tells how I doctor the Red Beans and Rice
  • The date I baked Lemon Meringue Pie for my then-boyfriend’s (now husband’s) birthday surprise
  • The penned and food-stained memory of my preschooler asking for more “chicken” the first time I served his soon-to-be-favorite hamburger dish

I can’t replace my cookbook. So I continue to use it, burnt cover and all.

But nearly every time I do, I get teased.

Which is fine for family, I guess. But this person didn’t even know me at the time of the Embarrassing Cookbook Incident.

Why am I still being judged over this?

Standing in the kitchen that day, teary eyes morphed into a hardened heart.

Why am I still being judged over this?

I’ve spent over forty years cooking, with exactly ONE burned cookbook, and THAT is what people choose to remember?!

Not the potato leek soup I make. Or my beef stroganoff. Or even my buttermilk pancakes — which are amazing, by the way.

As my internal argument reaches crescendo, my hand aches from frantically stirring the soup that doesn’t need stirring.

And then I hear it, the still small voice: do you ever hold anyone hostage to a past mistake?

Ouch.

An example rushes to mind.

And another.

And then another.

Uh-oh.

So I do what any God-fearing woman would do.

I argue with the Holy Spirit.

But this was a single burned cover. It wasn’t a huge sin or character flaw like theirs…

As the words flitted through my brain, I knew it wasn’t about that.

Conviction took hold of my heart in this classic Golden Rule moment. Am I doing to others as I’d like done to me? (Matthew 7:12)

The Unforgiving Past

Have you ever held someone’s identity captive in their biggest mistake?

  • A toddler becomes known for his wildest tantrum.
  • A sibling is viewed as her worst adolescent moment.
  • A co-worker is the person whose emotion got the better of him in the meeting.
  • A spouse’s actions are seen through the lens of words he spoke years ago.

There are no do-overs in life.

Sure, we can learn from our mistakes. Hopefully, I’m more cautious around the stove.

But I can’t undo the burned cookbook. It’s part of my history now.

The same is true for the people we love. And those we merely tolerate.

Nothing can change our loved ones’ situations, either. Should that always be how we view them — through the lens of their worst mistakes?

That’s not how God sees them. Or how he sees us, by the way.

Giving Others Freedom

So, how do we stop viewing others through their biggest and worst mistakes?

It helps to remember that none of us is perfect.

Are you the person you want to be every minute of every day?

I’m sure not.

We each strive to be more than we are. And we struggle daily to put away the old personality and “put on the new personality that was created according to God’s will in true righteousness” (Ephesians 4:24).

But we also tend to live up to the expectations set for us.

If the family still sees the youngest sibling as immature, he has less incentive to grow up.

If others’ opinions aren’t going to change — if the daughter continues to be the one whose carelessness totaled the family car — what’s the point in her trying to be seen as more responsible?

We are called to encourage each other and to build each other up (1 Thessalonians 5:11). Continually defining each other by old behaviors merely discourages and tears down.

My family members teasing me about my burned cookbook is a silly example; I would do well to not take their remarks so personally. (And honestly, the comment doesn’t always get me riled up. I blame hunger, hormones, and lack of sleep.)

But I’m glad it did this time.

Because it reminds me that we’re each mixed bags.

I’m the person who burned a cookbook almost beyond recognition, but I’m also the one whose family swore off eating restaurant pancakes forever. (I told you they were good!)

And I’m learning to reframe my thinking about others.

How will their worst mistake be part of their amazing redemption story one day?

I don’t know. But I want to be part of it, by encouraging the person they’re becoming instead of holding them captive to their past.

The One Thing More Powerful Than Goal-Setting — How to Triumph in the New Year

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

The words taunt me:

TODAY’S TOP 3: (What will make today a win for you?)

Am I the only one? Or do the words in your daily planner poke at you also?

Perhaps like you, I’ve read books and blog posts about setting goals. I’ve taken goal-setting classes. I’ve written SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, and Time-Bound).

I’ve broken my goals into microsteps. I’ve attached them to existing routines.

I’ve sorted my to-do list into the urgency-importance matrix. (Though I’m not sure how helpful it is to know my gargantuan to-do list fits exclusively in the Important But Not Urgent quadrant.)

