Let’s Talk About Loneliness (Designed: Emotions)

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Unknown.  Unwanted.  Unseen.  Unheard.  Untouched.  Undesired.  Unchosen.  Unwanted.  Unneeded.  LONELY!

“It doesn’t matter if I am in a dark room all alone, or in a crowd of strangers, or even in the company of people who are supposed to love me….loneliness is there.  I feel empty.  Completely drained.  I long for relationship, for connection; yet I have no energy to put into any relationships.  All day long I paste on a smile and pretend to be happy so no one will know that I am dying inside.”

According to Elizabeth Bernstein’s article in the Wall Street Journal, Alone or Lonely, the rate of loneliness in the U.S. has doubled over the past thirty years.  At the present time about 40% of Americans report being lonely.

Currently loneliness is an epidemic, and quickly becoming health crises.  Emotional isolation is ranked as high a risk factor for mortality as smoking. A partial list of the physical diseases thought to be caused or exacerbated by loneliness would include Alzheimer’s, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, neurodegenerative diseases, and even cancer—tumors can metastasize faster in lonely people.  (https://newrepublic.com/article/113176/science-loneliness-how-isolation-can-kill-you)

So, exactly what is loneliness?  Loneliness is a feeling of social disconnectedness in which a person wishes that he or she had better social relationships.   It is also defined as being isolated or unfrequented by friends.  Based on this definition it is clear that a person doesn’t need to be alone to feel lonely.  One can also feel lonely while still desiring and needing time of solitude.  The difference is this:  loneliness feels draining, distracting and upsetting; while solitude feels restorative, creative and peaceful.

Types of Loneliness.  There are many types of loneliness that are generated from a variety of unique situations, experiences, and thoughts.

  • I don’t have a romantic partner.
  • Others don’t have time for me.
  • I just want someone around when I am home.
  • I want someone to do things with.
  • There is no one who really knows me.
  • I’m in a new situation/job/location/school and don’t really know anyone.
  • I’m different from everyone else.  I can’t find anyone who shares my beliefs, values, or interests.
  • I don’t know anyone I can really trust.

As you can see from the list about it is much more than simply having a romantic attachment.  Many people need BOTH a social circle of friends and an intimate attachment to one specific person.

HERE ARE SOME OF THE POTENTIAL INDICATORS:

Physical response:  Depression.  Crying.  Numbness. Lack of pleasure.  Lack of interest. Decreased immunity.  Inflammation.  Decreased pain tolerance.  Increased risk for disease.  Poor sleep.  Increased engagement in dangerous or illicit behaviors.  Isolation.  Feeling empty.

Thoughts about self: I am unwanted.  I am all alone.  I am empty.  I am unworthy.  There is something wrong with me.  I am not enough.

Thoughts about God: God doesn’t care.  God made me this way.

Our action/tendency/response:   Ironically, when we are lonely our tendency is to isolate, withdraw and hide.

Communication: Loneliness says:  I cannot make friends.  No one wants to be with me.  I am not worthy of others time.  

Loneliness indicates a need to connect with others on a more personal or intimate level.   It will involve risk.  It may feel uncomfortable, but is needed.  Loneliness is killing us!  We were never designed to do life alone.  So it is vital to your health that you make and maintain some close connections with others.  Sadly, people who are lonely crave human contact and intimacy, but their state of mind makes it difficult to connect with others.  So, in order to get this need met you will have to battle your instincts and thoughts and press into relationships.

So what can I do? 

Practice small talk with people you encounter throughout your day.  I admit I was never a huge fan of small talk.  That is until I moved into an area where I knew no one.  I longed for those deeper connections and long conversations, but there was no one with whom I could have those conversations.  In the absence of those deep connections I quickly learned to LOVE the people who were willing to take the risk and work to engage me in small talk.

If you are a self identified introvert and not currently a fan of small talk let me tickle your intellect with this reminder…LONELINESS IS KILLING OUR SOCIETY!  Your attempts at small talk, no matter how awkward, might be the avenue that helps another human being feel connection and warmth.  In addition, it may be the door way through which you have to pass to make that one friend you desire to have.  It is a skill you can develop to use which will help you grow as a person while making the world a friendlier place to live.

So since it is a skill, here are a few tips and suggestions:

  • Eye contact-Moderate eye contact:  Somewhere between total avoidance and a death stare.
  • Smile-One that comes naturally or where you gently lift the corners of your mouth with your facial muscles:  Wide forced smiles with all your teeth showing look creepy.
  • Handshakes-Somewhere in the middle of a wet fish and a bone crushing death grip.
  • Proximity-About an adult arm length away.  If an infant child can stick her fingers in your mouth YOU ARE TOO CLOSE!
  • Volume: Medium inside voice.  If you are too quite, they will ask what you said and thus prolong the torture of having to engage in the small talk.

Small Talk Progression and Topics:

  • Start with a pleasant greeting and acknowledgement (Ex. “Hi” “It’s good to see you.”  “I’m glad you could come.” “What is your name?”
  • Discuss the weather
  • Give a compliment
  • Share an observation about the surrounding environment or situation
  • Ask an open ended questions:  “Where are you from?”  “What brought you here?”  “How’s your day going?”,   “How do you like or what do you think about  (XYZ) so far?”  etc.
  • End with a good-bye and eye contact: “Bye”, “Stay safe”, “Take care”, “Nice meeting you”, “Have a blessed day.”

You don’t need to carry on a long conversation.  You are just working on talking for a couple of seconds…maybe it will lead to a friendship down the road, or maybe you will just be a bright spot in someone’s day helping them feel a little less lonely.

Invest in nurturing others.  Another way to grow your community and help alliveate loneliness is to care for other people or animals.  Help out at an animal shelter, serve with people to promote a cause, take care of an elderly person or child.  This will foster altruistic feelings in you, will help someone else, and will help fill some of the emptiness.

Proximity and repetition are fundamental when establishing relationships.  It has been proven that as long as you are mutually kind you will become friends with the people you see most often.  So, one way to increase your friendship circle is to be kind and put yourself in situations where you will see the same people over and over again; join a class or committee, go to the same store or hairdresser, attend a church, join a gym, go the same park or venue often, etc.

Time. Relationships take time to form.  You will have to have at least 6-8 conversations with a person before they begin to consider you a friend.  From there you will be able to decide if this is a person you want to develop a deeper level of connection with versus someone you would like to keep as an acquaintance.

Real Life Relationships (RLR).  If there is one thing that social media has taught us is that it is that social media is not a substitute for having real life friends.  Having many friends on social media who hardly know you is NOT a protective factor against loneliness.  If I have 700 Facebook friends and Instagram followers, but no one who interacts with me regularly in a close and intimate way, then chances are I will still feel incredibly lonely.  The only way to combat loneliness is to engage in real life relationships.  There are 3 keys to developing RLR:

  • 1.) Take the risk of being vulnerable, sharing my thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • 2.) Invest my most valuable resource (time).  All RLR will take time to develop.
  • 3.) Learn to be trustworthy with other people’s secrets, faults, and failures.  To have a good friend, you must practice being a good friend.

Quality versus Quantity.   When combating loneliness it is important to develop a few high quality relationships.  These are the people who you will invest your life in and those who you will allow to invest in you.  It is not important to have many friends, just a few select friends that you will allow to know the real you, the messy you, the you that you don’t show to everyone else.

(For more on this topic see Developing Your Tribe:  (https://confidenthope.blog/2018/04/10/developing-your-tribe/ )

Dealing with LONELINESS?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Identify which type or types of loneliness are you currently suffering from?

