mental health

Is Listening to What God Says About You Wrong?

Spending time in God’s Word has become very important to me. I find myself drawn to Scripture that tells me who I am in Him and how God feels about me.

I wrote about a verse Jude a few weeks ago that tells us we are beloved, called, and kept.

Twice I’ve written about how knowing we are clothed in His righteousness makes me believe blanketing myself in shame is something God would hate. (link 1 & link 2)

I spend a lot of time thinking about how God feels about me. I even changed my Instagram name to knownseenliked because I needed to focus my head and my heart on the true identity that God knows me, sees me, and likes me.

All of this focus on me feels wrong. I get a little sting inside that says, Shouldn’t you be focusing on who God is?

Is it wrong? Is my sting right? Should I be focusing more on God and less on me?

My youngest Hezekiah does this really cute thing, but it hit me yesterday that it was very telling to how our brains work as human beings.

Every time I say something complimentary to Hezekiah, which I try to do because I want his 3-year-old heart to know he is amazing and loved, he rejects what I’ve said and tells me his name — which he adorably says as Kia.

Here’s how the conversations go:

Me: “You are such a good boy.”

Hezekiah. “No, I Kia.”


Me: “You are so cute!”

Hezekiah: "No, I Kia!”


Me: “You are a good brother.”

Hezekiah: “No, I Kia.”


Spider man fade, listening to God, identity.JPG

I laugh every time. His insistence that his identity is just his nickname hasn’t stopped me from telling him all the things he is in my eyes. As a parent, I want more than anything to nurture love and kindness in him towards others and himself.

As humans, it is not easy for us to accept positive comments. We are protective and defensive. We easily accept criticism without question, but we are skeptical of praise and complements.

I know this because I had a Christian counselor tell me that I was doing this. He made me start writing down things people said to me that were complementary. It felt silly, but I did it because I wanted to get better. I was so mentally unhealthy, berating myself with negative self-talk.

Earlier this year I saw Curt Thompson speak at the IF:Gathering, and he presented the brain science behind the principle of accepting compliments differently. He shared that research shows that it takes our bodies about 3 seconds to absorb and believe a negative comment and about 30 seconds for us to absorb and believe a compliment. He encouraged us to not push away and deflect a compliment out of humility or false humility because when you do that, you have no chance of ever accepting it. He asked us to take a deep breath and let those kind words that were just spoken about us sink in. He asked us to go back to those words later in the day when we had time to really let our mind believe those words.

If this neurobiologist, psychiatrist knows it is important for good things said about you to be absorbed and I as a parent long for good things said about my children to be absorbed, then can we agree that God wants the good things He has said to His children to be absorbed?

It is important that we listen to the good things God says about us, and I’ve come to believe that that small sting inside of me that says I should only be focused on what is said about God is evil shame that does not want good for me.

Shame is the enemy that keeps us blind and in a corner. It keeps us from connecting to others and sharing our faith.

Obviously, we need to commit time to learn God’s character, and what we believe about God must line up with what Scripture says about God.

This knowing God does not mean knowing how God feels about us is then unimportant. Don’t skip absorbing what God says about you because of humility, false humility, or shame.

God says you are Beloved. God says you are known. God says you are seen. God says you are liked, friended, and included. God says you are chosen. God says you are called. God says you are commissioned. God says you are kept.


New Head & the Heart song this week. Ekkk!

If you’re interested in reading Curt Thompson’s work, he has published these two books:

Revisiting My Shame Blanket

It has been a year and a half since I first wrote about my shame blanket. In some ways, my shame blanket is far behind me because of my growth. If I’m honest, I often carrying that blankie around like Charlie Brown’s little friend Linus.

What I’ve learned about my shame blanket goes beyond just saying I need to drop it, surrender from this bad view of myself.

Here is what I’ve learned about my shame blanket.

shame blanket.JPG

My blanket shields my eyes and heart from distinguishing my feelings.

When I am in the darkness of shame, I cannot distinguish what I am feeling or why I am feeling it. Under the blanket, every bad feeling is because of the badness of me.

The truth about feelings is that naming what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it is extremely important in emotional health. What I did in the past was felt shame for the bad feeling and powered through whatever was in front of me until I hit a wall I could not see because my eyes were in the darkness of shame.

I closed my eyes and worked.

I closed my heart and served.

I closed my spiritual eyes and missed the Father trying to lift my head.