I’ve realized knitting and gourmet cooking are not activities for this stage in my life — because even though I can be almost anything I want, I can’t be everything.

These concepts all make sense to me. I even teach some of them.

But when I read the words, Today’s Top 3, my heart quickens and my brain races.

What would make today a win?

Which three items should I choose?

    • I have to take my kiddo to school and pick him up six hours later.
    • I have to prepare tomorrow’s lecture.
    • I have to eat dinner.

Are those my Top Three things?

Because this list doesn’t include taking my son to his piano lesson, scheduling an appointment for a mild but urgent medical situation, spending quality time with my husband, updating my students’ homework grades, grocery shopping…

Are you hyperventilating your own list at this point? I apologize.

I’m sure your list, like mine, doesn’t even include your sanity savers: reading, writing, napping.

When I imagine the experts’ daily Top 3 Target Goals, I resort to stereotyping:

I would be able to focus on my top 3 goals each day, too, if I had a wife at home and an administrative assistant at the office.

But I’m being unfair. I don’t know how time-management gurus spend their days.

But I wonder — for real — do they include “eat dinner” on their Top 3 list? If so, does it qualify as one goal, or four (plan meal, buy groceries, prepare meal, clean up kitchen)?

My brain spirals out of control and contributes to the fear that I’m different than everyone else, that I’m not equipped the way others are. Let’s face it, you know what I mean: the way smart people are. The way successful people are. The way people who leave the house without stains on their shirts are.

Chances are you have your own version of a never-ending list of things to do, many of which are not urgent (though some are), but most of which will make life easier another day if they are accomplished today.

I have no problem constructing goals. And I have no problem breaking those goals into microsteps.

In fact, I’m a master at it.

Goal Setting

For example, several years ago, I decided to read the entire Bible in a year. A momentous goal, to be sure, it required dividing the 1700 page book into daily assignments.

After researching the topic online, I created a chart listing the exact Bible chapters I would read each day. Perfect!

Until January 5th, when the chills and fever pendulum took over my body and confined me to bed. I emerged four days behind in my Bible reading, my house work, my laundry, and my classroom prep, for a term that started the next day.

So I recalculated the daily microsteps necessary to reach my Bible-reading goal.

And when the Dreaded Illness swept through our house again 3 weeks later. This must be the plague. I recovered and updated my chart.

And the week the washing machine broke, I recalculated my micro-goals.

Yes, I’m awesome at setting goals!

Attaining my goals? Not so much.

With each adjustment to my goal schedule, I feel more like a failure.

Is this you, too?

Well, I have the solution for you!

It goes against all the time-management gurus’ advice, but it works.

Stop Setting Goals

What?! Mom said I’d never accomplish anything without goals.

Now, before you run upstairs to drop this new life plan on your parents, hear me out. I’m not suggesting you have no goals at all.

But if you’re setting goals but not attaining them, perhaps the goal-setting process enchants you too much.

Because, although it’s exciting to open a fresh spiral-bound journal and write a treatise of your life-long dreams, purple pen on lavender paper, the purpose of goal setting is to achieve them.

Am I right?

Do This Instead

Chances are, you already know what your goals are. You know what you want to accomplish.

For example, perhaps your goals look something like this:

  • Read the Bible from cover to cover.
  • Write more.
  • Be a life-long learner
  • Raise happy, healthy children.
  • Have an amazing marriage.

Of course, you can turn these into SMART goals by making them more specific and setting time limits. Or you can use other time-management techniques the gurus suggest.

But why not do something even easier and more powerful?

Don’t get me wrong. I love the time-management gurus and I’ll list some of their resources below in case you want more information.

But if all the goal setting information makes your head spin, here’s a simple two-step process for living the life you want.

Ready?

Step 1. Stop setting goals.

Seriously. You already know what your goals are.

Done.

Step 2. Act.

That’s right, do the thing.

For example,

If you want to read the Bible, read it.

Stop worrying about how many pages you need to read each day to finish in a certain amount of time. Just read. If you read 10 minutes a day, in a year, you’ll have spent 60 hours reading the Bible.

If you want to write, don’t spend time planning your writing goals. Just write.

If you write 500 words each day, you’ll have 15,000 words written at the end of a month.

If you want to learn things, learn them.

