Fixation

“What you give your attention to is the person you become. Put another way: the mind is the portal to the soul, and what you fill your mind with will shape the trajectory of your character. In the end, your life is no more than the sum of what you gave your attention to.”

-John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

I tend to fixate on things.

This can show up in positive ways  for me. For example, I love to nerd out about topics of interest and can spend hours researching about anything and everything. I am a learner who loves to understand every facet of a topic.

However, this also can be a challenging part of my personality. When I’m wrestling with anxiety, I tend to fixate on my fears about the future. I analyze everything that could possibly go wrong. I obsess about the problems in my life, including difficult relationships or challenging work situations. When I become absorbed in problems and anxieties, I miss all of the beautiful gifts that are right around me. And the Enemy steals my joy.

At the same time, I think the opposite is also possible. The Enemy can also distort our good and beautiful desires. Sometimes I fixate so intently on the blessings in life— on things like my job, my family, and other meaningful relationships. This can be a problem, especially when I start to view these things as necessary to my happiness, safety, or security. Good desires become ultimate desires. And that’s the definition of idolatry.

As a result, I was deeply impacted when I read the above quote by John Mark Comer.

Our attention is one of the most powerful resources we have. And the things we give our attention to really do define who we become.

Recently I was talking to someone about my tendency to fixate. While they agreed that fixation can be dangerous, they reminded me that it’s always safe to fixate on the Lord. In fact, He’s the answer to all of our other fixations.

When I fixate on the Lord, my anxieties and problems seem to melt away. I gain His big picture perspective and realize how much energy I’m wasting trying to analyze and control my own life.

And when I fixate on Him, I become less attached to the good things in life that I think I need to be happy. I realize that He’s the only thing that will every fully satisfy the deepest needs of my heart.

I’m reminded of Hebrews 12:2 which says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…”

Jesus is the only thing worthy of our fixation. And if it’s true that our fixations shape who we become, I want Jesus to be my heart’s fixation above all others.

Anxiety and Technology

The past couple of years, I have been considering how technology affects my anxiety. As I’ve become more mindful of my phone use, I’ve noticed a strong correlation between my anxiety level and the amount of time I spend online.

As I’ve pondered this, I’ve realized that we live in a culture characterized by information overload. There is so much digital content created every day and it can feel overwhelming to keep up with all of it. At the click of a button, we can learn about any news event happening anywhere in the world. On social media, we know intimate details about people we barely know in real life. And the amount of entertainment available at our fingertips is seemingly endless. As someone who struggles with anxiety, too much time online causes my already overactive brain to feel even more stressed and frenetic. Even more importantly, I’ve realized that an unhealthy relationship with technology hinders me from living life to the fullest in the real world.

As a result, I was deeply impacted by the following sermon by John Mark Comer from Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon. You can listen to it here:

The Case for a Digital Asceticism

I highly recommend his message. Honestly, he’s the only pastor I’ve heard dive deep into this issue. His message is so timely and relevant.

One of my greatest takeaways from John Mark’s sermon was the importance of developing a “digital rule of life”. Basically he suggests creating a set of rules and practices around technology in order to use it in a healthier way.

These are some practical steps that I’ve been taking to create my own “digital rule of life”:

Deleting unessential apps: First, I went through my phone and deleted many of my apps. I focused on the ones that regularly waste my time. YouTube was the first to go. I find that if I don’t have the app on my phone, I’m much less likely to spend time on the website. And if I do decide to intentionally spend time on sites like YouTube, I can use my laptop instead of my phone. I also consolidated my apps into a few simple categories so that my home screen is simple and less cluttered.

Putting boundaries around social media: I’ll be honest that I still struggle in this area. However, I’ve found it helpful to set time limits on my phone for social media apps (you can do this on the iPhone, but I’m not sure about other phones). I set a specific time limit for social media each day and then my phone turns off the app when I reach that limit. I’ve also found it helpful to take intentional breaks from social media when I notice that my soul needs it.

Turing off my phone: Sometimes I like to power off my phone completely. For example, when I’m at church or spending intentional time with God, it’s helpful to completely turn my phone off. When I’m spending one-on-one time with a friend or family member, I try to leave my phone in my purse so that I can be fully present with them.

