Find Your Flow

flowBy Beth Davis, D.Min. This year, during the season of Lent, I chose to give up something different from the usual decadent desserts and caffeine beverages that I have sacrificed in previous years. I decided to work on some of my hidden addictions–in other words, my thoughts and attitudes, When a critical thought entered my mind, I took notice of it, and replaced it with a positive attitude. I soon discovered that this challenge proved to be far more difficult than giving up chocolate or cappuccino. Scripture invites us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Outward behavior is often easier to change than what is inward and hidden. Negative thoughts generate negative attitudes, Our thought life controls the way in which we live and relate to others, Rumination–the act of negatively thinking about an event or conversation over and over again–will eventually deplete energy. Research confirms this biblical truth and suggests that individuals who ruminate are at a higher risk for depression. So, how do we eliminate negative thoughts that seem to dominate our waking, and sometimes sleeping, hours” Certainly I tried to “give up” thinking in a negative manner. And, I believe it was a good exercise. I realized how many time during the day my thoughts would simply take off in a direction of their own. If you struggle with rumination or any form of worry, anxiety, or negativity, may I suggest a practical approach that has helped me reduce rumination? Mental health researchers suggest that becoming absorbed in a hobby or sport–a flow activity–will greatly reduce rumination. So, when you find yourself in a negative state of mind, find your flow. A flow activity involves creativity and it provides enjoyment. When you engage in this type of outlet, it is impossible to ruminate. The following list suggests tips for discovering or establishing a flow in your lifestyle.

1. Identify activities that give you pleasure, making it impossible to focus on stressful events or circumstances. Flow activities differ for everyone and may include: playing an instrument, jogging, painting, hiking, gardening, singing, antiquing, golfing, fishing, swimming, crap-booking, quilting, cooking, and writing.

2. Schedule specific times in your week for flow activities. It is important to create space in your schedule for interests which are non-work related.

3. Counteract stress with flow. After a long business meeting or an argument with a friend or family member, take some time to flow.

4. Nature often provides a natural setting for flow. The words of John Muir are so true: “Everyone needs beauty as well as bread…places to play in…where nature may heal and cheer and give strength to body and soul.”

5. Recognize the spiritual responsibility of taking time for rest and renewal. Minister who have identified flow activities tend to be well-rounded, healthy individuals. If you haven’t already done so, discover what makes you flow. It will help you to “take captive every thought.”

Get Serious about Socializing

IMG_1666By Beth Davis, D. Min

Last week, in a Latin American country, Nathan and I taught a seminar on how to retain resilience. When we came to the section on the importance of socialization, I wondered if it was even worthwhile to discuss this topic in a country that is so highly relational. I began to ask questions to the participants, all of whom were involved in full-time ministry. Unanimously, they agreed that this was an area in which they struggled. All cultures are changing as daily life becomes more driven by technology. After full days of working with people, it is normal to crave some down-time, alone. Yet, building and maintaining a network of friends represents the single most important factor in promoting vitality and personal well-being.

For women, socialization is even more important than sleep or exercise. This is because when gals get together socially, and communicate at a deep level, their brains actually produce chemicals that promote emotional health. Historically, women shared activities such as gardening, gathering, canning, and quilting. Over the years modern conveniences along with the opportunity to work outside of the home has re-placed this sense of community for many women.

Transition has become a way of life for most of us. After multiple relocations, it is tempting to pull back from making new friends in order to avoid the hurt of eventually having to say “good-bye.” Too often, this behavior leads to isolation and depression. Maintaining friendships requires intentionality. The following list suggests some tips for keeping socially connected:

  • Learn to listen. Show an interest in other people. Dale Carnegie made the statement, “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  • Start a small group. Bible and prayer groups are always meaningful. For people in ministry, however, it might be helpful to organize a group that helps you escape your everyday church-focused life. For instance, I have always enjoyed English literature, but have never had an opportunity to formally study. A few years ago I asked my friend, an English professor, to help me launch a monthly reading group. Between my hectic schedule of overseas travel, these women, a group ranging from college students to retired grandmothers, have become dear and trusted friends.
  • Guard confidentiality. Nothing will kill a relationship faster than failed confidences. Certainly if you are worried about a friend’s mental, emotional or spiritual stability, it is appropriate to address the issue. However, ask permission before sharing these confidences with a third individual.
  • Invest in positive friendships. Seek friendship with individuals who give you energy. Avoid seeking the friendship of people with whom you only share negative emotions and common issues of conflict. These kinds of friendships fail to provide encouragement and strength during times of distress. Remember that “a friend is someone who is delighted to see you and does not have any immediate plans for your improvement.” (author unknown).
  • Make a date. Everyone appears to have limited amounts of free time. The only way to have time for friends is to schedule ahead. Pick up the phone, make the connection, and write down a time in your weekly planner. Be creative and flexible. Make time for a cup of coffee; a brown-bag lunch at the park; or a walk through the neighborhood. Recently I shared a lunch with my friend and her toddler son. After picking up “drive-through” sandwiches, I accompanied her for an hour of errands, chatting along the way. The important thing was that we were together and able to share in person. This friend energizes me and I always leave her presence feeling better than I when I arrived. Another friend and I take “destination walks.” We walk a mile or two to a cafe, talking as we go. The walk provides exercise, sunshine, and a wonderful dose of socialization.
  • Initiate the invitation. When you move to a new place, don’t wait for others to include you in their established circle of friends. Make the effort to seek new friendships. Consider inviting people to your home for a simple meal. Restaurants and coffee shops are a great place for catching up with friends or grabbing a quick bite to eat after church. But for deeper conversations, there is no better place than in the privacy of your kitchen or dining room. And the food does not need to be elaborate or labor-intensive. When Nathan and I moved to a new city, a couple often invited us to join them for lunch or dinner. Away from the hustle and bustle of a noisy restaurant, we enjoyed many Chinese take-out dinners around their table. These folks became some of our best friends and we continue to practice what they modeled: Invite people into your home for meals, and make it simple.
  • Hang on (to the phone or computer) during tough times. When you find yourself isolated and without friends, write e-mails, texts, and telephone (or skype) as much as possible. These tools are not as effective as “in person” friends, but they will enable you to stay connected even in times of necessary isolation.

