Endurance

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

-2 Corinthians 4:16

Endurance is such an important but difficult quality to cultivate. As an aspiring hiker and runner (emphasis on the aspiring part!), I know just how important it is to maintain a steady pace. However, I also know from personal experience how easy it is to start out strong and then run out of steam.

In a way, that’s how this crisis has felt to me. At the beginning, I was running on the adrenaline of a new challenge— figuring out online school, the novelty of my first online class with students, finding creative ways to connect with family and friends, and exploring new ways to use my time. However, this week it really hit me that we could be in this for the long haul. It fully set in that school is online for the rest of the school year. And I started to feel emotionally tired.

As a result, the importance of endurance has been on my mind a lot this week. I’ve noticed a desire in myself to just “get through this” until things get back to normal. However, the Lord has been challenging that mindset. I don’t think that endurance means just gritting our teeth and getting through. I think that endurance also requires embracing how God wants to shape and grow us through this time. There are so many opportunities right now— to refocus on what is important, to slow down the pace of our lives, to prioritize relationships, and to develop resilience.

As someone who struggles with endurance, these are some strategies that have been helpful to me lately:

Embracing Healthy Routines: I think that maintaining basic routines is essential right now. Even though life is much simpler than normal, I’ve found it valuable to keep a consistent weekly schedule. I think that daily routines are also important— things like getting fresh air, daily exercise, prioritizing sleep, and eating well. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most life-giving!

Staying Connected: I think that when we’re spending so much time at home, it can be tempting to isolate ourselves. Especially as an introvert who craves time alone, I’ve noticed this tendency in myself. It can be so tempting to just check out. However, that’s not the way God has designed us to live. We are hardwired for connection and community with others. Even though it takes some creativity right now, I think maintaining authentic connection with the people we love is so important.

Prioritizing Grace: I believe that we need to extend heaps of grace to ourselves right now. This crisis may bring out sides of ourselves that we don’t like to face. Spending more time at home can surface difficult emotions and feelings. Living with so much uncertainty can be very disorienting. Therefore I think that kindness to ourselves is vital.

I also believe that we need extra grace for one another. Being stuck at home can cause new tensions in our closest relationships. This is the first time we’ve ever dealt with something like this and we are all going to navigate it imperfectly. I absolutely love the following quote by Brene’ Brown:

“This pandemic experience is a massive experiment in collective vulnerability… When we are uncertain and afraid, our default is self-protection. We don’t have to be scary when we’re scared. Let’s choose awkward, brave, and kind. And let’s choose each other.”

Brene Brown

Depending on God’s Strength: In hard times we’re more aware of our limited human capacity. And I think that’s actually a good thing. I love Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

-2 Corinthians 12:9

I wonder if this current crisis is an opportunity to more fully recognize our dependence on God. We can experience His power in the areas where we feel weak and unable.

And when we feel tired, we can rely on Him for endurance.

Remembering God’s Goodness

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all of your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” -Psalm 77:11

Lately I’ve been thinking about the power of remembrance. This is a theme that seems to run throughout the Bible. All throughout the Scriptures, God calls His people to remember His goodness.

In the book of Leviticus, God appointed weekly and yearly rhythms of remembrance for the people of Israel like the Sabbath and the Passover. Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the Israelites regularly created altars of remembrance to commemorate God’s miraculous works. All throughout the Psalms, David and other writers meditated on the works and wonders of God. They called the reader to remember God’s past faithfulness and dwell on His goodness. Most powerfully, at the Last Supper, Jesus invited His disciples to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him.

It’s clear that God calls His followers to be a people marked by remembrance.

There is so much power in remembering God’s goodness.

And there is so much danger in forgetting.

The Israelites repeatedly forgot the Lord and His goodness to them. They cycled through seasons of faithful remembrance and seasons of forgetfulness. When they forgot God, they became captives to idolatry and oppression.

“They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law. They forgot what He had done, and the wonders He had shown them. They did not remember His power— the day He redeemed them from the oppressor.”

-Psalm 78: 10, 11, and 42 

Oh, how I see my own heart reflected in the story of Israel. I am so quick to forget all that God has done. And forgetting God’s goodness makes me vulnerable to the schemes of the enemy. I’ve noticed that I’m most vulnerable to anxiety when I dwell on all that seems wrong in the world right now. When I focus my attention solely on tragedy and loss, I can so easily slip into doubt and fear.

