Tis the season for a good Spring Clean, and a couple of weeks ago, as we cleared out our shed, we found a massive bag of expired seeds.
The date on the packets told me these seeds were over, time to dispose of and buy new. Instead, I bought a monster bag of potting soil and planted every expired seed. A satisfying afternoon of dirt under my gel nails as I wondered whether these tiny dots held life.
As I planted, a word came to mind, dormant. The dictionary definition is, ‘slowed down for a period of time; in or as if in a deep sleep.’ I imagined the life inside the seed, the burial needed, then the trigger needed for the renewal process. The seed lies dormant until environmental conditions are favourable for it to germinate. I decided to be a part of the renewal process!
The reality is, there is no period of inactivity where nothing is happening. Dormancy might appear to be a hard shell, impermeable even, but I see it as protection until the right time. That time when the exterior weakens to allow breakthrough through soaking and scarification. Heat, light and fire being effective methods to breakthrough – sound familiar? Of course, there is natural scarification as the ground freezes and thaws.
Scripture encourages us to watch the seasons, the signs, nature encouraging us that there are times to prepare.
I recently read this, which sums up my thoughts well, ‘Just as winter prepares plants and trees for warmer weather, a spiritually dormant season is a time of preparation—when our inner character is developed and strengthened. Strong character is essential for withstanding storms that will come during seasons of growth and harvest.’
The very nature of God encourages us: that we are never static, that the seasons are His gift to our soul, that He allows favourable conditions for our growth.
Be encouraged that there is no expiry but simply dormancy; my little green shoots have shown me this.
In this harsh, fragile, Covid world we find ourselves in, I pray that we’ll allow the light, heat and fire of God to break through our protected self, bringing life to the new things that are happening inside.
He is faithful; He is doing a new, different thing, new life is emerging.
Or, as Solomon wrote,
My beloved spoke and said to me,
“Arise, my darling,
my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
my beautiful one, come with me.” Song of Solomon 2:10-14
Expired? I’m confident I’ll show a whole garden of flower pics soon,
“Why are you not writing?” he asked, “your encouraging voice needs to be heard in this season.”
I’ve been thinking about the gift of the Psalms. ‘How would you advise reading them?’ a student asked Eugene Peterson. ‘Begin at Psalm One, read one each day, then 150 Psalms and days later, start again.’
The Psalms are our guide to the pilgrimage life, expressing all emotions, describing life’s beauty, grit, truth, despair and soul ache.
Timothy Keller describes them as the ‘medicine chest of the heart.’
Ignatius, ‘the balm of salvation.’
Calvin, ‘the anatomy of the soul.’
The Psalms use a walking language, a way, a pilgrimage. They describe a measured pace, where we notice, stop and linger awhile. I’ve heard the Psalms described as sounds and words a symphony held together by pain and joy, the big picture of life. Henri Nouwen wrote, ‘sadness and joy kiss, we have all experienced this. Our life is a short time in expectation, a time in which sadness and joy kiss each other at every moment.’ The Psalms capture this, we can lament, laugh, and make beautiful sounds while the guttural groans are real.
This gift of the Psalms, the language of the heart, is ours.
Here are some verses of Psalm 84 that I have been travelling with this week.
“Blessed is the man whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the ways of them, who passing through the valley of Baca, make it a well; the rain also fills the pools. They go from Strength to Strength—every one of them in Zion appears before God.” Psalm 84:5-7
These verses describe a pilgrimage to Jerusalem; the weary pilgrims would pass through Baca, a perilous pass. The scorching sun, the parched ground, the dry air, thorns lacerating, and the beasts lurking. This wouldn’t have been a chosen route, but to reach their destination, they had to travel through. The meaning of Baca is ‘the valley of weeping, tears or mourning.’
This time we’re in is a valley of weeping, tears, of parched ground. What is your Baca in this season? How is the ground under your feet? I speak daily to those who have lost jobs, are despairing, facing sickness in their family, grieving, estranged from loved ones, frustration, disappointment. We see pain and anger on our screens.
Please be encouraged today that God is in your midst; the Holy Spirit is alongside your journey, counselling and comforting.
Psalm 84 advises three aspects to connect with on the journey, strength. Wells. Destination.
Strengthen yourself in the Lord. Scriptures repeatedly speak of renewing strength; there is health and growth as we wait and bind ourselves to the Lord. Verse 5 speaks of our hearts set on the pilgrimage. Let’s remember that in this season, where we feel bounced from pillar to post, it is not our final destination; we are not staying in Baca.
