Tag Archives: stress

Taking Root: See the Obvious

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During Thanksgiving, my wife’s parents gave us a Christmas cactus. It’s not more than a foot tall in its small pot, and when it first arrived in our home, it became a dark green, unassuming centerpiece in our dining room.

Every day, I’d sit down for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the table, never noticing the cactus. Who notices a cactus anyway?

A cactus is part of the scenery… like in a western.

One morning I walked down the steps, and something pink on the table caught my eye. In fact, it wasn’t just one pink thing. It was several pink flowers in full bloom on the cactus. In fact, some had already wilted. How could I have missed those flowers when they were blooming right in front of me for the past few days?

I think we all have a moment like that at one time or another. There is something beautiful and perfect right in front of us, but we miss it. After a busy season, we realize we’ve drifted from a spouse, from a friend, from a child, or even from ourselves—forgetting what brings us joy and defines who we are.

When we were newly married, I spoke with an older couple in our church during a retreat who seemed like they had their act together. However, when I asked them how they were, she sighed and very frankly said it had been a tough month. They both had been so busy that they had drifted from one another.

I kept my mouth shut, but I thought to myself, “But you guys are amazing together! How could you ever drift from each other?”

Apparently, we can miss out on the obvious all the time. If someone had asked me how I felt about flowering plants, I would say without hesitation, “I love flowers. We grow tons of them at our home.” Then an episode like my neglected cactus would throw my statements into doubt.

It’s so easy to miss the obvious, to neglect what’s supposed to be important, and to avoid things that are well within our power.

Though God has asked me to stop and pray regularly, you’d think he’d asked me to run a marathon each morning. The path for a disciple is so simple and obvious—stick to Jesus. And yet, I sometimes act like it’s this big mystery I can’t figure out.

We all have an invitation from Jesus to look and listen. He’s looking for people with functioning ears and eyes—which is another way of saying: people who can think a little.

If Lent has been a struggle for you, keep this in mind: God doesn’t necessarily want you to be stuck. Sure, there are some seasons that will be more difficult than others, but we have scriptures, prayers, songs, and Christian meditation practices that have been handed down to us. If one thing doesn’t work for you right now, try another.

God wants you to enter into his rest today, to experience his love, and to know his presence. You may be stuck in a sense, but he wants you to spend that time with him. That may require some time and effort on our parts, but we have been given all that we need in his indwelling Spirit. Our Christian community has provided the tools we can use.

God has given us something beautiful. He doesn’t want it to be hard to find. The hard part is just slowing down long enough to look at it.

The Greenhouse

Take some a minute to meditate on this verse from 1 Peter 1:3, NIV:

“His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.”

 

As you pray today, ask God whether you’ve been neglecting anything in your life.

 

Taking Root is a series of meditations I’m writing and editing for Central Vineyard Church during the season of Lent. You can download the podcast version of each post by subscribing to my church’s podcast for each day of the series.

Taking Root: Creating Margins

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Taking Root is a series of meditations I’m writing and editing for Central Vineyard Church during the season of Lent. You can download the podcast version of each post by subscribing to my church’s podcast or visiting the podcast blog for each day of the series.

By Rob Hartman of Central Vineyard

I had my share of paper-writing assignments in high school. Typically, there would be a page limit or range. There was the 1 page paper (No problem), the 3-5 pager (Ugh), and the dreaded 10-pager (Yikes!).

Students at a particular loss for words sometimes employed ridiculously wide margins (Voila! eight pages become ten.), while the more verbose extended our margins outward until we’d gobbled up all the white space (Presto! Twelve pages become ten). Eventually, our instructors caught on and started specifying mandatory margin sizes. You can’t blame a kid for trying.

In our adult lives, we find ourselves negotiating margins of another kind. The paper is our lives. The ink represents our activities and obligations, and the margins are those periods of rest and refreshment. All of us need some margins in our lives. But, like my classmates, we differ in just how wide we want or need them to be. The challenge is to understand our own ideal margins and to then invite God to help us grow toward achieving that balance.

“Just Stop It”

It’s no secret that many of us live hectic, over-committed lives. In fact, it’s become something of a cliche.

  • We sit in traffic, honking and being honked at as our blood pressure spikes.
  • We bring work home with us or trudge back to the office after hours.
  • We spend our elusive weekend “downtime” doing errands, meeting up with friends, or serving in ministry.

