Running Rampant or Bridling

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One of the hardest things we can be challenged by is developing balance in our lives in really every area. Many of us experience a tendency to want to throw off the limits that we are faced with, or we believe are imposed on us. Not unlike a wild mustang, we don’t want to be reined in. Some of us are more tentative and play things “close to the vest” and much of what we believe or feel most strongly about stays tucked inside much of the time. Developing a balance that is not all or one of these takes time, practice, and discipline. And all these have been tested more often over the last few years when we had limits imposed upon us and spent far more time isolated.

“We entered the pandemic of 2020 already worn out from the craziness of modern life. We went on to experience global disaster, loss of loved ones, and high-stakes disagreements. We drew on deep wells of endurance – until those wells ran dry.”

John Eldredge

Whatever our own personal experience has been, each of us has been trying to regain some of what we lost. We have recognized that to manage life in 2022, we somehow need to take hold of our thought life as one potential crisis or another will undo us in this state of depletion. We are in a battle of tremendous proportions, and it is one that is best handled by acknowledging where we are and how it is impacting us because the enemy of our souls would seek this vulnerable time to wreck us further.

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One of the challenges we face is dealing with how often we tend to speculate. We can speculate good things that we hope for but most of us will be more prone to speculate about the worst things that might happen. Since 2020 that has been easier to do (despite our best efforts) because of the fear and anxiety stirring the pot hour by hour daily. Some I know took that time to memorize scripture that helped rein in those speculations, things like Psalm 91 and many others gave us a mooring for what was happening over which we had no control. We see speculation as a weakness, but it is more than that. It challenges our faith and its foundation.

The Apostle Paul knew we would face such times when he wrote these words in a letter to the believers in Corinth:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

2 Corinthians 10:5 (NIV)

Easier said than done, right? It’s a good time to look at what our internal dialogue (self-talk) is telling us and confront the lies the enemy of our souls and most of the media would want us to focus on. We need to tell ourselves the truth while we acknowledge our emotions and chaotic speculations.

“Start with speculation, something we all indulge in. And I do mean indulge. Speculation is like a wild horse running wherever it wants – without bridle, halter, or any sort of restraint – and we just let it run wild…

Bring your thoughts back under control: I’m not indulging speculation. It’s godless. Turn your thoughts to God. You are good, Father. You are with me. You are still in control. Putting a bridle on speculation builds mental resilience.”

John Eldredge

Not easy and especially so if you have not believed God is good for a host of reasons. But what if you’re wrong?

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If what you have believed about God hasn’t been helpful, it’s time to consider you might not have your perspective about Him in line with the truth. A good Father doesn’t allow a child He loves to operate without boundaries and risk running into the street or burning a hand on a hot stove. A good Father doesn’t allow the child He cares about to eat candy all day. A good Father reins in the child He loves and teaches that child how to navigate through a dangerous world that isn’t always predictable or easy to understand. He teaches the child skills and truths to lay a foundation for that child to stand on as he or she grows whether he is present in person or not. God is like that. Have you noticed the stars at night, the way the sun’s rays glimmer on a stream, the beauty of dew on a rose in the early morning, the sound of birdsong no matter the weather outdoors? Those are God’s gifts to us to remind us He is here with us.

Rebuilding out mental resilience is key to helping with our emotional resilience getting replenished. We can neither let our emotions run wild or try to bottle them up.

“We honor our emotions by acknowledging them. We bridle our emotions by keeping them subject to truth.”

John Eldredge

When I read that, I am reminded of two different persons whose choices and words have impacted me greatly. One was a woman who went home to be with the Lord in 1999 and had come to my office to process the journey she was on toward dying in the midst of great pain. When she left this pain and entered heaven, she left me a gift of her last journal and the following quote contains her wise words about not holding emotions inside:

“God gave us our emotions and He gave them because He knew we’d get angry. He felt angry. He understands. He knows how I feel. And I know He’s still here! Holding it in can make it worse, it will come out one way or the other. Shake a can of pop, then open it…it goes all over – spraying in lots of directions.

Anger’s like that. Pressure builds till that last straw comes, then WHAM – it’s everywhere!

God has taught me – it’s okay – let it out, vent it, write it, say it, whatever! Then give it to Him! He knows just what to do with it.”

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She wrote about it, expressed it to me in tears and anger and most importantly, she expressed it to God in the unvarnished peak of her emotions. After all, David showed us that he did the same thing in the Psalms.