While this is true, there is always a question we can ask of the Lord in prayer,
“What do you want to teach me here? This season of self-isolation – this struggle?“
Verse 6 speaks of wells and pools. Even though we are tired and weary, there is time to dig a well. To make room in this tough situation. Through prayer, worship, through changing our perspective, seeing the problem solved in a new way. Notice the verse the pilgrims dig the well, and the well fills from the top – we dig, and heaven’s rain falls and fills. As we partner with the fountain of living water, we will see our landscape changing. Let’s give out of our struggle, and find a place of refreshment for ourselves in the desert, leaving a garden of grace for those following behind.
The Passion version translates the verse this way, ‘even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears, they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.’
My prayer for you is that you will know God is with you; that you will know Him as your strength. He promises that he is both with you and ahead of you. Be encouraged that you will leave the valley of Baca, this season, with a testimony of all that God did and said. He is faithful.
You are loved, Michelle ♡
Isa. 41:17, 18, “When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue fails for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them. I will open rivers in high places and fountains in the midst of the valleys; I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water.”
Jesus and his disciples travel to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. Jesus asks for a colt to ride. Naturally.
The desperate people, they ran.
The bustling crowds, they cheered.
The branches were waved.
Their valued cloaks laid out on the dusty ground.
Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in God’s name! Blessed the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!
I was going to write a Palm Sunday post this morning, then I read the following insightful words of my friend, Jeff Lucas, and thought I would share those instead!
‘…..But here’s the thing. There’s no crowds, they’re all thinned now by social distancing, and rightly so. And so now some of us find ourselves as those called to observe this Holy Week, but feeling tired, flat, weary, and somewhat unholy as a result.
Where doth this lethargy cometh from, I hear you ask, you who have been reading the King James a bit because you’ve got time on your hands.
Well, for one thing, we’re inactive. Yes, we can go out for exercise, but the sight of an approaching stranger nudges us into multi-layered apprehension. What if they are carriers of the dreaded pox? And then, what side of the path or pavement should I occupy? Do normal traffic rules apply (drive on the left, UK people)? Why aren’t they moving over to play their part in the distancing routine?
And then, as we pass, should we greet them even briefly, expelling something called droplets in the process? Should we smile, wish them well, or just scurry on? And is the masked person someone taking extra distancing precautions, or are they in fact a bank robber on their way home from a failed job (they went to rob the bank, but like everything else, it was closed…..)
We watch screens and are overwhelmed by a continual flow of bad news, daunting statistics and speculation. We are grateful for national leaders who are doing their best and heartened by health worker heroes who are spending themselves for us. But then their self-sacrificial giving of themselves creates a greater sense of powerlessness in us – what, if anything, can we do to help? We’re told that our greatest contribution is to stay at home and save lives – and that is true – but it seems like a paltry effort.
In lockdown, our conversations go in circles. There’s a shortage of ‘so what did you do today’ chatter, because we all know what we did today. And the we feel additional gloom about feeling glum together, because we know that there are many who have to steer through lock down alone.
All in all, some of us feel various degrees of emotional flatness. I write, not to add to the sense of gloom, but to say that it’s okay to feel like this. We should grieve when young nurses die, and when we wonder what on earth will happen to the poor in India. We should recognise that we were created for productivity, and when our capacity to deliver, produce, complete and resolve, we feel stunted. We should know that we are suffering the effect of seismic shock, thrust suddenly into a Bruce Willis disaster movie, one in which Brucie has yet to rescue us from the approaching meteor or, in this case, the lurking virus.
But we today, we who follow Christ reach for a palm branch. Our arms might be tired as we wave it, and our cry of Hosanna might feel just a little hollow. We feel a little silly, even, waving bits of a tree without a crowd or a physical congregation to bolster our hearts.
But we know that our emotions are not the barometer of our spirituality. We look past the headlines, to the One who has ridden in the city, to die, to live, to ascend, and ultimately to come again.
When we feel nudged towards hopelessness, faith affirms that He is still our hope.
So go ahead. Pick up that palm branch, weary soul. Give it a wave. You know it makes sense.’
Lord, remind us today. As we wave our paper palm branches and reread your story. As we shout ‘hosanna,’ remind us salvation is ours – help us to fully grasp its true meaning: to be saved from danger, to be delivered, protected, rescued, kept from being lost, to be healed, and made whole. But not just today, tomorrow and the roller coaster of Holy week. And as you remind us of what we need to lay down, let us find your amazing grace drowning our fickle ways, protecting us from saying, ‘Crucify Him.’ Amen.
Voices are coming at us, aren’t they? Guiding, shouting, whispering, advising, ordering and some, gently helping. Let’s be careful who we listen to. One of the voices I came across this week was that of Pete Grieg. Founder of the 24/7 prayer movement in the UK, I find Pete’s thoughts to be thoughtful and careful, while not diminishing the reality or responsibility of facts he brings a faith-filled response. Pete preached at Emmaus Road this past weekend; here’s a snippet or two…mingled with a few of my musings.