You don’t need to quit your job, enter student loan servitude, or apply to your local college. Chances are you have a lifetime of knowledge at your fingertips for free. (The device you use to text cat videos to your friends? It can also connect you to All the Knowledge in the Universe. For free. 24/7.)

The other goals may seem less straightforward but they can be broken down as well.

How do you raise happy, healthy children?

We can each second guess food choices, and schooling options, and cotton vs. polyester clothing. Worrying about these choices are your parental right. But why not start by being a happy, healthy parent?

For a Biblical guideline to follow, Ephesians 6:4 (ESV) advises: “do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

How do you establish an amazing marriage?

One of my favorite pieces of marriage advice comes from a verse in the book of Proverbs, which refers to the qualities of an excellent wife, but I suspect the advice works for husbands also: “She rewards him with good, not bad, all the days of her life.” (Proverbs 31:12, ESV)

If you rewarded your spouse with good — and refrained from giving him bad — all the days of your life, you’d likely have an amazing marriage.

Of course, none of us is going to be perfect. But acting on what you want will achieve more than endlessly planning your goals.

Regardless of your starting point, you never have to be afraid of your day planner again because, rather than choosing 3 Top Goals for the day, taking small, consistent steps is a powerful way to triumph over your goals.

It truly is that simple.

 

Recommended Resources:

Bible reading:

10 Tips for Liking the Bible: (Because Believing It’s True Is Not Enough) by Keith Ferrin

Keith Ferrin’s website

Writing:

The Secret to Developing a Regular Writing Habit by Jeff Goins

Parenting:

The Masterpiece Mom

Kindred Mom

Marriage:

Julie Landreth, founder of the Wife Lab

Amanda Davison, the Wife Coach

Goal Setting:

Resolutions That Stick! How 12 Habits Can Transform Your New Year by S. J. Scott

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

Overwhelmed: How to Quiet the Chaos and Restore Your Sanity by Kathi Lipp & Cheri Gregory

Taming the To-Do List: How to Choose Your Best Work Every Day by Glynnis Whitwer

Full disclosure: This site is “a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.”

How to Be Calm in Anxious Times

A cup of fresh-brewed coffee in hand, you open the laptop to begin your day, but as soon as you see the headline, your heart sinks. Something horrible has happened — again.

Click the picture. Skim for details. It’s too early to know much.

Google it, look at three more news reports.

Your stomach flip-flops. The few available details get stuck in your throat.

You say a prayer for those involved, and for their loved ones.

As you try to work, your mind floats back to the story. How did this happen? How many are affected?

Along with the rest of the world, you spend the next several weeks embroiled in the tragedy. It invades your sleep. And the what-ifs make you shudder at everyday moments with loved ones

This is how I’ve reacted to horrific events in the past, as well. Terrorist attacks. Natural disasters. Tragic accidents.

We feel compelled to be present for each news report, each discovery, each memorial broadcast, because these are our neighbors and we care about them, no matter how far away they live (Luke 10:25-37).

It’s our duty to be upset, to live this crisis with the victims, their families, and their friends.

Right?

help others without harming ourselves

The problem with caring

Life continues as normal in your household, because kids and work and laundry happen regardless of the latest disaster. But the horror and sadness of it lurk in the ordinary moments.

And whether we realize it or not, it’s taking a toll on us.

You see, our bodies are wonderfully made to react automatically in dangerous situations (Psalm 139:14).

When we see a bear, we don’t have to ponder what we should do. Our bodies instantaneously prepare for our next steps: either fight off the bear or escape.

Among other things, this fight-or-flight response releases stress hormones, which supply the energy to act quickly.

It’s a perfect design!

But the world has changed.

The 24-Hour News Cycle

Before the advent of mass communication, the only dangers we faced were imminent threats to our own personal safety: the tiger lurking outside the cave, the fire on the horizon.

Now an abundance of frightening images of events we were never designed to experience bombard our nervous systems.

A deadly accident a thousand miles away is no less tragic than one that occurs in your own town. But it becomes too much for our nervous systems to handle. (And if you’re one of the 15 to 20% of individuals considered a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), the trauma to your body is even worse.)

When God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13), he didn’t intend for us to be regularly overwhelmed by excessive sorrows (2 Corinthians 2:7).