However, the opposite happens when I dwell on God’s goodness in my life. I notice the ways that He has been guiding and sustaining my life since the day I was born. I remember the difficult times He has carried me through and his redemptive power to transform even the darkest times. I am struck by His faithful provision in times of need. And most of all, I remember the way He has unconditionally loved me and forgiven my sins.

I want to share several practices that help me to remember and soak in God’s goodness.

Gratitude: I know I wrote about this in an earlier post, but it’s worth mentioning again. Gratitude is a powerful weapon against anxiety and self pity. At the close of the day,  I like to take inventory of the day and ask God to reveal His goodness and grace to me. This can include very simple moments like sunshine on my run, a warm cup of tea, or a moment of connection with someone I love. I think that looking for God’s fingerprints in the small things enables us to see the larger patterns of His goodness in our lives and in the world.

Remembering God’s past faithfulness: In difficult seasons, I like to go back and remember what God has done in the past. Reading old journals or even looking at old photos is a powerful way to remember God’s goodness in past seasons of life. I’ll remember gifts and blessings that I’ve completely forgotten about. And I am always reminded of how God redeemed even the most challenging situations. This helps my heart to trust His redemptive work in the world right now, even when I can’t completely understand what He’s doing.

Prioritizing beauty: I love the way that John Eldredge describes the importance of beauty in his book Get your Life Back. He writes:

“Beauty reassures us that goodness is still real in the world, more real than harm, or scarcity, or evil. Beauty reassures us of abundance, especially that God is absolutely abundant in goodness and in life… We often sigh in the presence of beauty as it begins to minister to us— a good, deep soul-sigh.”

-John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back

I think that in times like this, simple beauty is especially powerful. And experiencing God’s beauty doesn’t require going to the coast or on a long hike (although that would be nice right now). Beauty can minister to our hearts in simple ways— through the morning light coming through the window, during a short walk around the neighborhood, or even in the melody of a song we love.

I wanted to close with one of my favorite songs by Andrew Peterson. I love his honest and authentic songwriting. This song is such a beautiful reminder to trust God’s goodness even in the midst of difficult times.

The Power of Calm

“Do we want to infect people with more anxiety, or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?”

-Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 

I just love this quote by Brene’ Brown. Her analogy is so true. Like a virus, anxiety is an infectious disease that spreads so easily from person to person.

As a third grade teacher, I regularly witness the power of anxiety in my classroom. It’s amazing to me how the anxiety of just one student can affect the whole classroom dynamic. And I’ve noticed that my own anxiety can also negatively affect my students. As humans, we tend to match the emotions of the people around us. Therefore, when I am stressed out and anxious, my students also feel stressed and on edge.

However, the opposite is also true. Although anxiety is a strong force, calm is equally powerful. As someone who wrestles with anxiety, I know from personal experience the healing power of calm.

I love spending time with calm people. My dad is one of those people. He is quick to listen and slow to speak. He takes each moment as it comes and refuses to worry about what he can’t control. There is something so healing about being around calm people— people who are at ease with themselves and others, who aren’t trying to prove anything, and who refuse to hurry and rush. These people seem to lower the heart rate of the room just by entering.

As I’ve observed calm people and tried to learn their secrets, I’ve noticed several strategies that I’m trying to practice.

Calm people breathe. This is a simple, but powerful observation. I’ve noticed that when I’m anxious, sometimes I forget to breathe! Therefore, taking long, deep breaths is so helpful in the midst of anxiety.

Calm people talk slowly. When I’m stressed out, I start talking faster and faster. It’s amazing how just slowing down my pace of speech calms down my body. I even find that my heart rate slows down when I slow down my speech.

Calm people do one thing at a time. There is so much danger in multi-tasking. I’ve read a lot of research that suggests that multi-tasking actually decreases our productivity. But even more importantly, multi-tasking makes it difficult to be fully present in the moment. Therefore, when I’m stressed out or anxious, I’m trying to discipline myself to focus on one task or activity before completing the next.

Calm people stop. This is probably the most important strategy for embracing calm. In a frenetic culture of constant doing, it’s difficult to stop and just be still. However, I think that moments of stillness are actually the birthplace of calm. I need time in the quiet to be with Jesus and experience His peace.

Calm people embrace imperfection. As a recovering perfectionist this is a challenging one for me. However, I’ve noticed that I’m so much calmer when I let go of the pressure to do things perfectly. There’s something freeing about simply allowing a task to go undone.

I want to close by sharing this sermon by John Mark Comer of Bridgetown Church:

I hope this sermon speaks to you and encourages you as it did for me. I was deeply impacted by John Mark’s emphasis on becoming a “non-anxious presence”. I love how he points to Jesus as the ultimate example of what a non-anxious presence looks like. Jesus is our perfect model of a life free from anxiety, filled with calm and peace.

