June 16, 2016

O Peace! Where Are You?

Happy Thursday! Yes, it is a good day here in sunny and very warm, Phoenix. I cannot believe I am going to say this, but it is "very warm" here. This weekend throughout next weekend, it is going to be "very hot." When I say, "very hot," I mean 115 or higher. Our expected high for Sunday and Monday is 118. Then all of next week, our expected high is 111-115. Welcome to June! Yes, this is our normal June hot temperatures!!

I am struggling with some allergy symptoms, and typically, the high temperatures will knock all the "head" stuff out of me. I suffer throughout the spring time as our warm weather brings in loads of flowers. But, then, as the daytime highs start to soar, my allergies stop for a time. Last night, I ended up taking a Benadryl in order to stop the post-nasal drip. It worked, at the least, I think it did, and I slept very soundly. I woke up around 8:30 a.m. feeling well-rested. I am now sitting at my computer, blogging, drinking my cup of coffee, and eating a “not so healthy” cinnamon roll. I am feeling rested, but not at "rest." I have lost my peace and I cannot seem to find it. I feel like I am in this whirlwind of confusion. I don't know why I feel the way I do, and I don't know what I did to bring this confusion on. I am sure it is my fault, I mean, why wouldn't it be? I tend to over-analyze, over-think, and in turn, I over-imagine everything. Sigh!

I am my own worst enemy most days. I think sometimes I should just go and hide in a hole somewhere because then I wouldn't get myself all messed up. More so, I wouldn't show all my chinks and flaws to the world. Yes, my blog readers wouldn't see how crazy and messed up I really am. But, then I think, “I blog about everything, so if they don’t see that yet, well then they must not be paying too close attention to me and my whining rants!" LOL!

Today then, is a weird, crazy-feeling, and off-off-off day. I hate to say it that way, but you know sometimes you wake up and you think, "Oh, you've got to be kidding?" And, then you want to just crawl back under the covers? Well, that is how I feel except that I know crawling under the covers is not going to help me out. Nope, there is no place to hide today. I am stuck where I am, and there is nothing I can do about it. I have to endure. I have to push through. I have to focus and wait for the breakthrough to come to me. I have to be patient, and I hate being patient. I have to wait. Yes, I have to wait.

The Pursuit of Peace

As I think about my situation, my circumstance right now, I have to wonder where my peace, my satisfaction, and my contentment have gone. I mean, it was only one month ago when I blogged about my peace, my genuine feeling of being content with my “lot in life.” Then in this short amount of time, something happened to me. I lost my sense of peace, of well-being. I started to feel frustrated, stressed, and with that came this sense of being condemned. I started to feel as if I was heading down a wrong path, following the wrong way, and as soon as I started to think that way, my whole mindset seemed to come to this uncomfortable place of rest.

I blogged recently how I had made some changes in my life, in the direction of my life, and that these changes seemed to be “practical and good.” I felt confident that I had the Lord’s permission to change my direction, to look for other kinds of work. In doing so, I started to apply to business positions that would offer me more pay and a stable and consistent work life. At first, I thought the change was a good thing. I have blogged about my desire to be responsible, to take authority over my situation, and under the Lord’s guidance, start to move forward to a place of security and provision. But, it seems like once I did that, take control, everything in my life started to “tank.” I mean, like sink like a penny in a pond. I prayed, prayed, and prayed, and before I knew it, I was starting to feel my own self sinking down further and further into dissatisfaction and discontentment. AGH!

So today, I decided to call it quits. I decided I don’t like feeling this way, so I am going to do something about it. I am going to turn around (again), but this time, I am going to walk back to the last place, to the last time (moment in time) when I had that sense of abiding peace.

So repent (change your mind and purpose); turn around and return [to God], that your sins may be erased (blotted out, wiped clean), that times of refreshing (of recovering from the effects of heat, of reviving with fresh air) may come from the presence of the Lord. —Acts 3:19

I took a few moments this morning to read my blog. I went back to May 17, and I started to read some of my thoughts from the previous month. I was happy then. I felt contented in my “lot in life” and I felt as though I was right where God wanted me to be. Yet, somehow in a matter of weeks, really, I changed my mind, my attitude, and I lost that blessed sense of peace. Why did this happen? Why do I think the way I do?

