Christian Living

Climbing Last Year’s Mountain

Sorry guys! I know it’s been a couple of weeks. We’ve been sick again. It’s hard to get back into a routine after such a long time of being out of it.

I love New Year’s! I love feeling like I can let go of the failures of the previous year and start over with a fresh slate. No mistakes in it. I find, however, that I can get discouraged when I make my goals because I want to be further along than I am. It’s a time to look at the mountain and re-realize I haven’t climbed it. That’s not always true, and often, I forget to congratulate myself for the mountains I have climbed. But sometimes, it feels overwhelming just looking at the next year’s goals and seeing how similar they are to the previous year’s goals.

I’m learning two strategies to manage this type of stress. The first is to ask myself why I didn’t climb my mountain. I have to admit this type of introspection isn’t always that much fun. Sometimes it’s because I’m afraid to fail or I’m paralyzed by indecision over the best way up. Sometimes it’s because circumstances outside of my control kept me from climbing it. For example, several years ago my doctor told me I had to start sleeping 12 hours/night or I’d end up with an auto-immune disease. I tried doing a sleep study and following their recommendations but because the sleep doctor didn’t address my nutrition or my PTSD around sleep, I didn’t make any progress. I didn’t know what I didn’t know (and probably neither did the doctor).

In 2017, I learned about sleep on a cellular level and what I needed to do nutritionally to set myself up for good sleep. I also worked on my PTSD around sleep. Lo and behold, I’ve been sleeping through the night consistently for the past few months. For the first time in my whole life, I fall asleep quickly and easily, sleep until morning, and then wake up. I used to have sleep days like that two or three times per year and now they’re the norm. I love that kind of progress! But it didn’t come until I started dealing with the root problems instead of trying to treat symptoms.

The second is to give myself some grace. We can get so focused on accomplishing our goals–especially us people who are into personal development–that we forget to give ourselves grace. Success isn’t about perfection–it’s about getting back up when we fail, working on our projects when we can even if it’s not as much as we would prefer. It’s about doing our best with the circumstances we’ve got. Maybe I don’t have brain power to write one day–I don’t need to cudgel my brain into submission. Really, I probably just need a break and that’s okay. If I do force myself to write, it’s not going to be good quality and it’ll just reinforce a belief that writing is hard and not fun–work. That’s not the kind of writing I want to do! I love authors who obviously have fun with their stories–it makes the story fun to read. No one needs to read work that makes them feel bleh.

So, as we all start to execute our New Year’s goals, I challenge you (and myself) to implement these two strategies. Let’s ask ourselves why the goal hasn’t already happened and then address the issues that come up. And let’s give ourselves grace.

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Applying the Principles

I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that sleep is… a struggle for me. The things that messed up my sleep happened so early on in my life that I honestly don’t remember ever not having it be a fight. I’ve struggled with nightmares and insomnia my entire life. In fact, sleep itself used to be something that triggered me–I’d get panic attacks every time I tried to go to sleep. Sleep and I have not been friends in the past, although that is definitely changing (thank the good Lord!).

So, various times I’ve talked about the five Tai Chi principles (here and here)–being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole & total–and how they translate into spiritual reality–trusting God, surrender, living out of the essence of who God has made you to be, being grounded in who God is, and being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you (vs. what you wish/mistakenly think is happening). After having a few folks ask about how I use those principles in my life, I thought I’d share an example of how I apply them–in this case, how I apply them to my sleep issues.

Now, I am 100% not saying that you should ignore the physical causes of insomnia–e.g., lack of magnesium, not eating enough calories, exercising too close to bed, blue light near bedtime, certain insomnia medications, various chemicals, etc., etc., etc. I firmly believe that God has designed our bodies to work a certain way and when we align with His design, we’ll thrive–for example, we can’t expect Him to give us healthy bodies if we ingest poison every day. Please, if you struggle with sleep issues, address those things. Sleep is huge to a person’s mental and physical well-being, so it’s not the sort of thing one should just let slide. My current favorite book on these issues is “The Sleep Solution: End Your Insomnia Naturally” by Emily Benfit (and no, I didn’t get a free copy or any referrals, etc., etc.), so if you have sleep problems, go check it out!

Additionally, I’m not trying to downplay the emotional component of sleep issues. I spent a fairly large amount of time in therapy dealing with why I had nightmares all the time and have done cranial-sacral therapy to release the stored trauma on a physical level.

So, yes, applying the principles doesn’t happen in a vacuum. We’re not just spiritual beings–we’re bodies too.

Okay! Now that I’ve put all those disclaimers there, let’s get into the principles. I’ve already talked about Psalm 127 and how burning the candle at both ends is not a good idea. I’ve had verse two percolating in my brain: “In vain you get up early and stay up late, working hard to have enough food– yes, He gives sleep to the one He loves” (HCS). Yes, some translations talk about how God gives to us even while we sleep vs. giving us sleep itself, but it makes sense to me that God gives us sleep. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how if God gives me something and I don’t get it, I’m the problem. So, as I’ve been trying to be in a place where I can receive sleep (which includes addressing the physical and emotional stuff), I ran it through the principles recently.