Like you, I want to weep with those who are weeping (Romans 12:15), and I want to lend assistance where I can. But news reports leave me emotionally exhausted. Nightmares interrupted my sleep. Consequently, my loved ones experience a less joyful and more anxious wife, mother, and friend, whose body is filled with stress hormones.

When I’m consumed by catastrophe, I don’t have the emotional capacity to care for the people God put directly in my path. And I certainly don’t have reserves to help the victims of the tragedy.

How To Help Others Without Harming Ourselves

But as Christians, we’re commanded to show love and compassion to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, as well as to others. (John 13:34-35; Galatians 6:10)

So, how do we buffer ourselves from these events without feeling like we’re bad Christians? How can we learn to provide help, but still protect our health?

1. Recognize your restrictions

In a long-distance tragedy, stress hormones course through your system. Your body gears up, but there’s nothing to fight and nowhere to flee. You’re left with a sense of danger, but no real means of combating it.

Being aware of your body’s limitations is the first step in both caring for yourself and more effectively caring for others.

2. Decrease the details

Watching the continuous news coverage hoping to glean a new piece of information increases the severity of your body’s fight-or-flight stress response.

So turn off the news channels, avoid headlines, and avert your eyes when information scrolls across your Facebook feed. If there is information you need to know, you will be informed. It’s impossible not to be in this day and age.

3. Control the conversation

When we’re frightened about world events, we have a biological desire to connect with others, which is often expressed by sharing information and commiserating about the tragedy, which sends a fresh batch of stress hormones coursing through our bodies.

But there’s another way to connect. Ephesians 4:29 tells us to “let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” Guiding the conversation away from fears and toward blessings strengthens others as much as it rejuvenates us.

4. Lean on the LORD

Our Heavenly Father, Jehovah, promises that He will keep in perfect peace all whose thoughts are fixed on Him (Isaiah 26:3). How do we keep our thoughts fixed on Him? By prayerfully presenting our concerns to God and praising Him for all He’s already doing (Philippians 4:6).

Fortunately, we need to know very few details to pray on behalf of the victims, because the Holy Spirit helps us (Romans 8:26).

A Different Response

Since I’ve been applying these tips, I have a different reaction to world events. Let me show you:

A cup of fresh-brewed tea in hand, I open my laptop to begin the day. But as soon as I see the headline, my heart sinks.

What happened? My hand hovers over the photo but stops before pressing the key.

I say a prayer for those involved, and for their loved ones. I return to preparing tomorrow’s psychology lecture.

A full hour passes before I glimpse a headline highlighting the details of the event. I log out of my browser and gather a load of dirty laundry.

I still don’t know the details.

I can’t help but notice headlines when I access my Yahoo account. My Facebook feed fills up with posts and hashtag-prayfors. Without reading any of the articles, I am aware of the basic situation: terrible tragedy, many dead or injured. I pray as requested.

I don’t know all of the specifics. Chances are, I never will.

But knowing the details doesn’t uplift others, it just undermines my own well-being.

Over the next few days, the news footage plays continuously, but I’ll see little of it.

Likewise, I’ll avoid blog posts and Facebook notices that feature the event. I may even unfollow a few friends temporarily. (I’m sure you’ll understand.)

It feels strange sometimes. Something big and horrible has happened — may still be happening — and I don’t know all the details.

But I am so much calmer and more peaceful when I keep in mind how God made me, and trust in Him alone.

How do you show compassion without compromising your well-being?

Why Prayer is the Answer — Even When You Don’t Want it to Be

Your heart lies exposed on the table between you. You’re glad you finally had a chance to share lunch — and life’s latest hard situation — with your friend. The story now told, you sit back, watch as she sips her mocha latte, and wait for your friend’s response.

She sets down her cup and commiserates with you. She can tell you’re having a rough time.

But instead of the wisdom you’re expecting to flow from her lips, she offers only six words: “I’ll pray for you, my friend.”

Oh.

Don’t get me wrong. I know you appreciate when friends take your concerns to God.

But, is that all?

Where’s the advice? Where are the suggestions you can put into practice today? Prayer is fine, but what’s the solution to your problem?

Perhaps she didn’t understand the severity of the situation, how anxious you are about it. You restate the issue, adding details you may have glossed over the first time.

