The Healing Power of Beauty

“Beauty reassures us that goodness is still real in the world, more real than harm, or scarcity, or evil. Beauty reassures us of abundance, especially that God is absolutely abundant in goodness and in life… Beauty is such a gentle grace. Like God, it rarely shouts, rarely intrudes. Rather it woos, soothes, invites; it romances and caresses. We often sigh in the presence of beauty as it begins to minister to us— a good, deep soul-sigh.” -John Eldredge, Get Your Life Back 

When I read this quote, it resonated with me at a deep level. In his book Get Your Life Back (highly recommend!), John Eldredge suggests helpful practices for experiencing God in the midst of a chaotic and frenetic world. One of my favorite chapters was about the healing power of beauty. I have found beauty to be such a healing and powerful force in my own life.

I know from personal experience just how easy it is to lose sight of beauty. The past couple of weeks were an example of this. I felt like my soul just couldn’t catch up with all that was coming my way— constant news updates about the coronavirus, an insanely busy schedule, challenges to navigate at work, and complex situations in my personal life and relationships. I felt so profoundly aware of all that is wrong and broken in the world.

However, a few days ago, God gently reminded me that my soul was craving His beauty.

And I started to notice it again.

I recognized His beauty in the dear faces of my students laughing and playing at recess. I re-discovered His beauty in the dark silhouettes the trees made across the sky as I drove home from work.  I heard it in the beautiful harmonies of one of my favorite songs. And my soul felt back in sync with God and His goodness.

In a culture that seems to value efficiency, productivity, and usefulness above all else, simple beauty is often ignored. However, I think that beauty is actually very important to God. After all, He made a world that is absolutely teeming with beauty for us to enjoy and discover.

I think that appreciating beauty can look different for everyone. Since God has made us all so uniquely, we experience beauty in different ways. Personally, I experience God’s beauty most powerfully through nature, music, great stories, and relationships with others.

Sometimes God reveals His beauty to me in obvious ways— through a sunset at the coast, on a hike through the woods, or through an inspiring book or movie that captures my heart. However, God also reveals His beauty in more subtle ways— through the understanding smile of a friend, in the morning light streaming though my window, or in a simple melody I’ve always loved.

God’s beauty is all around us.

We just need to have eyes to see it and hearts to receive it as evidence of God’s grace and goodness.

Dealing with Disappointment

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

-Proverbs 13:12

I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of disappointment. As human beings, God has made us with deep desires and longings. We are hardwired to hope for what is good. However, we also live in a fallen world where all is not as it should be. As a result, many of our dreams and ideals are never fully realized.

We all get disappointed.

In my personal life, I’ve noticed that disappointment is a word that has come up for me in many different seasons of my life. I’ve realized that disappointment is one of the main strategies the Enemy uses to hinder my relationship with God. I know from personal experience just how easy it is to get stuck there.

Therefore, instead of acting like a victim of my disappointment, I’ve been asking God to show me healthier ways to navigate the losses in my life. These are some tools He has taught me for dealing with disappointment:

Healthy grieving: I believe it’s important to grieve our losses. And it’s okay to feel sad. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. We can’t truly get to the other side of disappointment without facing it head on and allowing ourselves to feel the pain.

In his book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Peter Scazerro talks about the importance of embracing grieving and loss. His perspective has been so helpful to me. He writes:

“Our culture routinely interprets losses as alien invasions that interrupt our normal lives. We numb our pain through denial, blaming, rationalizations, addiction, and avoidance. We search for spiritual shortcuts around our wounds… Sadly the result of denying and minimizing our wounds over many years is that we become less and less human, empty Christian shells with painted smiley faces.”

As Scazerro points out, grieving is both necessary and Biblical. Two-thirds of the Psalms are laments of grief. The Bible even describes Jesus as a “man of sorrow”and “acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). Part of being like Jesus is embracing grief and loss. I’m learning that grief isn’t just an annoying interruption to my life that I need to quickly pass through. Instead it’s an important process that has the potential to shape me, grow me, and deepen my intimacy with God. It is always safe to grieve in the presence of God. And there is something so intimate and comforting about letting God grieve my disappointments with me.

Refusing self-pity: There is such a difference between grieving and self-pity. In my experience, grieving draws me closer to God and His comforting love. In contrast, self-pity distances me from God and from others. When I dwell in self-pity, I start to doubt God’s goodness and guidance in my life. I compare my losses to the people around me and feel like no one can understand what I’m going through. Self-pity isolates me from the love of God and the very people who want to help me. Hannah Hurnard writes about self-pity in her book Kingdom of Love. She says:

“There is no prison house so cruel as the prison of resentment and self-pity, and the effect on those who languish long in that bondage is to suffer a progressively destructive influence on character, personality, and physical health.”

What a sobering truth. Self-pity has the potential to destroy me from the inside out. Therefore, I must actively refuse self-pity when I find myself dwelling there. 

Re-kindling desire : In seasons of disappointment, it’s tempting to shut down the heart. Chronic disappointment has the potential to harden us. It’s so tempting to kill our desires in an effort to avoid future pain. However, this is not the way to live. I love John Eldredge’s perspective in The Journey of desire. He says:

“The greatest human tragedy is to give up the search. Nothing is of greater importance than the life of our deep heart. To lose heart is to lose everything.”

It takes courage to keep hoping and desiring. But it’s so necessary. I never want my current disappointments to keep me from believing in what God can and will do in my future. Disappointment gets me in touch with my deep desire for God and for heaven. One day all will be restored and made right. And it’s good to desire that.

