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Getting Unstuck from Unhealthy Habits

As I took down my 2019 calendar and replaced it with a new one a couple weeks ago, my heart was heavy. Last year was a very difficult year, and I was struggling to be hopeful about 2020.

It seemed like each time I began making progress last year, something negative popped up to slow or stop my progress. I was grieving the loss of our special-needs son in November 2018, missing David and also his nurses who had been a big part of my daily life for many years. And my health seemed to be falling apart.

I was struggling with a recurring case of eczema, probably caused by the stress I was walking through. After an improvement in my ability to walk, the condition of my left knee suddenly deteriorated to the point where walking even from room to room was agonizing. Tests showed no cartilage left in the knee, and because of the nerve damage in that knee the orthopedic surgeon said I was at a risk that heel replacement surgery would actually make the pain worse. And as the year neared an end, I started experiencing intense pain and inability to move use my left arm, probably from a problem with the rotator cuff.

Throughout the year, it seemed like for each step forward I took, circumstances would cause two steps backward. I felt stuck both physically and emotionally, and had no idea how to turn that around.

Have you ever been at a place like I described above? If so, finding a way to get unstuck is essential if we hope to move forward in God’s plan for our lives. As God-Living Girls with Chronic Illness begins a new focus on RECLAIMING YOUR LIFE (after a chronic illness diagnosis), our first emphasis will be on Getting Unstuck from Unhealthy Habits.

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When our plans don’t go as we had hoped, it can leave us feeling frustrated, disappointed and discouraged. These emotions leave us vulnerable to either forming new or falling back into old negative habits, sometimes even those we thought we had finally gained victory over. We also have an enemy who is quick to take advantage of any doors we leave open to his influence. He knows our areas of weakness, sometimes better than we do, and his purpose is to use them to cause us to lose the victory Jesus Christ gained for us on the Cross.

Getting unstuck from the habits in our lives that are keeping us bound begins with recognizing the specific habits we need to deal with. In essence, bad habits are areas of temptation that we have given into over and over again until they have become our automatic response.

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV) says, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Getting unstuck from unhealthy habits begins with prayerfully identifying the specific habits that we need to change. Here are a few of the habits common to us as Christian women:

FAILING TO HAVE A DAILY QUIET TIME IN GOD’S WORD
Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” One of the ways we do this is by making a daily quiet time a priority. If you are a mom with young children or if you have a 9 to 5 job you must go to daily, you may feel you don’t have time for this. Do the best you can. Even five minutes in the Word of God in the midst of a busy schedule helps us to redirect our focus onto the Lord.

NOT MAKING TIME FOR PRAYER
Matthew 6:6 says, “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” Prayer is simply spending time in God’s presence, and Psalm 95:2 says we come into His presence with thanksgiving. Prayer includes sharing the burdens of our hearts with the Lord, then listening for His response. I’ve learned to pray with an open Bible, often using promises of Scripture to guide my prayers.

NOT FULFILLING OUR DAILY RESPONSIBILITIES
As women with chronic illnesses, this can be a tough area to deal with. Pain and exhaustion often limit what we can do. Rest during the day may be needed to just keep our bodies functioning. But all of us have some responsibilities we are called to be faithful in completing. One Bible verse I go back to over and over again in this area is Colossians 3:23, which says “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” Some days, “whatever you do” may be one small task such as washing the breakfast dishes. Other days, you may be able to do more. But whether you do little or much, do it with a good attitude, working from the heart to love your family and to please the Lord.

POOR EATING HABITS
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 says, ‭‭“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Are you doing your best to take care of your body? Chronic illness and the medications we take often make it easy to gain ‭‭weight, so this is not to condemn those who are overweight (this is a problem I’ve battled since childhood, so I understand). But are you doing your best to glorify God in your body, His temple? Or are you using food for comfort when you’re struggling? God’s will is for us to do the best we can in this area, in spite of the limitations our chronic illnesses cause.

Have one of these areas stood out to you as an unhealthy habit where you need God’s help to become unstuck? Or perhaps a habit I didn’t list is making you feel stuck. My suggestion is that you choose the one negative habit, the one you have the biggest problem with, and with the help of the Holy Spirit begin the process that leads to freedom.

The first step of this process is prayer for God to make us willing to change and also to empower us to change.

Philippians 2:12-13 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The foundation of poor habits is often believing a lie. For example, if overeating is the issue, you may be using food as an emotional crutch, instead of taking your problems to the Lord and asking for His help.

