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Pause. Renew. Next.

Author: Ginny Detweiler (Page 1 of 10)

Self-Control: The Inner Boundary

I was never a bad kid. I didn’t have that kind of reputation with friend or teachers, yet I received my fair share of punishments and detentions. Why? Because of a little talking problem I had. I talked to my friends during class. I talked to the teacher without raising my hand. I talked aloud when I had a question. I talked standing in line or during assemblies. You name it, I talked. To be honest, I haven’t completely outgrown it. My mouth still gets me in trouble to this day.

Self-control is not my strong suit, but truthfully is it anyone’s? Perhaps there’s a reason that it’s listed last out of the nine fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and then Self-Control.

These days, I have another self-control problem, and it’s one that many people struggle with: the overuse of social media. Unfortunately, there’s no detention for it. No one is there to monitor my behavior, or dole out punishments if I spend too long scrolling Facebook. The platforms themselves are designed to be addicting. There’s no natural end to it, because scrolling can last forever. There’s no end to the likes and the comments that are possible. Each positive interaction receives a dopamine hit in the brain. Social media gives the essence of social interaction, but without most of the positive benefits. Even knowing all of this, I struggle to maintain control over it.

The apps are always accessible!

Over the years I have been through cycles of how to manage my social media use. After all, awareness is the first step, right? I desire to have self-control in this area, but somehow I always find myself overstepping the boundaries that I put in place. I can tell myself that I won’t look again for two hours, but, without meaning to, I impulsively check Instagram again as soon as boredom arises.

A few years ago, I heard Henry Cloud, co-author of the bestselling book, Boundaries, speak about this issue. He told a story from his own life, explaining that when he was at home he could eat well and work out regularly, but, whenever he went on the road for business, he inevitably started gaining weight. He couldn’t seem to stick to his healthy lifestyle choices while traveling. So, he reminded himself that whenever self-control fails, it’s important to bring in outside accountability. He then hired a trainer or life coach that he could check in with while he was on the road and found that afterwards he was better able to maintain his healthy lifestyle while traveling.

I have tried to remember this wise advice: Whenever self-control fails, bring in outside accountability.

Outside accountability can look like many different options. For phone use, it could mean having a timer on social media apps. It could mean shutting off all internet at a certain time of day. It could look like having an accountability partner. There are no limits to the creative ways that one could employ the use of outside accountability.

Usually, when we think and talk about boundaries, it’s within the context of relationships. Sometimes, however, we need to set boundaries with ourselves. Sin exists in others, but it also exists within. Solomon wrote about this concept long ago:

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.

Proverbs 25:28 ESV

Self-control is our boundary line. Without it, there’s little with which to keep the good in or the bad out. We alone have control over how we spend our time, what we consume, how we behave, or what we say.

If only it was easy. There’s a reason that self-control is listed not as a trait or characteristic we should exhibit but as a fruit of the Spirit. By my own self-will, I cannot achieve self-control. I can’t white knuckle it long enough to maintain goodness, patience, kindness, or peace either. They are fruit given by the Holy Spirit.

Gifts can be desired. They can be prayed for. They can be cultivated.

Although self-control may not be a fun fruit to cultivate, it sure is worth the effort.

Pause: Inhale deeply, then slowly exhale. Take a few moments to meditate on the above verse.

Renew: In what area of your life are you like a city broken into and left without walls? In what areas of your life do you have self-control, and in what areas is it lacking? Pray that the Lord would reveal these areas to you.

Next: If there is an area of your life in which you lack self-control, think about how you might begin to use outside accountability to help you have better boundaries in that area. Pray for self-control, and, if you feel so led, ask a trusted friend or mentor to pray for you as well.

May we strive to be cities with sturdy walls.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Discomfort: An Agent of Change

I spent last week at the beach. Vacation is always a welcome escape. I made no meals. I sat in the sun. I spent time with family. It was a good week. The only problem with vacation is that it always comes to an end.

The day after we returned, I found myself in a mini-depression. There was so much house and yard work to catch up on, so many bills to pay, so many appointments to schedule, so much on my to-do list at work this week. Even more than that, I felt overwhelmed with the knowledge that the coming year will bring many changes to our family, and that it was time to begin the process of enrolling our children in a new school.

