The Less-Than-Perfect Holiday

0913229c6aec0a2173854970ec3f9e86It’s that time of year when many families come together and laugh and smile and make memories and post all their best moments on social media to share with the world and be affirmed with comments about how adorable and wonderful and amazing their family is!

And behind those snapshot moments are struggles, conflicts, unhealed hurts, and wishes that things would be better, not just in the family but in life.

Admitting we have struggles, conflicts, and hurts doesn’t mean we’re miserable. It doesn’t mean we don’t enjoy the holidays with family. It simply means we admit that everything isn’t perfect, that there’s opportunity to grow. It means we don’t wallow in how things could be so much better “if only.” We’re willing to be patient, honest, gracious, and humble. We don’t wait until someone else changes before we’re willing to go the next step. We choose to change despite what someone else chooses. After all, we all have a different perspective of the truth of a situation. And most likely, we’re all a little right and a little wrong.

So this holiday season, even today, take a deep breath and resolve to be humble enough to consider someone else’s perspective. Extend some grace. Show compassion. Be authentic with discernment. Take a small step in the right direction. Refuse to expect everything to change and be healed at once. Allow others to grow, and take responsibility for your own growth.

Let go of what needs to go, and hang onto what’s truly important.

Fit Faith: Essential: Side-by-Side

“A friend loves you all the time, and a brother helps in time of trouble.” (Proverbs 17:17)

As much as I advocate healthy relationships and accountability among women when I’m speaking and teaching, I have to admit I’ve steered away from fitness accountability. I’ve worked through several reasons (a.k.a., excuses). It was easier to set my own schedule. When my girls were young, I needed to sneak in workouts whenever I could. I often took them in the stroller for long walks when I knew they could best manage. To set a specific time and days seemed unfathomable. I knew the weather, kids and other factors would get in the way. Why schedule something at all when I was sure I’d have to reschedule?

Even as my girls grew and I had more flexibility, I didn’t welcome the idea of working out with others. I enjoyed the solitude of being by myself. It was one of the few times I could listen only to my own thoughts and take in everything around me without distractions. Also, I walk quickly, and few people I knew, whose schedule somewhat matched mine, could keep up. That meant I didn’t feel as if I had a “complete” workout when I was done. So, I’d potentially spend precious time away from my family, get no alone time, and not get a great workout. The choice to work out on my own seemed like a no-brainer.

There have been a few exceptions. I love walking with husband, especially in recent years. I walk at his pace and take a separate walk if I feel the need. We walk and talk, enjoying each other’s company. I love walking with my oldest daughter. We live a state apart, so we don’t walk together often. She can now easily walk as quickly as I can; in fact, each time I walk with her, I ready myself for being left in her dust. I also enjoy walks with a few of my best friends who walk relatively quickly. Sharing seems to flow freely as we walk, and these friends know long walks don’t daunt me. I’m in it – the walk and the friendship – for the long haul.

Not long ago, I ventured into one more shared fitness experience. My youngest daughter, who is very involved in dance, asked me to go to an intense, full body workout in preparation for her upcoming busy dance schedule. I agreed along with another dancer’s mom. It was challenging to say the least, and I left with a desire to return so I could meet the physically demanding challenge.

After a couple more classes, I found out one of the women in the class shared a very good mutual friend with me. I had heard many great things about her from our friend, and she had heard about me, so when we put the puzzle pieces together, we felt like we already knew each other. Someone else I knew but hadn’t seen for quite a while showed up for the following class, and I found out those two women not only knew each other but worked together and often attended a couple fitness classes together. It was fun to see new connections among my network of friends.

We were glad when we saw other in class, and it wasn’t long before we started checking with each other prior to class to encourage each other to be there or be aware when someone had a conflict. Working out together spurred accountability as well as fun, as we shared inside jokes, exhaustion, sore muscles and challenges. When we took a break over Christmas, I missed the routine of the classes, but I missed seeing my friends more. Who would have thought I, the woman who preferred to work out on her own, would suddenly be missing my work out buddies?

Friendships are essential. Healthy friendships are essential. Set aside your excuses. You might think you don’t have time for a women’s study group. You might prefer to control your own schedule. You might not want the hassle of potential personality conflicts. But it’s what God intended for you.

So encourage each other and give each other strength, just as you are doing now. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)

Stop the Separation

I was at a women’s event when the question was posed, “What’s the one piece of advice you believe the church needs to hear today?” A voice in the crowd spoke up loudly and firmly,

Stop the separation!

It’s the truth. Consider the Church as a whole. We focus more on how we’re different than how we’re the same. Our arguments drive people away from the church instead of attracting them, which means they miss out on the joy, strength, and security of living for God’s Kingdom.

