Breaking Agreements

Recently I listened to a couple of podcasts by John Eldredge and his friend Allen Arnold from the Ransomed Heart ministry. I was so impacted by these ideas and highly recommend the podcast, especially if you are seeking inner healing in your life. You can listen to the two-part episode here:

The Ransomed Heart Podcast: Agreements Part 1

The Ransomed Heart Podcast: Agreements Part 2

In these podcasts, John Eldredge suggests that agreements are essentially the ways that we interpret reality. They are often made in times of pain when we allow the Enemy to speak lies about our circumstances.  These agreements shape the way we view ourselves, our relationships with others, and even our perception of God.

Just a few examples of agreements might be:

I  will never belong.

I am always forgotten. 

I am not enough. 

I always get disappointed.

I must perform perfectly in order to be loved. 

I always get left behind. 

I will never be able to forgive.

God is working good in other people’s lives, but not in my life. 

In this podcast, John Eldredge warns about the power of agreements. He suggests that the more we start to believe agreements, the more they actually shape our reality.

God has really been challenging me to consider the agreements that I have made, specifically in regards to my anxiety. I think that at the root of my social anxiety are agreements about how I relate to others and the way I fit into groups of people.

My biggest takeaway from this podcast was the importance of interpretation. John Eldredge suggests that when we go through painful circumstances it’s important that we don’t passively accept the Enemy’s interpretation of our circumstances. Rather we must ask for God’s interpretation.

For example, when I experience a rejection in my life, be it big or small, I need to refuse the Enemy’s interpretation. He wants to tell me that I always will be rejected because I’m not enough. Instead, I need to ask God for His interpretation. He faithfully reminds me that I am His child and that He will never leave me or forsake me.

Or let’s say that I feel excluded from a group of people. The Enemy wants to interpret that moment with the lie that I will never belong. When I ask for God’s interpretation, He reminds me that I belong to His family and that I have a place with Him and in the Body of Christ.

Agreements can be so powerful and detrimental. But there is also so much power in breaking them!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you experienced the destructive power of agreements in your life? What tools have helped you break free from lies and embrace the truth?

The Power of Truth

“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

I am convinced that at the root of every anxiety is a lie. Lies are so powerful because they keep me in bondage. They tempt me to doubt who God is and what He says about me.

I find that especially when I’m tired or physically weak, the lies of the Enemy have more power in my life. During these times I need to be especially alert and aware of potentially dangerous thoughts that so easily creep into my mind.

I fear that God isn’t trustworthy.

I’m temped to believe that life is a series of disappointments and losses.

I question if this world is all there is.

I feel a need to manipulate and control situations in order to be safe.

I fear that I’m not enough.

I am convinced that I need to do more to earn the love of God.

I feel pressure to perform perfectly in order to be accepted.

It’s so easy to accept these lies from the enemy and allow them to take residence in my mind.

However, I also know from personal experience that the truth conquers every lie. The truth sets me free and brings light to every dark corner of my mind.

God brings the truth into my life in so many different ways— through His Word, a friend or mentor’s encouragement, an uplifting sermon or book, words prayed over me, or simply through time in the quiet listening to His voice. In these times I remember who God is and what He says about me.

I remember that God is trustworthy even when situations seem hopeless.

I am convinced that God is using every disappointment and loss to draw me closer to His heart.

I remember that the life I prize is coming. One day all things will be restored.

I know that I am safe simply resting in my Father’s love.

I am confident that I am more than enough.

I realize that there is nothing I could ever do to make God love me any more or any less.

I recognize that the opinion of man is insignificant compared to how God sees me.

Recently I started keeping a journal of the words and promises God has spoken to me. This includes Bible passages that have ministered to me, words and prayers that people have spoken over me, ideas from sermons and books that have resonated with my heart, and words that God has spoken to me during times of solitude. I try to read this list each morning when I wake up and each night before I go to bed. I can’t tell you how powerful this practice has been in reshaping my thought life.

Little by little, these truths are starting to seep into the deepest parts of my heart.

And the lies that have become ingrained in my mind have no choice but to flee.

The Fear of Man

“The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD shall be safe.”

-Proverbs 29:25 

I have become convinced that the fear of man is one of the deepest roots of my social anxiety. I think that to some extent everyone struggles with a fear of man. It’s just a natural part of being human. However, for people who battle social anxiety, the fear of man can be especially intense. People with social anxiety have a heightened awareness of how people perceive them. They are especially sensitive to how their presentation is affecting others and spend a lot of time analyzing what people think about them.

In the past couple of years, God has showed me that the fear of man truly is a snare in my life.

The fear of man keeps me silent when God calls me to speak up. 

It causes me to hide my unique gifts and abilities rather than offering them to the world. 

The fear of man keeps me from acting until I have everything perfectly planned out.

It causes me to hide my weaknesses rather than practicing authenticity and vulnerability with the people in my life.

If the fear of man is such a snare, how do we stop caring so much about what people think?