Psalm 46 says,
‘God, you’re such a safe and powerful place to find refuge! You’re a proven help in time of trouble—more than enough and always available whenever I need you. So we will never fear, even if every structure of support were to crumble away.‘
‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’
We are in a time of finding our faith, while in isolation and fear. It’s important to know the truth of our rock, as people and our security shake around us. Even before Covid-19, there were fires, floods and scandals. And now this, the invisible enemy that has affected us all – none of us immune to its effects.
What we do know is that things will never be the same. I’m not sure they’re meant to be? What we do know in this shaking and crumbling of security is that there will be a generational change and transition. There will be a change in culture. There will be new habits. There will be new technology. There will be beauty for ashes.
Let’s think on some foundational truths:
Let’s not forget, as followers of Jesus; we are encouraged to wage a war of a different kind. Ephesians 6 says we do not battle against flesh and blood but principalities and powers, ‘God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare.’ Be praying!
Love God. He is sovereign, God hasn’t sent this, but He is with us in it. Let’s not forget that resurrection beats crucifixion. Our faith says that the greater good will come. As you have more time in the coming weeks/months – give God your love, worship, sing a new song. Celebrate all that is good and remind others of the sweet love of Jesus. Eugene Peterson wrote that ‘confinement brings a deepened, zestful life.’
Let us wake daily, and before scrolling, be still and know He is God. Let us be honest about our emotions. Be kind to yourself, have empathy for your feelings. Faith is not absent in honesty. The bible is full of desperate, honest, fearful prayers: Look at Jesus as he cried out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Psalmist in his prayers and Naomi when she was pouring out her grief to Ruth and the Lord.
Perfect love casts out fear 1 John 4:18 – casts out, drives out, kicks out. It’s ok; you don’t have to do it, perfect love will do it, as you draw near to perfect love, be honest about how you are feeling, how this is affecting you. How your emotions are stressed, your anxiety is high, how you are reacting. Ask Him for courage.
Love One Another. The very thing we are created for is being hit: community, At a time when we are advised not to hug, to self-isolate, we need to find ways to connect. For us, as Willow Park church, we are offering church online for the next few weeks. You can join us online here Keep checking our website for more ways to engage.
Love your Neighbour. Hold out your (virtual, clean) hand, respond in wisdom and peace. Drop a note through the door – do you need groceries, prescriptions, do you need a book to read, can we pray for you? People are frightened, with good reason, and we have a reason for peace in the same storm – our proven faith. Our stories of His faithfulness. It’s time to share the reason for our hope.
As this virus is shaking the world; we know it is not shaking you.
As the virus hits the vulnerable, sick, elderly and compromised – we are reminded those are the very people who are close to your heart.
May they also be close to ours.
As the virus affects breathing, let us breathe in the very breath of God, the Spirit, the source of life.
As each day brings news of more shaking – our health, jobs, our economy.
Please help us.
Help us to show you more, to know you more, to be your hands and feet.
And even though we tremble, help us to let go and trust, and accept the new.
Because, Lord, we know we will never be the same,
You are making all things new.
As I sit here today, writing my scattered thoughts, spring sunshine dancing on my dirty windows – I see tiny buds on the lilac tree and the birds are singing, louder than usual – they don’t seem too worried.
You are loved!
Here are two courses that Phil has recently produced:
Thank you for joining us on our Navigating Worry course, if you’re just linking in now, the free, online course can be found here
And finally! Elaine’s story…
The word I dislike the most is process. To me, it means long-suffering, pondering, unsettled, unrest. When I look for answers, and the answer is “well, it’s a process,” my heart sinks. Knowing this about me has made the “process” of being “unwell” significantly harder than it maybe should have been. Being defined by others as being strong, confident, and reliable – only made this “process” worse.
In 2016 I was diagnosed with a disorder that took my sight, my mind as I knew it and, what I miss the most – my confidence.
I would go on to describe it as someone taking my world and throwing it up in the air just to see what and where the pieces would land. It would never look the same, it was different, and my process started. Who was I if I couldn’t read, remember details of our world, remember to pick up kids, recipes, remember songs or what year my kids were born.
Who are you when the mind you’ve relied on so strongly is gone and what feels like an only whisper is left? Who is around you to remind you of who you are? What coping strategies are needed for you to be safe in your own skin never mind looking after others?
To this day, I remain frustrated at moments with this process, yet writing this makes me realize just how far I have come.
How has anxiety played into this?
At first, I didn’t know it was anxiety. That was for weak people, I am strong – it can’t be that. I can hear my judgemental thoughts even now. The injury my brain sustained most don’t statistically live from. It means that even to this day or until I am healed, I can’t handle certain lights, sounds, environments, without significant coping skills and “outs.” So at first, I was able to view my obsessive thoughts and control as, just that, coping skills. I was being seen by 14 professionals who couldn’t agree on literally anything. They then put me with a brain trust worker who helped me work through what I later learned was PTSD. After a few seizures, the ministry was pulled in to make sure I was capable of taking care of our 5 kids. A supervisor when I showered, and a minor car accident with a doctor telling me I may never drive again.
