She’s Got Issues — Chapter 8, Quitting the Comparison Game

I suppose it’s human nature, this comparison thing. Last chapter we identified the assortment of ways we torture ourselves as we look around us, comparing ourselves with the people around us.

Today we take time to investigate how we might desist on the torturing.

Nicole opens each chapter with a quote that applies to the topic at hand. This chapter’s is from Abraham Lincoln,

Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.

There it is. Chapter done.

Only if you’re like me, that’s not really enough. Maybe we’re skeptics, thinking it takes more than making up our minds to be happy to actually be happy.

Or does it?

I can speak less for men, but, ladies, don’t we constantly compare ourselves to the people around us? At least to some degree?

If I weren’t constantly comparing what I wear to what others’ wear, wouldn’t I still be wearing my favorite light pink overall dress I wore in high school? Or maybe strutting a similar pair of “Yo-Yos” I loved so much when I was a kid?

Heck, if I really didn’t care of others’ opinions, I’d have had a party of some sort in my house since the “great flood” that left half my carpet looking worse off than it already did after 14 years of wear and tear.

Silly. I know. But if you’re honest, you have similar tendencies.

And when we let ourselves run down Comparison Road too often, we start getting sucked into a joy-stealing vortex that leads to bitterness and resentment.

If you’ve resonated with the red flag of using comparisons to determine your identity, then it’s worth making some changes.

More honesty… Comparison is really more about focusing on ourselves than other people. We get wrapped up in what we aren’t or what we perceive we don’t have and lose sight of others’ needs. We fail to love others. We can’t grow closer to Christ.

Let’s look at the steps Nicole suggests we take to turn our eyes off ourselves, to quit this comparison game.

Step #1 — Find Your Blind Spots

Figure out where you are most prone to compare. One way to do this is to be aware of your internal dialogue, that running conversation you have with yourself about your appearance, relationships, support systems, career choices, money, etc.

Remember the peephole-at-the-parade idea — seeing only what little your peephole allows you, missing the big picture. This image has really resonated with me. It captures so much of our lives’ perspectives. We only see what we see.

When we see a friend who enviably has the job we dream of, we only see the friend and the job. We don’t see her stresses. We don’t see her insecurities. We don’t see her marriage that’s falling apart or her mother’s terminal illness. Our limited view allows us to hone in on the THING that we desire and pine away for it, envying her for it, growing bitter over it.

When reality for that friend couldn’t be more different.

When our own blindness for our blessings couldn’t be more flagrant.

And when we let that bitterness seep in, our joy is stolen away!

Nicole offers some questions we can ask ourselves when we catch ourselves comparing:

  1. Why do I think this person’s life is better/happier than mine?
  2. What does she have, specifically, that I think makes it that way?
  3. If I had that quality, how do I think my life might be different?
  4. If the quality is attainable, what am I doing to make a change toward acquiring it for myself?
  5. If the quality isn’t attainable, how will I mourn what isn’t and make peace with what is? How will I invite God to open my eyes to the blessings in my own situation?

Step #2 — Open Your Heart

So, we ask God to show us our blind spots, to see our issues clearly. When they come into focus, we bow down — humble ourselves before God.

The Lord gives sight to the blind. The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down. Psalm 146:8

When we can see, and admit, that our comparisons are “affecting our happiness and souring our relationships,” then we can “pay attention to our emotional responses.”

Nicole recognized that she used resentment to deflect painful feelings as rejection and loss. We might feel sorry for ourselves or dive deeper into selfishness. And when we allow those emotional responses to take over, we miss the actual problem.

Remember Abel’s brother, Cain? He blamed his brother to the point of missing his own sin, his own disobedience and stubbornness before God.

What Cain failed to do was humble himself before God, which is the very thing we NEED to do. See our blind spots, then get before God with humility and vulnerability. When we do that, God will be gracious. He will provide us with something…

a person or a word or an experience that encourages us to keep being exactly who I am, to be okay with how He’s made me.

Opening our eyes and accepting who we are created to be allows us to shift our gaze, our focus from ourselves to all our blessings!

Step #3 — Ignore Everybody

When I first read that heading, I couldn’t imagine where Nicole was going. But in Nicole fashion, she did research and discovered a direct correlation between comparisons and creativity.

To summarize: where comparison lives, creativity is not to be found.

Also in her research she came across a book on creativity, Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity. Ahhh–that’s where she’s going.  So maybe if we just ignore others, we’ll discover our creative side? Perhaps not ignoring their needs (as I had first wondered) but ignoring what they do and think. That would free us to be more creative, more…US.

Nicole dug a little deeper and discovered that the Apostle Paul touched on the “ignore everybody” idea:

 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.  We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep within the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you.   2 Corinthians 10:12-13 (NRSV)

The Corinthians were track-and-field competitors, so Paul’s allusion to the field would have resonated with them. When he saw their tendency to compare themselves, Paul reminded them to stay in their own lanes. Nicole is suggesting the same…

You are on your own field, in a course marked out for you in advance. This competition is between you and the you God wants you to be. If you want to compare yourself, why don’t you ask God about the you He sees you can be.

Step #4 — Direct Your Sight

Another great visual Nicole gave us in the last chapter was the group of kids who were happy with their bags of candy…UNTIL THEY COMPARED WHAT THEY HAD to what others in the room had.

It robbed their joy, stole their happiness. They moaned and groaned about what they didn’t have when only minutes before they were giddy with their candy prospects.

I mentioned my son who was quite happy with his Christmas presents till he got to school and saw what other kids had gotten. Then he focused on what he didn’t have, and his joy? Long gone.

In Matthew 20 there’s a parable about a landowner who hired several sets of workers to harvest his vineyard. He bargained with the morning crew on a set payment. He hired more workers as the day wore on. When quitting time came, he paid the afternoon shift the amount he’d said he’d pay the morning workers (who’d worked all day). When it was their turn to be paid, those morning workers scoffed and balked when he paid them that same amount.

They were content to be paid that amount until they compared their efforts (and pay) with those who’d worked half a day. The landowner looked at them and said, “Are you envious because I am generous?”

Ingratitude can sour our joy. And…we are disrespecting God’s generosity when we ignore His gifts just because they don’t appear to compare with gifts He’s given others.

Thinking about those kids with the bags of candy, we could well learn to keep our eyes on our own bags! In other words, “Focus on what God has given you rather than what you don’t have.”

If you’re tempted to compare…stop. It is a choice. We do have control over what we think and how we respond.  The trick when we stop those comparison-filled thoughts is to have something at the ready to replace them with.

Scripture is a perfect way to do just that. When I’m tempted to compare my ugly, water-marked carpet with someone’s brand new, fluffy, good-smelling carpet, I need to insert verses like Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” asking God to help me have a heart that is joyful in others’ joy. That will stop me from going further down that comparison road. I will stop before I begin to be bitter and resentful about what I don’t have. And, just maybe, I’d even be able to be happy for my friend and her new carpet!

There are questions we can train ourselves to ask or things we can do when we start comparing and reacting. Here are some for instances:

  • When you think I wish I were more like her, replace that thought with I’m only seeing a small sliver of this person’s life.
  • When you wish for something you don’t have, fix your eyes on what you do have.
  • Foster creativity. Make a conscious effort to pursue activities you love. Paint pictures. Swing on the monkey bars. Take hip-hop. Ignore everybody else and create!

So, now maybe we can agree with Old Abe, He had it right after all. We’re about as happy as we make up our minds to be.

There it is.

Choosing gratitude, choosing not to compare…at least, I’m trying…

Shelley Johnson

She’s Got Issues – Chapter 7, The Comparison Game

If ever there was a trap to keep us from being all we’re made to be and do, it’s the comparison game.

We compare what we have/own to what others have – clothes, shoes, cars, houses, families.

We compare what we do with what others do – speaking, writing, teaching, caring, helping.

We compare what we are to what we perceive others are – happy, successful, brilliant, beautiful, perfect.

Our church has just launched into the “Year of Prayer.” We’re doing and offering a lot of different things to help people engage in prayer. Guess what we’re discovering…we even compare ourselves when it comes to praying.

We tell ourselves that we can’t pray like “her,” so why pray?

We assume that if it doesn’t come easy, like it does for “him,” then I must not have to pray.

We think that if we don’t sound or act or look like “them,” then prayer is unattainable.

Not only is comparison a game, it’s also a trap. Nicole, the author of She’s Got Issues, warns — If we aren’t careful, comparisons can “rule our emotions, self-worth, and life.”

So, why do we play this game? Why do we fall for its trap?

There is a theory, the social learning theory, that says “we look to those around us to determine our own way of thinking, feeling, and acting.” Consider our developmental stages: we look to our parents/family during our younger ages, then to our peers/friends in our growing up years. As adults we don’t change much – we still often look to people (and maybe media) to determine ways of doing things for ourselves (think: what to wear…).

