Friday, February 26, 2010

Coping Skills for the Overwhelmed Christian

Everyone gets overwhelmed sometimes. Our to-do lists explode, things get tense, and we wonder how we're going to make it through. Considering that I'm dealing with a huge pile of work and a moderate amount of stress myself right now, I thought it would be a good idea to post a refresher on some helpful coping strategies that I've discovered.
  • Take time to pray. Sometimes when I get busy, it can feel like I don't have time to deal with God. I've learned, however, that taking time for God becomes more important than ever when I'm stressed out. I may feel too tired to pray when I collapse into bed at the end of the day, but that small ritual helps calm my mind and allows me to turn over the day's activity to God so that I can rest peacefully. At crazy moments during my day, I like to stop and think about God. Reminding myself that God is with me and feeling the warmth of His presence in my heart calms my racing mind and helps me feel more confident about the work I have to do. It might be too much for me to handle alone, but with God's help I can make it through.
  • Ask for help. Sometimes it feels like the American way to just suffer in silence and to push ourselves to (and past) our limits to get everything done ourselves. Nevertheless, God intends for us to live in a symbiotic relationship with the rest of the Body of Christ. That means it's perfectly acceptable to ask our fellow Christians and loved ones for help when we're being pushed beyond healthy limits. Christians should be willing to pitch in however they can, and I know that there are people who love me and are willing to help when things are tough. I need to be willing to let them help, and I shouldn't feel ashamed to ask for assistance.
  • Deal with one thing at a time. I can multi-task pretty well, but I certainly can't tackle my entire to-do list all at once. I try not to spend too much time contemplating the sum of everything I have to do because that just overwhelms my brain and causes me to freeze up. When I focus on only one task, I'm able to concentrate on it and get it done efficiently. Then I move on to the next thing, and I feel a surge of positive energy every time I cross an item off my list or move a step closer to my goal. Dividing up my tasks also gives me a chance to pause in between them and check in with God. This keeps me focused and fresh for the remaining tasks ahead.
  • Don't despair. With God all things are possible, and He does not assign us burdens that we are incapable of bearing with His help (and the help of our loving neighbors). Sure, I get frustrated and overwhelmed sometimes, and occasionally I collapse into tears or fits of anger. It's important for me to let those negative emotions pass instead of wallowing in them so that I can pick myself up and move on. Setbacks happen, but a positive attitude will help me get past them. The fact that things are difficult doesn't mean that God isn't with me. Together we'll get through it.
  • Be patient. My problems probably aren't going to get solved overnight. God's plan may be more long-term than I had hoped, and my friends might not be able to come immediately to my aid. Sometimes I have to wait, and sometimes I have to slog through for a while before I get anywhere. The payoff will be worth it when I finally make it to the end.
I've realized that it really does help to take a deep breath now and then and remind myself that whatever I'm struggling with probably isn't the end of the world. God's in control, and I have strategies to help me cope. Even if I have to give myself this pep talk ten times a day, I can make it through. 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Administrative Note: Yesterday's Post

I just noticed that yesterday's entry didn't post as scheduled. I'm not entirely sure what happened, and I'm sorry it took me more than a day to fix it! Please go back and read it if you have the chance, and I'll do my best to make sure this kind of oversight doesn't happen again.

My Purpose

Sometimes my life is pretty dull. I get caught in the drudgery of daily minutiae, and I start to wonder whether my life has a purpose. Depending on how things are going, sometimes I don't feel like I'm changing the world, I don't feel like I'm helping the people I love, and I may not even feel like I'm growing myself. I want some kind of result or happiness to point to so that I can know that there's a good reason why I'm alive. I want to know that I'm not just a waste of time and space but that I am doing something that matters.

