Releasing Negative Thoughts & Feelings

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Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash
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My previous posts (“Time to Wake Up” and “Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns”) addressed the subject of negative thinking and how it can set us up for failure at what we want to be, do, or have in life. It can keep attracting the same bad situations and adversely affect how we act and react to the world around us. We explored a number of common negative thoughts, so that we could identify the areas in which we seem to have the most trouble. In this way, we are “waking up” spiritually and mentally, by recognizing the numerous negative thoughts we have on a daily basis.  If you did not see this list, please read my last post, “Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns” or listen to the audio version: https://anchor.fm/edlspirituality/episodes/IDENTIFYING-HABITUAL-THOUGHT-PATTERNS-e1svc1s

This post will explore in simple steps how to begin to change your circumstances for the better, and how to cooperate with our Creator to bring more joy, peace and abundance into your life.

Turning Negative Thoughts Around

Once we’ve identified some of our negative thought patterns, how do we turn things around? Most negativity is an expression of what we hate, fear, and want to avoid — in other words, all the things we DON’T want! Thoughts are energy, and because “like attracts like,” constantly dwelling on what we don’t want will keep bringing what we don’t want into our lives. The subconscious mind accepts everything you tell it, whether good or bad, positive or negative. For instance, if you keep thinking, “I don’t want to be poor,” “I hate being poor,” “I have no money and no prospects,” or “I need to get out of debt,” you are still focusing on poverty and debt, and probably fearing it, which is subconsciously setting you up to fall prey to more circumstances, people, and bad decisions that will keep you poor and in debt! The negative energy you are emitting will draw those negative circumstances and people to you.

To bring about change, we need to focus on what we love and yearn for, rather than what we don’t love and don’t want. Think of it this way: Supposing you went with a group of friends to an all-you-can-eat buffet. You go down the buffet table, looking at all the varieties of food, and every time you see a food that you dislike and would never want to eat, you add it to your plate. By the time you get to the end of the buffet, your dish is filled with food you can’t stand. You pay for it and go sit at the table with your friends. You sit there, not eating, feeling hungry and miserable, while your friends are heartily eating and enjoying their food.

Now you’re probably thinking, “Who the heck would do that?” Well, we do exactly that every time we waste our valuable energy by thinking and talking about what we DON’T want out of life! The friends who are enjoying their meal represent the people who focus their thoughts and energies on the things they truly want and to which they aspire — the people who love their lives and feel happy and satisfied. Meanwhile, you look on and wonder why you are so miserable. Would it help you to resent and envy them because they are enjoying their food and you’re not? No, because you chose the food yourself!

This life is a precious treasure — God’s gift to you. Your power to co-create with God the kind of life you truly want is part of this gift. Why would you waste it on things you don’t want? Why would you expend your precious time and energy perpetuating a life that is unsatisfying to you?

Remember, a random negative thought or two will not bring a host of bad things upon you. There is a time delay between our thoughts and their consequences, and positive thoughts are a great deal stronger than negative ones. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is that sustained or habitual negative thoughts, especially when accompanied by strong emotion, will eventually attract negative things into your life. Like the food you chose at the buffet, the currency of your thoughts and feelings is capable of bringing both good and bad things to you. It’s a matter of which ones you choose.

As St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute; if there is any excellence, and if anything is worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

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Photo (without text) by Ravi Pinisetti on Unsplash

Because we have tens of thousands of thoughts a day, it is impossible to monitor each one. But an easy way to identify your predominant thoughts is to tune into your feelings, because your feelings are the result of your thoughts. Are you feeling negative emotions, such as boredom, irritability, disappointment, anger, worry, depression, hatred, envy, guilt or fear? Or are you feeling positive emotions like love, gratitude, joy, excitement, enthusiasm, hope, satisfaction?

Don’t feel guilty or afraid because you are experiencing a negative emotion or thinking a negative thought, as that is just adding more negativity! We don’t want to deny our negative emotions and pretend they don’t exist, because they often serve to point out areas in our lives that need our attention. Also, it’s natural to feel negative emotions at particular crisis points in our lives, i.e., loss of a job, end of a relationship, death of a loved one, etc. If this is the case, you must allow yourself to experience the emotions, and seek help if necessary. We’re also not talking here about serious mental or emotional illnesses, for which one needs to be under medical supervision, but rather the typical thoughts and emotions that most of us experience on a regular basis. However, even if you are going through a life crisis or suffering from a mental illness, you can still apply these principles in addition to any other help you may be receiving.

Self-awareness is the key

Once you are aware of why you are feeling a particular way, you can understand what your emotions are telling you and what changes you can make to improve your circumstances. This then allows you to achieve mastery of your conscious thoughts. One way to do this is to practice a simple form of meditation. Don’t let the word “meditation” scare you. I don’t mean that you need to sit in Lotus Position for two hours every day and chant “Om” (although this is perfectly fine if you want to do it)! The objective is simply to quiet your conscious mind for a while. You need only a few minutes, and the following practice is very simple and will become even easier with time:

  • Set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit comfortably in a quiet room. Turn off all electronic devices and ask to not be disturbed. Begin to focus on your breathing and/or picture a blank movie screen in your mind.
  • As you sit there, thoughts will naturally bubble up. Just “watch” the thoughts. Don’t get involved with them; just witness them, and then turn your mind gently but firmly back to your breathing or to the blank movie screen.
  • If the thought that comes up is negative, acknowledge that you had a negative thought. Do not try to resist it, because resistance means you are focused on it with powerful emotion, which only will make it stronger. Just release it without judgement or guilt.
  • Continue this way until the timer goes off.

Make an effort to do this every day, or at least several times a week. You will find that you feel more relaxed and focused after this, and may want to do it for longer periods. Eventually you will reach a point where the intruding thoughts will decrease, and you will experience longer periods of peace as your mind lets go of its constant chatter.