I also love John Mark’s idea of “parenting your phone”. This means putting it to bed in another room each night and turning it back on the next morning only after spending time with the Lord. I recently bought an old fashioned alarm clock to wake me up (so I’m not dependent on my phone’s alarm). I’m excited to make this a part of my daily practice.

Limiting TV and movies: About a year ago, I stopped regularly watching TV. And it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. I discovered that TV was probably the biggest time-waster in my life. I hated the restless feeling I had after binge-watching a TV show. I also noticed that the twisted perspectives and worldviews of many TV shows were affecting me more than I realized. So I just decided to stop.

At this point, I’ll occasionally watch a movie or a single episode of a quality show. But I’m much more selective about what I watch. And if I do watch something, I try to include a friend or family member so that we can discuss what we’re watching together.

Keeping beneficial technology: I want to be clear that I don’t think all technology is harmful. In fact, I’ve found that certain types of technology actually enrich my life. For example, I absolutely love streaming music on Spotify.  I also get so much value from podcasts and listen to them daily. I use WordPress to express my thoughts creatively and to read the writing of others. I’m also a big fan of Pinterest. I regularly use it research topics of interest and find new and creative ideas. And I don’t know how I’d survive without the maps app on my phone!

We are all so different and so finding a healthy relationship with technology may look very different for each of us. What is beneficial for you, may be unhealthy for me. And what is life-giving for me, may not be helpful to you.

Therefore, I would encourage you to simply ask the Lord about your relationship with technology and be open to trying what He says.

Since I am very in process with this, I would love to hear from any of you. Have you noticed a correlation between technology and anxiety? What are some practical ways that you put healthy boundaries around technology?

Embracing Reality

“The point of solitude is to be with God with what is true about me right now—whatever it is… We meet God in our present delight or our present sadness… Silence, then allows me to simply give God access to the reality of myself. With the same trust and lack of inhibition that a child demonstrates with her mother, I can rest against God and allow Him to care for my soul as only He can.” 

Invitation to Silence and Solitude, Ruth Haley Barton

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. In Invitation to Silence and Solitude, Ruth Haley Barton writes about the importance of spending time in God’s presence, just being with Him. I love how she encourages embracing the reality of who we actually are and what we’re actually feeling. She suggests that God’s presence is the safest place to do this. However, I know from personal experience, that facing reality is hard.

I’ve recently been struck by how our culture makes it so easy to get lost in fantasy when reality feels too overwhelming. We get lost in TV shows and movies, absorbing ourselves in the problems of fictional characters, while ignoring our own problems. We use social media to curate idealized versions of our own lives in an effort to escape the mundane and ordinary realities of day to day life. We spend time and money improving and changing our appearances rather than accepting ourselves as we actually are. Our desire for fantasy is particularly evident in the explosion of virtual reality games that allow us to completely shut out the real world and play in an idealized fantasy world where anything seems possible.

The truth is that reality can be so hard to face.

But God invites us to embrace the reality of our lives as they actually are. We never need to pretend or conceal who we are before the Lord. After all, He knows everything about us and accepts us unconditionally.

He already knows every sinful thought and impure motive.

He understands the feelings we can’t even begin to articulate.

He isn’t shocked by our anxieties or fears about the future.

He isn’t scared of our questions or doubts.

He is big enough to hold our disappointments and frustrations.

He grieves over our losses with us.

And His unconditional love gives us the courage to embrace life as it actually is, a mixed cup of blessing and sorrow.

Trust

I was trying to choose a word to encapsulate what God has been doing in my life this year. Last year it was freedom.

This year it is very simple: trust.

Whenever I hear the word trust, I think of Proverbs 3:5-6.