Is that always bad? No. I can think to a season in my life when, spiritually, I saw things in the women around me that I wanted. I wanted their love for Jesus. I wanted to pray with the humility and confidence and passion that they did. They were positive role models for me. I could learn from them.

But too many times those comparison games don’t have positive results. Nicole wonders “if our ultracompetitive society encourages us to form an identity based solely on comparisons to those around us.”

When comparison becomes negative, it segregates people, separates us in our relationships, and can even determine how we feel about ourselves.

Nicole uses the story of Cain and Abel, sons of Adam and Eve. A quick summary – the brothers are busy working. Cain tending the fields. Abel tending the flocks. When God calls for an offering from each of them, Cain “brought some of the fruits of the soil” (Genesis 4:3). Abel brought “fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock” (Genesis 4:4).

God liked Abel’s. He wasn’t pleased with Cain’s.

Cain’s reaction – anger. To the point of killing his brother.

For a long time really smart people have dug deeper into this story to find great meaning…even for us today. In a nut shell, Cain’s “some fruits” weren’t his first fruits. He gave what he could spare. It was a “halfhearted expression of worship.”

Abel, on the other hand, gave the firstborns of his flock. His first. His best. He gave from the heart.

We could say Cain’s issue was one of the heart. His motives were the issue.

Nicole says it best,

Cain thought God rejected his gift because He’d compared the two offerings. God actually dismissed Cain’s crops because of Cain’s heart.

Cain fell in the comparison trap and assumed God does the same thing.

God was not comparing the offerings. He saw into each heart and knew what was there.

What does that mean for us? It means…are you ready?  It means God knows YOU. “He knows what you are capable of, what glorious love you can give, because He is your Maker.”

He is not comparing you to other people. He is only looking at you, your heart.

Knowing that God doesn’t play the comparison game can free us from worrying about what He thinks of us.

BUT, because He does know our hearts, He does know when we’re “giving Him the real deal and when we’re putting up a smoke screen.”

He’s telling us to get real with Him and to stop worrying about anyone else.

Cain didn’t do that. He compared himself to his brother and that led, literally, to murder.

Comparisons can complicate things for us. Nicole gives us three ways that problems can arise from the comparison game:

  1. Looking at a parade through a peephole.

There’s a deception that happens when we look at someone else’s life and assume their life is better than ours. Have you ever looked at someone (at church, at school, at work, in the store…) and thought, “She’s got it all together. She has the great guy, pretty face, successful life…”

If we’re honest, we all have. To some degree. Some women do this every day, all the time. Others fall prey to this in certain situations. But no matter when we’re tempted to think this about someone, we need to stop those thoughts and remind ourselves that no one has a perfect, pain-free life.

Jesus tells us that we’ll have trouble in this world (John 16:33). Each of us, in our own ways, will have pain to deal with, to overcome. “No one’s life is immune, no matter how pretty the picture on the outside.”

This tendency we all have of comparing our inner selves to the outer selves of those we see around us gives us a distorted, incomplete picture. We don’t see their home life, their inner struggles, their past wounds. We see only what they want us to see.

I have come to believe that this happens a LOT on social media. In fact, I heard someone say that recently. Too often we get depressed or frustrated because we are constantly comparing ourselves to everyone else’s parade of positive posts to the truths of what is going on inside of us.

That’s not comparing apples to apples. What we post or show the world rarely reflects all the bumps and scrapes and issues we deal with behind the scenes.

And that is true for everyone else too!

Nicole points out that author William Young, of The Shack, uses the analogy of “looking at a parade through a tiny knothole” to describe our view of God’s plan. We aren’t seeing the whole picture.

We stare through that knothole, thinking we are seeing the whole picture, when in reality we see just a tiny glimpse of another person’s reality.

  1. Emotional tornadoes

Another problem that arises from playing the comparison game is that too often our emotions are determined by what another person says to us. If someone praises us, we bask in the glory. We “let it inflate our self-worth because we’re taking their words and using them as our measuring stick of ‘good.’”

The opposite is true too. Negative comments can torment us for days. And we’re not talking just mean-spirited comments. These comments are often truths about our weaknesses or inabilities.

For instance, I know I’m not very domestic. Cleaning house just isn’t something I’m good at on a daily or weekly basis. But if someone says something to that effect, I take great offense. I dwell on it. Rationalize. Defend it. Probably not aloud, but in my mind. I’ll even begin comparing myself with the person who said it, looking for things to show where she is weak or unable..

For a while now, I’ve been calling this “spiraling.” So it totally fit that Nicole named it a tornado!

These emotional tornadoes result from getting caught up in the judgment of others. And that only feeds our other issues…those insecurities and anxieties. We’ll ride quite the rollercoaster if we allow our self-worth to be defined by people’s comments.

  1. Wasting energy trying to make life fair

It’s not fair.

Three words that can drive us the most crazy.

We hear these words from small children because a) they’re honest, b) don’t have many filters on what they say, and c) are starting to see those injustices of life – they’re wrestling through things they recognize as unfair.

I’m telling you it is so hard to come to terms with the fact that life just isn’t fair.

Some have good health, others never do.

Some have great wealth while others, no matter how hard they work, never will.

Some seem to achieve whatever they set out to while others meet nothing but trials and obstacles.

Nicole tells the best story to demonstrate just how easily our happiness can be sapped when we compare ourselves to others and see things as unfair.

A quick summary of her story – she had young children come in. They each were given a paper bag full of their favorite candy but were told to keep the contents of the bags a secret Then she gathered the kids around her and asked how they felt when they looked in their bag.

Unanimously and loudly they all cheered, “Happy!”

Then they dumped their candy out. The mood changed quickly as they started to look around the room at what each of them had. Some had more, some had less. Some had bigger, some had very small.

They were content till they compared what they had to others.

This happened to one of my boys one Christmas. He was very happy with his Christmas gifts till he got back to middle school and learned what his friends had gotten. Then his gifts seemed small and very unequal. Unfair.

He let comparison rob him of his initial joy.

And we all do this at some point or another. We let comparison distract us from our gifts.

Now God, He is always just. He always gives “each their due.” Deuteronomy 32:4 says that God’s ways are just. That He is “as God of faithfulness and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.” But let us not forget that His ways are not our ways.  How He measures fair is not always the way we measure fair.

We insist on evaluating our lives through our tiny peephole. We don’t trust an invisible God and His mysterious ways, so we choose instead to judge our own lives based on our partial picture of the true reality of life.

We’re never winners when we play the comparison game. “Comparisons are what keep me from fully knowing myself and being fully available to know the ones I’m in relationship with.”

But we have a God who knows us, who sees us. He sees you. Right where you are. He knows your heart – all its hopes, all its hurts. And He loves you for you. Not because of what you do or say, but because He created you. You are His daughter.

In the truth of that kind of love is the key to breaking the comparison chain. By His love “God has enabled us to move beyond comparisons into a glorious, wide-open space where we feel the freedom to love what He’s uniquely made in us.” And that freedom, sisters, also allows us to love one another more freely!

I want that freedom. I hope you do too. Chapter 8 will give some helps and hopes about how to overcome our tendencies to compare ourselves to others. Tune in!

In the meantime…I’m looking to God instead of others for my worth,

Shelley Johnson

She’s Got Issues – Ch. 6, The Storm of Insecurity

Bet I’ve read this chapter twice since it’s been so long since I’ve picked up our She’s Got Issues  study. So here goes third time. I hear it’s a charm!

Throughout Scripture, storms are used to display God’s power… In a way this is uniquely God’s, He can create, use, and shelter us from every storm we might face.

Storms. What a perfect metaphor for how we feel when our insecurities rise to the surface. They overwhelm us just like a storm can. Especially a storm at sea.

I happened to be listening more closely to the lyrics of a song as I drove through town the other day, and the word insecurity caught my attention – I’m sure because this chapter has been with me for quite some time now.

I forget the last time I felt brave, I just recall insecurity
Cause it came down like a tidal wave and sorrow swept over me.

Owl City, in their song, “Tidal Wave,” captures this imagery — how much insecurity is like a storm at sea with huge tidal waves sweeping over us, pulling us under.

Shall we deal with insecurity at last? You bet! And we can…because God is bigger and stronger than any storm or wave of insecurity!

Nicole Unice (our author) carries out this storm imagery further. She says the storm may rage outside of us or it may rage inside of us.

What storms of insecurity rage outside of you in this season? What pulls at you to make you want to hide or escape or cling to anything that might protect you?

What storms of insecurity rage inside of you right now? What wounds or feelings or needs keep you seeking approval or pouring into work in order to cope?

