Feeding the Discontent Monster

I was mad. Discouraged. Ready to quit. In the span of a month, I’d been hit hard on every side—physically, emotionally, relationally. And to top it off, an area I’d poured my life into for over a decade seemed to be dying. It wasn’t fair. Wasn’t right. I knew God was in control, which meant—He’d allowed all this. That was what frustrated me most. It felt as if He’d intentionally led me to a painful dead end. These are the thoughts one has late at night, when sleep won’t come and negativity is fed by the predawn darkness. The more I thought about the events—and there were numerous—that had crashed into my nice, pre-planned, agenda-based world, the more upset I became. The heavier my discouragement felt. Until I became paralyzed by inactivity. In truth, by self-centeredness. That’s what it came down to. Entrenched in entitlement, I focused on the have nots instead of the haves. With thought after thought, I fed the Discontent Monster until her insatiable appetite overshadowed every good and precious thing Christ had given. The next morning, groggy, stiff, and still nursing a self-fed negative attitude, I opened my Bible and … read this: “…For I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little” (Phil. 4:11-12). Why had God allowed all these trials to hit? Why had He seemingly killed that which I was so certain, over a decade previously,...

Untangling Our Will From God’s

Decisions, the ones that really matter, are difficult. And no matter how hard we try to view a situation objectively, more often than not, each choice will be enmeshed in emotion and obligation, tainted by our sinful nature, and … hopefully, ultimately resting on a desire to be obedient. So how can we separate the latter from the former? Is that even possible? What are some steps we can take to surrender our will to Christ’s and zero in on His guidance? First, we need to understand that we are, by nature, sinful people, prone to pride, selfishness, and self-deception. If not dealt with, these sins have the capacity to squelch the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the first step is prayer, asking God to cleanse our hearts. Consider making Psalm 19:12-14 a daily prayer, especially during times of indecision. “How can I know all the sins lurking in my heart? Cleanse me from these hidden faults. Keep your servant from deliberate sins! Don’t let them control me. Then I will be free of guilt and innocent of great sin. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to You, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer” (NLT). The next step, which is an ongoing one, is to listen. Throughout Scripture, God promises to lead and guide us. Isaiah 30:21 says, “Your own ears will hear Him. Right behind you a voice will say, ‘This is the way you should go,’ whether to the right or to the left” (NLT). Sometimes God will guide us by gently whispering to our heart. Many times He’ll speak...

Resetting For the New Year

I’m pretty sure I was born wearing running shoes. Then, somewhere along the way, in my rush to get things done, I picked up a heavy dose of people pleasing, coupled with an aversion to saying no. Combined, this can leave me with growing obligations and decreased flex time. And every year, come December, I’m left wondering how this happened. How one obligation led to another then another, many times without me paying attention. Then again, that’s the problem–that I don’t pay enough attention, and that I don’t plan ahead enough, leaving cushion for the unexpectes that are sure to arise. Which begs the question: How can I be led by the Spirit when I’m dominated by my schedule? When our daughter was young, I was determined to follow God’s leading in every area of my life, in every minute of my day. My goal–to learn to discern God’s voice better. I was convinced the more I turned to Him for guidance, the more I tuned my ears to Him, and the more I responded to His leading, the better my “hearing” would become. If I was in the middle of a task and sensed God telling me to stop, I did. Or if I felt Him nudge me to do something else, I did. I let go of all my expectations and plans and simply rested in Him. I soon discovered that with this plan, everything got done, only instead of stressing and angsting over the when and how, my days were filled with peace and the deep fulfillment of walking hand-in-hand in with Christ. I’ve often wondered, what...

