Christmas Countdown Challenge, Week 3-peace

Dove of Peace

Here we are at week three! How is your holiday spirit holding up? Are you weary from the stress of trying to please everybody – with the right gifts, the proper holiday sentiments, and celebrations that exceed expectations? It is so hard to remain relaxed in the midst of December chaos.

I’ve been wondering…do you think Jesus ever felt stressed by expectations from others? I mean, c’mon, just think about a few of the tasks stacked up on his to-do list: turn water into wine at a wedding that had run dry (John 2:1-11), feed 5,000 hungry souls with five loaves of bread and two fish (John 6:1-15), and raise a friend named Lazarus from the dead (John 11)! In these stories and many others, the people close to Jesus urged him to hurry up and fix things.

Yes, I think Jesus felt the stress surrounding him. What I find appealing is that he refused to react negatively to it. Time and time again, Bible stories describe Jesus’ calm, peaceful demeanor in the midst of crisis. In each case, he attentively listens to the issue at hand and then smoothly takes decisive action. I wish I could handle more situations this way, don’t you?

This week, for the Christmas Countdown Challenge, I am going to work on handling stressful situations with calm, purposeful action. As in the last several weeks of our countdown, I will write a related Scripture in the heading of my to-do list. Throughout the week, I will refer to this Scripture as I work through my Christmas tasks. My goal is to remain calm in the midst of stressful expectations, and feel more fulfilled by the season. I hope you plan on joining me! The Scripture for this week:

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 2 Timothy 1:7 English Standard Version (ESV)

How can we calmly accomplish our tasks this week in spite of holiday stress? Here are a few ideas:

  • Set boundaries. There are many examples in the Bible of Jesus stepping back from, and even saying no to others in order to care for himself. Remember we are better able to care for others if we first place priority on taking care of ourselves. Meeting personal needs for sleep, nutrition, exercise, and relaxation sets us up to be better listeners, involved caregivers, and creative problem solvers.
  • Manage expectations. We tend to expect a lot of ourselves at Christmas. Set up a beautiful tree, host a cookie exchange, find the perfect gift, mail heartfelt wishes…the list goes on and on. It’s a tall order to fill, even for the most accomplished perfectionist. Trying to do all this day after day leads to burnout and quite frankly, “grinch-iness”. Managing expectations is not just about letting other people know what you can and cannot do; it’s also speaking truth to your own heart about how much you can handle. Let’s lighten our load and put our efforts into a reasonable number of tasks.
  • Seek new perspectives. When things don’t go according to plan, or family and friends disappoint, it’s easy to jump into reactions filled with anger, blame, or sadness. Instead of reacting, we can ask God to help us think about the situation differently. What might be influencing the behavior of those involved? Do my own expectations impact my reaction?
  • Scan for opportunities. During the holiday season, we face abundant opportunities to practice the way we handle stress. Even though stress surrounds us, we can practice maintaining a purposeful, yet peaceful demeanor. Each day provides a fresh start to harness our human nature and its fear-filled reactions to stress. Each problem situation offers a new chance to polish our more God-given characteristics of power, love, and self-control. Interesting, isn’t it? – how the birth month of our greatest gift, our Savior, is also a month full of opportunities to live more like him…

Prayer for the Week:

Dear God, Thank you for your guidance as I practice being calm and decisive during a stressful month. Help me as I prioritize my own needs, so that I can offer better care to others. Show me how to manage the expectations of others, and to be reasonable with what I expect of myself. Teach me to consider different perspectives before I react. Lead me in my words and actions, so I continually improve the way I represent you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Resources:

Attached you will find a to-do list document with the Scripture for the week displayed in the heading. Print it, if you would like, and use it for your list while referring to the Scripture throughout the week. Find peace in your week!

To-do List with Scripture, Week 3

 

God Doesn’t Do Rush Hour

The Open Road

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 New International Version (NIV)

It’s Monday, another week, and another 168 hours to get something done. Hearing these words can conjure up images of to-do lists, tighten chests with anxiety, and tie stomachs in knots. The weeks of our lifetimes seem to cruise by with increasing speed the older we become.

Catching our breath, we notice conversations littered with common phrases such as “so busy”, “don’t know where the time goes”, and “gotta run”. We read books on developing more efficient habits, watch programs on time management, and hire services to help organize our lives. Clearly, the quest for using time wisely is important to us.

We can learn how to eliminate nonessential tasks and how to prioritize the remaining items. But, what if, even after cutting back, our list still leaves us with a feeling of dread? Maybe, it’s not only the number of things to do, but also the approach in doing them that needs tending.

In Garth Stein’s wise and witty book called The Art of Racing in the Rain, he writes: “In racing, they say that your car goes where your eyes go. The driver who cannot tear his eyes away from the wall as he spins out of control will meet that wall; the driver who looks down the track as he feels his tires break free will regain control of his vehicle” (83).

Applying this, if we regularly set our sights on busyness, we have no direction or control when a wall shows up. However, if we look ahead and visualize driving through life’s crazy course of events with diligence, then we can continually regain traction. Our distracted society makes it easy to go with the flow of never getting enough done. Living in busyness, without a focal point, is like driving in rush hour; we get nowhere. God calls us to vigilantly search the horizon for worthy purposes and focus attention in that direction. A welcome sense of peace comes when we live our lives focusing on a purpose, instead of distractions.