What was left?
I left the house with industrial ear plugs, blue glasses to block out any light and little communication. It’s amazing how invisible you can make yourself when you try. I would go out as little as possible to avoid explaining myself to anyone, why I was different? Why I couldn’t remember their name? Why I wasn’t ‘Elaine’ anymore?
One day in Costco, I remember the devastated face of a grade 2 girl I knew from a classroom I helped in. I remembered her as a girl that helped me lead chapel each week for two years. I couldn’t find her name – it was there somewhere like alphabet soup. I stood there blank, then started to cry. I vowed to try and avoid kids that looked familiar, which became everyone. I became more and more isolated. I couldn’t find people who could relate, few understood and the feeling that most just wanted “me” back.
Anxiety for me has presented as a crippling fear that has impacted each minute of each day. When I found myself trying to control each little detail. I was taught to stop, analyze each thought, and discuss it with one of my safe team members. It often looked irrational- anxiety often does. Healing twice from PTSD has taught me that healing is often, not always, fourfold. You are made of a body, mind, soul, and spirit, healing needs to happen in each area. So prayer, reciting scripture, implementing strategies, and calming my physical body has all been apart of my coping.
This isn’t a one size fits all.
For me, I need to escape the situation when I get overwhelmed, communicate with the safe people around me, implement CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). I speak truth and scripture into the space and then trust in the God who made me to see me through.
Easy peasy right?
Here’s an example with a bit of back story. The trial was carried out with Pres syndrome (my illness) with a case study of 25 people, within six months, fifteen of them died. This left the study without enough members to continue. Each time I experience a migraine, tingly arm, sore back, you name it … I hear these statistics. It’s true – yup, it’s real – yup – and I serve a God who is bigger and stronger than those.
I take time to assess my physical body, what do I need, doctor, medicine, ER, I speak to a safe person to see if I am “over the top,” I pray for healing over my body and peace for my mind. Each time my thoughts get away from me, I will sometimes allow one or two but catch myself before I spiral. I pray like crazy to receive wisdom and discernment to know what steps to take next.
Trust. I truly don’t know how people do this world without knowing that there is a Saviour. Who sees and hears every need, who is ever-present and available, and completely faithful every single time.
Every …… single ……. time …..
My prayer for you; a peaceful mind, a calm spirit, a healthy body, and a restful soul.
Meditate and Memorise ‘Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.’ Romans 8:26-28
Listen: Cornerstone, Hillsong
Listen: Alleluia, Upper Room – my go to when I have no words.
Anxiety Playlist: Created for us by Joshua Leventhal
A few other helpful resources
https://abide.co Abide, is the world’s most popular Christian meditation app, guiding hundreds of thousands of people around the world in Biblical truth and personal reflection.
This new app, ‘Switch,’ is an excellent tool for helping you deal with the root cause of your anxiety. It is based on Caroline Leaf’s 5-step program, which is designed to help you identify and eliminate the root of your anxiety, and help you build healthy new thinking habits through the mental process of reconceptualization.
https://pray-as-you-go.org Pray As You Go is a daily prayer session, designed to go with you wherever you go, to help you pray whenever you find time, but particularly whilst travelling to and from work, study, etc. A new prayer session is produced every day of the working week and one session for the weekend. It is not a ‘Thought for the Day,’ a sermon or a bible-study, but rather a framework for your own prayer.
Divine hours. A form of prayer at specified times to be used by individuals or groups. The Divine Hours includes morning, midday, vespers (evening) and compline (before retiring) offices, having roots in the biblical tradition.
You’ve nearly completed this course on Anxiety and Worry. You can find the whole course by signing up here on the Fill In. Some of my favourite verses are from the book of Colossians, ‘so, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. Colossians 3:12-14
The Greek word for “kindness” is chrēstotēs. It means “benignity, tender concern, uprightness.” It is kindness of heart and kindness of act.
One of the areas highlighted in my life recently has been kindness. In a world of cruelty and opinion and frustration, the universal and divine language of kindness helps to drown harsh updates, hungry humans, and wandering souls.
But it doesn’t just happen – in the garden of our hearts, we need to prune, tend, cultivate, and give away the fruit.
I imagine pruning looks something like this description in Ephesians 4:31-32, ‘get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.’
Can you imagine if we lived like this?
There are whole lists of kindness we can follow, but we all know those don’t we? I believe it starts with this act of kindness, which, when applied, inevitably affects those around me – the act of being kind to myself.