When I would hit a wall, there would be such a jumble of emotions that there was no sorting through the mess. Like those plastic slinkies sold by that Asian company Sunday school teachers frequent, it is a tangled mess. Those things should come with a sticker that says, “Save your sanity by inserting into a trashcan promptly after ten minutes use.”

When I can recognize I’m feeling feelings, set my shame aside, give myself permission to open my eyes and heart to interpret just what those feelings are, then straightening the jumble is possible.

When you’ve realized what the feeling is you are feeling — actually named it, you can gently ask yourself, Why am I feeling this? Here’s where having clear eyes, unencumbered with the despised shame blanket, is so advantageous. Feelings are tricky. Sometimes you are feeling a feeling that is perfectly reasonable. The situation you find yourself in is the exact situation that would cause this exact feeling in any human that had a non-stone heart. In that case, you can tell yourself, This feeling is legitimate. My circumstances are not good therefore I am feeling not good.

Sometimes feelings are liars. Sometimes we feel something and it isn’t true. This is the reason that feelings get such a bad rap. Feelings aren’t facts. In this case, you remind yourself of the facts. You fill your mind with truth and pray your heart will catch on.

No matter what, shame is never the answer.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
despising
the
shame,
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2 ESV

The problem perpetuates itself when we attach shame to certain feelings.

I should never feel unappreciated because then I’m not being humble.

I should never feel hurt because then I’m not forgiving.

I should never feel helpless because then I don’t have faith.

I should never feel fearful because then I’m a bad Christian.

I should never feel lonely because then I’m forgetting God is always with me.

I should never feel disappointed because God has a plan.

We are not bad for feeling unappreciated, hurt, helpless, fearful, lonely, disappointed or any other feeling. It is not a sin to feel a feeling. Denying you have those feelings to seem holy to yourself or others is harmful. Our righteousness does not stem from our ability to deny feelings, put on a happy face, or become numb to negative feelings. Our righteousness comes from Jesus.

Jesus had feelings.

Emotionally healthy Christians have feelings.

We are skipping a step in our emotional health when we deny our feelings and jump to, “God’s good and I’m good.” Let’s go through the steps of feeling unappreciated. 1. I recognize I feel unappreciated. 2. I realize why I feel unappreciated when I see circumstances in my life that would cause anyone to feel that way. 3. I’ve named my feeling. I remind myself that this is a valid feeling in this situation. 4. I pray that God would change those circumstances because everyone deserves to feel appreciated. 5. I remind myself how God feels about me — I am radically loved by Him, He loves a cheerful giver, and Jesus can relate to feeling unappreciated. 6. I am full in Him, and although it would have been nice, I can live without appreciation from others.

We have worked through that feeling without shame and covered in His grace, mercy, and righteousness. A shame blanket would have clouded that process and put a stop to the process at step one.

As children of God, we have to remind ourselves we are clothed in the splendid robe of righteousness instead of in the dark covering of shame.

So the Angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before Him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes!’ Then He said to him, ‘See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with splendid robes.’
— Zechariah 3:4 HCSB

Our robe of righteousness aids our emotional heath by giving us real security.

Our robe of righteousness does not mask our ability to distinguish our feelings because we are wearing that robe solely because of Jesus. It is holy and good, and our Father sees us as holy and good because we are covered in His righteousness and kept in His care.

When we are wearing our robe, we have no shame before God as we work through our feelings honestly. We can acknowledge the truth of our circumstances that exist in our life in the fallen world. We can put a name to what we are feeling. Naming things is good. (It is the actual oldest profession, and Adam was the OG Namer.)

We can ask ourselves why we have the feelings we do without shame. We can determine if our feelings fit the circumstance. We can ask God to change our circumstances if they do. If our feelings are lying to us, contradicting His love for us, we can ask God to help us open our hearts to the truth.

I love the Nick Drake-ness of this song. Excited for this new album.

5 Books That Helped Me Heal

As spring warms my skin, I am transported in my mind to last summer. I feel myself gently swing back and forth in my hammock while I think, aren’t hammocks supposed to be relaxing?

I was in my head a lot last summer. I was seeking anything that would heal my anxiety after finally admitting that it was more than a temporary problem.

Many things were helpful in getting to a healthier place: therapy, journaling, new boundaries, confronting my codependent tendencies, medication, and much needed changes. The thing that made all of these things more effective was reading books that helped me process these changes.