2.) Reflect on if there was ever a time you were not suffering from this type of loneliness.  What did it look like?  How were you involved in the relationship?

3.) Identify one way in which you could begin to counter act they type of loneliness you are experiencing.

4.)  Challenge yourself to engage in that activity at least once this week.

5.)  Document and reflect on how it went and how you felt.

6.)  Challenge yourself to combat loneliness for others by reaching out to them at least once this week.

7.)  Make an effort to get to know the people in the community you are a part of:  where you live, where you work, where you shop, and where you play.

MEDITATION:

We were never designed to live in isolation.  God created us for relationship.  We are created in the very image of God who himself is a model of relationship in the attribute of the trinity.  We serve one God, who is triune in nature.  Meaning he is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  All acting in accordance and unity together.  We as humans are created in that very same relational manner.  In fact, in Genesis it talks about this very topic.  After each thing that God created he commented “and it was good.”  However, after he created man He said “it is not good for man to be alone.”  At that point he created Eve.  Right from the beginning in paradise it was necessary for people to have relationship!  All through out scripture it talks about the dangers of being alone and the commands to engage in relationships; along with the principles for living successfully in those relationships.

Loneliness can feel like a slow death.  Some of the saddest moments in scripture are when individuals felt alone or abandoned.  I believe that is why God reminds us so often that He will NEVER leave us nor forsake us.  While you may experience moments or seasons of loneliness, it is never His will that you do life alone.  Those moments are to serve as reminders of our need for community.  God will meet that need for intimacy through other people as we reach out and risk being known and knowing others.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

I feel so alone.  I long for community.  I long for close friends that I can laugh with and share with and do things with.  I miss having someone to call my own.  I can feel the ache for companionship deep inside me.  Yet I have to confess there is also a part of me that doesn’t want to risk being hurt again.  I don’t want to invest all the time and energy into someone else just to be let down and beaten up.  I don’t want to go through all the small talk, all the getting to know you phases……but I do want the closeness, the familiarity, the comfortableness.  Will I ever have the energy to build those types of relationships again?  Will anyone even want to build that kind of relationship with me?  Sometimes I just feel like all the good friends and partners are already taken. 

Do you even care that I feel lonely?  That I long for companionship?  That I miss the warmth of being loved and cared for?  Is that even something that I can pray for?  I know that you love me, but sometimes I just long for love that comes in human form.

I am asking that you please bring people into my life.  Allow me the chance to love others.  Give me courage to share who I am and to seek out the treasures of who they are.  Show me how to love and how to connect.  You are the perfect example of relationship and love.  Help me to live and love as you have called me to do.  Help disspel my loneliness as I give my love to others.  It is a mystery how giving love away could actually fill me up….but I trust that you do actually work in those mysterious ways.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18)

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families,he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. (Psalm 68:5-6)

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. (Psalm 25:16)

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3)

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24)

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:18)

 

Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Let’s Talk About Grief and Depression (Designed: Emotions)

FB_IMG_1542070397682There she sat, staring at the floor with her shoulders slouched.  Her voice was small and shaky.  “How do you feel?” I asked.

“I feel fine, I guess.”  Weighted silence filled the room, before she took a deep breath and continued, “Honestly, I guess I feel kind of numb.  I’m really not sure how I feel.  I cry every time I step into the shower, or am driving my car, or if someone I love asks me how I am doing.  I don’t know what it is.  I just break out into tears.”  Her eyes began to water, and then her breathing changed and made way for sobs.

“Do you think you might be depressed?”  I asked.

“I don’t think so.  I have so many good things.  I can’t be depressed.  I mean life is hard for everyone……” and she continued on with her list of reasons why she couldn’t possibly be depressed.

Sometimes the depression is so deep and long standing, and you have tolerated it for so long that you no longer even recognize it as depression.   But there it lingers, causing havoc and chaos where you once had peace, contentment, and joy….now those things seem like a million light years away, a fantasy that was maybe never even real to begin with.

No one likes to admit to feeling depressed.  It is such a powerless, hopeless feeling.  Yet, all of us at times will feel the weight of depression in varying degrees and for various lengths of time.

Let’s take a closer look at that heavy feeling that causes you to feel like you are dragging around a 100 pound weight.  What exactly are the differences between sadness and depression?

According to Miriam-Webster dictionary; GRIEF is a “deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement” where as DEPRESSION is defined as “a state of feeling sad”.  Both involve degrees of sadness. Both grief and depression have many similarities in how they present, but the course they take and how they are treated is often quite different.  So let’s take a moment and examine each one separately before we look at the similarities.

GRIEF:  Grief can be caused by almost any type of loss, the most obvious being  a death.  However, one can also experience grief at the loss of a marriage, relationship, job, home, dream, ability etc.  Grief is a normal reaction to loss.  Typically, the grieving process includes five different stages:  1.) Denial 2.)Anger 3.)Bargaining 4.)Depression 5.)Acceptance.  Through the grieving process you will go through each of these stages at some point.  However, the stages aren’t linear; you do not go from stage 1, to 2, to 3, to completion.  It is far more common that you you will vacillate between different stages at different points until finally the intensity of your grief begins to subside. There is no designated amount of time for grieving.  The process will take varying amounts of time depending on the individual and the type of loss or losses that were experienced.  The treatment for grieving is simply time to work through the grieving process and a strong support system that will be patient and loving while you do the hard work of grieving.

DEPRESSION:  Depression can be a  normal response to a life situation, such as a loss or set back.  Or it can be a response to hormones, such as during a woman’s menstrual cycle or menopause.  Lastly, it can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.  The cause of the depression will dictate which type of treatment and interventions will work.

Here are some potential indicators of grief and/or depression:

Physical Responses: Crying, fatigue, aches and pains, increased sensitivity to stress and pain, forgetfulness, inability to focus, decreased appetite, lack of energy, decreased immunity, lack of pleasure, excessive sleeping, restlessness, stomach aches, digestive issues, loneliness, letting responsibilities slide, poor hygiene.

Thoughts about Self: I am hopeless.  I will never change.  I am alone.  Things will never get better.  I would be better off dead.  Others would be better off without me.

Thoughts about God:  God is punishing me.  God doesn’t care about how I feel.  God has abandoned me.

Our action/tendency/response: Slow down. Withdraw. Isolate.

Men and women tend to manage their emotions differently especially when it comes to grief and depression.  Here are some of the distinguishing factors  in how the expression of depression may differ between women vs. men:

  • Women feel anxious and scared; men feel guarded
  • Women blame themselves for the depression; men blame others
  • Women commonly feel sad, worthless, and apathetic when depressed; men tend to feel irritable and angry
  • Women are more likely to avoid conflicts when depressed; men are more likely to create conflicts
  • Women turn to food and friends to self-medicate; men turn to alcohol, TV, sex, or sports to self-medicate
  • Women feel lethargic and nervous; men feel agitated and restless
  • Women easily talk about their feelings of self-doubt and despair; men hide feelings of self-doubt and despair-considering it a sign of weakness

*(https://www.psycom.net/depression.central.women.html)

Communication: There has been a loss. Things are not as they should be.

NEEDS. If there has been a loss of any type, big or small, there is a need to grieve and there will likely be some feeling of depression.   If the depression is stemming from a chemical or hormonal imbalance, medication may be needed.  It is always possible that working through the grieving process, in addition to lifestyle modifications and medication may be needed.