The truth is, coming home from vacation meant I had to deal with all of my real-life problems again. Did you see that? I called them problems. That’s because they make me uncomfortable and cause me anxiety. By the following day, when I had a more healthy perspective again, I was thinking of them as challenges to be conquered, one by one. I made myself a to-do list for the week; I began praying about the changes and talking with my husband and began making a plan of action. Believe me, I’m still not excited about the challenges. Truthfully, they continue to cause me anxiety. Sure, I’d still rather go on vacation and forget about them, but now I am better prepared to deal with them.

That’s the way of discomfort. There are two ways to handle it: escape and avoid it, or allow it to challenge you into movement.

To be honest, I rather prefer the first way. In fact, most of the time when I find myself in a place of discomfort, my anxiety heightens, and I avoid, avoid, avoid. As a counselor, I know this as the flight part of the fight/flight scenario. If I see a challenge coming, I immediately look for the way out.

Avoidance only works for a time though. In the long run, it can make situations worse. The longer we avoid the hard things, the greater the anxiety grows. Challenges rarely disappear as we hide our heads in the sand. No, often a call to action is needed.

Which leads me to the place I am this week: making lists, praying, filling out forms, and going to necessary appointments. I would definitely rather be at the beach, but I know that as the upcoming changes occur, my anxiety will dissipate. The unknown is always uncomfortable, but in time, the unknowns will become known. I will have answers. I will have plans. Step by step, the future arrives, discomfort and all.

In our world right now, I think it is safe to say that discomfort abounds. The unknowns feel overwhelming. Opposing sides of political spectrums and race relations are leaving many feeling polarized, but what if instead of letting hard conversations and misunderstandings cause us to avoid, we allow the discomfort to move us towards change?

In my life, often the Lord uses places of tension and discomfort to bend me towards new perspectives, ideas, and life changes. Pain and discomfort open us up to new ways of thinking and living that we may have previously never considered. This is how He led me into the path of adoption. This is how He led me into the counseling profession.

Comfort is a great word to describe recliners, but cannot be the mindset of a disciple of Christ. Jesus was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, with no place to rest His head. Comfort was not His way. Not in this world, anyway. Comfort lulls us to sleep and gives us a false sense of safety. Christ calls us to follow Him, and through the toils and hardships of the narrow way He provides for our needs. That is the true calling, friends.

So, as I’m preaching to you and myself, let’s remember to listen to His still, small voice when we’re feeling uncomfortable. What is He saying? Could it be that He is leading you into it, through it? Keep following Him. He knows the way.

Pause, Renew, Next: Where are you feeling discomfort in your life? Pray about it, journal about it, search the Scriptures, talk with trusted friends or counselors in your life about it. If it is possible, make an action plan for how you want to move forward. May you be courageous, obedient, and ready to listen.

Faith, Music, and Fashion: An Interview with Amy Goloby

Have you ever wondered how singers break into the music industry or how they write their songs? I was able to ask these questions of today’s podcast guest, Amy Goloby. Amy is a singer, songwriter, and folk musician, and she lives with her husband in Texas. During our conversation, she talks about the courage it took to begin performing and how often she had to “do it afraid.”

Amy shares about her entry into the Christian music scene and about her process for writing music. We talk about her faith background as well. She explains that Romans 8:1 was a key part of her understanding the Lord’s healing work in her life, and that she is still in the process of learning to seek approval from God rather than people. Amy also tells the fun story of how she and her husband came together after years of praying for a spouse.

Near the end of the interview, Amy surprised me by announcing that she is launching a new clothing business called Liberty Outfitters. Amy explains that she studied fashion in college and is finally fulfilling a dream she’s had to begin an American clothing company that focuses on “reviving Godly values and principles.”

If you would like to know more about what Amy is up to, or learn more about her music, please visit her website: AmyGoloby.com. You can also find her music on Spotify, Pandora, or wherever you listen to music.