The second step is to examine your thoughts in the light of God’s Word, recognizing the lies you are believing.

Once you see the lies, those things we are believing that do not line up with our standard of truth, God’s Word, it’s time to begin what Romans 12:2 calls “renewing our mind.”

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Renewing our minds is simply learning to exchange the lies we have been believing for the truth of God’s Word. It is asking what God says about the area you are struggling with and spending some time reading verses that reveal the will of God in this area. Sometimes a specific verse or several verses may come to mind, other times we need to do a search to find verses that apply to our area of struggle. And once we find the verses, use them in a prayer of commitment to God. Recall that self-effort alone won’t result in lasting freedom, we need to power of the indwelling Holy Spirit to change deeply entrenched habits. Take time to pray, asking God for His help in changing this area of my life that is hindering you from God’s best.

Finally, renewing our minds doesn’t happen by simply finding applicable verses and learning the truth. It requires doing this each time we fall back into the habit we want to change. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Getting unstuck from negative habits requires building new habits. It requires practice at living out the truth until you have become a habitual doer of this truth.

As I’ve spent time over this last few weeks setting goals for 2020, one thing the Lord has reminded me off over and over again is to look at the new year as a blank canvas, unblemished and waiting for us to fill with the image He has for our lives in 2020. I encourage you to take some time today and address this first challenge in our new focus on RECLAIMING OUR LIVES this year. Let’s get started on the process of getting unstuck from the habits that don’t serve us well.

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Jesus: His Example of Surrender

“For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.” John‬ ‭6:38‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We all look for ways to bypass suffering. I know I surely do. This morning, I’m in the middle of a flare in the eczema I was diagnosed with earlier this year. Eczema, also known as Atopic Dermatitis, is a chronic condition that causes an extremely itchy and painful rash. Yesterday afternoon and evening, and throughout the night as the painful rash kept waking me up, I was definitely looking for relief. But any help from the lotion and prescription meds only brought short term relief.

Looking for a way to avoid suffering is a characteristic common to all humans. Jesus Christ was God in human flesh, and His experience in the Garden of Gethsemane is one of the clearest pictures of His humanity. He wanted to bypass the suffering of the Cross if there was any other way to save us. But the Father’s answer was “No” and Jesus willingly surrendered to the will of the Father.

To get a clearer picture of the struggle Jesus went through, please read the account in Luke 22:39-46.

Jesus understood what it was to let go of His will when it did not line up with the will of the Father. In doing so, He gave us a pattern to follow.

  1. Jesus told His Father what He longed for – to avoid the suffering of the Cross was His desire.
  2. He listened for God’s answer – His “No” in this case. The suffering of the Cross was the only way to fulfill the purpose for which the Son of God came to earth.
  3. Finally, Jesus surrendered to the will of His Father, choosing it and embracing it fully.

As I read in Luke, some verses in Philippians 2 came to mind.

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Philippians‬ ‭2:5-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

We are called to “have this mind” that Christ Jesus demonstrated in the Garden of Gethsemane. We are free to bring our desires to God, to tell Him what we would like to happen in our current circumstances, but then we need to wait until He reveals His will. The battle is in the wait, in the time between sharing our desires and hearing God’s answer, and then if God’s answer to us is “No” in embracing God’s will with our whole hearts.

When we come to God with a willingness to let go of our right to be in charge and surrender to His revealed will in our situation, we can be assured of God’s presence with us no matter what lies ahead. When we let go, we can be assured that God will never let go of us.

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Running to the Lord in our Hopelessness

On May 31st, my husband and I had planned to join some friends from our church to celebrate the seventh birthday of a dear friend. But I woke up with extreme pain and swelling in my left knee and my husband ended up going without me. This was the first of a long list of changes in my plans that is still continuing. I now know a little more of what is causing the pain, but four months later I’m no closer to an answer concerning what to do about it.

Each path we have tried to go down has led to a dead end. First, knee replacement surgery wasn’t recommended because of the extensive nerve pain in my knee, which could potentially be made worse from any knee surgery. Cortisone injections did nothing to relieve the pain. And the latest disappointment, after two sessions of physical therapy the pain and swelling in my knee became so bad this weekend that my therapist is meeting to morning to talk with the therapy supervisor to make a decision about whether it’s even safe to continue the exercises she has been teaching me.