Consider the local church, perhaps the one you currently attend. Think about the comments of discontent. What are the topics that are currently dividing individuals? How eternally important are those topics? Are projects put before people? Is too much time spent on details and not enough on dreams? Does fixing problems overshadow fixing processes?

Narrow the focus a bit further. The local church is made up of individuals, including you. How are you separating others? How are you separating yourself? I was recently listening to a speaker who talked about the feelings of being marginalized in church. Sometimes others marginalize us, but much of the time, we marginalize ourselves. We withdraw one step at a time for a variety of reasons and then wonder why no one is investing in us.

It’s time to stop. Stop the separation!

God created us for community. It’s going to be messy at times. We’re human. We’ll have disagreements, personality conflicts, and problems to solve. We’ll have to set aside our personal agendas for God’s agenda. We’ll have to set aside our pride for humility. We’ll have to reserve our energy to fight only with God’s weapons to protect only his territory. We’ll let God define the boundaries instead of us. We’ll yield in obedience instead of trying to take control.

It won’t be easy, but with God’s help, we can do it. We can stop the separation.

Two people are better than one, because they get more done by working together. If one falls down, the other can help him up. But it is bad for the person who is alone and falls, because no one is there to help. If two lie down together, they will be warm, but a person alone will not be warm. An enemy might defeat one person, but two people together can defend themselves; a rope that is woven of three strings is hard to break. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

It’s All About Perspective

A friend on Facebook posted: “You know you’re in California when the weather report includes a ‘wind chill’ of 49 degrees!” Others were posting actual temperatures below zero the same day. It’s all about perspective.

Contestants on The Biggest Loser are thrilled to purchase a size 16 for the season finale. When a new mom has to purchase a similar size, much larger than her pre-pregnancy weight, she’s devastated. It’s all about perspective.

Your life, leadership position, ministry…is all about perspective. How do you respond when challenged with conflicts, timing, and resources? Do you respond from your own perspective or God’s?

Conflict. It’s not an option in life. Conflict is inevitable. Your choice is in how you deal with it. Ask yourself:

  • Do I jump into conflict without assessing the situation first? Do I avoid conflict at all costs? Or do I fall somewhere in between?
  • How has conflict resolution been modeled to me by mentors, leadership models, and family?

It’s important to be aware of your personality and experiences in order to understand initial reactions or limits you’re placing on your responses in conflict. Most important is seeing God’s perspective on conflict. It’s all about perspective.

How would our spiritual growth be impacted if God chose never to confront us? Or if he chose to always confront but never encourage us? You have a similar impact on those you lead. It’s not up to you, your experiences, and your personality to determine when to confront and when to encourage; God provides you the discernment you need.

Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. – Ephesians 4:15

Do it God’s way. Confront (in love) when required. Encourage (in truth) when required. See it through God’s perspective, and be obedient.

Timing. All of us have time issues at times. You might think there’s not enough time at your fingertips. You might be a poor manager of time. Perhaps you’re impatient, or you wait so long for God to make the next move obvious that you miss out on the opportunities he provides to you during the wait.

The truth is everyone has the same number of hours in the day. If you’re obedient to God, you’re going to get done what he intends for you to get done. Replace your to-do list with his to-do list. If there’s something that doesn’t get done when you’re being obedient, apparently it wasn’t supposed to get done in that time frame!

You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail. – Proverbs 19:21

Perhaps your challenge with timing isn’t about time management as much as it is about patience. You want to act now, but you find yourself in a waiting pattern. Or you think you need time to prepare, but God says, “Now!” Reread Proverbs 19:21. No matter how you struggle with timing, it’s not about your timing. Set aside your perspective. Adopt God’s. It’s all about perspective.

Resources. Every leader (and people!) struggles with provision at some point. We have too few volunteers, too small of a budget, too many meetings. “If only we had….” would solve many of our leadership woes! It’s all about perspective. When we assess resources through our human perspective, there will always be a desire for more or less. We don’t see how everything fits together. God’s provisions are perfect. If we don’t have enough of something, he’ll provide what we need (not what we think we need) to accomplish his will. When we feel burdened with “too much,” God balances the scales. But we have to adopt his perspective in order to experience his balance.

And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. – Acts 17:25

Be aware of the perspective you have. Jot down words to describe your responses and experiences throughout the day. Overwhelmed, frustrated, joyful, ecstatic, betrayed, compassionate, frantic, blessed. At the end of the day, give it all to God. Share your list, your perspective, with him, and ask him to help you see it through his perspective and to ultimately replace your perspective with his. After all, you’re living life for him…and it’s all about perspective.

Adapted from original article by Susan printed in the Fall 2010 Just Between Us magazine…for women with a heart for ministry.