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“These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” – Psalm 42:4-6 (NIV)

As a boy living back in Fort Worth, Texas in the late 1950’s and 60’s I really loved Thanksgiving. Each Thanksgiving Day we usually had a family gathering with my father’s side of the family.

In attendance were two of my uncles who had attended the University of Texas at Austin. In those days, there was a traditional American college football rivalry each Thanksgiving between the UT Longhorns and the Texas A&M Aggies. If the game was televised, the meal couldn’t take place during the game! It WAS that important! In later years the Dallas Cowboys played a late afternoon game and the tradition continues to this day. My wife, who didn’t grow up in Texas and didn’t have brothers, isn’t sure this is a cause for giving thanks!

Not one Thanksgiving celebration went by that the food wasn’t spectacular.

The meal included traditional turkey, my mother’s cornbread dressing (or stuffing as we refer to it where I now live in Ireland) along with all the trimmings. I didn’t appreciate it at the time but my mother spent hours early in the week mixing up a huge batch of potato salad for the big event. I usually asked her to withhold the olives in mine as I thought they spoiled the flavor. My cousins now rave over that potato salad and one of them now sports his own version of “Aunt Blanche’s” potato salad. He tells me that his version of her recipe he copied from her years ago still isn’t as good as the original!

Each Thanksgiving weekend was a welcome break from the school routine which came as a relief from a little boy who wasn’t enamored with school at that point in life! Other priorities seemed so much more important.

As I grew older and Thanksgiving celebrations changed in my adult years, a funny thing happened. Life happened. The responsibilities and challenges of adulthood can spoil our fun if we let them. We now live in a much different environment than the one with which I was familiar.

In my years of innocence, the worst thing that might happen Thanksgiving week was that I might have to eat my potato salad WITH olives, or the UT Longhorns might lose to the Aggies. Now we are beset with much larger issues – the threat of terrorism, mass shootings, international political turmoil and the list goes on. Even though in my youth we were constantly exposed to the Viet Nam war and campus unrest it all seemed to come to a halt on Thanksgiving Day.

I’ve come to realize over the years that I’m not generally very satisfied with the blemishes that appear on every aspect of life. I would make life perfect for everyone if I had the power, which I obviously don’t. It’s a personal challenge and discipline to be grateful in a hostile, broken world.

I really resonate with the Psalmist, quoted above, as he ponders about the downcast state of his soul. He asks, “why are you so disturbed within me?”

Today my soul is downcast for the myriad of women who are coming forward to expose the brutality of thoughtless men who have groped, raped or abused them. My soul is downcast for the multitudes of children in the world who are orphans or living in poverty. My soul is downcast for numerous other reasons with which I’m relatively sure you are all too familiar.

The tendency for me is to withhold gratitude until a perfect world arises from the ashes of life. I now realize I simply cannot wait that long until I express gratitude to God for all that He is and for all He is doing to care for me and for His broken world.

If I’m really honest, I have far more to be grateful for than I realize and my attention needs to be far more focused on the One who is the source and giver of all good gifts.

The Palmist has a simple remedy for ingratitude and a perfectionist attitude, he simply says, “these things I remember as I pour out my soul.”

Whatever our circumstances this Thanksgiving season we can and must “remember” that for which we can be grateful and pour out our souls to our living God.

Remember who you are –  your family of origin, your past, the good and bad, the things that have shaped you are part of your personal story; you are who you are because there has been a personal God involved with you, whether you acknowledge Him or not

Remember whose you are – you belong to your Heavenly Father who is seeking out your heart every moment of every day

Remember what you have – your family and friends for starters – I know I have so many to be grateful for; for us who are followers of Jesus we have every spiritual blessing in Christ; even in material terms I know I have far more than I deserve and there are many in this world who are content with far less than what I possess

If you haven’t done so lately, this might be a good time to spend some quality time in solitude, pour out your soul to God, and gratefully remember that you are blessed far more than you ever imagined!

I know I am.

 

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“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:6-8 (NIV)

I’ve been making a lot of trips to see my Osteopath lately. He’s been the one healthcare professional that I’ve found to be most helpful with my recurring back problems. Every time I go to him he keeps giving me a lecture on “letting go.” It seems that the recurring theme that he sees with many people he treats for various health disorders is the tendency we humans have to “hold on” to memories, burdens, toxic emotions and almost anything that we deem necessary to carry with us through life. My Osteopath says this is particularly true in his patients with back problems! Carrying too much weight on the inside must be hazardous to your health!