I don't always have these frustrations, of course. The rhythm of my life ebbs and flows, and sometimes I'm at high points where I really feel like I'm on a specific mission for God. At those times I recognize that I've been called to do or be something specific, and I feel a great rush of fulfillment when I work towards that calling. I know that I am performing a specific function that matters, and I can more easily see the ways that I'm benefiting the world and growing as a person. I've come to recognize, however, that no matter what's going on in my life, I always have some kind of purpose. There are specific things that God has set out for me to do, but my purpose also includes a few permanent goals.
  • I am here to love God. God wants and values our love whether we feel confident or lowly when we give it. God is happy when we look around us and appreciate what He's done. God is ecstatic when we enjoy the gifts He's given us and joyfully thank Him for them. If we achieved nothing more than to think of God with fondness, trust, and gratitude every day of our lives, then we would have led very meaningful lives.
  • I am here to learn about God. If I'm going to live with God forever, then I need to learn about who God is, what He likes, and what kind of relationship we want to have with each other. Part of my purpose is to study the Bible and open myself to the Spirit so that I can get to know my Lord and Creator. That way when I am with God all the time in Heaven, I'll be ready for our relationship to progress to another level.
  • I am here to learn about myself. Self-awareness is necessary for personal and relational growth. My life on Earth is partially about learning who I am, what I like and what I'm good at, and what I want to give and receive in my relationships with others. I am supposed to learn the unique things about myself and begin to appreciate the things I have in common with my fellow humans. I am also coming to grips with my weaknesses and recognizing the reality of my need for God's help and the benefits of having relationships with other people.
  • I am here to learn about other people. I do not exist in a vacuum, and when I reach Heaven I will not be alone with God. I am part of a human family that is meant to be unified by the love of God. I need to get to know my brothers and sisters and learn how to live in a harmonious community and contribute to the whole. I need to figure out how to love in spite of challenges and to find ways to channel my energy into the larger group.
  • I am here to share what I learn. By doing so, I can help others fulfill the four purposes above and thereby strengthen the entire Body of Christ.
Even when I feel like I'm just dragging by, I still have the opportunity to love and learn. God made me with a purpose in mind, and He has great plans for me. Even when I can't see those plans, I don't have to feel aimless. My life has a purpose. Even if I don't yet understand every aspect of my purpose, I can cling to the parts that I do know and work towards fulfilling them. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I remember the old adage from my childhood, "Winning isn't everything." This is what our parents, teachers, and mentors told us when we got too worked up about contests or put competitiveness above more important values. Even as adults we need to be reminded that the thrill of winning isn't necessarily worth the price. In our dedication to pushing ourselves to the top, we often have to leave behind Christian concepts like mercy, kindness, selflessness, and humility. We stop being team players so that we can become superstars. We care more about being the "best" than we care about being good people. From a Christian standpoint, that's problematic.

Christianity is not about being the winner. We are victors through Christ, not in and of ourselves, and we share this special status with all other believers. On our own, we can do nothing to help or save ourselves. No matter how many competitions we win or how many ways we try to prove we're better than our fellow humans, we come no closer to God. God doesn't really care who's the best, because He designed all of us and gave us the talents and skills that distinguish us in the first place. He's not going to give us all the credit for the work He did in creating us. God is focused instead on the choices we make and how we use what we've been given to make a positive difference in the world. If winning a medal or two gives glory to God and reflects the creation He made us to be, then that's great. But it will be the authenticity and love of our actions that counts, not the award. No matter how good we are at winning competitions, we cannot earn our way into Heaven or achieve special status for our eternal souls. All we can do is accept the bounteous grace that Jesus, who alone was capable of winning the absolute competition against death, has freely shared with us.

It's true that Christians should strive to be all they can be. God gave us talents and skills for a reason, and we should endeavor to use them to the best of our ability for purposes that we think will please Him. Doing our best doesn't require us to compare ourselves to others, however. Competing against others will not prove our love or loyalty to God. God doesn't want us to beat others—He wants us to beat the sinfulness inside ourselves with His divine assistance. Anyone who sets up a competition about who's the best Christian or suggests that Heaven is a prize to be won doesn't really understand what Christianity is all about. God will never tell you that you aren't as good as someone else and will never be disappointed in you because you haven't won enough prizes or awards. He's proud every time you reaffirm your love for Him and reach out to others in His name. There's no competition in Christian love—just cooperative joy.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


In general, I seem to be a social floater. My presence is accepted in and around a large variety of groups, but I am rarely invited to join a group as a full-fledged member. There are some exceptions to this statement, of course, but I am frequently struck by how often I have felt like an outsider even in my own communities. I look around me and see so many people with whom I cannot fully connect, people who seem different from me. At times the spaces between me and the people around me seem like chasms and I find myself wishing for an opportunity to truly belong.

