December 23, 2013

I'm Different

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Different. Defeated. Even despised. She's wonderful. I admire her. I admire her life. And at times I've waded in the water of jealousy, but only recently. In short, this person who will remain anonymous meant well. She simply felt bad for sharing about her life because it seemed to pale in comparison to my struggles.

While this didn't occur out of spite or anything close to it, for the first time in a long time, I felt looked down upon. Different. Defeated. Even despised.

After all these years and considering all that's happened, I haven't really felt all that "different" from the rest, so it's curious that someone treating me so different is what finally tipped my boat.  Have I really given someone the power to define my emotions...to even define me?

I think what has bothered me most about this incident is that my pain seemed to be looked down upon vs. valued for the fruit that it's brought. Bryan DeWire writes on the desiringGod blog, "Suffering has a way of pressing us to go deeper with God." This has always been the way I've viewed my pain.

And if "Scripture is clear that nothing arises, exists, or endures independently of God’s will" (Suffering and the Sovereignty of God), then my pain must hold a great purpose! Furthermore, Philip Yancey writes, "Endurance is not just the ability to bear a hard thing, but to turn it into glory" (Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud).

For the first time in my life, this truth was shaken. In seeing someone think of his life as so much better than mine, I began to think the same. I started believing things like God loves her more than me, my pain doesn't hold significance, and some people really do have perfect lives; they really do get all that they ask for.

"Try to exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free-wills involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself" (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain). "Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse" (Philip Yancey, Disappointment with God: Three Questions No One Asks Aloud).

I've had to remember that the purpose of life isn't to be happy and jolly and downright delirious. In Where is God When it Hurts?, Philip Yancey also writes, "We are here to be changed, to be made more like God in order to prepare us for a lifetime with Him. And that process may be served by the mysterious pattern of all creation: pleasure sometimes emerges against a background of pain, evil may be transformed into good, and suffering may produce something of value" (p. 95).

For the believer, afflictions are sanctifying.

"One of the most important things we can do for a suffering person is to restore a sense of meaning or significance to the experience" (p. 203). Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. But luckily for me, I had a an experience that sort of counteracted the above.

I handed her a list, the woman who's been counseling me. The list included my traumas. Under each trauma my list included the threats, lies, reinforcements, and triggers involved. Finally, at the bottom of the page was "how I'm affected today."

Her response? "This is abnormally insightful."

In saying this, she brought me back to the same worddifferent―but this time not in the pitiful sense. She made me feel different, as in special, gifted...and useful to God.

Perhaps she didn't know what she was saying when she said those four little words, but God knew I needed to hear them. This person reminded me that God has a purpose, that He is in control, that He is working all things together for my good. She reminded me that God is making me more beautiful with time; He is giving me gifts, and He is giving me a longing for eternity. And after I'm gone, I will thank my pain. I'm sure I will see it as something that brought me closer to God. I will see it as something that accomplished a great deal. So yes, I am different. And that is a wonderful thing.

"You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives" (Genesis 50:20).

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28).

"He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him" (Ecclesiastes 3:11-14).
December 02, 2013

A Simpler & Slower Life

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"The Glory of God is man fully alive," said St. Irenaeus. "It feels like this," a 65-year-old man claimed to know. Well, what's "this?" Apparently "this" is sledding down a 2-mile hill with grandchildren, says 65-year-old Ken Davis, an inspirational man who appears to be getting younger with age. Ken is a minority among the majority of Americans. Americans in their twenties can't seem to grow up, yet as the years trickle by, we seem to age faster than others. According to healthaffairs.org, "Americans are diagnosed with and treated for several chronic illnesses more often than their European counterparts are."

Diet & Exercise Aren't all that Can Affect Health

The book The iron factor of aging: Why Do Americans Age Faster? approaches our health issues from the perspective of diet (how we explicitly treat our bodies). But perhaps the variables affecting overall health and well-being are confounded. What's confounding? If you ask Wikipedia, "In statistics, a confounding variable is an extraneous variable in a statistical model that correlates (positively or negatively) with both the dependent variable and the independent variable."