I have to admit that “holding on” has been a life-long battle for me.

We come into the world naked and immediately those who care for us, rightly start putting clothes on us. We start grasping things and putting them into our mouths! We then start feeling comfortable and becoming attached to what makes us comfortable. We make necessary attachments, first to mom (hopefully) then dad and other significant people in our lives. We start to care about things – early on we care about getting our needs met and we scream and cry when we don’t get our way.

Eventually, if we have loving care-givers and friends, we realize that we don’t have to scream and beg our way through life. We can learn virtues such as patience and self-control and hopefully in a healthy environment. Unfortunately that is not a given these days.

Along the way we find that our emotions can get hijacked. We can start holding on to that to which we feel entitled, whether it belongs to us or not. Our jealous inner selves can see others who have what we want or whom we perceive to have it “better” than ourselves.

Now that I’m well into the later seasons of my life, I realize just how much of useless stuff has cluttered up my life through the years. I suppose as we mature we begin to discern the valuable and realize that most of what we’ve carried along hasn’t been all that helpful.

I love the words of the apostle Peter, quoted above. For those of us who accept and believe that there is a personal, Creator-God who knows, loves and cares for us and has revealed Himself in His Son Jesus Christ  – He is the One to whom we can and must go with all the care and anxiety we hold onto so desperately.

Peter gives three important commands in quick succession – first, “humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand,” then “cast all your anxiety on Him,” and “be self-controlled and alert!” I have probably read over this verse dozens of times without seeing the connection.

Humility, casting cares on God and being self-controlled and alert are all habits that can lead to a much more whole and satisfying walk through life. Peter reminds us too that there is a spiritual battle in place with an unseen enemy ready to devour the careless and unsuspecting. The thinking must be that our own pride, anxiety and lack of self-control will play right into the hands of the enemy of our souls.

I think what Peter is teaching here is that we have to let go of something before we can take hold of something much better. In humility we cast off the useless to take hold of the Eternal God who alone can help us through whatever issue is overtaking us at the moment.

I find that when it comes to life it’s much easier to cast out unwanted items of junk or clothing than it is to discard our negative emotions, grudges and toxic inner battles. Even to this day, I can still recall painful experiences that cause me angst if I think about them too long.

I’m seeing more and more that holding on to worry and anxiety has probably been a tool that has given me a false sense of control through the years. By continually fretting over what we have no control over, we feel slightly more in control. But unfortunately, it’s an illusion.

I’m not suggesting any quick fixes for anxiety and worry that plagues me and so many others in today’s world. I’m not ready to list out a three or six or ten step plan to combat anxiety. All I’m saying here is that I’m much better off when I habitually recognize when anxiety is mounting in my life and continually cast it upon a loving and caring personal God.

In a highly superficial and material environment, the temporal always seems to take precedence over the eternal. Ultimately we will leave this world behind and all of our possessions, worries and cares which we so desperately cling to now. By entering into a trust relationship with the Living God revealed in Jesus Christ, we take with us a life of wholeness that will never end.

I have to be reminded repeatedly that holding onto the Eternal God and letting go of everything else is the only place to find true freedom this side of heaven.

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“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 (NIV)

 I face the temptation on a regular basis to think that I’m not personally responsible for the plight of people around me who are less fortunate than I. I’m grateful that I have experiences from time to time to rouse me out of my complacency and selfishness.

For some years now I adapt my weekly schedule to do some volunteer work at one of my local charity shops. I find the few hours a week I spend at the shop refreshing to my soul. It gets me out of my dusty routine and into the daily lives of many people that I might not otherwise meet during a given week.

Just this week while working at the shop’s “till” as we call it in Ireland, I was quite surprised to see a very destitute looking man enter the shop and begin to play with a child’s musical toy. I had only priced the toy at the value of three Euro some minutes before.

If I could only have had two free hours with this individual I would have gladly re-clothed his badly soiled garments, treated him to an hour bath and burned the filthy rags he was wearing. You could smell an individual like this coming from blocks away. He was that bad off!

After a few minutes of rummaging around the shop, he approached me at the till and asked if he could purchase the musical toy for a small girl who was with her mother in the shop. He inserted his filthy fingers into a long-worn pocket and found three Euro to complete the purchase. I left the receipt for the sale on the till as I guessed he wouldn’t be interested in it!