  • Being calm/Trusting God–I realized that I have a scarcity mentality about sleep; I don’t actually trust that God will give me sleep or even that He created enough sleep for everyone in the world, as though if some people get plenty of deep sleep, it won’t leave enough deep sleep around for the rest of us. Yes, I realize that’s weird. I’m just sharing where I’ve been at. This lack of trust results in anything but calmness about sleep. My brain goes a million miles per hour when I start exhibiting signs of insomnia, instead of being able to stay chill and try to problem solve. So I’ve been working on changing that–on trusting God to take care of my sleep instead of trying to provide for myself.
  • Being physically relaxed/surrendered to God–Um, if I’m not calm, I’m not relaxed; it’s kind of a given. This is similar to what I just said, but I realized I’ve been trying to force sleep. Sadly, going to sleep is kind of the opposite of forcing something–it’s more about letting go of consciousness rather than grabbing onto unconsciousness. I’m working on letting God be the one to provide sleep and on letting go.
  • Being centered/living out of the essence of who God’s created you to be–in my mind, this is about making sure your sleep habits match your personal quirks. For instance, I’m pretty picky about my pillow and I can’t sleep unless I have a foot out of the covers. Applying the principles doesn’t mean ignoring who you are. It involves embracing who you are.
  • Being grounded/remembering who God really is–obviously, this one is an issue. As I said, I tend to have this belief that God withholds sleep or didn’t make enough sleep for the world. So I’ve been working on changing that belief. As I said, Psalm 127:2 has definitely prompted me to pay attention to what I actually believe about God’s character in this area. I actually had no idea that I had such a wonky view of God until I started thinking about it–isn’t it so interesting that we can compartmentalize that way?
  • Being whole and total/being engaged with the entirety of who you are and what’s actually happening around you–I don’t know about you, but I have a bad habit of laying in bed and then sending my brain somewhere else. I think about what else is on my to-do list, what I’m going to be doing the next day, something that happened in the past, a story that I read, what I’m working on in my writing, etc., etc. I’ve been working on trying to be fully present in my bed when I lay down–to feel the bed, feel the sheets, hear my husband sleeping, feel my body relaxing into the bed, etc., etc. I’m also working on not making assumptions about what’s happening. For example, I don’t need to assume that it will take me x amount of hours to fall asleep or to decide when I first lay down whether I’m likely to sleep or not that night.

So there you go! As I said, a couple people have asked about actually applying the principles. This is how I apply them. And they work great for every area of our lives!

 

 

 

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Physical Rest

So this post you get to listen in to me preaching at my own soul. I need this message. I struggle in this area. And frankly, the past couple of weeks, I have done a particularly wretched job of applying these principles.

Several posts ago, I talked about how rest isn’t optional and mentioned how God gave Elijah food and sleep to rest and Jesus gave his disciples time away from the crowds to eat and rest. These are good examples of physical rest. By physical rest, I mean giving my body the things it needs to thrive. I tend to be a go-go-go, push-your-body-to-the-wall-until-it-collapses type. Or at least when things are busy, you should just push on through, right?

You shall work six days, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even during plowing time and harvest you shall rest. Exd 34:21 NASB

Plowing and harvest time are the major push seasons in a farmer’s year. God still commands them to rest even when things are busy. I’ve often wondered if somehow adding rest into the equation when things are nutso would give me the stamina to perform to a higher standard (this doesn’t mean I’ve practiced it much though!). I know that not resting drains me and adds to my stress level. I used to work in an office where my boss required ALL my time. He would literally send people into the bathroom/break room/etc. to tell me to hurry up because he needed me right then. Two years of working there did a whammy on my physical and emotional health.

Our bodies are designed to need breaks. Not enough sleep and a) our bodies don’t have time to do self-repair and b) you end up with the symptoms of drunkenness–the lack of judgment, the loss of short-term memory, the inability to walk straight–and then whatever you’re working on is done poorly anyway (not that I would know that from experience *ahem*). Anyway, after years of believing I can manage quite well on 6 hours of sleep, I now have adrenal fatigue and feel like I am dragging my way through much of my day. Statistically, Americans skimp on sleep. So, in the midst of my own auto-immune issues, my husband and I decided to challenge ourselves to get 10-12 hours a night for the next month (i.e., to start our bedtime routine when the kids go to bed rather than spending a couple more hours tidying or watching a movie, etc., etc.). We’ll see how it goes.

Not enough eating and your body goes into starvation mode (which mimics adrenal fatigue). I’m bad at this one too. I get in the middle of something and figure I will eat when I finish and somehow it’s the end of the day and I still haven’t eaten. Or my kids will be fussy and I don’t want to eat and listen to them fuss so I wait until they’re busy and suddenly it’s mid-afternoon before I have breakfast. Or in previous years, I’ve been on a diet and don’t eat enough calories for my body to properly function. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks of all the emphasis on weight loss. I know we’re not supposed to be gluttons, but is it really ok to deprive our bodies of certain vital nutrients (e.g., carbs or protein) or to cut calories as a shortcut to looking like we’re healthy on the outside?

Physical rest, i.e., taking good care of my physical body also involves things like making time to wash my hair and sitting down sometimes. As a stay-at-home mom, it’s easy to skimp on stuff like that. My to-do list is never, ever, ever done–someone always needs something else, like fed or their owies kissed, etc., etc., etc.

Anyway! A couple years ago I did Beth Moore’s Psalms of Ascent study and she really put her finger on why I struggle with skipping physical rest.

A Song of Ascents, of Solomon. Unless the LORD builds the house, They labor in vain who build it; Unless the LORD guards the city, The watchman keeps awake in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, To retire late, To eat the bread of painful labors; For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. – Psa 127:1-2 NASB

I don’t stop to rest, because I believe I am responsible to get the thing done. I don’t ask God for help with the every day tasks. And, as I’ve said, I’ve believed the lie that my job is to complete my to-do list, rather than faithfully stay at it.

So, self, rather than going non-stop all hours of the day, take time to nurture your body. God gave it to you as a stewardship, so it’s not laziness–it’s obedience.