It’s time to be vigilant on behalf of your own best self, which includes treating yourself as you treat a dear friend. You’re created by God, made in His image and loved beyond measure. God is calling you today to be kind to yourself, to acknowledge your beauty and God-given gifts.
Kindness allows silence and hears a whisper of worth over your soul.
Kindness allows questions, doubt, and grief.
Kindness rushes in like a parent over their hurting child.
Kindness takes the opportunity to free your baggage.
Kindness affects your whole being with both nurture (caring) and action (motivating).
Kindness recognises that you are created with qualities that are a blessing to others – what are yours?
Be kind to yourself today; it looks good on you,
Ok, so anxiety. I have struggled with anxiety for years.
Everyone is different, and I have had various forms of anxiety throughout my life. One form of anxiety I experience is what I refer to as ‘Night Attacks’ (not a technical term). For those who know me, you may be surprised to even hear that I struggle with anxiety. I’m told regularly by people that they are in awe of how much responsibility I can handle. But, the truth is, yes, during the day, I rarely experience anxiety. It’s not until everyone in my house is asleep, I’m left with my own thoughts that it begins. I am either trying to fall asleep or have fallen asleep, and my mind begins to replay many different things going on in my life. For example, I may start by thinking about what my teenager is struggling with and then feel like I am helpless and cannot resolve his situation. This then evolves into thoughts about work, how I am behind with different tasks and deadlines that are out of my control. This train of emotions then takes the same twisty negative thought process to my relationship and any insecurities I can cling to. I second guess all areas of my life, and without even trying my heart begins to race, my body is sweating, my chest and or jaw ache from irregular breathing, it almost feels as if I am having a heart attack. And the scariest part is how everything feels life and death.
My feelings about life at 12am can be the polar opposite at 8am. Waking up after experiencing a night of anxiety at times has made me feel crazy. When I think about the same topics during my morning coffee, I can’t believe how just a few hours before it felt like my whole world was falling apart, and I was indefinitely helpless.
For years I have strategically worked through each episode. Practicing getting out of bed and writing down all my thoughts, or walking to alleviate the shots of adrenaline my body is making. Having a warm bath, sometimes a cold shower depending on the season. Breathing exercises have been super helpful and reduced the length of attacks by half.
Recently, I was given a new, starter tool.
When I feel an attack coming on my first reaction now it to say Hello.
I know it’s cheesy. It sounds a little superficial, but honestly, it works, and I’ll tell you why. I have done a fair amount of research into why I experience these attacks, and one reason is because in the past I have had a lot of challenging, sometimes hostile situations I’ve had to deal with. God created our adrenal glands for such occasions. Adrenaline protects us, gives us the ability to decipher the best case scenario to keep us safe. Flight or fight etc. However, at 12am, my bodies natural reaction to a little stress translates into the mega amount of adrenaline. Basically, my body reacts as if I am entering a boxing ring and elevates my gloves ready to block and hit my opponent. The problem is there isn’t anything life-threatening, and my anxiety clings to all topics swimming around my mind.
I have had to give my body and mind permission to have anxiety.
I have learned to be thankful. My adrenaline has helped me through so many difficult situations, and I am very grateful for it. So at 12, 1 or 2am when I am jolted out of a deep sleep or simply feel the first signs of an oncoming attack taking place, I say Hello. Hello, adrenaline. Thank you for coming to protect me, but everything is ok. I acknowledge that this is a chemical reaction, and although I currently do not need the help, I appreciate that my body is designed to keep me safe. As soon as I start thinking these positive, affirming thoughts, it’s as if I walk out of the arena and back into the sweet, safe comforts of my own home. Don’t get me wrong, I can still have the symptoms of anxiety, but with the relief that this is very temporary and definitely not life-threatening.
Permission. For me, giving my body permission for adrenaline has changed my view and reactions. I feel the word anxiety can be communicated as negative, but this simply isn’t the case. And if we focus on only getting rid of it every time we have anxiety, it’s a perpetual cycle of already failing by experiencing it.
Don’t try and push your anxiety away.
Say Hello, say thank-you and give yourself time to be uncertain. God’s perfect design is there to keep us safe, and above all, you ARE safe. He’s got you.
Meditate and Memorise
‘I will praise the LORD who counsels me, even at night my heart instructs me.’ Psalm 16:7
Today we look at community, this devotional is linked to Phil’s talks – sign up here
Most people have heard these words of Mother Teresa, ‘the greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.’
Loneliness has been defined in different ways. A common definition is, ‘a state of solitude or being alone.’ The other definition is, ‘loneliness is not necessarily about being alone. Instead, it is the perception of being alone and isolated that matters most.’
Our greatest need is food, shelter…and connection. Brene Brown writes a lot on this subject, ‘a deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.’