In our humanness we put our hope (as we try to cope) into things that are not permanent, shaky, undependable. “We are quick to put our security in our appearance, approval, performance, or achievement.”

What’s a girl to do?

The good news…and there is GOOD NEWS…we have a God who can “provide refuge in the storm.”  When we let go of the imitation shelters and put our hope in God, we can find true shelter — the kind that withstands storms. ALL storms.

We have a choice! We can choose to turn from these imitations, toward God. We can choose Him as we make that turn. Nicole points out that the concept of repentance that Jesus teaches has this same notion of “turning from one thing to pursue another.”

When she breaks down the meaning of the word “repent” in Greek, we discover it implies the “act of changing the condition of the mind.”

Here’s the kicker — this is mind over emotions! We really have the choice, the ability, the power to choose to turn from those things that don’t really offer security and turn toward the God who actually does…no matter how we FEEL.

This is huge for a girl like me who is so emotion-based. Can’t tell you how much of my life I’ve let emotions make these choices for me. When all along, God equipped me with a mind that is more than capable of focusing on Jesus in the middle of the storm and choose to look away from “earthly security.”

And it is a discipline. This just doesn’t happen. After all, we have a lifetime of bad habits to overcome. But we CAN and WILL overcome with Jesus at our side.

Scripture is key — it is our “sword of the Spirit” (see Ephesians 6). God has given us His Word to use as a weapon against lies and false hopes. When we speak the truth of the Word, of God, over our lives and situations, we’re empowered to see the truth and move forward in Christ.

When we run to Christ for security, we find a hope that is ‘a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.’ (Hebrews 6:19)

Even though she’s right, we can’t just take Nicole’s word for it. Try it for yourself. I have, and it’s life-changing. To learn how to make this turn from the thoughts and feelings that come from insecurity will change your life. Putting our hope in Christ instead of the things of the world gives us the security we seek.

I’m still a work in progress…probably always will be. But I am learning, through the discipline of my mind, to recognize when insecurity is creeping in, and I turn my focus away from it and to the Lord.

An example, you say? So many to choose from…

So last year I was incredibly blessed with an opportunity to travel to Nashville twice to be part of a leadership training group for women in ministry. I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I was to go. It was a fast and furious week leading up to my trip (you know all the preparations it takes to leave family and job for a few days), so when I found myself sitting in a hotel room by myself, hundreds of miles from home, hours to kill before I met the women I DIDN’T KNOW, my emotions and my racing mind took over.

What am I doing here?

What if I didn’t bring the right clothes?

What if I don’t fit in with these ladies?

What if they don’t like me?

Who am I to be at a group like this? I’m just a girl from a small town in Oklahoma — I haven’t written any books or spoken at conferences or led other women in big ways…

See what I do to myself? I was uptight and totally panicked. Before I got on that plane I hadn’t had time to have doubts like these. And when they hit, I wanted to BOLT.

But…

I didn’t. Instead I got out my Bible and journal and intentionally focused myself on God. I breathed Him in. I started saying His promises aloud so I’d hear them, believe them.

And guess what I did next?

I slept.

It was great rest. I didn’t even realize how tired I was. By the time the other ladies started arriving I was refreshed and ready. Nervous? A little. But more, I was excited, anticipating what God had in store.

And it was good. Oh so good.

If I’d given in to my emotions, had I not TURNED from those insecure thoughts, I would have missed out on one of the most significant spiritual experiences of my life.

Thank you, Lord!

You can do this too! This chapter really helps gives us ways to turn from insecurity to Our Hope and King.

Without understanding the benefits of our relationship with Jesus, we are fundamentally insecure. Our lives are built on shifty substitutes. When we discover places of insecurity, we must return to the fundamental promises of Christ.

Romans 12:2 is one of those promises, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.”

Just like I did that afternoon in the Nashville hotel, fix your mind on God’s promises. “Every time you feel ashamed, unforgiven, or not worthy, repeat a verse” that captures the promise of God that overcomes those thoughts and feelings. I love what Nicole says,

God’s Word is a healer, a transformer, and a re-creator of our hearts and minds. We just have to do the work of getting that Word in. (with my emphasis)

So here are some truths we have to know and believe if we’re going to successfully claim the power of these promises over our lives:

  1. Christ offers forgiveness from sin (see Romans 7:15).
  2. Christ offers freedom from guilt (see Galatians 5:1).
  3. Christ offers eternal life (see John 17:3). To elaborate, “Everything on earth–every joy, every pain, the mundane and the magnificent–is put in proper perspective when considered in light of eternity.”
  4. Christ offers a continual relationship with God. It’s the basic truth that Jesus is always with us, giving us grace, understanding us in a way no one else can. We can be ourselves, “free and flawed,” because He loves us.
  5. Christ leaves the gift of the Holy Spirit (see Ephesians 1:13). Let the truth that the Spirit of God dwells within you give you perspective and power!

When we “flee from and repent of our own shaky securities,” we can take hold of the hope that there is a choice, and that choice is Christ. Choosing His promises over the world’s options for “security” is something we have to do every day. Ask yourself, where am I seeking an anchor for my soul? If it’s not Jesus, you’re settling for a sham – that “faulty shelter.”

Nicole is wise — she knows that only knowing these truths is not enough. We need to know HOW to put them into practice. Here are her suggestions:

  1. Take a break from the fashion magazines, reality shows, and pop music. Consider adding some spiritual reading or worship music to your daily life instead. Try it every day for two weeks and see what happens!
  2. When you find yourself dwelling on your insecurities, recite your ABCs. Starting with A, fix your mind on praising God from Scripture. It might go something like this. “A: God you say you are the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. B: Jesus, you are the Bread of Life. C: Thank you for giving us your Spirit as our Counselor. D:….”
  3. Memorize a verse of Scripture to repeat in your mind whenever you need to “turn” your thoughts. Accentuate a different word with each recitation: IF anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation… If ANYONE is in Christ, she is a new creation… if anyone IS in Christ, she is a new creation…

Here’s another great list she offers…it helps me see what it looks like to be secure. I hope it does for you:

  • Secure women know their strengths and aren’t afraid to own them.
  • Secure women know their weaknesses and aren’t scared by them.
  • Secure women can easily admit when they’re wrong but don’t beat themselves up about it.
  • Secure women take risks.
  • Secure women fail but try again.
  • Secure women can be vulnerable with their friends.
  • Secure women don’t have to know all the answers.
  • Secure women can say no.
  • Secure women believe that love multiplies and that they can give lavish love and affection away because there will always be an abundance for them.
  • Truly secure women find their worth and their strength in Christ.

Here’s a great promise to tuck away as we wrap up this discussion of our insecurity issues: “We are loved by a perfect God who will equip us with all we need for doing His will (Hebrews 13:21).”

And here are some verses Nicole offers for us to look at — choose one to be that verse that’s at the ready each time insecurity tries to take over:

“We who have fled to him for refuge can take new courage, for we can hold on to his promise with confidence.” Hebrews 6:18

“Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” Romans 5:1

“Let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16

“I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

“This is the way to have eternal life–to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth.” John 17:3

“No matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:20

“When you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago.” Ephesians 1:13

“What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons. They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. The new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17

Go back over those five promises of security in Christ. Put them to memory along with your “mantra” verse. Practice them. Make them ready so that you can truly TURN from insecurity when you recognize it creeping in…or overtaking you.

Don’t forget you have a choice. You can choose your thoughts no matter how you feel.

And never, ever take your eyes off Jesus. He is our anchor in all of life’s storms.

Anchoring myself in Jesus,

Shelley Johnson

Family. It Matters.

Family. Such a good topic for this time of year. I’m sure it’s a good topic any time of year, but especially so during the holidays.

Family? You may ask. Yes, I remember that we’re picking up this study of our issues once again, but having just spent some time with my extended family, I can’t help but see how our issues impact our family life.

We are in a generation where “family” now has several meanings. No longer is “family” limited to the dad, mom, and two-and-a-half kiddos. I think we’ve gotten to a place as a society that we can acknowledge “family” has many faces. Maybe it’s a mom and four kids. Or husband and wife. Or dad, mom, daughter, and grandmother. Or maybe it’s a group of friends who’ve done life together for so long that they’re truer family for each other than any blood-relatives.

Family loves unconditionally.

Family supports and challenges and encourages.

Family gives generously.

Family sets healthy boundaries.

Family accepts us as we are but pushes us to be better than we thought we could be.

Family offers strength we don’t have by ourselves.

Family is present – physically, emotionally, spiritually.

Family. My family.

I’ve had time to reflect on my extended family a bit lately…

I’m blessed to be part of a family that is full of life and love. We’re a family who has lived in separate cities and states yet have been faithful to come together every-other-year for Christmas. All the years we did Christmas together have given me memories.