You may have different mental health concerns for yourself or a family member than I did, but all of these books will have good lessons for you on your journey.

Christian mental health books.jpg

1. All is Grace by Brennan Manning

 

Why?

This book isn’t a “self-help” type of book like the rest of the books on my list. It’s an autobiography of a deeply broken man. I cried tears more than once because of the incredible redemptive, redeeming, reckless love of our God. His trauma from disfunction was familiar even as it was far from my life experience. His tendency towards self-destruction and self-deception was familiar even though it was also very far from my life experience.

Quote:

My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough…Jesus is enough.
— Brennan Manning, All is Grace

Other healing books by Manning:

Abba’s Child

Ruthless Trust

2. How People Heal by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

 

Why?

This book broke down how the ideas of Bible intersect mental health care in the simplest to understand way possible in chapter one. Even if you can only read chapter one, you’ll be better for it.

Quote:

I believed in the power of the Bible and knew that God’s truth could change any life. And I knew that if I could just teach others the same things and encourage them to know the truth as I was learning it, they would find the same kind of growth I discovered. Yet, at the medical center I saw people who had walked with God for years and many who knew more about God’s truth than I did. These people, laypeople and pastors alike, had been very diligent about prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines. Nevertheless, they were hurting, and for one reason or another, they had been unable to walk through their valley. The woman in the pink bathrobe was a missionary who had been called off the field because she was out of touch with reality — out of touch with who she really was and where she was in time. Although the realization I had had with this particular woman came in response to an extreme situation, I had the same realization over and over with hundreds of other more normal clients. To deal with marital, parenting, emotional, and work struggles, people had tried the things they had been taught, and they felt as though these spiritual answers had let them down. And I began to feel the same way. Again the realization hit me: This is going to be harder than I thought.
— Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, How People Grow

Other healing books by Cloud & Townsend:

Boundaries

Necessary Endings (Cloud)

3. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

 

Why?

Peter, a veteran pastor in New York City, is so vulnerable with his own journey to becoming emotionally healthy, and he points out how damaging emotionally unhealthy people are in the local church. If every local church was proactive in making sure that discipleship that included emotional health was a priority, the body would be so much healthier and more whole.

Quote:

The problem, however, is that you inevitably find, as I did, something still missing. In fact, the spirituality of most current discipleship models often only adds an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally. When people have authentic spiritual experiences — such as worship, prayer, Bible studies, and fellowship — they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life is fractured and their interior world is disordered. Their apparent ‘progress’ then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing. They are deceived. I know. I lived that way for almost seventeen years. Because of the spiritual growth in certain areas of my life and in those around me, I ignored the glaring signs of emotional immaturity that were everywhere in and around me.
— Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

4. The Wisdom of You Heart by Marc Schelske

 

Why?

I met Marc at a writer’s conference in Portland when this book was just a seed. He was honest about his struggles with perfectionism and insecurities. Several years later, I read his book and it freed me from a lot of shame about my emotions. I’m an enneagram 3. If you’re an enneagram 3, 7, or 8, you are in the active triad that suppresses feelings by focusing your energy on other things. Becoming in touch with my feelings has been a process, and this book was integral in that process.

With emotions, God gave us a gift, not a curse, a small reflection of God’s own experience.
— Marc Schelske, The Wisdom of Your Heart

5. The Gift Of Being Yourself by David Benner

 

Why?

Knowing God is not something you can integrate into your life and actions fully until you know yourself. This book was full of “ah ha” moments about how the self relates to God. I flagged a third of the pages because it held an important truth.

Quote:

Self-deception occurs automatically. This is part of what psychologists mean when they say that the defense mechanisms operate in the unconscious. It is also part of what theologians mean when they speak of original sin. We don’t really have to choose self-deception. It is — to use contemporary computer jargon — the default option.
— David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself

I listened to this a bunch last summer in the hammock. Still is a fav.

The Detriment of Shame Because of Anxiety

I believe God likes me. It is good.

To get to this place of excepting God’s acceptance of me, I had to let go of my shame about fear.

Do not be anxious about anything. These words come straight from Jesus’s mouth. I feel shame because I find myself anxious every day.

Emotions are not sin. 

feelings, fear, emotions, sin.jpg

We have five core emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. (Anyone seen Inside Out?) Every emotion we have is either a variation of intensity or a mixture of these emotions.

