This summer, I hope to experience a slower schedule, time to focus on relationships and the opportunity to regroup and listen to God. Truth: That doesn’t happen unless I get intentional about it.
On of the ways I am slowing down is by mapping out what I want to accomplish this summer within a reasonable timeframe. I am trying not to take on too much while also building more margin in my schedule. I still have my usual responsibilities so I have to get creative! On my days off, I am really trying to take the day off. This may require me to work a little more on necessary things through the week but it’s so worth it!
A bad habit I started which I thought was giving me a jump-start on my day is checking my email on my phone when I wake up. I realize this is stealing my focus first thing in the morning and the emails will be there an hour later. When I spend the first part of my day focusing on God, I am way more productive and able to handle things led by Him. So I decided to change this!
Being intentional meant finding several different ways to spend my morning with God. Here are some of the things I am doing but not all in the same day!
- Bible Reading – I have a great reading plan I’m working through and I have been experiencing the living Word this summer! Even if it’s a passage I have read many times, God is faithful to bring a fresh perspective and truth.
- Worship – I love worship. I am not the best singer but I don’t think God cares. I turn worship music on in the morning and I carry it around with me wherever I am in the house and even when I move to my car.
- Listening – In the past I have gotten caught up in having to read or pray or worship to the point where I am not really listening. When I listen to what God is putting in my heart or how he wants me to see a situation, my perspective changes and my stress diminishes. My best environment to listen is when I’m on a walk or sitting on my porch.
- Devotional Study – I love understanding who God is through what he reveals to others. Sometimes hearing what someone else has been through helps bring clarity where we need it most. My go to devotional right now is A Confident Heart by Renee Swope. Many of the Clubhouse team are reading through it currently and this is what Natalie had to say about it:
“I constantly have doubted who I am and if true faith and trust in God was in me. In A Confident Heart, Renee Swope shares her own struggles and how when we understand who Christ is in us, the confidence in God and faith in Him comes.
Renee speaks in terms that are so relatable through her own stories and victories! This book is helping me refocus on the truth and principles I learned in Freedom and gave me more proof of God’s love for me. . I am not letting abandonment and rejection from my past define me.”
What are some things you are doing to be intentional with your time this summer?
I was talking with a group of moms with young children when one of them asked me about parenting. I think she posed the question, “If you could boil it down to one thing, what would you give as advice for raising kids?”
WOW! That’s a tough question! I couldn’t imagine only one piece of advice that would encompass the broad, changing, challenging journey of raising kids! I paused and I really believe the Holy Spirit reminded me of a common theme God has spoken to me that answers her question and also applies to every one whether they are raising kids or not.
Do Hard Things.
The devil (the thief) is always trying to get us to take the easy way out. He wants us to over commit, not deal with issues, avoid pain, and get into unhealthy patterns in our relationships. He wants us to settle for the mediocre, status quo, second best and bare minimum. And, if he can get us to cave into this in our parenting, even better!
“A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.” John 10:10 MSG
Making the harder, more “painful in the moment” choice in order to have a long term result is more valuable and lasting. Our flesh craves comfort, ease and instant gratification. Building a life of faith takes work, time, and pushing through pain. The rich and satisfying life that Jesus makes available to us, a better life than we ever dreamed of, requires doing some hard things.
Here’s what Do Hard Things looks like with kids:
- When your 2 year old is pitching a fit and you’re tempted to give in, don’t. Even if it means the fit continues.
- When your kids are having a bad day and you have plans with friends, maybe the hard thing would be to stay home and work on training.
- Consider how you are communicating with your kids at any age, are you getting down on their level? Are you putting into terms they understand? Are you giving the conversation the time it needs? Are you giving them too much information all at once?
- When you have negative default patterns in your family dynamics, ask God how to make changes for the better.
- When you want to avoid pain for your kids, ask yourself if this is an opportunity for them to grow. Consider steering them into the pain while you are available to walk them through it. The world will throw them many more opportunities to deal with pain and you will be glad you gave them a safe place to figure it out with you.
Here’s what Do Hard Things looks like in this season of my life:
- Have a crucial conversation when it’s necessary.
- Say “no” when you’re tempted to say “yes” because you feel bad.
- Follow through with the intentional choices when the pressure is on to give in.
