Releasing Negative Thoughts & Feelings

LIVING WITH LIGHT #2:

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Photo by Nine Köpfer on Unsplash

In my last post (“Time to Wake Up” – Living with Light #1) we explored the subject of negative thinking and how it can set us up for failure at what we want to be, do, or have, how it can keep attracting the same bad situations into our life and adversely affect how we act and react to the world around us. I listed 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, the first in an ongoing series that will explore in simple steps how to change your circumstances for the better, how to cooperate with the Creator to bring more joy, peace and abundance into your life.

So, 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, it doesn’t matter if you say, “I don’t want to be poor.” You are still thinking about poverty and probably fearing it, which is subconsciously setting you up to fall prey to more circumstances, people, and bad decisions that will keep you from having more money. Furthermore, the negative energy you are emitting will draw those 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, to which they aspire, who love their lives and feel happy and satisfied, while 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.

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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 is natural to feel negative emotions at particular crisis points in our lives, i.e., loss of a job, death of a loved one. If this is the case, you must allow yourself to experience the emotions, and to seek help if necessary. We’re also not talking here about serious mental or emotional illness, such as clinical depression or bipolar disorder, for which one needs to be under medical supervision. What we’re discussing are 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 then understand what your emotions are telling you and what changes you can make to improve your circumstances. You can then 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!). You only need a few minutes, and the following practice is very simple and will become easier with time:

Set a timer for 10 minutes. Sit comfortably in a quiet room (turn off all your 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 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 will only 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.

If you are feeling particularly sad, angry, depressed or fearful, you can use the following exercise to get to the root of your feelings and release them:

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. Then 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.” 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 can actually 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.

Thank your subconscious mind for giving you the reason. 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 lesson 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. 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. From now on, you will not be on “automatic pilot,” reacting in the same old way to everything that happens in your life. You will now be aware of your reactions (your thoughts) in each situation and can take action on them! You are now in the driver’s seat of your mind, no longer a helpless and clueless passenger!

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

The simple forms of meditation 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. One good blog to check out for meditation tips and links to meditation videos is ThoughtsnLife:  https://thoughtsnlifeblog.com/meditations/

 

7 Steps To Sharing Talents – Pt. 3

Little Ballerina

Re-posted from 2016:

This is the last post in a 3-part series. To read Pt. 1 click here; for Pt. 2 click hereIn Step 3 of my previous post, we listed all our talents and abilities. Step 4 dealt with finding opportunities to share our gifts. Now on to our last three steps:

5. Give without worrying about your imperfections or limitations. “Freely you have received; freely give” (Matt. 10:8 NIV). You don’t have to be a saint,  genius, or the next winner of a TV talent program to bring joy to others with your gifts. Let’s face it, the vast majority of us will never reach those levels! Give without restraint, and it will free you to be more than you ever imagined. Don’t get discouraged by what you see as your limitations. My mother couldn’t drive in her later years, but she used her talent for knitting to make sweaters and other items for charity.

Your gifts are only as great as you allow them to be. If you feel the need, read books or take a class to improve your skills. But it is by using our gifts and seeing the happiness they bring that we gain the greatest confidence. Our skills will grow as we continue to share them. We will also gain valuable feedback about where we are succeeding and how we can keep improving. 

Jesus told a parable about three servants who were entrusted by their master with varying sums of money (called “talents”), each according to his ability, before he left on a journey. The first two servants invested the money wisely and doubled the amount they had been given. But the third servant, because he was afraid of losing his master’s money and angering him, buried it in the ground. When the master returned, he praised the first two servants for their ingenuity and entrusted them with greater authority and responsibilities. But when the third servant returned the money exactly as it had been given, with the excuse that he had been afraid to do anything else with it, the master was angry. He took the money from the third servant and gave it to the first servant, who had returned to the master the greatest amount of money.

God wants us to “invest” in the talents he has given us, and if we do, He will increase them and reward us with greater opportunities and deeper fulfillment. But if we “bury” our talents out of laziness, fear, or feelings of inadequacy, this is contrary to God’s plan. It is not showing proper appreciation and gratitude for the gifts our Creator has entrusted to us. Hoarding our gifts gives nothing back to the world, or to God from whom we have received so much. When we stop giving, we stop growing.

Although we fear other people’s criticism and rejection, we usually are our own worst critic. We are eager to answer God’s call to use our gifts.  Then that little negative voice inside us undermines our confidence, reminding us of our limitations and everything that can possibly go wrong. “You can’t do that!” it taunts. And that’s true: We can’t do it, but God can do it through us! If we reach out to God in faith, He will lift us up to our true potential.