It all started last month when I was blogging about my progress for my research project. I was on track to propose in early June, and then begin my research project this summer. Of course, that didn’t happen, and I was disappointed in the delay. I understand the reasons for the delay, but I was disappointed in the fact that my project was placed on “hold.” 

Then, toward the end of the month, I became increasingly aware of my situation, how I had nothing to do, to produce over the summer, and that the “downtime” while nice, was going to be difficult for me to tolerate. I am not used to being “free.” I like to be busy, very busy. Still, I realized that the downtime was a gift from God, a blessing. I was to rest and that meant from all my work. I was to focus on resting, really letting myself rest well. I knew why, of course. My fall is going to be difficult. I will be conducting research during the fall while I am teaching four classes. I will be trying to finish my dissertation while managing my life, my home, and everything in between. I need to rest now so that I will be refreshed and ready to tackle my fall semester.

As June rolled around, I started to sink down under the pressure — the thoughts really — that said to me “You are not good enough, you are not ready, you are not going to graduate.” Of course, my enemy was having a field day picking me apart, and rather than stand against his assault, I gave into it. I started to “feel” worthless, like my work, my project, my life — everything — was going no where fast. The plans the Lord had for me came to a halt. I was never going to accomplish anything, and His word to me was not true. I started to believe the lies, and in doing so, I started to lose my sense of self-sufficiency (as in the Greek — finding my sufficiency in God alone), my identity and my purpose. In short, I started to think and to feel as though my life was not going as God had planned it.

The first week of June brought some good news for me, news of some summer work, and I was giving praise to God for His provision. But then, crash! The job offered didn’t pan out, and right away I took that as a sign that it was not meant to be. More so, without that influx of cash, my financial situation started to look even more bleak. I began to think, “Oh no! Maybe I am in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing, working in the wrong job.” In all, it took less than a week for me to lose all sense of peace, of composure, of assurance that I was doing the “right thing” as far as the Lord was concerned.

So what did I do? I made the grand decision to start looking for another job. I decided that the only way to solve my problem was to get a job working in corporate business. I applied to two jobs that I thought would pay me really well. I prayed over them, of course, and then I started to feel the pressure, the condemnation that I was leaving the path the Lord had placed me on in order to run to a path that seemed paved with gold (money, prestige, etc.) I started to lose my sense of self, my sense of rightness, and before long, I found myself so totally confused and confounded. I feel lost today. I feel as though I have lost my self, my identity, my purpose, and in doing so,  I have lost hold of the plan the Lord had for my life. 

Joyce Meyer, one of my favorite authors, has written extensively on the subject of fear and of peace. In many of her devotional books, Meyer has described how her life was once riddled with fear, and how she was busy for God, but never able to shake free from the guilt and condemnation. In her “Enjoy Everyday Life” series, she offers advice on how to find peace despite our circumstances. In one particular devotion on her website, she talks about stress and how stress rules our lives. She says that we believe the only way to be happy is to control our circumstances. In doing so, we attempt to cover up our unhappiness by believing that, “If we only had” certain things or lived in a certain place or were working in a certain job, for example, our life would somehow be better. Our thoughts, the way we think about our life, she states, has a direct relationship to how we feel inside. She states that stress and our thought-life are intertwined.

Meyer says, “Our thoughts are connected to every single area of our lives. They affect our words, moods, attitudes, the choices we make, and even our relationship with God and others. They also affect our emotional and physical health” (2013, para. 1). Citing to Dr. Caroline Leaf’s research, Meyer adds, “Research shows that 75 to 98 percent of mental, physical, and behavioral illness comes from one’s thought life. The mind and body are definitely connected” (para. 2).

When you think about it this way, it becomes clear. How we “think” or “view” our life — the impressions, thoughts, and determinations we make about our life — can cause us to experience physical, emotional, mental, and psychological effects as a result. Thus, controlling the way we think or the thoughts we have can have a direct impact on how we see ourselves and our relationship to the world around us.

I admit that I have been under a great deal of stress. I am tense. I am not at rest nor do I have peace in my circumstances. I am worried about my future. I am concerned about my path (am I doing my best, etc.), and I am concerned whether I am heading in the right direction. I feel so unsure right now. How do I know that I am doing the right thing?

