Categories
anxiety

Plan to Live, or Live to Plan?

My one and only Christmas present that I asked for this year, without anyone asking me leading questions, was a day-by-day journal planner.  I really want to get more into my writing this year, and having one of these planners will help me prioritize and lay out what exactly needs to get done.

Several weeks after Christmas, I’m still obsessing over this cute, purple planner!  I have different colored pens that I use to write my tasks in order of urgency.  Each month is also represented by a uniquely colored page.  Also, after watching my friend Christa’s workshop on time management, I’m ready to boss my time around in 2018!

But quickly after beginning to organize my planner, I felt a deep sense of emptiness.  Where was my family in this multi-colored book?  Where was my time with my husband?  Where were the fun outings and the vacations and the free time?  Time management is a beautiful thing, but it cannot replace what I have prioritized and what gives me life.

The point of life is not to plan.  The point of life is to enjoy.  The wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, concluded in Ecclesiastes that life’s purpose is to enjoy life and to obey God’s commandments.  After seeing the meaninglessness of everything else in the world, that was what Solomon concluded had the most meaning in life: joy and obedience.

“Now all has been heard;
    here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
    for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
    including every hidden thing,
    whether it is good or evil.”

-Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

We plan so that we can enjoy life.  We save up money so we can go on vacation.  We get fancy planners so we can make time to do the things we love.

Do not fall in love with the plan.

Do not fall in love with saving money.

Do not fall in love with the fancy planners!

I plan so that I can make time for my family and husband.  I plan so that I can be prepared and not be anxious when unexpected events come my way.  I plan so that I can feel like I’m in control.  For those who struggle with anxiety, we all know how scary it can feel to not be in control.  Planning helps me feel like I have some grasp on my life, at least with the free time I have.

If you have anxiety, it’s okay to plan.  But don’t let the planning distract you from the tasks that you enjoy.  Plan time to relax.  Plan a budget that causes you to save for activities you love.  Dream and be optimistic instead of expecting the worst to happen in the future.  Do all of these things, but realize that ultimately, our lives are in God’s hands.

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

-James 4:13-17, NIV

Fall in love with life, because that is what gives our plans meaning.  At the end of the day, if our plans fail, we still have each other.  We still have hope.  When you live your life, don’t focus on the plan.  Focus on enjoying life and obeying God’s commandments.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

-John 10:10


Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Categories
anxiety

STOP! What are You Doing?

One day in college, I was thinking about the day I had ahead.  I had a test in one class that I was extremely anxious about, work after the test, and then other classes throughout the day.  I came out of the shower with the jitters, my mind running a mile a minute.

STOP!

The voice was louder than all the sirens of obligation, worry, and anxiety blaring in my ear.

What are you doing?

I believe this voice was God.  Only He could give me peace, and only He could speak in a way that I could understand so clearly.

At the time, I was blow drying my hair.  I pulled at the tangled strands.

Your job is to focus on the next ten minutes, and that’s it. Do you have a test in ten minutes? No.  Do you have to eat in ten minutes?  No.  Do you have any classes in ten minutes?  No.  You have hair to dry.  Start drying.

It was very matter-of-fact, but it was clear, unlike the other voices I heard telling me I had to do something very quickly or else.  Whatever that meant.

So I decided to listen to the clear, peaceful, peace-giving voice that blurted out truth in my mind.

Those next ten minutes were the most peaceful ten minutes of my life.  I stroked my hair with the brush.  I listened to the whir of the blow dryer.  I hummed a tune knowing that no one else could hear me.  I was content for ten whole minutes, about the time it took for me to finish blow drying my hair.

Finally, I turned off the blow dryer.

Now what?  I thought.  I looked at the clock.  I still had to get my bag ready before I went to class.  I had to focus on the next ten minutes, nothing more.

I spent the rest of the day like that, and it was wonderful. The voices that were screaming in my head ended up shutting up by the time I made it to my test.  I spent the rest of the day in a discipline of rest.  Even though I was not resting (doing nothing) I was controlling my mind and telling myself to just focus on the next ten minutes.

A lot can change in ten minutes.

Now that I’m out of college and “adulting,” a lot of voices tend to get in the way of my enjoyment of what is right in front of me.  My followers know that I just came out of a busy season, and now I’m in a waiting period.  We’re waiting to start our careers, feeling discontentment about our jobs.  We’re waiting to buy a house, feeling discontentment from renting.  We’re waiting to have kids, honestly because we just don’t want kids right now.  We’re waiting for a sense of satisfaction, a sense of contentment, and because of that, we’re anxious.