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

This verse can become almost a cliche because we’ve heard it so many times. But when you really think about the truth of these words, it is incredibly powerful. Lately I’ve been reflecting on what it means to truly trust in the Lord. I’m learning that there are some key components:

Knowing His character: It is nearly impossible to trust the Lord if I doubt His character. Do I truly believe that He is good and His ways are good? Do I trust that He is using every situation, even the ones the Enemy meant for evil, to draw me closer to His heart and to shape me into the person He wants me to be? Do I believe that He is trustworthy and will actually follow through on His promises? These are questions I’ve had to wrestle with God and continue to wrestle with Him. I must be confident that God will never leave me or forsake me in order to truly trust Him.

Believing He’s there: Someone recently described trust to me as “stepping out on a solid place”. I just love that. Trust isn’t stepping onto shaky or unstable ground. In fact it’s the exact opposite. God is a solid rock that will keep me from stumbling. I just love Psalm 121:3 which says, “He will not allow your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber.” He is strong enough to bear the weight as I step out in faith. 

Releasing control: This is where I struggle the most in trusting the Lord. At the center of my anxiety is a desire to control my life. However, I’m realizing that although I can try to manipulate and control my circumstances all I want, the truth is that I am very out of control. Control is an illusion that makes me feel safe, but doesn’t actually keep me safe. I’m safest when I release control to the One who is actually in control of the world and my life.

Listening for His voice: Recently someone challenged me that I can’t truly hear God’s voice if I’m not surrendered to His will. I have to truly want His ways above my own in order to hear what He’s saying to me. This is a tough one and I’m definitely not there yet.

Moreover, I need to create space to hear His voice. For me this means taking time each day to just be quiet and listen. God’s voice isn’t forceful or demanding, but rather soft and gentle. I can’t hear God’s voice in the chaotic noise and frantic activity of my life. Instead I hear it most clearly in the quiet place.

Obeying what He says: As someone who struggles with action and practicality, God is really challenging me in this area. It’s one thing to hear what God says, but it’s another to actually do it.

This means that when God opens a door, I step through it.

When God tells me to talk to someone, I talk to them.

When God gives me a word to speak to someone, I say it.

When God tells me to reach out to someone, I contact them.

As someone who wrestles with social anxiety, I can often feel paralyzed to take action. But when I play it safe, I find that my world gets smaller and I miss out on the opportunities God has for me. However, when I say yes to the simple invitations God puts before me and obey Him, my world slowly expands.

I wanted to close with a quote from the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I mentioned in an earlier post that this book has had such a powerful impact on my life lately. In this allegory about the Christian life, a fearful girl named Much Afraid learns to trust her Shepherd’s will for her life and follow Him where He leads her. At one point in the journey, she decides to keep going even though the way ahead is unknown and frightening.  The Shepherd’s response to her is so beautiful:

“You have one real beauty, Much Afraid, you have such trustful eyes. Trust is one of the most beautiful things in the world. When I look at the trust in your eyes I find you more beautiful to look upon than many a lovely queen.”

I think that this is God’s heart to all of us when we choose to trust Him.

Knowing Ourselves

“I truly believe that the greatest gift we can give the world is our true self living in loving union with God. In fact, how can we affirm other people’s unique identities when we don’t affirm our own? Can we really love neighbors well without loving ourselves?” 

-Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. In Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazerro emphasizes the importance of knowing ourselves in order to know God. He suggests that one of the biggest traps we can fall into is living out of a false self, rather than living out of our God-given identities.

For years, social anxiety has been a “false self” that has shaped the way I’ve made decisions and have seen myself. Honestly, I’ve had almost a bit of an identity crisis as I’ve started to experience God’s freedom. It’s almost like I don’t know who I am anymore without the burden of fear and anxiety on my shoulders. While that feeling is a bit disorienting, it is also exciting. I want to discover who God has made to me to be, fully free from social anxiety.

So I’ve started to ask Him to show me what my true self is like. These are some questions that are helpful to me:

What did God design for me to do in the world that only I can do? 

What desires has God placed in my heart that I’ve rejected because of anxiety? 

How does God see me? 

What does He love about me? 

Who am I becoming?

That last question is especially helpful. God’s perspective on each of us is so beautiful. He doesn’t focus on the broken or sinful parts of who we currently are. He doesn’t identify us by our flaws and struggles.

Instead He sees our true selves, free from all of the constraints the Enemy has tried to lay on us.