Reminder. While it would be great if you could just “cheer up and be happy” it doesn’t always work like that.   Changing the feelings associated with depression and grieving are a lot like trying to turn the Titanic around.  It’s a big job! A good place to begin, as you embark on the task of improving how you feel, is to take some control of your actions and thoughts.  This is where you have some power!  You have the right to all of your emotions.  Including your sadness, grief, and depression.  Honestly, sometimes it is healthy to sit with the sadness for a moment, to honor a memory, a loved one, or a dream.  Eventually, you will have a responsibility that will require you to move on and re-enter the world. At that point it is your responsibility to seek out whatever you need to improve those heavy emotions; it might be socialization, skills, lifestyle change, or medication.  Whatever it is you have a responsibility to get what you need to not be controlled by those emotions.  Remember, emotions are there to serve you, to help point out your needs, to allow you to have empathy for others.  They are not meant to crush or control you.

So, what can I do?

1.)  Here are some ideas if you are grieving a loss:  A.) Journal your loss, your feelings, and your process B.) Pray or meditate C.) Make a scrap book of memories D.) Visit with friends and family that love you, be open about what you are feeling and needing

2.)  Get a physical examination to determine if your depression has a physical cause such as a chemical or hormonal imbalance

3.) Get some physical exercise EVERY DAY!  Physical exercise releases the endorphins (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) in your brain which are natural mood regulators.  A daily dose of sunshine will increase those positive benefits.

4.)  Maintain a regular daily routine for meals and sleeping.   This will help restore balance to your system which will help regulate your emotions.

5.)  Be sure to create some small, measurable goals each day that you can achieve.  This will create a sense of accomplishment.

6.)  Do some thing that you used to enjoy.  Read a book, take a walk, play with a pet, watch a funny show or movie, listen to music, take a bubble bath, or create something.  Sometimes your emotions will change once you start engaging in the activity.

7.)  Challenge your thoughts.  Depression has a way of making everything look negative.  Saturate your mind with truth.  When you are facing negative self talk and negative thoughts; ask yourself, what would you say to a friend who was having those kinds of thoughts.

8.)  Depression breeds in isolation.  Talk with trusted friends or a counselor about things that are going on in your life.  Talking with people you trust can bring new insights and fuel hope.

9.)  If necessary take medication.  Some depression is from a chemical imbalance and truly needs medication.  For this type of depression the best results come from a combination of medication, lifestyle change, and talk therapy.  There is no shame in reaching out to get the help that you need.

Dealing with GRIEF AND DEPRESSION?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Don’t let despair dictate your decisions.  I am reminded of the story of the Battle of Jericho.  Read the story in Joshua 5:13-6:27.  This is the second time the Israelites have come to the walls of Jericho.  The city is fortified and closed up, there is no way of getting in; but God has promised them victory.  God sets forth his plan.  They are to march around the city one time for six days in a row making no noise.  On the seventh day they are to march around the city seven times and then blow the trumpets and shout.  When they did that the walls came crashing down and the Israelites were able to go right in and take the victory that belonged to them.  Imagine if the Israelites gave up on the sixth lap around the city.  What if they had allowed what looked like a waste of time and energy, fuel their hopelessness and feed their despair?  They would have have walked away dejected and  never seen the victory, the would have never gotten the blessing that God wanted to give them.  They would have walked back to their homes defeated.  Instead in this moment they chose to trust God, obey his commands, and believe that things would be better in the future just as He had promised.

Question:  What feels hopeless?  What dreams and desires feel like they will never come to fruition? What has God asked you to do?

Are you willing to continue taking laps until your victory?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

2.)  Build and alter.  Remember the things God has already done for you.  By remembering what God has already done, you will be increase your faith and your mood will not need to be dependent on your current circumstances.  Throughout the old testament God instructed his people to build alters as a reminder of what he had done.  In Joshua 4, after God parted the Jordan river for the Israelites, He instructed them to build an alter of remembrance.  He had them do this so that they would remember his might and power.  Whenever the Israelites would come into hard times that could look back at that visual representation and remember God’s ability to provide and rescue them.

Question:  What are some miracles God has done in your life?  How has He come through for you in the past?

Do you have things in your home that remind you of those victories (journals, notes, pictures)?  Rehearse how God has shown his faithfulness, goodness and mercy to you in the past.

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

3.) Remember God is in the resurrection business.  Scripture is laced with a theme of resurrection.  For something to be resurrected it must first die.  There is pain in the process of dying…whether it be the death of a career, a dream, a marriage or a loved one.  There is a sacredness in that space where God chooses to work.  When we have lost everything.  When we are desperate.  That is a space where we can relinquish our control, submit our will and allow God the freedom to work.  Once we release what has died, there is room for God to move in and work his miracles.  God is always taking something that was dead and breathing in new life.  He takes situations that seem hopeless and turns them into miraculous victories.  God promises that pain will only last for a moment.  In Isaiah 61:3 it says “He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of despair”.

Question:  What have you lost that you need to bury?  What is hurting that needs healing?

Are you willing to allow God to create His masterpiece from the rubble of what was?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

4.)  God is never late, He’s never early, He’s always on time.  This is a tough one for me personally.  In the middle of my pain I often feel like God is late.   I long for God to arrive early, for him to comfort me with the plan of what lies ahead as a reward for going through the suffering, but that is simply not how God works.  I imagine that Lazurus’s sisters Martha and Mary were struggling with Jesus’ timing.  In John 11, John tells the story of Lazurus.  Martha and Mary had sent word that their brother was ill and that they needed Jesus to heal him.  These were people who loved Jesus and whom Jesus loved.  Yet, from a human perspective it seems that Jesus stalled.  He didn’t even get to them until days after their brother had died.  Hope was gone.  Jesus didn’t arrive early enough to heal Lazurus.  Right when people were convinced that all hope was lost, this is where Jesus enters the scene and does a the miracle.  He raises Lazurus from the dead.  His timing was perfect for allowing a miracle that couldn’t have been preformed if he had arrived on the scene early.

QUESTION:  What are you waiting on God for?  What do you need him to do?

Are you willing to trust His timing?

The challenge is to NEVER GIVE UP!

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

My heart is so heavy sometimes.  I can barely see through my tears.  My chest actually hurts as I feel my heartbreaking.  I want to move forward but I feel paralyzed by my circumstances.  I am uncertain how to get out of this deep pit that I have fallen into.

I know that you are a God who sees me and who loves me, but I feel alone, small, and abandoned.  I am scared.  Please help me to trust you.  I want to believe that you will create a way out…that you will do a miracle for me.  Remind me that you are still in control and are able to handle all that I am experiencing.  Remind me that no problem is too big for you to solve.  Remind me that you have a plan and a purpose for all of this pain that I am experiencing. 

I can remember times when you have done good things for me.  Thank you for the good things you have given me.  Thank you for the obstacles that I have already overcome.  Thank you for your promise that you never leave me, no matter what I’ve done or have not done.  Thank you for the promise that you are an ever present help in my time of trouble.  I ask that you once again come through on my behalf.

In Jesus Name- Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Story of the Jordan River:  Joshua 4

Story of Jericho: Joshua 6

Story of Lazurus: John 11

The Year of The Lord’s Favor: Isaiah 61

2 Peter 3:8 “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends:  With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”

Proverbs 17:22 “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Proverbs 13:12 “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

 

Brave Heart (Designed: Emotions)

FB_IMG_1534300315645“The deepest pain I ever felt was denying my own feelings to make everyone else comfortable.” (Nicole Lyons) 

There is great pain in rejecting your feelings, denying your needs, disowning your desires,  eventually you starve yourself so much that you die inside.  You no longer even know who you are, you feel so little and insignificant, you loose your voice, your power, your passion and everything that once defined you as an individual.  At first glance one wouldn’t think that our emotions can be such a defining factor in who we are and how we are known.  But the truth is that our emotions are a critical part of who we are and how we are designed.  God gave you your emotions for a reason.  You are created in His image and your emotions are a reflection of that image.  When you deny your emotions you are denying a part of who God is and how he created you to function.

