Don’t Rush Ahead

Do you remember going for walks or bike rides with your family as a kid? Were you the one who always went as far as you possibly could because you were just too excited to hold back? Did your parents have to tell you to stop and wait for them to catch up, to not go any farther than they could see?

I don’t think I really did that when I was a kid. I have always been really cautious when it comes to things like that. But I do think I take a similar approach to other things in my adult life.

I want to know what’s coming. I want to be prepared. And, if at all possible, I want to get ahead. I want to feel like I’m buying myself extra time by skipping steps or getting things done faster now so I can have a buffer later. And I certainly don’t want to feel like I’m wasting my time doing things that I don’t need to be doing.

I don’t like waiting. I don’t like doing the foundational work that feels like nothing at all. I want to get to the big, fun, challenging, heart-of-the-work things that produce results and give me something to show for all my work.

I have a bad habit of cheating myself out of my stretching before and after my workouts. I do stretch some, but not nearly as much as I should. And, of course, I never realize it until the next day when my muscles are sore and tight because I didn’t take the time to stretch them properly.

The problem is that I don’t give stretching its due. It feels useless. I have limited time allotted for working out, and I don’t want to “waste” it on stretching when I could otherwise be doing cardio or strength training- things that make my heart beat harder or strain my muscles in ways that I can feel in a more tangible way right then in the moment.

When I was in school, I always loved the professors who gave out course calendars and detailed rubrics for projects ahead of time. I loved knowing what was coming and what was expected of me. It allowed me to plan out my time and energy efficiently. In courses where I didn’t have a clear view of what came next, I found myself wondering what laid ahead.

And I’m finding myself in that place once again. I started a writing course a couple weeks ago, and I’m having a really (REALLY) hard time not rushing ahead. I did the prewriting exercises faster than the standard course timeline laid it out, but now I’m finding myself itching to look at material I’m not slated to encounter for a few more weeks yet. And I really don’t need it until then. But this little part of me just wants to know it all. To be prepared. To avoid surprises.

The more I think about it, the more I come to realize I do that with all of life. I want to avoid big surprises. I want to know what’s coming. I want to be prepared.

But life’s unpredictable. And if I run ahead, I might encounter something sooner than I’m meant to, and I might not be prepared to handle it because I didn’t let the waiting do its work. If I skip steps in my writing, I can most likely come back to them later. If I forget to stretch, I’ll be sore the next day, but I’ll survive just fine. But if I skip steps or rush ahead in life, I might make wrong turns, poor and uninformed decisions, and find myself ill-equipped to handle obstacles because I didn’t let my character grow before plowing forward. And if I knew everything all at once, I would certainly get overwhelmed.

I know it’s important to take things one step at a time. The steps exist for a reason– they make the journey easier, allowing me to tackle just one at a time instead of the whole staircase. I just sometimes need the reminder to not skip steps and try to rush ahead without doing the important foundational work first.

So today I’m reminding myself: Take life one step at a time. Don’t rush the process. Don’t skip steps just because you can’t see why they’re important right now.

 

Do you tend to run ahead? Do you have any tips for taking things one step at a time? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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Embrace the Process

I was reminded today that progress takes time. It’s often very slow-going. It’s a journey.

bike-printable-polka-dots-black

Courtesy of 36th Avenue

But sometimes I really wish it could just happen overnight. I know that’s not how it works, but a girl can dream, right?

Anyway, part of my aim to love better this year is to love myself and show myself grace. That means that I have to be okay with making slow progress and even backsliding at times. It’s a two-step-forward-one-step-back type of dance.

It can be really frustrating when all I want is to leave bad habits in the dust. I want to crush them, conquer them, be done with them, and forget they ever existed.

But that wouldn’t teach me much. It certainly wouldn’t foster compassion, patience, grace, understanding, perseverance, or hope. And those are the more important things, anyway, not kicking a bad habit or achieving a new goal. Those are the lessons that are hard-won, the experiences that truly refine character.

