With it being the year 2020, there have been various adverts and slogans around the idea of ‘2020’ vision. From promotions by eye-care specialists, to ads by holiday companies promoting the ‘vision’ of a year filled with travel and adventure. The idea of 2020 vision tugs at those ‘goal-setting, achievement oriented’ heart strings as we think of the ideal vision of ourselves in various aspects of our lives from health, weight, fitness, career, travel, personal goals and of course, eye-care! : – )
There’s a verse in the Bible that says: “Without vision, the people perish”. Proverbs 29:18. For me it’s important to ask God what His vision is for my life, to ask the One Who sees perfectly and knows completely, without error. From the vision for a nation to that of a single life, we recognise the importance of looking above ourselves for direction to safeguard us from wandering aimlessly. I’d need to study more into what this verse really means, but I thought it was a helpful starting point for some of the ideas I’m ‘mulling over’ in my own mind.
You might have started the year with the sense of what you want to do, be or accomplish: many people do. But after a while, the ‘ordinary’ day-to-day things of life begin to occupy your focus such that you tend to just carry on doing what you’ve been doing.
Changing an aspect of our lives or ourselves generally requires us to be intentional in the pursuit of change. I’m not talking about changes in our lives that ‘just happen’ and that are out of our control, but those which we have a responsibility over. Things such as changing our daily habits, eating more healthily, gaining new skills, exercising, helping other people, investing time in our relationships and pursuing new goals, opportunities and long held dreams.
Sometimes, despite our initial enthusiasm, we end up merely ‘trundling along’ in life. We need to refresh our vision. And we need to remind ourselves that we don’t have to stay the same. Life involves growth, change, development. Without it we stagnate. And change doesn’t have to happen over night. It can begin by taking time to think about what you really consider important, discovering your vision in various aspects of your life and then making small changes little by little, day by day.
Personally, I have come up with the idea of writing daily vision pages, and it is really helping me to live each day with purpose. Instead of having a daily ‘to-do’ list, I write vision pages in which I focus on aspects or qualities that I want to live out and pair these with a corresponding activity or activities.
Transformation is possible, but we need to decide which areas of our lives require change, and then we need to begin, and continue one step at a time…moving closer each step, towards that vision.
Connection. Belonging. Love. Shared experiences. In a word: Friendship.
The importance of Friendship:
Friendship is one of the most satisfying and meaningful parts of our experience of being human. Yet, how often do people intentionally invest in their current friendships, or in forging out new connections?
Expectations of Relationships:
Our society often puts such an emphasis on romantic relationships (to the detriment of friendships) to such an extent that they can become somewhat of an ‘idol’, bearing the burden of expectation to fulfil all of our unmet needs. Yet, what about this little gem of a notion that friendships of the non-romantic type can be life affirming, fulfilling and bring meaning to our lives, whether or not you have a ‘significant other’ or a family of your own? In fact, having a wide circle of close friendships can lighten the load on relationships, as you have different avenues through which to express different parts of your personality, a variety of people to share hobbies with that your spouse or partner may not be particularly interested in, and an outlet in which you can be more ‘carefree’ with your friends when the level of responsibility and commitment is not the same and less intense.
How do we measure ‘success’ and satisfaction in life?
We all know that we need human connection in order to thrive, yet we often seem to be a society driven by ‘goals’ that can be measured in terms of ‘success’. In the western world, where the sense of extended family connections tend to be weaker and weakening, in combination with higher divorce rates and more frequent family breakdown, you would think that the value placed upon friendships would be significant; yet is it? Have you set any goals or made any new year resolutions this month? Might they include things that measure ‘success’ or satisfaction in life in terms of money, status, experiences, job / work opportunities, travel, family?
Have you included investing your time and attention in your friendships as part of your thinking?
