Christian Living

Callings & Announcement

Yay! I’m so excited to share my news with you guys! Our podcast is (finally!!!) launching! Check us out at epiceverydaynow.com. It’s been a long, grueling process, but we’ve finally gotten it recorded and hooked up with with various pod catchers things.

What is our podcast about? Well, I’m so glad you asked ūüėČ If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know how transformative Peter Ralston’s five Tai Chi principles are. The spiritual versions of them are written all over the Bible. Obviously, that means they’re not new, but I really like how Peter Ralston organizes them. It makes it easy to ask yourself whether you’re calm, surrendered, centered, connected, and complete, or as we say to ask yourself if you’re doing the CSC’s. Only five words to remember but so much ground covered. Every weekday we’ll be covering one of the principles. We have different topics from week to week.

Why did we decide to start said podcast? Lots of reasons. One is that we’re passionate about helping other people live their callings–get rid of the things entangling them and run the race. The other is that we need that daily reminder. This week I’ve been listening to our show in the mornings, and it’s really helped re-ground me. I know my day goes better when I do the CSC’s. But it helps to be reminded of that fact every morning. Hence, creating our ~15 minute podcast.

And the CSC’s are all about living calling. It’s impossible to fulfill your calling if you’re anxious, doing things on your own (vs. with the Holy Spirit), trying to be someone you’re not, isolated, and compartmentalized.

I just finished Beth Moore’s study on 2 Timothy called¬†Entrusted.¬†One of the main things I got out of it was that theme of calling. Paul tells Timothy:¬†For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands (2 Tim. 1:6, NIV).¬†Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us (2 Tim. 1:14, NIV).¬†But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim. 4:5, NIV).

It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of life, to be swept up in our schedules and our to-do lists and work or kids or housekeeping, etc., etc. Or to get caught up in the craziness of our society. In 2 Timothy, Paul is at the end of his life. He’s passing on the torch to his “true son in the faith.” Time is short. That’s what I heard when Paul was talking about his race being run. We don’t have time to be caught up in this world. We have an eternal calling that matters. One that isn’t occasional. One that’s every day. One that requires us to run the race, to pour ourselves out. One that isn’t going to happen accidentally. What you do today matters. What I do today matters.

So! If you have a chance, listen to our podcast.EED announcement.jpgI’ve definitely needed those daily reminders to refocus on what’s important.

Christian Living

Faithfulness: Aligning with Reality

Normally, I write about things that I learned over the previous week/month in the course of Bible study or daily life. Today, I’m going to write about something I learned today because I’m super excited about it!

Okay, so this morning in my Bible study (I’m still doing Beth Moore’s¬†Living Beyond¬†Yourself) I started the section on faithfulness. Now, I don’t know what you think of when you think of faithfulness, but I usually think of doing something consistently regardless of how difficult it is because it’s the right thing to do. Hmm, guess that says a lot about my life, eh?

Anyway! Beth Moore quoted The Complete Word Study Dictionary¬†where they defined faithfulness this way: “firm persuasion, conviction, belief in the truth, veracity, reality or faithfulness” (Spiros Zodhiates et. al., ads.,¬†The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament¬†[Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 1992], 1162).

Now the part that struck me was that “reality” bit. It actually cracked me up because Beth Moore made a similar point only a paragraph later–after I’d already scribbled in my margins. The thought I was having is that faithfulness equals living according to God’s reality or aligning with God’s reality.

Why am I so excited about this?

Aligning with something is kind of the easy part–at least in my experience. You don’t have to figure out where to cut if there’s a pattern you’re following–you just cut on the lines. Aligning with God’s principles works the same way: we just follow the pattern.

In Tai Chi, we talk a lot about body structure and how to align your body with the way it’s designed to work. If you’re out of alignment–for example, bending forward when you’re trying to lift something or trying to grab something with your arm behind your back–it takes a LOT more work to accomplish anything. Aligning with God’s principles actually makes life easier. It may not feel like it sometimes–Lord knows, there are days I wish I could eat whatever and still be healthy, but that’s not the way my body is designed to work–but it actually is. When we do things God’s way, we miss out on the consequences. As you may have noticed, I’ve been blogging a fair bit about money lately because I’m working on changing my perspective. If I come at money from a fear standpoint, I won’t handle money well (regardless of how much or how little I actually have). Aligning with God’s principles means recognizing it’s all God’s money anyway and just being intentional about how we spend it.