 Wikipedia explains the concept like this: "As an example, suppose that there is a statistical relationship between ice-cream consumption and number of drowning deaths for a given period. These two variables have a positive correlation with each other. An evaluator might attempt to explain this correlation by inferring a causal relationship between the two variables (either that ice-cream causes drowning, or that drowning causes ice-cream consumption). However, a more likely explanation is that the relationship between ice-cream consumption and drowning is spurious and that a third, confounding, variable (the season) influences both variables: during the summer, warmer temperatures lead to increased ice-cream consumption as well as more people swimming and thus more drowning deaths."

This isn't to say that other variables aren't also possible, but consider the following: poor/lesser health = drowning; poor diet = eating ice cream; and complicated living or busyness (i.e. the opposite of simple) = confounding variable. In other words, stressful, complex living is perhaps just as detrimental to our health as, say, eating poorly or not exercising. How do I know? 

A Great Deal of Stress Comes from Busyness

For starters, the title of Stress: The Portrait of a Killer isn't a coincidence. The documentary emphasizes that scientific discoveries in the field and in the lab prove that stress is not just a state of mind, but something measurable and dangerous.

But where does all this stress come from?

Approaching life with a busy and hurried attitude can up the stress levels. Hurrying is both a reaction to and a cause of busyness. One blogger puts it this way: "...even if you’ve got plenty of time to accomplish your tasks, if you start hurrying (which provokes your body’s stress reactions), you start feeling busy."

Tim Kreiders op-ed (gave his opinion on) “The 'Busy' Trap” in a 2012 June article in the New York Times. Opinionated? No. Kreider is witty and perhaps a bit sarcastic. He says, "They [Americans] are busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence." He goes on to say that, "Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."

Maybe we're so busy because we're afraid of who we'd be or what we'd find if we weren't. Maybe being busy gives us a certain kind of "importance," one that we should be finding in who we are as children of God.

This nudge to slow down isn't intended to encourage anyone towards laziness. Rather, down time for the brain is necessary, even beneficial. "Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets." After all, in his TED Talk Andy Puddicombe says that all it takes is ten minutes of mindfulness per day (All it takes is 10 mindful minutes) to make the mind more healthy.

And doing nothing is just that. Nothing. No emailing. No texting. No watching. Is this possible?

According to the Huffington Post, Americans (18+) spend (on average) 4.5 hours per day watching TV and 5 hours per day with digital media (smart phone and internet). According to Daily Mail (UK), the average person checks his/her phone 110 times a day (and up to every 6 seconds in the evening). The reason these numbers are even possible is a single word: multitasking. Talk about distracting. And no wonder so many of us feel so busy.

It appears that becoming less busy and sometimes saying no to technology isn't the popular choice. 

Choose to Be Anti-common Culture

Kreider continues, "The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen." Well what if you don't want to choose busyness anymore? How can one break free from this hurried busyness if she resides within in a culture that's filled with it? Is it even possible?

"Here I am largely unmolested by obligations. There is no TV. To check e-mail I have to drive to the library,"  says Kreider. Change must begin within the home. We may not be able to change the world we live in, but we can choose to be different from it. A practical way to do this is to go against the American way, i.e. go against materialism and chaos and become more minimalistic. Lorilee, author of the book Simple Living: 30 Days to Less Stuff and More Life, describes minimalism as “intentionally having a life including what I need and what I love, nothing else."

It looks like it's possible to change and simply accept being known as the weird one among friends, but is it really all that easy to change? 

Addictions as a Cause of Busyness

According to an article in the NY Times by Daniel Goleman, "The most intensive scientific studies of people's viewing habits are finding that for the most frequent viewers, watching television has many of the marks of a dependency like alcoholism or other addictions." Goleman goes on to say that, "While ordinary viewers say television relaxes them while they watch, afterward they feel far less relaxed, less happy and less able to concentrate than after participating in sports or other leisure activities."

"Under the broader definition, many kinds of compulsive behavior could be considered addictive, including obsessive sex or compulsive television viewing," says Dr. Allen Frances, a psychiatrist at Cornell University Medical School.