Although some of this busyness is unavoidable, we also have a way seeking it out. We’re easily seduced into believing that a full life is one filled with non-stop activity. With this mentality as our default, the idea of widening our margins may seem boring or constraining. Can you imagine Nike rolling out a “Just Stop It” ad campaign?

Given our culture’s emphasis on freedom, achievement, and engagement, it’s important to be clear then that margins aren’t about arbitrary limits or constraints. Rather, margins are about rest, renewal, and freedom from the tyranny of busyness. Establishing margins means embracing the restful rhythm of the Sabbath (Gen 2:1-3; Ex 20:8-11).

A Sabbath Sweet Spot

To say that most of us need a bit more margin does not mean one size fits all. Some people truly thrive on stimulation, socialization, or pressure. Others find that a few activity-packed weeks are enough to bring on panic attacks. What about you? Where is your sweet spot where the ink and the margin are in healthy balance?

This notion of a sweet spot isn’t just about the width of your margins; it’s also about what gives you life within those margins. Margins aren’t about “vegging out.” It’s about making time and space for life-giving activities that engage our minds, bodies, or both. It might be something outdoors or indoors. This, too, is shaped by your temperament: what gives you rest may cause tension for another person and vice versa.

Margins and Seasons

The two metaphors of margins and seasons-of-life can collide in interesting ways. Many of us will go to college, get married, have children, watch our children leave the nest, retire, and so on. Each of these events ushers in a new season of life. Not all of us will experience all of them, and those of us who do won’t necessarily do them all in the same order.

As our life seasons present unique opportunities and challenges, we’re likely to find our margins expanding and contracting accordingly. Parents of young families often find their margins stretched very thin, juggling work and family on only a few hours of sleep. In contrast, new empty-nesters typically find themselves adjusting to wider margins, sometimes wondering just what to do with themselves.

This is not to say that your life season will always dictate your margins, but the impact is undeniable. Understanding your season of life can provide insight into how and why your margins have changed.

We all need margins. They keep our lives from spilling over into a jumble of unintelligible chaos.

The Greenhouse

Think about work, school, church, play, and the social dimensions of your life. When have you felt stressed? Bored? When have you felt most “on” and joyfully engaged? Take a sheet of paper and draw one inch margins. Write every restful activity in the margins and every item on your “to do” list or work list in the center. What does this tell you about your need for margins?

 

As you pray today, is God calling you to accept thinner margins so that you can pursue a ministry or activity that will bring Him glory? Is God telling you to widen your margins so that you can experience a period of greater relaxation and refreshment?

Taking Root: Freedom with Boundaries

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Taking Root is a series of meditations I’m writing and editing for Central Vineyard Church during the season of Lent. You can download the podcast version of each post by subscribing to my church’s podcast or visiting the podcast blog for each day of the series.

 

I used to have this red chair in our living room in our last apartment. I sat in that chair every morning with my coffee and Bible. I’d usually pray for a bit. If a rabbit hopped over and hunkered down, I may even scratch her ears.

It was a peaceful place by our windows, and if it was warm outside, I’d leave the windows open and you could hear the rush of the water fall behind our building.

Before moving to Columbus and leaving that apartment behind, I gave away the red chair to a college student. The rabbits had done enough damage that we could no longer justify keeping it around. However, as we parted from both that apartment and my chair, we also parted from my routine.

Ever the creature of habit, my spiritual disciplines flagged almost immediately. It was really, really hard to stop myself to pray even for five minutes each morning.

Was my red chair that important?

I tried to fight my lack of focus by sitting at my desk each morning, forcing myself to be quiet and still. The call of work often interrupted my serenity. My computer, closed and hibernating peacefully nearby, emitted some kind of electronic pulse.

  • There’s work to be done.
  • Check your e-mail!
  • There’s probably something really important on Facebook!

My solution was insultingly simple. I’m ashamed to even write this.

We bought a couch that resembles the red chair, and I sit there to read the Bible and pray each morning. No, it’s not my “red chair,” but it’s a sacred space where I can find peace each morning for prayer and scripture reading.

Our Spirits Need Boundaries

We need space, however small it may be, that is set aside for work, devotion, or leisure. Even if that couch later becomes the spot where I read a book in the evening, I know that sitting there in the morning means my mind is directed toward heaven.

Rituals Can Help Create Boundaries

I’ve read that lots of creative folks have little crazy rituals, like drinking coffee out of the same mug each morning or only writing on yellow legal pads. These little things alert their minds and spirits that it’s time to focus, to get down to it.