He sees the whole and complete person that we are becoming.

The Desert

Lately I have been reading the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I have been deeply impacted by this powerful story. It is an allegory about the Christian life in which a fearful girl named Much Afraid journeys with her Shepherd towards the High Places in search of a new identity and a deeper understanding of His love.

Along the way, the Shepherd leads Much Afraid to the desert. He gently explains the importance of this detour saying:

“All of my servants on the way to the High Places have had to make their detour through the desert…Here they have learned many things which otherwise they would have known nothing about.”

Much Afraid is joined by two friends, Sorrow and Suffering, who surprisingly strengthen her by their presence. As she makes her way through the desert, she finds that the desert is actually full of important gifts and lessons.

This insightful book has gotten me thinking about the way I view “deserts” in my life. In the Christian life, deserts are inevitable— be it a disappointment, the loss of a loved one, struggles with mental health, the death of a dream, a season of loneliness, a delayed hope, or even a season of dryness in one’s faith. I think that our human tendency is to pass through the desert as quickly and painlessly as possible. However, as this book suggests, it takes time to fully accept the gifts of the desert.

As I think back on different “desert seasons” in my life, I can see the gifts that come out of dark times.

Gratitude: In my experience, painful seasons give us a renewed appreciation for all that is. We have eyes to see simple gifts in life—the changing seasons, moments of connection with the people we love, and even our capacity to feel sadness or other emotions.

Intimacy with Lord: My closest times with Jesus seem to always be in the desert. When life is easy and simple, I find myself depending on my own strength and finding satisfaction in trivial things. In painful times, I am especially aware of my need for the Lord and His unconditional love. This is such a gift.

Learning to hear God’s Voice: The desert is a quiet place. And it seems to me that the quiet is the best place to hear God’s voice. In the desert, I am stripped of other voices and distractions and can better hear what God is saying.

Empathy and Compassion: I think that the desert has the potential to enlarge our heart if we’ll let it. It always amazes me how God uses our pain to minister to the pain that others experience. However, in order to minister to someone else’s pain, we must be willing to first walk though it our self.

Surrendering Control: This is the hardest one for me. However, I find that in the desert, God consistently invites me to surrender to His will and His ways. In the desert, I recognize the stubbornness of my heart and my insistence on my own plan for my life. However, God graciously invites me into the mystery of not knowing all of the answers and instead trusting Him.

I recognize that 3 days before Christmas might seem like an odd time to write about the desert. However, I am becoming more and more aware that the Christmas season can be such a mixed experience for people. It can be filled with great joy and happiness for many people, but can also be a time of pain and sadness for others. In a season where everyone is rejoicing, the desert can feel even more pronounced.

However, the gift of Christmas is God’s presence.

The God of the universe came to earth and took on human form.

He is Emmanuel, God with us.

This means that we never walk through the desert alone.

I wanted to close by sharing one of my favorite songs by JJ Heller. I can’t seem to get this song out of my head lately. I love how she suggests that the desert isn’t something to be avoided, but rather God’s gift to us. I hope it encourages you!

God is Still Here, by: JJ Heller

Embracing Limits

“To be made in the image of God means that we’re rife with potential. We have the Divine’s capacity in our DNA… But that’s only half of the story. We’re also made from the dirt, ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’: we’re the original biodegradable containers. Which means we’re born with limitations. We’re not God. We’re mortal not immortal. Finite, not infinite.”

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer 

I just love this quote and powerful truth that it portrays. In his book, author and pastor John Mark Comer suggests that our success-oriented culture pushes us to reach our potential at whatever cost. While I believe that it is important to recognize our potential and work to improve ourselves, it’s equally important to accept our limitations.

I know from personal experience that ignoring my limits has detrimental consequences. When I transgress my God-given limits, I become burnt out, stressed, and anxious. In fact I’ve noticed that anxiety is actually a helpful sign that I am living outside of the natural boundaries of how I’m wired.