Of gathering, crammed in the family room of my grandparents’ home, for Christmas carols and story-telling.

Of lining up sleeping bags with my cousins in front of the fireplace in an attempt to catch Santa in the act.

Of impatiently waiting our turn to open gifts.

Of setting places at multiple tables as we all lent a hand at feast preparations.

Of roller skating in the u-shaped driveway and climbing to the top of the huge pine tree with my cousins while our parents napped.

Of walking the neighborhood or my great-grandmother’s nursing home singing carols for others’ pleasure.

This past week our family had another opportunity to gather. Another chance to build memories to carry into the coming years.

I will admit that my own issues made me a little apprehensive about attending this gathering. You see, we lost one of our own. We were coming together to celebrate and mourn a life cut off too soon.

My fear (told you…fear is an issue of mine!) tried to get the better of me, telling me I didn’t know how to handle the depth of grief we’d be witnessing and experiencing. It tried to convince me I had too many other things to do, commitments to keep. It even tried to make me rationalize not going with simplicity – it’s too far away, no one will notice if you’re not there, or your parents are going in your stead.

Of all my issues, mostly it was my fear that was winning the mental battle.

Then I remembered. I remembered the regret of not going to my grandmother’s funeral (it seems I had the same fears back in the 8th grade). I remembered that my fear has a way of keeping me from the things I ought to be doing.

So I went.

And it was a beautiful experience.

Hard? Yes.

Sad? Oh my, yes.

But absolutely beautiful.

To the fear that said I’d be uncomfortable – ha! I was with family. We love well. And we loved on my cousin really well. His loss was our loss. Our love supported him. Being together helped him find strength he didn’t know he had.

To the fear that said I couldn’t handle it – ha! None of us could, so we leaned into God and onto one another. We talked. We waited. We watched. We reached out. We met strangers. We hugged. We handled it…together.

To the doubt that said I had too many commitments – ha! Friends and my immediate family stepped up and made a way. God took care of every detail and I left town worry–free. All bases were covered and I was able to be in every moment, fully.

And to the really stupid notion that no one would miss me – double ha! Every single one of my cousins and aunts and uncles were there. We were united. We were one. We rose to the occasion and made a difference – to each other and to my cousin. And the fact that all of us had to drive hours and hours to get there impacted my cousin and his immediate family more than words could say.

We showed the world who this family is and what family is all about.

And our job isn’t done yet.

We made it through the funeral, together. But our cousin and his family will need ALL the family for days, months, and years to come.

Can we rise to the occasion? You bet.

We can love unconditionally…even from afar. We can find creative ways to support, challenge, and encourage our loved ones who will grieve and grow through these “worst of times.”

We can certainly be present when the occasions arise. We’ll find ways to be there on the important days and demonstrate our love even when we can’t. And we most definitely pray every day. Every. Day.

For his healing.

For his heart.

For his strength.

For his hope.

He will know he is loved….by us and by our Father.

He will know it’s okay to grieve, to struggle, to wrestle, to lay down his burdens – and to discover the grace and mercy that await him in the arms of the Comforter…and in the arms of his family.

No judgment.

No disappointment.

No doubt.

Only love and grace and hope and faith.

Is our family perfect? No way! But even in the storms we find love and laughter. Oh the laughter.

We are 100% certain laughter is a really good medicine for so many things that ail us. Laughter helps us to let go of the things that have a hold of us – those fears, those doubts; the weight of responsibility and of grief; the stubborn way we hold on to wanting to be right; the uncanny way we can make everything about us.

So we laugh.

Really hard. (We might even pee our pants!)

Then we love some more. We forgive, we move forward with love and grace.

Family.

Mine happens to be blood-related. I was born into it.

If that’s not the case for you, find family. Surround yourself with others who are not connected into bloodlines. Embrace the fact that family has many faces.

But you need it. We all need it.

Start with one person, and as the two of you discover how to love and live well TOGETHER (and I do mean most earnestly brotherly love), you’ll be amazed to see how that love attracts others who also seek the love of family.

And it’ll more than likely mean you have to initiate that family-making project. As much as we all long to belong, it’s become more and more foreign for people to connect beyond social media.

Cook a meal. Invite a friend or two over. Laugh. Eat. And build a relationship.

Family doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. It takes commitment. It takes intentionality.

Our family doesn’t just happen even though we are related. We have to be intentional and committed to our traditions and to each other.

As we all went our separate ways the weekend of the funeral to start our journeys home, six of us found ourselves alone at dinner. We were tired and just a little stressed after a harrowing drive through a storm en route to the hotel. But we found rest and rejuvenation at our meal. We found family.

We sat facing each other, recounting stories, eventually laughing together about the poignant and even comical things that had happened over the last 36 hours.

No joke, by the time we got back to the hotel, wet to the bone from the thunderstorm and faulty umbrellas, we were unrestrainable in fits of laughter. We’d try to recompose, only to be thrown into another fit with someone’s offhand comment.

We crossed our legs (our bladders full) and wiped our tears after many minutes and managed to get ourselves on the elevator and to our rooms.

We had the best sleep we’d had in days.

Family does that. It loves well – through tears and laughter.

It’s my prayer that this holiday season you can reach out to your family with intentionality and love, overcoming any issues you might have with them (or yourself)…or reach out to a person or two and create family. You’ll discover what I was so acutely reminded of that weekend.

Family matters.

Embracing all my family – hugs and kisses to you all,
Shelley Johnson

Picking It Back Up

Here we are in the midst of a study of the book She’s Got Issues, and three months later… I’m finally able to pick this back up. It’s been a busy, nay… crazy fall. Ups and downs of family life, ministry, and personal valleys. One might think I have, well, issues.

The reality is…I do!

The more I learn about myself, the more I realize just how many!

Sincerely, one of my issues is I tend to overcommit myself, and this was a fall that was full of commitments. And as much as it went against my perfectionistic tendencies, I had to let the blog go for a season. The relief overpowered the guilt, I must say.

But lately I have had that writer’s itch again…so here I am. Ready or not!

Before we pick back up with our book study, I wanted to do a little processing about my own journey. This self-awareness journey God’s had me on the past few years really escalated this past year.

I think the first slap (and it did feel like a slap – not so much because of the pain but the shock) came at the 2013 Women of Faith conference. My slap was the realization that I deal with some significant fear issues.

Why that would’ve been such a shock, I don’t know. I’ve always been the natural worrier and have even fought that anxiety bug.

But anxiety is non-specific – it is fear without a target. Fear. Now true fear is very specific, hence all the phobias. Claustrophobia. Arachnophobia. Triskaidekaphobia.

In my estimation, fear can be an easier issue to deal with than anxiety because it is specific. You know, that idea of facing our fears.

The talks at that particular Women of Faith grabbed me. Opened my eyes. Helped me see myself and this issue more clearly. Luckily I had a good friend with me, and we both happened to be struck by this same “ah-ha” about ourselves. We processed and prayed together. Worship was never so sweet and empowering as it was that weekend.

But God didn’t leave me there. He wanted more from and for me than just to be aware. He really did want me to start working on overcoming those fears.

Now I’m not talking about fears of small spaces or spiders or the number 13. I’m talking about much more subtle fears – like fears of loss of love or loss of relationship.

Yup. Those are my two biggies. Figured those out at an out-of-state workshop after doing the Enneagram Assessment. My Enneagram says I’m a Helper and a Peacemaker. No surprise there.

The shocker was that for each trait there’s a fear. I really had to wrestle through claiming the fears that went with my personality types.

As I journaled my experiences at that workshop during the flight home, the light went on. I quite literally dropped my pen and gasped.

Those. Are. My. Fears.

It’s why when my oldest son went askew in high school I had a hard time laying down the law. I was afraid if I was too strict, I’d push him away, that I would lose that relationship, that love.

It’s why when something goes wrong at work and confrontation is required that I hesitate and dread the confrontation. I fear losing those relationships.

Now, I didn’t say this was a rational fear. I’d even say it’s a subconscious thing. I’m 45 years old and never realized the WHY behind what I do (or don’t do). Yet I’m discovering that the fear-motive is huge in every aspect of my life…how I parent, in my marriage, how I handle conflict, in my friendships, and even as I lean into my calling. Fear holds me back — it keeps me from doing the healthy, good things that bring freedom and trust…even joy.

Most recently I had the opportunity to speak some hard, but needed, words of observation and personal response to someone I respect and admire. A year ago this confrontation would’ve left me a puddle.

I knew this conversation was necessary, and God had made it very clear I was the one to have it, so I spent several days thinking it through and praying…a lot! I was simply amazed at my composure and ability to speak words of truth in love without falling to pieces. I had such a sense of release and relief as I walked away. I knew the Holy Spirit had equipped me, but I also recognized that because I was aware of my fears, I was better able to overcome them.