Learning new habits and training myself to reach new goals is going to be a lifelong process. I might as well get used to the fact that I’ll always have goals to set, new things to challenge myself to accomplish. There’s always room for growth. And with the growth is room, too, for grace.

We’ll never be perfect. We will continually fall short. We can certainly grow, improve, strengthen, and make better decisions. We can become better versions of ourselves. But all along the way we should practice doing so gracefully.

By grace, we’ve been saved from the need to prove ourselves. By grace, we’ve been freed from having to earn our salvation and our worth. By grace, we’ve been given the opportunity to live life abundantly, without the pressure to do everything perfectly, and truly enjoy the journey.

By grace, we can let go of our pasts, our mistakes, and our baggage. We can move forward, even if our steps are small.

So today I’m choosing (through gritted teeth) to embrace the process, as slow as it might be. I’m going to take it one step at a time, even when some of those steps don’t feel like they’re leading me in the right direction. I’m going to trust that every small decision I make that supports my goals is important, even if some of them feel insignificant at times.

I’m going to persevere when I encounter setbacks and pray for strength when mine runs out. I’m going to refuse to bite off more than I can chew. I’m going to not aim to be perfect (because I know deep down that I never can be anyway), but just try to be one step ahead of where I was yesterday. Just one. Not twelve. Not seven. Not even two. Just one.

 

What’s your one step for today? Do you have any secrets to embracing the process more easily?

 

Further reading:

8 Simple Strategies For When You’re Struggling to Declutter by Claire Wilde, Becoming Minimalist

 

 

Image source: http://www.the36thavenue.com/free-printables-2/

Give Yourself Grace

In pursuit of living a life of love, I’m coming to realize how immensely important it is to give myself grace. We’ve heard that we’re our own worst critics, and it’s definitely true. We can see it in our New Year’s resolutions— when we set the bar far too high and expect too much of ourselves, only to quit a month later and berate ourselves for our failure.

When we hold too rigidly to our expectations, we’re setting ourselves up for greater disappointment if we don’t meet them. If we do meet them, we’re satisfied (but probably exhausted), and if we don’t, we’re crushed. However, if we set more realistic goals, we’re more likely to attain (and even exceed) them, and we set ourselves up for success. Small victories give us momentum to keep going, pushing ourselves forward one step at a time.

I think it’s safe to say we’ll all fall short of our goals at some point. But how we handle that says more about us than the failure itself. If we get back up and remind ourselves that we can accomplish our goals if we only persevere (and maybe alter our goals a bit), we build up our confidence and keep moving forward. But if we get upset and let our inner monologue fill with critical remarks, we’re moving backward and letting fear get in the way of accomplishing anything except sitting on the couch with a pint of ice cream and binge-watching Netflix.

Sometimes we just need to give ourselves a break and lower the bar. If we set our sights a bit lower (not rock-bottom low, but just a step or two ahead instead of twelve), we set ourselves up for success, making it easier to take small steps forward to achieve our bigger goals. If we expect to take great leaps overnight, we might want to crawl under a rock at the first sign of failure. We’re creatures of habit; it takes a while to break an old habit or break in a new one. We need to give ourselves time and room to grow.

In working towards various goals, I’m trying to remind myself often that I need to show myself some grace.

At the end of the day, when only a quarter of the things on my to-do list are crossed off, I’m going to choose to show myself grace.

I will celebrate small victories, knowing they’re the key to achieving big dreams.

When I take two steps forward and one step back, I will respond in grace.

When I hear myself starting to get frustrated and upset about my inability to meet my exceedingly high expectations, I will lower the bar in grace.

I won’t be afraid to dream, and dream big, but will hold my dreams loosely, knowing they might change and grow as I do.

Tomorrow’s a brand new day. It won’t be perfect, but it will be a whole lot better if I extend myself some much-needed grace. And I bet yours will be, too.

 

 

Image source: www.karipatterson.com

Not-So-Patiently Waiting

Waiting. I’m not very good at it. Or should I say I’m not very good at doing it patiently?

