“Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:2 NASB (emphasis mine)
If you were to visit my house and take a look on my refrigerator, you would find an index card with the word “FOCUS” written on it. I read a devotion at the beginning of the year that suggested I choose one word for 2014. I chose the word focus. Merriam-Webster defines focus as “the subject on which people’s attention is [centered]” (see http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/focus). Lately, I have been so distracted. My prayers turn into to-do lists. I am constantly trying to find new ways to multitask. (This ended up being a disaster the night I caught a potholder on fire! Alas, that is a story for another day!) I feel as though I’ve lost sight of some very important things and I’m losing ground in areas that I had previously gained.
Two and a half years ago, I felt a nudging from the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t healthy, and God was calling me to a healing of mind, body and soul. Over the next months, I grew closer to the Lord than I ever had been. In the process, what was transforming on the inside began to show on the outside. By the end of that year, I had lost almost 50 pounds! People would frequently ask me, “How did you do it?” I would always say, “Eating right, exercising and a lot of prayer!” Somewhere along the way, I began to be prideful or too me-focused. I enjoyed a little too much people praising me for my new looks. I took my eyes off the Savior and forgot the true purpose and source of my healing. Some of that weight has crept back, and I’m not just talking about pounds. I can also feel the weight of spiritual malnourishment and a body and mind lacking sufficient strength. My marriage and my home has suffered because I had stopped growing in the Lord and was becoming frustrated with the always changing tides, circumstances and conflicts that come for any home.
I began to see that I didn’t just need to focus on the right things and to be present in the moment or task at hand, but I needed to refocus on my true source of strength and fulfillment—Jesus Christ. Last week, I took a sabbatical to “figure some things out.” My marriage needed a refresher, and my soul craved time alone with the Living Water. What follows are some things on which I have refocused. Although my personal journey has been on my health (physical, emotional and spiritual), my marriage and my home, I believe these principles can help us all refocus.
“But only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good [or better] part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10:42 NASB (emphasis mine)
God must come first. I’m reminded of a funny family movie I have seen a few times. Two boys wanted to play soccer (and were really good at it), but their work at a family deli business didn’t allow time for it. Finally, their grandfather allowed them to play, but only after they agreed to the family motto: meat comes first. They could be on the soccer team just as long as it didn’t interfere with the meat business. Even though this is a humorous analogy, it is the same with God. He must come first in our lives. Marriage is wonderful, but not if I look to my husband for fulfillment rather than God. Spending time with my kid is great, but not if it takes the place of quiet time with the Lord. Food is delicious, but not if I turn to it for comfort in times of stress instead of the sustaining Bread of Life. God must come first.
The Right Motivation
“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.”
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV
I would love to lose about 8 pounds. This may not sound like much, but I have been struggling with leaving the pounds behind and not gaining more as I go. Yet, I have also questioned my motivation for losing the weight. Is it just to look good on the outside? While it is not wrong to want this, I am setting myself up for failure and disappointment if this is my primary motivation. Whether I eat or drink or whatever I do, I should do all to the glory of God (see 1 Cor 10:31). My motivation should be to honor God, to give Him the testimony of my life.
I also struggle with the right motivations in my marriage. I long for a better, closer relationship with my husband, and I am actively seeking to make that possible, but I can’t do it alone. On my own, I seek my own happiness and pleasure and wish to avoid discomfort. My selfish motivations can hinder the Holy Spirit from working in our lives. The truth is marriage is messy and sometimes painful and growth happens the most in the midst of struggle. Sometimes God may call us away to deal with us separately and sometimes God will draw us close to work together. Through it all, my motivations need to never waiver from giving God the glory. The right motivation can determine how far we go on the journey, and it is a huge part of my refocusing.
“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.”
Philippians 3:13 ESV
“bearing with one another and if, one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
Colossians 3:13 ESV
One of my closest friends took inspiration for her tombstone from Ruth Bell Graham. She has told me, when she passes away, she wants hers to say, “End of Construction. Perfection Achieved.” If you are living and breathing, the truth is you are not perfect—and neither is the person sitting next to you. It would do us well to remember that. Forgetting, we put very unrealistic and unfair perfectionistic expectations on ourselves and others. When we see others as sinners in need of grace just like us, we can extend grace, compassion and forgiveness. We are in need of those same things. Personally, I would love to exercise six to seven times a week, and I tried, I really did. However, at the end of each week, I would feel so defeated for not accomplishing my goal. I had to get real with myself. Was I doing harm by reducing my “exercise requirement?” No. Yet, I was becoming distracted and frustrated by putting needless demands on myself. So, I aim to exercise three times a week, move every day and anything above that is a perk! There is freedom in realistic expectations!
The Power of No
“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
Matthew 16:24 ESV
No isn’t one of my favorite words. In fact, I really don’t like the word at all. I worry about saying it to others, worry that they will be disappointed or upset with me. I fear letting someone down or losing a relationship. Yet, sometimes I need to say no to protect what is valuable. Proverbs reminds us that we need to guard the heart above all else (see Prov 4:23). Sometimes I need to say no to protect time with my family. Sometimes I need to say no to protect the sanctity of my marriage. Sometimes I need to say no just to protect my own sanity!
I really don’t like saying no to myself. Denial is not one of my fondest spiritual practices, but I need to say no to myself. To protect my health, I need to say no to certain foods at certain times. To foster my spiritual devotion and an obedient spirit, I need to say no in an act of fasting for a time. Saying no to the wrong things and yes to the right things is an act of building up and comes with a whole lot of healing.
“For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”
Philippians 1:21 ESV
Refocusing begins and ends with surrender. Every morning, I need to surrender my day to the Lord. Every night, I am called to surrender all the praise to Him and seek forgiveness for all my failures. My life is nothing without Him. Success on this earth won’t amount to a hill of beans in eternity. I want to live so my Heavenly Father will be proud of me. May God look at me, His daughter, and be pleased with the music of my life. I must surrender my whole healing, my marriage, my kids, my talents and my future to Him. Sometimes I have to surrender several times a day. May my time spent refocusing remind me of what I am truly gaining (not focus on the losing) by living a life in Christ.