Then the next day…the doubt set in. I started second-guessing my decision to confront and was so overcome by the fear of losing that relationship I could hardly concentrate on anything else. I would read into interactions and conversations with this person and thought I could read a coldness.

BUT, I recognized it for what it was. That fear. So I reached out to that person and said, “You know I love you.” And he laughed! Yes, laughed (warmly). He saw my fear for what it was too. He quickly assured me that our conversation was healthy and good. That we were fine.

Whew. Then I laughed.

I think I recognized in that moment just how debilitating fear can be if left unchecked. I had made further steps on the journey of defeating that fear in my life.

I spoke of my fall commitments earlier. One of my commitments was to read a book that would help me identify more clearly what God is calling me to in this season. What I didn’t expect as I read and processed that book was to realize I was holding back on God.

That’s a disconcerting realization. And it’s something I’m still working on…but taking care of these fears that follow me around is a huge part of getting to the place where I’m whole and healthy, ready to go wherever He may lead.

As the New Year (quickly) approaches, I want to continue this walk I’m on. I want to be able to do whatever it is God calls me to do with total trust and faith. And I want to live without fear.

You know, as we’ve been reading She’s Got Issues, we’ve learned about many issues, fear being only one of them. The more I learn about our issues, the more I understand how interwoven they are. So if I’m going to live without fear, I’m going to have to be honest with myself, prepared to act on what I learn about myself.
To be willing to change is to be okay with laying down pride and picking up a big cup of humili-tea. (That’s harder for some of us than others, I know.)

We also have to be willing to trust God. That means knowing Him well, knowing His character, His heart. That He wants what is good for us. That He is for us. And because He loves us, He will give us all we need to be the overcomers He has made us to be (Romans 8:31, 37).

I am all too aware that the coming year will hold more challenges, more heartaches, more victories, more opportunities to apply what I’m learning — to walk the walk.

Just this week two friends and I were talking about what God is doing in our lives, what He’s calling us to do. All three of us got pretty emotional really fast because we SO want to follow Him. But it’s also hard to follow where we cannot see. It seems as if He gives us just enough to see for the next step.

Where does that step lead? None of us knew. And all three of us are scared to death about that big unknown. (That fear thing again…)

And yet… We long to follow. We desire to do as He bids. Why? Because deep down we know He will give us what we need when we need it, He’ll bless people through us, and He’ll bless us with the gifts of joy and contentment, satisfying that longing to make a difference.

Shall we be like Indiana Jones and take that step of faith off the ledge? I sure want to! I want to get to a place where I can take that scary step without fear, full of faith. Faith is what it takes to be brave and follow where we cannot see, unimpeded by fear, unencumbered by issues.

I’m ready to continue the journey. Are you?

Chipping away at the fear,
Shelley Johnson

She’s Got Issues — Chapter 5

Insidious Insecurity

I missed posting last week, so let’s not dawdle. Let’s talk…insecurity, “a cloudy kind of word, with all kinds of associations and feelings hiding in it.”

Insecurity is the recognition of an area of vulnerability, the general sense of dis-ease in one’s own skin. Insecurity presents itself both as a trait of our personality, affecting every area of life, and as a circumstantial response when we are confronted with certain uncomfortable situations. In both cases, insecurity reveals those places where we fell exposed and inadequate.

How do these look in your life? For me…

Personality — it’s second-guessing my choices, over-worrying what others think, or refusing someone’s compliment.

Uncomfortable situations — like the time I showed up at a semi-formal Christmas party dressed in my cutesy Christmas tree t-shirt, skirt, and black boots…hating every minute of the event, fighting the desire to run to the ladies’ room and never come out..

Insecurity…that feeling we lived with everyday of middle school, the painful truth that “women of all ages find it hard to figure out just who we are supposed to be,” and the creator of desperation that makes us to want to hide or cover ourselves from exposure.

And the crazy thing is we tend to accept insecurity as if it’s just a normal thing, as if this is what God intended for us. Girls, we have issues!

When we get real with ourselves, sisters…when we get to the heart of what motivates and fuels our insecurities, we discover feelings that uncover the truths about our hearts.

Oh, but wait. Perhaps you’re not convinced you struggle with insecurity? Nicole offers an Insecurity Assessment in this chapter that is very revealing. I dare you to take it… (feeling insecure yet?)

Nicole points out that this insecurity issue is a spiritual one, which means we’ll have to be willing to peel away layers to get to what’s in our hearts.

Ready to get real?  Ready to get spiritual? Cuz that’s what it’ll take to overcome this all-encompassing issue that seems to accompany every other issue we face.

Insecurity has four basic facets. We can be insecure with our appearances, in our relationships, for others’ approval, and for our own achievement.

We’re girls. Of course we care about our appearance. We’re cooed over as babies and toddlers…always so cute or pretty or darling. Our culture saturates us with an obsession with beauty. And for girls today it’s worse than ever.

The average teen now sees more pictures of outstandingly beautiful women in one day than her mother did during her entire adolescence.

And, women, every aspect of life contributes to “our evaluation of whether our appearance is worth being happy over.”

Similarly, pop culture gives us girls a hyper-heightened view of life — that the best of life happens when we’re in love. As a result, we tend to look for our worth in relationships. Then when the friend, boyfriend, husband or child fails to fill the deep cravings of our souls, we try to act like we don’t need anything.

This waffling between the sense that we deserve more from others and the fear that we are nothing special leaves us pitching back and forth wildly in our relationships and ultimately accomplishes insecurity’s greatest coup: keeping us overly focused on ourselves.

We girls are very gifted in the art of comparison. We so desire for someone to affirm that we are “good enough,” that others’ approval becomes an addiction — we become “approval junkies.”

At the heart of it, a craving for approval creates a constant striving in our souls. Because we measure our worth by the admiration of the person whose approval we crave, we seek to do more and more of whatever earns their favor. And as we do, we often stray further and further away from the ‘realness’ of who we are.

Some of us place our worth in what we can accomplish, and the trend among high-achieving women is their deep-seated fear of being “found-out” as phonies. The more social women who have this achievement insecurity will feel the need to prove their intelligence, while the women who feel the pressure to be perfect will struggle with feeling inadequate.

As is usually the case when I take “tests” as Nicole’s Insecurity Assessment, I scored pretty evenly in all areas. (Told you I have issues). Despite my Christmas party catastrophe, I especially resonated with this last one, achievement.

Funny how I thought I was just weird in third grade. Now I know I was pretty normal…with issues, but normal.

For the first time in my young life, I had someone who had such high, unrealistic expectations of me that I felt stress. I so feared never being able to live up to my teacher’s expectations that I’d go to school with stomach aches and plots for cheating on multiplication quizzes.

Really.

Eventually that striving to be perfect ate away at me, and the fear of being “found out” took root. I continue to work on this issue all these decades later.

It’s not all my teacher’s fault. There is something deep inside me that wants to achieve well — still. And interwoven in that desire to achieve is the desire to please others, to gain their approval.

It’s just a mess, an entanglement even. I guess that’s why we call them issues.

But it’s not without hope.

Nicole had her come-apart-moment…that moment when she was stripped of her “good student” identity, left only with her “yoga pants, Dansko clogs, a stroller, and a sinkful of dishes.” It was in that moment that she “truly learned what it meant to be tangled in and then freed from insecurity.”

Let’s get untangled, shall we?

Scripture tells us that the only way to be truly released is by focusing our attention on God, and when we can do that, we’ll start to see that all those things we cling to (appearance, relationships, approval, achievement) are not good.

Let’s push pause for a moment: God created women with these desires — for Him! Blaise Paschal would say we’re created with a “God-shaped hole.” He put inside us a desire for beauty, to be loved and cherished so that we’d desire Him (in a holy and wonderful way).

What happens is we try to fill that God-shaped hole with other things. And Nicole would add that we tend to give these “things” too high a priority in our hearts which leads to “disappointment, disillusionment, and deep insecurity.”

Back to our topic at hand… The way to free ourselves from the snare, the entanglement of insecurity is to let go of worldly security and seek the security that can only come from our heavenly Father.

It’s a process, this dis-entanglement. Focus less on ourselves. Develop a God-centered view of our souls. Reframe insecurities as guideposts on the road to growth. And accept the sense of awkwardness that is sure to come along the way.

As we do these things, we’re moving toward true freedom in Christ!

…our soul is created to find rest in God alone. And that part remains restless until it finds the deep rest of security in Christ.

Sisters, this lack of peace we have is rooted in our insecurities. And when we allow ourselves to recognize our insecurity, we are a step closer to realizing we are longing for something more.