But your friend’s response remains steadfast: “I’m so sorry you’re going through this; I’ll definitely keep you in my prayers.”

prayer answer

Why Prayer Doesn’t Feel Like Enough

“I’ll pray for you,” feels anemic, like your friend isn’t taking your situation seriously.

But why does it feel that way?

Because we think there’s a solution to our problem. One we haven’t come up with yet.

We think if we talk to enough people, if we explain the nuances of our situation ad nauseam, someone will produce the one solution we need, the magic pill to change our circumstance.

Prayer, on the other hand, doesn’t do anything.

It doesn’t give us an action step to implement. It doesn’t fix the problem, Fairy Godmother-style.

At the end of our prayer, we’re still the same hot mess sitting in the same situation as before we prayed.

What We Want and What We Need

I tend to think in song lyrics. You, too? (Okay, maybe I’m the only one. I can live with that.)

Right now a certain Rolling Stones’ song is cycling through my brain: 

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometime, you might find

(everybody now) you get what you neee-eed

Because as much as we want an instant solution to our current life circumstance, we know quick fixes aren’t lasting. Except winning the lottery: that would totally solve all my problems. (I’m kidding, of course.)

Maybe you’re frustrated that your daughter’s more concerned about her girlfriends than her grades. Or you’re still steaming about a recent spat with your spouse. Perhaps fireworks have broken out in your extended family. Or you have concerns about your co-workers.

Regardless of the situation we’re experiencing, we know this isn’t the last negative circumstance we’ll face (John 16:33).

And we know that we grow through enduring trials of all kinds (James 1: 2-4).

So how does prayer help?

The Concrete Benefits of Prayer

Even more than sometimes getting what we want, prayer gives us what we need, because prayer pivots our perspective.

It reminds us how very small we are, and that we are not God.

It reorients our brains to look for God’s solutions instead of worldly ones.

It gives us the hope we couldn’t muster if we knew the solution depended on us alone.

It reminds us that, as much as it can seem that way, we’re not the only ones hurting in our current situation; we’re not the only ones in need of bigger answers.

And it points us to God’s miracles every day, as we look for His solutions rather than complain about our problems.

In fact, when we’re honest, your friend is right: prayer is exactly what we need!

And aren’t we grateful to have a friend who thinks we’re important enough to take our concerns to Almighty God?!

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the privilege of coming to You in prayer. Open our hearts, please, to ask for Your wisdom and to listen to Your voice above all, especially when it’s most difficult for us. We get so caught up in our own situations that we have difficulty seeing the big picture, and we sometimes forget to trust You. Forgive us, please, and guide us to seek You through continual prayer. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Why “What Would Jesus Do?” Is the Wrong Question

God bracelet

I can’t make one more decision. My Friday errands threaten to overtake me as I drive from store to store. There should be combat pay for Decision Fatigue.

As I approach a sign-toting young man asking for money, I’m conflicted. I’m not opposed to sharing my good fortune with others, but

  • Does it do any good?
  • Or are the funds used for drugs?
  • Will the money provide a needed meal or medical care?
  • Or is it an avenue to perpetual dependence?
  • Which action is kindest?

I get closer to the young man and see the tell-tale numbers: 420. Relief washes over me and I stop grasping for the wallet in my oversized purse. The marijuana code eliminates the conflict in my mind.

But as I drive away, the question lingers: Why is it so difficult for me to decide what to do?

I recall a bracelet-wearing trend that reminded Christians to keep their lives Christ-centered. Youth adorned their wrists with colorful plastic bands bearing the letters WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? .

  • Want to go to the big party this weekend? — What Would Jesus Do?
  • Is it okay to copy my friend’s homework this one time? — What Would Jesus Do?
  • What if I don’t want to spend time with my elderly relative? — What Would Jesus Do?

I like the idea of it. What Christian doesn’t want to model his behavior after Christ?

But it’s the wrong question.

At least, it gives us an incomplete picture.

Because when I ask ‘what would Jesus do?’ sometimes I don’t know the answer.

And I’m not alone.

Many current controversies are the result of individuals trying to discern Jesus’ viewpoint.

  • Abortion.
  • Same-sex marriage.
  • Homelessness.
  • Drug addiction.

We can argue points from the Bible verse-for-verse, but it doesn’t always get us anywhere because we’re human.

So human.

And sometimes when I ask ‘what would Jesus do?’ it’s easy to respond with, “but I’m not Jesus.”