One of my favorite children’s books beautifully illustrates the solution.

In the book You are Special by Max Lucado, a town of wooden people called Wemmicks judge their friends by placing star and dot stickers on one another. Stars are given to the Wemmicks who are beautiful, successful, and talented while dots are given to the ugly, awkward, or untalented Wemmicks. In this story, a young Wemmick named Punchinello receives only dots. One day he meets Lucia, a Wemmick who has no dots or stars because they have simply stopped sticking to her. When Punchinello asks Lucia for her secret, she encourages him to go to the woodcarver’s shop and talk to Eli their maker. Punchinello goes to see Eli and is reminded that Eli loves him simply because he made him and that Eli’s opinion is all that matters.

You can watch a YouTube reading of the story here:

I can’t tell you how much this simple children’s story has impacted my life. I can so relate to Punchinello. Living in an externals-focused society, it’s amazing how many stars and dots I accumulate throughout the day.

I get a “like” on social media…there’s a star. I receive a word of criticism from my boss…there’s a dot. Someone compliments my haircut…there’s another star. I feel excluded from a conversation…yet another dot. Someone praises my performance at work…another star. Gossip spreads about something embarrassing in my life…another dot.

Like Punchinello, I’m learning that the only way to truly stop caring about what people think is to spend intentional time in God’s presence. In the quiet place I remember who I am and who God is.

During these times I’ll ask the Lord some simple questions and then listen for his answers. Some questions to ask the Lord are:

What do you say about me?

How do you see me?

What do you want me to do today?

How can I please you today?

The more I spend time in Jesus’ presence, the more that His opinion of me becomes what truly matters.

And the opinions of man start to fade away.

Made New

“At the renewal of all things, our hearts are going to be free from grief. The joy of this will far surpass our physical relief. Think of it— if God would offer today to remove from you just one of your greatest sources of internal pain, what would you ask him to remove? And if all your brokenness were finally and completely healed, and your sin removed from you as far as the east is from the west— what will you no longer face? What will you finally be?”

-John Eldredge, All Things New

I just love this quote. In his book All Things New (highly recommend!), author John Eldredge writes about the hope we have that one day all things will be made new. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. More specifically, though, he writes about how humanity will one day be restored and no longer affected by sin.

This thought has profoundly impacted me. Especially when I get caught up in the day to day struggles of my life, I need to remember the future hope that I have in Jesus. I’m not destined to forever struggle with social anxiety. In fact, social anxiety and all of its many causes won’t even exist in the new heaven and new earth.

It is so encouraging to think about the people that we will one day be. 

We will no longer have broken relationships. All of our relationships will be fully restored and healed.

We will no longer experience rejection. We will finally feel deeply accepted by God and by others.

We will no longer feel a need to prove ourselves as good enough. Instead, we will be fully secure in the love of God and one another.

And we will no longer experience fear and doubt. We will live with a deep sense of peace and certainty that no one can take away from us.

Our hearts crave hope like nothing else. Especially in seasons of anxiety, I need to remember the hope that I already have and that will one day be fully realized.

God is making all things new.

He is making me new.

This promise starts now and will last forever.

The Present Moment

“We need to be fully aware and awake in the moment. Too much time in the past leads to depression: regrets, bad memories, shame, guilt, bitterness, old wounds— all that lies in the past. Too much time in the future leads to anxiety: what if that happens? What if this falls through? Fear. Worry. Concern. It’s all in the future.”

-John Mark Comer, My Name Is Hope 

This book has been so central in my healing journey. In My Name is Hope (highly recommend!), author and pastor John Mark Comer writes about anxiety and depression. One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of living in the present moment.

Now I do believe that it’s sometimes helpful to reflect on the past in order to learn, grow, and even heal from painful experiences.

However, I know from personal experience, that dwelling too deeply on the past can lead to persistent sadness and regret. I can waste precious time rehashing painful memories, analyzing past conversations with people, and regretting wasted moments and opportunities. The truth is that there’s nothing I can do to change the past. It has already happened. Therefore, all I can do is invite God into the pain of my past and choose not to let it define me.

The same thing is true about the future. On the one hand, it is important to consider the future and set goals and plans.

However, I know from personal experience that it’s easy to spend way too much time lost in future possibilities. I can always find something to worry about. And the truth is that most of the things that I worry about never even materialize. Even more importantly, I miss the beauty of the present moment because my mind is caught up in future moments.

Recently I’ve discovered several strategies for being fully present in the moment. The following are some ideas that are helpful to me:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness: This is a fun exercise for getting into the present moment. I discovered it by reading many online articles about fighting anxiety. Basically, I go through each of my 5 senses and notice what my body is experiencing. I call it “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness” because I notice 5 things I see, 4 things I feel, 3 things I hear, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I taste.

For example, right now I am sitting in my bedroom.