The other woman who impacted me was our youngest granddaughter who faced an agonizing surgery in 2016 at the age of thirteen. She had a strong foundation of faith as she approached surgery and knew what she was about to face, but she had no way of knowing how bad the pain would be. Family watched as she struggled and cried out in ways that broke our hearts. Then at one point she dug deep and began to pray out loud beginning at Genesis and on through to Revelation reminding God of his promises to her, proclaiming the truth and in those moments her faith stood tall to face the pain that required endurance to walk through. She was the smallest and weakest, but her mental resilience forged on years of believing God helped her acknowledge her emotions while bridling them in.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

    where does my help come from?

 My help comes from the Lord,

    the Maker of heaven and earth.”

Psalm 121:1-2 (NIV)
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When You Are Stuck…

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If we need to dig deep to replenish ourselves after the crazy lives we led before, during, and after the pandemic and all we experienced, what gets in the way of replenishing since we keep trying to find what can help? Some of us already have seen that vacations, usual activities, and a host of other things don’t quite do what we had hoped even though we are grateful to be able to do them. A piece still seems to be missing for many of us.

If there are several layers or levels in our being we must get through to get to the depths where God dwells, what gets in the way?

If one layer is all the internal and external noise that Eldredge and others refer to as “the Shallows” sets us up for distractions from every direction, we are already hearing how we need to unplug, put our devices down, and see how that impacts our sleep, our relationships, and more. We hear that and yet we are connected to and have become dependent upon them for much of what we do every day. They are not only devices for work and communication, but also give us directions, resources of all sorts, and entertainment even if we are alone. Tuning out and turning off sounds good, but when we try it, we often discover it is harder to do than we thought. We don’t want to miss a message, a call, a post on social media, etc.

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No matter how we start to try to get unstuck, we often find ourselves so linked together in these distractions that it can be a bit like “herding cats.” Yet, we should not give up the effort and soon we will discover the greater peace of mind and rest inside that eludes us otherwise. Many I know have checked out of social media due to the divisiveness there and have also turned off the 24-hour news cycle that fuels distraction and fuels many of our fears and anxiety, but it is much harder to deal with what Eldredge calls “the Midlands.”

Those are the places where we carry our hopes and dreams that are most important to us. It is where we find our worries, heartaches, disappointments and more. Our struggles and concerns for all those we care about dwell there and despite scripture pointing us to God and trusting Him with them, we struggle with those and if we have a moment of doing so, they tend to be picked up again soon. These are the things we care most deeply about, and we fear the loss and the grief related to the challenges there.

When “the Shallows” and “the Midlands” keep us immersed in them, trying to move into the deep places of God can feel like slogging through knee-deep mud after we are already worn down. How we navigate that will be impacted by whether we have a relationship with God and if we do, what type it is.

“Your very being is made to be saturated with the being of God. You can have faith in God from a distance; you can have a ‘relationship’ with Christ, as your Father, or the Holy Spirit, and not be inhabited, interwoven, saturated.

John Edredge

We can too often be tricked into believing we need to handle things or fix things or that we are alone in all this, and God is off somewhere else tending the flock of which we are not a part. What we miss is that we need to lay these things down so He can lead us into the depth of our relationship with Him and be replenished by being saturated with Him.

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To break free to move toward God, we need to learn a principle Eldredge speaks of as “benevolent detachment.” We need this because we need rest from all the distractions and cares. It’s not abandonment but rather handing all those to God for Him to carry them for us, to entrust them to Him specifically.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

How do we operationalize that and apply that truth?

We practice by telling God in the morning and evening “I give everyone and everything to you God.” Eldredge suggests we may need to say it multiple times because saying it once may well bring to mind the very people and things we need to release to Him. This is something that will take practice but learning to do this will begin to move things out of the way to move closer to Him.

“You’ve got to release the world; you’ve got to release people, crises, trauma, intrigue, all of it. There has to be sometime in your day where you just let it all go. All the tragedy in the world, the heartbreak, the latest shooting, earthquake – the soul was never meant to endure this. The soul was never meant to inhabit a world like this. It’s way too much. Your soul is finite. You cannot carry the sorrows of the world. Only God can do that. Only he is infinite. Somewhere, sometime in your day, you’ve got to release it. You have to let go…”

John Eldredge

To do that means you remember that He never lets go of you or any of these things.

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What Gets in the Way of Digging Deep?