Jesus was perfect and he followed God’s will perfectly. Although I try to be Christ-like, I admit I fall far short of the goal.

After staying up too late watching little-known British comedies, I drag my bleary-eyed self to my son’s room to say goodnight. A teenager with off-kilter circadian rhythms, he instead initiates the most interesting theological discussion.

Noooo! Don’t talk about God at this hour!

What would Jesus do?  Jesus would start up a conversation about God and spend all day, way past dinnertime, answering questions about His Father.

But the human part of me says, I’m beyond tired. And didn’t Jesus go away alone to pray and rest sometimes, too?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s fine to ask “What would Jesus do?” In fact, it convicts me in my core.

Should I watch this movie? What would Jesus do?

But I have to be careful with it.

Because, like Eve in the garden, I can talk my way into believing all sorts of things.

Sure, Jesus probably wouldn’t watch this movie. But it’s a way to spend time with my husband and wouldn’t Jesus focus on relationship and want me to strengthen my marriage?

It’s a slippery slope.

A Better Question

So I’ve begun asking myself “What does Satan want?”

I may have difficulty discerning what Jesus would do, but I can easily determine what Satan wants.

A fellow Christian confronts me on Facebook about a contested piece of theology. Do I set her straight or let it go?

What would Jesus do?

  • He was forthright — even dogmatic — about the Pharisees’ misinterpretations of God’s viewpoint.
  • But he also offered grace without condemnation to those who sinned the most.

I’m not certain what Jesus would do in this situation.

What does Satan want?

  • Would he love it if I spewed self-righteousness all over my Facebook page? Yes!
  • Does he enjoy seeing God’s children arguing and not showing love among themselves? Yes!
  • On the other hand, would he be ecstatic if I kept my mouth shut about God’s truth? Yes!
  • Or even fudged it a little to make it more palatable? Yes!

Certainly, Jesus would not shy away from proclaiming the truth, and we shouldn’t either. But are we proclaiming it in a way that makes Satan happy? Then we need to rethink our approach.

A Game-Changer

Prayerfully ask this simple question — What does Satan want in this situation? — to spur processing of the issue at a deeper level.

Not sure whether to say yes or no to a new opportunity?

Does Satan want you so focused on your current worldly activities that you think you have no time to help others? Or does he want your schedule so jam-packed (even with ministry activities) that you grump and grouch at your family?

Your circumstances are unique and may lead to a different answer to the question than someone else’s. But we know what Satan wants.

  • He wants disharmony and hatred.
  • He wants us to gloss over God’s truth.
  • He wants us to make our decisions independent of God.
  • He wants us to value our selves over our marriages.
  • He wants us to downplay evil as often as we can.

Although I sometimes don’t know what Jesus would do, asking what Satan wants adds perspective.

It reminds my tired self to patiently talk with my son about some of his questions, but also to reintroduce the conversation the next day when I’m rested.

It tells me that Satan is the one who thinks watching violent or inappropriate movies together strengthens a marriage, not God.

It helps me tone down my social media responses, when I remember to ask the question.

And most important, it prompts me to avoid black-and-white thinking on controversial topics. Should I give money to the young man begging on the street corner? What does Satan want? He wants to keep that man in ruins, and he wants to harden my heart.

Perhaps it’s not about the money. Maybe I’ve been asking the wrong question all along.

Spend the next two days asking yourself, What does Satan want? I bet you’ll be surprised how your perspective changes!

 

How is the Holy Spirit Like Your Car?

Holy Spirit Warning System

I bought a new car the other day.

I didn’t expect to. But my minivan was no match for our laborious summer, so we put it out to pasture.

It turns out, cars have changed a bit in the 15 years since I sweltered under a circus tent, cradling my 5-week-old son through the most drawn out sales transaction ever.

I loved my archaic minivan. I may or may not have tried to convince my husband to install a new transmission, which cost three times the vehicle’s worth.

In the end, I asked if we could at least try to find heated seats. My husband’s unconcerned chuckle made no sense until I sat behind my new steering wheel. Even in our modest, used-car price range, seat warmers are standard issue.

This car came equipped with navigation, back-up cameras, radar… you’d think I piloted the Interplanetary Transport System to Mars.

Or at least a BMW.