Let’s start by setting the record straight.  Feelings are feelings.  They are not good or bad.  Some are certainly more pleasant to experience then others, but in and of themselves they are neither good nor bad.  Feelings are designed to feel; not to think.  We are to take the information provided by our feelings and couple that with facts in order to make a decision.  If we were to allow our feelings to think for us we would only do what feels good and we would avoid everything that feels bad.  This would certainly put us in a very bad situation in just a short amount of time.

There are three levels of emotions; primary, secondary, and tertiary.  Primary emotions are the body’s first reaction to something that has happened.  These emotions come on almost immediately and are strong and transient. There are eight primary emotions; anger, sadness, fear, joy, interest, surprise, disgust, and shame.  These basic emotions will be experienced in varying combinations and degrees of intensity which create the multitude of feelings one can actually experience.

Secondary emotions are much more complex because they often refer to the feelings you have about the primary emotion.  For example if your child runs into the road you might initially feel fear, but you might also feel and express the secondary emotion of anger.  Secondary emotions are our response to our understanding of the initial emotion.  These emotions may intensify with time.

Tertiary emotions are even more complex then secondary emotions.  Tertiary emotions are the layer of emotions that are on top of the secondary emotions and cover all of the other emotions.

When we allow our emotions to do what they are designed to do they can provide us with valuable information about our needs and our condition.  Just like in our physical bodies we have nerve endings to alert us to danger or pleasure we have emotional nerve endings that alert us to things we need.

Here are some examples: 

When we feel ANGER it let’s us know we need to create and protect our boundaries.

When we feel FEAR  it let’s us know we need safety.

When we feel HAPPINESS it let’s us know we have a level of satisfaction.

When we feel SADNESS it let’s us know we need to grieve.

When we feel GUILT it let’s us know we need to correct something.

When we feel SHAME it let’s us know we need approval or acceptance.

When we feel HURT it let’s us know we need healing.

When we feel LONELY it let’s us know we need relationship.

It is not wrong to have feelings or needs.  You have the right to experience all your feelings and to seek to get your needs met.  Feelings are part of what make you unique and define you as a person.  No one has the right to tell you what you should or shouldn’t feel!  Your feelings are yours and yours alone.  You have the right to express your feelings through words and actions.  However along with this right, there is also a responsibility to express your feelings in such a manner that it doesn’t infringe on the rights of other individuals.  You have the responsibility manage your feelings.  This is done by identifying, acknowledging, accepting and expressing your feelings.  For some people these can be daunting tasks.  Feelings can feel vulnerable, mushy and uncontrollable. Victims of long term abuse and trauma, may have chosen to cut themselves off from their ability to feel in an effort to protect their emotional safety.    Other individuals may have a “quick trigger” when it comes to emotional flare ups and outbursts, this may also act as a protective factor to provide a sense of control and power.

For some individuals it is difficult to identify what emotions they are feeling.  Sometimes it is simply due to not have a large “feeling” word vocabulary.  You may find it helpful to search the internet for a list of feeling words so that you are better able to express your emotions.  For other individuals, particularly for individuals who have cut themselves off from allowing themselves to feel or have needs,  they may not be aware of what they are feeling and will need to take some time to be intentional in thinking about what they are feeling.  This can be done by sitting and paying attention to what you are feeling without judging what emotions you think you should have.  Instead just accept the emotions that you do have.

Sometimes emotions come on so strongly that an individual may worry that they will be completely overtaken by the emotion if they choose to allow themselves to experience it.  In these instances it may help if you allow yourself to experience the emotion and think of, or visualize it as a wave.  Allow yourself to experience the emotion, and remember that it will pass over you and you will again experience calm.  Just like ocean waves will vary in frequency and intensity the same is true for emotions.  Just remember that in time the overwhelming emotions will subside and there will again be peace.

Sometimes the physical, mental and emotional toll that is being experienced seems insurmountable and there is nothing that can be done to change the situation you are experiencing.  In these instances it may be helpful to remember the serenity prayer as you learn to embrace with acceptance the “things you cannot change”.  It may be helpful to have a list of self soothing things you can do to help you get through those challenging moments while you are waiting for the emotions to pass.

DEVOTION: 

David is one of my favorite bible characters.  He was always going to God with all kinds of emotions.  He is filled with passion and that passion translates to life and energy.  I can only imagine the delight on God’s face as David worships Him with his whole being.  How painful it must have been as God watched David fall into the sins of adultery and murder.   However, through it all God loved him, God did not punish him for having the emotions that he had, it was his actions that invoked the consequences, not the emotions.  In fact, even after all of that God refers to David as a man after His own heart.

While we serve and unchanging and faithful God, we certainly do not serve a God that is non-emotional.  In his word he talks about being loving, delighted, angry, jealous, passionate, joyful, sorrowful, and the list goes on and on.  Since we are created in His image we also get to experience all of those emotions.  He understands that we feel fear, desire, sorrow, despair, anger and a vast amount of other emotions.  His heart breaks for those who are suffering.  He sees you in your distress.  He sees  you struggling day in and day out.  He sees you in your happy moments, and rejoices with you.  You are not invisible to him.  Your emotional pain is not invisible to him.  He cares deeply about all that you are going through.  He longs for you to come to him with all of your emotions and to freely express them to Him.

Just like David we all have emotions that are longing and needing to be experienced and expressed.  If we are willing to take our all of our emotions to God, the challenging ones as well as the pleasant ones, we will be less likely to fall into temptation.  God longs to be our comforter, our prince of peace, and our source of hope.  You can confidently bring all your emotions into the presence of God knowing that He understands, accepts, and loves you.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

You turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent Lord my God I will praise you. (Psalm 30:11-12)

Cast your cares on t he Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall.  (Psalm 55:22)

The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed and a stronghold in times of trouble.  (Psalm 9:9)

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.  (Proverbs 4:23)

“I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear;  I will help you.”  (Isaiah 41:13)

I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint,” says the Lord.  (Jeremiah 31:25)

When times are good, be happy; but when times are bad, consider:  God has made the one as well as the other.  (Ecclesiastes 7:14)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart?  I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

You know that I sometimes feel like an emotional mess.  You know that at times I can go from joyous to sobbing to furious to fearful in less then a minute.  I admit that I don’t always appreciate being a hot mess of emotions.  I admit that I often try to ignore my emotions  just get through my day.  Help me to appreciate the fact that I am created in your image and that part of that means that I am emotional.  Give me the courage to experience and express my emotions in ways that will be glorifying to you.  Help me to learn to understand your heart better as I seek to understand and accept my own heart.  Help me to show others who I really am by being willing to be emotionally vulnerable with them.  Keep my eyes open to the needs of others in their suffering just as you are open to me in my suffering.  Thank you for the gift of emotions.  Thank you for caring about how I feel.

In Jesus Name-Amen

REFLECTIONS: Where do you fall the continuum of being cut of from experiencing your emotions to being a raging hot bed full of emotional expression?  What emotions seem to consume most of your days currently?  How good are you at expressing your emotions, needs and desires to others in ways that are honoring to God?  Which of the verses above resonate with you in this moment and why?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS: 1.)  Keep a feelings diary.  Write down one word that describes how you felt in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening, and at night.  Journal about what prompted each of those feelings.  2.)  Find a feelings word guide and practice expressing your feelings using feeling words with people in your life.  For example “I felt happy when you…….” or “I felt hurt when you…..”  3.)  Take some time during the day to acknowledge and experience what you feel in the moment without judging the feeling.  4.) Create a list of positive pleasurable things you can do when your feelings feel like they will overwhelm you. 5.) Read in the book of Psalms and find Psalms that connect with how you are feeling.  Pray that Psalm back to God.