Well friends, this is the last episode of Season 2. It’s been an amazing year, and I am so thankful to each of my guests for sharing their stories. Season 3 will begin in August. Until then, you can follow Pause, Renew, Next on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or keep up with blog posts at the website: http://pauserenewnext.com/blog/.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Handle With Care: An Interview with Lore Ferguson Wilbert

Touch is a topic not often discussed or written about, especially within the church, yet it is such an important issue for life, health, and relationships. So, it was an absolute privilege to interview author Lore Ferguson Wilbert on this podcast episode about her thoughts on faith, the body, touch, and relationships. Lore recently wrote her first book, Handle with Care: How Jesus Redeems the Power of Touch in Life and Ministry, in which she delves into the topic of touch from the perspective of faith.

During our conversation, we talk about friendship, body image, and the importance of touch in relationship. Lore shares how the act of caring for her body became a key part of beginning to heal after experiencing trauma in her life. We also discuss the differences between self-care and self-worship, and how mindfulness can be a helpful tool for navigating the relationship we have with our bodies and food. Additionally, Lore explains how the embodiment of Jesus means everything to the Christian faith.

If you enjoy today’s podcast episode, and you’d like to hear more from Lore, check out her book, Handle With Care, or visit her website, sayable.net, where you can read more of her writing. If something from today’s episode resonated with you, I’d love to hear about it. Please comment below today’s show notes, or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Body Freedom

An ugly, pink scar graces the top of my left shoulder. It’s really unfortunate, because I used to enjoy wearing sleeveless shirts in the summer. After my left shoulder became scarred, I mostly gave them up. Now, rather than looking attractive and confident in a sleeveless top, showing off my shoulders leaves me feeling insecure.

This insecurity became concrete through an uncomfortable experience. A few years ago, while wearing a tank top, I was approached by a child who touched the scar and started asking incessant questions about it. Leave it to a child. Adults play off their curiosity in more socially appropriate ways, but there are no boundaries for curious children. Since that day, I’ve been careful to only wear sleeveless shirts when I felt I was in a confident enough mood to handle questions that might arise.

In my opinion, some scars seem more honorable than others. They tell a story and can be worn with pride. I mean, imagine being asked about a scar and being able to say, “Oh, that was left over from my brush with a mountain lion,” or “I was in a motorcycle accident years ago.” Those kinds of scars can be worn like badges of courage.

Mine, on the other hand, has no great story to accompany it. No, it’s just the leftover remnants of a dermatology surgery to remove an “abnormal” mole over the top of my left clavicle. My skin stretched while healing, and the result is a large, pink scar.

With this backstory in mind, I want to tell you about a shopping trip I took last weekend.

Clothes shopping is delightfully fun but can also be fraught with body image nightmares!

It was my first venture back out into normal shopping since the pandemic began, and I was so happy to be out and about. My shopping companion and I were chatting next to the women’s athletic wear rack. She remarked, “There are some cute pieces here, but I’ve decided not to wear sleeveless anymore. It’s not flattering as I age.”

I quickly replied, “Oh, yeah, since I got a scar on my shoulder, I don’t wear sleeveless anymore either.”

Another customer was hovering nearby and overheard our conversation. She jumped in, “I think you should both wear sleeveless. Don’t worry, be proud.” I looked up at her, and she was smiling encouragingly.

Attempting to respond with kindness, knowing that she was trying to be helpful, I said, “Oh, well I do when I’m in a confident mood. It just depends.”

Her smile dropped a little, and she nodded, continuing her shopping.

Let’s pause here. Now, I am a counselor who has frequent, honest conversations with women who struggle with low self-esteem and poor body image. I find myself preaching often how important it is to become friends with our bodies. I have recovered from an eating disorder myself and know the damage that an inner critical voice can wreak. In fact, I recently have been reading and thinking about how God made us embodied beings and spoke with author Lore Ferguson Wilbert on an upcoming podcast episode about faith, the body, and the importance of touch.

I can preach and think about healthy body image, but apparently I struggle to act on it. While considering all of this, maybe 45 seconds elapsed.

I found myself calling out to the woman, “Thank you! I love your spirit and your body-positive words. You’re right, God gives us all one body, and we get to steward it and enjoy it.”

She beamed back at me.

The whole conversation was over in 2 minutes flat. Still, I have reflected on it multiple times this week. Our words have power. That conversation could have turned into a gab-fest of sharing body flaws. All women know that conversations can devolve into negative body-talk quickly, especially when clothes shopping. Instead, one brave woman stepped in and spoke truth over the lies that my inner critic had been spreading.