And finally, I love that it’s¬†reality. This is the rubber meeting the road. This the way things actually are. This is life-changing on a day-to-day basis. One of my very favorite things about God is that He is transcendent–He has a third-person perspective on the nature of reality; He knows the truth of everything. When God tells us a principle about the world, we are absolutely guaranteed to prosper when we follow that principle–whether it’s a moral principle (for example, don’t lie or don’t have sex outside of marriage) or a life principle (“the borrower is servant to the lender”[Prov. 22:7 or “stress makes you sick” [e.g., Prov. 3:7-8; 14:30; 17:22; ]).

Why can we be faithful? I love that Beth Moore talked about both the fact that faithfulness is part of the fruit of the Spirit (and thus only possible via the Holy Spirit’s work in us) and that our faithfulness is a response to God’s faithfulness. We can be faithful because God is faithful. We can believe God because He’s always trustworthy and honest. We can align with God’s reality because it’s always the real way the world works.

How sweet is that?! I love that we can trust God and that He never leaves us.

So, now that you have this perspective on faithfulness, are there any areas where you need to align your life with God’s reality? And if so, how?

 

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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‚Äôs 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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An Internal Art Form

Do you ever get so focused on getting from point A to point B in your day that you forget even why you’re going to point B? It’s so easy to go through the motions, isn’t it? Some days I find myself doing that. For instance, I get caught up in just getting through my kids’ homework vs. making sure they actually understand the concepts.

Recently¬†at my Tai Chi class we were talking about how Tai Chi is an internal art form, but it’s not always taught that way. It’s so interesting: because of the differences between eastern thought and western thought there are some things that are just hard to translate in a way that makes sense to our western mindset. In my opinion, Peter Ralston has done an amazing job of actually translating those concepts into a way that’s understandable. A while back I talked about the five principles–being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total–and what the corresponding spiritual reality is–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).

My teacher was talking about how the first Tai Chi class he attended taught the choreography of the form, but didn’t talk at all about the principles–which is nuts because the principles are 95% of Tai Chi. It’s so sad. I can’t imagine taking the principles out of the form. Without the principles, the form is pretty, but it’s not functional. For instance, if you try to push something with your arms alone, you have less power than if you utilize your whole body. Tai Chi is an internal art form–95% of it you can’t see. You can’t see if someone is calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, whole and total–although you can make some pretty accurate guesses from observing them. And you can’t relax for someone else. You can encourage them to relax, but you can’t do the work for them.

Christianity is the same way: 95% of it is all the connection with God and hanging onto who you are in Christ–it’s stuff that isn’t visible. When we focus on the things that are visible–e.g., whether you attend church, read your Bible, pray, etc., etc., etc.–we are missing out on the majority of what’s important. It may look all shiny and nice on the outside, but it’s not functional. I don’t know about you, but I need reminded of that occasionally. I¬†love¬†that God is the power behind, um, well, everything in my life. He’s the power for me to stay calm when I’m late and stuck behind someone driving five miles under the speed limit. He’s the power for me to listen to my children and tell them that I love them the way they are. He’s the power for me to write when things are going awesome and when I feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall. He’s the power for me to love my neighbor even when I don’t feel like it.

I hate to say it, but if you’re focused on the 5%, you’re not doing okay. There’s so much more to life, to thriving and abundance and joy in Christ than that 5%. As I tell my kids, stop, take a deep breath and regroup. Reconnect with the 95%. Nobody can do it for you–Christianity is an internal art form.

 

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The Trial of Busy-ness

June has been so busy. Like, ridiculously so. For some reason, summer tends to be that way for a lot of people. You’d think we’d have less to do since it’s sort of “vacation time”–but sadly, no. Although maybe it’s just a different busy. I’m not sure I know anyone who doesn’t think their lives are busy during the summer and busy during the fall as their kids go back to school and busy with the winter holidays and busy with spring break and spring yard work, etc., etc., etc.