Stepping Back From the Drama

Commercials present an idyllic view of the holidays, but for most of us, this is a fantasy.  We may wish we could attain it, even running ourselves ragged in our efforts to do so, but we never seem to hit the mark. When that happens, we are often left feeling defeated and saddened. Then there comes the dinner table with all those relatives we may or may not get along with: Crazy Aunt Bertha who’s convinced the world is going to end. Angry Uncle Wilbert who feels personally affronted when someone takes the last drumstick. Sassy Sally who rolls her eyes at every other statement, and of course, all the relational baggage that comes with living in a fallen, sin-cursed world–relational baggage that is magnified during the tense, stressful holiday season. Is it any wonder so many struggle with depression during November and December? And an even more important question–what can we do about? How can we make it through to January first without going completely insane and dragging our loved ones with us? Imagine hosting a dinner party for the most talked about personality of our day. Would that stress you out a little? Cause your stomach to convulse and sweat to build, quite glamorously, along your hairline and on your upper lip? Now imagine tossing sibling drama into the mix. I don’t know about you, but that’d about make me want to cry, and then I’d really have a mess on my hands–the mascara streaked tears kind. But what if I learned to step back and disengage? You may be familiar with the Mary and Martha story....

Courage to Say the Tough Stuff

I’ve never called anyone a brood of snakes (Matthew 3:7-8), or compared anyone to white washed tombs, “which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean” (Matthew 23:27 NIV). In fact, I’m usually tempted to lean the other way–to keep my mouth closed, to avoid tension, to find ways to maintain peace. And this isn’t only because I hate-hate-hate conflict. It’s also because when those opportunities arise, I find myself in a mental debate, trying to decide whether to speak up or remain quiet. There’s a time for both. And only God knows when that time is. That’s the kicker, right? To be led by the Spirit, not our emotions, our pride, or our desire to be right or change someone else. And to truly “speak the truth in love,” rather than frustration or anger. “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17). Although, sometimes God does give us a kick in the pants. I was relatively new to church and extremely immature in my faith. Immature period. My husband and I had been married for maybe four years and were going through a rough patch. You know what happens when we ladies go through something, right? We gather our friends around us and “vent.” Also known as gripe. And complain. And invite everyone within hearing range to join our pity-husband-bashing party. Because that’s real effective, right? And certainly godly. (insert a heavy dose of sarcasm here.) So there I...

How to Draw Strength From Christ

When we're at our weakest, when it feels as if our knees will buckle, God's strength is seen most clearly in us. (2 Cor. 12:19) Or at least, that's what we say, but how does that work, exactly? We know Christ is living inside us (1 Cor. 3:16), that He empowers us by His Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8), but what does that look like in the day-to-day? How, when life completely levels us, can we draw strength from Christ? About five years ago, my husband and I developed a short-term obsession with rock climbing. This was crazy for numerous reasons, the most obvious of which is my incredible fear of heights. And yet, somehow, secured in my harness and attached to my husband by a long, thick rope, I felt better. Stronger. A little. But I'd still tremble. And I mean, tremble enough that my shakes became visible to our guide. He called it the sewing machine leg, and he assumed it came from fatigue. To an extent, it did. I certainly wasn't the strongest or most agile woman to ascend the Arkansas rock face I attempted to tackle that day. But I was determined to make it to the top. And I did, with my husband's help. When I'd begin to falter, I'd feel a tug. A quick glance below showed my sweet husband, pulling on my rope inch by inch. This added strength–his strength–pushed me to the top. Sometimes I envision God doing the same with us. He's secured us in our harnesses of salvation, attached us to Himself, and determined to, inch-by-inch, get us up and over...

The Power of Agape Love in Marriage

He was late, again. No phone call. No “I’m sorry.” Nothing but me pacing the kitchen, glancing from the phone to the overcooked dinner crackling on the stove. At this point, I’d do better to throw it out, grab our daughter and head to a restaurant for a nice relaxing meal, just the two of us. Just the two of us. And now we get to the root of the issue, because it’s never just about burned dinners and unmade phone calls. Rather, it’s the dots we connect between each event, the interpretations we make of every statement and one line email. To my young, tired, and insecure mind, all of the inconsiderateness spoke a convincing and heartbreaking story—he doesn’t love you. My response? To fret and fume and work myself into the teary-eyed mess that met him at the door with harsh words and accusations. I effectively pushed my tired and defeated husband further away, adding crack after crack to his breaking heart. And yes, his heart was breaking, as much as mine was: I was just too caught up in my own emotional tsunami to notice. I was convinced he was the problem, and so, rather than turning to God for wisdom, rather than searching my heart for my part, I ranted. And complained. And begged God to change him, to make him into everything I needed. This went on for some time, each of us erecting stronger walls to hide behind, filtering every conversation through a mountain of hurt and distrust, while our marriage continued to disintegrate. Until one day, one sentence, spoken by a courageous...