Boundaries help rope our minds and spirits in so that we can be present. There is a freedom and comfort in knowing that when I go to that spot in our living room each morning, I’m free to be with God. The computer can’t reach me with its electronic pulses, and I’m free to hear what God would have me do today.

Boundaries shelter us from the noise, the rush, and the crush of each day. Boundaries don’t hold us back. They create a safe place where we can pray, love, create, and work.

The Greenhouse

Is there one ritual that you can incorporate into your today that will help signal to your mind that it’s time to pray?

 

What is something you love to do? How can you create a safe, focused space to do that one thing?

Jesus is Coming, What Do I Expect? More Time

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Nine years ago we were newlyweds. I remember when our photo album arrived from the photographer with 4×6 prints and negatives. Yes kids, people actually used to hold pictures in their hands, and you could only make another print if you brought the negative to a developer—I’m sorry if all of this is making your head spin.

I looked through the pictures and began to think about having some prints made, buying frames, and putting up some pictures around the house. Perhaps a nice picture of Julie for my desk and a portrait in our bedroom.

However, I had seminary classes, my wife was attending graduate school, and it seemed like we never found the time for it. We’d wait for later—a time when we’d have more time.

Nine years later, I’ve made no progress on this. Worse than that, there are so many things that I’ve put off by telling myself, “I’ll get to this when I have more time.”

It’s like I’ve created this fairy land in my future where I’m be rested, relaxed, and completely at leisure to do as I please. The truth is that we can always fill up our time with something. You can never have “enough” time.

One area where God is working on my heart lately is the stewardship of my time and how badly I can waste it. One night I drove over to our community market, which is an amazing natural foods/organic grocery coop. It’s in the middle of our residential neighborhood, so I parked on the street and could see the lights from televisions flashing in every single living room on our block.

The sight saddened me, but then God, champion for hypocrisy exposure, reminded me that I was chomping at the bit to go home and watch a bit of hockey. There was no use arguing that hockey is morally superior and more redemptive than Dancing with the Stars, even if I know that’s true. The matter was one of time and priorities.

I can always put off important things by saying that I’ll have more time in the future for them. This is a lie that turns me into the victim of the circumstances, when in reality I’m a victim of my own mismanagement—which is another way of saying that it’s my fault alone.

When Jesus came to earth, Simon and Anna proclaimed that God’s salvation had come that day. Herod sought to kill the newborn child because the threat to his rule was immediate. When God acts, there is no room for delay. We can’t let our circumstances become obstacles.

Jesus told his disciples that the time has come now. Today is the day to repent. Today is the day to follow him. When a man tried to put off following Jesus in order to take care of his family obligations, Jesus wouldn’t let him off the hook.

God’s timeframe is always now, not later. As much as I’d like to delay dealing with my sins and bad habits, God wants to heal them now. As much as I’d like to fill my day up with “important” tasks, God wants me to pray now. Whenever God prompts us to act or sit, to think or rest, he’s seeking what’s best for us.

I keep thinking that I’ll get to these things, but if I expect God to heal me in the future, he’s actually saying that he wants to do it now. He doesn’t want me to wait for a day when I’ll be less busy, less stressed out, and less fragmented because that day will never come. While I wait for life to become less stressful, I miss out on the source of healing that I need the most—the one thing that I’ve been waiting for.

Today’s post is a synchroblog with Christine Sine. Check out her post: Jesus is Coming—What Do We Expect?

And hey, did you know Advent is coming? I contributed to this great collection of meditations that is now available: Waiting for the Light: An Advent Devotional. Also check out Christine’s advent video.

Recognizing My Desperate Need for Order

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Last night I had to clear my tools and some random bits of paper off the mantel. Our knickknacks, mostly rabbit-themed, were bunched at one end, and I spread them out along the mantel.

Moving on from that oasis of order, I started hunting around the kitchen for our metal basket we use for our pens. Upon locating it in one of the remaining boxes, I filled it with pens, a sticky note pad, and some twisty ties.

These were not pressing matters, but they indicated how I felt inside. A messy mantle and a counter strewn with pens reminded me that I didn’t have enough order in my life. I’ve just been rushing from one thing to another, overwhelmed with a growing to-do list.

I realized that I really needed to stop for a bit of time last night and this morning to take stock of where I’m at.

