Stop the Insanity, Get a New Focus!

When life’s demands pile up, it’s easy to get overwhelmed, stuck, or lose our focus. During a recent stressful stretch, I recall a specific afternoon when I just couldn’t get out of my head. I kept replaying a conversation and situation that didn’t go well. This reel sent me thinking about all the things I should have done or said differently. As I replayed the past, I also stressed about the future. Like a hamster on wheel, I kept going around and around in my head, feeling like there was no way out, until…

…I walked downstairs, and the first thing I noticed was this car ad on the counter:

focus

The ad was encouraging me to buy a Ford car, but I took it as a message from the Lord saying, “Get off the hamster wheel, and focus on me.” I laughed out loud at my “insanity” and God’s graciousness to use a car ad to speak truth. When we’re stressed (and sleep-deprived), it can be so easy to get stuck inside our own little messy heads and lives. We can take a “small” situation and magnify it in our minds. I—in no way—want to minimize the difficulties we face (or make light of mental health issues), but I want to encourage us to put even our most-stressful situations into a bigger perspective.  Here are few ways we can “stop the insanity and get a new focus”:

Fix your eyes on Jesus. Who or what has your attention? To whom or what do you direct your affection? Too often we give our thoughts, lives, and loyalty to undeserving situations and people instead of focusing on Christ first and foremost. We’re preoccupied with what we cannot control and change rather than fixed on the One who can transform any situation. If we’re obsessed with or drawing our strength from anything that’s not Christ (good grades/our work, a job offer, a relationship, people pleasing, etc.), we have idols we need to deal with. We need to take them down and replace them with a new focus. How do we fix our eyes on Jesus? My college roommate used to talk about it as a process of “re-wallpapering the walls of our mind.” We “take down” the beliefs that do not align with Jesus (lies and “head-trash”), and we re-wallpaper our minds with gospel truth (right thinking about who Jesus is and who we are in Him). Then, we aim to align our new beliefs with new behavior, acting in a way that shows our eyes are focused on Jesus and his truth, not our former lies and idols.

Share your burdens. We are not meant to do this alone. We need others and others need us. When we’re stressed or going through a difficult time, we may be tempted to withdraw, but this is when we need others most. Author Ann Lamott talks about a friend who says something like, “my mind is like a bad neighborhood I try to never walk down alone.”  This friend’s remedy for not getting stuck inside his head is to invite others in. We can easily become confused, stuck, and overwhelmed when we try to “go it alone.” We should share our burdens and invite people in—even to some of the dark and ugly parts.  We find help and healing in the company of others.

Get some sleep. One of the best ways to manage stress and stay focused is to get some sleep. We can better love God and others (including ourselves!) when we get a good night’s rest. We are blessed to be a blessing to others, but sometimes we fail to prepare to be a blessing. When we’re sleep deprived, we can become short, irritable, and irrational. Limiting caffeine intake, reducing screen time before bed, and going to sleep at a reasonable hour can do wonders for our spiritual, mental, and emotional well-being.

While we may not be able to change our circumstances, we can choose how we will undergo them. Instead of getting stuck in patterns of negative thought and behavior, we can decide to focus our attention and affections on Jesus. We can opt to get physical rest as we fully and completely rest in Him. So, let’s stop the insanity and get a new focus: Jesus!

How Am I Supposed to Know What’s Next?

 

place-matters

If you’re in the midst of major life change or choice, you may be asking, “How do I figure out what’s next?” Here are some thoughts about “place” that may help with your discernment.

Author, Meg Jay says, “adult life is built…out of person, place, and thing: who we are with, where we live, and what we do for a living.” She encourages us to “start with whichever of these we know something about,” but sometimes when we’re discerning, it can feel like there aren’t any “knowns.”

So, where do we start? In our search to figure it out, we can easily allow the “what” – the job – to drive us rather than the “who” and “where.” By default, we apply for jobs, accept offers, and move—sometimes without any consideration of what life will be like in that place for a recent graduate looking for meaningful community. What if we made our search first about people and location rather than occupation? What if we moved for a community, church or church plant rather than a job?!

When a Penn State senior, Justin, found out about a group of graduating peers and young pastors who were planting a church in Philadelphia, he thought, “What if I moved for the church and narrowed my job search?” Instead of making his process about what he would do for a living, Justin decided to take a risk. With that came an incredible opportunity: rather than striking out on his own into the unknown, Justin went to a place where he knew God was at work to join a community where he could be “iron sharpen[ing] iron” with other believers from his undergraduate experience (Proverbs 27:17). He chose place first.

In the book of Acts, we learn that God appoints and determines the places we live. He locates us with his purposes in mind. Wherever we go, there will be people groping for Him, and we can participate in their process of finding Him (Acts 17:26-27). Or, we may be the ones seeking and searching for a time, and God will put others in our lives to guide us back to him. The place where we live determines the people and community we “do life” with. Though it may seem obvious that our location makes a significant difference in the life we live, too often place becomes an afterthought.

In retrospect, Justin is so grateful that he allowed the “where” of his next step to be at the forefront of his decision-making. It’s not that he didn’t have any challenges his first year out, but he was able to commit to a place and a group of people that mattered. God provided not only a job in his field but a community in which he could flourish!

Though it may seem challenging to consider a theology of place on top of everything else you have going on, I encourage you to consider the who and where of your next step as much – if not more so – than the what. As you’re contemplating a move to a new location or deciding to accept a job offer, I urge you to press pause and picture yourself there.

  • What is the place like?
  • Are there healthy churches that you can join?
  • Are there opportunities to find and build community?
  • Where is God at work in that city/town? How can you join him?

All of these questions are crucial to considering place. How would it change things if we moved for a church community instead of a job? Chose a neighborhood based on opportunities to serve and learn, rather than convenience and familiarity? This may not be possible, but if you’re not sure where you’re headed or if you have a few options on the table, make sure you pray about place!