It is so important to allow ourselves to be seen, sharing the truth of where we are at. Our fears, doubts, extreme thoughts. As Brene says, in doing so, ‘we connect with others and in turn give them permission to be themselves. In sharing our fears and insecurities, we find true relationships.’
Community is woven throughout scripture. I love where scripture writes of the importance of us being joined together, that we cannot function well without one another, that we are called to encourage one another, to bear one another’s burdens. We are designed for each other!
It’s so easy to withdraw isn’t it, I am often overthinking and sensitive – the familiar villain of fear can cause me to withdraw into my world where I find encouragement in scripture and in God’s presence,
But, that’s not enough.
Yes, my life is hidden with Christ in God, and I live/love that, but as you know one of favorite lines is, ‘created for community.’ I think the enemy of our soul wants nothing more than to isolate us in loneliness – hiding away in a world of silence and unreality.
This needs us to make a change – stepping out, being vulnerable and honest, inviting people into our imperfections.
I love the idea of a community where are arms are wide open, where judgment is abandoned, and encouragement is the norm. Community allows light into the dark places,
Jen Hatmaker writes, ‘and as we witness this beautiful community, we aren’t just observing vulnerability but rather chains breaking, darkness receding, victory rising… when enough bright places are created, the dark has nowhere else to hide.
To do this, we have to be seen.
‘Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought I was the only one. ” C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
I thought I could do it alone. I had chosen not to engage fully in fellowship or let family see what gripped me. I thought that I would be judged by my family, my friends, or anyone who heard about what I had been going through.
Years later, the movie “Frozen” portrayed how this time in my life felt. When I saw this movie the first time, I SOBBED. For those who need a refresher: the part where from childhood to adulthood, Elsa locks herself in her room. Anna, her sister, tries to entice her to come out and play. Elsa always refuses and sometimes wouldn’t answer. Eventually, Anna gives up and leaves her alone. Fast forward to the end, and Elsa realizes what she needed all along was family and a friend.
It took me a long time before I would let people in to see what I was going through. Anxiety and depression gripped me hard from an early age. Finding people who understood, or even tried to just understand me was a game-changer. I had placed no value in community for a long time.
I would encourage anyone who feels like “no one will understand”- to reach out to trusted people. One of the tools I firmly believe the enemy uses is isolation: whether by actually isolating us from family and friends – or making us believe we are. We would have no idea how many people really have been dealing with anxiety and depression, until we reach out, or back to those we love.
Maybe just start with one person. I used to imagine what these conversations would look like – I would get so worked up that I would not even start them. But once I got going, how freeing it was to build community without hiding something real about me. For me – every time I would tell someone my story, it got easier to ask for help or let someone in.
Before I had my anxious breakdown, I had a friend tell me about his experience with anxiety and how he was overcoming it, and so, he was the first person I called on when things started getting bad for me. Having someone like that to talk to was incredibly helpful in learning to understand my anxiety and showed me that I wasn’t alone. I haven’t been shy when it comes to talking about my anxiety, and in doing so, I’ve met so many people who have been through situations similar to mine. Some of them sought help from their community immediately, but others say that they have never spoken about it until now and that they have spent years trying alone to find themselves again, which they did but with great effort and lots of time. I was fortunate to speak with people who had experience with anxiety, but I was also immensely blessed to have my whole bible study group committed to praying for me and checking in on me, most of whom admitted to me that they didn’t personally understand what I was going through. It was enough to know that they still accepted me and were interceding in prayer for me. Now that I am feeling mostly better, I still let those people know when I’m doing well or when I have a bad day or two. Maybe the most important part of having a supportive community was having people there for my wife when I wasn’t in a place to be there for her. My anxiety struck hard right before our second child was born, so having people to support her practically and emotionally was crucial to our healing.
Meditate and Memorise
‘Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs it down, but a good word cheers it up.’ Prov 12:25
I also love this verse in the The Passion Translation, ‘anxious fear brings depression, but a life-giving word of encouragement can do wonders to restore joy to the heart.’
There is no doubt that meditation is a discipline. I found Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, has an informative chapter on meditation. Obviously, if you research meditation today, you will find thousands of links and an abundance of information on this popular practice. Here’s how I’ve experienced Christian meditation. We live in a world of noise, hurry, and crowds – if we hope to move beyond the superficialities of our culture, we must be willing to recreate silences.
Take your day today – crowded out, voices demanding, how many times have you said or thought, ‘I’m too busy.’
The bible uses two words to convey meditation, and together they’re used many times in scripture referring to:
Listening to God. Reflecting on God’s word. Reflecting on his works.
Rehearsing his deeds. Ruminating on his law.