I talked last time about how being in a hurry precludes our loving anyone. I’m realizing that anyone includes myself. I’ve been too busy to sleep enough many days. Because of my chronic illness, I really need 10-12 hours of sleep per night. But I feel like I just don’t have time for that. Sadly, I’m starting to get sicker again–pretty sure I need to re-think the whole only sleeping for 8¬†hours thing.¬†I’ve been so happy that I have energy to cook and clean and write and school my children that I’m running myself ragged again.¬†It’s made me think about Psalm 127:1-2: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves.” (NIV)

I’ve been thinking about how, in a lot of ways, busy-ness is just as much a trial as suffering. It’s exhausting. I love in verse two, where the Psalmist says “in vain you rise early and stay up late”–how often do we Americans do that? We’re always burning the candle at both ends.

In my Bible study last week, we covered Psalm 123:¬†“I lift my eyes to You, the One enthroned in heaven. Like a servant’s eyes on his master’s hand, like a servant girl’s eyes on her mistress’s hand, so our eyes are on the LORD our God, until He shows us favor. Show us favor, LORD, show us favor, for we’ve had more than enough contempt. We’ve had more than enough scorn from the arrogant and contempt from the proud.” (HCSB)

I love this Psalm, for lots and lots of reasons. It hit me in a new way though as I was thinking about how nuts June has already been and how busy the rest of it is shaping up to be. Beth Moore has this great little chart in her section on¬†Psalm 123: Where I look–> What I hear–> What I feel–> What I expect (Stepping Up,¬†43).

I’ve been thinking about that with my busy-ness this past week. Being busy typically is not a trigger for me to think: “man, I’m going to need extra time with God.” Or even to think: “Is this really what God’s calling me to do or am I trying to force something?” (a la Psalm 127). ¬†But I want to be the kind of person who¬†consistently keeps my focus on God. I want to have expectations that are in line with who God is and what He’s doing in my life.

For instance, I’ve noticed I’m getting a little overprotective of my writing time. Part of it is because I have goals: I want to finish the first 300 pages of my fantasy novel (or series if it gets too long) by the end of this year. But when I’m stressed and rushed in my writing, I actually write less. It’ll take me an hour to an hour and a half to write the amount of pages I aim for daily vs. half an hour. It goes back to that “unless the LORD…. you labor in vain” thing. I’m convinced it’s what I’m supposed to be finishing next in my writing projects, but if I’m overexerting, it doesn’t mean more results–it means tireder Liz.

And overexerting is always a waste anyway. Isn’t that so interesting? I was raised that the essence of success is trying harder and if you fail, it’s because you didn’t try hard enough–not because you didn’t try smart enough, not because you were trying the wrong thing, not because maybe it wasn’t in God’s plan for you. But I’ve since learned that that is a lie. In my Tai Chi class, we talk a lot about the less relaxed you are, the less results you have–i.e., the more tense you are when you do something, the more likely you are to fail.

If we’re God’s children, we’re already favored by Him. Stop. Think about that. We’re already favored. ¬†There’s no reason to overexert because God is the one building the house. God is the one watching the city. Faithfulness means working hard, but it doesn’t mean burning the candle at both ends–or rushing.

Which brings me back around to what my expectations are. I am already favored by God. I am doing what I believe God is calling me to do. But because I’m focused on all I’ve got going on, my expectation is that I can’t do everything I need to do and still have time to sleep. Pretty crazy, huh? If God made my body to need a certain amount of sleep and the responsible thing to do is to get that sleep, if I really believe that God is faithful and can smooth my way through all the things on my to-do list, I think my expectations would be quite a bit different.

Book update: We’re looking for folks to be guinea–er, testers for the Bible study that goes along with my book “To Push on the Rock.” It’s designed for small groups, but we also want some people to test it individually (mainly because that’s how I utilize my Bible studies because of my health issues so we want it to be useful to individuals as well as groups). The homework is fairly flexible–it can be as much as a daily¬†study or as little as a once a week study. If you’re interested, please let me know.

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Standing Firm

Evan and I are writing a companion Bible study guide to my next book,¬†To Push on the Rock. I was test driving my way¬†through the first week’s exercises, and this verse stood out: “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ” (2 Cor. 1:21a NIV).

I needed to hear that today. It hasn’t been an awful week or anything, but I’ve had a lot of insomnia, and I’m tired. Being tired makes for a crappy perspective… It’s hard to hang onto what’s true, to remember who I am. Plus, this week it feels like a lot of our friends are going through rough times–really brings home the whole living in a broken world thing.

