Breaking Free! From Discouragement

Do you ever feel discouraged?

I do
a lot.

Or at least a lot more than I should.

In fact, I started writing this post today because I began to feel discouraged. There was no particular reason, just more general feelings and thoughts which attempted to flood my mind and pull me into a discouraged place.

That might come as a surprise to a lot of people who know me personally, because I tend to be very positive and upbeat about life.

But I have a confession to make.

I battle with discouragement a lot.

I often find it creeping up on me, tapping away at my thoughts, attempting to get its claws into me.

A cloud that comes down and brings a foggyness to my outlook. Reminding me about all the obstacles, frustrations & challenges before me. It surrounds me and it’s difficult to break through.

It attacks my confidence, enthusiasm and identity. I can feel:
demoralised,
disappointed,
downhearted,
despondent.

It sucks away at the energy and life within me attempting to
kill my passion,
steal my joy &
plunder my peace.
Until I feel like I have no energy left to fight it anymore.

But I have learnt I have to fight it early on …. Regardless!

I can’t let it win. I have to break free from discouragement and it’s hold over me before it pulls me into a darker place that I will struggle to get free from.

I have to daily ‘take on’ the thoughts of discouragement and choose to see with more hope and faith. Some days that battle is harder than others, however, it is necessary to see life more positively.

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WHAT DISCOURAGES US?

There are lots of different things and each one of us is affected by it in different ways.
Perhaps someone let you down, broke your trust, walked away.
Maybe your job or school work is harder than you expected and you are not making the progress you wanted.
Perhaps marriage and having children hasn’t been the experience you dreamt of.
Maybe life just seems to be hard and you are struggling to muster up the strength to continue each day.
Perhaps your plans and dreams haven’t worked out, things have gone wrong and you can’t see a way forward.

Discouragement knocks at your door and it’s hard to resist the flood of negative thoughts it brings with it telling you:

You are a failure
A nobody
You are not going to make it
You are not good enough
What you do is not enough
Why not give up
No one cares
You will just get hurt
Why do you bother
Things are never going to get any better.

All this is just too hard!
Life is just too hard!

But

We can’t let discouragement win!

I believe that discouragement is one of the biggest struggles that leaders, in particular, have to overcome. Until you become a leader, in any setting, you have no idea how hard it is.

You have to find the energy and passion to keep going yourself, plus a load extra to carry everyone else with you. It’s hard. There are a lot of responsibilities & commitments, that you have to shoulder. When everyone else drops out you have to stay standing strong and do it alone if necessary.

It’s in this area that I probably face the most discouragement.

To be a leader you have to have vision. This means that you are constantly seeing what ‘could be.’ Discouragement often takes hold when the ‘could be’ seems miles away from the current reality and the progress you are making seems so slow.

Every leader has days when they feel discouraged, wish they could throw in the towel and ignore their responsibilities. Discouragement comes knocking and it takes all your might to keep the flood gates closed.

This is why we should think about how we can encourage leaders.
Trust me, they need it!


Discouragement often takes hold when the ‘could be’ seems miles away from the current reality and the progress you are making seems so slow.


HOW CAN WE DEAL WITH DISCOURAGING THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS?

We have to fight discouragment. We have to push through it.

Discouraged people discourage people.

Negativity spreads like wild fire.

When people are discouraged it spreads. It takes a lot of courage and strength to break through an atmosphere of discouragement and refuse to be part of letting it spread. But it is the only way to stop it in its tracks.


Discouraged people discourage people.


Rick Warren wrote about discouragement:

“Fight back! Discouragement is a choice. If you feel discouraged, it’s because you’ve chosen to feel that way… Hang on! Do what’s right in spite of your feelings. No feeling lasts forever.”

Some people don’t like hearing that our feelings can be a choice. It means we have to accept more responsibility for what we feel, think and how we behave.

But I believe we have a lot more control over our emotions than we might think. I am not talking about hiding them or pretending they are not there, that isn’t healthy. I am talking about learning to not be ruled or defined by them.

Emotions and feelings usually begin with thoughts. We cannot necessarily control the initial thoughts that come into our head but we can choose whether we dwell on them or not, whether to let them draw us into a negative mindset. Which is something I spoke about in Breaking Free! From Worry.

When thoughts of discouragement enter my mind if I do not stop them in their tracks they have the potential to snowball and pull in other thoughts until my perspective becomes overwhelmed and I feel rubbish about everything.

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HOW CAN I FIGHT DISCOURAGEMENT?

Be honest with myself.
Trying to ignore discouragement often makes it worse. It can pull us into the dangerous place of pretending and you can only pretend for so long before the reality comes crashing down upon you.

I realise I can’t do it alone.
I am personally grateful for the inner strength that comes from my relationship with God. I talk to him. I listen to his still small voice encouraging me, renewing my strength and vision.