During the last few years, I’ve spent some time considering my limitations and trying to receive them as a gift from God rather than as a problem that I need to overcome. Some of my limitations include the following:

Living in a human body: For years, I transgressed this limitation. In college I tried to survive on 5 hours of sleep a night and I ate very sporadically. However, as a 3rd grade teacher with a very demanding job, I’ve learned that taking care of my body is vital. This means getting 8 hours of sleep at night, eating a good breakfast every morning, drinking lots of water, and prioritizing exercise. I’ve noticed that each of these habits actually decreases my anxiety and helps me foster a positive mindset.

An introverted personality: I have spent much of my life fighting my introversion. Oh how I’ve wished that I had more capacity for people. But the honest truth is that I quickly reach sensory overload when I’m with large groups of people for long stretches of time. Therefore, I try to schedule alone time before and after big social events. I also intentionally schedule plenty of solitude with Jesus into my week, including a Sabbath on Sundays, quiet time with Jesus each morning, and other small moments of quiet throughout the day. I find that I have so much more to offer the people in my life when my relational batteries are fully charged. 

A limited emotional capacity: I love people and find so much purpose investing in the lives of others. However, I also have a limited emotional capacity. I tend to take on the emotions and feeling of the people around me. And I can get very bogged down by negative emotions. As a result, I’ve learned that while it’s important to have ministry relationships where I’m pouring into others, I also desperately need mutual, life-giving friendships. I need safe places to process my feelings and emotions. I also sometimes need to put boundaries around relationships that are toxic or unhealthy.

A tendency towards melancholy and anxiety: Although God is bringing so much freedom to this area of my life, the truth is that I still have and may always have a predisposition towards anxiety and negative thoughts. As a result, I put a lot of effort into guarding my mind. This means spending time with wise older mentors, seeing a counselor, and asking friends to pray for me when my mind feels out of control.

I used to feel a lot of guilt about my limitations and would try to change these things about myself. However, I’m starting to realize that my limitations are actually a gift. They remind me that I need God and I need others. I can’t manage life on my own. My limitations make me dependent on God and that’s one of the best places to be.

I love Psalm 16:6 which says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

This is so true. God has made each of us so uniquely with specific limits and boundaries around our lives.

Rather than fighting my limitations, I want to accept them as a gift from God.

I want to live within His boundary lines for my life.

The Healing Power of Calm

“Do we want to infect people with more anxiety, or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?”

-Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 

I just love this quote by Brene’ Brown. Her analogy is so true. Anxiety is like an infectious disease that spreads so easily from person to person.

As a third grade teacher, I witness the power of anxiety in my classroom on a daily basis. It’s amazing to me how the anxiety of just one student can affect the whole classroom dynamic. And I’ve noticed that my own anxiety can also negatively affect my students. As humans, we tend to match the emotions of the people around us. Therefore, when I am stressed out and anxious, my students also feel stressed and on edge.

However, the opposite is also true. Although anxiety is a strong force, calm is equally powerful. As someone who wrestles with anxiety, I know from personal experience the healing power of calm.

I love spending time with calm people. There is something so healing about being around people who are at ease with themselves and others, who aren’t trying to prove anything, and who refuse to hurry and rush. These people seem to lower the heart rate of the room just by entering.

As I’ve observed calm people and tried to learn their secrets, I’ve noticed several strategies that I’m trying to practice.

Calm people breathe. This is a simple, but powerful observation. I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed out, I sometimes forget to breathe! Therefore, taking long, deep breaths is so helpful in the midst of anxiety. I do this a lot in my classroom. If something stressful happens, I’ll stop what we’re doing and lead the class in some deep breathing exercises. I’m always amazed at how much this calms my students (and myself!).

Calm people talk slowly. When I’m stressed out, I’ve noticed that I start talking faster and faster. It’s amazing how just slowing down my pace of speech calms down my body. I even find that my heart rate slows down when I slow down my speech.

Calm people speak quietly. This is a powerful strategy with my students. When a student is loud or upset, I try to match their level of agitation with an equal level of calm. It’s amazing how quieting my own voice helps them to stop yelling or shouting out.

Calm people do one thing at a time. There is so much danger in multi-tasking. I’ve read a lot of research that suggests that multi-tasking actually decreases our productivity. But even more importantly, multi-tasking makes it difficult to be fully present in the moment. Therefore, when I’m stressed out or anxious, I try to discipline myself to focus on one task or activity before completing the next.