This stress has been eating away at me. In fact, I have gained 10-12 pounds over the past year simply as a result of emotional eating to combat the stress in my life. I am miserable. I feel miserable. I eat to comfort myself, and I find that the more I eat, the worse I feel. I am like an addict. I need the "fix," but the fix isn't working to solve my problem. I am medicating myself when the solution to being healed in right inside of me. Let me explain...

Thinking Clearly or Rightly

I am probably the best case example of a person who thinks too deeply on the minutia of life. Yes, I admit it. I have a problem. I am so self-conscious about my life, my thought life, my inner and outer life, etc., that I spend so much time thinking, re-thinking, and then analyzing my thinking to the point where I confuse myself. I am tired of this pattern or habit. I need to break the cycle and stop doing what I am doing. I need to do it now.

Thinking clearly or rightly is a matter of combining insight and observation of reality. It is simply the process of looking at a particular situation and taking it at face value. I look at my life and rather than dig so deeply in order to uncover some hidden gem of truth, I need to evaluate it on its outward merits and then make a decision based on that assessment. Many years ago, I would have said I was very sharp when it came to decision-making. I could assess a situation and quickly analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the options, and then make a choice and go for it. Now, I would say that I have become so slow at making decisions that I spend more time analyzing possible outcomes and less time actually deciding on a way to go. This habit has proven difficult for me to break. It is a cycle that has caused me to spin, spin, and spin. I don't know why this happened, but I think it started back in 2013 when I had to make a decision whether to stay at CVS Caremark or leave to pursue higher education. I made a choice back then to try out teaching, and frankly, since then I have second-guessed myself and my decision.

Now, I am about to make a decision again. I am about to make a choice and I am afraid of making a huge mistake. I am afraid of choosing unwisely. I want to choose the best option, the best opportunity, and that means I want to make a good start, to head down a path that will produce good results. My problem has been one of identity and purpose. I have wrapped my identity and my purpose into the work I do for a job. I have known that this is a no-no, not a good thing, but for the past couple years, I have been so focused on my purpose and the plans the Lord has for my life (ministry-related), that the two have become intertwined. Furthermore, I have struggled with my calling, my vocational calling and the fact that many people see teaching as a specific calling (and it is -- Paul says that teaching is one of the offices of the Holy Spirit). Thus, I have confused my purpose and plan (God's plan for ministry) with the actual daily work I do. In doing so, I have made it impossible for me to move forward pro-actively and to do good work that pays a good living.

Over-Analyzing

Over-analyzing occurs when you think too deeply about a particular subject or issue (worry or concern). In my case, I over-analyze my life (the details) in order to help me understand why I do thing or how to avoid making mistakes. Analysis in and of itself is a good thing. The dictionary defines analysis as the "detailed examination of the elements or structure of something, typically as a basis for discussion or interpretation" (Dictionary.com). Interpretation, by extension, means "the action of explaining the meaning of something" (Dictionary.com). Thus, while analysis is the detailed examination of something, interpretation involved the explanation or meaning of the analysis. In this way, when you analyze something, you are trying to understand the value or importance of the "thing" under investigation. I guess you could say that I am a researcher in this way. I investigate phenomenon that are personal -- my life, for example -- and in doing so, I try to interpret my thoughts, feelings, and actions to help provide context. In short, I examine my life in order to understand myself better.

Unfortunately, when you over-analyze things, you run the risk of spinning into a cycle of examination that doesn't provide evidence for interpretation. Somethings are simply unknowable due to their timing or their processes. Not everything in the world can be observed and understood through empirical devices. Somethings are simply uncategorized, undefined, and as such are unknown. This is especially true when it comes to God and the things of God. What I mean by this is that while God reveals Himself to mankind through His creation, His word (the Bible), the living WORD (Jesus, the Christ), and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, there is still a lot about God that we cannot know. There are processes, experiences, and other relational components that are outside the understanding of man, no matter how well-trained or studied he may be. Isaiah 40:13-14 AMP says it this way,

Who has directed the Spirit of the Lord,
Or has taught Him as His counselor?
With whom did He consult and who enlightened Him?
Who taught Him the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

It is impossible to know the mind of God. No matter how we try, there are somethings in this world of ours that simply exist outside our ability to understand them. We must cease striving to know the mind of God, to understand why He does things certain ways. This doesn't mean we are not to study His word or pray for understanding, it is more that we must stop trying to be better than He is, to know more than He does, or behave as if we do know more or can know more. I am guilty of this trap, of believing that my understanding is better than His. Proverbs 3:5-6 is a reminder to me. I recite this verse daily because I regularly rely on my own understanding (interpretation) of things when instead I am cautioned to TRUST IN and RELY ON the Lord for His wisdom and knowledge.

