Relationships. They bring us joy and companionship. We become better from the impact of many people in our lives. We get the opportunity to be a person who notices someone else’s life.
But in the in-between days, when the joy wanes, when we don’t like what someone did, and when we feel unnoticed, sometimes we’d rather stay under the covers and avoid the people we are called to love. Relationships are so good and necessary, but they also take plenty of hard work. And sometimes, well, we just don’t feel like putting in the work.
In Matthew 22, the Pharisees tested Jesus with a question. They asked Him what the greatest commandment was. His reply in verses 37-39 was, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”
To basically sum up these three verses one might say, “Love God. Love Others.” Sounds simple enough to incorporate, right? I love God, check. I love others, ummm. So many of us struggle to maintain healthy relationships. Maybe you’re like me and enjoy getting things checked off your list and living by a plan. That’s not a bad thing at all until you let that list and plan get in the way of relationships. I’ve let that happen more times than I’m proud to remember or admit. When I let my agenda trump what the people in my life need, I know that I need to take a step back and make some changes.
I’m asking God to examine my heart and show me what relationships in my life need some extra tender, lovin’ care and which ones need some space. In what ways do I need to selflessly serve my husband? Am I building him up enough? Do my children know how much of a blessing they are to me? Do my words to them consist of mostly criticism? Do I make time to spend with my extended family? Are my words building my friends up or tearing them down? Are there people in my life who I allow to pull me away from Christ? Is there a relationship that maybe I need to physically distance myself from? I know that last question seems harsh. Notice I said physically distance. We should always love and pray for people but sometimes, we have to do it from a distance.
What about you? What relationships in your life
need more of you? Where do you need to invest more? Is it with your husband, your children, your aging parents or that hurting friend? Are there relationships that bring toxicity into your life? Is God leading you to put some distance there?
Only you can answer these questions. As you
think through them, I would challenge you to truly commit to making the most important relationships in your life full and rich. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can invest in the relationships that only you can invest in. Be the wife, the mom, the friend, the family member, the boss, the co-worker that you need to be to the people who are in your life.
Spend some time over the next few days really evaluating the state of your relationships by answering the questions above.
Every reaction can be traced back to an emotion. Our emotions are powerful things. It’s how we experience our greatest joys as well as our deepest sorrows. Emotions can cause wrinkles as well as provide the biggest smiles. Emotions can cause tears and also cause your heart to swell with pride.
One of my most consistent statements around Leading and Loving It over the years in regards to emotions is, “You must feel your way through life. Don’t numb yourself to avoid pain or allow calluses to develop around your heart.”
That statement still rings true for me, however I think after walking through last year I probably process my emotions differently. Our emotions can’t control us but I do believe there is an acknowledgement of emotions, both the difficult and the easy, that grows us closer to Him.
While navigating emotions is not always easy, I have to learn to appreciate my emotions – all of them. The joy, the anger, the disappointment, the sorrow, the fear, the love, the happiness. Recently, I stumbled upon this quote from one of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequest. She says:
Bittersweet is the idea that in all things there is both something broken and something beautiful, that there is a sliver of lightness on even the darkest of nights, a shadow of hope in every heartbreak, and that rejoicing is no less rich when it contains a splinter of sadness.
Bittersweet is the practice of believing that we really do need both the bitter and the sweet, and that a life of nothing but sweetness rots both your teeth and your soul. Bitter is what makes us strong, what forces us to push through, what helps us earn the lines on our faces and the calluses on our hands. Sweet is nice enough, but bittersweet is beautiful, nuanced, full of depth and complexity. Bittersweet is courageous, gutsy and earthly.
And that’s the state of my emotions today. Realizing I will never feel true joy unless I have to face the pain of loss. Knowing that in order to recognize the depth of the sweetness of God’s love, I have to have traveled tough roads where my dependence is solely on Him. Recognizing that the sun always shines a bit brighter after a storm.
I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun. Ecclesiastes 8:15
What emotions have you been ignoring in your life? What emotions have been controlling you, your reactions and responses? Don’t allow a tough situation or harsh critics to get the best of you and callus your heart. Take some time over the next day or two to really get curious about your emotions and examine what emotions you are trying to numb and what emotions you need to process to walk into this year feeling full of the love of God.
You are about to receive the secret sauce to a flourishing life, the thing that will make others want what you have. It will cost you something. It’s not a quick fix but it’s definitely a one size fits all formula. Are you ready? Take a deep breath. The secret sauce (drum roll, please) is Psalm 4:23 which says, “Guard your heart for everything you do flows from it.”
The heart is more than a cute emoji to express love. It’s a real-life power source that is vital to our physical and spiritual life. The quality of our life will be determined by what we allow to take root in our hearts. Whatever is planted and fed, will grow. That’s why we need to be on guard at all times, in every situation. We need to be spiritual ninja warriors defeating the bad and protecting the good. When the enemy wants us to dwell on the pain instead of praying for God to heal the hurt, we choose to pray. In those moments when selfishness wants to rule, we shift our focus to others first. Guarding our heart is an act of obedience to God that directly affects everything in our lives.
As I begin 2016, I feel like a victorious warrior after a long battle. For almost three years, it felt like one attack after the other came with little chance to catch my breath. Although opposition came at me from many sides, my greatest opposition was potentially my own heart (Jeremiah 17:9.) I had to choose each day whether I would allow my thoughts and emotions to dictate my response or whether I would allow God’s word to direct my decisions. I had to defeat the bad and protect the good. Admittedly, I had some weak moments when my flesh won because, friends, sometimes guarding the heart is crazy hard work. It’s a spiritual discipline that pushes us past our point of comfort. It’s not always enjoyable and yet, in the midst of the battles, God is everything we need. Sure, I took some hits, and I’m a little bruised, but my heart is whole, It’s beating the praises of God’s faithfulness. My life is full of joy, peace, and enormous amounts of love. Everything in my life is a by-product of what’s in my heart.