 

When Respect Fails

bowing I (Nathan) grew up in Japan where respect and even reverence affect relationships, overtly. In Japan, people bow to show their respect. A nod of the head provides casual acknowledgment of another person. When meeting someone of a higher social status, the lower status person commonly bows up to 90 degrees at the waist. The longer one holds the bow, the more one shows respect. A greeting that takes place on a traditional tatami (rice straw) mat, involves getting on one’s knees and bowing all the way to the floor. Failure to show proper respect disgraces the offender and his or her family. When a person loses too much respect in Japan, suicide offers the only honorable other choice.

First Chronicles 13:9-10 describes the concept of respect and reverence at the time of King David. David wanted to move the Ark of the Covenant from Kiriath Jearim to Jerusalem. Along the way, “Uzzah reached out his hand to steady the ark, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord’s anger burned against Uzzah, and he struck him down because he had put his hand on the ark. So he died there before God.”

The Ark was not simply another object that King David wanted to move from one location to another. The Ark represented God’s holiness— 2 Samuel 6:2 says that God is enthroned between the two cherubim on the Ark. Possibly, God killed Uzzah because he failed to respect what the Ark represented (God’s presence and holiness). A proper respect of God and His holiness would recognize that God did not need Uzzah’s help to protect His Ark, or to protect Himself. That is, Uzzah seemed to value the security of the Ark (an object) above his reverence/respect of God and His holiness. Like Uzzah, some Christians fail to develop a biblical concept of respect; instead, they value security, power, recognition, acceptance, or earthly possessions more than a respect for God. Like modern secular people who value objects more than a relationship, Uzzah honored/revered the Ark more than God. When we place these other values above respect (or fear) of God, we risk the same fate as Uzzah.

However, a New Testament concept of respect amplifies the Old Testament respect demanded of Uzzah. Jesus directs me not only to love (respect) God, but He expands the definition of loving my neighbor, and myself. So I am also directed to respect all humans, highly, even above myself. Compared to Christians in other cultures, North Americans may struggle to understand the broad concept of respect. North American culture promotes the axiom that “all humans are created equal.” Because of this belief system, some tend to respect others no more than they respect themselves. But Romans 12:10 directs believers, “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Because some North American Christians merely value others equally, they may neglect to notice the phrase, “above yourselves.” When we see others as our equal, not deserving honor/respect above ourselves, we neglect to act as a servant. The New Testament concept of respect invites me to act as a servant not only to God, but to all of humankind. In Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan demonstrated much more than equality, he served (acted as a servant).

The story of Uzzah is a picture of how God values respect and honor toward Him. The story of the Good Samaritan amplifies the picture to show how God values respect and honor between humankind.

In January 2017, a report from Oxfam showed that eight people in the world possess between them more wealth than one half the world population. Jim Willis, editor of Sojourner’s magazine explains:

Let’s make it clear. Eight people own more wealth than 3.6 billion people. That is simply grotesque. And it is this type of fact that needs to break through the complacency and routine of our daily lives…to spur us to demand effective collective action to change course.

It is easy to point a finger at these eight people. However, I encourage you to avoid using judgment. The Good Samaritan story shows us that what we do with our time and money is more important than our financial worth. Take a few moments to identify some ways in which a lack of respect affects yourself and the Christians in your culture? The following are some examples:

  • I lack respect for others when I judge someone.
  • I lack respect for others when I fail to seek their input.
  • I lack respect for others when I fail to listen.
  • I lack respect for others when I promote myself more than others.
  • I lack respect for others when I…(insert something relevant to yourself)

The following equation expresses the relationship between the factors of respect:

Respect = A times B times C**

A = how much I esteem the differences in others

B = how much I trust someone else

C = how much I value the relationship more than either tangible or intangible possessions

**Note: This is not an actual equation, but it helps to understand the likelihood of respect. If any of the factors A, B or C = 0 (Zero), then respect probably equals zero.

Uzzah failed to esteem God’s holiness and to trust that He could take care of the Ark. It also appears that he valued the Ark more than his relationship with God. In contrast, the Good Samaritan esteemed a man considered unclean, trusted him, and valued him over time and possessions.

Factors A and C are a choice. That is, I can choose to esteem the differences in others and I can choose to value a relationship with them. Unlike A and C, however, factor B (trust) is earned. God has earned our trust by demonstrating His faithfulness in Scripture and in our lives. When we meet a complete stranger, however, we may feel unable to trust him or her until trustworthiness is demonstrated to us personally, or to someone else whom we trust. So our ability to feel respect may require time for him or her to demonstrate trustworthiness. For instance, when a spouse fails morally, those affected may feel unable to respect the offender until he or she has earned trustworthiness again. This equation works equally well for family members, church members, clergy, and political candidates alike.

Consider the ministers and politicians who you fail to respect. Which of the factors: A, B, or C keep you from respecting them? If they violated your trust, you may never regain the ability to respect them unless you let them know that they violated your trust. More importantly, consider those who may no longer trust you. If you fail to demonstrate trustworthiness in a way that they can recognize, you may never again earn their respect. Develop a plan to earn their trust through tangible actions and deeds.

Respect is further discussed in our book, Transforming Conflict: Relationship Skills for Ministers, available at www.amazon.com/dp/153004989X/