Sector Four: Spiritual Strength aka The Secret Garden
One of my favorite movies growing up (and probably still now if I am honest LOL) was The Secret Garden. Telling the tale of multiple tragedies (the death of parents and spouses; illness and despair; loneliness on many levels), a triad of hurting hearts finds a sense of hope and new growth through the restoration of a neglected secret garden. Even the hardest of hearts in the story is softened by the beauty and potential of new life, and the transformation that takes place as each character spends time in the secret garden is inspiring.
As a little girl, I remember wishing I had my own secret garden, complete with hidden door and key, to go to when times were tough or celebrate in when times were good. A small bit of secluded earth to call my own, and only invite those in whom I could truly trust.
And sometimes, even as an adult now, I still do. Maybe you do too…
Which is exactly why this week’s reading on spirituality hit so close to home. It is no coincidence that Gordon begins our discussion of the soul, and its spiritual nature, by using the picture of a garden. If you remember correctly, that is kind of where the story of humanity started in the very beginning. That perfect garden of Eden, which I envision had its own form of amazing gate and key, where humanity and deity lived out unbroken, untouched, PERFECT spiritual communion. Until sin came in and destroyed the perfection, we lived in overwhelming peace, security, and congruence: the spirit and the flesh were one.
However (no spoiler alert here), we know the story took a turn for the absolute worst when sin and selfishness entered the stage and destroyed the perfect peace. Distortion, disruption, and destruction ensued; and now we live in a world overrun by sin and chaos and hurt and tragedy. And our souls and our flesh are often at odds, and we yearn for that long ago fairy tale garden that was so simple, so sweet, and so sacred.
Sin continues to scream at us that the garden is gone forever, and while I am not saying we can return to the garden of Eden anytime soon, I do believe that a still, small voice whispers to us among the noise and beckons us to a remnant of the original creation He has placed within us… the secret garden that still resides within our soul.
My Own Secret Garden
Recognizing that there is a sacred space within me, a spiritual realm known as the soul, is still hard for me to fully comprehend. Although honestly, the little girl within me is jumping for joy at the thought of having my own secret garden. 🙂 And while for the most part, this is a metaphorical discussion, I love love love (yes, I meant for there to be three of them for emphasis) the picture of my inner soul as a garden. Why? Because there are so many lessons that can be gleaned from envisioning our soul from a gardening perspective (you can probably think of more than I will discuss here if you really think about it).
First, when cared for properly, gardens are usually beautiful, breath-taking, peaceful places where people have celebrations, get engaged, get married, and have deep, romantic, intimate interactions. All of the senses are usually involved with an experience in a garden: you can hear the soothing sound of water falling from a nearby fountain, you can smell the sweet perfume of blooming jasmine, you can see the brilliant colors of a variety of petals and greenery, you can touch the soft green grass or smooth stones as you sit for a moment, and you can taste the refreshing sweet of a nearby fruit fresh off the vine (yes, in my garden there will always be food of some kind). Our inner garden can be the same way! According to Gordon, it is “a place of potential peace and tranquility. This garden is a place where the Spirit of God comes to make self-disclosure, to share wisdom, to give affirmation or rebuke, to provide encouragement, and to give direction and guidance. When this garden is in proper order, it is a quiet place, and there is an absence of busyness, of defiling noise, of confusion” (pg. 118). Sounds wonderful to me!!!
Second, an amazing garden like this takes regular maintenance and hard work to create and maintain. That is the exact reason I do not have a real garden in my backyard (even though there was one there previously from the last owners of our house) and why I truly admire those that do keep one. Even in the small flower bed I have kept close to our house, there are ALWAYS things to be done: rake up the leaves that have fallen, prune the rosebushes, mulch the rosebushes, pull up all of the weeds because we can no longer see the dogs when we let them out (I am not joking), and this is just routine maintenance. This is not even trying to get them big and beautiful and amazing. True gardeners spend hours upon hours tilling the soil, working the soil, trimming and pruning and raking and hauling, expending both time and energy on hands and knees before taking the time to enjoy the beauty around them. The same goes for our inner gardens (which exist whether we want them to or not): it will take the time (when we are using it properly 🙂 ) and the efforts (good thing we have that mind to help us out) of regular inner work to create and maintain.
Fortunately, there is typically a reward for all that work: a gardener that is putting in the time and effort to create a thriving garden can expect productivity and harvest. Blooms in season are anticipated, and you can see the pride and joy of any gardener when they can display the beauty they have cultivated. We on the outside like it too; hence the desire for fresh flowers at weddings and celebrations and even funerals, as symbols of love and friendship and condolences… to encourage and enjoy in the deepest of moments. Similarly, our inner gardens will produce a harvest in season as well: fruits of the spirit including “courage, hope, love, endurance joy, and lots of peace. Unusual capacities for self-control, the ability to discern evil and ferret out truth are also reaped” (pg. 120). We will grow in wisdom and knowledge and character, and those around us will enjoy the beauty displayed.
Finally, even the most amazing of gardens can fall into disarray when left unattended for too long. If the gardener is unable to keep up the necessary maintenance, weeds and overgrowth of the plants will take place. What once was beautiful, organized and peaceful will become a knotted, chaotic mess that may ultimately lead to plant destruction and death. There will be few, if any fruits, and the awaited harvests will no longer take place. Gordon warns us that our inner garden is no different, and that it “cannot remain uncultivated for long before it becomes infested with the sort of growth that makes it uninviting, both to the indwelling Lord and to us ourselves” (pg. 157). However, the alternate is true as well: even the gardens that are in most disarray can be brought back to life with the right amount of time and care. If we truly want to experience the inner peace that comes from within, we will need to remain vigilant and not let our garden slip into this overgrown state and if it has, then it is time to take action.
How does this apply to me? (aka How does your Garden Grow? )
As we discussed above, a beautiful, thriving garden does not get that way by accident. Even if there is a form of beauty in the overgrowth, the health of the plants and the soil may not be what it seems. Even weeds can be pretty at times, but in the end rob both the earth and the plants of their life-giving properties. With this in mind then, how then do we cultivate or re-cultivate our gardens to bring forth substantial, vivacious, and thriving life?
Gordon tells us that there are four main disciplines we can start with (there are many more that are not covered in this book but can be found elsewhere; a good friend of mine just recommended the book Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster and it is on my to-read list) to take action and stimulate growth within out gardens. A summary of each is provided below:
- Silence and Solitude: Taking time just to be with no noise, no distractions, and no other living thing. This might be a local park where you can find a secluded place, the inside of your car in your driveway (I use this one a lot), or the inside of a closet or bathroom (as long as it is quiet). Depending on your circumstances, you may need to use ear plugs (LOL) or close your eyes, but the point is to get as quiet and focused as possible. For me, this means no kids, no husband, no dogs, no cell phone, and no mess (I get easily distracted by mess). There is sometimes an initial culture shock at the lack of noise and bustling, but once you take some time to embrace the lack thereof, there is also something refreshing about the silent space. It allows you to take a deep breath, and transition from listening to everything else our next discipline: listening to God.
- Listening to God: This is probably the hardest of the disciplines for me to practically explain, even though I have experienced it many times. I have never audibly heard God talk to me (although I think it would be incredibly scary and cool at the same time), but I have seen Him speak directly to my needs and situations through reading the Bible, reading Christian literature, and even through the words of a trusted friend, sermon, or worship song. Gordon recommends that to supplement the listening process, we can utilize a journal to record what we hear God saying. While I do not journal daily as he describes, although I am seriously considering an earnest attempt after being inspired from this reading, I have always been a note-taker. For every class or sermon or even in meetings, I am always taking notes because there are things that I want to keep with me when I hear them. This is often when I hear God speaking, as I have been asking specifically for guidance or direction about something and a verse or quote appears to speak directly to that matter. Then, I can record it, confirm that it matches God’s character and will as described in the Bible, and act upon it.
- Reflection and Meditation: Once we have created the time and space to be alone and quiet with God, have listened to Him and recorded what He is saying, we have the ability to integrate it into who we are through the tools of reflection and meditation. As Gordon explains, this is the process of “pressing enter” in our spiritual computers and inputting the new information into ourselves (pg. 140). This is literally thinking about the thing God told you over and over and over again until it becomes second nature. For instance, my word from the Lord for this year is discipline. As I seek to “enter” this word and practice into my life, I am purposefully thinking of it as much as I can in multiple contexts. I have looked up the definition, looked up verses, and posted the word throughout my house and places I will be as reminders. I reflect and visualize and meditate on this concept of discipline, until it becomes a part of my regular existence. When God speaks to you and you hear Him, you can do similar things to let His word integrate into your life as well.
- Prayer: This is our part of the conversation with God, and how we actually communicate with Him. I love that God is not just one-sided; He does not just give out orders and then leave us to complete them. Instead, just like in the original garden, He longs to live in relationship with us, hear our thoughts and our dreams, both positive and negative, and encourages us to take an active tole in our relationship. Since we do not live in the original garden though, prayer can often be difficult, especially since it can sometimes feel like talking to empty space, but if we can begin to cultivate our inner gardens, I bet we will start to feel differently about this too. I know even envisioning myself in my garden with the Lord changes how I view prayer, as something that has to be done or is empty to an actual conversation to a present participant. Gordon tells us that prayer is a combination of timing, posture, and content. Timing is different for each person, but setting aside time for intentional prayer is essential. My time is best in the morning (I tend to fall asleep at night) but yours may be in the evenings or even on your lunch break. Posture is a matter of preference, and to be honest, it depends on the content of my conversation (just like any real relationship). Sometimes I am standing, sometimes I am on my knees, and there have been those most desperate times when I am all out, face down on the ground, crying out to God. Content is what we pray about, which I personally think can be anything and everything. But for those who like structure, Gordon lists adoration(praise and thanksgiving), confession(anything that is bothering you or sin you have observed within), and intercession(praying for others and self) as the main components of his prayer life.
When we make time for silence and solitude, listen to God, reflect and meditate on what He says, and then pray to speak with Him as well, we do the hard work of tending to our inner gardens. With the powers of these combined, we can truly cultivate our secret gardens to reflect the original one we miss so much, to be the sacred place where Spirit and soul collide, and to truly walk with the Lord as we once did.
Ok. So what do I do now?
First things first, I know I am desperately in need of some one-on-one time with the Lord. I can feel it in the very core of my being, this desire to know Him more, to connect in the way I’ve been writing about in this entire post. Yes, even I can write about these great things and then recognize my own want for them because to be honest: I am doing great at confronting my drivenness, taking hold of my time and using it versus losing it, and even stretching my mind through this book club and other means, but I am struggling with cultivating my secret garden. Struggling with actually spending time in my secret garden to walk with the Lord and commune with Him in that personal, intimate space. This is my heart’s cry… and I am guessing that if you are just now realizing you have a secret garden or remembering it because you have not been there in a while, you probably feel it too.
So, my first step: I need to get back in my garden; take inventory of what is flourishing and what could use some tending, and then get to it.
When was the last time you visited your garden and what does it look like? Are the plants fresh and blooming? Are the trees full and strong? If not, are you up for the challenge of tilling the soil, weeding the overgrowth, and planting new seed?
Do you know where the entrance is, or like in the movie, do you need to search for the key (no worries; you are the one who owns the key, so I promise you it will be found) and open the door for the very first time?
I encourage you this week, as we read through the last sector and finish this inaugural month of the book club, to pick one of the disciplines above to work in your own garden. Maybe you can focus on spending some time each day in silence and solitude to find and begin visualizing your secret garden. Maybe you can invite God within the walls and ask Him to speak to you in that sweet, whispering voice so you can listen and take notes. Maybe you can take time this week to intentionally reflect and meditate on what you’ve been hearing from God, so that we integrate His voice into our everyday lives. Maybe you can set aside time specifically for prayer, with a list of thanks, confessions, and intercessions as a guide.
Whichever you choose or however you do it, my hope for all of us is that each step we take will allow us to reap what we are sowing: to bring restoration, renewal, beauty and strength to our inner worlds and the most precious of places… our own secret garden.♥
I “♥” My Husband
It happened again. At the end of a long day after a long week with two kids with runny noses and crazy objectives to complete both at work and at home, I let loose on the one adult who is closest to me: my husband. Now do not get me wrong, the words spoken were truthful and not without cause; however, they were also delivered from a place of hurt, anger, and malicious intent. I was a living manifestation of hurt people seek to hurt people.
And there was no speaking the truth in love.
Which is just a little bit crazy because honestly most of the time on the outer level, and all the time at the deeper inner level, I truly love my husband and know that he is an amazing guy. But at times, things happen (like a lack of communication, or a lack of consideration, or an easy oversight, or an unintentionally selfish moment on his part) that influence my said outer level and all of a sudden, a neon sign invades my thoughts and sparks feelings of hurt and anger that resounds with a horrible but unstoppable…
“I hate my husband.”
There; I said it. It is out in the open for all to see. And while I realize that “hate” is a very strong word and no, I do not actually want to “damn him to hell” as all my good Christian Southern women are gasping about in this moment, the feelings I am experiencing are real, intense, and desparate – just like you may feel about any difficult situation and think in that moment that you “hate” this. And for some reason (which I have yet to figure out although I have tried and tried) this is the phrase that surfaces when I’ve reached my limit and have left too many things unresolved, unsaid, and still hurting. And if I’m not careful, especially given the weight of this hefty statement that seems to blow up my mind in the moment, these thoughts and emotions that are only on the surface will begin to creep in and exert pressure or depreciate the foundation of my true love and appreciation for my husband.
Kendrick and Kendrick (2008), the authors of the Love Dare, provide my favorite way to understand this situation with the picture of two rooms within our hearts. One room is called the Appreciation Room, and is decorated with all of the awesome things I love about my husband, his attributes I admire and respect, the sweet and tender moments we have shared, and all those things that make me smile when I think about him. If you get the warm and fuzzies about it, it resides in your appreciation room. In contrast, the second room is called the Depreciation Room, and it houses all of the negative things that have hurt me, disappointed me, annoyed me, and all of the destructive moments that have occurred in our relationship throughout the years. While I consider us to have a strong and healthy marriage, these moments and things DO exist and after over 10 years of marriage and over 15 years of being a couple, this room has its share of devastating decor. If it makes you sad or angry, it resides in your depreciation room.
***Important Disclaimer Here: This entire post is about a marriage/relationship that is for the most part, healthy. It is NOT speaking to any relationship where ANY form of ABUSE or TOXIC dynamic is at play. My husband would NEVER intentionally hurt me in any way and so that allows me to write this post from a place of safety and security. If you are currently involved in or think you may be involved in an abusive marriage/relationship, where you do not feel safe and secure, I encourage you to STOP READING and REACH OUT to someone to get help. There is an amazing, anonymous hotline you can call (1.800.799.7233) or access online (www.thehotline.org) or you can contact me using the contact page and I will get you connected with someone right away.***
Each of our significant relationships, whether it be a marriage or friendship or parent-child or sibling relationship, has these two rooms within our heart just for them that accumulate the above noted things over time. While it might be nice to just destroy or lock the Depreciation Room, we are all human and unfortunately, this is not possible. However, we can make an intentional choice each day of where we want to spend the majority of our time. And I guarantee, even in reading this post if you have never heard of this concept, the effects of choosing to spend more time in your Appreciation room versus your Depreciation room are life (and relationship) changing!
To Appreciate or Depreciate: That is the Question
When I first think things like “I hate [insert your own word here: dislike, can’t stand, am super annoyed with…] my [insert your person: husband, boyfriend, mom, dad, sister, brother, bestie, etc…]” I am usually reacting to a specific situation and it is very difficult to retrain your brain to stop an initial reaction the second it happens (possible yes, but it takes much time, effort, and practice and that is for another post). However, like with most things in life, it is what we do with it once it is here that really matters.
If I choose to KEEP dwelling on my hurt, KEEP replaying that phrase over and over in my head and possibly adding other negative words or meaning to it, and KEEP making a list of everything he has done that might have hurt or bothered me recently – then I am making an intentional choice to depreciate him and spend my time in the Depreciation Room in my heart. In this room, the walls are decorated with framed pictures recounting all of our worst moments: the very few times when he did not keep his word, the very frequent times where he has had to choose work over me, the times when he forgot certain things that were special to me and I spent the whole day wondering if he would remember. And now, adding parenting to the mix, I would have to add a TV in the corner of the room on replay of him driving to work everyday, going to the office all by himself, eating lunch while it is still hot with his co-workers, and enjoying the adventures of the outside world (ok… this might not always be realistic, but the Depreciation room does have a tendency to distort reality a little bit) while I stay at home with our two littles all.day.every.day. (ps: which I absolutely love to do, but if you have ever had the joy of being a stay-at-home mom, there are days which are not so delightful and going to work looks quite enticing).
If I stay here too long, I become immersed in the worst of our relationship, which as noted above, is not all that there is and at times, comes from a distorted sense of my own selfish expectations and thoughts instead of the truth of reality. The results of this immersion and time spent in the Depreciation Room are additional hurt and anger that breed bitterness and resentment in my heart towards the one I truly love. And the scary part is that bitterness and resentment are silent killers. They destroy from the inside out, so if left unchecked, will eat away at my own quality of life and my marriage, and innocent parties, like my children and others around me, will be devastated in the process.
Fortunately, recognizing the risks, I sought the wise counsel of a trusted friend and confessed these thoughts so that they would not take root in my heart. Remember, this is often the best answer to things we are keeping hidden: get it in the light so it no longer has power over you or your situation. In this case, she made a suggestion that has stayed with me ever since, and has dramatically changed who I am and how I approach my husband. Sweetly and kindly, if you knew her you would be able to picture it (suffice it to say: she won the please and thank you award as a child), she said “Next time you think “I hate my husband” maybe you should replace it with “I heart my husband.” What?! 🙂
In essence, with one flip of a word, she encouraged me to turn my frown upside down (LOL I spend a lot of time with people under 4) and make the conscious decision to get out of my Depreciation Room, walk down the hall (sometimes with my feet dragging), and enter my Appreciation Room to take a look at what is there. To move past my initial reaction, as justified as it may be, to truly appreciate my husband, and redirect my time and energy to where I really want to be. And to be honest, my Appreciation Room is awesome! Inside, I have framed memories from what seems like a lifetime ago, to the first youth conference in Ocean City, MD, where my husband (only an acquaintance then) protected my honor from some strangers, to a youth event a couple years later where I knew I was going to marry him (I was watching him throw another kid into a pool… yup he is mine!), to walking down the aisle as he is beaming and vowing to love me, to the birth of our sons, and so on and so forth. There are TVs and music playing… songs we love to sing and family dance parties on replay. There is an hourglass counting down the time until he can retire, and valuing every grain of sand that stands for another day that he has faithfully gone to work to provide for his family (yes, in my appreciation room I actually like that he goes to work and works hard and provides for us). This is where I want to be all of the time, dwelling on what is true, what is good, what is honorable (Philippians 4: 8), and enjoying the good memories we have made together.
It’s amazing how one little word change, one small decision can have such huge ramifications. Even in writing this post, the difference I feel between reading about the Depreciation Room and the Appreciation Room is astounding. When I leave off in the Appreciation Room, I am filled with love and gratitude and value for the man in my life. And while it does not resolve the issues that are present and that invoked my initial reaction (this is another post on conflict resolution because that is a topic all by itself), choosing to purposefully value my husband and spend time appreciating him sets me up to confront him, to resolve our issues, and to [wait for it; that’s right…] actually speak the truth in LOVE.
So, Where do you spend your time?
If you have the chance (it only takes a moment), I encourage you to think about the relationships that are most important to you. It does not have to be a marriage, as these rooms apply to all relationships. Maybe you and your spouse are doing great, but your mom has said or done one more thing to add to the tension and you are about to explode. Maybe you have found that you dread one more interaction with your teenager, and you are always on edge when you are around him.
Whatever your situation might be, I challenge you to think about those two rooms for this relationship. How would you decorate your Depreciation Room? How would you decorate your Appreciation Room? If you are honest, where do you spend the most time and why? Then, make it a point (an experiment even) to see what happens if you intentionally start spending more time in your Appreciation Room. Who knows? Maybe it is time to re-decorate and re-establish the things you love and appreciate about that person. Maybe it is time, before you explode or confront or cut-off, to try to value and cherish and operate from a place of positivity rather than negativity. Maybe it is time to turn hate into heart. I know it is for me, because honestly, I do “heart” my husband. ♥
PS: There is actually a shirt LOL… I had no idea until today! 🙂
Sector Three: Wisdom and Knowledge aka The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste
Since we are halfway through our readings, let’s re-cap before we continue our reflective adventure of getting to know how to order our private world. So far, we’ve discussed our motives and the why behind what we do (whether we are operating from being driven or being called) as well as how we allot the time we have (whether we are truly using it or losing it). Both sectors showed us that there is so much more to life than the world often tells us (the lie that we have to be ambitious and/or busy to have value) and that getting to the core of who we are to truly live out our calling and steward our time will promote an ordered private world of peace (sounds nice doesn’t it?).
When we re-focus our understanding of our motivation and time, it frees us to consider the next important part of our inner world: the mind and how we think. According to Gordon, “thinking is the amazing capacity God has given the human being to discover and observe the stuff of creation, to compare and contrast each of its parts, and when possible, to use them properly as to reflect the glory of the Creator” (p. 95). It is this thinking that sets us apart from other mammals, and allows us to investigate, explore, and create with the world around us. It is what is allowing you to read this blog, and then hopefully wrestle with the concepts discussed here, before coming to your own opinion on what to keep with you and implement (or not) as you go along. With this in mind (pardon the pun… I couldn’t help it), we must understand and utilize the gift that is our mind, or miss out on much of what God has for us in this life.
The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste
To truly order our private world, Gordon encourages that we must learn to discipline our minds for thinking with “strong mental endurance and intellectual growth” (p. 90). This is not an easy task in our quick-paced and information overload society. Endurance, by its very nature, takes time, and it implies working with something for an extended amount of time until it is completed (like a marathon or parenting or a career or any other long-term commitment). It is not a quick Google search or asking Siri to get an answer at a moment’s notice, although there is a time and place for this type of knowledge gathering as well.
Similarly, most growth processes do not typically happen quickly (although it may feel that way). For instance, my oldest son is now 3 and it feels like I have only blinked to find him walking and talking and becoming increasingly independent, but when I look ahead, I realize the next 15-20 years are still to come and have to be “endured” (LOL) to watch him grow. To really take advantage of all that our mind has to offer, it will take our efforts to endure (founded by our motivation) and our time to grow (which we must make available).
If we do not take the time and effort to train our minds and develop those higher order thinking skills, we will operate much like other mammals around us: we will live for primary functions (survival) and amusement (or “function without thought” p.97). We will tend to conform to those around us, without question or hesitation, because we have not exercised our mind to consider, evaluate, reason, and decide. Our mind becomes like a dull blade; not having the ability to cut through the weeds of deception or every so-called “truth” out there. This dullness of mind renders our private world weak and defenseless to protect ourselves from the many distractions we face each day.
Believe it or not, the type of thinking that we are talking about (the kind that employs both wisdom and knowledge without dulling) does not come naturally to us just because we are humans. These higher order thinking skills must be learned, and practiced over time to reap the benefits. In the educational realm, these skills are called cognitive skills, and there is a classification system known as Bloom’s taxonomy that allows us to understand how our mind works from innate to higher order methods of thinking (see illustration below). As teachers interact with students, they attempt to move students from remembering and understanding to the higher order skills of applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating.
When we move to the higher ranks of thinking, we start to integrate the knowledge and wisdom we are acquiring into our selves, and then give it back with our own little twist. We sharpen our minds to thinking beyond simple memorization and actually interact with the material in front of us.
Imagine if we did this with most things in life: If I went beyond remembering and understanding how to eat healthy, and actually applied what I know, analyzed and evaluated what I was eating, and then started creating healthy alternatives to meet my goals. Or what if I went beyond remembering and understanding a sermon on Sunday morning and actually began to apply the principles, analyze and evaluate how those principles interact with my life, and create new choices or behaviors as a result? This is higher order thinking in play, and it is an amazing thing to both experience and watch.
How does this apply to me?
Confession time here: There are seasons in my life where I have witnessed the dulling process (or lack of mental endurance and growth) in my own life. These typically occur when I begin binge-watching large amounts of television (thank you Netflix and Hulu). I like a variety of shows, from the somewhat weird like Wayward Pines, to the reality home shows like House Hunters, to survival shows like Man vs. Wild, to shows with a flare for the dramatic like Nashville, or my ultimate favorite which is a beautiful culmination of all of the above: LOST. And while at certain times this is not an issue (like when I am temporarily sick and have to stay in bed), on the regular, it can become a fruitless endeavor that really is only for my amusement/entertainment. There is nothing productive about my time here: I tune in to tune out and turn off. If I allow this to become a habit, much like my time that can be full but still lost, my mind can be occupied but not growing.
For me, I stop this cycle when I start to come out of the TV-induced fog and think about what I have been filling my mind with. When I do this, it allows to me figure out if I have been spending my time looking to promote my mind through the process of learning, or if I have truly been dulling it with the distractions of amusement. To take inventory of your own mind input, Gordon gives us three objectives to consider (which you will notice that I slightly reword):
- Am I filling my mind with truth? This is a hard, but most important place to start. As a counselor, I am constantly working to help my clients discern truth from lies in their core being or self-talk so that they can be freed of things like fear, anxiety, and defeat. People are often keenly aware of the lies that have been coming from within, but we tend to overlook the lies that we allow to influence us from the outside each day. When we choose to watch and read things that are not based on truth, especially without those higher order thinking skills in play, we take the risk of not only being dulled, but being deceived into disorder like being driven or losing our time. Think of it in terms of, I am what I put in. If I am truly honest, when I am watching the television shows above in overwhelming amounts, there is little truth or redeeming qualities about them that I would want to shape me into who I am (other than the survivor skills that might come in handy one day LOL). Again, there is nothing wrong with the occasional escape into amusement, but I know I personally am more likely to escape completely if not enacting a disciplined understanding and filter for what I am letting influence me. As Gordon describes, our truth comes from Christ and the way of living described in the Bible. This should be my filter when I watch, listen, or intentionally chose the things I am using to fill my mind.
- Am I filling my mind by observing and exploring the world around me? I am a huge fan of getting outside and in touch with the world around us. Not necessarily hugging a tree (although I am not opposed to it and have done so in the past), but engaging all of our senses in the learning process. When we do so, our mind goes crazy: there are so many neurons firing as we see, touch, taste, smell, and hear the world around us. Engaging all of our senses is difficult to do by staring into our smartphones or watching the TV (even if you do have popcorn and headphones). If you feel out of practice with this endeavor, try going to a local park with your own or a family of young children. Let them lead the way! I have learned so much by observing and exploring with my little guys: the things that they see, hear, touch, smell, and yes, even taste :), are astounding.
- Am I using what I am filling my mind with to serve others? As we acquire knowledge and really begin sculpting our mind, the input will reach a point where it needs an outlet. If I am sharpening my mind for its intended use, then my output will be in line with my calling and useful to those around me. For instance, although she is not currently “employed” as a nurse, my mom went to school for and maintains her nursing license through continuing education courses to this day. And as a result, she is constantly being utilized as the community nurse and resource, getting calls in the middle of the night over a sick child, medication questions, wound care, you name it, she does it. She is living proof for me of taking her knowledge and using it in service to others. This is definitely not the case for me when I am watching hours upon hours of the shows listed above: while fun and entertaining, they do not equip me with anything to overflow into service for others.
Ok. So what do I do now?
If there is one thing I have have learned from being a student all of my life, it is that the more I am supposed to know, the more I realize I really do not know. There is still so much knowledge out there for me to learn, and fortunately, I have developed a love of learning that has sustained not only my higher education endeavors, but also my curiosity and love to explore, investigate, and continue learning outside of a classroom today. To fill our minds with the truth, experiences, and input that then overflows into the lives of others, we must engage in the learning process as much as possible. Practically, this looks like the following:
- Learn by listening: Get out in the world, ask people questions, and then LISTEN to their responses. What does your husband really think about his job and the tasks he has to face each day? What does your best friend really think about her current relationship? What does your 3 year old really think about the snow or the trees or the bug in front of him? What does your grandfather think about the current state of our country and our world? You do not have to agree with each one, but hearing ideas and thoughts from outside of yourself is a great way to start thinking outside of yourself and utilizing those higher order skills.
- Learn by reading: Or in other words, look for published forms of information to take in as well. Now I realize not everyone is a reader, and so there are great alternatives such as podcasts, documentaries, or sermons, to be able to still accumulate knowledge when others are not present. Having some sort of worthy input (refer back to guidelines above), at all times is essential for maintaining and encouraging growth. Reading this book and blog are great ways to start!
- Learn by studying: After you have listened and read, go one step further and study the material presented. For some of us, this sounds weird since we are no longer in school. However, it is really just a deeper exploration of something you have recently learned. My favorite form of “studying” is what I call “word study.” When I find a quote or scripture or experience that is especially meaningful, I take the time to investigate the definition of the words involved and see how it really integrates into who I am. Words that I am studying lately include discipline and intentional.
For this week, I encourage you to look at your mental input and ask yourself the questions above to discern if your input is really worthwhile. As a response, whether it is or is not, resolve to try one of the three modes of learning: listen to someone new or read something new or study something new and see what you encounter and how your mind grows. My hope for us is that by doing so, we will reignite and/or fan the fame of learning in our lives: to truly go beyond amusement and seek intentional thought, to question, to listen, to always be growing and stretching and exploring, to analyze, evaluate and create, and to truly maximize and not waste the mind we have been given.♥
Sector Two: Time aka Use it or Lose it!!
The concept of time has intrigued me for years. When I was younger, I remember my parents and grandparents telling me that time was “flying” and “it was only yesterday…” But to me, it seemed like it always passed at a snail’s pace. There were so many things that felt like they would never happen: the arrival of summer break, getting my driver’s license, going to my first prom, graduating from high school, going to college, turning 21, getting married…day in and day out… TIME MOVED SO SLOW.
But the older I’ve gotten (cause that clock does keep a’tickin), there has been a drastic increase in my perception of the speed of time around me. All of a sudden, summer takes on a whole new meaning (because there is no more break), that driver’s license has been renewed multiple times, prom seems like forever ago (because it was), high school reunions have come and gone, 21 was way too many birthdays ago, and that marriage has moved beyond the 10year mark with a preschooler and a toddler to tag along. Think about it… Even January 2016 is halfway over… and I thought we just celebrated the New Year! 🙂
The reality of how quickly time truly does move is mind-blowing, and depending on how this time has been spent, we can either look back with reflective nostalgia or uncomfortable regret. And typically, how we feel when we look back on the time behind us will either accentuate or depreciate our excitement about what is to come. That is why this second sector on our use of time is so very important, and a definite struggle for most of us this day in age (ain’t nobody got time for that LOL).
In this section, Gordon describes that how we use our time and what we choose to fill it with (work, school, friends, family, church, Facebook, Netflix, exercise, blogging, etc.) is what really matters when it comes to having an ordered private world. Much like assessing our motives for whether we are operating as being driven versus being called, he gives us an understanding of what it looks like to either appropriately USE or inadvertently LOSE the precious time that we have.
Use It or Lose It
For my husband’s job, we (I say we because “his” leave is really “our” leave LOL) still earn so many hours of annual and sick leave per paycheck per year (I know this has changed for a lot of companies/organizations) that we can either use or carry-over into the following year. However, there is a cap on carry-over, so if you do not use a certain amount of leave within the allotted time frame, you cannot keep it. Essentially, you LOSE it and the company gets free work from you 😦 Nobody really wants that, so each year we sit down around Easter and begin accounting for all the leave we want to use in an effort not to “lose” any in the carry-over process.
This is exactly how Gordon encourages us to view our time: If we have it available to us, then we should be fully using it! But let us make an important distinction here: just because it is being filled does not mean it is properly being used. According to Gordon, even full time can be lost, and this is where we need to start being intentional about how we are either using or losing our time.
Specifically, if you are using your time, you are filling it with the things that matter most to you and your calling (going back to being driven or called). You are being wise, making the most of each moment and opportunity, and there is an intentionality to your way of life (Ephesians 5:16) and how you live out each day. While life still happens and things pop up (especially when you add things like work, spouses, kids, and ministry to the mix), your “normal” consists of organized, regular times that are focused and productive. You fiercely guard these times, because they provide the foundation for order that breathes life into the other, discretionary moments. You feel empowered because you start having an influence on your life and you can see things starting to happen around you.
In contrast, if you are losing your time, it may be full of things to do, but when you take stock… the fillings are not really that important. Gordon calls this being disorganized; meaning that your time is all over the place, and you feel out of control. You may feel overwhelmed as you think about each new day, new week, new month… even the next moment because you have no clue what it will hold and how you will make it through because of the million other things that need to be accomplished. Life is happening to you, and at times, you feel like you are unwillingly along for the ride and you are powerless to stop the madness.
He adds many other descriptors beyond those above, so see the chart below for a summary of how to know if you are truly using or losing your time:
How does this apply to me?
If we go back to that whole honesty thing, this sector (and really most of them as you will see), has always been a struggle for me. Since I already struggle with those lovely driven tendencies we looked at last time, I have always tried to pack in as much as I possibly can into each moment without actually discerning whether or not those moments were being actually useful to who I am and what I am about. There have been numerous occasions where I have taken on responsibilities that I was not excited about because I felt obligated or it would promote my career or I just did not want to say no and then realized I was in over my head and struggling just to complete things (not do them well or the way I would have liked). I would end up overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed… and have very little to show for it. I knew that “being busy” has been my way of life for a very long time, even though it was not always fruitful.