But no, it’s a Regular Mom Car. With heated seats.

It’s a little faaan-cy, as my people say. And the blue dashboard lights look neat. (I don’t even need the technology; give me blue backlighting and we’re ninety percent to cool in my book.)

But I’ve discovered new gee-gaws almost every day. Most of them I can live without. (Ask me again in 6 months.)

But my husband’s enamored, and because he’s the family car guy I show the appropriate awe, even though it’ll be months before I understand how much of it works.

So, we’re on the car’s maiden voyage to The Burger House — my husband, my son, and me.

The day burns warm enough to try out the air conditioner. I flip through the Sirius trial subscription stations. A firm staccato signals my next turn. The ride is smooth and pleasant.

Until the dashboard screeches at me.

What in the world?!

The Lane Departure Warning System informed me I had inched into the bike lane.

That’s kinda cool!

And it was.

The first time.

But it turns out I also have a Personalized Warning System — in the form of the people I live with — whose merciless taunting is a prolonged and boisterous echo of the car’s alerts. I suspect this Personalized Warning System increases rather than diminishes the likelihood of an accident. Or death…ahem.

So, yes, my family enjoys teasing me about my driving.

But I’m not a bad driver. (I know, everybody says that!) But the persnickety car insists on dinging me for crossing the center line even without the presence of oncoming traffic. The nerve!

Although I’ll never admit it to my family, I’m interested to see how often the car scolds me. Maybe I’m not as good as I think I am.

My Walk With God

Then it occurred to me: As a Christian, what if I’m not as good as I think I am?

If I had a Christian Path Departure System, would its beeps be infrequent or commonplace?

To be sure, I’m not a perfect Christian. Not even close. Fortunately, Jesus’ sacrifice assures I don’t need to be.

But am I worse than I imagine?

Do I engage in so many little infractions I don’t realize how often I glide across the solid yellow line?

Do I reason, as when I drive, that small indiscretions only matter when I can see several tons of trouble headed my way?

Hmmm…

Fortunately, I do have a Christian Path Departure System, and it’s more advanced than my car’s technology. The Holy Spirit’s soft warning even before I approach the center line increases in volume and intensity as I slip out of bounds.

Will I attune myself to the Holy Spirit’s whisper and improve my reaction time for obedience, to avoid dangers hidden around the bend? Or will my stubborn spirit insist I don’t need to follow the path exactly?

And if, at times, I downplay the Holy Spirit’s warning system (I’m not the only one, right?), will I allow my family and friends to speak into the issue with wisdom? Or will I insist I’m driving fine?

I’m becoming accustomed to my new car’s navigation system. Did I mention it tells me when the car ahead pulls away from the drive-thru? No kidding!

But my money’s on the Holy Spirit’s warning system! It doesn’t have blue lights, but it will never let me down.

And I don’t have to spend all afternoon in a dealership parking lot to receive it!

Do you struggle with following the Holy Spirit’s guidance sometimes? I’d love to help strengthen you in your walk with God! Sign up below to receive weekly encouragement in your email inbox.

 

How to Save Time, Frustration, and Your Relationships

Do you and your people have different ideas about housework? Change your thinking without changing your standards.

I got up early — how can I still be late for work?

The usual culprits — the pets, the kids, Facebook…

I shove a toothbrush in my mouth and reach for the curling iron before realizing I’m not an octopus.

Beep-beep… Beep-beep… Beep-beep…

The alarm jangles my nerves and increases my sense of urgency.

Hubby rose early this morning, so there’s no one in bed to turn it off.

I can’t take the time to turn it off; I’m already late. It’ll stop soon.

Mercifully, silence returns.

But the clock squeals its beep-beep pattern every thirty seconds, getting quicker, louder, and sharper over time.

time to change thinking

Effective as an alarm, the clock isn’t pleasant morning ambience.

Beep-beep… beep-beep… beep-beep…

As much as I try to ignore it, each time the alarm beeps, I get more frustrated.

My toe taps, as if additional movement will propel me through my morning routine faster.

I scrutinize my reflection and add another curl. When I’m late I risk sporting the hairdo of a confused ‘80s popstar — well-coiffed on the right, bed-head on the left.

Beep-beep… Beep-beep… Beep-beep…

My heartbeat quickens. Toe-tapping turns to leg-shaking.

