Taking Steps Toward Change

blonde-1031534_1920It really stinks when we blow it. It stinks even more when we blow it repeatedly, and yet, if you’re like me, you keep fighting the same battles again and again. But Scripture says we’re made new (2 Cor. 5:17) and that we have everything we need, in Christ, to live godly, Spirit-led lives (2 Peter 1:3).

So where’s the disconnect? Why do I still lose patience? Say things I wish I hadn’t? Fight for my way and allow my fears, worries, concerns, and selfish ambitions to lead me rather than the will of Christ? 

When our daughter was ten, after five years of educating her at home, we felt led to enroll her in school. We knew it’d be a bit of a transition for her, but we had no idea just how difficult that transition would be. First, I hadn’t emphasized cursive (I focused more on keyboarding and computer skills), and at her new school, cursive was required for everything, from spelling words and in class assignments to homework. Then there was the whole matter of homework period, getting up and out the door in the morning, adapting to teachers other than Mom, she was young for her grade …

Suffice it to say, there were times when her little brain felt ready to explode.

And like she’d always feel behind, ill-equipped, and unable to master her new role.

One night, as I was tucking her in, tears streamed her face, and she shared her fears with me. “I’m trying, but it seems like I’ll never get better.”

Have you ever felt like that? When you look at certain behaviors, maybe how you react while in rush hour ache-19005_1920traffic, or when your child throws a fit while you’re rushing out the door, and you think, “Man! Am I doing this again? I should be past this, much more spiritual mature, by now!”

My response to you is the same as it was to my daughter, eight years ago. “You’ll get this. I promise. Just keep stepping, and give it time.”

And develop an action plan, because as the cliché goes, wanting doesn’t make it so.

The first step in anything is prayer, asking for God’s help, wisdom, perseverance, and grace. And this isn’t just a one time, “Lord, help me out here,” but rather, a practice of remaining in communication with Christ throughout the day (1 Thes. 5:17)–in an attitude of surrender. (Because what good is it to know God’s will if we don’t live it out?)

The next step is, through prayer and self-evaluation, to get at the root cause of your behavior. If you’re reacting with impatience, ask God to show you why. What are you afraid of? That you’ll be late for work and then lose your job? That your child will be late for school and fall behind? That others will be disappointed in you?

Whenever we react negatively, if we dig deep enough, we’ll find there’s a reason, and unless we address that reason, we’ll remain stuck in managing symptoms (reactions) without ever truly moving forward.

Once you’ve uncovered the reason for your reaction, replace whatever that is with truth. For example, right now I’m feeling squeezed. It’s an incredibly busy season where I feel I have more to manage than I have time or energy to do so. My fear is that I’m going to drop the ball, but more than that, as my time grows shorter, those things on my to-do list that are selfishly motivated become more apparent.

The solution, then, is surrender. To help with this, I’m focusing on (reading, meditating on, praying over, and memorizing) key passages of Scripture that are helping me to zero in on God’s will and leading in this crazy time.

My verses are 1 John 2:15-16, Galatians 5:1, 16-24. I’m camped out here, reading the same Scriptures LivebytheSpiritpassagedaily, because I know God’s Word will change my thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors, but this won’t happen overnight.

At this point, I must ask, do you memorize Scripture? If not, I strongly encourage you to start. It is incredibly powerful to be able to pause in the middle of a tense or difficult situation to pray God’s Word. The peace that follows is amazing.

Next, I’m practicing doing better. Notice I didn’t say “trying.” I suppose I could, but practice reminds me that I’m retraining myself, and the more I behave and react in line with Christ’s will, the more it becomes a habit to do so.

Finally, I’m persevering. I’ve mentioned this a few times in this post, but behavioral change, whether it’s changing the way one eats or learning how to handle conflict in a biblical manner, takes time. Often, progress comes slowly, but with God’s grace and power at work within us, it does come, until one day we’ve mastered that thing.

Then God reveals another area within us in need of growth. Ah, Christian maturity. Isn’t it fun? 😉

livingbygracepic-jpLet’s talk about this. Is there one area in your life, one challenge, temptation or character weakness/flaw you believe God may want to change? What are some ways you intentionally grow? Why do you think it might be beneficial to focus on one behavior or attitude and correlating verse for an extended period of time rather than trying to change numerous areas of weakness at once? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, because we can all learn from each other.

