Monday, June 29, 2015

Week Two - Mud or Stars?

Thanks for continuing on this journey of contentment and calming my anxious heart with me. Once again, if you're looking for a crafty post, this is not it. Unless you count working on myself as a craft, which it definitely is. Learning to be content and not anxious is a process and one that I believe I fail at most days. I strongly urge anyone who has problems with being anxious or lack of contentment, read this book! If you have a Kindle, it's only about $10. You spend more than that out to eat! If you do not have a kindle, you can order it online for roughly the same cost. Anyway, enough free publicity...let's move onto what I've learned this week.

When we categorize the circumstances in our life, they fit into two categories, "positive" and "negative." What list do we spend most of our time dwelling over? In the book, this example is used

"Two women looked through prison bars, one saw mud and the other saw stars."

Wow, how important our perspective is for our lives and circumstances. What do we choose to focus on, the mud or the stars by lifting our eyes? To me, this was such a powerful metaphor. How often am I, personally, looking down at the mud and not lifting my eyes to see the stars? How often do we go about our daily lives thinking about what's next or what if's when we should be focusing on the then and now.

This chapter in the book was learning to be content with our circumstances. We all have bad things that happen in our lives. How we respond to them can really make an impact on others. I have had my fair share of tragedies and storms in my life, just as everyone has, but rather than focusing on the pain, I pray that my circumstances will allow me to focus on God even more. I want the pain to not be wasted, as mentioned in the chapter, but I want it to be used to draw me closer to God and to allow me to help others who have or will go through similar storms in their lives.

The main thing I took away from this week's study was that learning to be content is not only a heart choice but it is a process, something that takes practice. Practicing a skill is not always easy, think of any sport, activity, etc. you've learned over the years, they didn't always come easy (at least not for me). We have to make a conscious effort to pray rather than be anxious. I do not know about you but for me, this is hard work. As mentioned in last week's post, I am a control freak. I admit it and I am not good at letting go. I am working on this daily and to some degree, I have improved (well, some days are easier than others...). I want to learn to pray about the problem rather than worrying about the problem. Why waste my time and energy worrying about something I have no control over? Worrying leads to complaining, something else that is an undesirable characteristic trait.

In Philippians 4:7, God promises to us that if we pray to Him when anxious or worried, He'll grant us peace.  Well, for me that is awesome for the two minutes after I pray right before I start obsessing again. This happen to anyone else? I pray, feel relieved, then I worry again. However, this does not mean God is not doing His part. It means I am relinquishing on my end of the bargain, you know, the part where I'm not suppose to worry?!? Yeah, totally failed that two minutes after my prayer and conscious efforts. However, this book gives a clear example of this happening to the author too. I am telling you, it is like I wrote this book with all of the examples she provided. The author explains that when this continues to happen to her (which it always seems to happen at night, do you notice that too?), she will pray again, then if she is still worrying a few minutes later, she gets out of bed and makes a list of everything she is thankful for and dwells on the positives, then she is ready for bed. My prayer is I remember to do this tonight when I inevitably cannot sleep because I am worried about 100x things.

While studying this week, I was reading the verses suggested in the book but then I must have transposed a number or God really wanted me to read a specific verse because I read this and felt it fit right in:

Romans 12:12 "Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer."

As I am reading this post, I realize the majority of it is a jumbled mess. Sometimes I wish I could be more eloquent with the words I wish to get out of my mind but my fingers appear to type faster than my brain can formulate what I want to say. I'm not going to change it, I feel it is more real this way.

This week, I'll continue my journey to contentment and I'll try to leave behind my anxious heart. I know I'll fail daily, but thankfully, I have a God who will help pick me back up and forgive me. I'm going to practice shifting my attitude rather than trying to change every negative circumstance in my life. I am going to practice these four things that Paul suggests in Philippians 4:6-8

1. Choose to give my anxieties to God
2. Choose to pray specifically
3. Choose to be thankful
4. Choose to dwell on the positive

My question for you, as it is for myself, are you going to see mud or stars?

Monday, June 15, 2015

Week One - Contentment is a state of heart, not of affairs

This blog entry and the weekly ones to follow will be of a different structure than my previous entries. I have recently joined a Bible Study, which starts tonight, where we are reading Calming my Anxious Heart by Linda Dillow. I do not know about my friends, family members, and random internet readers but being anxious and discontent is something I often struggle with, often without even realizing it. When I discovered this Bible Study was being offered at my church, I immediately purchased the book and decided to dive in. I am going to try to restrain myself and participate with the others by reading only one chapter per week, as instructed but I do not always follow the rules as I have been reading ahead for weeks and months in my current book club, so we will see how it goes. Anyway, if you're looking for a post about my craftiness, those might be mingled in among these entries but the sole purpose of this blog for the next few weeks will be my journey to calming my anxious heart and learning to lean more heavily on God. Feel free to join me if you'd like, if not, my feelings will not be hurt, mostly because I will not know if you read it anyway :)

Week 1 - From control to content. 
Wow. What a heading. 

When reading this first chapter of the book, I instantly thought...did I write this? Are these my own thoughts filling these pages of my Kindle screen? I knew instantly that this book would be something I would gobble up and retain. This book is applicable in every sense. I do struggle with anxiety whether that is anxiety to follow a schedule, my timeline of events in my life, my work, my grad school, or just every day tasks. Anxiety can consume a person and unfortunately, at times, it has consumed me. The constant nagging of "what if?," "what now?," "how?" plagues me. However, what I did not think about was the link between anxiety and contentment. I strive to be content, I really do but at times, I find myself constantly thinking what next instead of focusing on the here and now.

One quote that stuck with me from this chapter was "contentment is a state of heart, not a state of affairs." Wow. You do not gather contentment from the amount of material items you surround yourself with or even the advancements at your job. While these can be great blessings from God, it does not define who I am as a person or my level of contentment in my life, relationships, etc.

For anyone who knows me, this might come as a complete and total shock [sarcasm], I am a control freak. I admit it and isn't that the first step to being able to fix the problem? I like my schedules. I like my timelines and to-do lists. While this is not always a bad thing, letting it consume you and getting your panties in a twist when something goes off schedule can cause anxiety and can lead to complaining. I don't mean it to but sometimes that train goes off the track and I do not catch myself quickly enough. However, if Paul [Philippians 4:11-13] can learn to be content with his surroundings and his life, why can't I? For a person who loves to be in control, I know it is hard to relinquish it and honestly, at this point, I feel like I am going to fail more than succeed but I hope I can take what I am learning from reading God's Word and apply it in my life. 1 Timothy 6:15 explains that God is the controller of all things, not me. This is a hard concept to grasp when you want things on your own time.

When studying this week, one of the study questions asked us to define contentment in our own words. Contentment to me is the idea and state of being happy and satisfied with what God has given you, good or bad. It is easy to praise God when good things happen in our lives but it is difficult to praise him in the storms. My prayer is to be content with what I have no matter the size or situation. In the book, a missionary listed her five steps to contentment. Among them being "never complain, never compare your lot with another's, never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else, never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise, and never dwell on tomorrow, those are in God's hands." I know which of these I struggle with, how about you?

Edit: I've recently started Bible Journaling :) Here is a picture of week one below: