Giving Up ~ 3 Things to Consider During Lent

The Lenten season has begun.  For many Christian denominations the tradition of Lent marks 40 days (excluding Sundays) until Easter. It’s a time for reflection, repentance and remembering what Jesus did for us as He made His way toward the cross, culminating with Easter Sunday and the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection.

As a child I was fascinated as my friends would come back to school after religion class with ashes on their foreheads on Ash Wednesday. It was a tradition we didn’t follow in my Baptist denomination and I was curious. The ashes symbolize purification and sorrow for our sins. Each of my friends also gave something up for Lent. It was usually candy, pizza, soda or some other food sacrifice. I remember it wasn’t easy for them to carry this out for 6 weeks but admired them for the effort.

candy cake

In the days leading up to Ash Wednesday this year conversations at work and among friends turned to Lent and who would give up something they enjoy during the 6 weeks of Lent. It got me to thinking about what, if anything, I should give up. I considered giving up chocolate, but that was quickly dismissed. Other considerations were candy, all sweets, or “junk” food. I even considered giving up social media. All were things I enjoy a great deal and often struggle with overdoing. Any would be a good choice and may help change some bad habits.

Somehow any choice I came up with seemed like it wasn’t enough. I feared it would become about me and not the sacrifice Jesus made for me. Would I think of Him each time I turned away from a temptation or would I simply be proud of myself for each little success? My desire is to go deeper and give up something that would impact not only myself but my little corner of the world.

I prayed and pondered, coming up with almost more than I bargained for as God showed me things He’d like me to give up for Him. Here are five of them:

1. Insecurity/Jealousy
Wouldn’t you think jealousy would have left us in our teen years? In reality it follows many of us into adulthood. It amazes me sometimes how often I wonder if someone likes another friend more than me or I catch a glimpse into another’s life and wish it was mine (not taking into account that I don’t see the whole picture, just one small slice)

I know many of my jealous tendencies come from insecurity. Maybe yours do too. At times when I am not confident enough in who I am in Christ or grounded enough in His love I become discontent and jealous. I focus too much on what the world thinks instead of keeping my focus on Jesus.

One of the Ten Commandments instructs us not to envy others or covet what God has given them either materially or through our gifts and talents. When we do we are sinning.

Wow. So if it’s not enough that jealousy and insecurity makes us feel miserable, it’s sinning against God and making Him very unhappy as well.

How would my life be different if for the next 6 weeks I focused internally on God’s desire for my life instead of externally on what everyone else has/does? How would yours?

2. Being Quick to Speak
Do you have someone in your life who always has something to say? When you’re with them you feel like they’re not listening to you but rather trying to figure out what to say next. It can be very frustrating to spend time with them, especially if you need someone to really listen and care.

I know sometimes I am quick to have something to say and will sometimes offer my opinion when it’s unwanted. Is this you too?

Scripture has something to say about this as well:
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. James 1:19

I am sometimes also quick to speak when it comes to prayer. I have so much to say or ask for that I don’t take the time to listen. In doing so I shut out the wisdom, peace and joy God wants to share with me and possibly through me. If I don’t listen to Him how can I offer others the thing they need most – the love and joy of the Lord.

How would my life be different if for the next 6 weeks I spent more time listening to others and to the Lord and less time talking? How would yours?

3. Overindulgence
AAAAAGGGggghhhhhh!! This is such a challenge for me! From chocolate to snacks and even with social media once I get started it can be difficult, sometimes impossible to stop!

Unfortunately along with overindulgence comes an unhealthy lifestyle. Eating too many sweets, snacks and fatty foods adds pounds and leads us down the road to likely early death. Too much time on social media and surfing the internet wastes time and possibly skews our way of thinking. Also it potentially opens us up to experience things we’d rather not and exposes us to things we’d rather not see or focus on.

When we eat ourselves into a food coma or immerse ourselves in social media we have less time for time in scripture, prayer or fellowshipping with friends and family members. We find our time and focus has been sucked away – time we’ll never get back.

Are there areas of your life where you struggle with overindulgence?

Scripture also warns against overindulgence.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12

How would my life be different if for the next 6 weeks I set more limits on myself in areas I overindulge? How would yours?

This all seems like a tall order and more than I am capable of. Even one seems like a big challenge that would take much longer than 6 weeks to achieve. I’m really not sure that was God’s intention but instead to draw my focus more to Him and less on myself and my desires.

HHoutreach with butterfly

Over the next 6 weeks I’m going to try to give up more of my heart to God. I’m going to try to listen to Him more, waste less time that could be spent with Him, and allow Him to speak to me about my life and listen less to the world around me. I’m excited to see how my life will be different through the process.

Will you join me in the next 6 weeks to consider what God would have you give up as we remember what He gave up for us on the cross?

I’ll be praying for you!

blessings and peace,
Paula

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Valentine Victory

It’s coming…only 3 days away. The day of roses and chocolates – another Hallmark holiday.

How I used to dread Valentine’s Day! For weeks before February 14th I pined and pouted, miserable at every commercial for jewelry and every comment from friends about what they would be doing to celebrate with their sweethearts. I didn’t have a sweetheart and it made me miserable. I wanted to be in love and for someone to be in love with me. I wanted a reason to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

Over the years I stopped whining long enough to look around me. What I saw were many others who were alone on Valentine’s Day. Some had never been married like me, but others were alone because of divorce or widowhood. I saw them not only lonely without their loved one on Valentine’s Day but also with bittersweet memories that sometimes made the day even more difficult than mine.

I also discovered something else. While there are many happy marriages with sweethearts rekindling their love each Valentine’s Day there are many married couples who won’t be celebrating Valentine’s Day together. They are struggling to stay together and to rediscover their love for each other.The proclamation of a day of love will not magically fix things between them.

All of this observation has me looking at Valentine’s Day differently. Yes, I still wish I had a sweetheart, but not just for Valentine’s Day. A friend of mine commented the other day that if you’re in love with someone you should show it every day and you shouldn’t need a holiday to tell you to express it. I agree! And this applies not only to a significant other, but all of those whom our lives touch.

Now when I look towards Valentine’s Day I seek ways to brighten the day for others. I think about those around me who will be lonely and without celebration and do what I can to make their day better. .

Here are some ideas:

  • Mail Valentine’s to those who are alone.
  • Pick up candy, flowers, balloons, etc. and hand them out randomly to people who look like they could use a smile.
  • Pick up the phone and call someone who might need a friend.

Praying for others is also critical because where I can’t physically touch lives God can through His all-encompassing love.

There are so many options. Pray about what you could do, on your own, with your significant other or as a family.

 

If you have a sweetheart and look forward to celebrating Valentine’s Day I’m not suggesting you tone down your celebration or don’t share your love with others. Your relationship can be an inspiration to others. But as you look ahead to the big day I ask you to also look around. Find someone who may be alone or lonely in the midst of a relationship and reach out to them. A phone call, note or even a little chocolate heart can make all the difference in their day.

The greatest Valentine any of us can receive is the love of God, and of His Son Jesus Christ who showed the ultimate love by coming to earth and living a perfect life, only to take the sins of all mankind when He died on the cross. If you don’t know this Love I pray that you will give your heart to Jesus and know the love that never fails not only on Valentine’s Day but every day of the year.

Happy Valentine’s Day to each of you. May this year be one of expressing love not only to your sweetheart but to each person you touch. You could be the missing peace to someone’s Valentine’s Day puzzle.

blessings and peace to you…

Paula

No Hope At All

Have you ever discovered that a bible verse you’ve quoted to yourself or others over and over has been somewhat incomplete and possibly misquoted?

Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

Many times I have quoted 1 Peter 5:7 to myself or someone else to ease the strain of anxiety or turmoil, either within or from without. I realize now that quoting it on its own takes it out of context and turns it into some kind of magic potion that is probably different from God’s intention for the verse.

You see when we take it out of context we omit a key piece to the peace that comes from casting anxiety on the Lord. Look at the previous verse:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand,
that He may lift you up in due time.

Humble ourselves?

Is submission easy for you? For most of us it’s not. Whether it’s submitting to the wishes and plans of a family member or friend or taking direction from your boss when you disagree with them, we humans don’t really like to submit to others especially if it means we may give up something we want (or think we want) in the process.

Let’s face it. Our nature is to want things our way and live a life of comfort. When I am anxious about something I often try to find a solution or make it better and more comfortable for myself and others. I wrack my brain and strive to find an answer for the dilemma or figure out how to change someone’s feelings or attitude.

That’s not always God’s plan.

God asks us to hope. To have faith in Him and hope, for the present and the future.

And hope requires submission.

Romans 8_24-25Romans 8:24-25

Hope requires us to admit that we can’t solve the problems around us and submit to the One who can…in His timing.

We look at the world around us and see so much that’s wrong. Innocent people losing their lives because someone doesn’t know how to control his or her anger, leaders who do not fear God or look to the best interests of those whom they lead but instead to their own desires and those we look to for truth disappoint us. It can be so hard to hope for the good.

But hope must be exercised in order to grow stronger. Hope linked with faith is an unbeatable combination.

Think of when you start working out to strengthen your muscles, lifting weights or doing work on your abdominal/core. Do you feel strong the day after the workout?

weight_lifting

No, those muscles feel weak. The thing is if you allow that feeling of weakness to override the knowledge that good will come from consistently working those muscles and believing you will gain strength over time, nothing will ever change. But if you consistently work on those muscles, believing in what you cannot immediately see, over time you will realize things have changed.

I believe the same is true for hope.

Hope is something that must be exercised, and goes hand-in-hand with faith. (more on that in a future post)

Hebrews 10:23 tells us:

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

As we submit to God and His will, admitting we don’t understand but hopeful that God’s promises are true today just as in the days of old we will be able to cast away our anxiety and allow Him to take over.

If you’re having trouble with this and need proof of present hope, look a little deeper. Perhaps we need to look a little farther out of our own circle. There are stories every day of God providing for people in need, healing the sick, even bringing miracles. Just because we haven’t seen what we hope for come to be just yet doesn’t mean it won’t. It means we need to continue to hope, and put our trust in the One who promises He will never leave us or allow us to walk through the joys or struggles alone.

This isn’t only true for everyone else it’s true for me, and for you. It’s easy to forget and be tempted to give up hope.

Don’t do it. In this puzzle of life the missing peace can only be found by humbling ourselves under God’s hand, trusting, and hoping for what we cannot see…

and casting our anxiety on Him.

 

blessings and peace to you!
Paula

 

The Language of Joy

Do you think joy has a language?

I’m beginning to think so. The way we talk to and about ourselves and others, both audibly and silently, can determine our joy quotient.

Hear me out on this! I’m not suggesting we fill our vocabulary with flowery phrases or constantly gush over people but perhaps the words we use and thoughts we choose impact our lives more than we think they do.

Let me ask you a couple of questions:

1. Do you look for the good in others or are you quick to criticize?
(now apply this question to how you treat yourself)

2. When someone (including you) makes a mistake or doesn’t get something right the first (or second or third) time do you encourage them or give up on them?

3. Do you look for the proverbial silver lining when times are tough or do you only imagine the storm on the horizon?

It is difficult (perhaps impossible) to be joyful when we are constantly being critical of ourselves or others.

negative thoughts

Think for a moment about someone whom you consider to be joyful. What kinds of words do you hear them using? What kind of outlook do they have on life?

Joy-filled people use more positive words than negative. They encourage others and choose to see the positive in the midst of the negative.

It seems trite and almost too easy. Unfortunately the reality is that for most of us it isn’t easy at all.

Just as changing habits to make our physical bodies healthier requires adjustments to our diet and activity levels, changing our minds to eliminate negative thoughts requires adjustments to our thinking and approach to each day – even each hour.

You’ve likely heard the phrase “garbage in, garbage out”. If your mind is filled with garbage thoughts – negative and demeaning thoughts – you allow those thoughts to steal your joy.

While some people may have more of a bend towards having a positive outlook it can become a learned behavior. And just as with any habit, making small consistent changes eventually brings a new way of life.

Give it a try today. When you find yourself thinking negative thoughts make a choice to find something positive in the midst of it. Don’t allow yourself to feed the negative thoughts, but put them into perspective. If you really can’t find something positive about the situation, turn your mind to thinking about something else.

See if you begin to find more joy in life, even when life is hard and not so joyful.

Joy is what happens

Blessings and peace as you find joy in today…and each day to come.
Paula