Today, I’m writing from my deck, overlooking Queen Street in The Beach Village (Toronto). It’s raining, but I’m sitting under a small covered area, watching the raindrops fall and listening to the sound of tires whispering and sighing as they roll along the saturated streets beneath me.
I came out here because it was warmer than being inside. The A/C in our apartment is a bit too efficient and I was so cold I couldn’t even concentrate. Somehow, the ambient noise of the traffic and the rain seem to be providing the necessary “white noise” I need in order to allow my mind to rest enough to hear the words that want or need to be spoken today. It’s kind of like how some people put on ocean sounds when going to sleep, I guess.
The mind is a funny thing, isn’t it?
I’m actually learning a lot about mine, recently.
In a post called “Peace of Mind: Thoughts vs Thinking”, I wrote about an experience I had a few weeks ago where my mind suddenly “clicked” into a peaceful state while I was going through the process of making some challenging decisions. I had been so focused on figuring out the right thing to do that I was stressing myself out. My experience with that peaceful state didn’t last, unfortunately, but it helped me understand that peace isn’t something to be sought. Rather, it is the natural state of grace we reside in when we put our faith fully in God.
Since then, I have made some changes to my daily routine in an effort to keep myself in optimum spiritual, physical, and mental health and it has helped a lot. I’m well-rested and I have plenty of time to hang out with God in the morning followed by a variety of enjoyable daily exercises. However, it’s how I manage my time after that which concerns me.
The truth is, I’ve had a lot on my mind this week and it’s been hard for me to concentrate or be productive. It seems the only things I’ve really been interested in have to do with growth and learning. I know that doesn’t sound so bad but, unfortunately, I still have other commitments, such as taxes and working on my business but, lately, I’m completely unmotivated to do anything about them.
Thankfully, however, I do have a few helpful resources to guide me through this patch of… whatever this is… and today, I’m hoping to process some of what’s been happening in my mind lately.
First, let me share the three resources I’ve found to be very helpful in the past few days.
As I mentioned in past posts, I’ve been continuing the exercises in the courses “Master of One” by Jordan Raynor and “Born to Fly” by Jane Trapman, and this week I found a new 14-day Prayer Challenge by Val Woerner. Together, these three resources seem to integrate beautifully with one another, helping to give me, not only perspective but also actionable “steps” via prompted journaling exercises.
The journaling aspect is so important for me since I tend to keep a lot in my head and become overwhelmed unless I find a way to process it. If I can talk it through with someone, that’s always great but it’s not always an option so journalling (especially by hand) is a fantastic way to move the information out of my head, through my body and turn it into something coherent and tangible on paper.
I often say that “I don’t know what I know until I hear myself say it out loud” meaning that, sometimes, I hear myself speak such incredible wisdom that I didn’t even realize I had. When this happens, I believe it is by the grace of God as He uses me as a vessel to impart wisdom to the listener. If this is true, then I think journaling does the same thing. The only difference is that the message is meant for us to learn something new about ourselves. Actually, it’s a lot like my process of writing this blog except, in this case, I’m also writing it to be shared with an audience.
What’s great about the prompted exercises is that I can journal with an intention rather than simply blathering on about what I’m feeling which can get very circular and, ultimately self-serving. That’s okay if I just need to dump my feelings but, for the most part, I do my best to use every opportunity I can to learn and grow as a person and to live a more purposeful life. Journaling with intention helps me accomplish that.
Through the exercises in this journaling process, I’m learning that my “thought life” is a very important factor in determining my day to day experience which ultimately affects everything I do. On any given day, the quality or toxicity of my thoughts can make the difference between whether I’m feeling in the flow of grace, or not.
Val Woerner says that there are two qualities we are fighting for on a daily basis: Peace and Joy. Like her, I believe that our ability to have that experience lies in the renewal of the mind. This is actually a biblical principle she’s talking about and it’s the basis for her 14-day Prayer Challenge.
So, this is what I’m being guided to focus on now, starting with paying attention to what I’m actually thinking about in order to change it. This week, for instance, through each of the three courses, I’m being asked to journal about what my thought processes are (or as Val says, “what is so hairy in your mind right now that you felt it was worth getting email blasted for the next two weeks”), what I truly want (or as Jane says “the dreams that make your heart jump because God has put them on your heart”) and what encouraging examples I can find to help me focus on and master my “one thing” (in Jordan’s book he shares the story of Fred “Mr” Rogers).
Val points out that our thoughts tell us what we are focusing on or “trusting” so after I wrote out all my thoughts, I went back to highlight all the words that stood out. It was peppered with the following words and phrases: “too much”; “not enough”; “unmotivated”; “disappointed with myself”; “not getting anything done”; “I don’t care”; “stressed”; “annoyed”; “not what I signed up for”; “overwhelmed”; “stupid email inboxes”; “anxious”; “tired”; “lazy”; “everything is so scrambled”; “I just want to scream”; “I don’t do what I know I should do”; “completely unproductive”; “I’m so confused”; “this isn’t working”; ‘I’m not worthy” and “OMG I want to cry”.
Now, that’s a bit of a wake-up call.
After that part of the exercise I went on to say this:
“I need a different strategy. On one hand, I need spontaneity in my life, but I can’t approach everything like that. I need order in my life but I can’t approach everything like that. I need variety in my life but I also need things to be more predictable and consistent.
If I ‘zoom out’ and look at the bigger picture, I’d say that I expect chaos. Maybe I even thrive on it. Maybe I don’t know how to live in peace. Maybe I’m creating all of this because I don’t trust God’s peace. I know it exists. I know its real for me but maybe I see it as something outside of myself and therefore my experience of it is fleeting.
Another recurring thought I have is that I’m not worthy of God’s grace so, if I’m not feeling worthy of His grace then how can I ever believe that His peace is meant for me?
This “paradox of grace” is a hard one for me to wrap my head around. On one hand, humans are inherently flawed and no matter how much we try to do better we will never be perfect. When we are faced with that reality every day, it’s hard not to be disappointed with ourselves. On the other hand… and this is the hard part…God redeemed us knowing this about us and loves us anyway.
We are entitled to His grace through the blood of Jesus.
Well, that’s a lot for one day and it’s time for Shabbat dinner with my family now, so I’ll leave it there.
I encourage you to try a version of this journaling exercise for yourself. Feel free to reach out, ask questions and let me know what you discovered. I’d love to hear about your process :)
Have a great week everyone and I pray you have peace in your hearts.