Over the past few weeks, I have had the weirdest things going on. I was calling it random but now I’m beginning to suspect that it’s not random at all.
I had a filling replaced about 4 weeks ago and have had nagging pain in my mouth ever since. I tweaked my back and my neck is in knots. I don’t have allergies but this pollen is really getting the best me! That’s just the physical stuff, I’ll spare you the rest of the list… and now I’m whining.
I know there are people who are facing more difficult situations than I am. At times, that thought causes me to just suck it up and deal with my little aches, pains and issues and try not complain.
The problem with this thought is it also causes me to discount that there could be any spiritual connection to what’s happening. I ignore the truth that God is using all things in my life to work out his purpose in me. And, the devil is looking for any opportunity that he can to bring discouragement and cause me to lose my focus.
“Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.” Romans 8:26-28 MSG
To know that the Holy Spirit knows me and knows my condition and keeps me present before God is huge! I try not to give the devil too much credit but I don’t want to ignore his attempts either.
So, this is what I do:
- I look at the pattern and actually make a list of all the things that are getting me down at the moment.
- I lay them out before God and ask Him to show me if there is a theme to this madness. Am I too busy? Have I neglected to take care of myself? Is there a problem I am avoiding? What does God have to say about all this?
- I take authority over every plan the devil has to distract me and steal my focus. I break any agreement I’ve made that doesn’t line up with the truth of God’s Word. Basically, I kick the devil to the curb!
- I go through my day listening to what the Holy Spirit wants to reveal to me and I ask God for healing… in my body, my relationships, my spiritual life, whatever needs healing.
- I get back to beginning my day in His Word! I resist the urge to put it off until later, and reading early helps me keep my focus on God.
What do you do to connect back to God when life just seems to be hard?
Family dinners have always been important to me but I have to confess, it can be a battle to find a time that works for everyone. Busy schedules, band practice, and other commitments constantly pull us away from the table. Not to mention the times I don’t know what to cook, I forgot to thaw the chicken, someone has an attitude, or they’re just too picky! When I want to give up, I dig in, fight through and remember these truths:
- It doesn’t happen unless it’s on the calendar. As our kids have grown and their schedules become more complicated, we all have to talk about it and choose our family dinner nights. We’ve eaten as early as 4:30 and as late as 8:00 just to have a few meals together each week. Because everyone is part of the decision, they make more of an effort to be there.
- It’s not about the food. I have gone from cooking for 5 with a few picky eaters to cooking for more than 10 at Sunday lunch. My worry has changed from “will they eat this” to “will there be enough”! I won’t deny that food has to be part of the focus. But both home cooked or take out can bring your family around the table for connection and conversations.
- It’s about the people. We have tried to create an atmosphere where friends are welcome but cell phones aren’t. We call it being “fully present”. We’re not perfect at it but putting cell phones away at dinner gives us a better chance at connecting with those in our presence. Sharing Highs and Lows of the day is a great way to get everyone, youngest to oldest, talking and the memories you are making are priceless!
- You may need a bigger table. I started making a big Sunday Lunch when I realized it was one of the few times we were all available and it’s become a Bonham tradition. I admit though, some days I’m tired and I don’t feel like cooking or setting the table. But when the door opens and one more walks in, I see how my kids welcome their friends and it motivates me to keep going. I was glad to buy a bigger table… some things are worth the investment!
- It’s worth it! At this point in life, I see my efforts paying off. Our kids are in their early 20s now and not all living at home, but everyone still looks forward to the connection that happens when we come back to the table. When we are face to face, talking and listening, laughing and fighting it out, family is found. Our relationships are richer because of the meals we have shared together and the people who have sat with us along the way.
So don’t let the excuses of being too busy keep you from connecting. Talk to your family and friends and decide when you will come to the table. You won’t regret it!
Have you ever made arrangements to have people over and your day didn’t go the way you planned? You were late getting home and the clean up you thought you would have time for didn’t happen. You end up running around throwing things in closets and cabinets to straighten up. For me, everything gets piled up on the washer and dryer. I mean a huge pile! It’s pretty ridiculous. I pray no one opens the laundry room door because while my house looks orderly and clean on the surface, behind that door is a mess!
