The choice you need to make this Thanksgiving

Every family has traditions. Even if you aren’t a traditional family or even if you don’t have a lot of traditions, you still have things you do as a family that nobody else does. It’s part of your family culture. And one of the biggest family days in the year happens tomorrow.

Today is the day before Thanksgiving. Maybe that day doesn’t mean a lot to some, but if you come from an old-fashioned type family where you serve a great big meal (traditional or not) on Thanksgiving day, the Wednesday before is more than just a day. It’s the day you spend in the kitchen.

Some families do their cooking/baking on Thursday mornings, but in our family we usually eat pretty early on Thanksgiving day. So most of the prep work has to be done the day before. Even when we’re not serving a traditional meal, we still have quite a bit of preparation to do ahead of time.

But what happens when the prep work and the planning gets to be more important than the purpose for the day itself?

2EW0RA30JPToday’s verses are Luke 10:38-42.

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.

This is one of those Bible stories you hear a lot, but it’s one I need to pay more attention to. I have a tendency to be like Martha, especially during the holidays. I get busy. I rush around, crazy and wild, trying to get as much done as I possibly can, and I do it because I want things to be perfect for guests and other family members. I love having people in my house. I love preparing meals for other people, whether it’s in my house or at their house, or just working together with someone to serve someone else. I love it. But it takes a lot of work and a lot of planning, and if nobody does it, it won’t get done.

So my busy little spirit can understand Martha’s irritation with her sister. And it’s not that Martha was wrong exactly. She just got her focus off of what really mattered. The meal wasn’t important in the grand scheme of things. She had Jesus in her living room. And, yes, she wanted to serve Him. Yes, she wanted to use her gifts to bless Him. And that’s exactly what she should have done, but she let the stress of that amazing opportunity turn her into someone she wasn’t. She let the pressure to perform make her say things she didn’t mean.

Correct me if I’m wrong, but has anyone else ever been there during the holidays? You know it’s not about the food or the presents or the decorations, but you let the pressure of the holiday season wear on you until you get grumpy because things aren’t working out the way you want.

News flash. Things rarely ever work out the way you want. So you’ve got a choice to make.

Thanksgiving, and other holidays, are an important time to be together. Maybe you’re with family. Maybe you’re with friends. Regardless, it’s specific time set aside for a specific purpose–to be thankful, to recognize that there are things in life more important than work or money or possessions. More important than whether you have turkey or ham or if you get a slice of pumpkin pie or if have to sit at the kid’s table or not.

When you start feeling stressed out or irritated (and you probably will), ask yourself what’s really important. Don’t get so caught up in putting on a good show or providing a good meal that you forget why you’re doing it in the first place.

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Never overlook a small blessing

I am easily distracted by shiny things. Or by cute things. It’s like my attention is full and focused, and I’m running at 110% capacity. And I’m stressed out because things aren’t going my way. Or I’m worrying myself into a nervous breakdown because I have too much to do. And without intervention, I send myself tumbling down that dark, isolated tunnel of anxiety.

But if someone comes along and shows me a cute puppy (like what happened yesterday), all of a sudden, life gets better. Or at least, life seems to get better. Because, hey, I’ve got a cute little puppy to cuddle. How bad can life be?

I was kind of upset at myself later. I mean, what kind of goofball gets in a better mood just because of a puppy? It didn’t change my day. It didn’t change the amount of work I have to do or extend the deadlines on my late projects. Does that make me superficial? To change moods so rapidly for such a silly reason? Or is there more to it?

My coworker's adorable little Yorkie/Cocker Spaniel puppy

My coworker’s adorable little Yorkie/Cocker Spaniel puppy

Today’s verse is Zechariah 4:10.

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.

Something God is teaching me more and more every day is that He is just as present in the small things as He is in the big things. Granted, I know that. But as I’ve said before, there’s a big difference between knowing God is there and living like it.

When I get stressed out and anxious about the stuff going on in my life, I’m not looking at God. He’s not my focus when I’m worrying. My focus is myself when I’m worrying.