Why doesn’t someone turn it off already?!

I should have recognized my insanity.

The rest of my family ate breakfast upstairs, unaware of the incessant beeping.

The neglected alarm began a state of near-constant screeching. Exasperated, I made the arduous trek across the bedroom, my hand crashing down on the button.

Ahhh… The silence brought instant peace.

Seven seconds.

Maybe.

Seven seconds is all it took to turn the last few minutes of my rushed routine into calm.

For the sake of seven seconds, I let the noise jangle my brain for several minutes.

Which made my temple throb.

And made my morning less pleasant than it could have been.

At least this time, an inanimate object sparked my frustration. Several days earlier, a different situation set off my annoyance.

The Toilet Paper Incident

I deposited groceries in their appropriate places, and set a package of “twelve but equals twenty-four” toilet paper rolls on the bathroom floor.

Rescuing chicken thighs from an 84-degree kitchen took precedence over placing individual rolls in the proper cupboard bin. I would do it later.

And I had every intention to.

But once I lugged five bags of groceries up from the garage, saved the family from salmonella poisoning, and wrestled the vegetables into a refrigerator bin too full… to close… quite… right, a cool drink and a quiet book occupied my mind.

The toilet paper stayed put.

The following day, the combination of yard work, hot sun, and soda conspired against me, and I rushed into the boys’ bathroom. I had plenty of time to stare at the oversized package.

Two boys showered today. Each entered the bathroom several times in the past 18 hours. Yet the toilet paper still sits in front of the cupboard.

My not-quite-sane self made a decision.

I didn’t put the paper products in the cupboard.

And I didn’t knock on the boys’ doors and ask them to do it — even though the results would have been favorable.

Nope. All logical reasoning had dissipated.

Instead, I decided to see how long it took for the boys to put the toilet paper away on their own.

You can guess the rest of the story.

Each time I entered the bathroom, I tripped over the big ol’ bag of jumbo rolls. And I’d get annoyed.

Then I’d have not-generous thoughts about my two sons:

Why can’t they put away the toilet paper because they use this bathroom and they live in this house. And, look at all we do for them: we buy food and keep a roof over their heads and we have a nice middle class lifestyle. And, who do you think pays for the internet they’re so fond of using? At least they could put away the toilet paper!

Ahem.

Beep-beep… Beep-beep… Beep-beep…

The alarm clock shamed me into seeing my error.

My frustration boiled again and again. But I could have avoided it completely if I’d taken a few seconds (seconds!) to either put away the toilet paper or ask the boys to do it.

I let myself be frustrated for days when I could have resolved the situation in seconds.

Maybe this story doesn’t ring true for you. But…

  • Have you ever avoided putting the peanut butter jar away because you’re not the one who got it out?
  • Or refrained from wiping off the kitchen counters because it’s not your mess?
  • Left a stack of towels on the banister hoping they’d find their way to the cupboard?

Procrastinating our own chores produces internal stress, which we can avoid when we just do them.

But when a job feels like someone else’s, frustration adds to the stress each time we remind ourselves of the infraction.

What do these situations call for?

Grace.

Sure, I could wait until the boys put the toilet paper away, but I suspect we would use up the rolls before they made it to the cupboard.

And each time I tripped on them, I got annoyed at my sons.

Every. Single. Time.

Of course, sometimes it’s appropriate to be upset with my boys. But even the courts don’t allow a person to be tried twice for the same crime.

And they’re considered innocent until proven guilty.

Yet I mentally condemn them each time I see the uncompleted task.

When I finally came to my senses and situated the offending rolls in the appropriate repository, I completed the task in fewer than twenty seconds.

Twenty seconds.

For the sake of twenty seconds, I allowed discord to fester in my house and in my heart for days.

This was not a matter of principle, even though I tried to tell myself it was. Principle doesn’t initiate a standoff over toilet paper.

In fact, my reflection resembles the foolish woman in Proverbs 14:1 (NIV):

“The wise woman builds her house, but with her own hands the foolish one tears hers down.”

Next time you huff internally because Someone didn’t complete a Very Important Chore, ask yourself: Is the continued frustration of this situation worth it?

No? Then complete it now.

It’s time.

What chore or task can you change your thinking about to reduce your frustration and give your family members grace?