As we accept that Jesus was human, we have to accept that he had these same core emotions too. It isn’t hard to believe because we can see him display all of these emotions at different points in our gospel story. Jesus never let those emotions lead to sin, but in my life that has happened.

We see Jesus joyful often. I imagine Him full of joy on that borrowed donkey entering Jerusalem. We see Him sad often, especially at the news of the death of His friend Lazarus. We see him angry as He turned over tables at the temple. We see Him disgusted when the Pharisees demand a sign. (He had just fed 4,000 people for goodness sake.)

We are slow to admit that Jesus displayed the emotion of fear. Why is that?

Maybe it is because we have watered down God’s Holy Word into platitudes that we can hand each other and convince ourselves that we were helpful with our Christian clichés.

Maybe it is because we’ve heard things from the pulpit that make us believe fear is a sin.

This Scripture is good, but the enemy can manipulate it like he tried to do with Jesus in the desert to make us think our fear is sin.

  • Do not worry about tomorrow.

  • God did not give you a spirit of fear.

  • Perfect love cast out fear.

  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid.

  • Do not fear. God is with you.

There is an extremely emotional piece of the gospel that I believe shows Jesus experiencing extreme fear.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ’Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, ’Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’
— Luke 22:39-46 ESV

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about sweating drops of blood:

Hematidrosis is a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress. Severe mental anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system to invoke the stress- Fight-or-flight response to such a degree as to cause hemorrhage of the vessels supplying the sweat glands. It has been suggested that acute fear and extreme stress can cause hematidrosis.

If we believe Jesus sweat drops of blood, He must have been under extreme fear, stress, anxiety, and experiencing fight-or-flight.

Reread this passage in the NIV translation with the emotion of fear in mind. How do you experience fear? What physically happens in your body when the emotion of fear takes control of your mind?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’
— Luke 22:41-46 NIV

Knowing Jesus experienced this emotion takes away the enemy’s ability to shame me over my own emotion of fear.

I experience fear. That fear keeps me alive. That fear is a core emotion that I cannot dispose of.

Our goal cannot be to rid our lives of fear.

Here’s a better goal: know that God accepts you in your fear.

Our fear does not surprise Him or alarm Him. He created us with emotions, and He experiences emotions.

It is easy to think we can just turn to God whenever we have fear, but if we are so ashamed of our fear that we want to hide away from God, how can we seek His help?

I rid myself of the shame of my fear, and I am eager to allow God to help me work through my fear and anxiety.

We don’t cut fear out of our life. We experience that fear and work through those emotions with a God that knows what fear feels like.

Anxiety is such a big part of my life right now, I don’t think I could accept that God likes me if I didn’t realize that God understood my anxiety or that I didn’t need to feel shame about my anxiety.

To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened. In John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus was moved with the deepest emotions (11:33)... The gospel portrait of the beloved Child of Abba is that of a man exquisitely attuned to His emotions and uninhibited in expressing them. The Son of Man did not scorn of reject feelings as fickle and unreliable. They were sensitive antennae to which He listened carefully and through which He perceived the will of His Father for congruent speech and action.
— Brennan Manning, Abba's Child

If you experience shame over your fear, I encourage you to go back over those verses that can either be a cliché or a balm to your soul. Look at the verse with new eyes. See the words coming from a God who knows fear and never wants to shame you.

His Word actually gives us an antidote to shame. That antidote is an emotion. God actually commands us to have an emotion to counteract the negative effects of shame. We are told to have confidence in John’s first letter to God’s children.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
— 1 John 2:28 ESV

He goes on to say:

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
— 1 John 3:19-21 ESV

Have confidence before God. Allow your heart, mind, soul, and body to feel that you can trust and rely on God. Have confidence that God likes you.

God likes you, even when you are fearful because you’re never going to be without fear.

Here’s a song because music is good and wearing the struggle is honest.

Change is the Place Where Joy and Grief Mingle

Here are some things I’ve learned about change.

Sometimes you don’t choose the change.

When my father-in-law had a high count of white blood cells, it was a change that we didn’t choose. It would take a few weeks before the doctors confirmed his leukemia diagnosis. It would be only a few weeks before we said goodbye to him. This wasn’t a change anyone would have chosen.

When my dad woke me up with a phone call to tell me my brother was gone. Tragically, my brother chose this change, but I didn’t. I would never have.

When someone’s bad choices throw our life into a tailspin, we have no choice but to adjust. Sometimes people make a choice that isn’t necessarily bad but it causes ripples of change to your life too.