Let’s Talk About Jealousy (Designed: Emotions)

 

 

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Her looks, his money, her fancy house, their marriage, those kids, his success, that ministry, those accomplishments….or even my relationship, my friendships, my belongings, my rights, family: You name it and I can be jealous over it.  Sad to say I am no stranger to this life sucking, vision clouding, strife producing emotion.

We all experience jealousy at one time or another, it is one of the many emotions we experience because we are designed in the image of God but living in a sin filled world in a fallen state.  Our feelings are part of how we are created in the very image of God.  However, it is what we do with our feelings that make a difference.  Remember, feelings are not good or bad; they are simply present.  If I allow my thoughts to feed my jealous feelings then I may take damaging action that is irrevocable.  I may speak words that I later regret or hurt someone in such a way that the relationship is irreparable.  We have a right to feel jealous, but a responsibility to choose to respond in a manner that will help alleviate the pain of the emotion.

Up to this point in the Designed Curriculum we have examined, God, identity, along with the roles of our physical being, our thoughts and our emotions.  Now it is time to see how they are all connected together just as a tree is connected with it’s roots firmly planted in the soil and extending up through it’s trunk.

So, exactly what is jealousy? Jealousy is a secondary emotion that is a combination of sadness, anger, insecurity and fear.  It is defined as:

  • Feeling or showing envy of someone or their achievements and advantages.
  • Feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship.
  • Fiercely protective or vigilant of one’s rights or possessions.

Here are some of the potential indicators of jealousy:

Physical response:  Crying, increased pulse rate, shaking, lack of sleep and sweating. Sometimes accompany the feeling of jealousy are racing or ruminating thoughts.

Thoughts about self:  “I am not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, rich enough etc.”,   “I deserve more.”   “I should have gotten that.”   “I have a right to…..” “This is not fair.”

Thoughts about God:  “God won’t take care of me or meet my needs.”  “God doesn’t care about what I want.”

Our action/tendency/response:  Belittle the other person. Brag about self or accomplishments. Protect at all costs. Attack the other person. Wallow in despair or hopelessness.  Try to “correct” the situation by getting whatever we think we deserve regardless or the cost.

Communication: Jealousy says: This is not fair.   This is mine. I deserve more or better.  I can’t have what I want or need.

Sometimes when our emotions get out of control, or are suppressed, we end up with what I describe as an emotional infection.  An emotional infection is similar to a physical infection.  When a person receives a physical wound and doesn’t engage in measures to protect from infection or seek the proper treatment there is a risk of infection.  The result of the infection can result in varying degrees ranging from mild symptoms to amputation, to death.  Emotional infections are similar to physical infections.  Many times we will be in a situation where we receive an emotional wound.  If we do not attend to that wound our emotions can become inflamed and can result in varying degrees of relational difficulties ranging from increased personal distress, to relational loss, and ultimately to death.  Therefore it is important to pay attention to the state of our emotions and engage in healthy emotional regulation and distress tolerance.

Infected Jealousy.  Jealousy is not a pleasant emotion to experience.  If we let jealousy have free reign in our hearts and continue feeding it with our thoughts it can cause tremendous damage inwardly and outwardly. Inwardly one can experience bitterness, rage, hatred, extreme anxiety, depression and self-loathing.  Outwardly one may end up lying, stealing, or hurting someone.  In some cases jealousy has even led to murder!

As we learned in our last lesson all emotions are designed to give us important information about our needs.  So exactly what does our jealousy indicate and how can we get those needs met?

Jealousy may indicate a need to learn to trust, to be content, or to develop an improvement plan.  Here are some examples:

You may need to learn to trust God.  That he is who he says he is and will do all that he has promised to do.  You can trust him to meet your needs and to provide discovery or protection as necessary.

You may need to learn to trust an individual or process.  If you are worried that a loved one may be cheating on you it can be difficult to trust them because they may not be honest with you. Their behavior or confession will eventually show the truth of what is going on.     By expressing your feelings, thoughts and needs you are allowing the other person an opportunity to help meet those needs.

You may need to learn to be content.  Celebrate what you do have and learn to live without the things you don’t have.  Situations are temporal, they change.  Sometimes you will have a season of plenty and other times a season of want.  You can choose to be content in both scenarios.  Often times it is through the difficult process of learning to accept things as they are in the moment that we learn valuable life lessons, develop strength of character and gain the power that comes from being able to let go.

You may need to develop an improvement plan.  This is a case where jealousy, when correctly focused, can help spur you on to achieve goals or dreams.  Perhaps you are jealous of some one who has attained a goal that you were hoping to obtain.  In this case you may need to learn to press into your goal or revise your plan for obtaining your goal.

So what can I do?  The important thing with jealousy, as with all uncomfortable emotions, is to 1.) acknowledge the emotion, 2.) uncover what is fueling the emotion, 3.) express the emotion in appropriate ways, and 4.) wait for facts before responding with irrevocable actions.

Dealing with JEALOUSY?  Here is your challenge:

1.)  Which of the 3 definitions of jealousy listed above best define they type of jealousy you are experiencing?

2.)  Exactly what are you jealous of?

3.)  Review the list of indicators listed above.  Which ones are experiencing? (If you are experiencing things that are not listed include them as well.)

4.)  Take a moment to reflect on your jealousy.  Are they symptoms of infection?  If yes, what are they?  (If necessary take some time to review the lessons on forgiveness and take appropriate steps.)

5.)  What needs is your jealousy indicating that you have?  What can you do to get those needs met?

6.) Practice expressing your emotion.  If the emotion has given you a lot of pent up physical energy engage in some healthy physical activity like running, walking, biking, swimming.  If it has given you a flood of emotional energy write out your emotions and thoughts in your journal in a prayer to God.  Try expressing your emotion to a trusted friend or loved one using the statement: “I feel jealous when…..”.

7.)  Take action.  Seek God. Get the facts.  Accept reality.  Make changes as necessary.

PRAYER: 

Heavenly Father,

I confess that I struggle with jealousy.  It is so easy to compare myself to others and find myself coming up short.  My insecurities will often overwhelm me if I let them.  Help me become so content with what you have given me that I am able to honestly and truly rejoice over the success of others.  Help me to keep my focus on you and build my faith in who you are and who you say I am.  Help me to trust you and to act in obedience to all you have said.

I can’t thank you enough for loving me.  I acknowledge that you are a jealous God and in your jealousy there is no sin.  Thank you for making me your beloved.  Thank you for your fierce protection of me and your vigilance over me. Help me to reflect your character when I experience the emotion of  jealousy.  Show me how to be more loving in my interactions with others, more truthful with myself, and more honoring to you.

In Jesus Name-Amen

SCRIPTURE:

Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong.  (1 Corinthians 13:4-5)

A heart at peace gives life to the bod, but envy rots the bones.  (Proverbs 14:30)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.  (Philippians 2:3-4)

Where jealousy and selfishness are there will be confusion and evil of every kind.  (James 3-16)

MEDITATION AND ENCOURAGEMENT:

PSALM 37:1-40

Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord , and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord ; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret—it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found. But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. The blameless spend their days under the Lord ’s care, and their inheritance will endure forever. In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. But the wicked will perish: Though the Lord ’s enemies are like the flowers of the field, they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke. The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed. The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand. I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be a blessing. Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones. Wrongdoers will be completely destroyed ; the offspring of the wicked will perish. The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever. The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak what is just. The law of their God is in their hearts; their feet do not slip. The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, intent on putting them to death; but the Lord will not leave them in the power of the wicked or let them be condemned when brought to trial. Hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a luxuriant native tree, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found. Consider the blameless, observe the upright; a future awaits those who seek peace. But all sinners will be destroyed; there will be no future for the wicked. The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord ; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.