So instead of looking at our insecurities as shameful places to hide, let’s see them as opportunities to see God working in our lives! When we do, we can see where we need God’s healing touch and transformation.

Space Bar: Can you get to the heart of why appearance, relationships, approval, and/or achievement are important to you? Nicole urges us to write it all down — the stories from your childhood/past that relate to insecurity, the people who have more power over you than you’d like, roles or circumstances that feed your insecurities.

Nicole reminds us that “this is not an exercise in condemnation or shame. This is a way to face your own reality so that you can ask God to intervene and grow you beyond your insecurities.”

Our next chapter,”Attaching Your Anchor,” will give us some more practical how-to’s in overcoming our insecurity issues, so to prepare yourself take the above Space Bar. Be earnest and engaged so we can enter into Chapter 6 with hope and expectation!

Writing it all down,

Shelley Johnson

She’s Got Issues — Chapter 4

Surrendering the Kung-Fu Control Grip

Chapter 4 is now our HOW to Chapter 3’s WHAT. And right off the bat, Nicole tells us that if we’re not careful, we can try to control our faith in the same way we try to control people or circumstances. If that happens, we become guarded in our faith, unwilling to be vulnerable, refusing to surrender to God.

And surrender is just want we need to have a “full and free life.” Surrender is our how.

And understanding the Kingdom of God will help us release our control grip then surrender to God.

So. The Kingdom of God. What is it? How does that relate to us? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus compares the Kingdom of Heaven (God) to things of earth (like treasure in a field or yeast in dough) to help us understand what it is. And it’s in His references and examples of God’s Kingdom that we start to realize that…

1. God has created us to rule. In Genesis 1:26 God says that mankind will be masters over all life — we are created with this “innate desire to rule our environment, to ‘take charge!'”  What does that mean for you and me? That God has given us influence, things to manage.

That sounds pretty good, right? But this managing thing becomes problematic when we quit ruling ALONGSIDE God.

God is the original boundary setter. And for us controllers, we’re not so unlike Adam and Eve. We would rather rule our worlds our way because we think we know what’s best.

Stubborn. Independent. Strong-willed. We controllers tend to dig our heels in when we “know” what’s right and best and most important. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that those attitudes rear their ugly heads when we’re focused on ourselves, when we act as if we’re the center of the universe.

But we’re not. I know, it’s hard to admit it. But we’re not.

2. When our influence is aligned with God’s influence, we’re unstoppable. When we acknowledge that we are not the center of the universe, we can choose to be more satisfied with our position, “orbiting around the Son.”  And, OH, the freedom that comes when we’re not trying to control everyone and everything around us!

We take what He has given us–our kingdom and our rule–and we align it with His Kingdom and His rule. …All we have to do is get aligned and let Him do the rest.

3. Choosing to lay down our kingdom is a lifelong event.  We make the choice to surrender — to lay down our self-centeredness. We work to align ourselves with God’s plan so He can do the rest…till we hit a bump in life’s road. Then we veer off course…till we realign ourselves with God again. And this happens many times in the course of our lives.

Struggles, bad choices, hurtful people, hard decisions — these are the things of life, and because they happen all the time, we are constantly having to realign ourselves with God. And so many times we just don’t know what to do, so we try to control, regain order, sort it out ourselves. When really what we need to do is go to God.

I was blessed to attend this year’s Global Leadership Summit these past two days, getting poured into by our world’s greatest leaders. And as I re-read this chapter, I realize that something all these great leaders have in common, besides great leadership skills, is a faith in God that keeps them at His feet. They recognize they are not the center of the universe. And they know that to figure out what to do when the going gets really tough is to BE STILL. Get away, get quiet, and get with God. Because it’s only when we get still and quiet that we hear from God.

These great leaders recognize that they have control over very few things. And while we may not be “great leaders of the world,” we are leaders in our own worlds. We lead ourselves. We lead our kids. We lead in the work place. Leadership is about influence, so knowing what we DO have control over helps us recognize what we DON’T. And when we can see the difference, our influence grows.

Nicole came up with a short list of what she believes she has 100% control over, meaning she feels like she can predict the outcome with 100% accuracy because she is fully in charge of that decision. Ready?

my posture toward God’s Kingdom in my life

the space I make for God

the way I treat God’s Word

my attitude toward others

Notice what’s not on the list: her health, other’s actions, natural disasters, our kids’ personalities, our genetic make-up, the person driving in front of us… Can’t control a one of these…and a whole lot more!

But those things we have control over are crucial.

Nicole points us to Joseph. His biblical story is one with many more “bumps in the roads” than high points or victories, and yet he consistently — every time — looked to the God who is in control and chose to believe in Him. He is a great role model for us. He helps us see how to maximize those things we do have control over (our actions and our beliefs) and let go of those we don’t. I love how Nicole summed up Joseph:

When good comes, he believes God has blessed him. When evil comes, he believes God can transform it. His perspective is always informed by his belief that God is in control.

Wow. Perspective is so important. I’m too often too quick to judge, jump to conclusions, or blame. What if instead of trying (most vainly) to control people and circumstances, I look to God and choose to believe that He is in control — and out for my good!?!

This attitude, this perspective, doesn’t happen overnight. Yes, we choose our attitudes, but we’re human. Our emotions rise and fall, our circumstances are ever-changing, and people are totally unpredictable, which means we’re always having to stop, seek God, and choose the next good attitude. It’s a process. It’s constant.

“A surrendered heart and life require constant upkeep.”

So, how do we surrender? It is a posture, training, and discipline. How do we come to God? What are we doing to train ourselves in God’s ways? And how do we respond to our Father’s discipline — and do we see it as an act of love?

When God sent His Son to live, to die, to rise from the dead, He did so as the ultimate act of love. If we can accept that…REALLY accept that gift of love for ourselves, there’s no way we can see God as anything but as a Father whose sole motive is to help us grow and better ourselves. Even His discipline is of love.

And when we accept and believe this, we can come to God in a posture of surrender. Hear Nicole:

I don’t have to hold it all together or give it all up. I can surrender to His plan and then be obedient to just what He calls me to do.

I don’t know about you, but that word “just” leaped off the page. I only have to obedient to JUST what He calls me to do. In other words, I’m really good at adding to that list of to do’s.

We can get better at surrender when we practice it more…make it a habit. That’s a different kind of discipline — self-discipline. “There is a discipline to believing that God holds all things together…even our suffering.”

And who better to look to in the Bible on the subjects of faith in God and suffering than Job. If you don’t know him, get acquainted. Through his life and faith, we can discover a secret to this surrendering thing: Job always comes to God honestly. “He pours out his heart and his lament, yet he keeps God in his position of authority.”

God didn’t give us Job to be “just another story.” He gave us Job, just as He gave us Joseph and David, to show us that we’re not alone or unique in our struggles — those life struggles that bring pain and sorrow. And He also gave them to us so that we can see that our faith doesn’t need to be the struggle, rather it needs to be our anchor — that thing we can cling to when life storms around us. No matter how bad it gets, we can trust that God is, and always will be, good.

We said that surrender needs to be practiced so it can become a habit. It is a “learn-by-doing activity.” Nicole suggests one of our practices should be the “surrender check-in.” Every time we’re given the temptation to control something or someone, we stop and check our control freakiness.

How does a surrender check-in look? When you feel that rise of control coming up from your depths — like the moment you want to tell your husband how to drive or your son how to get his act together — stop and ask yourself,

Whose interests do you care about? 

It’s a “mental space bar” that gives you just enough room to find the truth of the situation.

I’d say it’s a great way to check our motives.  Is this about their good or my own? Is this about me looking good? Am I justifying my own life choices? Am I exerting my own right to rule rather than listening to God?

Now, for this method to work, we have to be willing to be really honest with ourselves! But when we are, “the practice of surrender allows us the confidence to use our influence as God intended.”

And in God’s economy, He will use our surrender to bring us “to places of greater influence.”  Here it is…summed up:

We exert our influence and share our lives with others, but we constantly make eye contact with our Father God, keeping in check with His positioning, knowing that we want to be within His easy reach.

These chapters on our controlling natures aren’t meant to beat us up. Rather they’re meant to be revealing and equipping. When we sincerely, genuinely put into practice what we’re learning here, we’ll discover our character begins to change.

Nicole urges us to read and believe the promises of Isaiah 30:18-21. When we believe what God promises, our souls — the very person we are — shifts, changes for the better. And as our character changes, so does our behavior. We become gentler, softer, more peaceful and grace-filled. “Our character is changed by our surrendered spirit.”

As we give up our own control to manage life and others, we will discover that God gives us incredible influence. …Because of the gentleness and humility that are born out of surrender, others will be drawn to you.