I’m currently in another season of waiting. And I’m once again reminded that I’m not a naturally patient person. I want to move on to the next thing once I’ve set my mind on it. I don’t usually like change, but when I’m the one initiating it, I have a hard time waiting for it. I find myself restless, wondering what the point of the waiting is, or if there even is one.

But I just read a post on a blog I’ve really been enjoying lately, written by Shawn Smucker, a guest writer, entitled Above All, Trust in the Slow Work of God. It reminded me that God is at work in the waiting. There is a divine purpose for every step of the process. And I need to be patient, allowing the growth to happen in the in-between times. I need to not keep searching for the next thing, but be content with where I am for the time being.

While we usually obsess over the thing we’re waiting for, the thing we want, what the waiting can do for us, can do in us, is never about that thing.

…While I continue to wait for this thing that may or may not happen, what’s happening in me has nothing to do with the end result. There is “a new spirit gradually forming within” me, especially if I can believe that I am not wandering this dark house alone. – Shawn Smucker

Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Thinking back upon other seasons of change, I can see evidence of growth happening in those uncertain, impatient days. I still don’t see the whole picture, but I trust that there is a reason for everything that happens, and a reason that they happen when they do.

Waiting on God’s timing ensures that the process of refining can happen slowly and thoroughly, making me into the person I need to be before I take whatever step lies ahead of me. When I strain for what’s out of reach and rush toward the future without waiting patiently, I get things I’m not prepared for, and they’re definitely not as sweet. Waiting creates in us a sense of desire, one that produces even greater measures of excitement when we finally obtain what it is that we’ve been waiting for. It reminds us that there are great things ahead. But it also can serve to remind us that there are great things right where we are as well.

Like they say, it’s about the journey, not the destination. So, today, may you and I set our sights not on the destination ahead of us, but on the journey right around us and the world under our feet. May we embrace both change and consistency as they come, knowing there is a place and a purpose for each.

While I’m Waiting

It’s hard to feel like you’re on the cusp of something, just shy of having arrived, and stuck there. You’re so very close to where you want to be, and yet you’re not quite there yet. You can see it, but your fingers keep coming up a just a little short of reaching it.

This is how I’ve felt when trying to figure out what I want to invest my life in. I have vague dreams for the future, but nothing concrete, and lately have found myself wondering whether even these ethereal ideas are the same as they were even six months ago.

I’m indecisive by nature, and I hate change. I began to be restless when reading about living a life of purpose a while back, and I started dreaming about what my skills and talents might be put to use for– how I might be able to use the gifts God has given me to serve Him and further His kingdom.

Some days, I feel good about where I am, knowing that without an idea of where I want to go or what I want to do from here, I should make the most of my current situation, trusting that I am here for a reason. I focus those days on trying to be fully present and invested in the now– the people I currently work with, recreate with, celebrate with, communicate with, and otherwise interact with. I strive to be a light in my everyday life, hoping to be faithful in everything I do.

But there are days when I feel dissatisfied, convinced that I was made for more. I don’t know yet what more looks like. I am beginning to recognize what kinds of gifts I have been given, but I have yet to find opportunities to use them in anything resembling a career path or vocation. These days, I pray for a clearer vision for my life, knowing that if I try to manufacture opportunities on my own, they will fall flat; I need to wait on the Lord and His strength.

There might never be a day when I feel like I have finally arrived, finally become everything I’ve always wanted to become. But what would I then have to strive for, to aim for? What would that even look like? I don’t think I will ever get there, and that’s a good thing. I can always grow in one area or another (or ten), and having a little voice of dissatisfaction at times is what prompts me to change when I might otherwise grow complacent.

I may not know where I’m headed, but that uncertainty keeps me grounded. It reminds me that I can’t do this alone. While so many things about the future are up in the air, I know the process of trusting God and following Him one step at a time is growing my character, and at the end of the day, that is far more valuable than attaining any of my own goals.

