April 28, 2015

Clearing Away the Clutter

It is a good Tuesday here in sunny and soon-to-be hot Phoenix. Yes, our weather forecasters have projected that we will hit 100 degrees tomorrow and that we will be "officially" in our summer season before the normal May 2nd date. I am not ready for summer, but it is inevitable, and no matter how hard I wish it away, the fact remains that summer in Phoenix is hot, is long, and is so very, very formidable. Yet, there is hope in that summer only lasts for a season. Yes, come October, the temps will cool and once more we will be happy to be living in the desert.

Therefore, while I may be disappointed that the hot temps are here again, I can take hope in knowing that our weather patterns are just that -- "a pattern," -- and that patterns come and go based on outside forces. The weather cannot be controlled, but it can be endured, and as such, learning to expect the inevitable is a good and necessary step in the process of living in the desert. We know what to do to remain cool, and we take practical steps to make the best or the most of a rather unpleasant way of life. As I think about the weather, I am reminded of how it aligns with my life (I know, weird as that may seem) right now. I am in a change of seasons, a time when some things of the past have to be let loose in order to experience the change that is in process. I am learning the long and the hard of that change, and I am struggling to understand why certain things happen so that I can create a plan of survival, an attack plan, so to speak, in order to see me from point A to point B and beyond. Let me explain...

The past couple days have been difficult for me, and frankly, I have struggled with quite a bit of disappointment. I have tried to put my finger on the source of the disappointment, but only have found that there seems to be wide-spread feeling of "let down" rather than a particular instance pointing to the cause. Interesting, it is only in hindsight that I am able to figure out the cause of anything. I wish I were more forward thinking, to the point when I am able to realize "in the moment" the cause of something. It would be great to be able to change directions, to turn the ship around, so to speak, and to alter outcomes in a moment's notice. But, alas, it seems that hindsight only happens in review.

So as I have struggled to meet the tasks head-on, and I completed all my assignments by the required due date, I have felt this heavy sense of "let down," that somehow all that I have accomplished fell short of some mysterious "acceptance bar."  I should have felt accomplished by the work I completed. I mean, I handled difficult papers, course work AND I kept all my students moving forward. What a great feat! I graded all my student papers, met with those students who needed help, and generally made sure I did everything necessary as it was needed. Yet, I still had this sense of dread, of overwhelm, and of feelings of "not good enough." I allowed these feelings to predominate my thinking, so much so, that I felt depressed daily. Why did I do this? And, where did these feelings come from? Good questions to ask -- I wish I would have asked myself the same questions right during the crisis because I may have averted some of the depression I suffered.

As the Lord knows it is the case with me, often I allow negative thoughts and feelings to swarm over me. I shouldn't do it, and I do know better, but for some reason, I gave into the nagging thoughts and feelings of unworthiness. I believe that these thoughts came on me at my weakest moment, when I was physically drained, and I was mentally fuzzy. I was trying so hard to keep on top of all my tasks that I became weakened to the point where the enemy was able to hit me and take me down. In truth, I was heavily oppressed, and as a result, I felt hopeless and depressed for much of the semester. I shouldn't have been this way, but I gave in to the enemy, listened to the lies, and fell victim to the taunts of the devil who desired to bring me to my knees.

George Anders said, "There is an art to clearing away the clutter and focusing on what matters most. It is simple and transferrable. It just requires the courage to take a different approach." WOW! How on point, how true, and how positively rational. Often, when we feel lost, confused, and downright depressed either because things are not going as we had hoped and planned or because we feel things are outside of our control, we hunker down in order to "survive" the onslaught (whatever will be). Instead of standing up, looking the monster or whatever disappointment we face head on, we sit down in the dirt and moan, groan, and feel victimized. Rather than looking at the situation and seeking a way out, we accept the fate handed to us, believing we are powerless to create any change.

A case in point - clutter.

I said to my Mom today that I would be cleaning out my closet this week. She was trying to put something away, and said she didn't know where it went (as in which side of the closet to hang it on). I told her not to worry because I was going to get myself organized this week. My friends on FB (from home school days) have been discussing downsizing their wardrobes. The are all into this woman's blog where she provides a beauty type and wardrobe counsel to match. The idea behind her blog is that women are not dressing according to their natural type. Instead they are trying to be something or someone they are not and as a result they are not happy in themselves or their appearance. It is an interesting approach to self-identity and self-esteem, and from a purely psychological perspective, I do see where it applies. I am not 100% sold on her system, since she only has four types, and I don't think I am any of them, but still it is a way to help women and men find a new "look" that represents more accurately the way they feel about themselves on the inside. I digress...

So clutter -- I often find that when I feel overwhelmed, I need to de-clutter my life. I need to let go of things that I am holding onto, mostly junk, and I find that by purging my life of these extraneous things, I feel better, I feel more in control, and I feel less overwhelmed by the volume of things surrounding me. My closet is a good example of an area in need of purging. My desk is also a good example. In fact, this morning, I cleared and sorted my desk before I sat down to start my work. It felt good to dust and to get my semester's books moved from A to B to C (my sorting system -- new semester is A, previous is B, and past is C). I move my books, my papers, and all things related to each semester so that I only have the newest set at my fingertips. This way, I am focused on "today" and not two semesters prior. It helps me to keep my mind clear from clutter, to focus and to center my thoughts on the 'here and now,' rather than what has passed by.