Thanking God for what is: When I get stuck in disappointment, I focus on what is missing. I obsess about the missing puzzle piece, while ignoring the rest of the picture. As I’ve mentioned before, gratitude and thankfulness are such powerful practices at times like this. When I shift my focus from what’s missing, I see all the gifts and blessings that surround my life. And even more importantly, I see the gifts and blessings that have entered my life through my disappointments. God loves to take even the worst situations that the Enemy intended for evil and transform them into something beautiful and redemptive. 

Looking for new appointments: Recently I was talking to an older and wiser woman about her experience with disappointment. She suggested that the “dis” words (like disbelief, discouragement, and disappointment) are all strategies of the Enemy. God’s invitation to each of us is the opposite of those words. For example, in our disbelief, God wants to give us deeper belief. When we feel discouraged, God wants to give us deeper courage. And when we feel disappointed, God invites us into new appointments.

I just love this perspective. Rather than seeing disappointment as a dead end, I can view it as a door to something new. When I feel disappointed, I’m learning to ask God, “What is my new appointment?” God won’t leave us stuck in disappointment. Whenever something ends, God invites us into something new.

Death means that resurrection is coming.

Endings mean that there are new beginnings.

And disappointment means that there is a new appointment.

We just need to have eyes to see it.

Obedience

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with my mom about my social anxiety. At that point, my anxiety was at it’s worst and I felt profoundly aware of how much it was limiting my life. As I talked to her, a startling thought came to my mind:

I realized that my world was shrinking.

I was missing out on opportunities because of fear and my world was getting smaller and smaller.

Recently I was thanking the Lord for His healing in my life. Although social anxiety is still a struggle for me, it no longer defines my life. As I was thanking God for this, I realized that my world is no longer shrinking. In fact, it is expanding day by day.

I considered what brought about this change and I realized a key component. God has been teaching me the importance of practical action.

As someone who wrestles with anxiety, it is so easy to get lost in my head analyzing, wondering, and planning. I can have great thoughts and ideas. However, if I never act on them, I get stuck.

The last couple of years, I have been on a journey of learning to simply obey what God asks me to do. And honestly, it hasn’t gone perfectly. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and learned some things the hard way.

However, I’m realizing that each small step of practical action builds upon itself. Every time I try to do what God says, even if it scares me, I become a bit braver.

And I’m more ready to say yes the next time He asks me to do something.

The Danger of Comparison

“Stay in your own lane.”

A mentor of mine gave me this advice a couple of years ago when I was wrestling with comparison. Her wise words come to mind whenever I’m tempted to compare myself to others. I think that to some extent, everyone struggles with comparison. After all, it’s just a natural part of being human. However, as someone who wrestles with social anxiety, I have to be especially on guard against comparison.

It amazes me how quickly and easily comparison creeps into my heart.  And comparison has the potential to wreak havoc on my relationships. Instead of rejoicing in the strengths of others, I am threatened by their abilities and gifts. Instead of focusing on my unique journey with the Lord, I waste time analyzing how my progress measures up to others.

I am becoming more and more confident that the comparison game is a complete waste of time. And it is a game I will never win. There will always be someone more connected, more adventurous, more attractive, and more successful. It doesn’t matter the marker I use to compare myself. I will always come up short to somebody.

So how do we get out of this deadly trap once and for all? These are some ideas for avoiding comparison that I’ve found to be helpful in my own life:

Staying in my own lane: This is a lot harder than it sounds. For me, staying in my own lane means knowing my comparison triggers and avoiding them. Sometimes this means taking a break from social media and limiting the amount of time I spend online. Other times I need to cut out TV shows or movies that give me a false view of reality and cause me to feel discontent with my own life. At work, I need to focus my attention on my own classroom rather than comparing myself to my fellow teachers. And in my personal life, I need to be careful when conversations with friends or family take a competitive turn.

Practicing gratitude: Gratitude is key. There is so much power in thanking God for all that is good in my life. Gratitude destroys pride because it reminds me that every good thing in my life is a gift from God. Gratitude also opens my eyes to all of the gifts in my life that I take for granted when I compare myself to others.

Lately God has been challenging me to take gratitude a step further. Instead of thanking Him solely for the good in my life, He wants me to also thank Him for the good in other people’s lives. This includes their gifts, strengths, and blessings. It’s hard to be threatened by the good in others when I view those things as an evidence of God’s grace.

Focusing on the heart: I’ve noticed that comparison is usually focused on externals. We compare our outward appearance, relationships, jobs, and other successes. I think that we tend to compare external qualities because they are measurable and observable. However, I know from personal experience that my externals can look polished to others while my interior life is dangerously suffering. In times like this, God graciously reminds me that He cares most about my heart. When I focus on the quality of my inner life, comparison seems to fade away.

Choosing to be inspired: This is a newer perspective for me. Rather than being threatened by success in other people lives, I can allow it to inspire me. For example, rather than being threatened by another teacher’s success, I can be inspired to pursue the same excellence in my own teaching. Rather than envying someone else’s relationship, I can gain a vision of the type of relationship I want to one day have. This simple shift in thinking gives me greater hope for my future and the potential that I have to grow and change.

Asking for God’s perspective:  I think that this is the real game changer. In order to truly let go of comparison, I need to see myself the way God sees me. Recently God challenged me to ask Him what He loves about me. At first I struggled to receive His affirmation of me. However, with time, this exercise has been so powerful in removing insecurity from my life.

God has made each of us so uniquely.

And He doesn’t just love us.

He likes us too.

God wants to reveal to each of us His deep delight in us. And when we are confident that God delights in us, we can be confident that He delights in the people around us.

This puts us all on an even playing field.

And there is no need to compare.

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 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.

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?