How to Deal with Persistent Negative Thoughts

If you are feeling particularly sad, angry, depressed or fearful, and these same thoughts stubbornly keep recurring, you can use the following, more in-depth exercise to get to the root of your feelings and release them:

  • As in the previous exercise, sit in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed, with all electronic devices turned off or in another room. Focus on your breathing until you become more relaxed.
  • Ask yourself why you are feeling unhappy, and express the reason out loud, i.e., “I am afraid that I won’t find another job,” or “I’m sad and lonely because my love life is terrible right now,” or “I’m depressed because I’m not feeling well.”
  • Once you have identified the emotion and its cause, don’t try to resist it or force it to go away. “Fighting” an emotion — like “fighting” an illness — usually doesn’t work, since it involves negative emotions like anger, resentment or resistance, which actually can attract more negativity to you and make the condition worse.
  • Face the negative emotion and ask it what it might be trying to teach you. Let it speak to you, without forcing it or censoring it. Learn from what it is telling you. For instance, if you are depressed because you’re sick, the reason you might hear when you ask this question is that your life was out of balance. You were stressed, rushing around, not taking time to relax, not eating and sleeping right. The illness was your body’s way of telling you to slow down and take better care of it, to bring your life into a better balance of mind, body and spirit.
  • Now, ask yourself if there are actionable steps you can take at the present time to help ease this negative emotion. Just writing down some small actions you can implement right away is a very effective way to ease the tension and stress you’re feeling. You can follow-up after your meditation session by doing some research for additional ideas. Eventually, you can build upon these small successes, until you begin to see a measurable improvement in your situation and your mood.
  • From now on, reframe your fears and negative statements into positive affirmations. For example, “I have a career that pays well and is personally fulfilling to me;” “I have many positive, loving, and uplifting relationships in my life;” “I feel healthy and whole in body, mind and spirit.” In other words, you are stating what you love and aspire to, rather than focusing on what the less-than-ideal situation might be at the current moment.
  • At the end of your meditation session, thank your subconscious mind for giving you the reasons and the suggestions. Tell it that you will heed the lesson, and that you no longer need to experience the negative emotions. You can picture yourself letting go of the emotion in any way you like: i.e., blowing it away like dandelion fluff, releasing it as a balloon, or watching it wash away like sand in an ocean wave. Once you learn the lessons that your negative emotion is trying to teach you, it will no longer have a strong hold on you. You will be able to release it and move on.

Once again, do not worry or become anxious about having negative thoughts, as this will attract more negative thoughts to you. We all have numerous negative thoughts occurring throughout each day, but they become a problem only when we dwell upon them and repeat them often or infuse them with strong emotion. Instead, say to yourself, “All my negative thoughts are weak, while my positive thoughts are very powerful!”

Simply by having read this post and the last one, you have become much more aware of any negative thought patterns you have. Congratulations! From now on, you will not be on “automatic pilot,” reacting in the same old way to everything that happens in your life. You now will be aware of your reactions (your thoughts) in each situation and can take action on them! Now you are in the driver’s seat of your mind, rather than a helpless and clueless passenger!

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Photo (w/o text) by ANDRIK ↟ LANGFIELD ↟ PETRIDES on Unsplash

The simple forms of meditation practice given here are an excellent way to become more observant of your thoughts and feelings in order to learn to control them. Meditation has tremendous benefits for mind, body and spirit. There are many excellent books, blogs, and videos about meditation if you would like to explore this practice in more depth.

In the words of Charles Haanel, New Thought author who lived from 1866 to 1949: “Be careful of your moods and feelings, for there is an unbroken connection between your feelings and your visible world.”

Next time: How to deal with challenges to staying positive.

Identifying Habitual Thought Patterns

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My last blog post, “Time to Wake Up,” addressed how what we think consciously and believe subconsciously affects how we act and react to the world around us, and how our thoughts can directly influence our future. This principle, nowadays called “The Law of Attraction (LOA),” has actually been around for thousands of years and can be found in the Bible and many other spiritual texts and teachings. So it is important that we first identify our habitual thought patterns, to see which ones are serving us and which might be holding us back from achieving the sort of life we would like to have.

Following is a series of questions to help you in this thought identification process.

Do you often say or think any of the following:

  • I’m too ___ (tired, sick, achy, weak, old, young, fat, ugly, stupid, etc.)
  • I’ll never be able to _____ (fill in the blank)
  • I’m not ______(fill in the blank)
  • I’m a bad sleeper
  • I can’t relax…I can’t concentrate…I can’t lose weight…I can’t get up early…I can’t _______ (fill in the blank)
  • I’m always late / I’m always running behind schedule
  • I never have any money
  • I’ll never get out of debt
  • I’m never at the right place at the right time
  • It’s all the fault of my dysfunctional parents/family…my bad childhood…the traits I inherited from my parents, etc.
  • I’m just a victim of ______.
  • I have no control over what happens to me
  • I never get a break
  • It’s Murphy’s Law
  • I just look at food and gain weight
  • I’m getting…(old, fat, sick, worn out, forgetful, poorer)
  • I’ve only got a few more years left
  • I’m not ____ enough (i.e., smart, attractive, thin, talented, skilled, educated, rich) — or:  I don’t have enough ______ (brains, education, looks, money, ability, luck, talent, etc.)
  • Something that good can never happen to me
  • I’d never be so lucky
  • I never win anything
  • Other people get everything, and I get nothing
  • This is just my luck (or) I never have any luck
  • I hate that person
  • I look horrible in everything I put on
  • I never take a good picture
  • I’ll never have enough ____ (money, time, ability, health, etc.)
  • I’m so afraid of _____ 
  • I really dread _______
  • I’m not feeling well – it’s probably cancer
  • I will probably get (name the disease), because it runs in my family (or because so many people get it).
  • I live in constant fear of getting (this disease).
  • I HATE (cancer, diabetes, asthma – or any disease)
  • We must FIGHT cancer (or other disease or problem)
  • Getting old sucks
  • I’m getting senile
  • I just can’t lose weight
  • I can’t cope with this
  • What if _____ (imagining something bad and then worrying about it)
  • I always have too much work
  • I hate my job and I’ll never get a better one
  • I don’t have enough to give to or share with anyone else
  • I’ll never forgive _____ (fill in name(s))
  • I’m too…(old, tired, busy, far gone)…to care about my looks or my health anymore
  • Everyone gets (fat, sick, high blood pressure, diabetes, memory loss) as they age.
  • I’m just falling apart
  • It’s hopeless
  • I never get good weather on my vacations or when I plan something