Goleman also says, "The most commonly used scale to measure television addiction includes using television as a sedative, even though it does not bring satisfaction; lacking selectivity in viewing; feeling a loss of control while viewing; feeling angry with oneself for watching so much, not being able to quit watching and feeling miserable when kept from watching it."

If an addiction is "a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)," then things like watching television, texting, and checking Facebook surely qualify (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

In summary, for most, busyness seems to be somewhat of an idol. We look to our busyness for identity (pride). We use busyness for comfort. We see our busyness as a reflection of our own importance. We aim to place ourselves above others based on our accomplishments (pride). We sloth (avoid spiritual work).

Matthew 18:3 says, "And he said: "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

The John Gills Exposition of the Bible commentary explains, "...that is, unless ye learn to entertain an humble, and modest opinion of yourselves, are not envious at one another, and drop all contentions about primacy and pre-eminence, and all your ambitious views of one being greater than another, in a vainly expected temporal kingdom; things which are not to be found in little children..." then you will not enter the Kingdom.

Clearly, not being so busy must have some benefits. 

Benefit #1: Thankfulness

Perhaps if we aren't so distracted by our own self-imposed busyness, we would have more time to say, be grateful and notice the 'little things.' Song artist Carlos Bertonatti sings, "If life has taught me anything, it's all about the little things." If one is too busy, she might not notice and appreciate simple things like the sunrise. Thankfulness, i.e. recognizing one what has instead of question what it is that she does not, is the key to joy. 

Benefit #2: Slowing Down Time

If we de-clutter, quit multitasking, and get rid of the noise in our lives, we free up more of our brains to take in more detail. A profile of David Eagleman (neuroscientist and author) was laid out in The New Yorker.

Key excerpt: The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. "This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older," Eagleman saidwhy childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.

Subtract TV watching, texting, Facebooking, internet, meaningless activities, all of the silliness and what do you have? Time.

So how should all of that extra time be spent? Well, according to The New Yorker, we are to participate in activities that revolve around learning, visiting new places (this doesn't have to be a trip to the other side of the world; try the other side of town), meeting new people, trying to activities, and being spontaneous. If we do these things, time won't appear to fly by like it typically does as we age (Time Flies: Here's How to Slow it Down). 

Benefit #3: Overcome a Great Deal of Stress

The following (practical) 'opposite of being busy' ideas are thought to reduce stress.
  1. Prioritize what really matters.
  2. Don't try to control things.
  3. Take break to clear the mind.
  4. Do one thing at a time.
  5. Choose doing over analyzing.
  6. Say no and meaning it.
  7. Let go of perfectionism.
  8. Maintain an eternal perspective.
  9. Lighten up already.
  10. Don't strain to attain an 'ideal' due to preconceived notions that are present due to comparison.
  11. Exercise (it doesn't take that much time).
  12. Don't trade sleep for work, i.e. don't try to create more time that doesn't exist.
  13. Eat for nourishment and not for comfort.
  14. Choose to walk or bike and not drive whenever possible.
  15. Eliminate unnecessary commitments.
  16. Don't try to please man; aim to please God.
  17. Keep a prayer & gratitude journal.
  18. Have a wind-down bedtime routine.
  19. Don't complain; do something something about it.
  20. Do nothing for 10 minutes each day.
  21. Don't rush through meals.
  22. Lessen material load (get rid of some useless things).
  23. Honor the Sabbath, i.e. rest.
  24. Don't drown your adrenals with more coffee and get some rest.
  25. Be realistic with the demands you put on yourself.
  26. Be reasonable about scheduling your time.
  27. Accept that everything takes longer than you think.
  28. Don't try to do everything yourself; ask for help.
  29. When feeling down, take time to help other people.
  30. Live in the present instead of longing for the past or always looking to the future.
  31. Don't multitask (multitasking creates stress and lowers productivity).
  32. Don't make endless to-do lists (they can be helpful, but may just be another way to make you feel busy)
The above list is extremely against the grain of the American culture. Try not multitasking at your busy corporate job and see what happens. Broadcast to your friends that you don't have a smart phone and wait for the giggles. Tell people that you don't have a TV and observe the dropped jaws. But when is the choice that's right for you ever the popular one? It doesn't matter what other people do or think; a simpler life appears to be a happier and healthier one.