I speak to someone I trust and I know will encourage me.
My husband Matt is great at that. Or a close friend can help. Someone I know who will help me to see with a more positive perspective.

I read words that will help me.
From the bible, good books, articles, or the hundreds of inspiring quotes I store in my phone.

I try to remember everything that I can be thankful for.
Even when other things are going wrong around me.

I look for opportunities to encourage someone else. 
Sometimes getting the focus off me and my problems, being aware of other people’s challenges and choosing to encourage them, helps me to break through my own discouragment.

It can take a lot of courage to choose to be hopeful in the face of discouragement. To keep trusting and believing even when things are a struggle.

But it’s the only way. Despair is not an option.

In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous not discouraged and afraid, so that he can lead the people.
In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua at the start of his leadership journey.

It starts with a choice.

Choose to be encouraged. Learn how to encourage yourself and let others encourage you.

You can then become an encourager rather than a discourager to other people and help to turn the tide away from a culture of criticism and negativity.

There is always something good going on around you that you can celebrate.

We just have to choose to see it. 


I would love to hear what you think:

Do you struggle with discouragement?
What do you do to deal with it?

There are lots of things we can do to fight against discouragement. Carey Nieuwhof gives some good advice in this blog post.

This post is part of my .Breaking Free. series of posts. Click here to see posts on Breaking Free from Fear and Worry.

Is Busyness A Choice?

Just stop and ponder this question for a moment.

Is busyness a choice?

What if we make it personal:

Is how busy I AM a choice?
Or is it an unchangeable fact of my life?

I have been thinking about writing about busyness for a while. At first I thought about adding it to my ‘Breaking Free!’ series and yet the more I thought about it, the more I kept coming back to these questions:

Is busyness actually choice?
How much control do we have over it?
Can I really ‘break free’ from it?
Do I want or need to ‘break free’ from it?

These are the type of questions I have been pondering and have asked myself on numerous occasions, especially since having kids.

Will this overwhelming, exhausting busyness ever stop?
The relentless do, do, do, go, go, go of life.

For years I have both thrived and have been exhausted by busyness.

My husband Matt and I are very driven and passionate about life. We live life with purpose, get involved with a lot of things, connect meaningfully with a lot of people and do not shy away from responsibility.

It’s in our nature to have a full life.
We love living life to the full!

But in at the start of 2015 things changed. I fell off a ladder and sustained a minor brain injury. And busyness began to happen around me rather than to me.

And
I struggled.

Enforced rest is hard. And it wasn’t fun rest either:
I couldn’t watch that movie.
I couldn’t read my favourite book.
I couldn’t listen to my favourite album.
I couldn’t go out for a meal with friends & family.

For about 3 months.
I mainly just had to lie there in a dark and quiet room feeling unwell.

Comparatively (to normality) I couldn’t DO anything.

Now if you know me personally, you will know I am a DOER. It’s in my nature to DO a lot of different things at the same time.

But suddenly I couldn’t

DO

And it was hard.
Really hard!

And at these moments the question flies around your head:

Who am I when I can’t really DO anything?

An interesting question in itself and something I will come back to later.

Even now, 5 months on from the accident, I am so much better and improving each week, but I still cannot rush about as I did before without feeling the impact. My head begins to get cloudy and dizzy and everything takes much more energy.

I cannot DO busyness, like I used to and it’s a challenge to me.

A couple of months ago, I read an article called ‘Busy Is a Sickness’ by a guy called Scott Dannemiller. It said a lot of what I had been thinking about for a while.

In it Scott discusses two types of busyness.

1. Busyness we can’t control: Which he writes primarily affects the poor because their economic reality simply does not allow for downtime. They have to work 2 or 3 jobs just to make ends meet.

2. Busyness we can control: Self-created stress. He writes, “Most of the time, I manufacture urgency in the hope that it will create urgency in others. Instead, it only creates anxiety, resentment and spite. Which is absolutely counter-productive. And even in the cases where the urgency is real, it’s often due to a packed schedule I created.”

Why do so many of us get caught up in a cycle of busyness that we can control and yet can often feel out of control?

Scott Dannemiller writes:

“… we are defined by what we do. Our careers. What we produce. It’s the first question asked (of us)…. The implication is that if I am not busy doing something, I am somehow less than. Not worthy. Or at least worth less than those who are producing something.”

He goes on to make the case that many of us can use busyness because ‘we are afraid of ourselves’. True quiet time can be a challenge and also very revealing – as we come face to face with ourselves and our own thoughts.

So busyness is very linked to our identity.
1. It helps us to feel like, and let others know, we are DOING something useful or important.
2. It can keep us distracted from facing ourselves and our thoughts.

Perhaps Busyness is a sickness of epidemic proportions!


“We are defined by what we do.” – Scott Dannemiller


So many of us often feel crazy busy. The irony is, we complain about it and yet we can simultaneously wear it as a badge of honour. We mention it to empathise with others, but it can then quickly become something we compete over.