I don’t mean to sound ‘clinical’ or ‘strategic’ by using the word ‘investing’. However, think about the things that are important to you and that you prioritise in your life. You certainly plan and set aside time and resources to nurture these things, to enable them to grow, don’t you? You invest considerable amounts of time in your job or studies or main occupation. You invest time planning financially. You plan and save for holidays, travel and other experiences. Perhaps you have a set ‘routine’ to enable you to spend quality time with your family – such as ensuring you read your children a bed-time story after your work. I know some people who have ‘date nights’ (although the term makes me cringe somewhat, perhaps because I’m single! 🙂 ) with their spouse, or time when you will eat together as a family, or visit elderly relatives. You are investing your time, care, and attention in all of these life areas. Last year I set a goal to visit my family at least once a month, and apart from one month when the weather was particularly stormy and I couldn’t see them (which I made up for with two visits on another month), I stuck to this and we have all reaped the benefits as a family of this planned and regular time together. Perhaps you have time when you will intentionally invest in your family, in spending time with your spouse, your children, your parents or siblings so that you can keep in touch and connected to each other. So why not so with your friendships? Are you intentional towards the time and attention you give to people in your life who you care about but who are not necessarily directly related to you? Or do you just ‘let things happen’, and ‘go with the flow’? How much time, care and attention we invest in things is a reflection of the importance we place upon them in our lives.
I love that friendships can be ‘organic’, changing, growing, evolving over time, often serendipitously, and I don’t like to put constraints on things that do have such a natural aspect to them. However, how many times have you heard someone say (or have you yourself said) ‘we used to be close, but we just drifted apart’?
When married couples stop being attentive and intentional in their time with each other, when they just let things happen, chances are they are more likely to ‘drift apart’ over time, and maybe you yourself know the devastation that this can bring, impacting upon not only your marriage, but wider connections such as family, friends, and most particularly if you have children. Do people not advise married couples who are struggling to be more attentive, to invest time in each other, in marriage counselling, in paying attention and communicating with each other in order to survive? I’ve personally never been married, but I have sadly seen friends whose marriages are ending or have ended in divorce. It takes work. It takes being intentional and investing our time and care in someone that we value.
Why then, or perhaps it is just my perception, do people feel less comfortable with the idea of ‘investing in friendships’? Why do so many people find that meaningful friendships have fallen by the wayside, to which people respond that they’ve simply ‘drifted apart’?
I personally pray into and am intentional with my friendships. There are a couple of people that I knew only as acquaintances that I invested time praying for – for them in their lives with things I thought they needed help with, not necessarily for us to become friends – and these people have become very close friends. All of the friendships that I have prayed into have borne fruit and brought blessings in my life, whether for a season, or for many years. Of course, some people drift away, but for those where there is a mutual interest in staying connected, it takes intention, care and love, and making time for each other. People rarely simply ‘drift’ unless circumstances are so impinging upon that friendship or one or both people lose interest.
Perspectives, and a view from my window:
As a single woman, I highly prize friendships and some friends have become like family to me. I have also learned, from where I am looking, that friends who are married find an outlet in their friendships that they can’t find in their marriage. They find the need for other connections and often find solace in friendships when they and their spouse are struggling to communicate or are going through difficulties or issues which in that type of relationship are always more intense, and it helps them when they have a friend to talk to, to cry with, or to offer an outside and objective perspective. Married people and those in relationships need other friends too to stay healthy and ‘well-rounded’, and possibly sane! 😉
I have also learned that people who spend all of their time with their partner or family can be left feeling very isolated if or when things breakdown, or if one falls ill, or if they face bereavement.
‘Friends are the family we choose for ourselves’, so perhaps we need to really give time and attention to this valuable aspect of our lives.
It is also important in friendships to have a balance, a give and take and to not expect too much from any one particular friend, because they too will have their own commitments and other priorities and responsibilities and life issues to balance. Develop a few good friendships so that you don’t leave any particular friend feeling overburdened or overwhelmed, and so that you don’t put strain on the friendship. Learn to know each others needs for space and for connection and find out what works best in those unique relationships whether one to one or in friendship groups.
In a world where family structures are sadly not as stable or as secure as they could or should be, a network of trusted friends can be that ‘extended family’ of sorts that can prove to be mutually beneficial, practically supportive, satisfying and life enhancing.