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If what we most need is to dig deep into our hearts to replenish what has been whittled away over the past several years by the pandemic and more, what gets in the way of that? Certainly, there is no one answer to that. We may know little of our heart beyond feelings we view as emanating there. We may fear what we might find there. We might have forgotten that it is where Christ dwells if we are believers and yet never really experienced what that might be like. We pray looking up toward heaven or beside us where we hope He is without going to the place He lives by his Holy Spirit according to scripture.

To get there means we need to quiet ourselves without and within and that can also be a challenge for many of us. Even during lockdowns, there was quite a lot of internal noise going on as our fears and anxieties were stoked by every new report or crisis. Some of us love silence and the spiritual discipline of solitude, but that is not true for everyone.

To dig deep and gain or regain strength and resilience, we cannot start through a list of “to do’s.” That keeps things in a far too cerebral place to reach the well of living water Christ places within us when He dwells there.

“It’s important we remember that the strength that prevails is a strength given to us by God. This is not something we can conjure up. It’s not gritting our teeth and doubling down. You’ll hear athletes talk of digging deep when some great contest is upon them. Soldiers use the same phrase, and it’s good in the way it describes tapping into our deepest resources. But the similarity ends there, for the strength we are after is a supernatural strength that rises up from the God who not only created us but dwells within us.”

John Eldredge

I love that solid truth reminder. Any of us in a crisis knows that we cannot simply look at what we learned in a small group, podcast, seminar, or retreat and pull those gems out to use very easily. They are good things, but we need something nearer than that and generally we are too depleted and worn to even recall them at the point. Additionally, old relational wounds can make it hard to share what is going on with others. Even in the body of Christ we have some of those wounds because our brothers and sisters are sometimes (maybe often) better at offering suggestions than listening to our hearts that are breaking, weary, or in torment. All those good suggestions, scripture passages, and promises to pray are needed, but at the point of crisis, most people need a safe place to be heard and loved well. That tends to happen most easily with someone who has journeyed with us on good days and bad so they can lovingly see blind spots that are adding to the crisis we are in.

John Eldredge gives readers a framework to help us find that place within where we most need to go when we need supernatural strength and replenishment in his latest book, Resilient. He suggests that there are “levels of our being” and describes them in ways that make so much sense in seeing the obstacles we face to digging deep.

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“You have fleeting thoughts throughout the day, most are insignificant.

The Shallows of our being are characterized and rules by the distractions of life. In the Shallows we flit from thought to thought, distraction to distraction, almost unpredictably.

This is most people’s mental life nowadays – a fluttering array of randomly distracting thought flitting along like a thousand butterflies. Those are the Shallows of your existence.”

John Eldredge

Nicholas Carr and Richard Powers wrote about that in their book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. Some of you may have read about this or heard interviews that speak of how our attention has been impacted by all the clicking we do on one device or another. But even before those devices came into being, we had those tendencies. It happens to all of us. We are headed somewhere in our car and pass something or hear something we are listening to, and it reminds us of something else that reminds us of something else. Sometimes we can take a detour for one of those and lose track of the time and our original destination or miss a street sign or even a stoplight.

The Shallows can create havoc throughout our day and even invades our quiet times more often than we would like. But there is a second layer of being within us that is also an obstacle to digging. This one is even harder for us to get through on our way to the deep place within our heart.

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“You also have longings, hopes, and dreams that are far more important.

The Midlands are characterized and ruled by what I, echoing Jesus’ words, would call ‘the cares of life,’ the deeper worries, heartaches, longings, and aspirations that occupy the human heart.

Things like the health of your aging parents, the learning struggles of your children, the status of troubled relationships, the progress of your career or lack thereof. Your finances, your own health, your health, your hopes and fears for your future or the future of your loved one.”

John Eldredge

Bingo! We all can identify with the list Eldredge gives and may have more to add. Beyond these two levels or layers is the deeper place within where Christ dwells for believers. So, what are the depths and what are the things they exhibit?

“Deeper still, down in the ‘depths of your being,’ is the essence of your existence, and the dwelling place of God…

The Depths are characterized and rules by eternal things like faith, hope, love, and joy, to name a few.

We all have a deep inner life, whether we pay attention to it or not…”

John Eldredge

Reading Resilient by John Eldredge has spoken deeply to my heart and the Resilient addition to Eldredge’s free “One Minute Pause” app with brief morning and evening help to regain resilience. You have read other things from these sources this past week and don’t be surprised if they inspire several more posts here.