I’m only thinking about what I can accomplish. I’m only thinking about what I can do in the time I have or with the resources I have available. I’m focusing solely on myself and what I can do in my own strength. And that’s the not the way I’m supposed to live.

I have access to the greatest wealth in the universe. I have an all-sufficient, all-powerful, all-knowing Father who wants me to ask Him for help. And I’m foolish to forget it so often.

I’m completely convinced that God sends small things to stop us in our tracks in those moments when we’re stressing out about something. On those days when the anxiety is overwhelming, have there ever been moments when something funny has happened? Or something cute has come into view? If you think about it, I bet there has been. Maybe it was something that just made you stop. Maybe it was something that took your eyes off yourself and your own issues for a fraction of a second.

In those times when you’re drowning in stress and sorrow, when you get the chance to think about something else for a little while, don’t push it away. Don’t assume it’s not worth your time. Don’t see it as a waste of time. Look at it like a gift.

I got to hold a cute little puppy for a few minutes on a frustrating Thursday afternoon, and once I gave her back (reluctantly), I was in a much better mood. Why? Because I’m a terrible person? Or because I’m not dedicated enough to my job?

No. For a few minutes, my job didn’t matter. My deadlines didn’t matter. My performance didn’t matter. And I just got to stand and hold a beautiful, sweet little creature that my God made. And it helped me put the rest of my day in perspective because I stopped making my day the center of my world.

Give yourself a break. That pile of paperwork will still be sitting on your desk when you come back. But what I’ve learned about being a workaholic is that the longer you work, the less effective you are. People weren’t created to work 24/7. Some of us try because we’re gluttons for punishment or because we have this weird idea in our silly brains that running ourselves into the ground will please God (that’s a lie, by the way).

Stop pushing so hard. When a little thing comes around that makes you happy, take a few minutes and enjoy it. Then go back to what you were doing, and you might find that your focus is vastly improved.

Don’t overlook the small things. Sometimes small things bring us the greatest joy in life.

And if you’re stressed out at work, let me just say that getting a puppy is the best thing you could do. Because, seriously, who could be stressed out when you look at that face?

Alone isn’t always better, especially when it comes to worship

When I’m tired and stressed out, the last thing I want to do is be around people. When I’m running behind on my deadlines and have so many unresolved issues in my own life, the last thing I want to do is talk to people about their lives.

With everything that’s been going on in my life–between work and sickness and family issues–I hadn’t been to church in about a month. I realized it as I was pulling into the parking lot yesterday. And to be quite honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I’ve managed to get myself over committed again. Some of it is my own doing. The rest of it is someone else’s doing (hence Friday’s post). But no matter who is responsible, I still have too much work to get done and not enough days left in 2014. Even as I was parking the car, I was thinking maybe I’d have opportunity to slip out early so I could get some work done.

Well, God took a 2×4 to my thick skull today and reminded me why I needed to be at my church today. Because hiding doesn’t help you manage your tiredness and your stress, and focusing on your own unresolved issues often makes them worse instead of better.

700879_77376177Today’s verse is Colossians 3:16.

Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts.

I spend most of my 45-minute commute every morning talking to God and singing along with the radio or my own personal mix of music. And that’s good for me. It helps me get my focus right. It helps me remember that my life isn’t about me and that God has put me where I am for a reason. But there’s something different about being in a group of people all singing together or all praying together. It’s important to do it on your own, but when you’re one voice among many, all talking to the same God, it becomes more real somehow.

I’m sure I’ve realized this before, but standing in worship yesterday with an auditorium full of other Christ-followers, all singing at the top of our lungs–it helped me remember that I’m not in this fight alone. And maybe that’s a silly thing to realize, because it’s something I already know. But when you lock yourself away, it’s easier to forget that you are surrounded by a community of people who believe the same way you do. People who understand you better than you think.

And instead of worrying about my problems and my issues and my deadlines and all the things that I am responsible to do, I just stood in awe, lifted up by 1500 voices (or however many our auditorium holds these days) all telling God how great He is. And all I could think about was how I hope it made Him happy, how I desperately wanted Him to know how thankful I am for my life and my family and my priceless friendship with Him.