Do you think it is worth ‘investing’ in any of your friendships today?
In recovery of any sort, it is absolutely essential that we get a hold of and harness our thoughts if we want to have a successful outcome.
Please bear in mind that I don’t say this at all lightly. Having experienced the nightmare of complex PTSD and severe generalised anxiety disorder and clinical depression, believe me when I say I know how incredibly tough it is to calm those intensely distressing thoughts. Tough, but not impossible.
You need more than muscle or physical endurance to get through a trial or a challenge. You need to set your mind on higher things. Things that are above your pain, above your problems and your circumstances. You need to tell yourself the Truth, and not give in to the despair of lies.
Our thoughts can lead us to all kinds of places. Sometimes those can be incredibly dark places such as low self esteem, depression, fear, phobias, eating disorders, relationship breakdown, self-harm, addiction, obsessions, suicidal ideation and even death. Such negative and intrusive thoughts can affect any of us, and it can be hard to ‘fight them off’. Self pity can lead to anger, bitterness and poor choices. Our thoughts can affect the words we use and our behaviour towards other people. These are certainly not trains of thought that any of us want to get on, but I’m sure that quite a few of us have experience of what it is like to be on such a journey through dark tunnels in our lives.
However, we don’t have to stay on that train. You don’t have to. The longer you are on it, the longer you will hear those ‘announcements’ from inside the carriage, loudly reinforcing that you are headed towards ‘destination nowhere’. Your fellow travellers will be headed in the same direction even if they get off at different stops. And the longer you are on it the more deeply ingrained those messages will become, messages that you may not even realise you are internalising and letting become part of your psyche.
You need to be aware of how detrimental, how devastating and damaging staying with those thoughts can be. They drive deep tracks into your internal processing, how you think of your life, your circumstances and these will inevitably affect not only your mental and emotional health, but your physical health too, as well as the choices you make and how your relationships with other people turn out.
But don’t despair. You are not your thoughts, and you can come back from it. I’m proof, although I’m a work in progress. Many of the negative things, the abusive words that pierced me in childhood became part of my internal processing. I believed the lies, and they damaged me greatly. Childhood is a very vulnerable time when we don’t have much resources or resilience to deal with what comes our way.
As adults, however, we can choose to get off the train and choose a new destination. I’m not saying that positive thinking is the cure to all of our problems, certainly not (as you probably well know, I believe Jesus Christ Is The cure!). However, we need to train ourselves, our thought patterns and develop new ‘tracks’ in our mind.
Think of the physical process of laying down a railway track. It’s a piece by piece effort, and similarly you will need to redesign your thought processes one thought at a time, reinforcing these as you go.
In your recovery you will learn a lot of valuable lessons along the way. You will need to work through things at your own pace. However, it is always helpful if someone can save you some of the heartache by giving you advice and the benefit of experience and hindsight as early as they can for you.
It’s best to decide ahead of time what your ‘go to’ thoughts are going to be, especially in challenging the negative thoughts you have been allowing to become part of your mental make up. You might not even realise that you are doing so. For example, do you allow yourself to dwell on thoughts such as ‘it’s so unfair’ or do you let them drift by and replace them with more productive thoughts such as ‘this isn’t what I would have chosen to happen, but now I have the power to choose what I do with it, and I will choose something productive’.
Thought patterns are so called because of their similarity. It’s unusual to jump from negative thoughts to positive thoughts without intention. For example one negative thought will tend to lead to another, and then another, until ‘tracks’ and ‘grooves’ are formed in our thinking: patterns.