Do you often:

  • Gossip or complain about someone, or join in gossip/complaining about someone?
  • Try to instigate trouble and bad feeling among others?
  • Argue over and/or ridicule someone’s political or spiritual opinions?
  • End a friendship or become estranged from a family member because of differing political or spiritual beliefs?
  • Feel you have nothing to be thankful for?
  • Compare yourself negatively to other people?
  • Make nasty, snide or critical comments or cruel jokes in person or on social media?
  • Refuse to buy something you really wanted or needed, even though you have more than enough money to afford it, because you’re afraid to spend any money?
  • Make self-deprecating comments or denials when someone compliments you?
  • Criticize someone, and/or try to make someone else do things your way?
  • Harbor resentment or bitterness towards someone? Keep thinking about how to get even? Wish bad things on them?
  • Respond instantly with anger to someone else’s words or actions?
  • Try to control and “fix” other people’s lives rather than letting them learn from their experiences in their own way?
  • Frequently make or share self-deprecating remarks or jokes about being stupid, fat, old, forgetful, or other negative things?
  • Forward emails or share social media posts encouraging hatred against anyone or anything (political figures, celebrities, certain races, ethnic groups, religions, etc.)?
  • Say, “I HATE____” (fill in the blanks)?
  • Talk at length and frequently about your illnesses or someone else’s?
  • Feel envy towards someone? Withhold a compliment from someone because you secretly envy them?
  • Try to take something/someone away from a person because you think you deserve it more? Try to turn others against someone because you’re jealous?
  • Constantly worry about your loved ones and what could happen to them, or about losing your partner, your money, your health, etc.?
Photo by Keira Burton at Pexels

Okay, so you probably identified with at least several – and maybe a lot – of these. Some of them might rarely or never pertain to you, while others are fairly frequent. If so, welcome to the human race! We ALL think, say or do these things from time to time. A fleeting thought or occasional slip-up won’t have a significant effect on your life or your future. If, however, you habitually think, do or say any of them, and if the thoughts carry a strong emotional charge, you are setting yourself up to attract exactly what you say you hate, fear and don’t want! This is because our subconscious mind believes everything we tell it, whether it’s true, false, good or bad. It is merely responding to our conscious thoughts, words and actions, like an obedient, cooperative child. It doesn’t analyze whether the thoughts are good or bad for you, positive or negative. Analyzing and choosing are the domain of the conscious mind; the subconscious just accepts what we tell it.

Consequently, with our negative thoughts we will attract, or subconsciously be attracted to, just the circumstances and people that we want so much to avoid! Also, fighting against something negative is never as effective as striving instead to bring about a positive result. For example, instead of hating and “fighting” a disease, it’s better instead to think wellness and health, and do whatever we can to promote these positive qualities. Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, was quoted as saying:“I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”

Negative thinking also will block any good things that God wants to send us. Nothing is forced on us by God, who respects and honors our free will. Negative thinking is like keeping your hands behind your back when someone offers you a gift. You cannot accept the gift unless your hands are open to receive it.

LOA experts recommend that we shift our positive thoughts to at least 51% over the negative ones. Even this 1% over the halfway mark could be enough to dramatically change one’s life. I believe that the more we can shift our thoughts from the negative to the positive, the quicker and more dramatic the change will be!

Legend says that in the Buddha’s travels, he encountered a man who was awed by his peaceful, radiant persona. The man asked, “My friend, what are you? Are you a celestial being? Are you a god? A magician? A wizard?” The Buddha replied, “No. I am awake.”

Jesus told His followers that if they had faith “the size of a mustard seed” they could move mountains. He also told them that, with enough faith and belief, they could do all the things that He had done, and even greater things.

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

We cannot even begin to improve our lives unless we become awake and aware of the negative thoughts and lack of faith we harbor on a daily basis. Otherwise, we walk around in a perpetual state of “automatic pilot” and unconsciousness. Once you become aware, you will begin to notice any instances in which you are thinking or speaking negatively. You also will be shocked and dismayed at all the negativity you will notice around you from other people! In upcoming posts we’ll examine these negative thoughts and attitudes and explore ways to bring about positive change and achieve our goals and dreams.

Have a positively wonderful day! 

Time to Wake Up!

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No, we’re not talking here about setting your alarm clock.  You’re probably thinking, “Obviously, I’m already awake, or I wouldn’t be reading this right now!” You might not be actually sleeping, but as we start a brand-new year, it’s time to ask yourself: Are you fully awake and aware of the life you are creating for yourself at this very moment?

How do you create your life and your future? You do it through the thoughts and feelings that you hold in your mind consistently over a period of time. We have tens of thousands of thoughts a day, but many of them are random and fleeting and don’t have much impact. What does matter, though, are our dominant thoughts — the ones we dwell on consistently, the habitual thought patterns we follow on a regular basis. Those thoughts of today are what draw the events, situations, and people that will form our tomorrow.

What we don’t realize is that what we think consciously and believe subconsciously affects how we act and react to the world around us. It sends out a signal that in turn has an effect on other people, drawing those of like mind to us. This is great if our thoughts are positive and constructive – who doesn’t want to be surrounded by people and situations that lift our spirits, encourage and inspire us to be our best selves? But what if our thoughts are sad, gloomy, bitter, angry, fearful or anxious – do we really want to draw people to us who will just perpetuate this negativity? Please don’t invite me to that party!

Our thoughts also influence our future, because when we are steeped in negativity, we do not make wise choices or take constructive action. We are too reactive, act too hastily without sufficient reflection, respond to others with negativity, try to control or manipulate people, or force events and situations in such a way as to sabotage our own goals and progress.