When I had my first baby, I was so relieved for the “vacation” of indefinite maternity leave. I knew I would eventually return to the working world (since I have the option to work from home), but it was according to my terms and how I wanted to do it. All of a sudden, I had full freedom to do whatever I wanted all day (within reason given the demands of my toddler and the fact that he did not always operate according to my plans; but that is another post). And if I really stretch here with the honesty, my initial response was to hide in the non-busyness/new-busyness of it all. To take the time off under the guise of motherhood (which do not get me wrong, has been completely amazing and I am not trying to invalidate that experience at all) was just like when I was super busy with not a moment to spare because I was filling my time with meaningless things and not being very fruitful… as a mom or as a me. 🙂 I knew I was being called to something else while enjoying all that motherhood has to offer and I chose a lot of times to push it aside because I had “things” to do. I went from one extreme to the other, and neither was really using my time wisely.
Maybe you can relate to either or both of my situations above, with your own unique twist. Maybe you are a working mom trying to juggle home and career but still feel a spark of something more and yet there does not seem to be enough hours in the day.
Maybe you are a stay-at-home mom that is tired of using nap time for mindlessly surfing Facebook and Pinterest (although there is noting wrong with either and I use both of them in moderation 🙂 ) and feel the call to something more but are unsure of where to start.
Maybe you have been in ministry for years and feel incredibly burned out because no matter how much you do and how busy you are, it is just never enough.
Maybe you are using your time wisely and love the balance of your current season but see others all around you struggling with the many distractions our world has to offer and you are trying to figure out how to help, how to pray, how to guide.
Wherever you are, Gordon gives us an example of someone who I could envision would have the most weighing on Him, yet utilized his time to the fullest: Jesus. And while some of you may tune out because the church answer was just given, if you could stay with me just a little bit longer, I hope you will see that there is amazing potential for life application here. Jesus, knowing his time on this earth was limited, could have been on a race to the finish to go go go his entire ministry. And yet, throughout the accounts of his life and interactions with people, there is no sense of rush or urgency but always a peace, a calm, and slow and steady pace that exudes from Him. I LOVE IT! He knew who He was, He knew what his mission was, and He ordered His time to ensure He had time alone, time with God, time for his family/disciples, and time for his work/ministry. This is truly what I want for my heart, for my family, for my ministry, and for those around me. I am guessing you might want that too.
OK. So what do I do now?
As Gordon would tell us based on his own experiences and studying how Jesus lived, the remedy for using it instead of losing it, is to recapture our time with an intentional, proactive budgeting approach. This involves three main characteristics:
- Figuring out your rhythms of maximum effectiveness (or when you do your best at what times). For me, I know I have to exercise first thing in the morning or it will not happen; while I know others who can only exercise after work or in the evening. When it comes to my writing or working, I am at my best in the morning or afternoon when I have no distractions (which means nap time or someone else is watching the littles). In the late evening, although sometimes I have to use this time, I am most ineffective, and what would take me 10 minutes to do in the morning will surely take me two to three times longer.
- Figuring out and writing out criteria for how to use your time (or having a filter for what you do and do not do). As Gordon explains, there are fixed parts of our time budgets: like time with God, time for self, time for spouse, time for family, work, ministry, etc. And then there are discretionary parts: hey, this event looks interesting or so and so asked us out to dinner, want to go? For me, my days are full with the kids and work during naps, so I really end up budgeting the evenings and weekends. I have developed an understanding that Mondays are discretionary, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Sundays are for ministry and people; Thursdays and Saturdays are for my work (when my husband can have special time with the kids), and Fridays are usually for family. While of course things happen and even our best plans sometimes fall threw, this structure gives everyone in our house an understanding of a regular schedule, and allows us to properly place things that ask for attention without losing the things that are most important.
- Figuring out how to apply above rhythms and criteria IN ADVANCE (or taking that proactive approach and planning ahead). In this lovely digital age where you can have a calendar on your phone, your computer, hard copy, and now, I even have it on my watch, scheduling in advance should really not be too difficult. Gordon said he plans eight weeks out, but that is too much for me. I usually go a month (so about 4 weeks) at a time, but specifically focus on planning a week at a time. With the normal routine noted above, it is easy to look at the next week and have a good idea of what is already in place. The nice part about doing this is that when things come up, I can often schedule them around the things that are most important because I already know what they are. The biggest challenge here: just actually doing it.
This week, I challenge you to take time (LOL) to ponder your own sense of time. Look through the chart above to assess if you are using it or losing it, and act on one of the three characteristics. I recently had to do this at the start of the year, taking stock of my criteria and what my schedule could realistically hold in embarking on this writing adventure. This meant having to say NO and turning down an extra teaching gig this quarter so that I would have time to invest in writing this blog and budgeting my limited exercise time for first thing in the mornings (which sometimes means with the kiddos… another post there too I’m sure).
What will it mean for you? What needs to change so that you can recapture your time? Is there something you need to say NO to so that you can say YES to what really matters? My hope and prayer is that we will all challenge ourselves in this year and beyond to take the time we have been given and truly USE it, not lose it. ♥
“Mom” Games: A Salute of Solidarity
Sometimes, being out in the world as a mom can feel just like a scene from the Hunger Games.
I am dead serious (no pun intended), and for those of you who do not regularly take young children to intense places like the grocery store or Target or (heaven forbid) a RESTAURANT, you may not truly understand… but I guarantee you have seen it in play.
Let’s explore the grocery store for instance. I recently took a trip to such a place this morning, with my 3 year old and 1 year old in tow. It was not a trip I wanted to make, it was somewhat coerced due to the rumbling bellies and the mouths that apparently wanted food to consume for lunch and yes, even dinner. 🙂
As I pondered whether or not to make the trip, I could hear my name being called from the stage in all the pomp: “Yes Sara Wood… You are the January 8th tribute chosen to brave the Food Lion arena. May the odds be ever in your favor!”
But, like the dauntless (wait… wrong movie) Katniss, I packed up my littles and we made our way there. If only I could have had some awesome burst-into-flames attire created by Cinna and a chariot with horses… although I was rocking my sports bra and jeggings in my minivan (giggle).
Once there, I made it through the first obstacles of unloading the boys and entering the arena: one in a cart and one with a hand which may not sound difficult but when the one in said cart decides he will not bend his legs and the one with said hand wants to run the whole way and the said cart is of course, the one that cannot drive straight without incredible force… it actually becomes quite the show.
Upon entering the arena, the games begin.
Literally, how quickly and effectively can I get in, actually get what I need, get out, still have both children somewhat safe, and still have enough sanity to get us home in one piece as a true victor (eating poison berries, while sometimes a legitimate concern due to those lovely bushes outside my house, is not an option). Not only do I have to complete all of the above (hopefully), but this is a PUBLIC arena, so I get to give it my best with tons of people watching me. Can you hear my enthusiasm?
Now, I will be completely honest here: sometimes, its not so bad. Sometimes, like this morning, my kids are on their absolute best behavior (thank you crackers in a snack container for the youngest, pint-sized drive your own grocery cart for the oldest, and sweet Jesus for the angels you obviously sent to keep them entertained and somewhat quiet). But sometimes, when the game makers decide to throw a curveball, my kids act like they have lost their minds and make a teeny tiny trip to the grocery store seem like a fight to the finish.
And since my kids were playing with their angels and enjoying their snacks this morning, this is what I got to witness in the line next to me as one of the other tributes, a mom with a boy probably 2ish, who decided in the middle of the arena to scream at the top of his lungs and cry and meltdown no matter what anyone said or did (and believe me, many people tried and failed).
Besides the overwhelming sense of selfish gratitude that Praise the Lord it is not me this time (I know… but I am being honest, remember), my heart truly went out to this mom. Because I have been there, and if you are a mom that has ever gone anywhere with one of your children, you have probably been there at some point too. And while I do not know the backstory and yes, I could easily judge as to her parenting skills or lack thereof and maybe if she had ensured a good quality nap or a snack and prepared properly or whatever and it could all be true, in that moment I felt an overwhelming sense of sympathy and solidarity.
And this is where this post all began, because right there in line, regardless of who was watching or how crazy people might have thought I was:
I wanted to raise my hand and somehow salute this woman and the only thing I could think of in that moment was the sign of the mockingjay. That’s right; no judgement here. Just a simple salute of solidarity to say:
I see you. I hear you. I am for you not against you. You are not alone!
I realized right then that we moms need a sign (it does not have to be the mockingly, although it is pretty catchy ([ha ha again with the puns] and no… the other bird is not nice nor appropriate) to be able to salute each other when times are rough. To let us know we are not fighting against one another for the best show in mommyhood but feel each others pain and wish to encourage each other when we get to witness one of your less than shining moments.
Words just do not seem to do it justice. No matter what I say in that moment, whether it be”It’s ok” or “that was my kid yesterday” or “this too shall pass,” it all seems to fall flat or cannot even be heard depending on how loud the kid is screaming. But a sign… a strong silent salute with the emotion and understanding of someone who has been there… that silence overpowers the screams and sparks a movement of unity, power, and true victory.
Can you see it?
Mom in grocery line with said screaming kid… I salute you.
Mom at Panera last night with her oldest of three throwing a tantrum because it was not the right pastry and middle child crying because daddy accidentally fed her a bite that was too hot and third child still in the carrier… I salute you.
Aunt running down the aisle at Target while nephew is pulling everything off of the shelves because you had to say no to the toy he really wanted (because he already has three of them at home but who’s counting)… I salute you.
Grandma at Chick-fil-A who is scaling the play place at wildfire speeds because grandchild number one has decided he can no longer go down the slide to get down and grandchild number two is so kindly helping him along because she can do it and he should too… I salute you.
So the next time you embark on your bi-centennial trip out into the public arena (with or without kids along) and hear those tragic words… “May the odds be ever in your favor.” Just think… maybe they will be. Maybe this will be the experience of the lifetime (ok). But if not, may someone share in your pain, not with a smirk or unsolicited advice or an empty but well-intentioned phrase, but with a show of support and a salute of solidarity (mockingjays all around).♥
Sector One: Motivation aka Are You Driven or Called?
The first stop in our reflective adventure into the private world is to examine our motivation, or why we do what we do. This underlying “why” is the foundation for every action we take, and it can either help or hurt us as we live out our lives. It provides the the basis for our spiritual energy, and how we find gratification in the world (p.29). In some cases, this is simple and beautiful. I choose to spend time with my kids because I am motivated by my love for them. Other times, it is not so pretty. I lash out at my husband because I am motivated by selfishness and wanted the evening to be about me, not him. When it comes to our private world, Gordon has grouped the primary source of motivation into two categories: driven (focused on man and success) and called (focused on God and obedience). Understanding these categories, and what they mean for us, is where we will spend our time today.
Driven versus Called
In chapters 3-5, I love the way Gordon dives in deep to describe the differences (wow… that was a lot of d’s) between being driven and being called. From his perspective, driven people are definitely disordered; they are all about themselves, what they can achieve, and what they can accumulate. Everyone and everything outside of accomplishment takes last place in priority; it is not about being productive, but being the most productive, the most successful, and having the most stuff. He even goes as far as to describe them with the picture of being trapped in a lavishly golden cage: it looks gorgeous from the outside, but inside it is cramped, lonely, and nothing in it will last. Driven people live primarily for the self, and in the end, this is usually the only thing they have left.
In stark contrast, called people have a sense of inner order; they have a good idea of who they are, what they are doing as well as the why behind it, and are still productive, but are more concerned with quality versus quantity. They can prioritize the things in their lives, with God and people at the top of their lists, and have peace when they are following the path laid our for (not by) them regardless of the results. There is no cage, but a sense of freedom as they know they are not in control, but know and trust the One who is. Driven people live primarily for God, and in the end, enjoy the rewards of a fruitful and meaningful existence on the inside and out.
For a comprehensive listing of the distinctions between these two motives, see the chart below:
How does this apply to me?
Reading the differences between being driven and called has always struck a cord deep within me. This may be because earlier in my life, I was definitely driven. From elementary to high school (yes, it can show itself as early as childhood), my grades and my accomplishments were everything. When I did not make the perfect grade or win the outstanding award, I was crushed and my world would cave in. My mom (who reads my posts regularly; thanks Mom!) had to pick up the pieces the day I came home from 4th grade with a B in handwriting; and this was just the first of many “difficult” days.
It was not until a 10th grade English course with a beyond difficult professor, that I had to face my driven demons and determine for good whether I was going to continue to pursue empty, stressful, never-ending and never-good-enough accomplishments, or pursue the path God had for me. It was one of the darkest times in my life, but it was also one of the best things that has ever happened to me because out of my angst birthed a calling that has stayed true and steadfast and foundational to this very day.
With that being said, not a day goes by that I do not struggle with the driven motives that are my innate, selfish nature. So when I read the list above, there are quite a few in the driven category that I can still check off if I am being completely honest. Maybe you resonate with some of the driven descriptives above too. As Gordon shares, “any of us can look within and suddenly discover that drivenness is our way of life” (p.47).
If this is you, take heart! You are not alone, and there is hope for all of us as we recognize our driven motives. I love that Gordon uses the example of Paul to bridge the gap between being driven and called. After his life-changing encounter with God, Paul went from the epitome of the driven man to the testimony of living out a called life. If you are seeing some of the same qualities in your own heart and inner world, be encouraged that it is not their existence, but what you do with them that really counts.
OK. So, what do I do now?
Gordon ends this part of our adventure by looking at John the Baptist as an example of how to find and walk out a called life. If you are not familiar with John, his role in history was to introduce the people of his time to Jesus (technically he is still doing that today) and he is renowned for ushering in the time of Christ with a new take on baptism and religion. He even got to baptize Jesus!!!
However, the focus of this section is not on his actual calling, but how he was called. As Gordon (and the Bible) tell us, John spent his time in the desert (a dry and difficult and I would envision quiet land) and was called from this place into his ministry. While this was definitely not normal (I am also pretty sure he ate locusts), the overarching picture here is that John took the time to be alone, get away from any distractions, and wait on the Lord for when and how he was to proceed.
My SMARTER not harder 🙂 application from this, and what I want to encourage both you and myself to do, is “get in the desert.” When was the last time you got away and spent time with God? When was the last time you removed yourself from any distractions (yes, even your iPhone… hard copies of the Bible still exist and are actually quite nice if you want to take notes or underline with a pen) and spent time in God’s word in both prayer and listening? When was the last time you heard God speak to you and what did He say? Are you waiting on Him or moving ahead on your own?
I challenge you to set a specific time to spend in your own “desert” this coming week: Go away and get with God. This might be to a specific room on your house, a nearby park, or even your car (yes, sometimes this is the only place I can find that is quiet and available). Pray through the chart above and take inventory if there are things that God is revealing to you about your own life and current path. Listen and journal God’s voice about you and your calling. And if you do not hear Him right away, WAIT until you do and then proceed accordingly. Take the time to truly evaluate your motives… and determine how you are going to live… driven or CALLED? ♥
Memo to the Disorganized: Where is the ORDER?
“In this world, you will have trouble…” -Jesus (John 16:33)
… and disorder…and disobedience…and chaos… and MAYHEM.
Isn’t that the truth? There really is not a day that goes by that I do not see some sort of trouble, disorder, disobedience, chaos, mayhem, whatever you choose to call it, swirling around me. Even the innocent disorder of the playroom beside me reminds me that we live in an imperfect world (I swear… no matter how many times I clean it, it always is a mess! 😉 ). Jesus knew this and warned us from the very beginning that this life would be hard and that trouble with a capital T would be something we would have to face.
The wonderful part, and the thing I love most about this story of life, is that there is a constant thread of redemption among humanity that allows there to be inner order among the outer chaos. Jesus finishes his speech above with these words: “But take heart; I have overcome the world [and in me, you may have peace].”
Beautiful words to highlight and underline and carry with us when we face the troubles of this world, but sometimes, I also want the practical side of what these words really mean. What does it look like to take heart? What does it look like to truly live in peace? Thus, the birthplace of books just like Ordering Your Private World 🙂
So far, I have read and journaled through all of the intro stuff: the Preface and Chapters 1 and 2. Already, I am blown away by the many points that speak directly to my life and the truths that I want to remember day in and day out. However, for the sake of time and sanity LOL, there were 4 big takeaways that really stood out:
1. “I believe that one of the greatest battlegrounds of our age is the private world of the individual.” (p.15)
AMEN!!! And I will say it again: AMEN!!! In a world where there is so much temptation partnered with so much isolation, the true battlefield of whether or not you will have inner peace is your very own private world. It is not so much a struggle of the flesh, although it may appear that way at first, but most things really do start with a struggle of the heart/soul (Ephesians 6:12). I am a true believer that an ordered soul is a strong soul, and a strong soul can take on anything: extremes of torture, illness, grief to the everyday obstacles of disappointment, stress, and irritation.
2. What is my private world?
Your private world, the descriptor that Gordon uses throughout his book, is your heart and/or soul (p.23). It is that innermost part of you that no one can every really understand, even if you try to explain it to them, because it really belongs to you and you alone. “It’s the private part of life where we know ourselves best of all: this is where self-esteem is forged, where basic decisions about motives, values, and commitments are made, where we commune with our God” (p.7-8). It involves the beautiful and the ugly, the truth we have chosen to acknowledge as well as the lies that have taken root and the interweaving of the two that we live out each day. It is also the place we invite Christ into when we give our lives to him, and the location of the indwelling that can bring true peace, true life, and true order within us. According to Gordon’s perspective, this private world is divided into the five sectors that we will focus on for the rest of our readings: our motivation, our time, our wisdom/knowledge, our spiritual strength, and our restoration.
3. We were created to “work most effectively from the inner world toward the outer” (p.23).
And this is the crux of the matter. So often in life, I find my outer world encroaching on my inner world. Usually, its when I am having “one of those days.” You know them: when absolutely nothing is going your way, sometimes to the point of sarcastic hilarity because the mounting disorder is unbelievable and can really only be handled with a desperate laugh. Or maybe the response is unbridled anger; harsh words that hurt both you and the listener, and create a wound that will have to be both forgiven and reconciled. Or maybe the response is withdrawal, to the lonely place that seems safe but really only multiplies the issue as you quietly cry out to be free and known and understood. Whatever the response, when we allow life to happen to us, when we allow our outer to have undue influence over our inner, we will most definitely experience crisis and a decreased quality of life that was never the intent of our Creator. We will end up spending our lives only surviving, and not thriving.
Instead, we were created for our inner to have influence over our outer. This is where growth and movement and true strength and victory reside. This is where we start to thrive. Think about even a plant: it pulls all of the nutrients and water and everything it needs into itself and then grows outward. Think about those people you know that have conquered the odds against them: the friend that lost weight and kept it off because she developed a healthy mindset (inner) that influenced her lifestyle (outer); the couple that resolved in their heart and minds to be good stewards with their money (inner) and paid off all of their debts (outer); the man who shows up every Sunday at church even though his body is fighting cancer and aging because his heart (inner) wants for more even though his flesh (outer) is fading.
One of my greatest examples, that comes to mind all the time, is Victor Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, who wrote about his experiences and noted that it was his inner world, his resolve and faith, that really determined his experiences. It was the one thing that the Nazi’s could not determine, could not destroy, and could not influence without permission. He chose not to let his outer influence his inner, even in the most horrible of circumstances, and it is a testimony that is still influencing lives today. As Jesus said above: we can have peace in the inner, because He has overcome the outer. When I really think about this, it encourages me that I can probably (most definitely) handle one more of “those days” in my home with my kids and my husband and my job.
4. “Am I taking the time to regularly order my inner world?” (p.16)
Time for being honest. When was the last time I checked in with myself and my thoughts and feelings that are driving my actions? When was the last time you checked in with yourself and your thoughts and feelings that are driving your actions? If I had answered this question even a month ago, I would not have been able to give a specific answer. Why? Because I had not been regularly taking the time to check in and make sure that even though things are going crazy around me, my private world is secure. Just like anything thing else worthwhile: playing an instrument, learning a new language, excelling at a sport or subject, etc., ordering your private world takes regular, intentional time, effort, and a word we will see more of: discipline.
So, going back to making things happen, how can we be intentional, how can we work SMARTER not harder 🙂 when it comes to practically dealing with our private worlds? Specifically, I like to ask myself: What is one thing I can do to regularly start ordering my private world TODAY? For me, reading this book and blogging about it are where I am going to start, but I will be asking myself (as well as you) this question for each sector as we continue our reflective adventure. This way, we are not just having a great reading experience (although I do love Gordon’s stories and points) but we actually apply what we are learning to our life journeys.
Who knows… we might actually end up with a newfound sense of order, a peace in our inner world, and a new way of living that comes from the inside out. My hope for me and for you is exactly this: that we might actually experience, not just read about, this amazing, life-changing, peace-giving, overcoming ORDER.♥
January Book Club: Ordering Your Private World
Our first book of the year is one of my favorites (you may hear that a lot): Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald. It is no coincidence that for my blog that focuses on making the most of the mayhem around me, the first book I would want to read would be about order. 🙂 However, I think you will agree after reading (spoiler alert) that this book is more about grounding yourself amidst the chaos, rather than trying to manage the disorder around you.
Why I Chose this Book:
To truly make the most of my mayhem (my marriage, mothering, and the miscellaneous other things in my day), I must have some sort of foundation to my inner world that helps me maintain my sanity (anyone thinking about building a house on a rock versus sand here?). When I first read this book, almost 10 years ago now (woah.), I was a walking testimony of disorganization. Everything looked great on the outside: I was a newly accepted Master’s student working for the dean, a newly wed wife who still had stars in her eyes, with a new set of adult responsibilities including rent, utilities, cars, etc. I was young, smart, and all of that “new” was full of potential.
But on the inside, I was caving in.
Pressures and doubts were all I could think of, and it kept me up at night. Everyone had such high hopes for me, but could I really do it? What if I failed a class? What if I missed paying a bill? What if I could not complete my program and had loans to pay with no degree? Was this even what I really wanted? What if my new husband stopped loving me, or lost his job, or the honeymoon wore off too soon and things got stale? What if I made a mistake and everyone found out that I really had no clue what I was doing?
You may notice that some of these same thoughts/questions are addressed in the preface of the book. Gordon, the author whom I will refer to familiarly by first name although I have never actually met him, wrote this book as a response to these questions in his own life and the lives of those around him. He acknowledges that these doubts and pressures exist, and then offers both practical and spiritual wisdom on how to confront and conquer them. I love his conversational writing style, amazing metaphors and stories to illustrate his points, and the foundation of his writing that constantly points us back to the rock solid foundation of Jesus.
When I found it, I embraced his writings as a life preserver, bringing me back to Christ and back to sanity, equipping me for the many challenges I had no clue I would face in the future, and helping me to help others order their private worlds both personally and professionally. I still love to re-read it; to address the disorder that pops up here and there as well as to be a great reminder of the importance of continuing to attend to my private world when things seem to be going great on the inside and out.
How the Book Club Will Work:
With this being the first book of the year, I want to outline my thoughts on how this will tentatively work (which can be modified if needed; SMARTER not harder right?!). For each month, I will come up with a reading and posting plan that works for my scheduling as well as the book content, and let you know this plan so you can either follow along or make your own. No pressure either way; I know some of you will not be reading the books but might still be interested in the posts. Then, I will do my best to post according to the schedule I laid out. As we all know from our own mayhem, life sometimes has other plans 🙂 , but at least this will provide some direction as we go along. For January, this is my outline:
- Introductory Post: This one right here 🙂 Wed. 1/6
- Post 1: Preface, Ch 1-2 Thurs. 1/7
- Post 2: Sector One Motivation Sun 1/10
- Post 3: Sector Two Use of Time Thurs 1/14
- Post 4: Sector Three Wisdom and Knowledge Sun 1/17
- Post 5: Sector Four Spiritual Strength Sun 1/24
- Final Post: Sector Five Restoration Sun 1/31
In addition to what I post, please please please feel free to comment!!! One of Gordon’s goals in writing this book is mine as well: “to begin a dialogue among a few curious people” (p.11). I would love for you to share anything in particular that stood out to you, any feedback (both positive as well as constructive 😉 ) you have, or maybe even your own struggle with the content. With all of the posts on this blog, this is truly my heart: to share my journey with you as you journey so that we can learn from and encourage one another along the way.
My Hope for this Experience:
Gordon ends his preface and starts the book in this way (p.11):
“To all those who think there is a more organized way to live within: join me on this bit of reflective adventure. At the end there may just be an opportunity for a deeper experience with God and an understanding of our mission in serving Him.”
My hope and prayer for this inaugural book club experience is that this would be the start of just such an adventure: a monthly way of reflecting upon and caring for ourselves and others by intentionally choosing to focus on the things that are most important, like the inner world from which we operate day in and day out. I am a huge fan of setting myself up to succeed, from making meals each day to the bigger things of life like motivation and resiliency. 🙂 By reading the books on this list, like the one for this month, we are choosing to fill our hearts and minds with truth that will reinforce, restore, renew, and refresh our souls to truly make the most of and embrace the miracles in our mayhem. ♥
SMARTER not Harder
In writing the previous post on my miraculous making it happen, I have to admit I was excited, inspired, and ready to face my fears and do the do to truly make it happen. I felt like I could take on the world, that my mustard seed faith could really move mountains (yes it can for real, but I felt it too!), and my fingers could somehow type a million words a minute and fill this blog before I knew it.