A thought such as ‘it’s so unfair’ could quite easily lead to a stream of other such thoughts, forming a not so beautiful pattern of negativity. ‘It’s so unfair’ can lead to ‘victim thinking’. Whereas as children we may be victims because of our relative powerlessness, as adults, even if our lives are broken, we do have more resources available to us to find a way out. Where we can’t advocate for ourselves, others can, and if we’ve made it into adulthood, we will by default have some ‘tools under our belt’ simply because we have survived this far. We may not feel particularly strong, but we don’t need to be bound by victimhood. We can, at the very least, change our thinking. Victim thinking, such as ‘why me?’, or ‘this always happens to me’ can lead to an apathetic stance, one of ‘giving up’ – ‘what’s the use of trying anyway, nothing ever works out’. I’m not belittling such thoughts because I personally know from experience that they often come from a place of deep hurt but however long the journey of recovery is, we need to begin by acknowledging them for what they are, and then challenging them, followed by replacing them.
Here are some more positive thoughts for you to build upon, and reinforce daily, as you progress and persevere in your recovery over whatever your personal challenge may happen to be:
This isn’t what I would have chosen, but I can choose to do something about it.
It feels ‘too much’ but the lives of other people who have overcome difficulties testify to the tenacity and strength of the human spirit. If they can do it, I can too.
The pain feels too much, but I won’t add to my suffering by thinking negatively about my pain. I will look for the lessons in this tough time and will use them to help other people afterwards, or even while I am in the midst of this.
I am grateful to be alive.
I appreciate that I can do these (you fill in the blanks) things.
I am an overcomer.
I am a survivor.
I am determined.
Nothing is impossible.
I will use this difficult experience for good in the world.
As with weight lifting, where muscle is built and defined and strengthened over time, it also takes time to grow mentally tough. No one said the process won’t hurt, be challenging, or even gruelling at times, but when you begin to see those mental ‘muscles’ gaining definition and strength, you won’t want to look back, and in time you will want to train other people to be strong and positively minded individuals also. Just imagine what good this can do in the world!
At the start of a New Year we often find ourselves evaluating our priorities and assessing our progress over the past year. Many people have health and fitness goals, however, focusing on things like nutrition is only part of what it means to be healthy, and being spiritually fit, healthy and nourished is fundamental to true success in life.
This post is geared towards fellow believers in The LORD who want to deepen and strengthen their relationship with God and to live a life led by Him. It is also for anyone who is interested in knowing more about God, anyone who is interested in reading The Word of God, but unsure as to where to start.
Over the past few years I have done various ‘plans’ using an online resource called ‘YouVersion’. This provides written as well as audio and visual Bible reading resources, and if you log in and create an account you can see that there is a wide range of resources that include reading Scripture by books in the Bible, by life topics, and many categories so that you will surely find something that will help you with where you are at in life whatever your age, life stage, or situation.
Last year, however, I tried something new, and this was a Bible reading plan via YouVersion that I did with other people in my church. The resource is set up so that you have the option of doing plans individually or with other people. Up until last year I had only ever gone through these plans individually. However, the plan involved reading a chapter of the Bible a day, and at the end of the year this resulted in reading through the whole New Testament. Weekends were ‘reflection’ days so there were no readings for these, which also allowed time to play ‘catch up’. I didn’t always manage to do the readings on a day to day basis with this plan, although I would be ‘feeding’ myself with Scripture on a daily basis in other ways. This meant that I spent lengthier periods ‘catching up’ but I am pleased and blessed to say that I did finish the year long plan and it was a really positive experience.
One of the highlights for me was that at the end of each reading people could comment and reflect upon and discuss with each other what we had all just read. It provided a wonderful new way of learning and gaining insights from other people as well, which I wouldn’t otherwise have when reading on my own, and I think it is important to have a balance of both personal and devotional reading, and group study. I have to say, I only knew a few of the people doing the study to talk to, and most of the others I still don’t know, which gave a sense of being more connected with a wider group of believers that I may not otherwise have had the chance to have any interaction with.
This year another group study has started which I have also joined in with, covering both the Old and New Testaments, and which will take two years (or one, depending on the reading plan and pace you decide to go at). I am excited about this because it feels like a journey together, of daily mutual encouragement and insight, and most of all growing closer to God and His ways.
I also am looking forward to studying more personal topics to me on an individual basis through this resource, as well as through other avenues of Bible study for me this year.