Moms, Do You Ever Feel Locked in Instant Replay Mode

“How many times must I tell you …” Parenting would be so much easier if only we all had recording devices we could play back at will. When a behavior arises, simply fast forward to the appropriate statement, point the device at the infracting child, and hit play. Then walk away, problem solved. Imagine how peaceful our summers could be! Although I doubt that’d be effective. Shoes would still clutter the hallway and bedrooms would still look like someone swept through with a leaf blower. Because words by themselves are just that–words, and no child goes from toddler to adult overnight. In parenting, the key is to focus on progress not perfection, blanketed with equal amounts of patience, training, consistency, and accountability. Develop patience Children don’t learn overnight, and often, every step forward is accompanied with half a step, and sometimes an entire leap, backwards. But then again, isn’t that how it is with each of us? Habits, wisdom, and integrity take time to develop.  Our child may need to hear, “Put your plate away” twenty times before they begin to think of it on their own, then learn to follow through. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re being defiant. It simply means they need to be reminded. A lot. Until that behavior becomes habit (then you can begin to tackle a new one). Train Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (ESV). In other words, don’t pester, nag, scream at, and belittle. Instead, train. 😉 When our daughter was young, I walked into her room...

Assuming the Best

At every moment and with every interaction, we have two choices–we can assume the worst or the best in others. Many times, our assumptions arise instantly, fueling thoughts which trigger emotions, and before we know it, we’ve worked ourselves up in a frenzy based on perception. The problem is, our perception is faulty. Almost every single time. And our faulty perception hurts–ourselves, others, and our relationships. Consider this scenario. I go outside and see trash left on our lawn–like a whole mess of it. Fast food bags; sticky, squished ketchup packets; crushed soda cups, their syrupy contents seeping into the grass. Perhaps a group of teenagers live across from us. Maybe one of those teenagers tends to be quiet, not seen much. Maybe he even dresses … like a teenager. My conclusion? He left the trash. He must be careless, rude: part of the entitled generation. But … what if I had evidence that indicated my husband had left the trash? In that case, an entirely different assumption would begin to unfold in my mind. Because I know my husband to be a man of integrity who is often the first to serve others, I’d assume something must have happened. Either he’d been distracted and had forgotten he left the trash, or he’d been pulled away unexpectedly and intended to return. Completely different scenarios, one heap of trash. Isn’t it interesting how a little bit of background information can drastically change our interpretations of things? The problem is, we rarely have that much knowledge about most of the people we interact with on a daily basis. That’s why we...

Choosing Strength When Life Gets Hard

We were going through a crazy-tough time, one of the most difficult our marriage had faced, and I began to crumble. To pull away. To isolate. Until one afternoon, my husband pulled me to him, cupped my face in his hands, and locked an intense gaze on mine. “I need you to be strong.” In that moment, it was like a jolt hit my selfish, whining heart. He needs me. My family needs me. And suddenly, I was no longer the victim in our mess. I was a warrior. A woman who could make the choice to hold tight to her family. To protect those I loved, to set the tone in my home, and to point us all to God’s never-failing strength. For when we are weak but rely solely on Him, we find He is more than strong enough to carry us through. The result of that prayer and my determination to follow through? Our marriage grew stronger. Our family grew stronger. And Jesus Christ became the defining factor in it all. More than that, my husband and I started a trend that day, one birthed in decision and continued through a daily choice. When times get tough, we grow closer. Now I know, according to the oft spoken clichés, that’s the way it’s supposed to happen, right? But I suspect it doesn’t always. During times of trial, families either grow closer or farther apart. We don’t remain stagnant. We never simply tread our way through a crisis. We either to cling to Christ and one another, or we isolate, self-protect, and bit by bit destroy those...