Coming from a Tai Chi perspective, standing firm involves hanging onto your balance–which is only possible if you’re calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total. There’s a lot wrapped up in the idea of standing firm.

So it was really nice to have this reminder. It’s not circumstances that help us stand firm or even our own ability to stand firm. It’s God. That doesn’t mean we don’t persevere, we don’t work hard to be faithful, but instead the key is to work on our connection to God first, rather than trying to change circumstances.

And it’s not our ability to help people that makes them stand firm–it’s God. I really love looking at it that way. It’s like in Tai Chi–it’s literally impossible to balance someone else because it takes a ton of internal adjustments. If they’re not relaxed or calm or centered or grounded or being out of the entirety of themselves, they won’t be balanced, and you can’t do those things for someone else. You can encourage someone. You can listen. You can’t live their life¬†for them. It’s God who helps them stand firm, just as much as He helps me stand firm.

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The Art of Not Knowing–Flexible Plans

Earlier this week¬†I was so focused on finishing my plan that I was like a bulldozer. I ignored all the little detours that were necessary and it ended up taking way longer than it should have–that whole “a stitch in time saves nine” thing? Yeah, I pretty much just let all those stitches unravel while I was focused on getting through my plan. I find myself wondering how often I do that.

James talks about holding plans in an open hand (4:13-15). We plan, but we leave room for God to change those plans.¬†I don’t know about you, but I tend to be an all or nothing kind of person, so if something derails my plan, I often throw up my hands in disgust and decide the evening/day is ruined and there’s no point in trying to fix it.

In Tai Chi, there’s this concept of “not knowing”–it’s the idea that we stay open to the question of what’s around us, what’s happening. It means not ever having a solid judgment about what is. Now, obviously, I believe that God gives us solid information in the Bible. It’s one of the things I love about Him–that He’s transcendent and has a third-person perspective on the nature of reality so he can reveal truth to us. However, I think there’s something to that attitude of openness.

So often I have an idea of how things are supposed to go and when they don’t go that way, I get stressed and try to force them to follow my plan. I have the feeling I probably frequently end up expending more energy than necessary and making myself miserable to boot. If I instead really believed that I didn’t know how the day was supposed to go–made my plan and held it in an open hand–I think I’d be able to view detours as adventures or maybe even short-cuts (thinking I really need to re-read The Belgariad/Mallorean!). For instance, if I get to an event and find that it’s been cancelled, I could view it as an opportunity and keep my eyes open for what God’s doing instead of berating myself for not just calling ahead and getting frustrated and upset. Or if my kids freak out and we end up spending time talking instead of getting the dishes done, maybe that’s a conversation we’re supposed to have.

So even though I have a plan for my day, I’m going to work on relaxing into the detours instead of frantically trying to hang onto my plan.

 

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Joy & Presence

Last week was rough. A death in our family. Drama in other parts of our family. Sick kids. A ton of things on my to-do list. It felt overwhelming.

I’ve been thinking about joy a fair amount for the past several weeks. Becoming a person who’s¬†characterized by joy is something that I’ve been praying for for a long, long time. I’ve struggled with depression for most of my life, so verses like 1 Thessalonians 5:16 challenge me like nobody’s business.

“Be joyful always.” How are we supposed to accomplish that in a broken world? We’re all inundated with challenges and pains on a daily basis–sometimes a momently basis.

I misread a commentary on this particular verse, and it sparked off a line of thought I’ve never even considered. In the church we talk a lot about joy, but what is despair? I’d argue that despair is characterized by the belief that ____ will never get any better. That belief results in absence. By absence, I mean a lack of trying, a lack of positive attention, and often escapism and/or denial. Growing up in a large family, we all became champions at escapism. We’re all bookaholics, and it wasn’t uncommon to need to physically shake someone in order to get their attention because they were so ensconced in the book reality.

Anyway! I think when you talk to someone who struggles with despair, there are lots of evidences of giving up, as though trying takes far more energy than it’s worth because change is out of reach. I know that’s how it works in my own life. I tend to pretend whatever the problem is doesn’t exist, and if I can’t successfully do that, I throw myself into being “not-there,” whether that’s by obsessing over minutiae I can control like housecleaning or by flat out leaving–getting out of the situation or escaping into literature/movies.