I admit that I have a strong tendency toward feeling entitled to more that I already have. We live in a world that is consumed with consumerism. It’s also very popular today to think that we should have the best of everything at reasonable prices and we should demand our rights if we don’t get what we want. Often I feel that I’m on the giving end far more than the receiving end, which is in fact, totally false.

The words of Jesus Christ, quoted above, come at the end of one of His many parables. In the parable, Jesus speaks of a faithful and wise manager who is entrusted with his Master’s possessions. The key is how the manager behaves, knowing he will one day be held to account for that which he has been entrusted. How the manager views the Master is the key to the parable. If the manager feels that there will not be a day of reckoning in the future, he can even go so far as to beat the Master’s servants and begin to believe that he will not be held to account for his actions.

There’s also an added precaution – the manager must face the reality of the trust he’s been given.  Those entrusted with more – more will be required of them.

Upon reflection, I find that even the most impoverished among us still have something to share with others. One person who is a most unlikely candidate for admiration, is still made in the image of God and can display generosity and kindness.

The reality is that I have been endowed with far more than I can ever imagine with grace, goods and gifts of many kinds. By one act of kindness, I’m reminded that I have been entrusted by my Master with infinite riches. The more I can manage to give the more I seem to gain. Perhaps He’s arranged it to work that way.

 

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“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”  – Philippians 4:8 – New Living Translation
Recently in my casual reading I came across an important term. One author mentioned the word “brooding.” It resonated with many life-lessons I’m thinking over so I looked up the definition.

Brooding is defined as, “thinking deeply about something that makes one unhappy, angry or worried; or to be preoccupied with depressing, morbid, or painful memories or thoughts.”

It seems that brooding is very much related to worry and anxiety. We can become compulsive about things we just can’t, for one reason or another, shake out of our minds.

I have to admit that for a good portion of my life I’ve been a brooder. Being somewhat compulsive, for many years I thought that worry and brooding were just part of my personality type that was instinctive and irreparable.

It’s always sobering to hear what those closest to us really think about us!  Several years ago my wife and I were discussing a painful personal experience. She bravely mentioned that one our children said to her privately, “I hope it doesn’t take Dad a week to get over it!”

I’m learning in recent days that I’ve been making choices all through life and that I can actually “choose not to brood” if I’m so inclined.

It’s another election year in the USA and it seems the entire western world is inundated with political speeches and promises of a better future if someone does, or doesn’t get into office. I’m all for making informed choices as to whom we vote for, but so often I see many people brooding over political parties or personalities to the point of depression and burnout!

I’m currently leading a small group study on the book of Philippians in the New Testament. The apostle Paul, author of this epistle, was well acquainted with the issues of his day in the first century. He was actually writing from prison – being in house arrest in Rome.  I’m pretty sure that if he were here today and he had a vote he would be exercising his privileges. However, he has some pretty direct advice for his readers who were persecuted themselves.

Surprisingly, Paul tells his readers not to brood! He writes –

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.”

When it comes to making informed choices, we should do so. When it comes to fixing our deepest attention on something, that “something” Paul says, should be “true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and worthy of praise.”

That’s a tall order for those of us who are constantly bombarded by negativity in our world where the media and social media dominate so much of our day. Combined with this some of us have a tendency to keep working painful thoughts over and over in our minds, consumed with what has happened, might happen or could happen. I know, I’ve been there many times myself and still can be if I choose to be.

I’ve come to discover that I need time and space in my own life on a daily basis to switch off and listen for God’s voice through His Word and in my inner being to counteract all the false messages of hopelessness that come against me.

As I reflect on it, I’m shocked to discover that brooding wasn’t God’s original design for my life and that it was a choice I had been making all along. But I’m relieved to know that that there’s a better alternative.

Corrie Ten Boom, author of the book “The Hiding Place” was a woman who lived through significant hardship, being sent to a Nazi death camp with her father and sister both of whom died as a result. She has much to say about worry and the choices we make.

Ms Ten Boom said, “Worry is like a rocking chair: it keeps you moving but doesn’t get you anywhere,” and “Happiness isn’t something that depends on our surroundings…it’s something we make inside ourselves.” 