Now, I’m not telling you that I’m going to start wearing sleeveless tops every day this summer, but I am proclaiming that I want to work harder at living with body freedom. I don’t want to just preach it. I want to live it. I want to encourage others to live it too.

Our bodies tell stories. They age, they sag, they scar, and they carry cellulite. They also move, breathe, sing, hug, and hold great beauty. Let’s collectively agree to lift one another up and encourage each other towards body compassion rather than body scorn. It’s a beautiful thing to embrace our bodies as sacred and an incredible legacy to pass to the next generation of little bodies growing in our midst.

Pause: Take a moment to read and meditate on I Corinthians 6: 19-20. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: In what ways do you find yourself being critical towards your body? How can you begin to challenge those old ways of thinking and instead treat your body as a gift given to you by a God who loves you?

Next: As you go throughout your week, pay attention to the way that you think and speak about your body. If you find that it’s continually negative, begin a gratitude list of what you are thankful for about your body.

May we find freedom to enjoy and find gratitude for the bodies we’ve been given.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Craving Connection

Lonely. It’s a sad word.

Loneliness isn’t the same as solitude, which entails a willingness to be alone. No, lonely means being alone against one’s wishes. It can feel needy, pathetic, and vulnerable. Loneliness can surface anytime, when one is actually alone, or in a room full of people. In fact, sometimes being alone in a crowd is the most extreme form of loneliness.

Loneliness is like an emotional alarm bell for connection.

There was a time after college when I spent much of my time feeling lonely. I had recently moved to a new town and a new state where I had very few friends. My husband was my best friend, but after he left for work each day I found myself with hours to fill and no one to talk to. I took my dog on walks at the park, went shopping, or spent time in the local library, just so I could be around other people. Even if I didn’t speak to other patrons, the simple act of being around other human beings seemed to dissipate the panic of feeling so very alone.

Fast forward to having children, Bible studies, a job, church small groups, and homeschool co-ops to belong to, and my moments of loneliness felt few and far between – until this year. Life changes have shifted some of our family routines, and the result is that I have seen friends less frequently this year. I was in the process of contemplating how I could remedy this issue when the quarantine hit.

Granted, even now, during the long weeks of social distancing I am rarely alone. With four children in the house, I find it difficult to even find moments of quiet, nevermind solitude. Still, I find my desire for relationship increasing as the weeks go by.

There’s always the beacon of belonging via social media, but this kind of connection is a double-edged sword. Although social media allows us to view each other’s lives and keep up to date on life events, it is just a mirage of real connection. It never quite scratches the itch. Actually, I find that social media increases my loneliness, as it often leaves me feeling left out and discontented.

The thing is, I know I’m not alone in the experience of loneliness. (See what I did there?)

There may never have been a time in the history of the planet that people have felt more lonely than they do right now.

There is absolutely nothing shameful about feeling lonely. Read that again: There is NOTHING wrong with you if you feel lonely. The catch-22 is that loneliness often leads us to a place of shame. As we register the emotion of loneliness, it can send our thoughts into self-questioning, self-loathing, or at the very least a loss of self-confidence. You may find yourself questioning what’s wrong with you that you don’t have more friends? Why has no one called or texted you today? Has everyone else moved on in life and forgotten you? The questions loneliness conjures up can be unique to the situation, yet almost always tinged with shame or fear.

I’m encouraging both of us, you and myself, to challenge those thoughts. We don’t need to challenge the feeling of loneliness. It’s a valid emotion, and it’s okay to acknowledge it. No, I want us to challenge the thoughts that accompany loneliness. Rather than turning them inwards in a self-questioning fashion, let’s embrace ourselves instead. If anything we need to give ourselves grace right now. We have the right to desire friendship and relationship. Relationships are beautiful. We are wired for human connection. This is a hard time, but we will make it through. We will hug again. We will socialize again. We will reunite with old friends, and we will make new ones. This won’t last forever.

On the other hand, right now is an opportune time to contemplate relationships. After all, when will you ever have this much thinking time again? Two questions for contemplation might be:

  • How can I cultivate my relationships while social distancing?
  • In what ways do I want to invest in relationship more or differently when I re-emerge from social distancing?