There is a lot of buzz in recent years about the Law of Attraction (LOA), which is based on the theory that “like attracts like.” Personally, I firmly believe in this law because I have seen it manifest over and over in my own life – for both good and bad, depending on the way I was thinking, feeling and acting at the time. Although the LOA has become very popular nowadays, it has been written about for the last 100+ years by various “New Thought” authors, and these principles actually have been around in one form or another for thousands of years. They form a part of virtually every major religion, and are mentioned by many great thinkers and spiritual leaders and in many religious texts, including the Judeo-Christian Bible and the teachings of Buddha. They may not have called it “the Law of Attraction,” as that is a relatively new term, but in principle they were teaching the same truths.  We may have heard their words hundreds of times, but just never truly understood or “got it” on a deep, basic level. 

Utilizing the Law of Attraction is just another phrase for unwavering faith in Divine Power to manifest those things to which we aspire. Although many modern LOA proponents use the term “the Universe,” I prefer to use the “G” word — God — or Divine Power, instead of “Universe.” This is because I believe that God is the supreme intelligence that created all things, and the Universe is simply a creation through which God works, using the power of love. But it doesn’t matter what you call it, and you don’t have to be a particularly religious person to utilize it; it is only necessary to have an open mind and to believe in a Power greater than yourself, a Power which is the Source of everything and the loving Force that is present within you and everything else in the Universe. You can refer to this Power by any name that resonates with you.

Even those who are not of a spiritual or metaphysical mindset would likely agree that our subconscious beliefs affect the way we act and appear to others, and that they definitely have an impact on our own bodies and mental/physical health. Many medical professionals today acknowledge the mind-body connection. 

Many people who are proponents of LOA talk about using it to acquire weath and success. Although there is nothing wrong with wanting material things — as long as we don’t put them above everything else — I believe that the LOA’s greatest power lies in allowing us to open ourselves the the gifts God wants to bestow upon us, but which our negativity and feelings of unworthiness prevent us from receiving, or even requesting.  As it says in James 4:2: “You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it.”

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Image courtesy of kittijaroon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is the first article of several that I’ll be posting periodically over the next several months, which will explore in simple steps how to change your life for the better, how to experience more joy, happiness, serenity and abundance. The first step is “waking up” by becoming aware of the quality of our thoughts. Awareness is the beginning of changing things for the better, because if we walk around unconscious of what we’re doing, we will never change.

The next post of this series will present some questions to help you identify your own habitual thought patterns. 

 

Finishing the Race: From Setbacks to Success – Pt. 1

Marathon with quote from 2 Timothy 4:7

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

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In 1990, two men collaborated on a collection of inspirational stories. They were sure they had a winner, but in the first month alone thirty-three New York publishers turned them down. “No one buys short stories,” they were told, “and your title stinks!” Even their agent dropped them; yet they refused to give up. But after 140 rejections, they seemed to be up against a brick wall. No one wanted what they had to offer.

At one time or another, we all face obstacles, setbacks, and failures. Whenever we make changes in our life or embark on a new venture, we meet resistance from outside sources and from within ourselves. Friends and family may question our goals, or maybe we are inwardly fearful of what lies ahead. Random events beyond our control can also disrupt our plans. Confidence fails; doubt and discouragement replace our initial feelings of hope and excitement. But obstacles are a natural part of progress. If we realize this from the beginning, we can gain insight into the possible causes, and learn from our experiences. We can find the courage to press on instead of giving up.

Few people experience as many obstacles as did St. Paul. He was shipwrecked, beaten with rods, whipped, stoned, suffered many sleepless nights, hunger, thirst, cold and exposure. On top of that, he experienced constant anxiety about the early churches who looked to him for leadership. In Damascus, the governor guarded the city so Paul could be arrested. He writes, “…but I was lowered in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped…” Now that’s persistence!

Undaunted by the innumerable obstacles he faced, Paul continued writing and encouraging the early Church even from prison. In his second letter to Timothy he wrote, “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Your Perceptions

Events in themselves are not necessarily good or bad. It’s our perception of the situation that labels it, our reaction to it that determines the ultimate effect it will have on our life. “The pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; the optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty,” said Winston Churchill.

When our plans go awry, the human tendency is to react with fear, despair, or anger. We are angry with ourselves for our perceived failure, with other people for getting in our way, or with God for letting us down. But doors are opening even while we think everything is hopeless; changes are occurring during even the darkest times. We cannot see this, because our earthly perspective is limited to our present circumstances. It’s only in hindsight that we understand how each piece in the puzzle of our lives is essential to the entire picture.

Your Attitude

The late comedian Flip Wilson had a character named Geraldine, who used to flaunt her charms with the announcement, “What you see is what you get!” Similarly, what we see when we envision our future is often what we get. Lacking self-confidence, doubting God’s care, and obsessing about everything that could go wrong, set us up for failure.

Equally impractical is the blind optimism that stubbornly clings to unreasonable goals and pie-in-the-sky dreams. People with a well-balanced attitude set realistic goals and focus on success, while still leaving the door open to God’s surprises. They’re confident that nothing happens that God cannot use for good. They know they are guided, even when they can’t see the road ahead or feel God’s presence

 Make Room for Abba

Jesus referred to God  as “Abba,” which translates into “Daddy.” If we think of God as our loving Father (“Daddy”), it stands to reason that He would want only the best for us. Set goals and make plans, but leave them open-ended. Remember, God might have an even better idea, so stay open to it! “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Jesus asked the crowd during his Sermon on the Mount, Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” If God is our loving Daddy, we can trust that He will give us the very best!

“If you are discouraged, it is a sign of pride, because it shows you trust in your own power,” said Mother Teresa of Calcutta. “Your self-sufficiency, your selfishness, and your intellectual pride, will inhibit [God’s] coming to live in your heart, because God cannot fill what is already full.”