“Come to me, all of you, who are weary and carry heavy burdens.”

Matthew 11:28 (NLT)
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Whom Do You Choose?

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If you are on the yellow brick road to find someone who can help you find your way back to “normal” or back “home,” whom do you choose?

In the 1939 movie, The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy has unexpected encounters with three characters who need something from the Wizard. As a result, Dorothy tells them maybe the Wizard could help, and they decided to accompany her on the trip to the Emerald City. Who could possibly handle what they need? The tin man is looking for a heart. The straw man is looking for a brain, and the lion very much longs for courage.

When traveling an unfamiliar path to a place we have never been, one key is to choose the right companion for the trek.

“The Christian life can be likened to walking up an incline. Jesus called it ‘the narrow road.’ Along the way are many opportunities (temptations) to stop, or at least become distracted. Our potent enemy (Satan) has littered our path with every stupid, pleasurable, and deadly thing at his disposal. Too often we fall for the ‘apple’ he offers. We think it’s just ‘kids’ stuff’ or exploring what’s out there.”

Max Lucado
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When someone has been isolated or locked away and is then freed, it isn’t uncommon for he or she to be torn between wanting to do anything and everything they have missed and longed for or to be uncertain about what to do because there have been few (if any) options available to them for such a long time. Some of us might identify with that contradiction since the pandemic began in 2020. We have been hesitant about entering back into our previous “normal” world or have sought to try to put all the components back in without pausing to determine what is wise. Either choice can be hazardous to us potentially.

“Jesus wants us to understand that it is the powers of hell that are trying to overpower us, to crush the human heart – especially the hearts of his followers. The strength God urges us to ask for is a combative strength, a strength to win the fight, to overcome.”

John Eldredge

What we have experienced the past several years is meant to wear us down, make us more vulnerable to be impacted and falter when the next thing comes along. Anxiety and fear have been powerful weapons against us during these years. Ask any mental health professional and he or she will tell you their schedules are full, and it is hard to find a time to schedule someone new. Ask some pastors and they will tell you that even though their churches are open now, many have not come back. Some have checked out of faith totally and others are content with virtual church instead of the community they once had.

We want so much for life to be good again, but when we go out trying to satisfy our own souls, we find our world is still filled with tension and fear for one reason or another. Principles and values that were once held dear have been shaken to the very core. We find it harder to trust anyone.

Now is the time when endurance will make all the difference. The endurance we need is what happens if we are running in a marathon and when we are more than halfway through, we are tempted to quit. We are tired, thirsty, and worn. Expert marathoners know that is when they need to dig deep within to run the race and finish the course.

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Some of us have weathered the pandemic fairly well but are now facing the economic crisis of inflation, soaring prices for everything we need to live (beyond things we just want to enjoy), and news reports of potential famines. That seems impossible to many nations of the world and yet the pandemic gave us a taste of that when products we needed were in short supply if they were available at all and the brand we always used was no longer something we could count on. More recently we have been searching the shelves for peanut butter to find shelves bare or with very few options of brand or type. And this reminds us again that we can’t be sure of what is ahead of us next. These things and more have reminded us that crises such as these and so many others bring out the best and worst in us.

“Who we are, what we love, and how far we are willing to trust God are revealed when we are truly hard pressed.”

John Eldredge

Someone recently said to me that she had asked her husband if this might be the “end times.” We know only God knows the timing and yet, scripture reminds us of signs that will alert us to be on the alert. Some of the last things Jesus shared with his disciples related to this.

“As Jesus began to explain the trials of the final hours, he warned us several times about hatred, and how hanging on to love will be difficult: ‘And many will turn away from me and betray and hate each other…Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.’ Mt. 24:10,12 (NLT).”

John Eldredge

We long for answers, solutions, and more in this desire for life to be “good” again. We long for someone to fix all this and our resilience has diminished. We are set up to be tempted to look for solutions that sound good and look good without considering if God is in them or not. It is vital that we grow up and dig deep and look to Him as the source before we give our allegiance to anyone or anything else.

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Christ has promised in scripture to be with us, but we have a part to play as well. He created us with choice and what we choose each moment in little things and large ones will make the difference in the final outcome. We can’t simply conjure up the resilience, strength, and endurance we need. Many of you have already learned that in the last several years. We need supernatural strength.

For us, digging deep should remind us that if we believe in Christ, He is not off somewhere else. He dwells within our hearts and never has it been more important to quiet the internal and external noise to listen to his voice through the Holy Spirit.