I am not Southern enough to fit in with my hometown friends nor Midwestern enough to really mesh with my current neighbors. I am not conservative enough for most of my family or liberal enough for most of my friends. I am not a cradle Lutheran like most of the people at my church, and I don't share their Scandinavian heritage either. I am not creative, vivacious, or even old enough to belong in the personal circles of some of the people I like or admire most. My religious beliefs and expressions are unique things that few people seem willing to try to understand. I prioritize things that people around me consider foolish and I dream dreams that even my closest loved ones cannot comprehend or share.

I suspect that everyone feels this disconnect on some level. Even those people who love us the most do not have the power to see directly into our souls and understand who we truly are at every level. Only God can do that. Still, there is hope in that last sentence. God can truly understand us, and He accepts every aspect of our personalities because He created them. We belong with God. Sure, He's an all-powerful deity and we're just people, but we fit in with God because He designed us to. He made us in His own image so that we could be like Him. Someday I will make it to Heaven and I won't have to feel like I don't fit in anymore. God will perfect each of us so that we can live together in harmony, in a place where no one will feel hurt or left out anymore and everyone will belong. It's actually a relief to realize that I don't fit in here on Earth because it reminds me that I belong somewhere better.

In the meantime, it's important to realize that we're all in this together. None of us completely belongs in this world, and there's some commonality in that.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Trust in Spite of Heartbreak

Every person I love will someday break my heart. It may not be an absolute rupture—perhaps it will be only a tiny little fracture, a small burning pain to remind me how fragile human feelings can be. Either way, it will hurt. I know that no one I love is perfect and that I am incapable of meeting the world with a dispassionate and logical heart. I'm going to get hurt, and that's just the way it is.

The paragraph above may seem cynical at first glance. If I really believed that all relationships are destined to include heartbreak, you might reasonably ask why I bother to pursue relationships at all. I'll admit that I've asked myself that question once or twice. I've been tempted to believe that I'm better off alone, safer a hermit in a cave with no one but God for company than adrift in a dangerous world where heartbreak lurks around every corner. But I've learned that the relationships that seem to cause my heartaches aren't really the root of the problem. The problem is that pain is simply a part of the human condition, and therefore avoiding human interaction won't spare me from heartache.

Well, the tone of this post must seem downright dismal at this point, but now it's time for the silver lining. Yes, our hearts will be broken just as surely as you can expect the stock market to go down sometimes even when its general trend is up. But like a good stock investment, our relationships have the potential to give us a powerful positive return that far outweighs the losses. The people I love are bound to hurt me and certain to let me down sometimes, but I also know that they will surely brighten up many of my days and bring me comfort when I need it most. They will help me when I cannot get by on my own and multiply my joy when I celebrate my success. They will help me be a better person than I could be on my own.

Jesus forged special relationships with 12 men. One of these men betrayed him to the chief priests for money. One of them denied even knowing him, and the other 10 were scattered after his arrest. As far as we know, only one of them was present at his execution and the rest hid away, terrified that they would be next. These men misunderstood Jesus and abandoned him. Yet I believe that the scriptures suggest that Jesus counted his relationship with them as well worth it. Jesus was not sorry he loved these men, and despite their failings they loved him in return. Eleven of them worked tirelessly on Jesus' behalf after his resurrection, serving him until their own deaths. Yes, the disciples broke Jesus' heart when they failed him, but when they followed him and fostered the fledgling church in his name, they brought Jesus special joy. Jesus loved and counted on these men because it was in his nature to do this, because he knew no other way to be himself and to live up to the essence of God within him.

I have tried putting aside trust in an effort to protect myself. I have attempted to care less and to watch from the safety of the sidelines. I have fancied myself strongest when I was alone and independent. And yet, when I tried to be and do these things, I did not feel like myself. To deny love and trust was to deny the deepest part of myself, the part that wants to be like God. To shut down my altruism in an attempt to be safe was a deception. Shutting myself off from others was never going to make me safe. All it would do is change the flavor of my heartbreak, not eliminate it, and in so doing isolate me from the very love and support that could help me through the inevitable pain.

I have accepted that I am going to get hurt. But I know that I am also going to feel joy and companionship and love. My trust will be rewarded more than it is betrayed. I have learned that when my heart breaks, clinging to my relationships instead of shoving them away will provide the salve I need to mend my broken heart and continue on in the love I've learned from Jesus. His heart was broken and yet he prevailed. Through his grace, I will follow in his footsteps.
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