As I think about clutter and why it is a good idea to "de-clutter" my mind from careless thoughts and from feelings that are not true nor based in Scripture, I am reminded of Anders quote. Sometimes all that is needed is a different approach. When we find ourselves in a rut, always following the same pattern, the same habits, or the same thought processes, we need to remind ourselves that repeating the past rarely brings a new future. Instead, it often simply ingrains habits, patterns and thoughts into our mind and our body to such an extent that we live a diminished and depleted life. We simply press "repeat" rather than pressing "play."

I know I am guilty of this action. I often will sink back into patterns that are not helpful to my well-being. When I get overly stressed, I over eat. When I feel depressed, I think dark thoughts, and I find myself spiraling downward into places where I shouldn't be. When I feel all hope is lost, I begin to think that there is no way out, no way to overcome or see any change. All of this patterning, all of this thinking is not of God, but it is of Satan and his demons who desire to bring carnage and despair to the household of God. We must not allow these evil creatures to gain any open door (or a foothold). Once they find their way in, we will feel the pressure they exert, and the feelings of loneliness, isolation, and despair will begin to take over. Instead, we must remember who is our victor and our champion, and while we cannot overcome on our own, we can rest in the knowledge that our Lord is with us. He has promised to never leave us nor to forsake us. We can be strong, we can overcome, and we can put down and silence the voices that seek to destroy us.

I began this post with the weather, and now I am going to end it with this thought: what we do today is not always a direct result of what we did yesterday. There seems to be this sense that our lives follow very routine patterns, and that we are like mice on a wheel, we simply keep going round and round without much thought to the outcome. In truth, God has given us a wide-range of opportunity, different approaches (as Anders says), and we only need to apply them to our life in order to see change. One approach that works well, and will provide immediate relief is to apply scripture to whatever circumstance we face. For example, by reminding ourselves that Jesus is our victor and champion, and that He has already overcome the enemy, we can take hope to know that no matter how challenging and difficult our circumstance today, the Lord has already achieved His end result. The same is true when we feel that our life has no hope. There is always hope, even in the darkest moments, because the Lord is our Hope. He is our refuge and our strength. We may not feel hopeful because the choices we have made (often to repeat instead of playing or fast-forwarding) have ingrained behaviors to the point where we seem to be stuck, always going round, and never going forward. However, the blessing is that God has not given us a figurative tape recorder with only a "repeat" button. No, we have all the buttons -- stop, play, reverse and forward. Plus, He has given us the power to press the button -- we can decide to stop, to go forward or to reverse. God has empowered us through the presence of His Holy Spirit and we have control over our outcome. We may not like where we are going today, but we can change our direction simply by stopping the negative behaviors, engaging in positive ones, and choosing life over death.

Deuteronomy 30:19 - "Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!"

The choice is ours, and with the Lord's help and guidance, we can choose to live our lives free from these negative thought patterns. We can de-clutter our lives, and we can let go of things that hurt us or enslave us. I know that I am enslaved to thoughts of unworthiness, of not measuring up to some mythical standard of behavior and performance. Yet, I also know that my worth is not wrapped up in these artificial bars, that my worth is securely and completely found in my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. My problem is that when I am weakest, when I am at my lowest, this is when I am most vulnerable to attack by the enemy.

To stand firm, I must remember that when I am tired, when I am feeling poorly (physically), I must be on guard to keep my thoughts centered solely upon the Lord, His word, and His way. In doing so, I say "no" to all thoughts that are not from the Lord. I say "no" to the feelings that come when I give those thoughts any air time, any play time. Some years ago, I did a Precept Bible Study with Kay Arthur. I remember watching her on tape and she said something to this affect: "You must check every thought at the door of your mind. If it doesn't align with Scripture, you refuse it entry. You say 'no' and you close the door." I remember her message and I thought to myself, "how can I do that?" It didn't make a lot of sense to me back then (I was young), but it sure does now. 

How often do we allow these casual thoughts to enter into our mind? We let them in the door because we are not standing guard. The Bible tells that we must be alert, on guard, at all times because our enemy the devil is seeking to destroy us. Keep in mind that the devil and those demons who follow after him are crafty. They put half-truths into our minds, and they can exert influence over our thought processes -- if we allow them do to so. In order to keep ourselves free from these thoughts, we must wash our minds with the Word of God. There is no stronger way to defeat the enemy than with the Word, but we must use it. The Bible says that the Word of God is a weapon, able to split the joint and the marrow. It is ours and we are given the full armor of God. We have the tools, the weapons of warfare at our disposal, but we must use them. The enemy will hit us where it hurts, usually in our soft spots. We need to wake up, shake up, and stand up in order to stand firm, and to not be led away from the purposes and plans of God. Selah!

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