Change brings grief.

It is obvious when the change we are considering is a death of a loved one that grief would be involved. What about when it is a different change that isn’t death? Sorrow comes in every change.

Change can also include trauma.

My adopted son’s life had traumatic changes that were out of his hands. His little brain and heart hold those experiences deeply. Last week we had a good change in our life. An extremely kind friend gave us a van. It’s a hand-me-down, but it feels like we won the lotto because it’s so comfy and nice.

new van.JPG

Having nice seats for you and your people to ride in around town is really delightful. I am thankful for this new car, people who enjoy blessing others, and these silly boys who think it’s cool that the back seats can swivel and face backwards, “limo-style.”

limo seating minivan.JPG

We were all having fun taking the car for our first spin. We drove my husband back to work to drop him off. After we got back home, I was getting my youngest out of his car seat, and he busted out crying — not whining — heartwrenching tears. “I want daddy,” he said. I knew instantly the source of his anxiety and grief wasn’t dropping off daddy eight minutes earlier. The grief was the change. Change is scary when a change has undercurrents of past trauma. I reassured him the best I could that he was safe in his family even with the new car. We talked about the new car and hugged for a long time.

I know this feeling. After my brother’s death, I panicked every time I heard a phone ring. If that phone ring was late at night or early in the morning, I was on edge for hours. It took me years to get past that reaction. It has been almost 9 years, and I still catch my body tensing at a ringing phone.

Sometimes you choose the change.

Not all change is bad, like the new van. Sometimes we choose the change. We decide to change homes, schools, churches, friendships, food intake, habits, clothes, hobbies, or hairstyles. The change might be new, exciting, and fun. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something lost.

Even when you choose the change, grief still exists in the change.

Every change big or small, good or bad, brings a measure of grief. We lose things. Even when the change is your choice, you still are allowed to let yourself grieve explicit and implicit losses. Comparison has no function in this grieving because grief does not follow reasoning. It is not kind or healthy to shame yourself for your feelings. God is good. The gifts of the change are good. Our feelings cannot change that.

We are complex, and grief does not steal my gratitude. Ingratitude can definitely steal my joy, but I can hold my joy, sadness, and thankfulness up to God in shameless honesty without worry that He will not get it. God is much more complex than me. My complexity isn’t confusing to Him. I’m thankful He joins me in the place where mourning and celebration mingle without hesitation. I have this stupid habit of letting my brain blurt out silver linings like they will outshine the grey. Only The Light can push the darkness away. Silver linings are just circumstances that get put in the pro column. I am not loved and liked by the pro column. I am loved and liked by the Son. You are too.

We all have some measure of change in this life or we are not alive. This is what I’ve learned about change: changes are sometimes chosen and sometimes not, but all change brings grief.

What are you learning about change?



I like to include a song for you every now & again. Here’s a new one. I might like the acoustic version better.

Lie #8 Certainty Is Possible

One of the ways I know I’m not doing well mentally is that I am waiting for certainty to move forward or I am wanting certainty from a situation where it isn’t possible.

When I am wanting to be certain of an outcome, what is going to happen in the future, or wanting certainty in what someone else is thinking, their thoughts behind their actions, I am wanting something I can never have.

I can’t know these things.

I can get stuck wanting these things.

I have been stuck wanting to know the future. I have bee stuck wanting to understand other’s thoughts and actions.

If we want to move forward with our lives, we have to accept that we just won’t have all the answers.

Not knowing can put you in two very different places. It can put in a place of paralysis, full of fear. Or it can put you in a place of bravely facing the unknown, otherwise known as having faith.

We aren’t suppose to have all the knowledge. We aren’t supposed to see all the steps and pieces in this life. It doesn’t work that way. It never has and never will.

There are things we can be certain about as Christians.

Knowing those things about God’s relationship with us is what we hold onto as we deal with these uncertain, difficult times in our life. Searching out these truths brings freedom, not fear. It will never bring you to a place of feeling stuck, but it will bring to a place of open hands and surrender.

Surrender isn’t a comfortable place, but it is the best place.

If you find yourself stuck, ruminating uncertain situations or confounding people in your mind, step away from wanting certainty. If you find yourself stuck facing a decision, and you think you can’t make up your mind without every ever-loving fact, step away from wanting certainty.