Today, my heart has been asking one question. When life with chronic illness is marked by one disappointment after another, when every recommended treatment option leads to another dead end, what are we to do? How do we hold onto our hope in the Lord?

Let’s look at the life of a man in the Bible who experienced overwhelming fear and hopelessness and see if there are any lessons we can learn. The story is found in 1 Kings 19:1-8.

“Now Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and even more, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by tomorrow about this time.” And he was afraid and arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree; and he requested for himself that he might die, and said, “It is enough; now, O LORD, take my life, for I am not better than my fathers.” He lay down and slept under a juniper tree; and behold, there was an angel touching him, and he said to him, “Arise, eat.” Then he looked and behold, there was at his head a bread cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came again a second time and touched him and said, “Arise, eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb, the mountain of God.”
‭‭1 Kings‬ ‭19:1-8‬ ‭NASB‬‬

So what did Elijah do in this passage? Other than feeling sorry for himself and asking the Lord to take his life, little worth mentioning. He ran away, but not from God. He was honest with the Lord about where he was emotionally, which was a place where he had lost all hope. And then he laid down and slept, only awakening when an angel touched him twice and provided food and water. Elijah was passive, all the work was done by the Lord. Elijah simply received from the Lord and was strengthened to continue the journey.

When chronic illness or any of the other problems we face in this life strip away our last bit of hope, all God asks of us is to come to Him. Remember, He made us with emotions, and therefore he knows best how to deal with them. If you are battling hopelessness today because of difficult circumstances that you can see no way out of, don’t pretend everything is okay. Run to the Lord and be honest with Him about where you are. Let Him meet the needs you have, and rest in His provision. He will strengthen you to face tomorrow.

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Learning to Wait Well

I am in a time of waiting. I have been in a time of waiting since shortly after I heard a call from the Lord last spring to write a Bible study for our small Bible study group at church and made a commitment to do so. I was preparing to get started on this project, even got an outline down on paper, when suddenly my health took a deep dive from which I still haven’t recovered.

Suddenly, my life was filled with one appointment after another, trying to figure out what was going on and come up with a treatment plan for hopefully getting back to where I was before things changed overnight. Unfortunately, since that negative overnight change, there have been no positive overnight changes. Instead, there have been a series of small and gradual steps forward, each including extended times of waiting.

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Waiting isn’t optional. It’s a part of life, some times moreso than others. But choosing how we will wait is up to us. Will we wait with complaining and discontentment? Or will we wait with trust in the One Who rules in our lives, remembering He is not only in control of our circumstances but also in control of the timing? Waiting well means continuing to look forward to the future we’re moving toward while living faithfully where God has us right now.

How do we wait well? God’s Word gives us several answers to this question. Let’s look at a few from the book of Psalms (all verses in ESV)

  • To wait well is to wait prayerfully.Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” Psalms‬ ‭25:4-5‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with strength and courage.Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭31:24‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait with joyful trust in the Lord and in His steadfast love.Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.” Psalms‬ ‭33:20-22‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait patiently. “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭40:1‬ ‭‬
  • To wait well is to wait with hope and expectancy.Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” Psalms‬ ‭123:2‬ ‭
  • To wait well is to wait believing God will do what He has said in His Word. “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” ‭‭Psalms‬ ‭130:5‬ ‭

One of the best ways to wait well is to turn a time of waiting into a time of worship. Worship causes us to shift our focus off of our limiting circumstances and onto our limitless God. Let’s choose to wait well, and let’s back up that choice by turning our hearts toward the Lord in worship.

 

Are You Weary in Doing Good?

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians‬ ‭6:9‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Sometimes life is filled with emotional ups and downs. This has been such a week in my life. On Tuesday, after over six weeks of waiting, I finally got a call from the home health agency my doctor’s office uses to schedule my physical therapy assessment. Then on Wednesday, this long-awaited appointment finally happened. I was encouraged and ready to get started as I waited for the therapist to arrive.

The therapy supervisor started by going over my medical history to get a clear picture of what was going on. He did the routine exam, then we started talking about what to expect as a result of therapy. I totally agreed with what he shared – I’ve had many sessions of physical therapy over the years, so I already knew this would not make major changes in my condition. The goal was to gain some strength in my leg muscles and help in setting up a daily exercise plan that would be safe to continue on my own. Yet by the time he left, I was feeling discouraged, thinking “what’s the use of going through the pain of doing PT when it’s not really going to make much difference anyhow.”