If you’ve been feeling lonely, hear me come alongside you and tell you that you’re not the only one. It’s a valid feeling, and it’s completely normal to experience it right now. Our grandparents are feeling it, our children are feeling it, our single friends are feeling it, our extroverted friends are especially feeling it, and, you guessed it, so are the introverts. We are absolutely made for connection. Let’s give ourselves and others grace as we navigate the waters of loneliness on our way back out into normal life.

Pause: God said in the beginning of Genesis, “It is not good for man to be alone.” Contemplate/journal about your need for relationship. When do you feel most connected in relationship? When do you feel most connected to God?

Renew: What are you learning about yourself during this time of social distancing? How do you want to work on cultivating friendships now and in the future? How can you give yourself grace to experience loneliness without shame?

Next: In your circles of relationships, who can you think of who might be especially lonely right now? How can you reach out to them this week?

May you be comforted by a God who promises to never leave or forsake you. You are never alone.

Pause, Renew, Next!

The Fostering Journey: An Interview with Julie Long

Since May is National Foster Care Month, this seemed like the perfect time to have a conversation about foster care. My friend, Julie Long, has been a licensed foster parent for many years, and she graciously agreed to be on the podcast to share about her own experience of fostering. She explains how she and her husband decided to enter into the world of foster care and the challenges and rewards they have faced along the journey.

During the conversation, Julie shares some of her favorite memories of foster care and discusses what it has looked like for her to co-parent with birth parents as they work toward reunification. She also talks about the impact fostering has had on her own children and how parenting foster children differs from how she would regularly parent. Additionally, she highlights the importance of her support system and how using respite care and setting boundaries has been a key component to her own self-care.

I love Julie’s heart for “the least of these” and her passion for advocating and spreading the word about foster care. If something you heard on today’s podcast episode resonated with you, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment below, or join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page. If you know someone who is considering become a licensed foster parent, please share this episode with them.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

That’s Not What I Wanted

It seems I was always meant to be a boy mom. As a little girl, I didn’t enjoy playing with dolls. You would more likely have found me making mud pies, floating boats through overflowing ditches, or catching bugs and small, unsuspecting animals. Even as an adult, I enjoy finding and exploring wildlife. I love plants and animals of all sorts!

Naturally, when we filled our pond last summer, the first thing I did was buy goldfish. I found great joy in feeding them and watching them swim around their new home. However, goldfish were not the only wildlife that took up residence in our pond. It’s as if a sonic blast sent the message to amphibians in the area to come make themselves at home too. We began finding frogs sitting nonchalantly on the lily pads. At first it was one, then two, and by the end of last summer, we were counting six frogs at a time!

Although I didn’t plan to stock my pond with frogs, this addition did not phase me one bit. In fact, I was almost as excited to have frogs as my 8-year-old son who is passionately in love with amphibians. I curiously set about trying to discover what kind of frogs we had living in our pond. Soon, I had narrowed it down to two types: the American bullfrog or the green frog.

Peek-a-boo. This is the best picture I could get of these sneaky frogs!

Stubbornly, I have been trying to figure which type of frogs we have for months. It’s trickier than it seems. Apparently, bullfrogs and green frogs are very similar and easily mistaken for one another. It turns out there are two main ways to tell them apart. For one thing, bullfrogs grow to be a lot bigger than green frogs. The juveniles however, look very similar. The other distinguishing factor are the lateral ridges behind their eyes. Getting a good look at those ridges is easier said than done, because those stubborn frogs like to hide under the water whenever I get close enough to look!

Truthfully, I have an opinion on the matter. I am hoping for green frogs. Bullfrogs tend to be bullies, and they eat smaller animals, including other frogs. If bullfrogs are around, not a lot of other small animal life will be. Plus, they’re big and ugly. I like frogs, but I tend to like them on the smaller side. The bigger they are, the more disgusting they become.

Recently, I was sitting by the pond, trying to get a good look at those sneaky frogs, praying that they were green frogs. (Yes, really praying. God cares about all of our thoughts and feelings, even if they’re silly.) While thinking about this, it occurred to me that whether they were bullfrogs or green frogs didn’t matter. My 8-year-old and I were still blessed with frogs. They might not turn out to be the kind of frogs I wanted, but they are still frogs nonetheless.