To draw on her imagery from Chapter 3, we need to pay attention to our tendencies to be a “king” or a “pawn.” And when we do, we’re more likely to surrender to God as His hand comes upon us, molding and shaping us into the women He knows we can be — “women who live in the truth that God has it all under control.”

Can I hear an amen?!

Letting all that soak in,

Shelley Johnson

She’s Got Issues – Chapter 3

I’m Not Controlling (I Just Like My Latte Extra Hot)

I know I ended our last session with the assignment to read chapters 3 AND 4, but it turns out there’s just too much to think about and absorb in each one. So let’s just look at 3 this week.

So this week we’re talking about the invisible force we call CONTROL. How often do our lives feel “out of control?” And how many times have you jokingly (or not so jokingly) called one of your friends a “control freak?” We toss around the word ‘control’ a lot, but even more so…we’re really good at trying to control the circumstances and people around us.

I know I am! God really got hold of me one weekend when I was at spiritual retreat. He most pointedly showed me how much I tried to control my husband, especially his spiritual life. It was a humbling experience and became a real turning point for me…and my marriage. It was the beginning of my lifelong journey surrendering control to God.  It’s a daily letting go, and this chapter has helped me to see my “control journey” is a long way from being over! Guess I’ll keep my bags packed.

Right off the bat, Nicole points out that this control thing is really about power — that “power we have over the course of our lives and over people in them.”  The truth is we live in a constant tension. We never really know how much we’re supposed to control.

Too much control and we coerce and manipulate, thinking this is how we love people. Too little control and we abdicate our own influence and responsibility to be a loving force in the world.

 

What is our responsibility and what is not? What does God require from us and what is He going to do Himself? How exactly do we love someone without controlling him or her?

Nicole helps us unpack this, starting with a look at where our control originates. She identifies three factors that determine our own relationship with control:

  1. Our relationship with control is fueled by our beliefs.
  2. Control is inextricably tied to our understanding of God’s work in the world.
  3. Most of all, control is about our sin nature.

BELIEFS–those rules for life; the fuel that determines our actions and our feelings. For me I think this boils down to looking beyond action and reaction to what the cause is behind them.  Nicole’s example was her own irritation at her messy garage and husband. When she stopped to analyze why she was reacting that way, she realized it was because she BELIEVED it was her husband’s job to keep the garage tidy. She could further analyze why that was her belief, but it was the actual belief — that underlying fuel — that caused her to feel the irritation.  “That invisible rule had power over my attitude and my emotions.”

OUR UNDERSTANDING OF GOD’S WORK IN THE WORLD–This is where it gets a little deep. “Our thoughts about control become what we believe about God.” Whoa. So here’s where we drop the “T” word, theology. As Christians, we need to identify what we believe about God. We need our theology. In a most basic belief system, we need to know if we think God is in control or not. It might seem easy to say, “God is in control.” But how does that change for you when something terrible, awful happens? Was that terrible awful under God’s control?

So often we come up against trouble, large or small, that leads us to believe that God is not in control, or that He has forgotten us, or that He’s punishing us. But Scripture tells us that God does not treat evil lightly. … God does not treat our wounds lightly. … He is a surgeon–a healer.

When our theology says that God is not in control, we tend to attempt taking control of circumstances, of people. When we can build into our theology that God IS in control–even when life doles out its worst or evil seems to have won out–we can let go of control. We can trust Him. We can claim the truths of Scripture over every circumstance and trust that the God who loves us WILL work things out for good, that there will be “beauty that results from our trouble.”

SIN NATURE–Sin. It’s anything we do that separates us from God. We miss the mark. We choose something else over God. “Control–how much is ours, how much is His–is often linked to this sin nature.” In other words, we each have a default, our go-to response when handling life. But as Proverbs (14:12) points out, what seems right to man is actually the way of death. Too often when we think about sin, we think about all those bad things that we should not to do. But Jesus turned that way of thinking upside-down and told us that what we should be doing is loving others first and most. The crazy thing is that “even in our love we exert control.”

We don’t choose the circumstances that make us feel out of control–but we do choose the way we react. Because of sin, we often choose self-centered options as the way to escape or change our reality.

What do we do with all this info?

We go to God. We wait for Him. We put our trust in Him. And we recognize the truth of who He is, AND we recognize the truth of who we are.

Rather than desperately seeking to control or passively ceding all control, we are invited to a deep place of contentment that balances our responsibility with God’s grace and guidance. When we find this place, we will neither try to dominate the world nor be helpless victims. This middle place isn’t free from pain, but it is full of peace.

Maybe this chapter feels heavy because…well, it is!  This all feels like academia…theory kind of stuff.  I like practical, life applicable. But the truth is if we don’t take the time to understand these TRUTHS about God and about ourselves, we can’t get to the life application.  We won’t understand the WHY in order to get to the HOW.

In this chapter Nicole shares an incredible example of a woman who has those “control freak” tendencies, and when you look into her past you can understand why. I hope you have the book so you can hear her story. But it’s one line that Nicole uses in describing this woman’s situation that really got me…

THE VERY THING SHE’S TRYING TO CONTROL IS REALLY CONTROLLING HER.

Let that sink in!

When I look at my life…past and present…and I’m really honest with myself, I know how very true this is indeed. Oh. My.

Here’s another good line:

“Often control is the factor behind why you think, act, and feel in ways that seem irrational and unpredictable.”

And…one more:

“Loving others is harder when your primary concern is maintaining command over your own circumstances.”

Nicole is giving us much food for thought. I think she’s giving us insight and perspective to lay the foundation for our how-to next week.  One other tool she gives us is a Control Freak Assessment. It’s a quick 11-statement look-see into our controlling tendencies.

The short of it is we tend to either have the “pawn” mentality or the “king.”  Think chess.

Pawns feel like the “reins of control are held by someone or something outside” them…like pawns on a chessboard who only move one space at a time, who are expendable with no real control. They tend to think, “I can’t control that in every area of life.” While pawns are typically laid back, spontaneous, flexible, and less likely to try to manipulate situations for their gain, they are also more likely to be stressed and depressed.

Kings feel they need to maintain a firm grip on their world, and will usually think, “What happens to me is my own doing.” While kings take more responsibility for their actions, have a greater sense of influence, and might be more orderly and scheduled, they often run into opposition or push-back as they try to rule in domains that don’t belong to them. That would be the clash between belief and reality. And often that leads kings to just try harder.

I landed somewhere in the middle, but could think of people on either end of the control spectrum.  Nicole noted that many of us are likely not fully pawns or fully kings. But it is in the analysis of our control-natures that we start to reveal MORE.

Oh yes, more! Fun things like fear and pride.

Turns out that beyond personality and past experiences, fear and pride motivate our control issues MORE.

Fear says, I must do these things so that nothing bad happens. … Pride says, I know how my life should go. I deserve this. This is what should come my way.

Nicole goes on to say that pride disguises itself as common sense and knowledge and hard work. Pride keeps us “king of our lives.” And…pride also can disguise itself as perfectionism. Ouch. Maybe I’m more king than I want to admit.

So there’s a pawn and king in each of us. That means all of us need “the space and courage to honestly face our beliefs about control.” We can ask ourselves, “What hinders our relationship with God?”  We can…no, MUST…lay down our own agendas and plans at the foot of the cross…at the foot of THE King. Then ask Him to have His way in our lives.

Space Bar  — “God, would you equip me with the ability to know what is mine to handle and the strength to trust You with the rest?”

Heavy stuff. Much deeper into to the world of Control than I expected to go. But this is good. We’re not just doing superficial, feel-good stuff here. We’re about transformation. Life change. And for that kind of change to happen, we have to deal with our issues. We need to dig deep, seek God, and be honest with ourselves. Then we have to choose to let go and let God.

You in?  Yea! Me too. So…chapter 4 next week. We’ll start getting into the HOW.  We’re gonna learn how to “surrender the kung-fu control grip!”

Breathing in His grace,

Shelley Johnson

She’s Got Issues – Chapter 2

More Than Mediocre

Nicole admits to being a “happy-ending addict.” I knew I related to Nicole…well, mostly. I do LOVE a happy ending, but I also like to be surprised. I read lots of novels but always from front to back.

I love it that she says Jesus really is the happy ending we’ve been looking for — He is all about our salvation. He’s all about our life-ever-after, as in eternity. But what we forget is that He’s not ONLY about salvation. He’s also about our here-and-now, about “the work He can do to change you as a person.”

It’s kind of a tough sell — “to follow Jesus you have to change your life.”  In fact, some of the people I love and pray for the most won’t surrender to Jesus because they think they don’t want to change. But I think it’s the order of things that matters.

It’s not, change then follow Jesus. He loves us the way we are. And we can’t DO anything to make Him love us any more than He already does (or less for that matter). Our pastor says Jesus is a true fisherman. He doesn’t clean his fish until they’re caught.