Five things that I must stop and start doing in order to get out of this patter of over-analysis include:
  1. Stop waiting for perfection (perfect timing, perfect conditions) before I do what I know I should have done long ago.
  2. Stop assuming. Don’t act on hunches, act on facts.
  3. Stop being reactive and start being proactive. Get out of the theory and into the practical.
  4. Stop vacillating and start a plan and totally commit to it.
  5. Stop rationalizing, justifying and explaining what you’re not doing. 
I am guilty of all these things. I mean, I do numbers 1-5 all the time, every day, and I know it. I so know it.

So today, I realize (yes, I am interpreting here) the fact that I am where I am emotionally, mentally, psychologically because of some obvious errors in thinking. I have over-analyzed my situation and I have made it into something much larger than what it needed to be. You see, I have made my career search into an idol. I have placed so much emphasis on my calling, my vocation, and my work that I have produced analysis that has only confused and confounded me. Rather than staying objective like a good researcher should be, I allowed my emotional attachment to my calling to drive me into this dark place where every thought is scrutinized and every action is halted. Instead of moving forward, I have sat in the same place for far too long, lamenting about my inactivity, and justifying and rationalizing my situation.

The answer is quite simple, really. I have to pick myself up out of the dirt and start walking on. Now, I am not saying I am able to solve my problems myself, because I cannot. But I can get up and start moving, start doing proactive things to help move me toward that end. I have to stop being theoretical and start being practical. Really, it is a no-brainer. I cannot wait for the perfect job. I cannot wait for the perfect condition to move. I cannot act on feelings, emotions, hunches -- no I have to rely on facts, but then I must take those facts and use them to make a good plan. I have to be committed to one way only, no going back and forth, and lastly, I have to accept where I am today. I have to recognize that for every action there is a reaction. Every step I have taken, every move I have made, there has been progress of one type or another. I am where I am today because of choices I made in the past. I cannot change the past. I cannot rethink it or even explain it away. It is what it is and I have to let it go.

Resting and Letting God Lead Me

Joyce Meyer says that when you finally realize that you've been trying to solve all your own problems without God, then you get to the place where you can finally turn around and accept what He has to offer to you, which is His peace. It is at this point, when you grasp who you are in Christ, the plans He has for you, and the life you are called to live that you can begin to enjoy your everyday life. I have spent too many days not enjoying life because I have been so worried about making mistakes, making bad choices. I analyze too deeply, and in many ways, I stop moving forward. Instead, I am choosing today to look up, to look around me, and to realize that the situation I am in is of my own choosing. God didn't put me here, rather He allowed me to put myself in this place. He has allowed me to stay where I am to learn an important lesson, but the reason I am here is not because God said "Go do this work." No, I chose this path out of other options, and I made this decision in my own right mind. I have to accept responsibility for the decision I made and then let it be. I have to stop the condemnation -- I made a choice -- it was a good decision when I made it, and here I am.

My prayer today is this:

“God, I don’t know what to do about this situation, but I can’t fix it on my own. If You want me to do something, I ask You to show me. Meanwhile, I’m going to trust You and enjoy my life while You work on my problems.”

Now, I will rest in His sufficiency. I will trust Him to provide. I will let this matter go, and let the Lord do whatever He determines best. I will stop trying to make something happen, and I will stop analyzing my life to the "nth" degree.

Thank you, Lord, for your grace. Thank you for your forgiveness, and for helping me see how I got myself into this mess in the first place. I ask that you help me now so that I can start to move forward. I trust that you will lead me to the next job, and until that time, I will rest in your sufficiency. You are my complete satisfaction, and in you, I find my joy, my strength and all my hope. In Jesus' Name I pray this today, Amen.

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