Let go of the absolute words about your life right now or your thoughts about yourself. Stop using: should, shouldn’t, never, always, everyone, no one, everything, nothing, must, and ought.

Embrace: maybe, trust, possibility, surrender, imagine, adventure, brave, and hope.

So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner. Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us. We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now. Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus.
— 2 Timothy 1:8-10 The Message

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Here’s a song for you today.

Lie #3: All Checkboxes Are Created Equal

I can get the same sense of satisfaction from finishing a tv show as checking off a box in my planner. I feel as accomplished when I add another finished book to my Goodreads account as I do posting a blog post.

As someone who enjoys finishing tasks, I take enjoyment when I check off a box that I’ve accomplished something.

But not all checkboxes are equal or accomplish the same thing in life. I can fool my brain into thinking I did something at the end of the day. I can believe the lie that I’m accomplishing what I should be doing with my life by watching a tv show.

There are survival accomplishments: buy the groceries, pay the bills, file the taxes, do the dishes, wash the clothes, and read yo’ Bible.

There are make-life-better accomplishments: go to that doctor’s appointment, take my kids to the dentist, Target runs, organize that closet, buy some flowers, water the plant, meet with the insurance agent, and/or actually put up those clothes and dishes you washed.

There are entertain-your-brain accomplishments: binge the show, read that mystery novel, listen to the music, or maybe Wednesdays we PopCast.

Then there are the accomplishments that actually are long-term, what-am-I-doing-with-my-life accomplishments.

I can get bogged down in the weeds of just finishing survival accomplishments with a side of entertainment accomplishments and never actually accomplish the things I want to do in life (especially when my mental health isn’t the best.) I heard a podcaster call it “running the errands of life.”

I have goals that will never get accomplished if I never put time towards them. These goals require me doing things that I don’t always feel like doing. I want to be a better writer. I want to study my Bible with intention. I want to publish a book with a traditional publisher. I want to disciple my kids. I want to have a marriage I enjoy. I want to see a book I wrote on the shelf at Target. I want to really know God. I want to fulfill the Great Commission to the best of my ability. I want to make life better for other people. I want to enjoy my family and love them well.

What will my life be known for?

What will your life be known for?

Are there things you want to accomplish that get pushed to the back burner? Have you believed the lie that all checkboxes are created equal?

Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us.
— 2 Corinthians 6:1 The Message

Need help fighting lies?

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Song for you today.

Seven Things I Learned This Summer

  1. New Pencils Make Me Happy

I get sad about summer ending. I love the sunshine, and fall allergies send me inside sneezing. The thing that cheers me up more than a pumpkin-spiced whatever-is-now-spiced is a brand new pack of sharpened Ticonderoga pencils.

Anyone else? They are prettier than a bouquet of flowers, and they smell good too.

2. Jane Had Cute Clothes in the Jungle

I obsessed about Mr. Rogers all summer, and I blogged about seeing the documentary here. I also watched a documentary about Jane Goodall. It was a beautiful documentary, and I learned some interesting things about her life in the jungle. But most of all, I wanted to run out and buy kaki shorts and button-down dress shirts.

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Someone remind me of this next summer. For now, it’s fall, and I’ll be wearing my Mister-Rogers-type cardigans and hoping some of his goodwill, kindness, and self-discipline rubs off on me as I wear it.

3. Codependency Happens

This is a little heavier topic, but it is the biggest lesson of the summer. (I’m an INFJ, so these lists are never going to be all superficial.) I thought codependency was something limited to situations involving addiction or domestic violence so when my therapist gently told me my thoughts toward someone in my life was my codependency, I felt like I’d fell off a truck. I lost all my bearings. Everything I knew about how I interact with people in my life had to be reexamined through this new lens I was handed. I googled codependency. This is what I saw.

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When I looked at this list at the beginning of summer and got honest with myself, I said “yes” to ten of these questions, and I was in the extremely codependent category. I was sad for days. How could I be so flawed and unaware?

Number 14 is my life struggle. Number five was also a big one for me, because it is just so unhealthy. I would tell myself that if I just did the right thing, I was leading by example, and others would see and follow. I can choose to do what I think is right, but thinking that my actions would change others or having that motivation is codependency.

I may be codependent, but I’m also an overachiever. I got busy reading and listening to podcasts. The best thing I learned is the simplest little phrase you ever did hear, “I am me and you are you.”

Saying, “I am me and you are you” out loud does something in my brain. I can feel myself separating out from the entanglement with others in my mind.