But something I’ve been learning in Tai Chi is how to be fully present in a moment. It’s been a difficult skill to acquire, and I am far from mastering it. Basically, it means that you’re there. Not sending your mind to the future or the past. Not planning what else you might do that day. Your brain is in the moment you’re in, focusing on the thing you’re doing. You’re fully aware of all parts of your body and interacting with the moment using the whole of who you are–physically, emotionally, spiritually. There’s an intensity to putting¬†yourself fully in the moment.

As I was thinking about despair being characterized by absence, I found myself wondering if a big part of joy is simply being present. It kinda reminds me of little kids and the intensity with which they live the things they’ve anticipated. Think about Christmas or birthday presents or a looked-for outing or a treat. If you don’t have those kinds of things from your own childhood, watch your own (or somebody else’s) kids. I have often heard people talk about how a healthy childhood is characterized by joy. I think there’s something to that. Healthy children firmly believe that there is something good coming in each day, so they have no need to run away from the day. On the contrary, they throw themselves into the day with gusto because something awesome will happen at some point, and if they’re not paying attention, they might miss it.

As children of God, we have that same guarantee: something good is going to come today (Rom. 8:28; Matt. 7:7-11). Just let that sink into your soul for a moment.

I don’t know about you, but I struggle to remember/believe that. However, if we really revel in the reality of being beloved, we can be present in each moment–throw ourselves into it with gusto, if you will. We can be passionately engaged in this moment even when we’re in pain and life is just plain hard, when there’s relational conflict, when there’s a mountain of dishes or a mile-long to-do list.¬†No matter what horrible situation we’re in the middle of, we can stay present because we know that God is going to do something good and, just like children anticipating a treat, we don’t want to miss it.

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Effortless Power

So…. Wow. It’s been a while. I know I’ve said, um, pretty much every time that I’ve blogged in the past year that it’s been a crazy year, but really, it’s been a crazy year. Now that I’ve finished editing¬†Push on the Rock, I figure I should start blogging again–or at least I figure I have energy I could spend on blogging.

So one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is energy–as in having enough energy to get through the day. Simpson said that he felt younger and stronger at age seventy than age thirty because he had learned to “live using God’s strength, accomplishing fully twice as much mentally and physically as I ever did in the past, yet with only half the effort. My physical, mental, and spiritual life is like an artesian well–always full and overflowing; speaking, teaching and traveling by day on by night through sudden and violent changes in weather or climate is of no more effort to me than it is for the wheels of an engine to turn when the pressure of the steam is at full force or than it is for a pipe to let water run through it.” (Streams in the Desert 9/27)

Reading that made me think about the¬†“art of effortless power” Peter Ralston talks about with Tai Chi. Effortless power comes naturally as a result of aligning oneself with the five principles: being calm, relaxed, centered, grounded, and whole and total. As crazy as it sounds, this is something that I’ve actually experienced in my practice of Tai Chi. It’s amazing to be able to punch without feeling my muscles tire, or to walk and have it take¬†more energy to stop than it does to keep going. I think, like so many things, this physical reality has a corresponding spiritual reality and that’s what Simpson found.

It spurred me to look at the five principles and examine those spiritual realities.

1) Calm: In Tai Chi this means mental calmness, but I think when we look at the Christian life, it’s equivalent is to fully trust God. Like Paul says in Philippians 4:6-7:¬†“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV). That mental calmness can only come when we’re not worried about anything–that doesn’t mean that you’re calm 24/7, but rather that when you worry, you choose to trust God.

2) Relaxed: In Tai Chi this is the reality of being physically relaxed, of letting your weight drain through all your joints and into the ground. My Tai Chi instructor likens it to water draining through a hose without kinks. Spiritually, I would argue this means surrendering to God…. getting rid of any hinderances to relying on God–in every single area of my life.