Turning attention away from upcoming walls requires slowing down and noticing our surroundings. Last week, while shopping at Target, a preschool age girl with sparkly silver shoes darted in front of my cart to get a better look at a display of the newest toys adapted from the Disney movie Frozen. “Oh my goodness, oh my goodness…would you look at this?!” she squealed exuberantly. Her father, I noticed with amusement, seemed unfazed as she rattled on. His focus was ahead, towards bath necessities and groceries.

Perhaps, the little girl’s unbridled enthusiasm is a daily pattern of life for this father. Maybe, that particular day, it was a notable distraction from the direction his “eyes”, and thus his “car” really needed to go. Understandable. I wonder, though, if like the rest of us at times, he needs reminders to slow down and become more aware of the gifts in front of him? Allowing for moments of mindful appreciation help us remain present and grateful for God’s direction in our lives. These breaks in our day give us space to breathe and to think about where we are headed.

Clarity regarding how our time is spent comes easier when we focus, slow down, and remember to involve God in our decisions. We often forget to ask him for direction when we are rushing about. He gave us free will to make choices, but he never intended for us to feel alone in making them.

His directions are the gut feelings we get about whether something is right or not. It’s what drives people to do great, big things like put a man on the moon, end a war, and research cancer cures. It’s what drives people to do smaller scale, kind acts like visiting an elderly neighbor, helping a struggling child learn to read, or sending a care package to a Syrian refugee.

All of these acts matter. None are considered insignificant. God places a different call in each one of our lives; spending time with him is how we figure out what that call is for us. If we slow down long enough to identify what we are aiming for and ask God for direction, our time here will be more fulfilling.

Invite God along for the ride. Listen for his quiet instructions to set your gaze down the track. And, remember he prefers the scenic route.

Prayer for this Week:

Lord, thank you for the blessing of the hours in this week. Help me remember to include you in the process of making my plans and to ask for guidance in prioritizing my tasks. Show me how I can better serve others for you. Keep my focus on finding and following your directions for my life. Bring my attention back to your goodness through moments of pause. In Jesus’ Name, Amen

Scriptures to Apply:

Psalm 90:12, “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (NIV)

Galatians 6:9, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (NIV)

Proverbs 20:5, “The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.” (NIV)

Questions to Help Make Sense of Life:

How often am I overwhelmed by my own busyness? Can I prioritize my to-do list so that I move at a steady pace, focusing on my task while still appreciating the gifts that surround me? Can I remember to ask God to help me figure out what he is calling me to do and listen for his direction in my day?

Unearth Your Gifts

Unearth your gifts

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 New International Version (NIV)

My seventh grade English class took place in a portable classroom trailer. The room was sparsely decorated because it was seen as a temporary space used only when enrollment increased. Situated near the parking lot, there was a grassy patch behind it where some kids forged their way to coolness by smoking cigarettes before the 8 AM start bell.

A long sidewalk from the portable led into the junior high school. Back in the icy winters before parents sued schools for negligence, many students, myself included, took terribly embarrassing falls in front of their snickering classmates. It was in such a place that I first heard I should use my life for writing.

I remember the pride I felt as my teacher encouraged me and told me how she felt inspired by the words I wrote. She said I should really consider being a writer. I remember this place, these words, and the experience in that room vividly. But, I did not go on to pursue writing. Although I loved books, I had never met an actual writer who could model the career for me. In the world I lived in, business careers were the path to follow for success. So that I did.

I worked at having it “all”, but never felt like I did. I worked for big corporations, started a consulting business, and taught marketing classes at a university. I got tired of trying to keep it “all” together, so I changed course and became a stay-at-home mom. Life got easier in some ways and harder in others. While I was no longer stressed about finding care for my children, I found myself missing the learning, recognition, and challenges of the work place. But, I pushed that emotion aside and forged ahead, concentrating on my two young tasks at hand.

My two tasks are grown now. The youngest left for college this fall. For the first time in a long time, I find myself wondering what lies ahead for me.

Do you ever feel a yearning to do something that you do not know how to start or how you will ever finish? A yearning that stays with you through the years even though it gets blanketed with other responsibilities and false ambitions.

Have you ever stopped long enough that the clutter of your life clears, and you feel this desire that repeats itself like the beats of your heart? And, you know that ignoring it any longer will leave you feeling unfulfilled.

That is where I am, and it is why I write. Deep inside all of us lies a gift waiting to be shared. Do you know what it might be for you? What is the unique way only you can share it? 

Perhaps, in a moment you are overtaken and write a heartfelt letter. You create something beautiful on a canvas or in your garden. You cook something so fabulous you claim your tastebuds can sing. You connect the dots for a winning deal or keep researching a problem until you find a solution that makes sense. Maybe you explain a concept to a child in a way that you can see the light of understanding click on in their brain. These moments are God’s glimpse into the gifts we are meant to seek out and share. 

We may not feel qualified, but like my seventh grade English teacher, God encourages you and waits for you to unearth your gifts. He is ready to open the door for you and to light your path. Knock, wait for the door to open and the light to shine in. Take the first slow step outside and begin the walk with him.   

Prayer for This Week:

Lord, help me listen for your voice in all that I do so that I may identify my gifts and know how to use them to work good in the lives of others. Give me the confidence I need to display these gifts to the world. Lead me when I am too scared to follow. Remind me to humbly bestow the glory of my work upon you. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Additional Scriptures to Apply:

Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (NIV)

Matthew 19:26, “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” (NIV)

Proverbs 19:21, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails.” (NIV)    

Questions for This Week:

What activity or talent in your life causes you to lose track of time while you are busy doing it? When do you feel like you are working for a purpose greater than your own? How can you use your gift to help someone else in a way that works well with the other demands of your life?