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What do Queen, Peter Sarstedt, Paul Simon, Maroon 5 and Abba have in common? Apart from them making up a pretty good Saturday afternoon playlist, they also help tie this post together… let me explain.
My blog posts so far all dealt with the adversities we experience. Seems like I am not quite off that track yet. This post is a bit like “all your pain in one video” — watch it if you have not yet, 1,5 minutes and guaranteed to put a smile on your face!
This post is a bit like that, and there are a few song titles which provides the structure today.
Song 1: Under Pressure
As much as we try to keep everything together when under pressure, it still unravels at the seems sometimes. This past week I have seen tears, frustration and exhaustion with some of my clients, my friends and my children. The pressure just got to them. Some had to deal with life altering bad news. Others had to deal with new routines at school and assignments due. Some had to deal with moving offices and the nightmare logistics of not having phone and internet connection.
Friday night it was my turn. I thought I had the pressures all nicely cooped up under the hood. At least enough for my friends and family to see just the occasional irritation and the odd micro-management gesture. That’s Paul’s term for when I instruct him exactly how to make the hot chocolate…… OK and a few other things. Only a few. I am not an addict, I’m cool.
Both Paul and I had a week that were jam-packed with pressures. When Friday evening finally arrived, I was quite relieved. The evening was a true gem. A few ladies from church had a gathering for an evening filled with soup, wine and craft making. We had a super awesome time leaving all the pressures behind and having loads of fun. After months of social isolation, this was a blissful experience.
So, that was the perfect answer to relieve the stress I have experienced during the past week, right? I would wake up on Saturday morning, rested, full of energy and creativity, ready to finish my blog. But life is not as tidy as that.
Because sometimes, before going to bed, you say something that offends your husband. That turns into a discussion, which turns into an argument, which turns into sour sentiments. There’s that pretty idea of a peaceful Friday night and a rejuvenated Saturday morning scattered. Great, and now I have to write a blog about dealing with pressure in a Godly way. Quite ironic!
I tell you though, it feels like my mom has called me to come and drink some Lewensessens. Some of you grew up having to drink castor oil, rolayn oil or some other ghastly natural remedy. Ours was Lewensessens. I get cold shivers just thinking about that aloe-like bitter taste.
So, how should we as Christians respond when under pressure? To answer this, we have to answer another question first:
Song 2: Where do you go to my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed?
We need to reflect on our thought-life if we want to become mentally fit enough to withstand life’s pressures. Knowing what fills our minds is important if we don’t want to succumb to negative thought patterns.
In recent weeks Paul and I have discovered amazing new mind territory. We have enrolled in a course to increase reading speed, comprehension and memory. It’s exciting, but hard work at the same time. It involves self-discipline, setting out time to listen, digest and practice new techniques. This is a particularly hard thing to do for me. My mind is all over the place, even on a good day. You know that feeling when you haven’t been exercising for a looooong time and you enrol with a personal trainer to help get you on the right track? You get the picture…
In today’s day and age it is so difficult to manage our attention. Distractions are all too familiar with us. People are looking everywhere for help to deal with this issue. The internet is flooded with articles, tips and exercises to help us with decreased attention span. Elevate is one of my favourite brain game apps by the way. Focus is critical for mental survival in a post-modern world. To get focus, we must be able to control of our thought processes.
So, the question again: What occupies our mind space?
We need to reflect on whether our thoughts are focussed on what God wants us to think. Are our thoughts God honouring? Are they helpful to others? Are they loving? Philippians 4:8 mentions:
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -think about such things.
We need to fill our minds with these things. That way we could stop our minds from getting entangled in unhealthy thought patterns.