I was also quite comfortable in my favorite spot at my favorite coffee shop all by myself sipping my favorite winter tea latte. 😉
Until I looked at my watch.
And all of a sudden, my two hours of write time while the boys were napping and my husband was watching them (also napping LOL), was over and I was throwing all of my belongings into my bag and rushing out the door to complete the many errands on my to do list before running home. Just like that, my making it happen that was so fresh, so invigorating, and so within reach… moved to the back of the line where it has been for so many years.
What happened? Why did it change? What shifted?
To be honest, my IT sits at the back of the line because it seems so HARD in the midst of everything else. Have you ever felt that way? It sounds good, it sounds fun, it sounds meaningful and awesome when you are dreaming about it or even starting the beginning stages, but when you actually start the doing of it, that IT is just a little harder and more difficult than expected. And because it is hard, I choose to avoid it and delay it instead of doing it.
I have found this to be truth with just about everything worthwhile in this life: attaining any degree or license, embarking on the adventures of marriage and parenting, starting a new career or ministry, getting in shape/exercising, etc. Anything that seems awesome in the moment will at some point have a challenge or obstacle invoking the descriptor of being HARD. And while this truth is important to acknowledge because as of yet, there is no way that I know of to reap the full benefits of all of the above without enduring the challenge as well, I think the real issue is how I view the HARD.
What does that mean? How I view the HARD?
My view of HARD is often the picture of a person (me) standing in the middle of a tornado of things swirling all around. My tornado would have all the great and not so great things in my life: my hopes and dreams, my husband, my children, my family and friends, my work, my church, anything and everything that is a part of my everyday existence that requires my presence. In my tornado, nothing is within reach and I have absolutely no control as everything swirls around me. And as most tornados are considered, my primary response is always two-fold: FEAR (we talked about this last time) and being OVERWHELMED (here we go).
When I was sitting in the coffee shop dreaming dreams and sipping tea, I was not thinking tornado. I was swept away by my positive emotions and the singular focus of the fun of writing: the ideas, the outcomes, the great moments when something clicks. My IT was a cute and cuddly baby that was small and wonderful and sleeping soundly. But when I returned to my reality and the associated responsibilities and demands, I was able to see that this became another projectile swirling around in the chaos! I realized this baby, which was still small and cute, also had demands: time, effort, and pieces of me like everyone and everything else.
Your view of hard might be different than mine. It might look like a huge elephant blocking your path or an incredible mountain unable to be scaled. Regardless of the picture: elephants, mountains, and tornadoes all tend to leave us OVERWHELMED. And my instant reaction to being overwhelmed, like many, is to avoid. For me, it is procrastination. For others, avoidance can take a variety of forms that let us seemingly escape: exercising, eating, sleeping, business, etc. The truth though is that avoidance is never a true escape; the thing we are running from is still there and unless we finally confront it, we will never accomplish the amazing experience of making it happen. Think about it: the coolest stories are about surviving the storm, taming the wild elephant, and scaling the mountain, right?! 🙂
So, what do I do? How do I still MAKE IT HAPPEN when I am OVERWHELMED?
And therein lies the title of this post: to make it happen and maintain my sanity, I have to work SMARTER not harder. 🙂 I actually tell my students and clients (as well as myself) this all the time: to utilize their resources wisely and get the best outcome with the most efficient means to do so. In this specific situation, it means making the hard more manageable, more realistic, and using the well-known goal SMARTER acronym:
R: Reward or Re-Work
Specifically, I want to start with a weekly post (Measurable). Although I have dreams to do so much more, this seems both Attainable and Realistic for me (hence the existence of this post). Since I usually have write time on the weekends, I am setting Mondays as my Timeline. As we go along, I will be able to Evaluate (and you will too) if this is working and Reward or re-work as necessary.
So, what might this mean for you? You might be at the beginning stages of still figuring out what your IT really is 😉 This is a great place to start, but even that can have a SMARTER goal: “By the end of this month, I will have spent 30 minutes a week journaling and dreaming about my calling, the thing I would love love love to do if there was nothing in my way.” Or maybe you know what your IT is, even if you have never shared it or are still trying to convince yourself otherwise. What might your SMARTER goal be to take one step closer to making it a reality? Or maybe you’ve been living out your IT for years, and are basking in the glow of a fulfilling life. Even then, what is one thing you would like to continue doing (being intentional about it) or something you’ve secretly dreamed of but never gone after? It might be fun to go for something again, and see what happens!
For me, this means taking this writing and blogging thing one step at a time. To begin to bring order to my tornado by using my God-given will and reaching out to take hold of the things most important to me. It may seem small, but its this first step that will create the foundation (and the momentum) for the future.
And what better time to do this than at the beginning of a new year! 😉
As we embark on the adventure of 2016, I encourage us to go for it!
To take those first steps of the rest of our lives, and begin truly making it happen… by working SMARTER not harder.♥
Make it Happen…
Did you know there is a miracle that resides in those three, seemingly innocent words?
Make. It. Happen.
There may not be one in there for you, but there sure is one for me. Because I have been trying to make this happen for years: this website, this blog, and this writing that has been haunting me for as long as I can remember but has remained hidden in journal after journal like the one so beautifully photographed above (thanks Em!).
Why the delay? What makes the “making it happen” so hard? Why is there a miracle for me?
Because without the miracle I can tell you that my IT would NEVER happen. Without the calling that is relentlessly tugging at my spirit, without the incessant and annoying but very much appreciated encouragement of those who really know me, and without the truth of Christ hidden in my heart that He will never leave me nor forsake me, I would NEVER, EVER do this. Maybe you know this feeling too…
Because I am scared. Honestly, I have always been scared. Ask any of my friends and they can probably tell you my multiple wacky fears (showers with curtains, windows at night, frisbees, spiders, toilets flushing LOL) but most of them would not mention the fear that has followed me for as long as I can remember: FAILING.
What if I FAIL? What if I write and write and write and put myself out there and it all blows up in my face? What if my words come out wrong and no one understands and I mess up? What if writing really isn’t my calling and I misheard? What if? What if? What if?
So I write in the journal like the one above, and I keep the words a secret, hidden because at least they are “written” down but not out there for all to see. I take my time in making it happen because procrastination allows for the justification that one day it will happen, just not today. I can prolong the inevitable, hide from the fear, and still feel good about myself because I am in process (right?). And I know I am not the only one, because I talk to people like you and me everyday who are wanting but waiting because it is scary to actually do.
And the miracle?
And then the miracle happens. Not when I expected it, but at just the right time. I get called out without anyone knowing but me: “sometimes Satan uses procrastination to keep us in a state of not happening” (thanks to The Rev; you will hear more about him throughout this journey, I am sure… but for now, know he is a trusted spiritual mentor that I love and respect dearly and has spoken many words of truth over me throughout the years). If I am not actually DOING IT, then I am not really MAKING IT HAPPEN. Regardless of the fears, regardless of the what ifs, regardless of the potential for failure.
So I chew on the truth and it gets to me. If you are not actually DOING IT, then you are not really MAKING IT HAPPEN.
What am I really waiting for? [NOTHING]. What would it really mean to fail? [not sure; someone might laugh at me]. What is really so scary about that failing? [Not sure now that I really consider it]. If I do not do IT now, do I really think I will do it later? [NOPE]. What are YOU waiting for?
The miracle makes its appearance and I realize the only way to make it happen is to actually MAKE IT HAPPEN.
Through grace and prayers and support, I share the miracle with others and start facing my fears. I start telling select people about this “book club” I am going to start in January. I remember a montra from long ago to “DO SOMETHING DAILY” and I do it. I start making time to type, not write, and make this blog come into existence outside of the special place it has had in my mind for years. I stop procrastinating and start doing. What could you start doing today?
And before I know it… My IT is HAPPENING.
I watch the miracle unfold and breathe deep and wait in expectation to see what happening looks like. It is not without little bits of fear, but mostly, it is with EXCITEMENT.
And I write and type and share because I know I need to be reminded and maybe you do too.
Maybe you could use this word of truth to make your IT happen.
Maybe we can pass this miracle on and you can be encouraged to stop procrastinating and start doing.
Maybe we can face our fears together and actually Make.It.Happen. ♥
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