Calm people stop. This is probably the most important strategy for embracing calm. In a frenetic culture of constant doing, it’s difficult to stop and just be still. However, moments of stillness are actually the birthplace of calm. This might be in the morning when I first get up, in the car on the way to or from work, or even during a couple of minutes on my lunch break. During these times I stop doing and simply sit with Jesus. I recognize His presence and invite His calm into the anxiety or stress of the day.

Calm people embrace imperfection. As a recovering perfectionist this is a challenging one for me. However, I have noticed that I’m so much calmer when I let go of the pressure to do things perfectly. There’s something freeing about occasionally leaving a basket of laundry unfolded or leaving work before every last email is checked. In these moments I let go of my need to control and prove myself as good enough.

I want to close by sharing this sermon by John Mark Comer of Bridgetown Church:

Jesus on Becoming a Non-Anxious Presence 

I hope this sermon speaks to you and encourages you like it did for me. I was deeply impacted by John Mark’s emphasis on becoming a “non-anxious presence”. I love how he points to Jesus as the ultimate example of what a non-anxious presence looks like. Jesus is our perfect model of a life free from anxiety, filled with calm and peace.

And oh how our world needs this! In our frenetic and chaotic society, our world desperately needs people committed to calm, who are learning to be a non-anxious presence.

The truth is that I’m so far from that.

But I now know who I want to be.

Rather than infecting the people around me with anxiety, I want to learn how to bring the healing power of calm.

Social Anxiety and Community

This is something I’ve wanted to write about since I started this blog. However, I just now feel like I can put my experience into words. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, finding a place in Christian community has always been challenging for me.

A couple of years ago, when my anxiety was at its worst, I became sporadic about attending church. I wanted to be at church so badly. In fact, I remember multiple Sundays when I drove myself to church, but just couldn’t get myself to go inside. This was a really dark and isolating season for me. I felt a lot of shame and as a result, I isolated myself even more from people.

God graciously brought me out of that dark place and has freed me from the bondage of social anxiety. I am now a part of a church once again and that has been such a blessing.

However, finding community is something that I still wrestle with. I want to share with you some of the ways that the Lord has helped me in this process. If you struggle with social anxiety, I pray that some of these ideas might encourage you. And even if this is not a struggle for you, I hope that my story might open your eyes to people in your own community that struggle in this area. May you be equipped to see those people and support them.

Asking God for his perspective: This was definitely the most foundational step for me. I think that one of the reasons community has been hard for me is that I’ve had painful experiences of rejection and exclusion by other Christians. As a result, for many years I had a negative association with the word “community”. At one point, God challenged me to ask for His perspective on this.

He reminded me of the beautiful, self-sacrificing love shared by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are the true model of what perfect community looks like. Since I am made in the image of God, I desperately need community — to know and be known by others. Community is a beautiful gift as God originally created it.

However, God also reminded me that because of the Fall, community is far from what it should be. Since we are fallen human beings, sometimes we hurt one another. Sometimes we fail to see each other’s needs. Sometimes we exclude and leave each other out. I know that I’ve been guilty of each of these sins in my own life. God challenged me that my frustration wasn’t with community, but with the way that we as humans have messed it up.

Now this doesn’t mean that I just reject the whole concept of community and isolate myself. Rather I need to adjust my expectations of what community looks like here on earth. I need to give people grace to be human and mess up.  I also need to give myself grace when I hurt the people around me. Therefore, I’ve consciously decided to not allow my disappointment or disillusionment to get in the way of embracing the beauty to be found in community with others.

Focusing on God’s presence: This idea might sound strange, but when I’m walking into church, I like to visualize God’s presence entering with me. Sometimes I feel lonely attending church as a single person with my family living far away. I think that this is a common experience for many people. This feeling of loneliness is often heightened seeing so many people sitting with their families. Therefore, it’s helpful to remember that I’m not alone. God’s presence is always with me and supporting me.