Now here is where I’m going to take a turn from the ridiculous to the serious. Buckle up while we switch gears. Frogs aren’t the only gift I’ve been given that didn’t turn out like I’d hoped.

Isn’t it true that while we pray for good gifts, when they arrive differently than we expected, we often feel immense disappointment, discouragement, or frustration. Somehow though, when the cloud of disappointment lifts, hindsight shows us that our prayers were answered anyway, and the gifts we received were beautiful in their own way.

For me, this principle has taken on many forms: from praying for a pregnancy and being given the gift of adoption instead, to praying for healing and being given the gifts of endurance and compassion through suffering I didn’t want. In each circumstance we face, the Lord is faithful to give the best gift of all: Himself. He walks with us, reassures us that His ways really are good, and reminds us that He will never leave us.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson firsthand. I love Peter. Like him, I live passionately and often find that my mouth gets me into trouble. I have a lot of compassion for his spiritual foibles. In John 21, we find Peter carrying on a conversation with Jesus, soon after He had risen from the dead. Graciously, Jesus forgives Peter for denying him in the hours before his death and reinstates him with a spiritual calling. He then gives him a vision for his future which will include not only leadership in caring for the church but also suffering and death. I guess Peter didn’t like this vision too much, because he turned to Jesus and asked about John’s future. Jesus directly responded to Peter’s question, answering:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 

John 21:22 NIV

I can imagine that this was not exactly the answer Peter was hoping for. I’m sure that if Peter had written out his own future plans, he would have wanted it to look a little more optimistic and pain-free. Still, God’s plans for him were unique and tailored to his gifts. His wisdom and leadership were fundamental to the early church. Even his suffering was used to encourage and inspire his fellow believers. He wrote eloquent and important letters to instruct them about how to suffer well. Those instructions, found in I Peter 4, still influence and teach us today.

So, what about you? What prayers have you prayed lately that turned out differently than you’d hoped? Can you trust that God’s plans and gifts for you will be good anyway? If no sparrow falls without Him knowing (Matthew 10) and if He knows every hair on your head, then you can bank on the fact that He will give you just what you need…even when it doesn’t look like what you want.

Pause: Breathe in slowly and fill up your belly with air. Now, slowly exhale. Find a quiet place and read John 21: 15-23. What stands out to you in this passage? How was Jesus offering grace to Peter?

Renew: Reflect on gifts the Lord has given you in the past year. Were those gifts exactly what you prayed for? If not, how are you learning to appreciate what you’ve been given?

Next: Be on the lookout for how you can encourage your neighbors (literal or figurative neighbors) who are in a season of not receiving the gifts they’ve prayed for. You don’t necessarily need to offer words: maybe just support in the form of a hug, a listening ear, or an encouraging verse. Sometimes gifts come in the form of comfort and friendship too.

May you be given good gifts and receive grace to appreciate them, even when they come in the form of bullfrogs!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Music and Mothering: An Interview with Bethany Guthrie

Although we couldn’t meet in the same room due to social distancing, I absolutely loved this conversation with my friend, Bethany Guthrie. In this episode, we talk about everything from chickens, to music, to parenting a child on the autism spectrum. I appreciate Bethany’s fresh and honest perspective about both worship and parenting, and I came away from this conversation encouraged. I think you will too.

Bethany Guthrie, this week’s podcast guest, shares about her love of music and worship, and about parenting a child who sees the world differently.

Bethany grew up with a love of music and can play many instruments. In this interview, we discuss some of the music that has been influential in her life. She talks about how music engages all of her senses and how playing the piano has not only helped her express her emotions but also helps with managing anxiety. Bethany explains that at one point in her life performing was a way to show off, but, after becoming a Christian, playing music became a way for her to worship and show who God is.

Bethany also shares in this episode about her experience of parenting a son with autism. She talks about walking through the diagnosis process and explains not only some of the signs of autism but also some of the unique gifts that her son brings to the world. Although she hasn’t always liked the phrase, “it takes a village,” Bethany says that, when it comes to raising a child on the autism spectrum, it really does take a village. She has found speech and occupational therapy to be incredibly helpful for her son and explains that having a brother has been one of the most helpful therapeutic interventions for him.