And oh how our world needs this! In our currently frenetic and chaotic society, our world desperately needs people committed to calm.

I am so far from that.

But I’m thankful that we have a God who can transform us from people of fear and anxiety to people of peace and calm.

Facing Disappointment and Loss

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

Proverbs 13:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of disappointment. As human beings, God has made us with deep desires and longings. We are hardwired to hope for what is good. However, we also live in a fallen world where all is not as it should be. As a result, we all get disappointed.

The other day I realized that basically everyone in the world right now is facing some kind of disappointment or loss— loved ones, health, jobs, sports seasons, in-person connection, favorite hang out spots, anticipated trips or events— the list could go on and on. Our culture is collectively dealing with inordinate amounts of loss.

Therefore, I wanted to share a few strategies that help me navigate disappointment when it surfaces in my own life.

Acknowledging loss: In our culture we are often tempted to minimize our losses. Especially when other people are facing intense tragedy, it can feel insensitive to acknowledge our own disappointments. When people are losing loved ones or their jobs, a missed Spring Break trip can seem insignificant. While some losses do impact us more than others, I believe that God sees and cares about the full spectrum of our disappointments.

Therefore, I think that facing our disappointments, from the the big ones to the seemingly insignificant ones, is healthy. And since loss is such a universal human experience, facing our own losses actually helps us to empathize with the losses of others.

Healthy grieving: Once we’ve named our disappointment we need to grieve it. And it’s okay to feel sad and even angry. In fact, I think it’s necessary.

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazerro talks about the importance of embracing grieving and loss. His perspective has been so helpful to me. He writes:

“Our culture routinely interprets losses as alien invasions that interrupt our normal lives. We numb our pain through denial, blaming, rationalizations, addiction, and avoidance. We search for spiritual shortcuts around our wounds… Sadly the result of denying and minimizing our wounds over many years is that we become less and less human, empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces.”

Peter Scazerro, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

As Scazerro points out, grieving is both necessary and Biblical. Have you ever noticed that two-thirds of the Psalms are laments of grief? The Bible even describes Jesus as a “man of sorrow” and “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). In my opinion, part of following Jesus is accepting grief and loss. Grief isn’t just an annoying interruption to our lives that we need to quickly pass through. Instead it’s an important process that has the potential to shape us, grow us, and deepen our intimacy with God. It is always safe to grieve in the presence of God.

Refusing self-pity: There is such a difference between grieving and self-pity. In my experience, grieving draws me closer to God and His comforting love. In contrast, self-pity distances me from God and from others. When we dwell in self-pity, we start to doubt God’s goodness and guidance in our lives. We compare our losses to other people and feel like no one can understand what we’re going through. Hannah Hurnard writes about self-pity in her book Kingdom of Love. She says:

“There is no prison house so cruel as the prison of resentment and self-pity, and the effect on those who languish long in that bondage is to suffer a progressively destructive influence on character, personality, and physical health.”

-Hannah Hurnard, Kingdom of Love

What a sobering truth. While grieving is important and Biblical, self-pity is a dangerous trap to be avoided.

Gratitude: When I get stuck in disappointment, I tend to focus on what is missing. I obsess about the missing puzzle pieces, while ignoring the rest of the picture. Therefore in seasons of disappointment, I believe that gratitude is especially essential. Gratitude retrains our minds to focus on all that is present instead of dwelling on what is lacking. And it reteaches our hearts to trust the goodness and kindness of God.

As someone with a tendency towards pessimism, I’ve found it helpful to write down several things I’m thankful for each day. This has done wonders for my thought life.

Looking for new appointments: Recently I was talking to another woman about her experience with disappointment. She suggested that the “dis” words (like disbelief, discouragement, and disappointment) are all strategies of the enemy. God’s invitation to each of us is the opposite of those words. For example, in our disbelief, God wants to give us deeper belief. When we feel discouraged, God wants to give us deeper courage. And when we feel disappointed, God invites us into new appointments.

I just love this perspective. Rather than seeing disappointment as a dead end, we can view it as a door to something new. When we feel disappointed, we can ask God, “What is my new appointment?” or “How do you want me to use this time instead?” Although God allows disappointments in our lives, He doesn’t want us to stay stuck there.

As a Christian, I believe that death means that resurrection is coming.

Endings mean that there are new beginnings.

And disappointment means that there is a new appointment.

We just need to have eyes to see it.