Sunday, December 16, 2018

Appreciating Progress

   I have been beyond blessed to have four wonderful children.  These children mean the world to me, and yet they have the uncanny ability to make compassionate, kind, caring me really, really mad.  The other day, for example, Stirling was dishing out his own snack during preschool.  He had four carrot sticks, three crackers and two apple slice and was reaching for more when I told him he couldn't have more apples until he ate what was already on his placemat, a rule he already knows.  He was enraged.  Then he continued for the next twenty minutes to not eat any of his snack and throw a huge tantrum while I stuck by what I had said.  In the end he somehow got over it and moved on, I was outwardly pretty cool but inside I was ticked and extremely annoyed. This was the third tantrum of the day and all while the other two children  (several others were sick that day) sat by and watched.
     Lately I have found myself growing quicker to anger than normal.  Dismayed at this self-discovery, I decided to take some time to pray about it.  For the past several months I have been studying James 1:19 "My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry."    The last few months?  You might ask. Didn't you just say that recently you've been struggling with anger?  Yes, yes I did.  Is it surprising that having read this verse many, many times I still have a tendency to fly off the handle?  Perhaps not.  We all know that reading a verse and knowing what we should do mean nothing  if we do not actively apply them to our lives.  Anger is a tricky one because it often comes as a reaction, we need to train our reactions to do something that is unnatural to our human nature, and that is a hard, yet not impossible, thing to do.  I believe that this is where the holy spirit comes in.  Where I live my life is such a way that I am not trying to do things on my own strength, but allowing the holy spirit to work in me, to slow me down and help me to listen.  Deep breathing helps a lot with this.  I do a lot of deep breathing these days.  So now you might ask, if you do a lot of deep breathing these days and slowing yourself down why do you say you're still struggling in this area of anger?  I'll tell you why, it's because it's a process.  We, as American's and perhaps as humans in general don't like processes.  We like instant gratification.  We don't want to be patient, we want results!  And we have trouble seeing the progress we are making, which often causes us to become discouraged.  We live in a pass/fail culture.  Either you are successful or you are not.  You pass the class or you fail the class.  You're a good guy, or a bad guy - yet we know that in most areas of our lives this is not really true.  We are on a journey as people, as parents, as children, and as friends and coworkers.  We tend to look at the situations where we have not responded as well as we wish we had and feel frustrated, discouraged and dissapointed with ourselves.  In general, seeing situations thus does not encourage us to overcome the next time but tends to spiral us down in feeling of overall negativity and self doubt.   This is where we must retrain ourselves to see things in a different way, to see the progress we do make rather than simply seeing our failures. 
      As I have written about before, I am currently working to lose weight and get healthier.  This is a journey, one with us and downs.  So much of this journey is affected by not just the things I do physically, but where I am at mentally.  The other day I was looking at current photos of myself and feeling a little discouraged. I have been working out regularly for six months now and still feel I have a long way to go (because I do) before I get to a really healthy place for my body.  As I was thinking about this I had to stop myself, this wasn't helpful. What was helpful?  To look at how far I have come.  I have lost 20 lbs, slowly, it's true, but I have continued to lose weight.  More than that, I am getting strong, and I feel so much better about myself.  So, while I do have a long way to go, I choose to dwell on how far I have come rather than what I have yet to do. This is the attitude we should have in all areas of our lives.  Looking for forward movement and being encouraged to keep going.  Instead of dwelling on all the times I've given in and gotten angry and yelled at my children, I am choosing to see all the times I have chosen not to.  I choose to remember the times that I have taken deep breaths and slowed myself down instead of reacting to situations.  (Even as I write this I am ignoring a tantrum my son is throwing, having told him that when he calms down for twenty minutes I will build a block castle with him. This is not easy for me to do, yet it is working.) I choose to remember the times that I have slowed myself down in my busy day and taken the time to play with my children or read a book to them.  I choose to love them in spite of their temper tantrums and so I choose to love myself in spite of my sometimes negative responses to these temper tantrums.  I choose to see myself how my heavenly Father sees me, someone on a journey.  A journey learning to love as he loves and listen as he listens.  I refuse to start a downward cycle every time I give in to anger.  I choose to ask for forgiveness and move on, loving these children, and my spouse, on this journey of life.
James 1:2-5 says "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,
 whenever you face trials of many kinds,
because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.
Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
      What a great reminder that all of these trials are not for naught and that we are not alone.  Give yourself grace, ask for wisdom and continue to love those around you, regardless of how they respond to you.  We can only control ourselves, but our responses do effect others one way or another.   Happy Holidays my friends, and may the struggles of this season not get the best of you!