Beautiful Mess (Designed: Thoughts)

FB_IMG_1528762189238“Make sure your worst enemy doesn’t live between your own two ears.” ―Laird Hamilton

The mind is a wonderful, terrible, beautiful thing.  We have all been tortured by our thoughts at one time or another.  Those nights that have been spent tossing and turning wondering if you will ever be able to turn your mind off.  Those memories that you want to get rid of and those that you want to live over again.  All the information, the failures, the success, the dreams that swirl around in your head both limiting you and pushing you forward.  It’s crazy that they can all inhabit the same space in our being. With all that going on it is important that we take time to understand and care for our minds.

It is our minds job to think.  It is designed to gather and store information,  to plan, organize, evaluate, decide, discern, learn, assimilate, concentrate, choose, create, dream and imagine.  It is the command center for the body.  Sometimes you are fully conscious of it’s activities and sometimes things are occurring in your subconscious unbeknownst to you.  Whether you are aware of not, your mind is always working, and it has an incredibly powerful impact on your perception, your attitude, and your ability to accomplish your goals.

Our minds have so much to offer, yet we often find ourselves falling victim to intrusive thoughts and confusion which thwart even the best intentions.  Here are some of the ways our thought life gets us into trouble:

1.) Cognitive distortions.  Some types of cognitive distortions are: filtering, black and white thinking, over generalization, jumping to conclusions, magnifying or minimizing awfulizing, personalization, control fallacies, blaming, “should, must, ought”, emotional reasoning, fallacy of change, and global labeling.  When you engage in these patterns of thinking you believe you have lost your personal power for change and problems become distorted in your mind.

2.) Fantasy.  While some forms of fantasy and imagination are wonderful, some forms can be destructive.  Destructive fantasies are those that are counter to God’s will and plan and lead to sin.

3.) Automatic thoughts.  Automatic thoughts are images or mental activity that occur as a response to a trigger (like an action or event). They are automatic and ‘pop up’ or ‘flash’ in your mind without conscious thought.  These thoughts are often linked back to memories or trauma.  They have become ingrained as a habitual way of responding to a trigger.

4.) Intrusive thoughts.  An intrusive thought is an unwelcome involuntary thought, image, or unpleasant idea that may become an obsession, is upsetting or distressing, and can feel difficult to manage or eliminate. 

5.) Lack of information.  Some times we simply lack the needed information and facts to make an informed decision.

6.) Lies.  These can be lies that others have told us, that we tell ourselves, or that the enemy has convinced us to believe.

In God’s word He talks about taking every thought into captivity, bringing our thoughts into obedience, and intentionally dwelling on good things.  Often his word speaks of being thankful and offering praise.  He also advises us to seek out truth and wisdom, to be aware of the devil and his lies.  This is God’s formula for changing our perspective and our attitude.  When we feed our minds good and true information, and follow God’s word regarding how to manage our thought life, we have the ability to change our perspective, which has the power to change our attitude, which will result in being able to find more peace and contentment along with clarity to make good decisions.  Additionally He has said in his word that if any one lacks wisdom to ask and he will grant it!  What a wonderful promise for those who are struggling with life decisions, with confusing circumstances, or even dealing with people who are abusive, manipulative or deceitful!

Let’s talk for a minute about some of your rights and responsibilities as they relate to your thoughts.  You have the right to acquire new information and skills, to expand your horizons.  You also have the right to change your decisions or your opinion.  You have the right to ask questions, to study, to explore and to understand.  You have the right to create and imagine. You have the right to share information, memories, and dreams.  You have the right to have and express your opinions, your likes and your dislikes even if they are different from other people.  All of these manners of thinking are part of what make you uniquely you.  You also have some responsibilities.  You have a responsibility to seek out and share truth.  You have a responsibility to make choices and bear the consequences of those choices.  You have a responsibility to monitor and control your thoughts.  You have a responsibility to seek counsel and advice when you need information or when are struggling with your thoughts life and/or memories.  You are responsible for what you put in your mind.  If you continually feed it junk and lies you will find that you are not only misinformed, but you will also find your self discontent and set up for struggles with temptation, sin and self sabotage.  Your mind needs a steady diet of truth to stay healthy.  You also have a responsibility to understand that others will not always think they way you think and to allow them the right to their thoughts.

DEVOTION:

Reign it in!”  That’s the thought that came to me as my mind wandered all over.  Tossing and turning over every single thing hanging out there waiting to be resolved.  I tried mercilessly to solve my problems.  I gathered information, I examined all the pro’s and cons, I looked at all my options.  Truly there was nothing I could do.  Everything was outside of my control.  Still I felt the need to try to solve the problem.  As I waded through my situation I felt the familiar tug of shame pulling me to think about the things I had done wrong.  How I had messed up.  What I should’ve done instead.  The names from my past felt like they were plastered on my chest like a name badge, telling the whole world of my mistakes.  I felt desperate and hopeless.  My mind was thick in despair as I replayed my failures.  Then again I heard it in my being.  “Reign it in!”  It was a familiar voice.  One I have come to recognize as the Lord.  I began to think on His words and his truth.  I remembered the verses that I had learned long ago that reminded me that he has a plan and purpose for me.  That he will finish his work.  That he loves me.  That he is in control.  These are themes from his word that I have had to rely on when life gets hard and my thoughts consume me.  I sometimes need to be reminded that I don’t need to solve all the world’s problems.  Heck, I don’t even need to solve all my problems.  God has this, He has me….and beloved….He has you as well.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5 NIV)

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2 NIV)

For God hath not given us a spirit of fear; but of power, of love and of sound mind.        (2 Timothy 1:7 KJV)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
 (2 Corinthians 10:5 NIV)

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
 (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 (Psalm 139:23 NIV)

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9 NIV)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

I confess that sometimes my thoughts are out of control.  I confess that I find myself worrying when I need to trust.  I confess that I believe lies and that sometimes I even tell lies.  Help me to be truthful in all my dealings.  Help me to focus on your truth and to find you in all circumstances.  I am so thankful that you have given me your word to guide me.  How wonderful to know that I can seek you in all situations and you will grant me wisdom and peace.  I desperately need both of those!  Thank you for loving me despite the craziness that sometimes goes on in my mind.  Help me to be a good steward of all that you have entrusted me.  Help me to attend to the situations in my life with your guidance and your wisdom.  Lead me in truth.  Protect me from the schemes of the evil one who seeks only to kill, steal, and destroy.  Guard my heart and my mind so that I might glorify you in all my dreams and desires.  Help me to submit to you and your plans for my life knowing that you know all things and have already prepared a way for me. 