Getting my eyes off myself: This is huge. As someone who struggles with social anxiety, I can be way too self-focused. When I enter a group of people (especially people I don’t know well), I become very aware of myself. I worry about being awkward or knowing the right things to say.

God has graciously showed me the freedom of getting my eyes off of myself. When I enter a social situation, I’ll ask for God to give me special “appointments” with people. I think God has blessed me with an acute sensitivity to people who feel lonely or are on the fringes. I actively look for those people and see how I can bless them or make them feel welcome.

God also has encouraged me to find ways to serve. About a year ago, I started teaching Sunday School at my church and that has been so life-giving for me. Although I can feel anxious leading adults, I am incredibly comfortable in front of children. This has brought me so much joy. And it’s been great to form relationships with the other adults that I teach with.

Looking for smaller communities: Although I think it’s important to meet with the whole Body of Christ, God has shown me that my deepest sense of community will always be experienced in a subset of the larger community. Therefore as much as possible, I look for small group or one-on-one settings.

I’m a part of a small group at my church and that has been so life-giving to me. Although it’s still stretching for my introverted personality, I’ve learned so much from being a part of that group.  In my experience, community is different from friendship. We choose friends based on shared interests and perspectives. However, I love the way that being a part of community forces me to interact with people very different from myself. I see God’s image reflected in unique and beautiful ways in people I might not normally choose to be friends with on my own.

I also have found so much joy in embracing community with one person at a time. While big groups of people exhaust and overwhelm me, I come alive in one-on-one settings. As an introvert, God has showed me that I’m wired for depth more than breadth of relationship. Therefore I put a lot of time and energy into one-on-one relationships with people.

Embracing the gifts of my personality: I’ve spent a lot of my life wishing that I could be different than I am— that I could be loud and extroverted, that I could command a room of people, or that I could have a charismatic and charming personality. However, the truth is that simply isn’t how God has wired me.

I’ve found so much freedom in embracing my personality and celebrating the gifts I have to offer as a quieter, more introverted person. For example, God has given me such a heart for people who are lonely and anxious. I am a good listener. I am highly empathetic. I reflect deeply on things which gives me wisdom and insight to offer to others.

Rather than trying to be someone I’m not, I’ve found it so freeing to embrace the gifts God has given me and look for ways to offer them to my community.

I’d love to hear from you! What struggles have you faced in community? How has the Lord been at work in this area of your life? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Silence and Solitude

We come to  a place of freedom. Our failures slowly lose their power over us. As do our successes. We get out from under the tyranny of people’s opinions- their disapproval or approval of us. Free to be us, the mixed bag that we are. Nothing more than children with our Father. Adopted into love… In silence and solitude, our souls finally come home.”

-John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

I just love this quote. In The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, (highly recommend!) pastor John Mark Comer writes about the danger of hurry. He shares several spiritual disciplines that are an antidote to our culture’s pervasive disease of hurry. The one that stood out to me the most was that of silence and solitude.

I am becoming convinced that silence and solitude is an essential practice for all believers. However, as someone who struggles with anxiety, silence and solitude is absolutely vital for my emotional and spiritual health.

Now the honest truth is that sometimes silence and solitude is just plain hard. I think that people usually picture silence and solitude as peaceful time with Jesus, resting in His presence. While this sometimes is my experience, at times silence and solitude can be downright painful.

When I engage in silence and solitude, I am forced to face what is truly going on inside of me.

And I don’t always like what I find.

I recognize distorted desires that have taken precedence in my life. I realize how much the fear of man has been ruling my decisions. I am forced to sit with disappointments in my life where my plans haven’t worked out. And I face the reality of life as it actually is, a mixed cup of blessing and sorrow.

However, beautiful things start to happen when I sit with these emotions and realizations before God.

I experience deep forgiveness as my sins and unholy desires are laid bare before Him. I focus my heart on the only One who’s approval actually matters. I let go of the need to manipulate and control my life. And fully secure in the love of my Father, I have courage to embrace the full reality of my life.

I’m learning that anxiety is actually a helpful signal that something is off-kilter in my heart.

It is a simple reminder to return to my true home.

And engage with God in the quiet place.