This chapter, our lives as believers here on earth — they come down to loving Jesus then surrendering to Him as He works change in our lives. But we have to be willing.

That’s how Nicole can come right out and say, “To follow Jesus is to agree to change.”

Follow Him. Give Him your heart, your life. Then watch the work He does to change your life…for the better!

Why does He want to change us?

Does He think we’re not good enough?  Does He want to control us?

No.

God is our Creator, our Daddy-God.

He knows what will bring us the most joy and the fullest expression of his presence while we are on earth. The commandments He sets in place for us are actually for our good.

He desires change for our lives because He wants us to have life to the fullest while we’re here on earth. He wants change for us because He knows what will fulfill us and give us greatest joy…better than we know ourselves.

Nicole is right, though. We tend to be stubborn. We like doing things our own way. The battle within us rages — left punch: I want to surrender to God’s work in my life. Right punch: I want to do life my way.

If you’re like me, you’re ready for change. I’m ready to be less selfish and more generous. I’m ready to look to God every time life gets hard instead of pouting or complaining or wallowing in self-pity. So how do we do change?

Nicole identifies three foundational truths that will help lead us to deeper places of spiritual growth…toward the change we desire.

The first truth is that we’re crazy…at least a little bit!  If we’re honest with ourselves and with God, we’ll uncover those things about ourselves that are weird or crazy, broken or messed up. And we can’t grow or change until we see those things for what they are.

I love that Nicole points out that the Bible is full of people who are crazy. David, for instance.

In the story of David we find every aspect of the human condition, every emotion of the heart. In the Psalms, David lives inside out, throwing open the door of his heart and mind–and encouraging us to do the same. He looks honestly at himself and leaves us an example of the incredible results of facing issues head-on.

The next truth is that we can’t fix ourselves. After we are honest with ourselves about who and what we are (remember, we’re a little crazy…), we must admit to ourselves and to God that we aren’t strong enough to change by ourselves.

Here’s another Nicole-phrase I love: “too often we resign ourselves to the ache of the ordinary.” The ache of the ordinary. We give in. We settle. We live with the less-than-us when we have a choice — we can humble ourselves before God and admit we need Him! (see Isaiah 66:2)

The third truth is our hope — God can transform us!

But here’s the catch, “Even if you can accept the fact that He can solve your problems, you may not be ready for complete surrender.”  Knowing and doing are two different things, but there’s help…even for the most stubborn of us.

Isaiah 55:8 quotes God as saying, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” It’s oh-so good for us to keep that in mind as we try to step through the surrender thing. Each of us needs to accept that He’s not going to change us according to our plans!

We’re letting go of control and giving it to God. Here’s how:

  1. Admit you have a problem.
  2. Realize you can’t solve that problem.

We must accept these two realities if we want to reach for the next–

3. God is willing and interested in meeting you at these issues and using them to change you!

Word Up — John 1:12-14, 16

God’s way is rebirth. Birth takes work.

The change in our heart that we seek is a rebirth and it WILL take work!

It is only your utter dependence upon Him, your complete rebirth into His way that will change you. …He’s interested in moving through our issues so we can understand just how desperate we are for a constant inflow of His love into our hearts.

More good news — this isn’t about perfection or being better. It’s about being changed…”remade every single day into the likeness of Christ.”

The best news — God loves us too much to leave us wallowing in our issues, missing out on His presence and peace.

So. It’s decision time.

Are you ready to surrender? Ready to extend your hands out, face up to the heavens and say, “God, do your will!”?   If so, let’s tackle the first issue on the list — CONTROL.  Next week we’ll get down like Janet Jackson and do some control moves. Read chapters 3 & 4 and meet back here!

Till then…take that Space Bar — pray everyday to God that you’re ready to be honest, ready to give control to Him even though most days you try to take that control back. Ask God to mold you into the woman He wants you to be. Ask for your eyes to be opened, the chains to be broken, so you can be set free from that ache of the ordinary that keeps you from experiencing life and love to the fullest. We want more than mediocre!

Nicole’s reminder — You are loved. You are worthy. And so you will be changed.

Letting it all go,

Shelley Johnson

She’s Got Issues – Chapter 1

Here we are, sisters in study, ready to begin our discussion of Nicole Unice’s book, She’s Got Issues. Chapter One — “Cheap Plastic Souls.”

From her opening Barbie quote to her question, “Am I changed because of Jesus?” Nicole captured my attention on that first page…but I also became acutely aware that this book won’t be one to beat-around-the-bush or just tell me things I want to hear.

This book is going to challenge me.

Am I changed because of Jesus? I’m thinking that one question could occupy a lot of my mind and time if I were honest with myself.  How about you?

We’ll make no assumptions about our responses to that question. Instead, we’ll move onward, as Nicole did. She was honest with herself. She admitted she handles life okay when it’s easy…not so much when it’s hard. She admitted to being tired, tired of pretending that all is fine.

Quite possibly my favorite phrase of the chapter is, “scandal of the ordinary.” What a fun combination of such an unlikely pairing of words. And how often do we give into that scandal, thinking God is too big, too busy to bother with our ordinary, everyday issues.

Yes, He’s big. In fact, He is SO big that He can, in His infinite, mysterious, perfect way, meet us right where we are, all day, everyday. Ordinary or extraordinary.

When we believe that life is as good as it’s gonna get, we make an expensive trade in our souls. We stuff away the raw and messy and put forth a nicer but cheaper, plastic version of ourselves. Our story is clean and easy–but also fake. We aren’t seeing a true image anymore–the image God made and is making of us–we have built our own “acceptable” image. This is what living with ordinary issues does to us. It slowly kills what is beautiful and unique and turns us into half-dead versions of what we were meant to be.

Let’s agree…no more scandal of the ordinary.

Let’s agree…we need honesty with ourselves, ready to put forth what is REAL about us.

And let’s agree…NO woman (no person) on this planet is without issues.

There. We’re on equal playing ground; we’re ready to be honest with ourselves, ready to deal with our issues, ready to change because of Jesus!

And Jesus is the key to all of this. It’s in Him that we have eternal life; it’s in Him that we find hope and help in THIS life.  His merry band of disciples were full of their own issues…just like us…so what did Jesus tell them was the key to a full and abundant life while we’re living this life?  Love.

Love one another. (John 12:34-35)

Huh. So, the Son of God who walked the earth as a man, who led people who were full of issues, tells us the key to life abundant is about loving others.  In other words, the call to be a true disciple of Christ means “following a radical call–not of rebellion but of crazy love that defies earthly expectation.”

Love is the power that transforms. When we love others, we tap into that power and everything about us begins to change…to transform.

But when we live our plastic lives, we’re unable to love others as we desire.

So to be able to love others as Christ would love them, we have to break through this plastic existence. We have to see ourselves clearly. Nicole states it as clearly as she can:

You cannot live more abundantly and love better without addressing the underlying issues.

How do we address those issues? By assessing our heart conditions. Nicole outlines three signs that will reveal if we have an “issue-laden life:” blindness, lack of compassion, and convoluted conflict.

If we are blind to the truth of our own heart conditions, if our half-dead hearts can hold no compassion for others, and if we struggle to express ourselves with honesty or we have unhealthy conflict (or avoid conflict at all costs), then we know we have issues. We know our hearts are hiding what is true about us.

After having worked with numerous women over the years, Nicole recognizes that heart issues come in all shades and variations, but she offers the top five issues she believes are the most consistent problems. Ready?

  • control
  • insecurity
  • comparisons
  • fear
  • anger (and its cousin, unforgiveness)

Do any of those resonate with you? Don’t laugh, but I can relate to all five!

Where do we go from here? Well, Nicole will take us on a journey through each of these five issues.  Two chapters per issue.  The first chapter will work toward defining the issue; the second chapter helps us explore how to deal with it effectively.

Scripture will be our foundation and guide.  In the second chapter of each issue, Nicole includes a “Word Up” section that points us to God’s Word because it “has the supernatural ability to satisfy your longings in a way that no other word can.”

Another section of her chapters is called Taking a Space Bar. Just as a space bar puts space between words, we need to pause and make space in our lives to be able to ponder, pay attention, and listen–to our spirits and to God. Nicole encourages us to take a space bar on a regular basis through this process! She offers more suggestions on how taking a space bar can happen effectively in the book.

This book, this process is for YOU. It’s not for us to assess one another’s issues, so let’s not be distracted from our purpose by applying what we learn to other people’s lives.  This is about us learning to trust God, change through Christ, and love others more freely because we can identify and overcome our own issues!

Meet you back here next week as we begin with looking at our CONTROL issues. Oh my.

Striving toward plastic-free living,

Shelley Johnson