[I]t is a comforting reminder that no matter what happens to me, no matter what I lose or what I gain, what I have left at the end of the day is the person I am becoming. Change is not easy. It is slow and steady and arduous and painful most of the time, but real change—inside change—is lasting. – Allison Fallon

I know that the in between time of life is a time of character development. The Lord is working in my heart and in my life, forming me into a woman after His own heart, preparing me for what lies ahead. If I were to receive what He has in store for me now, I likely wouldn’t be ready to take it. As much as I can be incredibly impatient with God’s timing, I’m learning that He truly knows best. He created me, knows my heart most intimately, and has a great plan for my part in His kingdom. My job is to be patient in the meantime, faithful in the “little” things, and to keep my eyes open for ways He is working even know.

On My Terms

There are ares of my life that God is trying to correct and change and mend and rebuild, yet I keep fighting. I keep saying that I want the victory, but I want it on my own terms. I’m still looking for a conditional surrender. I could handle a small plea bargain. I don’t want the help to come from that person, that place, or that other place. I want to be the master of my own future. O foolish man that I am! I want deliverance– but I don’t want to go through detox! -Bob Williams, Life Happens: Shut Up, Smile, and Carry a Plunger!

I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve tried to get my own way, trying to convince God that my plan is somehow better than His. I complain, I fight, I whine, I beg, I barter, I cry, and I shout, thinking somehow I’ll get through and change His mind. I act like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum in the checkout lane because I can’t have a candy bar before dinner. I put my foot down, refusing to take the road laid out before me because it’s unknown and scary, and I’m comfortable right where I am.

I want what I want, and I want it now. I don’t want to be patient. I don’t want to exchange my dreams for something else. I don’t want to be refined through difficult experiences, stretched by trials, and strengthened by challenges. I want the easy route. I want to go through life scot-free, living a fairy tale life inside a protective bubble of my own making. I want to choose how I learn– through travel, fun experiences, happy moments, joyful times– not through overcoming obstacles, facing my fears head-on, and fighting battles that appear completely hopeless.

Except when I take a moment to really consider it, I realize those things aren’t true. Deep down, I do want to be patient. I do want to exchange my little dreams for God’s bigger, better ones. I want to be willing to wait as long as He wants me to, trusting that He has purpose for the waiting.

I want to take whatever path He sets me on, knowing that He is going with me, and that even when I can’t see around the next bend or over the next hill, He can. He is working in my heart and my life all the while, developing my character and orchestrating the perfect circumstances in which to usher in His special blessing– one that is FAR better than the petty things I spend my time pestering Him about.

This is the truth I cling to when I find myself mid-tantrum: God is God and I am not. He said we would go through trials. He said we would be refined through fire, just like gold. And I want to be pure and blameless before Him, not full of impurities and junk like I am on my own when I don’t let Him have His way with my heart and in my life. In order to win the battles I face, I need to be still. I need to quit kicking and screaming, putting up a pathetic fight to try and get my way, and understand that my Heavenly Father has a greater perspective, more experience and wisdom, and knows a better way. Let not my will, but His, be done.

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Bearing Fruit

But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. -Galatians 5:22-26

Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. These virtues are highly valued, though in my experience, frustratingly difficult to produce of our own merit.

As things get more stressful with the holiday season and with an increase in workload at my job, I’m reminded of how much I fall short in these areas on my own. I certainly am not patient. I am not always loving. I don’t think kind thoughts all the time or treat people with gentleness. And my self-control is very much lacking.

The good news is we aren’t going through this life alone. We weren’t meant to, and we don’t have to. We have those who have chosen to walk beside us, those who can encourage us along the way when things get bumpy and who love us enough to gently point us back to these virtues when we have lost sight of them. To those people in my life, I would like to say thank you.

And we have the Holy Spirit, working in us every day to make us more like Christ, if only we would choose to embrace His way instead of following our own. The more we increasingly submit our lives and our ways to Him, the more we begin to look like Him, bearing fruit, exhibiting patience, exuding love and kindness. We exchange our vices for His virtues. Only in Him can we exchange our bitterness for joy, selfishness for goodness, and our fickleness for faithfulness. How beautiful is that?