Yeah, I’ve got a lot to do. But what really matters in the end?

It’s ironic, really. I didn’t want to go to church because I had too much to do. But I went anyway because I knew I needed to. And when I got home I finished three major things that I’d been trying to get done all last week. That should teach me something.

I’m so blessed to have a wonderful church. No, it’s not perfect, but no group of people is. What’s important is that it’s where I’m called to be right now. If you don’t have a church or some place you can go to worship–and I mean really worship–please do yourself a favor and find one. And once you find it, go. Yes, life is busy and frantic and stressful, and it’s getting ready to get worse with the holidays approaching, but the more time you spend alone on your own deadlines and problems, the more you focus on them and the less you focus on just being in God’s presence.

It’s the one place I can really be still. Where I can’t find words and I don’t worry about it because with Him I don’t need them. Where I don’t try to hide because He knows me inside and out. And, yeah, I can worship in my car on my own, but when you’re in a group of people all focusing on God and all telling Him how wonderful He is, your problems don’t seem so insurmountable.

It will seem like a hassle. It will seem like more trouble than it’s worth. It will sound like work. But going to church where you can worship God in a community of like-minded brothers and sisters in Christ is never a bad idea, no matter how busy you are. Take the time to do it. Get your focus off yourself, and put your focus where it belongs–on God.

Your problems won’t go away, but you’ll see them for what they are–opportunities for God to show you just how wonderful He truly is.

God doesn’t call you to wear yourself out

I’m always busy, and I like it that way. But that means I burn out. Frequently. I try to head it off, but most of the time I have to crash and burn before anything changes.

For years, people have told me that I need to rest. But I’ve never really let myself do–well, because it doesn’t accomplish anything. At least, in my own mind, it’s a waste of time.

For me, what makes me feel rested is just being at home. Sleeping until I wake up, without an alarm. Having a real breakfast. And then spending the whole day just doing homey stuff. Cooking. Baking. Maybe watching a movie or two. Walking outside or playing in the snow–or just watching the snow fall with a cup of hot tea.

No word counts. No deadlines. No plans.

But when you have so much to do, so much to accomplish, so much to get done, it’s really really hard to take a real day off. Just because I’m not at my day job doesn’t mean I’m not working. At any given moment, I have five novels in progress, and the thought of taking a day off and not using the time to work on some personal project is horrifying.

So what if I need the rest? I only have a limited amount of time and energy, so I’d better be a good steward of what I have. And God will give me the strength and the energy and I need.

Won’t He?

Today’s verses are Matthew 11:28-29.

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

I do believe God gives us supernatural strength to finish the things He’s called us to do, but as with everything else in our lives, before we just assume He’ll do something for us, we need to check our hearts.

For me, I don’t think I’m always driven to be busy for Him. I’m driven to busy because I want to prove (to myself) that I have a purpose or that I’m useful. I think that’s my greatest fear is not being useful. But I think I’ve equated being busy with being useful for so long that when I’m not busy, I feel useless. And that’s not true.

This is why God gives us best friends: to talk sense into us when we’re being dumb.

Yes, it’s true that God calls us to work. He has great things He wants to do through us, but that’s up to Him. Not us. And just as He calls us to work, He also calls us to rest.

I fought it, but my best friend eventually convinced me to take a mental health day. Sure, I had to work overtime to get it, but I had plenty to do. And in other times, I would have used that extra day off this weekend to knock out 10,000 to 15,000 words on one of the four projects I have sitting around.

But I didn’t.

I didn’t write anything. For the whole day.

I woke up when the sun came up. I ate a lovely breakfast. I spent time with my parents. I cooked and baked. I Skyped with my best friend for two and a half hours. I watched a movie. And I went to bed when I got tired. And I didn’t allow myself to feel guilty that I didn’t get work done. I just enjoyed my day, and I woke up Saturday morning and felt–new.

How often do we push ourselves past the breaking point because we think it’s what God wants? I think I do it more than I would care to admit. But that’s not the life He’s called us to. A life following Christ isn’t easy, no, but it shouldn’t have the same burdens as a life lived without Him. That’s where we get it wrong.

