Whatever We Focus our Thoughts on Magnifies

whats_goodContinued from here.

One reason thanksgiving is so powerful is that it focuses our thoughts on our blessings, and whatever we focus our thoughts on is magnified while whatever we turn our thoughts away from shrinks. See this blog entry for a more in-depth discussion of the how changing your perspective can change how you view God versus your problems.

I’ll use my eczema flare up as an example. During the day, it’s easier for me to focus on something other than the itching. I’ll treat the rashes with ointments and then go about my day, choosing to focus my thoughts on something positive rather than my physical discomfort. I have much to be grateful for in my life, and as I focus on those things, the blessings magnify while the physical discomfort shrinks.

However, this is harder for me to do at night, when the ointments wear off and I’m awakened at 3:00 a.m. with intense itching. I’ll rub more ointment on the rashes and then try to go back to sleep. However, in my dark bedroom with no other distractions, I find it much harder to turn my focus away from my physical discomfort. This magnifies the problem and greatly tempts me to “unchoose” joy.

Last night, the itching was so bad at 3:00 a.m., even after applying the ointment, that I begged God to help me do this right. I told Him that we both know that I am incapable to maintaining a good attitude while experiencing so much physical discomfort. If He doesn’t equip me to do it, then I’ll fail.

After saying this prayer, I recited the Book of 1 Thessalonians (which I have memorized) and then moved on to the Book of James (which I have also memorized) and then fell back to sleep halfway through. (Side note – This is one example of how memorizing large passages can benefit you.) Focusing on God’s Word took my focus off my physical discomfort and onto Him, who is excellent and praiseworthy. In other words, I magnified God and “shrank” my problem by refusing to dwell on it. Is this easy to do? No, but it is that simple and quite effective.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing by a staircase that says, “What’s good?” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Thanksgiving When Life is Very Hard

hospital1Continued from here.

If you are in a season requiring endurance, you might think my problems that I shared in my last blog entry are no big deal when compared to yours. First, I caution against ever comparing your problems with someone else. No matter what you are dealing with right now, it’s hard, and whether or not my problems are greater or less than yours won’t change the size of your own issues. Whenever we are in the midst of a problem, it’s overwhelming – that’s what makes it a problem! So, resist the temptation to compare your issues with anyone else’s.

Choosing thanksgiving is possible (albeit more challenging), even when you are dealing with very difficult life circumstances. As I shared in this blog entry, I was able to find much to be thankful for while my then-15-year-old son was recovering from major back surgery. I lived in the hospital with him for five days and then took care of him (along with my husband) after he came home from the hospital while also juggling a full-time time. I have been through many difficult life challenges, including being abused as a child, my father’s sudden death when I was 16 years old, and infertility, but that season of caring for my son through the back surgery was the hardest experience I have ever been through in my life.

Because I knew this experience was going to be hard, I asked many people to hold my family and me in their prayers. I also made the choice to express gratitude as often as I could throughout the experience. I said thank you numerous times a day – to the nurses, visitors, to friends who emailed me their support, and anyone else I could think of. I intentionally looked for reasons to be grateful: My son survived the surgery and was expected to make a full recovery (he did). Numerous friends and family showed their support through visits, cards, emails, texts, and gifts. I was able to take FMLA leave while my son was hospitalized so I didn’t have worry about losing my job for taking leave. We had health insurance to pay for most of the $100,000+ surgery and hospitalization.

Yes, it was true that I had many legitimate reasons to be upset. It was also true that I had many reasons to be grateful. It was my choice where to focus my thoughts, and I chose to focus them on gratitude, which led to joy. As I said previously, that season of my life was stormy, but it was never dark because God’s joy transcended the challenge, giving me strength.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Photograph of garden area at the hospital where Grace’s son had major back surgery. Courtesy Grace Daniels.]

Thanksgiving Leads to Joy

dog_beggingContinued from here.

I confess that thinking about topics that are excellent and praiseworthy is not my strength. I am a complainer and worrier by nature, so my default setting is not only to focus on what I don’t like but to actually obsess over it. I am never going to think about excellent and praiseworthy topics by accident. It must be a conscious choice to do right now because now is the only time I have.

The key to reaping a harvest of joy is planting the seeds of thanksgiving. Right now, in the moment – no matter what is going on in my life – I can choose to be thankful.

Because I am a natural complainer and worrier, my default  setting is not thanksgiving. My natural state is ingratitude. I’ll have 99 obvious things to be thankful for, but I’ll obsess over the one thing that isn’t going my way. Ingratitude plants seeds of misery, bitterness, and despair. If you are feeling hopeless in your life, you are likely not spending your time focusing on gratitude.

No matter how badly your life is blowing up right now, you have something to be grateful for. Right now as I type this blog entry, I’m tired because I haven’t slept well in a week thanks to an eczema flare up affecting large parts of my skin, making me itch. My employer has initiated rounds of layoffs, and rumor has it that my position might be eliminated in a few weeks. My new dog is still learning his manners, and I have had to clean up more dog urine than I expected to have to deal with. If I allow myself (choose) to fixate on these problems, I’ll plant seeds of ingratitude that will reap a harvest of misery.