After Christ ascended to heaven, the apostles didn’t know what their next step should be. During this dormant time, they had to wait for God’s direction. “…They went to the upper room where they were staying…[and] devoted themselves with one accord to prayer…” (Acts 2:13-14). For 10 days, they waited and listened prayerfully for God’s answer, which manifested at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

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Every one of us has experienced frustrating times when despite all our efforts, nothing moves forward. You leave voicemail messages, send emails, texts, post something important on social media, etc., but no one responds. You launch a new venture, but the people you counted on to support it are strangely absent, whether through thoughtlessness, self-absorption, or because they’re dealing with personal problems. Your new business seemed off to a great start, but now the phone is silent and no one seems to know you exist. Just as you seem to be advancing toward a goal, you’re hit with illness, a family crisis, or financial problems, and all progress comes to a screeching halt.

During times of stagnation or frustration, surrender your anxiety to a Power greater than your own. Quiet your thoughts and listen with an open mind to what your inner wisdom might be telling you. Gradually, guidance will emerge out of a seemingly hopeless situation.

In Part 2, we’ll examine 10 steps you can take to help turn your setbacks into success. (You’ll also find out what happened to the two authors who couldn’t sell their book!)

What’s Your Motivation?

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Give with open hands and open heart

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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In his book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks tells the story of a well-meaning, charitable woman who desperately wanted to help humankind. Although she was not famous like Mother Teresa, she spent much of her life working with the homeless and destitute. But as time went on, she became more and more fixated on the outcome of what she was doing. When she couldn’t permanently change the conditions that were causing such misery, she became increasingly angry and frustrated. Without realizing it, she had become focused on personal power. This attitude eventually destroyed both her physical and emotional health.

Why are some people able to accomplish so much good and elevate their souls to great heights, while others become bitter and disillusioned? The difference is in their motivation. To God, only the heart’s true intention is important. Heroic deeds, showy displays of pious devotion, and eloquent words, do not mean as much to God as one small gesture made out of genuine love.

Personal gratification is its own reward, and sometimes God allows it in order to encourage us. It’s natural to be happy when we receive gratitude for our service to others; it is human nature to want love and approval from other people. It’s also true that the very act of helping others brings with it a feeling of deep satisfaction and often lifts our own mood when we are feeling depressed or troubled. To enjoy these positive feelings does not mean that we are selfishly motivated.

But this alone is not the criteria by which we should judge which deeds are of the most value. We might envision ourselves accomplishing wonderful things that show us in the best possible light, but our most worthwhile achievements will not always be the ones that satisfy our ego or have an immediately apparent outcome. Rather, they might consist of things we consider insignificant.

When an actor is working on a scene, the director or drama coach will challenge the actor by asking, “What’s your motivation?” By analyzing what drives the character, the actor will understand the character’s motives and be able to portray him more believably. It might benefit us to take a cue from the actor and ask ourselves, “What’s my motivation?” before we embark on any undertaking. For me as a Christian, I must ask myself not only “What would Jesus do?” but “Why would Jesus do it?”

Here’s a checklist for determining your motivation (you have to be totally honest for it to work!):

  • Am I doing good works or helping someone so I can feel important and/or show everyone how virtuous I am? For some of us, this is often the true, secret motivation lurking behind the outward altruism. When our efforts become unrewarding and tedious, when it feels like work, when the gratitude and accolades stop coming (or never come at all), will we then simply move on to something more personally gratifying? If so, our only motivation was to please ourselves, not help others or honor God.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We must not drift away from the humble works, because these are the works nobody will do. They are never too small. We are so small we look at things in a small way. Even if we do a small thing for somebody, God, being almighty, sees everything as great. For there are many people who can do big things. But there are very few people who will do the small things.”

  • Am I trying to force someone to be more like me? I heard Joel Osteen confess in one of his inspiring talks that he used to criticize his wife’s habits, until one day he realized he was trying to make her over to be more like himself, even though they had distinctly different ways of doing things. This got me to thinking that all of us probably are guilty of this at one time or another. We think that just because someone doesn’t do something “our way,” he/she must be defective and needs to be made over into a “mini-me.” God has purposely created people with different personalities and ways of doing things, for a good reason! If everyone were the same, the world would be totally unbalanced. And I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest about it, the thought of everyone being like me is more than a little scary!
  • Am I making someone dependent on me? A common source of confusion is the concept of helping people versus taking over their responsibility, making them rely too much on us, or enabling them to continue on a destructive course. Many people subconsciously derive satisfaction from controlling others and making them feel indebted or dependent in an unhealthy way. Parents often do this with their children, but this co-dependent situation can exist in any relationship. Our role is not to make people dependent on us, but to help them achieve the self-respect and personal growth that come only out of effort and hardship. We also need to remember that God might have a different path in mind for this person than what we think is the “right way.” Charity

    Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  • Do I want to “save” someone? It’s important to realize that of our own power we cannot truly save anyone. Only God has the power to save a person, and although He might sometimes use us as instruments to accomplish this, God will not force Himself or His will on anyone. A person must want to be saved, must decide they sincerely want to overcome whatever is holding them back from spiritual development or a better, more productive life. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me” [Rev. 3:20]. God will not break down a locked door, and only the person needing help can turn that key, not us! We cannot take away anyone’s suffering or figure out the reasons for it. We cannot “save” anyone. We can only offer ourselves as channels of God’s healing and love, realizing that the person we are trying to help must do their own part to open to it. 
  • Do I fulfill my religious obligations only when I’m in the mood or only because I fear God’s punishment? True, it might be better to do it for those reasons than not at all, and we all have times when we’re less than enthusiastic about our prayer time or attending religious services as we know we should. However, it would benefit us spiritually much more if we recognized these things as opportunities to show love and gratitude to God and enrich our souls. Fulfilling our spiritual obligations when we’re not in the mood is probably even more pleasing to God, because it shows Him that we are putting Him before our own feelings.