In Jesus Name, Amen

REFLECTIONS: In which ways do you struggle with your thought life?  What do you need to do to “reign it in”?  Which verse from the scripture meditation list stands out to you the most and why?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS:  1.)  Practice journaling your thoughts about a specific situation and scriptural responses to them as if God was speaking the answers to you.  2.)  Each day read some scripture.  Meditate on it.  Look for ways through out the day that it applies to the situations you are facing.  3.)  Make a “whatever” list.  Use the Philippians 4:8 passage and list specific things for each attribute.  When your thoughts seem out of control get the list and begin reviewing and thinking about the things on that list.  4.) Begin a gratitude journal.  Each day list 5 things you are thankful for.  5.)  Gather facts regarding your situation.  Get information and counsel from experts or people you trust to advise you. List pro’s and con’s.  Apply scriptural instruction.  Acknowledge your opinions and preferences.  Make a decision and play out the result.  6.) Mindfulness exercise.  Train your mind to focus on something.  Find some place still.  Pay close attention to a specific details for a designated amount of time.  For example, sit by a creek and listen to the sounds it makes, or choose a verse from scripture and focus solely on that verse and it’s meaning.  If you notice your mind starts to wander, don’t give up or be harsh on yourself, simply go back to the verse again.  In this way you are training your mind to do what you want it to do.

A Temple, A Teacher and A Treasure (Designed: Physical)

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“Your body listens to everything your mind says.”

On first impression our physical self seems pretty self explanatory. However, it actually is more inclusive and complex then one might initially think. So what does the physical part include? 1.) our bodies 2.) our physical needs and desires 3.) our senses that shape our experiences 4.) our physical sensations, and lastly 5.) our actions. Along with these various aspects we also have specific rights and responsibilities in relation to ourselves and others. Our bodies are designed as temples, that inform our thoughts, teach others about who we are, and are the treasure through which God works. Lets examine the wonderfully designed physical self that God has given to us, and our rights and responsibilities that go along with it.

1.) BODY. Your body is miraculously designed. It is your most distinguishing feature. Most people will recognize you by your physical appearance. We all struggle with aspects that we dislike about our appearances. Still your appearance is part of what makes you uniquely you and therefore it is something to celebrate. Your body is the most basic way in which you set boundaries. You have the right to decide who will be allowed to touch you and how you will allow them to touch you. You also have a responsibility to provide for and care for your body. This includes sleeping, eating, exercising, setting limits, personal hygiene, maintaining health care and healthy routines.

2.) NEEDS. Your physical needs are the things you need to survive and include things such as; food, sleep, air and water, without these things you will die. Those physical needs can be expanded to include things such as touch, communication, attention, clothing and shelter, while you may be able to live for a while without these thing you will surely need them eventually. You have the responsibility to get these needs met and to help meet these needs for others who are in your care. Remember is that it is not bad that you have needs! It is part of being human. You have a right to ask others to help meet your needs. Seeking to get your needs met in appropriate ways is how you are designed by God to function. We are designed to be in relationship. It is not a flaw! Our needs give us an opportunity to move toward growth and affords a reason to develop relationships with other people.

3.) SENSES. Our senses include sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. These senses work together to help us gather information about the world around us. They alert us to things that may be dangerous, such as touching a hot stove, we would feel the pain and remove our hand. They also alert us to things that are pleasing, such as the taste of cold ice cream on a hot day. Our senses contribute to our individual likes and dislike of an experience. This makes our individual interpretation of an experience uniquely our own. For example we can both go to a symphony or a heavy metal concert and hear the same thing, but one of us love it and the other hate it. Simply because we have differing opinions on the experience doesn’t mean one of us is right and the other wrong. We have the right to our own unique opinions and experiences as well as the responsibility to express them respectfully. It is part of what defines each of us as an individual.

4.) SENSATIONS. Sensations are those things we feel physically within our bodies. For example before a job interview you might feel your heart racing. Other examples would be the feeling of physical pain in your chest as you grieve a loss, extra energy as you begin a dating relationship, or a tense neck and shoulders when you are under stress. These sensations are a physical manifestation of your emotional state and provide valuable information for you regarding your surroundings. If you are a person who has suffered abuse or trauma, it is possible that you will misuse or ignore these cues. For example, if you suffer from prolonged abuse, you may choose to ignore the uneasy feelings you get in your stomach when you’re around a certain individual so that you can continue to maintain a relationship with them. Or if you were the victim of a sudden traumatic event you may have escalated responses to anything that triggers memories of that event. You have a right to experience all your sensations with acceptance. There does not need to be a reason that you can specifically pinpoint for feeling uncomfortable around someone. Perhaps your body remembers things that are similar to people and situations that your mind can’t recall and is alerting you through sensations. We have the responsibility to pay attention to our sensations and respond appropriately by incorporating facts and emotions to determine specific actions.

5.) ACTIONS. Actions are what you choose to do with your body and words. You are always responsible for your own actions just like other people are solely responsible for their own actions. What you choose to do, or not to do, will almost always have an impact on others. Sometimes things will not be your fault, but you will still have the responsibility to fix them. For example if someone were to push you and cause you to fall and break your leg, that would not be your fault. Still it would be your responsibility to seek medical treatment and follow the treatment plan in order for your leg to heal. You have a right to set and enforce boundaries for through your actions, and the responsibility to take ownership of your actions.

DEVOTION:

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
(Psalm 139:15‭-‬16 NIV)

As I think about this verse I am struck anew by the thought “all my days were written in your book before one of them came to be”. So that means all of them! God knew my good days and bad days. He knew the days I would be victorious in my trials and the days I’d fail miserably and fall into sin. He knew every single moment I would have and exactly what I would choose. Still he chooses to love me. Not only does he know them, he uses them for good. That truth is true for you as well. There is nothing you have done or can ever do that excludes you from his love and plans for you. Also there is nothing anyone can do to you that will thwart his plan for your life. In fact God says in his word, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” {Romans 8:28) and “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you well carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phillippians 1:6) So, are you struggling with a past that haunts you? Or perhaps you are currently under the weight of a bondage that seems to powerful to break? Maybe you’re trapped in a situation that seems hopeless. What you are doing, what you’ve done, and what has been done to you are not the defining or limiting factors in God’s plan for your life. While you have rights and responsibilities you can rest in the confidence that God still has you and is able to work his purposes.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. (Romans 12:1)

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

PRAYER:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for creating me in such a way that I can experience the world that you have created. Thank you for all the marvelous sights, sounds, tastes, and smells that you have made for me to enjoy. Thank you for setting a rhythm to my days and night, for offering me times of activity and times of rest. I have to confess that sometimes when I think of my body I am very critical. I am not always pleased with my appearance and I often neglect to take care of myself the way I should. I also confess that I do and say things that I am not proud of, things that I know would be displeasing to you and hurtful to others. Thank you for not holding me to any standard of perfection in my appearance or in my actions. Help me to fix messes that I have created. Teach me to handle my rights and responsibilities in this area in ways that are pleasing to you. I ask for the spiritual gifts of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control so that I can learn to implement them in my own life, and demonstrate them to others.

Amen.

REFLECTIONS: Are you treating your body as a temple? What would you need to do to honor God with your body? Are you getting your physical needs met? Are you setting appropriate boundaries with your body, words, and actions? Are you maintaining healthy, balanced routines? What are some areas that you are strong in? What are some things you need to work on? Is there a specific area that you feel God is speaking to you about regarding the physical part of you? Journal your answers.

ACTIVITY OPTIONS: 1.) Think about your daily routines. Consider ways to bring things back into balance. Choose one item from your list to implement and track. 2.) Consider if you are getting all your physical needs met. If they are not being met, make and implement a plan to ask someone to help meet your physical needs. Journal the result. 3.) Practice mindfulness. Take 5 minutes each day to sit, still and quiet. Take notice of the environment around you with all your senses. What do you see, hear, smell, taste, and feel? Try to stay focused in that moment with no distractions. 4.) Find a quiet place to lay flat and still. Take a couple moments to calm your body. Focus on the inner sensations in your body starting with your head, neck and shoulders and moving systematically body parts down to your toes. Focus specifically on each area how it feels in the moment, then trying to relax each body part. 5.) Think about some of your current actions. Journal a time when you someone else was at fault at it was your responsibility to fix it. Now ponder things that are currently happening in your life. How is God asking you to respond in this situation? Journal your response.