In each case there is stress upon a changed behavior as a result of an encounter with the living God, it is a continual focus upon obedience and faithfulness. Here are just a few examples of meditation in scripture:
Isaac went out to meditate in the evening. Gen 24:63
I think of you upon my bed and meditate upon you in the watches of the night. Psalm 63:6
I will meditate upon your promise. Psalm 119:148
Eli knew how to listen, and taught Samuel.
Elijah spent day and night in the wilderness learning to discern the still small voice.
The list goes on. God spoke to them, not because of special abilities but because they were willing to listen. The Hebrew word for meditate used here is hagah, meaning to speak, mutter, muse, imagine or plot.
The beauty of a garden created for communion – them with God, Him with them. They fell. They hid. Then, Moses learned to hear God’s voice, speaking ‘face to face as a man speaks with his friend.’ Communion restored. The Israelites were not prepared for this face to face intimacy and preferred to listen to God through Moses. So began a long line of prophets, judges. Thankfully, in the fullness of time, Jesus taught us the reality of the kingdom. Jesus sets us the ultimate example of meditation and communion, modeling for us a hearing and obeying life.
In meditation, we are growing into an intimate friendship with Jesus. What happens in meditation is that we create the emotional and spiritual space which allows Christ to construct an inner sanctuary of the heart. He is looking for communion with us, with an inward fellowship of this kind the only outcome is transforming the of the inner person.
We can’t remain the same. All that’s in our way – will have to let go – not have to, but want to.
Christian meditation and other types of meditation are worlds apart. One empties the mind, the other fills it. Christian meditation goes beyond detachment through deliverance, to rich attachment with God.
Some might say it’s too difficult, too complicated, let’s leave it to those who have time.’
Yet those who meditate would say it is as natural, and important, as breathing.
Some would say it is out of touch with modern-day thinking, out of touch with reality and suffering.
Yet rather than immunity – meditation yields insights and wisdom for everyday life. How to deal with, issues, problems, finding breakthroughs.
Preparing to meditate
We learn to meditate by… meditating. Our goal is to live in a place of meditation, the church fathers often spoke of ‘optium sanctum’ or holy leisure, a sense of balance and peace through the activities of the day. Living life in the presence, living life deliberately through the day and not sleepwalking. I think that comes in time. So, until then, try setting time aside.
Meditate upon Scripture
The primary form of meditation is on scripture, the study of scripture centres on exegesis, meditation centres on internalizing, and personalising the passage. Resisting the temptation to pass over superficially as rushing reflects our internal state, and this is what needs transforming.
Take a single event, parable, a few verses. Allow it to take root. Applying all of your senses to the task. For example, ‘My peace I give to you’ What is the reality of this verse, brood on the truth, allow the whole person awakened. Rather than dissecting the peace, we are entering into it, until we’re not choosing to act peacefully, it’s springing from within.
Meditate upon creation
Look at created order. The beauty in symmetry. Listen to birds. God reaches us profoundly when we silence ourselves to listen. Allow it to become a way of life. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God. The skies proclaim the work of His hands.’ Psalm 19:1
Meditation is a passive discipline, characterized by reflection rather than study. Not so much an action but to be acted upon. The purpose of meditation is to hear God more clearly. It is listening, sensing, heeding, the life and light of Christ …which will ultimately transform us.
There is a Christian Meditation app, ABIDE, found here that is said to be helping 4 million users in 210 countries alleviate their depression, anxiety, and day-to-day worries. For more than a year, the fast-growing mobile app has been ranked in the Top 10 by iTunes for the search term “depression.”
Let me know about your meditative practice.
In. Out. I try to breathe as I feel my body tense with anxiety. I immediately want to throw up, or run, or both. I had gotten very used to the feeling that I needed to escape from situations. Or fight through nausea that seemed to happen without warning or a tangible cause.
There are a few things now that I do to quell anxiousness when it lurks close. I breathe. Deep long breaths in and out to help my body get the air it would deny itself in panic. I remind myself that I am limited. That there is only so much I can do, but that God is sovereign over every situation.
I List. I list blessings. I list the lovely things. Like birch trees swaying in the wind. A bird I hear in the distance. The smell of fresh laundry. I dwell on things that are good to stop the swirls of uncertainty that vie for my attention in my own brain. I thank God that he has allowed me to experience these things.
I make plans, something to look forward to. A show to watch with a friend or Bubble tea down the street later. Anything that will bring joy and attention to something good or productive.
I focus on the physical, the here and now. This often looks like creating rhythm by tapping fingers. I can go from Restless to rhythmic to help me focus. Or rings, I wear rings and will spin them or take them on and off. Not only for anxiousness, but this helps with quiet fidgeting.
Prayer. Sometimes I just need to be in a quiet place with the Lord.
We are all so beautifully different. I hope for you that there will be comfort. Maybe in one or all these things that have helped me.