If something about this conversation resonates with you, please share this podcast episode or comment below today’s show notes. You can also join the conversation on PRN’s Facebook page.

May you be encouraged on your journey with Jesus.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Wandering Thoughts and Focused Attention

Where do your thoughts wander?

It’s been a long day at work, and you are relieved to be in the car driving home. As you pull into the driveway and park your car, you realize that you have no recollection of the last 15 minutes of your commute. Were you driving on autopilot?

On Sunday morning, you find yourself sitting in the church pew, twenty minutes into the pastor’s sermon. He just made his third sermon point, but looking down, you discover that you never wrote down his second point. Instead, you were thinking about what you were going to have for lunch.

Maybe you find yourself cuddled up on the couch, reading a book before bed. Your mind wanders, and when you come back to the book, you realize that you’ve been scanning and re-scanning the same paragraph for some time.

Sound familiar? Our minds love to wander. Often it feels like work to make them sustain attention. In a world of faster and faster technology, our brains are being trained how to work more quickly, multitask more efficiently, and sustain attention for smaller and smaller amounts of time. It seems we are losing the art of deep focus.

The Gift of Focus

Interestingly, there is a growing body of neuroscience research to support the importance of focused attention. Concentrating or focusing deeply is a practice that is incredibly healthy and helpful. You could almost think of it as fertilizer for the brain. Focused attention is a key part of mindfulness, and thankfully because of neuroplasticity, we can train ourselves to get better and better at it.

In fact, you have much more control over your own attention than you think you do. Try this:

  • Bring your focus upward, until you find a focal point on the ceiling. Stare at it for 10 seconds.
  • Now bring your attention downward, to your feet. Take note of them: Are you wearing socks or shoes? What color are they?
  • Now bring your attention to your breath. Focus on how you are filling your lungs slowly and then gently exhaling. Do you see your chest rising and falling?

Our minds are always paying attention to something. It just so happens that much of the time, what we are paying attention to isn’t what is currently unfolding in front of us. Curt Thompson, MD, and author of The Soul of Shame, encourages his readers to “pay attention to what you’re paying attention to.” Where do your thoughts drift when your mind is operating on autopilot?

How can you increase your ability to sustain attention?

There are many mental health benefits to increasing the ability to sustain focus and attention, and there are a myriad of practical ways to practice increasing this capacity. To test your own attention span, try this exercise:

Focus on an object in the room, any object will do. Now, try to focus only on that object for one minute. Whenever you notice your attention drifting, try to bring it back to focusing on the object. (Pause your reading and really try it!)

Did you try it? Now, be honest: how many seconds did it take for your thoughts to drift? Was it 5, 10, or 15 seconds? If you made it to 30, you’re doing pretty well for a first try!

This exercise is not made to emphasize how bad you are at focusing, rather it’s to practice increasing your ability to bring your thoughts back into focus. Our thoughts and attention like to drift, but being able to bring them back is the key. Over time you will notice that you are able to focus for longer and longer spans of time without your thoughts drifting.

Personally, I find that focusing on objects is difficult. For me, focusing on music, or choosing a word or phrase to focus on comes much more easily. Isn’t it interesting then, that Scripture often mentions meditating on God’s Word? The idea of meditating on God’s Word is repeated often throughout the Psalms.

Choosing a phrase of Scripture on which to focus and meditate is an incredible way to not only train your brain, but to feed your spiritual life as well. For more ideas on creative ways to meditate on Scripture, listen to my PRN Podcast episode about this subject.

A screenshot of John Eldredge’s Pause app, a great way to begin practicing rest and meditation

Pause, Renew, Next idea: I have recently found a Scriptural meditation app that I feel captures not only the heart of this blog post’s intent, but also is in line with the whole Pause, Renew, Next concept. I have found it helpful myself, and would love to pass it on to you. John Eldredge’s Pause app, is a free, easy way to schedule in a moment to pause and reflect during your busy day. It has one, three, five, and ten minute options, and walks the listener through meditative prayer and Scripture readings. If you’re needing an easy way to begin practicing focused attention from a Scriptural perspective, the Pause app may be a great place to start.

May you find peace and joy as you take moments to focus deeply and allow your mind and body to rest and renew.

Pause, Renew, Next!

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