While all of those facts are true, it is equally true that I have much to be grateful for. God has healed my marriage, and recently my husband and I joyfully celebrated 25 years of marriage. I sense God calling me in a new career direction that I am excited about. My dog has made progress in learning not to jump on people and to respect house boundaries. I no longer have an eating disorder, am no longer 30 lbs. overweight, and have not felt the need to self-injure in years.

In this moment, I get to choose which to focus on – my problems or my blessings. My choice will determine how I feel. If I choose to focus on my blessings, then I will experience joy, even as I work through my problems.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace teaching her dog to beg. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Joy is a Choice

smileContinued from here.

So, how do we access God’s joy when we are dealing with problems? Let’s face it – we are ALWAYS dealing with problems. If we have to wait for a problem-free season of life to experience God’s joy, then we will never do it. And yet Jesus said,

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” ~ John 10:10

Having life “to the full” includes a joyful life. So, how do we access the joy? The simple answer is choice – we choose joy. Unfortunately, just because something is simple does not make it easy.

The only moment I can do anything about in my life is right now. The past has already happened, and the future is not yet here. While I can plan ahead, I still cannot do anything about the future in the present moment because the future has not yet arrived. The only moment I have is now, and right now, I can choose joy.

We choose joy through our thoughts. Right now, at this moment, you are choosing what to think about, and that thought is driving your emotions. Some thoughts cause an instant emotional reaction while others have a delayed reaction. Rest assured that whatever you are feeling right now, in the present moment, is directly related to what you have been thinking about recently. Change what you think, and you’ll change what you feel.

This is one reason Paul told us to hold every thought captive to Christ. This is also why Paul told us this:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” ~ Phil. 4:8

When we follow Paul’s advice to hold every thought captive to Christ and choose to think about “anything that is excellent or praiseworthy,” we choose joy.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon headshot of Grace smiling. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Joy Transcends our Other Emotions

oh_happy_dayContinued from here.

Zach Williams’ new song, Old Church Choir, has a great line about being joyful when you face problems in your life:

When the valleys that I wander turn to mountains that I can’t climb, You are with me, never leave me. There ain’t nothing gonna steal my joy.”

The key to our joy is God’s presence in our lives. Just as God is love, He is also joy. Because the Holy Spirit lives inside of you, you have 24/7 access to joy no matter what is going on in your life.

That’s not to say that you will always be happy. Happiness is circumstantial, but joy is a fruit of the Spirit. As long as God is with you (which is always), you have access to joy, even when your circumstances are difficult and even when your heart breaks.

While we cannot experience happiness and sadness at the same time (beyond the tension of bittersweet), we can experience joy at the same time as sadness or even grief. That was my experience while my son was in the hospital for his back surgery. As I stated in this blog entry, that experience was very stormy, but it was never dark. That’s the best way I know how to describe the experience of joy transcending pain and other difficult circumstances.

That season of my son recovering from major back surgery was one of the most challenging times of my life. Nevertheless, I experienced joy transcending my physical and emotional exhaustion, and that kept me going. It gave me strength when I would have otherwise felt weak. I was surprisingly grateful throughout a time that I could have been very negative (and probably would have been if this had happened a few years earlier).

The best way I have found to tap into the joy of the LORD while dealing with challenging circumstances is to praise and worship Him. This takes your focus off yourself & your problems and, instead, directs your focus onto God, the source of our joy. Rocking out to Zach Williams’ Old Church Choir is a good way to get started.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace running through musical notes under the words, “Oh Happy Day.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

The Joy of the Lord is Your Strength

car_dogOne of my favorite passages of scripture comes from the Book of Nehemiah:

This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” ~ Neh. 8:10

I used to transpose the words joy and strength, believing that the strength of the Lord is our joy, but that’s not what the verse says. It says that “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” When we are joyful, the joy actually strengthens us!

This topic has been on my mind since I heard Zach Williams’ new song, Old Church Choir. Check out the video here and try not to start dancing around the room while you listen to it! I look like a cross between all three women in the video whenever I hear that song. I’m sure several people have been quite amused at me dancing around in my car while waiting for the light to turn green. Thankfully, only God sees me dancing around my bedroom to this song!

Look at the faces of the people in the video and see the strength. Instead of having a sour face while driving the carpool, typing on a computer at work, or doing the dishes, those women are overflowing with joy. There’s no way to hide their light under a bushel!

I spent too many years of my life as a sourpuss. I was always either complaining or worrying about something, for reasons I mostly don’t even remember now. How differently might I have faced my life challenges if I had found my strength in the joy of the LORD! I believe this is why Paul tells us to rejoice always. When I am joyful, my thoughts are on God rather than on my problems, and God’s joy strengthens me.

You might be wondering how you can possible “rejoice always” when you are dealing with big problems. I’ll discuss that topic in my next blog entry.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace driving a car with her dog by her side. Courtesy Bitmoji.]