Meditate and Memorise
‘God’s lavish grace has been measured out for you according to God’s infinite wisdom, in just the right proportion and scheduled perfectly to meet your exact needs, whatever they may be.’ Matthew 6:33–34
Listen: Lion|Lamb, Joshua Leventhal
PS. If you haven’t already, you can sign up for our Navigating Worry course HERE
‘The critics have made them impotent,’ writes Hemingway, but the only way they will make you weak and effective is if you listen to them. Which anxious thought is your biggest critic?
Tom Corby, a psychotherapist, writes, ‘accepting anxiety doesn’t mean ‘resign[ing] ourselves to a life of anxious misery. It simply means that we are better off recognizing and fully accepting the existence of anxiety and other uncomfortable emotional states that are inevitable, but transitory.’
~transitory: not permanent~
~allow waves in – experience it – ride out ~
One of Caroline Leaf’s suggestions to cope with anxiety is to visualise and imagine yourself in the future. The process of imagination actually creates actual physical networks in the brain. She writes, ‘when done in an “optimism mode,” we develop what I call a possibilities mindset: instead of seeing a series of failures, we see a series of learning opportunities and open doors. Imagine yourself in the moment, when you have accomplished x or overcame a hurdle. How do you feel? What are you doing? How are you celebrating your victory?
As we imagine our future, we actually change the present—our brain responds positively to our hopes and dreams! However, it is important to remember this works both ways—imagining a positive future can have positive results in the present, while fearing the future can potentially make what we fear a reality because our expectations change the structure of our brains, impacting what we think, say and do in the future.’
So good! Caroline Leaf’s books and blogs are invaluable, you can find her work here.
As you imagine your future self, I would encourage you as Phil did, to begin to take those steps. Set yourself realistic, daily goals.
Examples of small steps we have taken with friends…
You are panicking – your first step is to focus on your breathing. ‘Deep diaphragmatic breathing triggers our relaxation response, switching from our fight-or-flight response of the sympathetic nervous system, to the relaxed, balanced response of our parasympathetic nervous system.’
You are a carer – worried and wondering how you can even care for yourself. You have even said, ‘I’m losing myself, my mind.’ It is time to find some space for your own wellbeing. Your first step is to find out a realistic respite that you can access. Starting with just one hour to catch your breath.
You are a new parent. Your sweet tea is cold, and you can’t think straight. You don’t feel like you used to. This is all normal. Nap when the baby does. Hydrate. If you can, join a local parent and baby group. I’m sure you’ll find many parents thinking and feeling the same way.
You are struggling to sleep. It is highly recommended that you cut out screens an hour before sleep. Adopt suggested journaling techniques. Reduce alcohol and coffee.
You are isolated. Open your curtains, your window, leave your room. Play music. Breathe in the fresh air.
You are facing the dragon of drugs. You dare to dream of being clean and living a different life. There are groups in your community or can help and often churches who offer you kind, praying people. One person is all you need today. That one person will know other clean, kind, praying people who will love you. This is not an experiment, this draws you to destiny and brings you into a new community.
You have never dared tell anyone how you are feeling. I promise there is an indescribable weight that lifts in telling even one trusted person.
….as you take those small steps, the weight in your body and mind will lighten. Enabling you to take more steps, minimize anxiety and begin to cope in a new way.
I hope you’re finding Phil’s talks helpful, if you haven’t yet, you can sign up here, or forward to a friend who might find them useful!
Through my interactions with friends, I know this is a concern for so many. My anxiety was at an all-time high about 3 years ago. I am very intentional with my self-care now. I am convinced that as a woman, hormones had a huge part in skyrocketing my anxiety. I could not be driving in my car in a lane that I could not get out of without often going into a panic attack (control issues, yes). One thing I did that helped hugely was educate myself on the effects of toxic chemicals through products we use and how that disrupts our own natural balance. I went toxic-free with my product usage as well as added very high doses of essential oils. Something else I know to be true for myself is that I cannot watch TV that much. My mind spins out of control when I get too involved in the news or reality shows. So I intentionally saturate myself with viewing things like Joyce Meyer, Bobby Schuller, etc. Sleep and exercise are a must for our minds to stay clear. The enemy gets a huge foothold when we don’t take control of our own minds. One more thing that has been a very large part of my learning how to manage anxiety is developing my personal growth. I have done this by reading books and studying who I am in Jesus. John C Maxwell has had a huge influence on my personal growth as well. Anxiety is not something that one day you wake up, and it’s gone. I believe ongoing decisions need to be made every day that will strengthen my mental health. I also know that Jesus is the author of goodness. The more I seek and search Him out, the healthier my mind, spirit, emotions, and body will be.
Meditate and Memorise
‘God is weaving all things together for your greatest good, and equipping you with all that you need to accomplish his will.’ Romans 8:28