The temptation to grow weary and give up in the midst of my recent health challenges has been one of my biggest struggles. It’s also a struggle Joni Eareckson Tada has experienced and wrote about in her devotional book Holiness in Hidden Places, which I grabbed off my bookshelf this morning to encourage myself in the Lord.

“It happens whenever we find ourselves on an interminable, straight stretch in the same direction… it’s hard not to become weary. Someone once said the challenge of living is to develop a long obedience in the same direction. When it’s demanded, we can rise on occasion and be patient . . . as long as there are limits. But we bulk when patience is required over the long haul. We don’t much like endurance.”

So how do we keep going when we become weary? The key is a change of perspective. Stop focusing on what we’re walking through and turn our eyes onto the Lord and onto the fruit He is developing in our lives during this season. See your circumstances from an eternal perspective. Joni concluded her devotional on Galatians 6:9 with the following words.

”Your life is not a boring stretch of highway. It’s a straight line to heaven. And just look at the fields ripening along the way. Look at the tenacity and endurance. Look at the grains of righteousness. You’ll have quite a harvest . . . so don’t give up!”

On this Thankful Thursday, let’s turn our focus off the trials and onto the fruit that is growing in our lives as a result of them. As I shared on Tuesday, we are to “count it all joy” and to “let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James‬ ‭1:2-4‬) Let’s look at the daily struggles of life with an eternal perspective, remembering that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

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When God Puts Life on “Pause”

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;” Psalms‬ ‭130:5‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Recently, I’ve been in a time when my life almost seems as if someone hit the “pause” button.  My days have been filled with waiting. Waiting for a referral to a doctor to come in. Waiting two months for an appointment I was able to schedule. Waiting for a call from the homecare agency my doctor recommended so my therapy can begin. Waiting for some relief from all the symptoms I’m currently dealing with. Waiting on people who seem to take an unreasonably long time to get routine matters taken care.

So what are we to do during such times? First, we are to remember that God is in control. Delays are a part of life, but they aren’t evidence that nothing is going on. Even when we see no outward changes, God is at work in the background. So see your times when life doesn’t seem to be moving forward as times of waiting on the Lord.

Times of waiting are meant to be times of seeking God, of drawing close and spending time in His presence and His Word. And they are to be times of faithfulness in the things the Lord has already told us to do. 

The past is behind us, the future isn’t yet here, so our focus needs to be on living the best life we can during these times when nothing seems to be moving forward. It needs to be on what He is saying to us and putting in front of us … right now. And that means times of waiting need to be times of drawing near to God and His Word so we can hear what He’s saying.

Charles Spurgeon said of these times of waiting that are so much a part of our lives, “If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for. The waiting itself is beneficial to us: it tries faith, exercises patience, trains submission, and endears the blessing when it comes.

Are you currently in a time of waiting? If so, I encourage you to forget the past, don’t be anxious about what lies ahead, and focus on living in the present. Focus on what God has called you to do today, and be faithful. Spend time listening to His voice to receive instructions for today, and then walk them out in faith. He is at work in your life, even during times when it’s difficult to see what He’s doing.

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Hope in the Darkness: Dealing with Discouragement

Part of my scheduled Bible reading for today was Psalm 42, which begins with a superscription identifying it as a Maskil of the sons of Korah. What is a maskil?

Easton’s Bible Dictionary describes a maskil as a song enforcing some lesson of wisdom or piety, a song intended to give instruction. So as I read this psalm, the first question I asked myself was what is the intended instruction? I think the answer to that is found in the following verses.

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I believe the lesson God is seeking to teach us through this psalm is how to deal with circumstances that cause us to feel “cast down,” to experience discouragement or even despair. When we walk through problems that seem to stretch on and on, one of the biggest struggles we face is holding onto hope. In this psalm, the message is clear. God is our source of hope, so to experience hope we must shift our focus off our circumstances and on to the Lord.

Corrie ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. If you look at God you’ll be at rest.”

When we walk through on-going trials, the key to victory is fixing our eyes on the One who reigns over everything that touches our lives. God alone can bring peace and rest in the midst of circumstances that bring tears to our eyes and sorrow to our hearts.

Or as Hebrews 12:1-2 says, to find renewed strength to continue the race God has set before us, let’s fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Our Savior was strengthened as He turned His focus beyond the Cross He was facing to the joy to come after, when His death and resurrection would provide the way for us to be forgiven and restored to relationship with the Father.

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