Measuring Your Progress

Here we are a few weeks into the new year, and many of us are evaluating how we are doing as we seek to pursue new habits. How are you doing?

fingers-1850183_1920 (1)I think I have been using a false measurement of whether I am making progress in my personal habits. I tend to think that if I’m pursuing the “right” habits, resistance should lessen. That the struggles will diminish in intensity. That life will get easier.

After all, if I’m pursuing the right things, shouldn’t life go more “right”?

What I’m finding, after multiple decades, is that life doesn’t seem to get easier. And, confound it, my struggles seem to stay frustratingly consistent. But what is changing over time, albeit slowly, is how I respond to the struggles.

Christmas week this year was a good example. At several points, I found myself feeling very low, even though circumstantially everything was good. We enjoyed a visit with Sherri’s mom and sister, lots of relaxing time, and plenty of good Christmas food.

But my emotions were inexplicably drawn back to dark days of my childhood, when holidays were anything but merry. They were full of the angst of a depressed parent, holiday expectations disappointed, and a lot of loneliness.

When these past feelings are triggered, I tend to go into a downward spiral in the present. I withdraw and rehearse my pain inwardly, thinking that might make it go away.

But I experienced something different this year. While the pain felt intense, I sensed something different – God’s Presence with me. A key verse for me this year has been Psalm 46:1 –

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.

In the midst of the pain, I silently prayed, “God, I can’t make these feelings go away. I’m not sure if I should spend time sorting through them, or move on to something distracting, or exactly what I should do right now. But I know You are right here with me, and there is much more to my life than what I feel. I trust You to walk with me through this.

What happened on more than one occasion is that I felt a surge of internal strength to press forward in my day. To move toward a family member and connect in conversation. To go to God’s Word for more encouragement. To tackle a task.

Maybe your area of personal growth is not living past your feelings. Maybe for you it’s eating better, or serving others more, or watching your language.

Whatever area of growth you are pursuing, I encourage you to use the right measurement of growth: not that your struggle is becoming easier, but that your response to the struggle is maturing.

Then you can say with me:

I’m not what I want to be, but I’m not what I used to be.”

This kind of growth is best measured over the long term. You won’t see it in the first month of the new year. But I encourage you to look back over previous years, maybe pull out an old journal if you keep one and read a few entries. Don’t be frustrated when you encounter the same struggle, just be encouraged if you see yourself responding differently when it comes around again.

Question: what helps you see your progress over the long term?

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My Life as a Sheep

I’ve had a few up-close experiences with sheep in my life. The most recent was Christmas Eve just a few weeks ago. Our church secured a 4 month old lamb to participate in our Eve services, the theme of which centered around God’s choice to announce Christ’s birth first to shepherds, of all people.

IMG_4207My friend and colleague Steve was set to do a “Shepherd’s monologue,” and then bring in the lamb while I continued the message. Besides bringing home the realism of shepherds as part of the Christmas story, there was admittedly an element of sheer practicality as we wanted to grab and keep the attention of the many young children in the audience with their parents.

When Steve and I went to meet the lamb a few days before Christmas Eve, I was immediately reminded of some of the characteristics of sheep that make me a little sheepish (no pun intended) that God compares His people to sheep in passages like

Know that the Lord , he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. -Psalms 100:3

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way… -Isaiah 53:6

To be compared to sheep is not really a compliment, given that sheep tend to be:

  • Timid
  • Easily startled
  • Defenseless
  • Seemingly clueless about which way to go without guidance
  • And, in general, not the sharpest knives in the drawer

Quite honestly, I don’t like being any of those things. I want to be competent, confident, and be more like a shepherd who cares for others, than a sheep that needs someone to care for me. Continue reading “My Life as a Sheep”

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Best Year Ever?

As the calendar turns over to 2018, we hear again the call to pursue your “best year ever!” It’s sure to happen if we will join this gym…subscribe to that weight plan…purchase some personal growth product.

2018Marketers know that we all want to improve, that we’d all love for the coming year to be better than the year just past. We would love to enjoy life more, feel better about our relationships, and be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

And what I’d like to say to you is – all of that IS possible, and you don’t have to purchase a thing!

But you may need to give something up.

Continue reading “Best Year Ever?”

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