6. Remember that sharing our gifts and earning money are not mutually exclusive! What if you are unhappy in your job, or unemployed and trying to find a job, or are in need of additional income? Usually our talents will lie in the areas for which we have a real passion. Many times, these passions point to our life’s true purpose. A career change or an entrepreneurial opportunity will sometimes develop from volunteer work that opened new doors for us. If you are unhappy in your present job, finding ways to do the things you love and for which you have an innate gift can help you feel happier and more fulfilled, whether or not you ever earn any money from it.

If you are unemployed and job hunting, share your gifts and abilities in the meantime. Offering your talents as a volunteer is an excellent way to hone your skills, make new contacts, and ward off the depression and discouragement that can come with being unemployed and searching for a new position. It also is a way to “plant seeds” that will demonstrate your faith and grow into future blessings.

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7. Make use of the present time and don’t procrastinate. “So then, if we do not do the good we know we should do, we are guilty of sin” (Jas. 4:17). The excuses are many: “I’m too busy right now,” “I’m not ready,” “I’ll wait until I retire,” “Maybe next year,” “I’m not good enough yet.” But our time on earth is limited. We don’t know if we’ll have tomorrow. By procrastinating, we can miss precious opportunities and later regret it. Future possibilities grow out of what we do in the present. Don’t wait until all the conditions of your life are ideal or your gift is “perfect.” Guess what? This will never happen! Do it now!

As we freely share what we have been given, our power to help others and do God’s work multiplies. Using our gifts is an investment in God’s Kingdom. This is like buying stock that can only go up. Be a star in God’s talent show! Lavishly spending our gifts brings happiness to others as well as ourselves. It fulfills our responsibility to make the world a better place.

What are your particular gifts and how have you used them?  I would love to hear your own thoughts and experiences in the Comment section below. 

 

 

7 Steps to Sharing Talents – Pt. 2

Leaping in Air-edited

Reposted from 2016:

In my last post, I listed some of the benefits of sharing our talents and gifts. I also outlined the first two steps, which were praying for guidance and staying receptive to whatever answers you receive. You can read Part 1 here

Here are the next two steps of our 7-step program:

  1. List all of your talents and abilities. “Then Moses called…every skilled person in whom the Lord had given ability, and who was willing to come and do the work” (Exodus 36:2 NIV). Like a designer of great artistic creations, God gives each of us unique gifts and the power to use them to touch other souls with His light. Open your mind and heart to honestly evaluate your abilities:
  • Do you have a creative gift like music, art, writing or dancing?
  • Are you good with animals? With children?
  • Do you excel in sports?
  • Are you a good listener?
  • Can you make people laugh?
  • Are you good at gardening, sewing, cooking, or carpentry?
  • Have a talent for public speaking?
  • Are you a compassionate, nurturing type of person?

Ask people who know you well for their input. This is no time for false modesty! True humility is the ego rising to a higher level just honoring the will of God. It is the attitude that God is the creator of our gifts, and our duty is to use them according to His plan, to honor Him, serve others, and make the world a brighter place.

One way to brainstorm ideas is to use the “mind-mapping” method: Across the top of a large piece of paper or whiteboard, list all your talents, abilities and things you love to do. You will be using this mind-mapping list in our next step, as well.

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  1. Brainstorm ways you can use and share your gifts.

You don’t have to go far to find ways to share your gifts.  Check out volunteer opportunities in your community, school, local non-profit organizations, church or synagogue. Here are some suggestions for some of the talents you may have listed:

  • Teaching: Offer to teach a class at your local high school’s or YMCA’s adult education program.
  • An outgoing type who loves people, good listener or nurturing personality: Offer your help with fundraising or public relations for a local non-profit.  Volunteer at a local hospital, nursing home or hospice. Many churches and synagogues have bereavement committees for which you can volunteer to help the grieving. Or visit a friend who has suffered a loss or is feeling troubled or sad. Don’t worry if you cannot offer help or advice to solve their problem; sometimes all that is needed is someone who is willing to listen and “be there.”
  • Good with children: Offer to teach Sunday school or religious instruction classes at your church or synagogue. Volunteer at a children’s hospital, or join an organization such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters to act as a mentor for a child who needs your love and caring. Help out a new mother in your community who might be feeling overwhelmed.
  • Love animals: Offer your services at a local animal shelter or rescue group. I love horses, but after being injured in a fall off a horse, my riding days unfortunately were over. However, I greatly missed being around horses, so I became a volunteer at a non-profit horse sanctuary. I not only get to be around dozens of horses, but also have made new friends who share my equine passion!
  • Performing Arts: Join your local community theatre, or consider using your talents to brighten the lives of people in hospitals, nursing homes, senior centers, etc. If you like public speaking and have a good reading voice, you can become a lector/reader at your church or volunteer to record audiobooks for the blind. Consider giving lectures or workshops about a subject in which you have expertise. If singing or playing an instrument is your talent, join a church choir or community choral group.
  • If getting up in front of people is not your thing, but you are good at carpentry or have artistic talent, your community theater could use your skills as part of their stage crew. If you can sew, the costume department would love to have you!
  • Love books/reading: Volunteer at the local library, or offer your help to a local literacy program that teaches adults to read.
  • Good with computers, web design or graphic arts: Offer your services to a non-profit organization.
  • Gardening: Give your beautiful, home-grown flowers and vegetables to neighbors and friends, especially those who are sick, lonely, or dealing with trouble or grief. Offer to help establish or tend a garden for your church or synagogue. Or start a community garden in your neighborhood. 
  • Cooking/Baking: Share your culinary delights with others. Bring some of your homemade treats to shut-ins, for whom they will bring much-needed cheer and nourishment. Volunteer your skills to charitable organizations that feed the hungry. Bake goodies for fundraising events.
  • Building and carpentry skills: Charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity can always use talented people with these particular skills! If you are good at fixing things, help out a neighbor who doesn’t have the physical or financial resources for needed repairs. Small non-profit organizations usually operate on a shoestring budget and greatly appreciate people who can do remodeling or repairs to their facilities.
  • Writing: Consider authoring an article, book, e-book or blog to share your original stories, poems, or knowledge with others.

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These are just idea starters to get your own brainstorming juices flowing! With a little research and ingenuity, you can come up with many more ideas and find the opportunities that fit in with your particular circumstances and abilities. Take the mind-mapping paper or board that you used to write down your gifts in our last step. Now, using the above list and your own ideas, write as many possible opportunities as you can think of underneath each gift’s heading. Then seek out local organizations that might logically offer opportunities to use some of the skills you listed. An internet search will suggest places in your area that you may not have noticed on your own. Contact them to get more information and see if they can use your help. At least one of them should be just the right fit for you!

True Humility

Does anyone have additional ideas or information? Please share them in the comment section!

Next up: Dealing with imperfections and limitations. Check out my next post!

How to Succeed in Faith without Really Trying

 

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Doubt is an integral part of our human condition. No one escapes it, not even the greatest saints and spiritual masters. So how do we deal with times of doubt? It cannot be conquered by getting proof of God’s reality, since this is not humanly possible. But it is possible to have a different perspective on doubt by seeing it as a potentially valuable and powerful tool, not as a curse. Why? Because doubt sharpens our faith, the way a hard stone sharpens the edge of a knife as it is rubbed against it. As our souls are rubbed against the rough stone of doubt, we can become stronger, more courageous and confident.  

Certainly, it’s hard to see doubt as beneficial when we are deep in the throes of it, when it discourages and overwhelms us, destroying our peace of mind. At times of trouble and difficulty, we question what is happening in our lives and ask to understand. We mull over all the possible things we might have done to “deserve it” and we wonder: is God a fond Father of love, or an indifferent, even fierce, vengeful deity who doesn’t really care about our suffering? This is human nature, and God understands it. Doubt becomes a problem only when we honor it above anything else and give God no opportunity to enlighten us.

When we read the Scriptures and other spiritual writings, we discover other people’s struggles with the same doubts with which we ourselves grapple. Recognizing that the human struggle with God’s reality and His will is an ageless one helps us to see it with greater understanding. Honoring our human free will, God never forces us to trust him, but He cannot use us as freely if we do not trust Him, and our lives will not be as fulfilling or productive. While trusting God is sometimes difficult, it stops fear, doubt, and despair faster than any human effort ever could do.

When we question God’s existence or His love, this means we are not mindless robots, but thinking, feeling, living souls who have free will and are subject to thoughts that are not always easy to live with.  Never having doubts or fears would make us overconfident, taking our Creator for granted and limiting our spiritual development. We would be of no use to other people who have trouble believing in God, because we would feel self-righteous and smug and unable to understand or help them on their path to God.

Kindness and compassion begin with our own pain. We might not be proud of our ignorance and fear, but they are part of our human nature, and all of us face them in ourselves and in others. By using doubt as a tool towards greater compassion for those who do not believe, we grow as souls and strengthen our own faith.