When are we going to get new jobs?

When are we going to have a house?

When are we going to have kids?

And because of all the “When’s” in our lives, there has been a lot of preparing and planning.  When we have new jobs, we will do things this way.  When we have a house, we’re going to decorate it that way.  When we have kids, we’re going to raise them in this manner.  But honestly, God convicted me this morning with James 4.  We don’t know what’s going to happen even next week!  How do we know what our lives will be like when we go through these changes?  We didn’t know how we would meet.  We didn’t know how we would get our current apartment.  We didn’t know how we would get married and even when we would get married when we first met.  God’s timing is perfect; ultimately, only He knows what will happen next year.

All we know…is what is going to happen in ten minutes.

So, my anxious friends, those who like to plan like me, I challenge you to only focus on the next ten minutes of your life.  It is not a selfish thing to do.  It is not wrong.  It is a way for you to feel a sense of control over your life. I know as Christians we should be relying on God to control our lives, but He has also given us responsibility over our lives, and it is human nature to want to have control of something.  May I remind you that one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-control.  When you are anxious, you are not in control.  Take a deep breath and plan the next ten minutes of your day.  Does it involve doing your hair?  Does it involve journaling?  Does it involve spending ten precious minutes with the one who loves your soul?  Beyond that is where your trust in God comes in.  Trust that God will provide what you need, when you need it.  Only God knows what will happen beyond ten minutes from now.  Will you trust in mere humans who are pressuring you to get your life together, or will you trust in the One who has given you your life and has spent all of eternity planning your future?

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.  If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them. 

-James 4:13-17


Photo by Kai Pilger on Unsplash

Categories
anxiety

Jesus Gives me Peace

This week, I was worried about how Christmas Eve/Christmas would go.  I’m normally very anxious during holidays, and now that I’m seeing more people, I worry that I will upset someone or that someone will be in a bad mood.  However, this Christmas was not like that at all.  This Christmas, I had peace, and it was amazing.

On both sides of the family, we had a very mellow, chill time.  There were exciting things happening (such as my sister getting engaged!) but there was no drama, no fights, no stress.  We ended up, at both sides of the family, sitting around and talking and eating.  Isn’t that how the holidays should be?

The last few Christmases had a lot of pressure on them.  The first Christmas my husband and I spent together, we were engaged, so both sides of the family wanted to see us and had asked us a million questions about our plans.  Last Christmas, there was some tension about how we were going to spend our first Christmas as a married couple.  But this Christmas, there was no tension.  Not only was our environment at peace, but my husband and I were both at peace in our hearts.

Ultimately, peace does not come from our environment.  It comes from Christ.  Even though God provided a peaceful time for us at both of our families’ houses, we could have mentally stressed about what could have happened.  It could have been worse.  We could have had a fight.  I could have gotten sick.  Anxiety is big on playing scenarios that could happen instead of focusing on the reality that actually happens.

Anxiety causes me to focus on myself, to focus on what bothers me and what people could do to hurt me.  But when I fix my eyes on God, He shows me that the world does not revolve around me.  For the first time in three years, my focus was not on me.  It was on my sister who just got engaged.  It was on the people who were surrounding me, who were in the same stage of life as me: waiting, praying, and just plain resting.  My focus was on God, who has blessed us so abundantly this year, and who has truly allowed us to rest on Christmas.

One of the names of Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  He came to give us peace with God, peace with others, and peace within ourselves.  If you do not have peace with God, you cannot have peace with others and you cannot have peace within yourself.  I’ve tried to look for peace in what I eat, how successful I am, and how nice I am to other people.  But even if the scale says a good number, even if I’m not sick, even if everyone around me is happy, those things do not give me peace.

But the opposite is also true.  Even when there is chaos, when I can’t control my weight, when my family is all up in arms about something, when my to-do list runs off the page, I can have peace because I know that I have peace with God.

Jesus Christ came as a baby, in the humblest of forms, to bring us peace with God.  Jesus is our peace offering from God.  When we all bow before the manger in humility, we are able to have peace with one another.