The Signs of Chaos

Self-absorption and anxiety are usually two of my big signs that I need to step back. When other people become a nuisance and my heart races over the slightest problem, I’m clearly doing life on my own.

I’m sure we all have our sins of choice or our messy habits that we turn to when life gets hard. At the very least my crutch of anxiety is relatively easy to spot.

“Why is it suddenly hard to breathe?”

That’s when it’s time to lay on my back to stretch out, take some deep breaths, and pray.

Fighting Chaos in Our Lives

I’ve been working on creating some kind of a routine or rhythm in our new home. Part of finding a routine or rhythm is recognizing when to push and when to stop. That requires acknowledging limits, which feels sort of lazy and un-American.

You know what I mean. What do you mean limits? We live in the greatest, richest, most powerful, most obese country in the world! We can do ANYTHING!

Ah, but limits are what we need. We need to stop for things like:

silence

rest

clarity

peace

There are two things I need in order to fight chaos:

Quiet Moments in the Morning

My quiet time in the morning is critical for getting my head on right by reading scripture and praying, but I also need to organize my day and think it through. If I don’t pray through and think through my day, I’ll just run from one urgent, distracting thing to another without working on the things that are most important.

Without a regular routine, the urgency of the new day beckons and I feel rushed. After hearing her speak last week, I now have a handy little Ann Voskamp who sits on my shoulder like one of those cartoon angels who screams into my ear, “Life is not an emergency.”

My racing heart suggests that such is not the case. Then I start having trouble breathing, and I realize that perhaps Ann has a point. I’ve been making too much of too little, rushing from one thing to another without any sense of order.

Different Paces for My Day

As I work on projects throughout each day, I find that I sometimes need to switch up my pace. I don’t work well doing the same kind of work for eight hours, nor do most jobs demand that we do the same exact thing all day, every day.

Finding the ways to mix and match my day in order to line up with the pace of my mind is critical. I don’t know if that makes perfect sense or if that makes me sound like a lunatic who chewed his way out of the restraints.

Others may differ on this one, but I find that I need to divide my days into following categories: creative, communication/networking, and editing. If I do my networking during my high capacity creative times, then I’m screwed because I’ll have to do my creative work during my lower capacity networking times.

Then I get frustrated.

Then I fall behind.

Then I get stressed.

If I take some quiet time in the morning and pace myself according to some kind of schedule, I can stay grounded in the presence of God and on task. Without those two pieces in place, I end up wandering the house looking for something I can organize.

How do you recognize when your life is out of sorts?

What steps do you take?

Today’s post is part of Bonnie Gray’s Thursday Faith Jam at Faith Barista. Check out her post today.

Do You Fear Stopping?

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Sleep deprived and my mind buzzing with everything I have to do before we move, the last thing I felt like doing yesterday evening was sitting in rush hour traffic. However, as fate would have it, I joined a long line of red tail lights winding their way through downtown.

I had so many things I needed to do, and honestly, I just wanted to go to bed. Sitting in traffic wasn’t helping me in either department.

When I get really tired, I sometimes get emotional. I use phrases like, “point of no return” and “starting to melt down” when I feel like this around my wife. She switches into emergency mode and helps me get to bed as fast as possible. Stuck on a highway with nowhere to go, I felt trapped.

I thought of turning on the radio, but then, in a moment of grace, I heard, “Why turn on the radio?”

I wanted distraction. I didn’t want to face the emotions swirling in my mind about how much work I have to do this week before we move next week. I didn’t want to think about the packing and projects before moving. I didn’t want to think about leaving our friends here in Connecticut.

I could barely hold back the emotions that wanted to throw me into chaos, even as I inched forward in an orderly line of cars. Worse than that, I didn’t believe that God could handle that moment.

I didn’t want to be quiet and still. Who knows what could happen if I let myself sit in silence, if I stopped. The thought terrified me for a moment, but then I realized that I needed that stillness and silence especially because of the chaos in my mind.

I’ve been trying to deal with my fears, frustrations, and emotions by running from them or keeping busy trying to fix them. I fear the silence, that moment when I stop and everything crashes in on me. However, that was the time that I needed to reach out to God and let him work in the silence and in my life.

It was hard work to force myself to focus on God’s goodness and his love for me. I’m sure that it will be a struggle in the coming days to continue doing so.

Yesterday I learned that God is present in our silence and in our fears. He has something to say, but we have to first stop and listen.