I see tiny rays of light coming through the partially closed window blinds, the soft glow of lamplight, my blue beta fish swimming in its tank, my waterfall photograph on the wall, and my tall, white bookshelf full of my favorite books.

feel the soft pillow behind my head, the cool comforter that I’m sitting on, the scratchy carpet beneath my feet, and the smooth keys on my laptop keyboard.

I hear the soft buzz of my box fan, the tumble of the clothes dryer, and the clicking of my laptop keyboard.

I smell the calming scent of lavender room spray and the subtle odor of sunscreen that I wore earlier today.

I taste cool, refreshing raspberry sorbet that I am eating as I write this blog post.

I love this exercise because it helps me to notice all of the things that are happening right around me and to thank God for them.

Exercise: Exercise always helps me get into the present moment. Although I’m not the most athletic person, I love running. When I run, I find myself focusing on my breathing and my running pace. This helps me to stay focused on the moment. I also am a major hiker. I love getting out in nature and experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m out exploring all of the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail.

Worship: I love listening to worship music. Especially when I’m feeling anxious and afraid, music always brings me into the present moment. Especially when I’m driving, I like to sing along to worship songs and really focus on what the words are saying. These are such peaceful times with the Lord, spending time in His presence.

Written or verbal prayer: As someone who struggles with anxiety, I find that my mind often wanders when I try to pray. Therefore writing prayers to God in my journal helps me to stay focused on my conversation with Him. Sometimes I find it even more helpful to actually speak my prayers out loud to God. When I’m driving in the car, sometimes I’ll simply talk to God out loud and process life with Him. It’s amazing how this helps me to stay focused and present with the Lord.

Silence and solitude: I’ve mentioned this before, but silence and solitude are such important practices in my life. In many ways, silence and solitude discipline my mind to stay present. When I remove all of the distraction and noise, I’m left with just myself and God. It’s then that I can most clearly hear His voice and experience His presence.

Intentional time with others: Although I’m an introvert, I love spending time with people, especially in one-on-one settings. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m face-to-face and communicating with someone I care about. Something I try to practice is intentional listening— seeking to hear what the other person is truly saying and feeling without just waiting to jump in with my own thoughts. It’s amazing how fully present I feel when I get outside of my own mental orbit and seek to truly understand what’s going on inside another person.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some strategies that you utilize to more fully engage in the present moment and experience God there?

The Next Step

As someone who struggles with anxiety, I regularly get overwhelmed with the big picture in life.  Especially in seasons of uncertainty, I find myself over analyzing and over thinking. Sometimes I feel paralyzed to take action because there are so many potential outcomes and possibilities.

Recently my pastor shared some simple advice that I can’t get out of my head:

“When you’re not sure what do next, simply obey the last thing God told you to do.”

What a simple but profound thought.

God doesn’t need me to analyze every possible outcome. He doesn’t want me to waste time worrying about the things I can’t control. Instead, He invites me to listen to His voice and simply obey the last thing He told me to do.

Sometimes trying to understand the big picture in life is just too much. And it causes me to become overwhelmed and weary. In times like these, God reminds me that He is God and I am not. He has the big picture of my life under control.

I don’t need to worry about the mountain that rises before me.

I simply need to take the next small step that is right in front of me.

The Link Between Anxiety and Control

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”

– Psalm 37:7a

I’ve always been a careful planner. I like to know what to expect. As a result, I love organizing things, making lists, and creating plans. Although these are good qualities, I think that sometimes control is actually a coping mechanism for my anxiety.

There are so many unpredictable things that happen in life. And I feel safest when I try to control what I can.

My desire for control affects the way I plan my week. I’ve noticed that I can be fairly inflexible about my daily and weekly schedule because routines make me feel safe. As a teacher, this also impacts my classroom. I spend too much time over preparing for lessons and often miss out on spontaneous moments of fun with my students. Control impacts my relationships as well. I regularly rehearse difficult conversations with people in an effort to be prepared for any possible outcome. My desire for control even affects my relationship with God. I struggle to just be quiet and let God speak to me whatever He wants to say.

I can say from personal experience that controlling my own life is exhausting. It leaves me tired, weary, and discouraged since I’m living out of my own strength.

However, I’m learning that God doesn’t call me to control and manipulate situations just so that I can feel better.

He calls me to be still.

He reminds me that He is God and I am not.

He invites me to surrender control because His ways are so much higher than mine.

He helps me to open my fists and let go of the things that I think will make me happy so that He can show me true joy.

I’ve been discovering that solitude is a powerful tool for releasing control. This can be as simple as taking just 10 minutes a day to be quiet before God. During this time, I don’t bring my own agenda or questions. Instead, I ask God to speak to me whatever He wants to say. Sometimes He encourages me to pursue an activity that I hadn’t planned for that day. Other times He invites me to reach out to someone in my life. And most of the time He simply reminds me of who He is and who I am.

In these times I feel truly secure in the love of my Father.

And I remember that out of control is actually the best place to be.