People often say, “I don’t get anything out of going to church/synagogue.” This is true for everyone at one time or another. There are times you might just sit there and not feel attentive or uplifted at all. However, you might also find, as I often have, that once you are in a place of worship, the peace and quiet and sense of God’s presence will soothe you and lift your spirits more than you expected it would. But even if this doesn’t always happen, the point is not for us to get anything out of it but to give something to God. Remember that God is never outdone in generosity – if you give Him this little bit of time out of your busy week, He will repay you in blessings a hundredfold! Of course, if you are avoiding in-person religious services due to health or other valid reasons, this is a different matter. But we can still spend some “quality time” with God in other ways. The important thing is to honor God by setting aside some time out of our lives that is strictly for God alone.

  • Do I try to “bargain” with God? Sometimes we might promise God all sorts of things, and make the effort to do good works, in order to barter with God for favors (“I’ll do this for You if You give me what I want”). Then when we conclude that God did not keep “His end of the bargain,” we become bitter and disillusioned. Even if things do work out as we hoped, we often forget to keep our promises to God, or we drop our good works because we have gotten what we wanted. God does not bargain with us. He already knows what we really need (not just what we think we want) and the best possible outcome for any situation, not only for us but for others who might be involved.

God gives us blessings out of His infinite love for us, not because He is swayed by our impressive bargaining power! If God grants you a blessing and you want to do something for Him to show your gratitude, this is wonderful. But don’t dangle a carrot in front of God. He doesn’t need our carrots. Give from your heart; don’t give with strings attached.

  • Am I too focused on the outcome of my efforts? This is a tough one! We all want to know that our efforts meant something, that they had a positive effect. But not seeing results doesn’t mean our efforts were in vain or that God is displeased with our work. It simply means that the time is not yet right, or our efforts were thwarted by another person’s attitude or lack of openness. Sometimes, God has plans for our work or for another soul that do not conform to our own ideas. Having the right motives means that if God wills a different outcome, or if he doesn’t let us see successful results from our efforts, we will trust His better judgment and infinite wisdom. The only thing that matters to God is the effort we made and our intentions when we did it.

Our true worth is not measured by talent, intelligence, or worldly success, but by how much we love and how open we are to others. When we strive to be of service to God or to our fellow humans for God’s sake, rather than our own ulterior motives, our smallest actions take on a Divine magnificence, which shines through our words and actions as an inspiration to others. We all will leave this earth one day, and our deeds might be forgotten. But if our motives were pure, our actions will be glorified in eternity and our souls will be radiant reflections of God’s all-encompassing love. Our reward will far surpass our greatest efforts or any earthly satisfaction. This should be our primary motivation.

Again, quoting St. Teresa of Calcutta:

Mother Teresa-2

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World

Staying Hopeful in a Troubled World, Sunset-Sunrise, mountains, trees.
“God is Love, and knows no other way to be.”

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Does this sometimes happen to you? You wake up in the morning, feeling hopeful and looking forward to your day. Then you switch on the TV or or check out your favorite online news source, and there it is: another war, terrorist attack, school shooting, or other heinous, senseless act of violence. Disturbing images of death, horror and destruction instantly transform your positive, optimistic mood into one of sorrow, disgust and fear. Even the commercials are depressing, constantly filling our minds with messages about terrible diseases, and drugs with horrific side effects. It’s as if they want to brainwash us into becoming sick by constantly suggesting it to us.

Terrifying questions and scenarios fill your mind: Where will the next attack happen? What if my loved ones or I are the next victims? Will there ever be peace on earth? Is it futile to plan, hope and dream about the future?  Do we even have a future? How can I stay hopeful when the world is such a mess?

During these troubled times, we are naturally concerned about our own country and the world. We wonder what we possibly can do to stay hopeful and to do our part to help. Excessive grief, fear and anxiety about the world’s troubles will keep us from functioning effectively. It’s important to maintain the right perspective so that we don’t become frightened and discouraged. Each one of us is on earth to fulfill a unique purpose, and unless we do, we will never feel peace, regardless of what is happening in the world. As we go about our day-to-day lives, we need to stay hopeful and open to God’s Light and love, grounding ourselves in prayer, reflection, meditation, and living our beliefs as authentically as possible.

In John 15:17-19, Jesus tells His apostles: “This I command you: love one another. If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love its own, but because you do not belong to the world, the world hates you.”

The world is not troubled because of God, but because it ignores what God is and how God wishes people to live. God is Love, and knows no other way to be.  If humankind truly understood this, it would open our eyes forever, and evil and hatred would cease to have any power in the world. But we will not be able to recognize God as long as we are too busy deciding what we think God should be, trying to force the Boundless and Unlimited to fit into our limited, human perception. Spontaneous glimpses of God occur when human beings are focused on one another instead of on themselves. If we wish to see God here on earth, we must seek God in one another. We must spread Divine Light and love wherever and whenever we can.

The world won’t be saved by violence or empty words, but by love and truth. Strictly human ideas of God give opinions, not truth, and result in discord and hatred.  Through troubled times, we must keep honoring Truth and giving it to others. God is truly recognized only when people stop fighting about who or what God is and instead aspire to the highest of all human endeavors: the simple ability to love. That’s all God wants of us. What we can do to help the world is love and work and stop dwelling on fear and anxiety. We can concentrate on only one thing at a time; if we fill our minds with Light, there will be no room for darkness and fear.

Inner peace is independent of what goes on around us. It’s like armor, shielding our souls from the evil and turmoil of the world, allowing us to stay positive, calm, and strong. Regardless of whether times are good or bad, we give our lives meaning by never losing sight of our high ideals or our purpose. If conflict appears to surround us, if we feel doubt and confusion about religious or political views and other issues, we shouldn’t dwell on these things until we lose all hope. Answering to the world instead of to our higher purpose will prevent us from living out God’s plan for our lives. We must not get discouraged or frightened when restless and misguided people threaten peace on earth. The world cannot destroy our inner peace unless we let it.