Using human reason alone can only take us so far, and acknowledging this opens the door to God’s guidance. Questioning God is not sinful, but turning away from Him will close us off to His help, to enlightenment and growth.

Think of it this way: if you have children who love and respect you, but sometimes question your rules or judgment, you wouldn’t feel angry about this, because your children really love you and don’t abandon you because of a disagreement. But if your children totally rejected you and shut you out of their lives, you would probably feel anger or sadness, and eventually stop offering your help.

Similarly, if we question God sometimes, or even get angry with Him, we don’t fall out of favor with Him, nor do we stunt our spiritual growth, as long as we give Him enough trust to let Him guide us to a place of peace. It’s normal sometimes to question whether or not we are on the right path. Other people’s opinions on how to live our lives can upset or confuse us, but we can be sure that openness to God’s guidance will never let us down. If we continue on our path, even when we feel doubt, over time the path straightens out and we will be guided in the right direction. If we continue our efforts to trust in God, even when we feel He doesn’t care or that maybe He doesn’t really exist, we eventually will experience stronger faith.

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Another way doubt benefits us is by causing us to seek truth with which to arrive at answers. Using prayer and seeking spiritual sources of truth to enlighten our minds is the greatest antidote to doubt. Our human nature does not attune itself to light often enough; instead it seeks material things and intellectual pursuits to try to fill the empty spaces and supply all the answers. I once saw a sign outside a church that read: “If God feels far away, who moved?” God is love; He knows no other way to be. God does not turn away from us, but we often turn away from God. As a result, we despair and do not feel His presence. We feel that God has abandoned us. But this is an illusion, not the truth.

Assuming that solely by our own power we can overcome any trouble, figure out any question, and solve any problem, without God’s intervention, ultimately leads to despondency. Trying to comprehend that which is not humanly comprehensible, such as God’s Divine nature and His ways, is like trying to understand a book written in another language by reading it over and over again, without any knowledge of the language in which it is written. This would be futile. But if you seek help from someone who understands the language, this makes it possible for you to understand the book. Likewise, only God can help us overcome the anguish of total despair, which is poison to the soul.

A person caught in quicksand will sink deeper the more he struggles. If we try too hard to overcome doubt, we sink even deeper into the quicksand of fear and despair, because our efforts alone, no matter how great, will never be enough to conquer these things. A person drowning in quicksand cannot pull himself out of it, but can be pulled out by someone else. By realizing that we cannot save ourselves from fear and doubt, we can then reach out to God and let Him pull us out of it.

Dr. Elton Trueblood, author, educator, philosopher and theologian, once said, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.”  Faith originates in God. It is His gift to us, but our souls must be open to this gift, through total surrender to God’s will, by quieting the mind through mindfulness and meditation when it starts running amok, by frequent prayer and study of spiritual truth, and by freely sharing our own experiences with other souls who are struggling on their own path to God. Like a muscle, exercising our faith strengthens it, so that when doubt comes around (and it will), our faith will be strong enough to see us through it.

Totally surrender your doubt to God and ask Him to use it to make you stronger. By admitting that we don’t understand but will trust a little while longer, we discover that somehow we find our faith again in the truths we spontaneously come to understand. This not only strengthens us, but allows us to help other people on their own spiritual journey.

When we see doubt as a tool to sharpen our faith, we will never feel powerless against it. When we honor God, we cannot at the same time honor fear or doubt. Alone we have no power against the darkness, but with God, who is Light, we have unlimited strength and endless power! Use your doubt as a tool to help you to become a stronger person. As Jesus promised, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [John 8:32]

What’s Your Motivation?

Loving Hands

Give with open hands and open heart

Image courtesy of hyena reality at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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!

  • 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.

 

Mother Teresa-2

 

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

Marathon with slogan

Part 1 of a 2-Part Series

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.”

Perception

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.

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”

Set goals and make plans, but leave them open-ended. Remember, God might have an even better idea, so stay open to it! Jesus referred to God  as “Abba,” which translates into “Father.” If we think of God as our loving Father, it stands to reason that He would want only the best for us. “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? 11 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 Father, 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 ten days, they waited and listened prayerfully for God’s answer, which manifested at Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Brick Wall with slogan

Every one of us has experienced frustrating times when despite all our efforts, nothing moves forward. You leave voicemail messages, send emails, texts, letters, 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 Divine 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!)

 

 

Consider It All Joy: Adversity’s Hidden Blessings

 

Consider It All Joy-Bird

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 He 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 that 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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