Your True Identity: Your Roots (Designed: Roots)

FB_IMG_1528761897413Pastor Jeff Kapusta once said that if “Satan can’t steal your destiny he will lie about your identity”.   Satan will tell you that you are worthless, hopeless, crazy, dirty, stupid, ugly, and that you will never be enough or perhaps that you are too much.  His array of insults are limitless and he knows exactly which ones to apply to keep you feeling fearful, defeated and trapped.   A key part of God’s design for your life is tied to who you are…so who are you?  Are you a composite of Satan’s labels and lies?  Are you simply a parent, a partner, a child, a sibling, an employee?  The truth is your true identity is only found in Jesus.  Since God is the one who created you he gets to decide your true identity, the creator decides what he is creating.  So what does he say about you?

You are loved. “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.'”  Jeremiah 31:3

You are forgiven.  “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.”  Isaiah 43:25

You have value and significance.  “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

You are accepted and belong.  “But you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”  1 Peter 2:9

You are a child of the King.    “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” John 1:12

You will never be alone.  “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Deuteronomy 31:6

You are designed in His image.  “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”  Genesis 1:27

You are a victorious warrior.  “In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Romans 8:37

You have a plan and a purpose.  “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

You are worth fighting and dying for.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16

Let’s read through that list again slowly and this time replace the “You are…”  statements with “I am…”.  Add your name in the scriptures.  Let the statements sink deep in your soul.

I am loved.  “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: ‘I have loved (your name) with an everlasting love; I have drawn (your name) with unfailing kindness.'”

I am forgiven.  “I, even I, am he who blots out (your name) transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers (your name) sins no more.”

I have value and significance. “Before I formed (your name) in the womb I knew (him/her), before (he/she) was born I set (him/her) apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

I am accepted and belong.  “But (your name) is a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, (he/she) is God’s special possession, that (your name) may declare the praises of him who called (him/her) out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

I am a child of the King.  “Yet to (your name) who did receive him, to (your name) who believed in his name, he gave (him/her) the right to become children of God”

I will never be alone.  (your name) will be strong and courageous.  (your name) will not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord my God goes with me; he will never leave me nor forsake me.”

I am designed in His image.  “So God created (your name) in his own image, in the image of God he created (him/her)…”

I am a victorious warrior.  “In all these things (your name) is more than a conqueror through him who loved (him/her).” 

I have a plan and a purpose.  “For I know the plans I have for (your name), declares the Lord, plans to prosper (him/her) and not to harm (him/her), plans to give (your name) a hope and future.”  

I am worth fighting and dying for.  “For God so loved (your name) that he gave his only son so that when (your name) believes in him (he/she) shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Remember our analogy of the tree from our last lesson?  The roots bring nourishment to the young tree and with the proper care the roots will grow strong and deep so they can anchor the tree in wind and storms.  It is the same with us. God longs for you to grow strong and deep in Him.  By believing what God says about who you are and who He is you will grow strong and deep in Him.  In this life you will face trials and temptations, at times you will fail, you will be rejected or abandoned by others, you will be mistreated and misunderstood; having a deep understanding of who you are and who God is will help you stay anchored in life’s storms.

DEVOTION:
Not long ago I went through a very challenging season in my life.  I had done somethings that I was ashamed of, these sins caused me to doubt my identity and God’s purpose for my life.  I felt ashamed.  Satan knew that I was struggling to survive under the weight of my sin.  He hurled insults that went straight to the core of my being.  My heart hurt so deeply, waking up each day was a struggle.  I would weep throughout the day and long into the night.  I longed for the pain to end. Each day as I cried out to God in my pain He would softly remind me of my identity in him.  Having been a Christian for a long time, I knew that God’s word is true.  I clung to that truth as if my life depended on it, because in fact my life truly did depend on it.  I was in a battle, and from all I could see, I was loosing.  God reminded me through His word that  my identity was securely in Jesus and nothing could change it.  No matter how bad my sin was, no matter how I felt about myself or what others said about me…NOTHING could change the fact that I was still a beloved child of God, completely forgiven, never alone, sealed for His purposes.

If you are now or ever were, in the same place as I was, please listen closely…You are loved and forgiven.  There is nothing you could ever do that will separate you from God’s love for you. There is no way that you can ever be too far gone, or too bad for God to redeem you.  You do not have to try to clean up your act before coming to Jesus.  He wants to be the one to help clean you up.  You do not have to be perfect.  Come to him in your dirty, messy, sinful state.  He will not turn you away.  He will not leave you stranded or alone.  He sees you in your pain and in your mess.  He will not leave you there!  He will not condemn or shame you.  He will lovingly put his arms around you and will work with you to get through this.  You are his beloved and He has a good purpose and plan for you.

SCRIPTURE MEDITATION:  “For we are God’s handiwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  Ephesians 2:10  You are God’s handiwork!  He sees all your weaknesses, all your imperfections, all your sins, all your struggles, all your idiosyncrasies,  all the things that make you uniquely you.  He designed you and you are his beloved.  He has not forgotten you.  He is preparing you and using you even in this moment for his purposes.  

PRAYER:  Heavenly Father,  You are my designer and creator.  You knew beforehand where I would stumble and fall.  You know everything there is to know about me, even more than I know about myself, and yet you still love me.  Not with a pitying love, but with a passionate, radical, relentless love.  You say yourself that you delight in me, you smile on me, you rejoice in me, and that you sing over me.  I confess that I often don’t feel very lovable.  I often don’t measure up to all that I think I need to be.  At times I am ashamed of the things I do or think.  Help me to come to you and not to hide from you.  Lift my shame and clean my messes.  Help me to remember who I am and that I belong to you.  Cleanse me from my sins.  Empower me to live out the identity you have given me.  In Jesus Name-Amen

REFLECTIONS: Which of the above characteristics are you most comfortable acknowledging?  When and how did you learn of that characteristic?  Which of the things that God says about who you are is the hardest for you to believe about yourself?  How would letting the truth of what God says about you change how you relate to others?  How would it change how you tackle the difficult situations in your life?

ACTIVITY OPTIONS:  The main ways we can grow and nourish our root system is to stay deeply connected to God.  Some of to the main ways to do this include: prayer, bible study, scripture memorization, and meditation. Each activity option will focus on one of those key elements.  1.) Choose one of the things God says about you each day and meditate and reflect on it through out the day.  Ponder specifically and personally what that characteristic means for you.  Then journal what the characteristic means and how it impacted you that day.  2.)  Think about a difficult situation you are currently facing.  Choose one or more of the identity characteristics that we identified.  Personalize and pray about the situation using the verses that go with that characteristics.  Journal the process you go through and the outcome.  3.) Search scripture to uncover more aspects and verses related to who God says you are.  Journal your findings.  4.) Choose one or more of the verses to memorize.  Share what you have learned about your identity in Jesus with at least one other person as a testimony, prayer, or encouragement to them.  Journal the experience.

UPCOMING LESSONS:  For the next few lessons we will be discussing the “trunk of the tree”, this will be a major portion of where we will spend our time.  In these lessons we will be discussing our physical bodies and actions, our thoughts, our feelings and our inner being (values, experiences, expectations, memories, inner compass). We will be studying each area individually, beginning with our physical bodies.