A few keys to guard your heart:
- Fill your heart with good stuff.
What you feed grows, so feed your heart with God’s word. Read the Bible. Speak God’s truth. Encourage yourself with God’s promises. What is in you will come out of you.
- Choose to obey God’s instruction over fleshly impulse.
Every single day is full of choices that will determine the quality of your life. Knowing the right thing to do is simple; it’s just not easy. But we were made to do hard things, to make hard choices. Choosing the momentary relief of the flesh does not compare to the blessing of obedience. Choose wisely.
- Repeat, everyday, over and over.
Guarding our hearts is not a one-time task. It’s an ongoing, everyday, moment-by-moment discipline.
- Enjoy the goodness of the Lord.
Because life is messy, we can’t fully escape difficulty. However, we can choose to focus on the goodness of life and enjoy the fruit of God’s reward. He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek after Him. (Hebrews 11:6) I can testify that I’m enjoying the goodness of the Lord!
How are you doing as the guard of your heart?
I’ve always been somewhat active and sporadic when it came to eating healthy and working out. When I was younger, it was just something we all did. But as I became a real adult, life became more difficult to balance.
Let’s be honest. Life is demanding! With a full-time job, a husband and kids to love and feed, a home to keep, friends to stay connected to, and of course, a ministry to keep afloat, who has time to work out? Fast food becomes a necessity for convenience and working out is just a nice idea. Who has time for that? I am doing the Lord’s work!
One day, I noticed that I felt overly winded walking up a flight of stairs. So, I decided I would take the elevator from that point on. Easy fix. But then, one day during Christmas break a few years ago, my sons asked me to play some Wii Sports games with them. You know, those “fun” ones where you can feel like you’re skiing or playing tennis without actually skiing or playing tennis. I stepped on that little white balance board to start my ski session. Of course the board had to access my body weight before I could continue. I didn’t think much of it until the TV screen flashed the following:
I stared at the screen and watched my little Wii Mii (that stupid cartoon version of me) grow plumper.
I didn’t want to play anymore, but I had promised my kids so I continued. As we played, I noticed I was getting beyond winded and sweating on this little video game. A VIDEO GAME! I was also super sore the next day, but let’s not talk about that right now.
This was my wake-up call. If I can’t even play a video game with my sons without sweating and getting sore, how was I going to last long enough to see them grow up. How was I ever going to play with my grandkids?
I started working out again. I started with Jillian Michaels’ workout videos in my own living room. But sometimes, what Jillian was doing on the screen was too difficult so I would sit on my couch and just watch her. I realized quickly I was cheating myself. I needed accountability so I started working out with friends at 5am at the local gym, which was the only spare hour I had in any given day. What was on the line was too precious to not do something about it.
Genesis 1:27 says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created him.” At first look, this is just part of the creation story. But as we look at how God created us in HIS image, that puts more importance on how we care for ourselves as one who reflects His image to the world.
“Or do you not know your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.
Romans 12:1, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
In the last few years, I have felt more and more convicted of how lazy I am in making excuses for not taking care of myself mentally, emotionally, spiritually AND physically. As Christ followers, we tend to focus mostly on our spiritual lives, but God made us fully in His image which is wholly WHOLE. How we care for our whole self is important.
So, it started with Jillian, then I joined a gym with some friends, and about 2 years ago, I joined a Crossfit gym. Although I am a huge fan, I’m not suggesting that everyone join Crossfit. But let me take a minute to tell you why I choose Crossfit. Crossfit is an amazing community. It’s a cardio AND strength workout. But most importantly, I get texts from workout friends and sometimes even get called out on Facebook if I don’t attend a class. Now, THAT is accountability.
We take care of our mental and emotional lives by seeking wise counsel. We address our spiritual lives by going to church, reading God’s word, and attending a small group. Why do we neglect the physical part of our lives? Let’s start choosing to reflect the WHOLENESS of God.
What are some of the excuses you’ve used to keep you from your optimum physical health? What can you do today to change that?
It goes without saying that our minds matter because God included the state of them in the greatest commandment. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.”
As a woman who has stewarded mental affliction for thirty-four years, if I had to give one keynote in a mental “state of the union” address, it would be this: Fight back! Our minds are that important and worth the fight!
In a recent counseling session, I had a revelation that made the session worth every dollar. My counselor and I were talking about fighting versus fleeing. We traveled the chapters of my life. We discussed the times I fought and the times I fled. During our discussion, it became clear to me the difference between the two. Fleeing was easy in the moment and brutal in the long run, while fighting was brutal in the moment and easier in the long run.
When I realized the totality of the times I chose to fight for my mental health, I started to get emotional. I don’t want to say I’m proud of the times I fought, because pride isn’t why I did it. But I am thankful! I am thankful that when the enemy shouted, “Give up,” or “Why waste your time?” or “Just end it,” that God helped me hear HIM even louder. In those moments when I was fighting back with my mind, God raised up verses from the belly of my soul like, “I am more than a conqueror through Him who loved me!”
More than a conqueror? How is that possible? What denotes MORE than a conqueror? A hero, perhaps? Because if “more than a conqueror” means I’m a hero of my faith, then my boys, DJ and Andy, aren’t just being raised by a mom, they’re being raised by a hero, deputized by God with a badge that says: More than a conquering mom! And for that, I will keep fighting!
If you find yourself fighting for your mind, before you ever consider fleeing, get on your knees and ask God, “Will you help me fight?” And get ready, because conquest is coming, and a badge of conquering will be yours for the wearing.
Spend some time today asking God to “help you fight” for your mind.