And join me on Christians Read on June 20th to read about a slice in a very busy day when God granted me incredible peace and clarity amidst the rushed chaos.

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Defusing Conflict in Your Marriage

Early in our marriage, it seemed Steve and I spent more time fighting than talking, and with every ID-100160817argument, our hearts grew a little harder and the distance between us widened. More than that, we developed a pattern of behavior and a completely skewed perception of one another.

It’s amazing how quickly negative behavior patterns can take hold, and how quickly those patterns can affect our thoughts. The two are always interconnected. The more we fight with our spouse, the greater the tendency we have to see them as our enemy, and the more they become our enemy, the more negatively we view them. 

The latter is the kicker, and it creates a quickly spiraling hotbed of negative thinking.

20160602_101945Years ago, when Steve and I were just beginning to follow God’s way of loving one another, we went to a marriage retreat. While there, one of the speakers provided a visual that’s stuck with me. He held a quarter out at arm’s length, then talked about how he barely noticed the quarter. It was but a blip in his vision. But then he began to bring the quarter closer and closer to one eye. As he did, the quarter grew bigger, more dominant in his view, and everything in his peripheral blurred.

Now, imagine that quarter is one of your spouse’s behaviors. First of all, I’m not talking about abusive or destructive behaviors like addiction. I’m talking about stuff like leaving dirty laundry on the floor, the garage door open, or perhaps even saying something callus on occasion–it happens, folks. None of us are Jesus.

Back to the quarter/behavior. The more we focus on it, thinking about it, nagging our spouse about it, the bigger that thing becomes until it dominates our view. But if we pull back and consider that behavior as but one of many other quite positive behaviors, that thing shrinks … and our tenderness grows. 

This is a powerful conflict defuser, at least for the one practicing it, and when one participant in the conflict softens, the other has a much greater likelihood of doing the same.

So, step one is consciously, deliberately think of your spouse’s good. 

Here’s how it plays out in my home. Conflict often arises when both of us are tired or aren’t feeling well, because, well, honestly, that’s when we begin to self-preserve, but that’s a topic for another post. Looking around at all the things left undone that I have no energy to do, I can easily get irritated at my husband for “not helping.” (Largely because I’m quick to focus on how I’m feeling but slow to recognize when he’s feeling the same.)

BUT when I pause to remember all the times he’s gone grocery shopping for me, washed our cars, mowed the lawn, washed dirty dishes … you get the idea, I’m reminded he’s really a good guy at heart. And he truly does love me. He’s just having an off day. (We all have those, right?)

Step two: walk away. 

This can be crazy hard because our pride will convince us we need the last word, or will make us view the argument as competition or a challenge, as if winning the fight has any positive value at all. (Most often, to the contrary. We can win the fight and lose our marriage. It happens all the time. Almost happened to Steve and I.)

But don’t just walk away; walk away to pray–for your marriage and that God would align contemplation-176883_1920your heart with His. Because chances are, without God’s help, all we’ll do is stew. And become more angry, more hurt, and more committed to digging in our heels in this fight against our spouse, and we’ve already established how helpful that is. (Read sarcasm into that last phrase.) Granted, praying in the middle of a conflict is incredibly hard, but it’s also incredibly powerful. Marriage transforming powerful.

Step three: Return calm, strengthened by the Holy Spirit, and with one goal in mind–unity. 

If your goal is anything else, return to step one.

Obviously, following these steps won’t resolve every issue you and your spouse will face, but man will it put you on the best footing for that to occur.

And if you try all those steps (really try, and recognize you might need to cycle through them more than once, especially when dealing with more difficult issues) and you and your spouse are still at opposing ends, get help. Seek out a Christ-centered, wise,  unbiased individual who can walk beside you. Because the marriage God intended is within your grasp, and it’s beautiful. Beautiful enough to work for. 

LoveThrivesVerseJpgEven if it means setting that ugly, prideful, selfish, wounded self aside. (Speaking to myself here, because when I get to the heart of things, it’s usually my self-centeredness that’s causing a chunk of our issues.)

Let’s talk about this! What are some things you’ve found livingbygracepic-jpto be helpful in defusing a conflict? Have you tried any of the steps listed above, and if so, what were the results? Share your thoughts and experiences with us, because we can all learn from and encourage one another!