In this world where we are flooded with data, most of it negative, take time to reflect and find restoration of your soul in the eternal things that really matter rather than surrendering yourself to worry and anxiety. I think you, and your world, will reap the benefits. I’ve learned the hard way that brooding never brings blessings into our lives, or the lives of those we love.

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A New Series on Acceptance – my thoughts on healthy acceptance of what we cannot change in life

“Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.” Philippians 3:13-15a (NIV)

A New Resolve: “I cannot change the past and must only carry life-lessons with me.”

I used to feel that the more energy I expended on negative things in my life the more likely I was to fix them. Actually just the opposite is true.

I’m not suggesting that we ignore our problems or escape reality. So often the energy we could be expending on effectively dealing with today’s problems gets diffused by carrying unnecessary baggage with us along life’s journey.

Even though I think I’ve made peace with my past there’s often a reminder that I’m not as far along in “letting go” as I think I am.  Sometimes reality has to hit before we realize how our past is robbing us of joy and contentment in the present.

Last year I really suffered with my back. When the problem started I immediately made an appointment with my physiotherapist. After she couldn’t work out the problems after almost six months of treatments I discovered Tony a local Osteopath who was recommended by some trusted friends. Tony found the solution to my back problems but also reminded me of what I knew in my head but in reality wasn’t practicing.

Tony indicated that not only were my back problems related to a past physical injury that was never resolved but they were also related to my emotional state which wasn’t healthy either. He said, “Jesse, you have to let go! You’re still holding on to a lot of things and tension is keeping your problem going! I have no clue what it is, but you have to find it and let it go.”

My weekly sessions with Tony ended up being consistent reminders to me that I cannot change the past and have to “let it go.” No matter how much I try to grasp the things that don’t seem to be resolved the only things worth holding onto are positive lessons learned through life’s failures and success. It seems we always learn a lot more through failure than success.

I think this is where the Apostle Paul seeks to take us in the passage quoted above. Even though he had a lot of things going for him as an individual, as an apostle and leader in the early church he was focused on the present and the future. The task of being a builder in God’s church in the early stages of its existence was too great a task for him to be bogged down by the past – precisely where he could not live and what he could not change.

But Paul also had the personal resolve of knowing God intimately through Jesus and was fully convinced of his eternal destiny. He took every opportunity to present Jesus Christ to others and proclaim the message of the Cross – that God’s sacrifice of His Son, when accepted, resolved his past and gave him everything he needed for the future.

To say that Paul had his eye on a larger picture would be an understatement at best.

So often when I get focused on the past I insist on carrying fear, wounds, grudges, burdens, shame, anxiety and bitterness with me. In doing so I am focused on the small picture. It usually just has “me” in the picture and no one else. We often carry scars with us that tell a story of difficult situations and perhaps others that harmed us. Carrying all the negatives with us will lead to depression and despair. I know, I’ve gone there far too often.

When we refuse to “let go” of the past we lose sight of the fact that God in His greatness can run the universe. He’s been doing it from eternity past and we can trust Him with the present and future no matter where we have come from.

So let go of the past and be grateful in the present. Be grateful for where you have come from and the lessons you carry with you instead of getting mired in the details. Be grateful for where you are headed, but be sure you are headed in the right direction.

Ultimately the only place secure in this world is the eternal world to come where we will be free from every snare that kept us in bondage during this life. There is One who goes ahead of us who is quite willing to take us there.

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“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:12-13 (NIV)

We live in a very disappointing world. Seems to me that very few things in life “work out” as we hope they will.

I don’t know about you, but I seem to spend a good deal of time in my life waiting for something to “significant” to happen. Often due to disappointment with present circumstances, I seem to be waiting for something “better” to come along so that I can finally give myself “permission” to be happy.

Recently I was watching a sporting event that kept getting interrupted by commercial breaks. It was a tense, close match and I started getting anxious during the breaks not knowing what might be coming in the next chapter of the contest.

I began to realize that I could literally live the rest of my life that way. Living in anxiety between scenes of the story – looking for outcomes rather than enjoying the journey.

We may regularly find ourselves in a predicament that keeps us in the “not yet” mode –

I haven’t found true love – not yet

I haven’t found my life partner – not yet

I haven’t found contentment in my marriage relationship – not yet

I haven’t seen my children finish school and get a job – not yet

I haven’t found fulfillment in my job – not yet

I haven’t paid off my debts – not yet

What has to happen next before you can be happy? I find this to be a very revealing question to ask myself.