One of my biggest struggles is keeping my relationships and responsibilities in the right order in my life. Many times, I have good intentions but what ends up happening is I look like I have it all together on the outside but if you talk to my kids or my husband, or my friends, they might feel differently. Years ago, I heard a question posed to a woman in leadership, ”How do you keep your priorities balanced? God, Husband, Kids, Ministry, Friends, etc…?” Her answer was simple: “If I keep God in first place in my life, everything else will be brought to my attention when it needs attention.”
She wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t have a plan to spend time on our important relationships and responsibilities. She was saying that when we make our relationship with God our first priority and we invite Him into our schedule each day, He leads us. If something needs some extra attention, He will prompt us and help us make the time.
So what does it look like for God to be first in my life? I think it starts with inviting God to be in charge of each day. Trusting that He can use anything that happens to bring me closer to Him and show me where He is working. Putting God first is my choice every day. When I do, my relationship with Him will grow … instead of reading a few verses in my bible, I might read a chapter. I’ll find myself praying and inviting Him to direct my steps when decisions need to be made. When things go different than I planned, I look to Him to help me figure it out and I am much more peaceful because I know He is in control.
Here is a simple prayer that may help you.
God, you know the things that are most important in my life. You know all the things I am responsible for. As I make my plans, you see where I need to make adjustments. I invite you to interrupt me and point out the areas I may not see. Lead me today so that you are first place in my life and I am doing what you want me to do. Amen
Some people are goal-setting folks while others are not. My husband Chris, enters a new year thinking about what he wants to accomplish. He always has a list of things he is going to do and gets excited thinking about them, planning how he will accomplish them, setting goals for meeting the goals, and sharing them with the family. On January 1st… He’s off!
Me… I’m more of a “let’s see what this year will bring” girl. I have anticipation about the season I’m entering and like to look for the themes happening in my life. I am not completely without plans and dreams but I definitely approach things differently than my husband.
I used to feel pressure to make a list of resolutions and promises for the year but now the pressure is off. While I do not make a list of goals, I do set aside time to ask God for His direction and plans. Sometimes I start the year with a fast. Sometimes I start by reading a certain book in the Bible. One year, I went on a prayer retreat starting New Years Eve. Even though my method never looks the same, God always gives me fresh eyes to see where He wants me to go or what I need to pay more attention to.
As I look back over the past five years, I see areas of growth I never expected. Each year had highs and lows but as I have been open to God in the midst of those experiences, I have changed. Some highs: I started running triathlons, went on my first mission trip, read a book a month several years ago and one year, only read my bible. Some lows: the pain of loss, unexpected stress, and watching those I love go through trials. The point is that through all those things, God changed me.
So as you prepare for this New Year, take time to identify the themes of last year as you ask God to lead you in 2012. If you are a goal-setter, keep in mind that it’s not about the goals as much as the journey and growth. If you’re like me and focus more on the journey, make sure you pay attention to opportunities where God is challenging and stretching you. No matter what your personality, remember that when you lean into God and yield to His plans, He can make more progress, help you see the needs around you, use it all to bring fame to His name and change you along the way. Approach the New Year with expectancy and see what God does!
I read a book a last year by Anne Jackson that I couldn’t put down. She had asked the question “What is one thing you feel you can’t say in church?” Her book, Permission to Speak Freely is the result of the responses she received about everything from struggling with trying to be accepted all the way to addictions and depression.
Anne writes about finally admitting her personal struggles and being willing to talk about them, sharing the trials and victories in her life and the goodness and grace of God that came when she learned to speak freely. The focus of the book is to help us begin the tough conversations that will ultimately lead us into the healing that God has for us. She invites her readers to talk about the tough stuff that typically isn’t talked about in church.
One of the things I love about the book is when she talks about the Gift of Going Second… When you confess or reveal something first, it allows others the freedom to follow, giving a gift that keeps moving forward. I am a very visual learner so the picture of handing someone a gift when I share my story of pain or shame or struggle really spoke to me. I know how much better I feel when I finally open up and confess. Sometimes we just need someone to go first!
In this book, Anne Jackson is careful to point out that she hasn’t figured everything out and she’s still on the journey. And while I have not experienced everything Anne has been through, I did identify with the shame sin causes in our lives and the risk she took to open up. I now know that by me being myself, not hiding behind a false perception, I might encourage someone else to speak freely too.