The world tells us we have to be busy. We think we have to run around like crazy people so that everyone will know that we’re accomplishing something. But that’s a lie Satan uses to distract us and wear us down.

No, don’t be lazy, but don’t let the world set your schedule. Don’t let the world’s standards hold you to a timetable you’ll have to kill yourself to achieve. That’s not God’s path.

God’s road is narrow, yes, but there’s no weight He gives us that He won’t help us carry. So stop working yourself to death. Stop driving yourself into the ground. It’s okay to rest. It’s okay to take a real day off. You need it. Everybody needs it.

Worshiping productivity is wasted effort

When you look at your to-do list and you see all the little check marks beside the tasks you’ve finished, what do you feel? Proud? Accomplished? Relieved? Maybe all of the above.

Being a person who finishes things is a gift. It’s not something that everyone you meet is actually capable of. Finishing things is hard work. It takes time and effort and focus, but once you dot that final i or turn that final page, you have the most tremendous sense of peace. Maybe that’s just me. But until that moment when that project is complete, some part of your brain never shuts up about it.

Being productive is good and important, but productivity is like any other achievement. If you don’t keep it in perspective, it can take over your life.

workaholicToday’s verses are Psalm 127:1-2.

Unless the Lord builds a house,
the work of the builders is wasted.
Unless the Lord protects a city,
guarding it with sentries will do no good.
It is useless for you to work so hard
from early morning until late at night,
anxiously working for food to eat;
for God gives rest to his loved ones.

We can work as hard as we are able to accomplish something great, but if it’s not what God wants you do to, it won’t accomplish anything.

I like the feeling of looking at my list of tasks and seeing all the check marks. I like knowing that I’ve done a lot today. But somehow, the wires in my brain got crossed, and somewhere along the line I started looking at my level of productivity as a measurement of my effectiveness as a Christ-follower.

I don’t know when, but at some point I started judging how good a Christian I was by how much I could accomplish in a day. And there’s only one word for that type of thinking: idolatry. Because my productivity level had become the measuring stick I used to determine if I were good enough. No, not good enough to be saved. But good enough so that people around me wouldn’t be disappointed in me.

On one hand, productivity is a great thing. Being able to get a lot of things done at once is remarkable. Being able to juggle multiple balls at the same time is a skill everyone appreciates. But when you start putting more emphasis on getting things done than doing what God has told you to do, you have a problem.

Ah, but what if the things you’re trying to get done are things God has told you to do? What do you do then?

If you think that God has called you to work from 6 in the morning to 11 at night every day for a month straight with irregular lunch and dinner times (if you eat at all), you need to be sure that’s really what He wants. Because I just did that. And looking back on it now, I can tell you that I’m not sure it was His intention for me to do it at all.

Sure, all of it is great stuff. And God used it in a big way. And it made a lot of people really, really happy. But did I agree to do all of it because He told me to? Or did I agree to do all of it because I wanted to do it? Because I wanted to check things off my list? Because I wanted to feel useful?

Just like with so many other struggles in life, I really think the key is perspective. Productivity isn’t bad. Can you imagine if no one was productive? But productivity shouldn’t be used to shape someone’s identify, and it should never be used to dictate how good (or bad) a Christ-follower you are.

That doesn’t mean Christ-followers are free to shirk responsibility whenever they feel like it, but it does mean that, succeed or fail, God will still love us regardless. I don’t have to finish this project on time to be a good Christian. I don’t have to hit my manuscript deadlines to be a good Christian. I don’t have to do everything everyone asks me to do to be a good Christian.

Don’t base your worth on what you get done today. Don’t judge your effectiveness as a Christ-follower on whether you meet your deadlines. All of those things are what you do—not God. When it comes to your worth, God has already spoken on that note. He gave His most precious blood to pay for you. And as far as your effectiveness? Live how God says to live. Do your best. God does the rest. It has nothing to do with whether or not you put a checkmark on a task list.

Worshiping productivity may make you an extraordinary employee for a while, but when you burn out because you’ve lost your purpose and direction, you won’t do anybody any good while you’re picking up the pieces.