Jesus came to Earth to understand us as humans.  You may feel like no one else understands, but God does. He suffered the same pain that we all suffer.  He went through everyday life on Earth just like we all did, from working a full-time job to dealing with people on the street.  Knowing that Jesus understands exactly how I am feeling, even when I am anxious, gives me peace.  Knowing that I have someone with me in the midst of the struggle gives me peace.  And having a chill Christmas does not give me hope in the candles and the table setting and even the food, but it gives me hope that every good and perfect gift is from above.

May God bless you as we reflect on 2017 and as we plan ahead for 2018.  God will go before you and will meet you in the new year!


Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Categories
anxiety

Anxiety During the Holidays

As a culture, we tend to idolize and idealize holidays.  The food has to be just right.  Everyone has to get along.  The decorations have to be creative and fun, and the house has to be spotless.  You better come up with some good stories and some exciting news to tell your family.  There’s some serious pressure to do everything right and to not mess it up.  After all, you don’t want to be the one ruining the holiday.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for several years, and the holidays have gotten progressively harder for me.  My anxiety tells me that I have to be perfect, that I can’t mess things up, and it literally ruins the holiday for me.  All I ever want to do on the holiday is stay home and do nothing.  But that’s not the way the world works.  I don’t get to call in sick to Christmas.

When I started dating my husband, I actually confessed this to him.  I was nervous about being around his family, especially since I was meeting a lot of them for the first time.  What if their first impression of me was not good, and they hated me for the rest of our lives together?  They also had their own set of rules that I was afraid I would ruin.  But if I went back to my own house, I felt like I was walking on a tightrope, and that anything I said or did could cause everything to go off balance.

I am fully aware that all of this is irrational, but it does not shake the feeling that I get whenever the holidays roll around.  What I’ve learned after letting this happen is that, if I let anxiety win, I miss out on a great day.  Since I’ve been praying and having the support of my husband holding me accountable, I’ve been conscious about not letting my anxiety get the best of me.  I intentionally focus on what I look forward to, not what I anticipate going wrong.  And for the last couple of years, I’ve actually been able to laugh, talk, and relax with both sides of my family instead of being overcome with anxiety.

If you are like me, here are some practical tips that I have discovered to at least avoid the panicking feeling:

  • Watch what you eat/drink.  People tend to indulge on sugary snacks and drinks during the holidays.  Sugar causes your heart to race, which in turn causes your anxiety to increase.  Alcohol may calm your anxiety, but it may also give you acid reflux.  Be aware of how certain foods affect your body.  If you’re feeling anxious, drink some water or some peppermint/herbal tea to calm down your body.
  • Remember the true meaning of the holidays.   As a Christian, I celebrate Christmas, the time of year where we remember Jesus our Savior coming to Earth.  Jesus is the Prince of Peace, the one who reconciles all people to each other as well as to God.  When I am anxious, I can remember that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.  When I am nervous about upsetting someone, I can remember that my identity is in Christ and not in what people say about me.  If you’re feeling anxious, remember that God is with you.  One of God’s names is Emmanuel, which means God With Us.  God is with you, even in your time of weakness.
  • Guard your heart.  Not everyone believes the same things that you do.  Some people might mock you for trusting in God.  Do not let their negativity, complaining, or criticizing keep you down.  If you need to separate yourself, find another family member to talk to.  If someone wants to chew your ear off about how wrong you are, don’t let it get to you.  Just take a deep breath and let it go in one ear and out the other.
  • Breathe.  The holidays are meant to be a time for relaxation, reflection, and fun.  Don’t let your anxiety get in the way of the rest that you deserve.  You work hard all year, so you are allowed one free day where you don’t have to do anything.  You can be anxious any other time this year; give yourself a break just this one day.  Literally, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth, until the anxiety is gone.  The anxiety will pass; you just have to let it leave.

Merry Christmas to all!  I pray that the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, meets you all in a special way this year.  I can’t wait to hear what He does in your life!


Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Categories
anxiety

The Thrill of True Hope in a Holy Night

“You better watch out, you better not cry. You better not pout; I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.”

On Christmas Eve, my sister and I would run up the steps and bang on the front door to Grandma’s house. Grandma would open the door to her warm, carefully-decorated house, and as we thawed from the wintry cold she would click her tongue and regretfully inform us that, just like every year, we had just missed Santa Claus.

We little girls knew that even if we missed him, he had brought us presents. After dinner, we would rip open our presents and enjoy the thrill and anticipation of each new box. My hope was in knowing that there were still plenty of boxes to unwrap.