3)¬†Centered: In Tai Chi this involved moving from the center of your body, rather than where we typically are focused (our heads). Spiritually, I think this translates into living my life from the core of who I am, who I really am; knowing myself and living out of that vs. trying to force something. I have to know who God designed me to be, who I am as a new creature in Christ, and what things are important to me. My husband and I recently cleaned out one of our closets and in one of my old notebooks, I found a story I had written back in third or fourth grade. I wrote myself into the story as a “future author.” I’d forgotten that I’d always wanted to be a writer. It was very affirming to be reminded of how much I love literature and writing–how much I’ve always loved literature and writing. I wrote my first story on a typewriter when I was four (it was about a cat and a rat, just in case you were wondering). It’s part of who I am. I also found some other things–little encouragement cards I used to send to the girls I discipled in high school, different prayers in my old journals. The more things change, the more they stay the same. God made me a certain way. There just are certain things that are part of who I am. And it’s easy to forget those things in the every day crazy of life. It’s also easy to forget the reality of who I am in Jesus, to start believing the lies about being unlovable, or unloved, or worthless, or lazy, or any of the other wrong things people have told me over the years. Being centered means living out of the essence of who God tells me I am.

4) Grounded: In Tai Chi this is being 100% connected to the earth, feeling all of your weight going down into the earth, so that when you push, etc., you do so with the force of the earth. There’s a concussive effect that happens when your body is relaxed, you’re centered and grounded, and you push/pull/punch, etc. It packs a lot of power. Quite painful if you’re the one being punched. ūüėČ Anyway! Spiritually, I think we can talk about this as being connected to God–being grounded in who He is and doing things through the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t know about you, but I forget who God is. Often. I get these crazy ideas about His character when I focus on my circumstances–like that He’s forgotten me, or doesn’t really love me, or isn’t kind, isn’t patient, isn’t forgiving, and on and on and on. I need daily time in His Word and His presence just to remember who He is, to re-ground.

5) Whole and Total: In Tai Chi, this involves utilizing your entire body as well as being aware of your surroundings. My instructor says that so often we live like we’re all gingerbread men. We have a front and a back, and we forget about the rest. Or I’ve seen people who just have heads, but if you tell them to raise their right arm and tap their left foot, they have to think hard to¬†connect with those parts of their body.¬†We tend to put our bodies on auto-pilot, but¬†being whole and total means knowing where all of me is. Knowing my strengths and weaknesses, and using them both. It means interacting with the whole world around me, not just the three feet in front of my face. And this is where circumstances come in. I am now going to betray my dorkiness, but I love the Vulcan concept of “kaiidith”: what is, is. Being whole and total means recognizing what is because only when you work with what is can you change. You can’t change something that doesn’t exist. I have a relative who is waiting on someone else to fix their anger issues because they truly believe that those issues are the other person’s fault. It means they’re stuck because they have no control over their lives. We need God’s help to see what is. And we need His help to have eyes that are willing to recognize all of ourselves–the things we love about ourselves and the things we hate.

When I’m going through my day, I’ve started asking myself about the five principles. I talked to my Tai Chi instructor recently and he pointed out that you really have to do them in order. You can’t be physically relaxed without being mentally calm. You can’t be centered¬†without being physically relaxed. And I love that. It’s so nice to have a quick and easy checklist to go through in my day: Am I trusting God? Am I fully surrendered? ¬†Do I remember who I am?¬†Do I remember who He is? Am I seeing myself and my circumstances fully and accurately?

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Pushing and Reflection

This week I’ve had the distinct not-pleasure of sleeping about every other night. I hate when my insomnia/ptsd kick in hard core. It’s hit the point where I actually feel a little drunk from lack of sleep–you know that the-room-is-spinning kind of sensation? Yeah… good times.

Anyway! Said insomnia was precipitated because I decided last week that I should really work harder on getting to bed earlier (and on some of my other health regimens) so I spent the week trying to force my body to cooperate and then this week it rebelled.

I’m reminded of Newton’s Third Law–the whole whatever force you put into something, an equal and opposing force comes back. Sort of like bouncing a ball: the harder you force the ball down, the harder it bounces back up.

It’s easy for me to think gritting my teeth and forcing my way through/past whatever may be going on in my life is the best way to handle things. I was raised to believe that no matter what is going on in your life, you just push through it. But¬†over the past few years I’ve begun to realize that may not be the best response. In fact, I think it’s rather counter to the way God designed us to work. We’re supposed to be overwhelmed with life and then to depend on God–not be overwhelmed and fight our way through on our own.

Trying to do things on my own means I’m like those comic book heroes who find they’re actually fighting themselves when the villain simply reflects their powers/strength back onto them. Much better to let God be the one fighting on my behalf. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough junk going on in my life without adding fighting myself.