Say it with me, “I am me and you are you.”

It’s so simple yet so good and true.

4. Church is a Codependency Hotbed and Real Relationships Need Equality

Most of my codependent thoughts were wrapped up in our church situation. Maybe it is because my husband and I have been heavily involved and employed by a church ministry for over twenty years, but I suspect other church members have these struggles even if that isn’t the case. I suspect that many of these codependent thoughts are embraced or even rewarded in church settings. After all, if you take better care of others than yourself you might be compared with Mother Teressa. And trying to change other people’s choices is how some people gauge how good your teaching is, and saying “no” is always hardest when it is the church asking.

I believe healthy people are needed to make up a healthy churches, and healthy churches strengthen believers. Spiritual growth thrives in healthy people and healthy churches. (This is what I’m learning in my Community Bible Study lessons about 1 Timothy.)

The lesson of “I am me and you are you” is really needed in church, and it can help church members thrive.

When I learned this phrase I also learned an important lesson about relationships. Real, true, healthy relationships need equality and mutuality, meaning one person cannot be dominate or more needed or a relationship doesn’t really exist. When church members are constantly on the giving end, the person receiving isn’t entering the relationship. A relationship must have giving and receiving or it never gets off the ground.

This is a picture of a real, healthy relationship, two equal circles that don’t overlap.

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We are separate. We both have things to offer the relationship. We both are giving and receiving. Church outreach might start out on uneven ground, but the goal should be to eventually have a real, mutual, equal relationship with the person receiving help from a church outreach. That is easier said than done! If we don’t have that goal in mind, we’ll never even come close.

It was messy learning this lesson for myself. I’ve been put into the situation of giving in so many mission trips and church outreaches, and I’ve found true friendship with a few people that I’ve taken time to allow that uneven balance to shift to mutuality. It takes humbling yourself and receiving from others. The times I’ve accepted the hospitality of others have been a real blessing, and I have real regrets over times when I didn’t seek the shift because of pride or times I didn’t generously give my time with others to make room for the shift.

5. Formula For Giving Feedback on Someone’s Writing

Is there anything more sticky than trying to give good feedback? I learned this formula from writing coach Ann Kroeker — Ask and BAP.

Before giving feedback, ask the writer what they need to be addressed in their writing. What should you be reading and watching for? Then BAP.

B - Bless - Give encouragement for what was good in the writing.

A - Address - Answer specific questions about the writing. Did it have good flow? Was it a good concept? Did it make sense? Are they repeating themselves too much?

P - Press - Only when the writer asks for it do you press. If they want critical feedback to make the writing publishable, then you should give them every p & q for making the new draft as perfect as possible.

I feel empowered to offer this type of help to my writing friends after learning this.

6. If It Doesn’t Have Fruit, It’s Not best

I heard a sermon by a guest speaker named Marlin Vis. He pointed out something that I had never thought about, but I think I agree with him. He said, “God is not overly concerned with outcomes. I’m not saying He’s not concerned. He’s concerned with output. Here it is — the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity [goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with their passions… and desires…. If you want to know if God’s will is being done in your life or in anybody you are watching, you look for these fruits. If you don’t see them, God’s will — no matter what the outcome is — that is not the result of God’s will. And where you see this, that’s God’s will being worked out in the world. Amen? Or not? It’s ok if you don’t agree, but think on these things.”

This is a lot to think about. It is hard to stay walking in the spirit, but God is concerned if I do and it is His will that I do walk in the spirit. This made me think about the life of Samson. He wasn’t concerned with output during his life and his outcome was pushing over those pillars. I have to believe God wanted better for Samson.

Am I more worried about outcome or how I walk through the situation? This idea makes me lock eyes with my sin nature. It is lurking there, and it is not pretty.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
— Galatians 5:16-26 ESV

7. Some Encouragement From Ruth Bell Graham

After facing my sin nature, I need some encouragement not to give up because walking in the spirit does not come naturally. I love this reminder of sanctification from Ruth Bell Graham’s grave marker.


End of construction — Thank you for your patience.
— Ruth Bell Graham
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We are all a work in progress. We will not be completed until that day when we are face to face with Jesus!

I’m thankful for this godly woman’s vulnerability and honesty, even in death.

What about you? What have you learned this summer?

Emily P. Freeman is good to remind us to keep track.

Here’s a song for you just because.