All around me, cameras would flash and conversation would erupt over the latest news and the funniest jokes of the season. My family members would coo over the gifts I received.

Finally, my hands would grab the final gift under the tree. I would slowly rip off the paper, savoring the last bit of excitement of the evening. I would open the box, and the fun would be over.

With the last present opened, the party would cease. Family members would rub their eyes and call it a night. We would all hug each other, pack up our cars with new stuff, and go home.

Each year, I would go home feeling empty. Did we really wait all year just to go over Grandma’s house, open a few presents, and that’s it? After all that anticipation, I didn’t even get to meet Santa Claus.

“He’s making a list. He’s checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.”

I did the best I could to be a good child. If I really thought about it, I didn’t know what was good or bad, and I didn’t know what Santa Claus really thought of me. I just did whatever my parents told me.

The fact that I received presents every year confirmed that I was doing something right. Still, I didn’t think a few nice presents were worth following a bunch of boring rules.

What I really wanted was some love and attention. I wanted to be noticed not just for what I did, but for who I was. I wanted a reward that satisfied me. Santa Claus could only offer me toys that made me happy for a few days.

“He sees you when you’re sleeping; he knows when you’re awake.  He knows when you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake!” 

Someone, somewhere, was watching me. I had a perfect image to uphold. If I made a mistake, that would be the end. And that someone watching me would remember my mistake forever.

Around Christmastime, kids care if Santa Claus is watching. But ONLY during Christmastime do they care. I have never gone to the beach on a hot July day and heard a parent threaten her kids with the notion that they may not get Christmas presents.

All year round, kids need constant attention and tender loving care. They don’t need a list of rules to follow; they need a loving protector who will watch them and guide them.

At the age of twelve, I met the One who I needed. For my whole life, I had thought that this someone was like Santa Claus, waiting for me to mess up so he could stop giving me presents. I thought He was distant and that He hated me. I thought He could never love such a stupid worthless failure like me.

But I was wrong.

“O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining. It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.”

As a child, I knew that story of Jesus coming to Earth. That was all it was to me, a story. As I learned the Christmas story in church, I didn’t know that one day this story would change my life.

As I entered into my tween years, I tried to control my life. In the end, I developed an anxiety disorder and lost complete control of my body and the world around me. Looking back, everything was chaotic.

I tried to make sense of it all.  I tried to express how I felt. I was surrounded by people, but I was all alone.

I desperately needed help. I would sob alone in my room, looking up at the stars brightly shining in the sky, begging someone to hear my prayers.

“Long lay the world in sin and error pining, ‘til he appeared, and the soul felt its worth.”

When I was twelve, my dad dragged me to church to attend youth group with people my age. On that night, I heard the Christmas story in a way that I had never heard it before, in a way that completely transformed my life.

The story went like this: God humbly left His heavenly throne to become a small baby that would grow up and learn about human struggles. He would heal people and share about how much God loved them. He would die a death that He did not deserve so that we could have access to God again. He would rise from the dead to prove that He is stronger than death.

Jesus came to Earth to show how much He loved us, not to show how high and unattainable He was. On that night, I accepted Jesus as my Savior. My pastor taught us a prayer, and I believe God heard it.

God showed me who He really was. He cared about me and looked out for my well-being all year round. He forgave my sins, and even though I still make mistakes, he reminds me every day that He loves me too much to hold my sins against me.

After choosing to follow Him, I’ve learned that I am valuable. Since He appeared, my soul has felt its worth.

“A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.”

Since I made the decision to follow Jesus, each Christmas means something to me.  We exchange gifts, and I remember the most special gift I have ever received.

Instead of feeling empty, I feel complete. Instead of feeling alone, I know the ever-present God is with me. Instead of longing for more, I remember that God is everything I need.

The past broke me and made me forget my worth, but today is a new day, a new and glorious morning.

“Fall on your knees, and hear the angel voices: O night divine, O night when Christ was born.”

What if Christmas meant more than opening gifts and waiting for Santa Claus to show us whether we have been good or bad? What if God really did come to Earth? How would your life be different if you truly believed that Jesus came to this Earth to give you hope, to fill you completely and to show you your true worth?

God came to your world to show you how much He loves you. He is offering you a free gift that will satisfy your soul. You have a choice: will you accept it, or will you be content with that small thrill of anticipation year after year?


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