10 tips to stay positive and hopeful:

  1. When worry and sorrow threaten your peace of mind, take some time to quiet your mind. Learn how to meditate, even if for just a few minutes a day. Keep a journal in which you record your thoughts, fears, and prayers. Talk to God about your anxieties and concerns, then release them into God’s care. Above all, quiet your mind to hear God’s gentle whispers of reassurance within your soul.
  2. Don’t stay glued to news programs! Nowadays, news is available 24/7 in all its gory detail, and while you’re watching one horrible news story, there is a crawl at the bottom of the screen telling about still more depressing news. So it’s important to strictly limit the amount of time you spend absorbing all this negativity. Decide that you will spend a brief period of time every day catching up on important events. Set a time limit (i.e., 15 minutes) and stick to it. Then turn your attention to other, more productive, positive things and do not look at or read the news again until the following day.
  3. Read or listen to positive, motivating, spiritually-uplifting material. Copy in your journal any passages you read/hear that speak to your soul.
  4. Post some comforting quotes and/or scripture verses where they will constantly remind you that God is holding you with loving care, and ultimately all will be well.
  5. Listen to soothing and/or inspirational music. Classical music works particularly well in having a quieting effect on the mind.
  6. Spend time with loved ones — human and animal — and in activities that nurture your spirit and remind you that the world is still a beautiful place filled with much love and goodness.
  7. Physical activity reduces stress and restores equilibrium. Whether you enjoy walking in nature, working out at the gym, dancing, or doing yoga, moving your body will help relax and refresh your mind and spirit.
  8. Continue to plan, dream and set goals. “Where there’s life there’s hope” may be a cliche, but it’s true! Planning for our future keeps us hopeful and focused on the positive.
  9. Don’t underestimate the power of doing good right where you are. A man who was distraught and heartbroken over all the trouble in the world cried out to God, “Why don’t you send help?” God replied, “I did send help. I sent you!” The ripple effect is a reality; however, it works for both good and bad actions. Drop your pebble of love and kindness into the lake of your daily life, and the ripples will keep spreading outward. You may never see all the results during your earthly life, but trust that they are happening!
  10. The next time a frightening news report or act of violence disturbs your inner peace, stay hopeful by remembering God’s own promises:

“Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name…”

[Isaiah 49:15-16]

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

[Deuteronomy 31:6]
Isaiah 49:15-16
Upon the palms of my hands I have written your name
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

PRAYER FOR PEACE IN THE WORLD

Heavenly Creator, human rights are precious in your Your sight, and we ask you to answer our prayers for freedom, justice, and peace for all the nations of the world. Give our military the power to stand firm against its attackers. Make them aware of their responsibility to represent our nation with honor, truth, spiritual fortitude and moral courage, that our freedom may endure and spread outward to touch others who desperately need to be free.

Honoring our nation should not take precedence over honoring You, so let our leaders be governed by Your will. You are not a God of violence, but of Light and love. Help others to see You this way, and not use Your name as an excuse to hurt their fellow humans. Give us Your gifts of strength and peace. Help us to see ourselves without the self-righteous arrogance that spurns those who are different, yet with enough self-respect to fight for what is right and just.

We pray that You will bring an end to hatred and evil, and grant us safe and fruitful times blessed by Your peace and love. Help our nation to recognize its great power to help and guide its fellow nations, yet keep us ever humble as children of Your great mercy and truth. Honoring Your will is the only road that leads to peace. Gently guide our steps on the path You have set before us. Amen.

Soldier in war

“Seventy Times Seven:” The Challenge of Forgiveness – Part 1

CoupleHavingArgument
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Are you having trouble forgiving someone?

Everyone deals with the challenge of forgiveness at one time or another.

Then Peter came to [Jesus] and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

 “No!” Jesus replied, “Seventy times seven!” [Matt. 18:21-22]

Forgiveness is an integral part of living a spiritually mature life, yet it is a complex and distressing issue for many of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. This two-part series will explore the challenge of forgiveness and present steps to help us in the process of forgiveness.   

What is forgiveness?

One big stumbling block is confusion over what forgiveness actually means. The dictionary defines it as “granting pardon without harboring resentment.” Forgiveness is an altruistic outpouring of love and compassion towards those who offend us. It does not mean ignoring or denying that we have been hurt; condoning, justifying, or making excuses for someone’s actions; nor does it mean that persons committing an offense should not be held accountable for their actions.

It’s normal to feel hurt, anger, fear, or betrayal when someone offends us. But when we dwell excessively upon the offense, nurse our wounded pride and focus on revenge, our hearts become hardened with the unforgiving emotions of bitterness, resentment, even hatred.  That’s why we must take steps to transform these destructive emotions into positive ones.

We need to realize that forgiveness does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us through abusive relationships, perpetual irresponsibility and disregard for our feelings, or persistent behavior that is destructive to themselves and others. In such cases, we may need to avoid future emotional entanglements until and unless serious steps have been taken to resolve the problems. But we still can let go of our bitterness. Even after forgiving someone, the relationship and your feelings for the person may never be the same. Forgiveness involves non-possessive, “agape” love (charity), not necessarily an intimate, personal, or physically-demonstrative affection.

The degree of difficulty in granting forgiveness does not always depend upon the gravity of the offense. We may be able to forgive certain actions, yet struggle with others because they injure our feelings more deeply or trigger memories of past hurts. Some people are openly antagonistic towards us for no apparent reason.  This blow to our ego is hard to take. But being spiritually mature means learning to forgive those who do not or cannot love us back.

 Why should we forgive?

Forgiveness is a recurring theme throughout the Scriptures. In the Lord’s Prayer, Christians ask God to forgive us in the same way that we forgive others. Forgiveness is one of the most compelling lessons taught, and perhaps the most challenging.

Here are three reasons why forgiving others is important:

  • It blesses the person who offended us.
  • We have an obligation to forgive as we have been forgiven by God and by other people; for Christians, forgiveness follows Christ’s own example.
  • Forgiving others benefits us physically, mentally, and spiritually. Our emotions always turn back upon us. An unforgiving attitude makes peace of mind impossible, and some experts believe that harboring negative emotions like bitterness, resentment, and hatred for long periods of time can even lead to physical illness.

Steps Toward Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a process that can be broken down into manageable steps.  As with any important undertaking, adequate preparation is essential.