16 I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17 and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love…”

Ephesians 3:16-17 (GNT)

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Somewhere on the Yellow Brick Road

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When Dorothy and Toto land after the wild Kansas storm, nothing looks like or is like Kansas anymore. It’s not a surprise they are clueless about what to do next or how to find their way home. In the 1939 iconic movie, The Wizard of Oz, a character known as “the good witch of the North” appears on the scene and gives Dorothy a pair of magic silver shoes and tells her to “follow the yellow brick road” to the Emerald City and challenge the Wizard to get her back home to Kansas. She cautions Dorothy that the magic silver shoes will keep her safe.

It can be so easy to look for a way back to where we were when we end up in a strange place. In our disorientation, we can be tempted to take our cues about what to do next from sources we have no relationship with or reason to trust. Dorothy was holding on to the promise the “good witch of the North” had told her about how the Wizard could help her find her way back home.

What are we holding onto to find our way to “normal” or find our way home?

“We spend so much time thinking of what we need, what we will do next, what we can have that will make us happy, fill our dark places with light. But, as I’ve come to find, so often it isn’t what we hold on to that moves us onto the right path. It’s what we let go of.”

Kristy Woodson Harvey
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We live in two worlds, the natural physical world, and the unseen spiritual world, and it can be tempting to look for an escape in the natural world when we suddenly end up in a world we don’t recognize and yet are still living in. Because our brains process information in the form of a narrative or story, how many of us have considered where we are in our story now? It had seemed our story was going along a theme we thought we understood before the pandemic and all that has happened since then, but to “find our way home” it’s key to determine where we are in our story now.

“The story we hold to at any given time shapes our perceptions, hopes, and expectations, it gives us a place to stand. In this mad hour on earth, what story are you telling yourself – or letting others tell you?

Is it a political narrative? We just need to get the right people in power!

Is it a social narrative? The issue is injustice! We need justice!

Is it about the economy? A new era of prosperity is coming!

Most importantly, is it the story God is telling?”

John Eldredge

When a crisis hits, our natural bent is to look for information and sources of news to help us know where we are, what is happening, and what to do. When I look at other times past, I see people huddled around TV’s or radios for that. That happened throughout WW II, when the Challenger exploded, when some heinous crime splashed across the program we were caught up in watching or listening to. What we are told then and believe about it begins to form how much we fear, trust, or become paralyzed with uncertainty. All of that happened again when the pandemic swept around the globe and intensified when we were locked down for a period of time. Seldom do we see at the time what the stories we are being told are doing to erode our reserves. Our usual avenues for grounding and staying in the God story of our spiritual world can become less steady for some of us.

We know now that we hear “the worst is over” and we want to believe that, but things don’t still feel like they once were. The sources of our information give us hints of the next looming crisis and it feeds the anxiety we have sought to rein in after the past several years.

“Something is in the air, a sense of imminence, but the world wants to pretend everything is fine, like the cancer patient who can’t bring themself to face their diagnosis.”

John Eldredge

Perhaps that is why we have been seeking so many things we used to enjoy since 2022 began. We keep hoping this nagging uncertainty will stop haunting our steps or disturbing our sleep and eroding our joy while we get caught up in the next pandemic, the next war, and so much more.

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The battle lines have already been drawn and the field of battle is our mind and heart. What we listen to or take in will be key to victory for us. Time and again scripture tells us to take our thoughts captive, but the last few years have wearied us, and it is key to be on the alert. Who or what is informing your story of where you are and what is or is about to happen? Can you see why a great vacation, a walk in the moonlight, a glass of wine, or a lazy afternoon by the pool does not relieve what is swirling inside of you?

“Remember – the battle right now is for the narrative, who gets to frame the story for you? Either it will be God, or someone else. If you are ‘alarmed,’ something has drawn your attention away from the story of God. Let your fears, anxieties, anger, or rage alert you that you’ve been taken hostage; stop and get your bearings.

The story of God should get more of your “attention time” than any other media.”

John Eldredge

The wrong narrative will tell you there is fear, no hope, give up, and don’t believe the God story.

We have been so accustomed to things happening with a quick click on our phone, computer, or other devices that we have done little to develop resilience. Perhaps the strength of “the greatest generation” was sculpted from living through the hard years of the Great Depression.

If we listen to the God story, we might well see He can impart resilience in us because of what we have lived through rather than what we sought to avoid.

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