I’m finally realizing that how we behave while we are waiting on something we think will make us happy says a lot about the way we “do” life. Disappointment is largely a result of expectations, but our disappointment in someone or something does not alter reality one way or another.

The Apostle Paul makes a very bold statement in the verse quoted above. He says that there’s a “secret” to learning contentment regardless of the situation. I think Paul learned this over a period of time, it wasn’t an immediate realization. He had to do a lot of living through many life experiences to arrive at the point of making such a bold statement.

If you are like me you have many things in your life that you wish were different to the positive side. I can easily get distracted by all the things in our world that are insufficient and incomplete. And there’s no one more insufficient and incomplete than myself.

I think that contentment is the ability to fully live life in the midst of the tension between where we are and where we wish to be. Nothing “has” to happen before we can be content. Our Lord and Maker has designed life that way. He is the source of all that is good and satisfying even in a disappointing world.

For the man or woman of faith it’s a certainty that at present we are not where we wish or hope to be. Heaven is a future destiny not a present reality. Even so we, like Paul, can change our present attitudes regardless of the circumstances no matter how insufficient we feel they may be.

In an incomplete world full of setbacks and disappointments we will always be looking for something that we don’t yet have to “make” us happy. I’m finding this to be a poor investment of my valuable energy which seems to be diminishing day by day.

The life of contentment is one of gratitude to the God who is always there for us personally and intimately regardless of our present reality. If Paul learned the secret it must be available for us also.

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“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.” Romans 15:4 (NLT)

A friend of mine used to say with tongue-in-cheek, “Blessed is he who expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed!”

Recently I’ve been doing some thinking on the subject of disappointment. If I’m honest, deep feelings of disappointment have been hounding me for a long time in these middle years of life. I doubt that I’m unique in this but I find inner tapes playing in my head which repeatedly say things like –

Is this all I’ve accomplished up to this point in my life?

Is the rest of my life going to be all downhill from here?

Why hasn’t my life “turned out better”? (as if I’m a good judge of this!)

Is this all I get after putting this much effort into _______?

In my journal I began to list a number of things that I was personally disappointed about. I then saw certain common denominators surface –

  • Some of my disappointments related to things that were largely out of my control
  • Often I was disappointed by my own choices made in the past and now having to live with the consequences
  • I had to admit being disappointed with God for not coming through for me in ways that I had “expected” of Him

The whole area of disappointment says so much about our inner lives and expectations.

When I was younger I had many “aspirations” but probably not enough goals. When we set our sights on something and yet don’t have a determined plan with personal goals to accomplish them we can grow disgruntled and have many regrets. I’m learning that this is a reminder to set personal goals to reach new targets. It’s all in the process of becoming the person God designed us to be in the first place.

As long as we are alive (and in reasonably good health) the potential exists for us to set new goals instead of living with regrets and disappointment. Perhaps what we need is renewal and refocus when darkness seems to creep in upon us.

Often the good things we expect to come our way don’t materialize and instead we are landed with a set of circumstances that we didn’t anticipate.

We expect good health and end up with illness.

We expect a happy marriage and end up in a difficult relationship or even single.

We expect children and end up barren.

We expect a satisfying job and end up unemployed.

We expect our children to do well and they struggle.

And the list goes on.

We look to our own accomplishments and to people and things around us to give life meaning and fulfillment. When we don’t get what we think we want – or what we expected to have – we become disillusioned. It also doesn’t help when we observe others who seem to be enjoying the things that we so deeply desire and don’t presently have.

After doing a short survey I found that the Bible, my source of ultimate truth, says very little about “expectations” but says a great deal about hope and waiting for God.

I’m beginning to realize that disappointment is a human trait that God uses in our lives. We were definitely created for something “more” than what we are currently experiencing. The Biblical concept of hope is a tremendous antidote to the poison of disappointment.

As noted above the Apostle Paul once said, “Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us. And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”

It just might be that God is there for us more than anyone else and anything else when we experience failure, disappointment and disillusionment. We have far more than we realize in the personal relationship He offers us through Jesus Christ His Son.

Expectations are that in upcoming posts we will learn more about how God uses the disappointments in our lives to bring us to a deeper appreciation of Himself and a different perspective on our place in His wonderful plans.

When we begin to place all our hopes, dreams, and aspirations in God’s hands the potential exists for us to live a different life than we “expected.” I find myself having to recommit to the process every day.

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