How to Prepare:

Step 1 – Pray for the gift of being able to forgive

Prayer softens the heart, opening it to receive God s grace. Also pray for the person(s) who hurt you. It’s difficult to stay angry with a person for whom you are praying. Here is a suggested prayer:

“Lord, I want to forgive ______, who has hurt me deeply, but I feel no forgiveness, compassion, or charity in my heart. Every time I try to forgive, I just get more frustrated. I don’t want to honor only my human feelings and continue to live with heartache over this, so I’m asking You to help me. Give me a little of Your great capacity for love and compassion. Help me to act with high-mindedness, not just human emotion. Place within my heart the determination to be selfless and forgiving.

Please bless this person I am trying to forgive, and heal any pain or bitterness that is in their heart. If it is Your will that I continue to have this person in my life, please heal our relationship and help us to work out our differences with mutual respect and charity. I promise that as You help me, I will help others; as You forgive me, I will forgive; as You believe in me, I will believe in the value of others; and as You love me, I will love others in return.  Lord, make me a soul who reflects Your Light. Amen.”

FoldedHandsonBible
Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Step 2 – Seek inspiration:

Reading the Scriptures and other inspirational material can also open the mind and heart to forgiveness. Here are some relevant Scripture passages about God’s forgiveness of us, and our obligation to forgive others:

If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared.

[Psalm 130:3-4]

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.

[Jer. 31:34].

Where is another God like You, who pardons the sins of the survivors among his people? You cannot stay angry with your people forever, because you delight in showing mercy. Once again You will have compassion on us. You will trample our sins under Your feet and throw them into the depths of the ocean.

[Micah 7:18,19].

For if you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

[Matt. 6:12].

Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but repay evil with good.

[Romans 12:19-21]. 

Step 3 – Make a conscious effort to begin the forgiveness process:

Don’t wait for a warm, fuzzy feeling towards your offender. You probably won’t feel like forgiving someone who has caused you pain, and it will take an act of will to take the first step.  If warm feelings toward the other person do happen, it will be the result of forgiveness, not vice versa.

(In Part 2, we’ll further examine the process of forgiveness as a series of steps, and explore some tips on how to follow through on your resolution to forgive.)

Forgive Note

                                                                          

The Instrument (30-second Reflection)

Piano with Title

I am but an instrument in the Master’s hands,
but that’s all right with me.
I am seeking praise for the Musician, not the instrument,
as if I were a piano being played on a concert stage by a virtuoso.

At the end of the concert, the applause and good reviews are for the pianist,
although the piano must be finely-tuned,
and the musician must have a good rapport with his instrument,
in order to produce beautiful music.

The instrument is important and serves a purpose in its own way; 
but without the musician, the instrument is silent — just a hunk of wood.
If the instrument is unsatisfactory, the musician can always get another; 
Pianos are numerous, but great musicians few.

Lord, make me a good instrument
through which You can produce your masterpieces and be praised!

© EverydayLifeSpirituality.com

Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

Consider It All Joy-Bird
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A legend tells how, once upon a time, birds had no wings and couldn’t fly. One day, God handed them each a pair of wings, which God instructed them to carry. It was grueling at first, because the wings were heavy and cumbersome. But the birds obediently carried the wings at their sides and struggled along. Gradually, the wings began to merge into the birds’ bodies. Their resilience in dealing with this adversity, which had seemed like a burden, soon freed the birds from their earthbound state and enabled them to experience the miracle of flight.

As the legend illustrates, God’s plan is always far greater in scope and better for us than anything we could imagine with our limited perspective. When we are too complacent, we can get lazy. Instead of seeking new opportunities for personal and spiritual growth, we cling to the job, routine, environment, and people that feel comfortable and safe. We are like children who fear the first day of school because it is a new and unfamiliar experience. But if children are to learn and mature, they need to trust and obey their parents, get an education, and face new challenges. Likewise, if we are to grow spiritually and reach our full potential, God has to “shake us up” a bit. This often involves adversity in the form of unwelcome changes, difficult situations, painful events, or the loss of someone or something we cherish. 

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How to Be More Patient

Fishing -

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While Joe was out fishing one day, he spotted an old man observing him from a distance. As the hours went by, the man continued to sit there and watch. As Joe was leaving, he approached the old man and said, “I couldn’t help noticing that you were watching me fish all day.” The man replied, “Well, you see, I used to fish myself years ago, but I gave it up ‘cause I just ain’t got the patience.”

For many of us, patience is one of the hardest virtues to practice. Our prayer might be, “God, please give me patience — right now!” We want to be more patient, but in this age of “instant everything,” waiting for anything seems a waste of time. Being patient is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I usually find it relatively easy to be patient when dealing with clients, working with animals, or when writing, doing artwork or other enjoyable pursuits, even when they sometimes prove difficult. But it is often much harder for me to be patient with other drivers, at home, and with the people closest to me, when the tedium and annoyances of familiarity and the daily routine grate on my nerves and make me irritable and “snappish.” 

Impatience can damage our relationships with other people. It can even affect our relationship with God (whatever “God” means to you), implying a lack of trust that God will do what’s best for us. We want what we want when we want it. But the fact is, our idea of good timing is often not good at all. God knows this and gives us things at just the right time, so that we won’t fall into disastrous situations.

Being impatient is like trying to swim against a riptide. By struggling against it, you eventually become tired, get pulled under, and drown. But if you swim parallel to the shore, you can escape the riptide’s pull and then head back to land. It’s the same with life: if we constantly fight the tide of trouble or stagnation, we get dragged down by defeat and despair. But by steadily going on with our lives, keeping our goals in sight but not struggling against fate to reach them, we eventually succeed.

Floating on your back conserves your energy when you are swimming. In the same way, when we feel overwhelmed by life, we can just float in God’s love for a while and let it carry us through the rough places. At some point we must resume swimming — but this time we will have our strength restored and feel more confident of reaching our destination.

Patience must be nurtured in order to grow healthy and strong. But how can you become more patient? Keep reading!

7 Ways to Become More Patient:

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