Oh, and before you go, I invite you to join my alter ego, Jen Pheobus, at her new blog! You can do so HERE. You can also read Jen’s first post on Christian Reads, a piece on the importance of guarding our words when life squeezes us, HERE. And make sure to like her Facebook page HERE to stay up to date on her writing journey. 🙂

When Mama Needs a Time Out

MamaMondaysjpg

Photo by stock images taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by stock images taken from freedigitalphotos.net

We’ve all done it–lashed out at those we love most. When we’re overtired, stressed, pressed for time, or simply having a pull-your-hair-out kind of day, it can be incredibly hard to maintain self-control. That’s why we need to be alert to our emotions when we first sense them rising. 

How is it our children can be playing quietly by themselves, completely oblivious to the world around them one moment, then in dire need of us when we slip off to make a phone call?

Why is that one shirt of five hundred favorites suddenly the only one our child will wear when we’re running late for the most important appointment all month?

And how, oh how, can we maintain self-control when little ones are wailing and clinging to our legs while we attempt to mop grape juice from the carpet?

There are some days our kids need a time out, and there are other days when we do. 

Doesn’t that sound lovely? A time when, regardless of what you have going on, of where you absolutely woman-71735_1280need to be, you simply press pause? You’ll be amazed what five minutes–just five!–locked in your bedroom with your Savior can do. 

“But I don’t have time!” you say. “It’s Monday, the kids have to be at school, and I need to get to work.”

To which I’d say, when it comes to our kids, we absolutely have to make the time, not just for their activities and one-on-ones, but to do what we need to do to build them up rather than tearing them down. That doesn’t mean we’ll ever reach the perfect parenting stage, but by learning to pull away when we feel our temperatures rising, we’ll greatly reduce our hurtful mess ups.

Because let’s be honest–anger, frustration, snappy comments, and eye rolls hurt. Our children see it all. They’re amazingly adept at reading body language but incredibly inept at understanding the why. When we’re stressed and running around frazzled and irritated, they don’t human-753172_1920think, “Wow, Mommy must be having a bad day.” Nope. Their world is centered around one thing–themselves. (Developmentally, that’s just where they are.) Which means, they believe they’re the cause for every sigh, huff, and scowl.

And with every scowl or smile, they’re forming their view of the world and their perception of self. They’re determining whether they’re cherished or a nuisance, a blessing or a trouble-maker. A source of joy or frustration. 

When I remember that, suddenly arriving at my appointment five minutes late doesn’t feel like the most important part of my day. And besides, if I’m running late and caught up in a mess of vomit (or traffic), getting upset won’t get me there any faster. To the contrary–it’ll probably delay me further as I’m much less efficient when I allow my emotions to take control.

I also like to think of worst case scenarios. For example, when our daughter was young, school mornings were crazy stressful, and there were many mornings the stressful turned to arguing. I hated sending my daughter off to school after a mother-daughter fight. So I began to ask myself, “What happens if she’s late?” 

She’d get written up, maybe. But if her behavior was causing our delay, then it seemed that’d be a good thing, a natural consequence for her actions. Certainly better than allowing frustration to build to arguments that created constant tension between us.

Our relationship was more important, I felt, than her avoiding a tardy slip.

But let’s pull it back a little. What if, knowing I get stressed, flustered and overwhelmed when time is short day-planner-828611_1920and pressure is high, what if I started creating margins in my day? What if I planned for the unexpected milk spill and temper tantrum? 

What if I simply slowed down so I could take a time out, pulling away to listen to praise music or to pray, when things grew stressful? 

And what if I began to pay more attention to my emotions and became aware when that first spark of frustration arose? Rather than waiting until it grew to overwhelming proportions?

And what if I learned how to speak to myself in the middle of the chaos, reminding myself that God’s still in control, even in traffic jams. What if I chose to use that moment, every moment, as frustrating or hectic as it may be, as training and an opportunity to learn–to grow in character, in perseverance, and surrender?

What might I be able to model for my kids? (Because self-control is caught as much as it’s taught.)

What if, stuck at a red light, with kids bickering in the backseat, rather than allowing my thoughts to run amuck as I thought of how late I’m going to be and how little patience I have for sibling fighting, I began to pray. And surrendered that moment and all that lay ahead to Christ.

Knowing He’s working out His plan, for me, for my kids, and for my family, even in the muck, the mundane, the manic, and the mess.

Let’s talk about this! Have you ever given yourself a time out, and if so, what were the results? How does our self talk in the middle of the gunk and frantic affect our patience level and hence our words and actions? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below or on Facebook, because we can all learn from each other.