As Christians, we are aware of the moral temptations we need to steer clear of in our minds. The Bible teaches about the dangers of lust, bitterness, revenge, the stomach being your god, money and such. Some of you might have a heavy battle with some of these temptations in the dark corners of their minds. Others’ mind space might be occupied by a million distractions not necessarily evil in itself. These thoughts are not lurking in the dark, but just slightly outside the brightly lit spaces in our minds. It has a kind of greyish tint to it. Those thoughts that are not necessarily morally wrong, but it leads to numbness, emptiness and focus on self. They steal our focus away from God. Thoughts about what we should wear and what we should eat. What our house should look like. What our schedules should look like. In Matthew 6:31 (ESV) Jesus says:
Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?
Should I share some of my thought-life with you? You’ might beg me NOT to. Going through to-do lists in my head over and over. Every day I press play, pause, repeat. Paul sometimes says it tires him just to see my going through the lists in my head. I wear the hats of a mom, wife, social worker, daughter, friend, and boss among others. They all come with their own pressure-packages. I try to wear all hats in the best possible way, try to honour God with keeping my mind sober, positive and focussed on Him.
But the pressure still sometime feels too much. Fatigue let my mind run to less identifiable idols. If I could just get through the day, so we can watch a series tonight. Or maybe I will just quickly scroll through Pinterest while I take a ten-minute coffee break. It’s like the lyrics of Mambo nr 5, but with a twist:
A little bit of Facebook in my life
A little bit of Linked-In by my side
A little bit of Series in is all I need
A little bit of Pinterest’s what I see….
Here is the thing; what we are feeding our minds does stay there. It spills over into our attitudes about life. Soon our loved ones pick up on our mood, our pet topics, our discontent about things. Our idols in our minds never stay hidden. The mouth indeed speaks what the heart is full of (Matthew 12:34; Proverbs 4:23; Luke 6:45).
Song 3: Slip sliding away
Paul Simon sings:
The more I near my destination the more I keep slip sliding away
Now, how do we get back if we have slipped, or prevent slipping into unhelpful thought patterns?
The book of Psalms contains excellent teaching to mentor us on how we should apply our minds to think the right thoughts. These songs show us how to pray and worship. It also shows us what our posture should be towards God and life. In essence (not Lewensessens please), we can deduct from the Psalms that we should worship God in all we do. We are designed to worship. If we don’t worship God, we will find something else to worship.
Song 4: Let’s dance
The two -step approach.
Dawid Bowie sings that we must dance to the song playing on the radio. I am not a dance guru. I was brought up in the Afrikaanse Gereformeerde Kerk, so that implies I have an inherited dance defect in my DNA. But I am thinking here of the Two-Step. If we want to deal with the pressures of this life effectively, we basically have to do a two-step dance. In the book of Psalms, we come to see that there is this two-step theme. The Bible Project explains it beautifully.
Want to stop sinful thoughts? Want to stop ineffective ways to deal with stress? Want to be more focussed and intentional with your daily productivity? Want to deal better with conflict? Want to overcome emotional loss?
It sounds like a quick weight loss scheme….
TWO EASY STEPS!
Actually, it’s not that easy. Nor is it quick. But it is part of the answer.
Lament because we have to interpret life in context of what God intended it to be. We need to recognise how far we have slipped from his intention for our lives. We need to acknowledge how much we miss because we have slip-slided away from communion with God.
Praise because we have to know how much God loves us. We need to remember what He has done for us when He took the guilt of our sin on His shoulders. We need to remember that He cleaned is and therefor we can stand before God based on Jesus’ merit. We need to celebrate what Jesus is currently doing for us interceding before the Father and preparing room for us in the Father’s house. We need to rest in the comfort that the Helper gives while we wait to be re-united in body and spirit with God. We can find peace in the hope that God is for us and not against us.
Song 5: Thank you for the music
The Two-Step approach of lament and praise clears our minds of self-focused thoughts. It frees us up to love more, without fear (John 4: 18). It enables us to enjoy life as God intended. It frees us to enjoy the good gifts that He has given to us in this life and the next.
It allows us to say thank you for the music.
I hope you will also be mesmerised by the good things God fills your lives with daily.
May you be blessed as you lament and praise at His throne!