Of course, as with everything it is important to be discerning, and to prayerfully consider which plans to do, especially if any seem to be led more by a person or theme, than by the Pure Word of God. On the whole, however, I do recommend this online resource to be a good way to nourish our souls and spiritual growth in a manageable way, and which helps us to see our ‘progress’ as we journey through the Bible this year.
So, here is the link if you would like to take a look, and praying for all my Christian brothers and sisters that we will all have a fruitful year, in which God Is greatly glorified in our lives, by His Spirit, and for those who are ‘testing the waters’ that you will respond to His call of Pure Love to You to be part of His family and His kingdom.
God bless, and behold the ‘new things’ He Is doing in your life this year! Shalom. <>< x
There are points in our lives that ‘define’ us. That statement in itself is loaded, and one that can be debated. But in the simplest of senses, certain things in our lives change the way we see things, the world and ourselves.
Such points can happen negatively in trauma where one’s sense of identity is shattered, our minds feel like they’ve become fragmented or fractured, we become ‘stuck’ in a place of pain and fear, and we live the trauma and torment over and over again for years until we finally process it and are able to move forwards having gleaned a new narrative and a new meaning from it.
They can happen also in rescue, where once we were broken, helpless, feeling unwanted or unloved, and alone, prisoners to our own overwhelming and unmanageable experiences, we come in contact with a rescuer, someone who can help, who can revive, nurture, heal and restore. We are no longer alone, fighting ourselves over whether to try to go on living through the pain or to give up, we have others fighting in our corner, and they can help us through. (The ultimate Rescuer Who can perfectly help us is the Saviour, Jesus Christ, but people can help us in smaller ways on our journey too).
In recovery we meet change points when we move from the mental state of a victim to that of a survivor, and then a fighter, an overcomer, a warrior.
And in restoration we meet these moments when we discover a new narrative, a new identity and new hope.
God tells us that He can give us a “Hope and a future”, and Scripture is filled with the realities of brokenness and the greater realities of God’s transforming love and power to bring rescue, healing, recovery, a hope and a future, ‘beauty for ashes’, ‘the oil of joy’ to replace mourning, and ‘garments of Praise’ in place of a ‘spirit of heaviness’.
The pages of Scripture tell of the realities that many followers of Christ have lived through. Read people’s testimonies, listen to what they have to say and you will find this translation from darkness into Light, from old to new, from fear to courage, from despair to hope, from abandonment and loneliness to the rescued knowing that they have been saved by Grace, adopted by Christ into the family of God and are now Beloved, washed clean by the atoning sacrificial blood of the Lamb of God (Jesus Christ) and have a new heart and a new spirit.
This kind of a hope and a future goes far beyond recovery processes, self-help journeys, 12 step programmes or positive thinking. Why? Because when we are born again, spirit filled, our very nature changes spiritually – the power of God Is within us, and we are ‘new creatures’ / new creations as the Bible tells us.
The healing journey can often be painful and take a long time, although for some people by the Grace of God it happens instantaneously such as people who have been in a moment by the power of Christ been set free from drug addictions for example. The ordinary Christians around you will have some extraordinary stories to tell of our incredible God.
It can seem like it is getting worse before it gets better, but that is because God deals with the deep rooted things within us, the brokenness, the sin, the old, which needs to be taken out just as the new needs to grow and flourish. It is because He Is transforming us perfectly, and this is a work He will bring to completion in His time.
On this road, there are change points too. A point where we cross over in our healing and restoration journey to a place of standing in our True Identity in Christ. That doesn’t mean to say that the damage has been fully healed, the battles all fought (although at the Cross they are overcome, victory is in Christ), but we no longer view our recovery, our challenges, our lives from a place of defeat, but of victory.
That is one of the most remarkable change points of our lives. And although we may stumble and struggle, we get up, renewed, our minds being transformed to know that if God Is for us, Who can be against us? He will give us everything we need, and that gives us a hope, a future in Him, in His love and eternal victory – and that, no matter the struggle, changes *everything*!