It can be a reality.
But also an excuse.

Busy, busy, busy…. Rush, Rush, Rush!!

No wonder people want to:
Escape it.
Get away.
Drink it away.
Eat it away.
Medicate it away.
Self medicate it away.
Run away.

The pressure of life.
The realisation that life and responsibility is not easy.
That it involves a lot of hard work.
That it never seems to end.

The stress.
The worry.
The exhaustion.

Of all I need to DO!

The modern world we live in demands more and more of our time and attention as technology invades every part of our lives. Until our lives can feel out of our control.

It can feel overwhelming!

Yet do we have more control over it than we might think?

This is something I have increasingly thought about and my answer is, of course: Yes & No!

After 10 years of having children I know full well that having kids makes life hectic. You have these little people dependent on you 24/7 however tired, exhausted & in need of a break you are. When you have kids busyness is often an inevitability. Even holidays can be exhausting.

But there is still a lot of choices I make each day in how I use and view my time. Often:
I chose it,
I agreed to it.
I took on that job.
Said yes to that appointment.
Agreed to that meet up.
Answered my phone.
Took on that new responsibility.

So I must either accept the consequences of my choices, do it with a humble heart and increase my capacity – which is a good thing to do and something some of us need to learn to do more.

Or I have to decide to somehow change it, whilst maintaining my integrity and honouring my commitments wherever possible.

There is no point in complaining or getting bitter about the choices I have made.

If my busyness is out of control maybe I need to think carefully about my life and make different choices. Change may not be possible over night but there are always ways forward.


What about the times when busyness is not a choice?

Life will always bring seasons that feel uncontrollable. Things happen that we did not expect in our personal lives and jobs and the balance in our life quickly shifts to ‘unbearable’. Sometimes we just have to manage and find a way through a particularly exhausting season.

Matt and I faced this, at the start of the year. We had to quickly make a lot of changes when I was ill. Matt couldn’t DO it all on his own as I wrote about here.

It showed us that we could scale back when we needed to. We can say no and reevaluate what needs to change. Lessons I hope we will apply more in the future.


I have realised that I need to ‘break free’ from a busy mindset and its hold on my identity and discover a rhythm of life that works for me and my family.


Much of our busyness is a choice. We can get frustrated by it and yet we often choose it. Sometimes we can end up blaming others and get angry about it. And yet we have agreed to it or allowed the people around us, or our own mindsets, to influence it.

I know Matt and I will always live a ‘full life’ even amidst challenging seasons. But I have realised that I need to ‘break free’ from a busy mindset and its hold on my identity and discover a rhythm of life that works for me and my family.

A life rhythm that continues to thrive on a ‘full and purposeful life’ which will inevitably include a lot of hard work, generosity of time, sacrifice, commitment and responsibility. But one that does not pull us into a place that is consistently overwhelming and potentially damaging to our health, faith, marriage and family.

Busyness will take everything if we let it!

To end I wanted to again use Scott Dannemiller’s words because he says it so well.

“So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as “busy,” and instead, see it for what it truly is.
Full.”


Do you think busyness is a choice or do you think of it as an inevitability?
How could you bring a better rhythm to your life and see busyness a different way?

I invite you to discuss or comment below, or on my social media links, I would love to hear what you think.

Breaking Free! From Worry

I saw the words below on Twitter recently and they really got me thinking about what happens in our heads when we worry about something.


“Worry is a misuse of imagination.” -Dan Zadra


Just think about that for a moment…

WHAT GOES ON IN OUR THOUGHTS WHEN WE START TO WORRY?
HOW IS OUR IMAGINATION INVOLVED IN WORRY? 

When we worry our mind runs through lots of scenarios.
We imagine potential outcomes.
We picture things that could happen.
We see things that might go wrong.


Worry draws us towards the worst case scenarios. Our thoughts become irrational. Our imaginations can take us to dark places.


For instance, your spouse, partner, child or parent is travelling home from somewhere, they are late and not answering their phone. After a while you will probably begin to think:

Why are they late?
What has happened?

Which is very rational.

However, soon if we are not careful, worry begins to set in, our imagination is let loose and we start a thought process that can go something like this ….

What if there has been an accident?
What if it was a bad accident?
What if they are hurt?
What if they are badly injured?
What if they died?
How would I cope?
How would the family cope?

Before you know it, you are flooded with strong emotions anticipating and imagining what might be. You feel;

Worried
Anxious
On edge
Scared
Stressed
Overwhelmed
Unable to think straight
Unable to focus

Rationality flies out the window and is replaced by a jumbled mind that cannot seem to help but imagine the worst.

You lose control over your thoughts.
You lose any sense of peace or calm.

I have been there myself many times. It can creep up on you slowly, before you even realise it has taken hold.

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Or perhaps you have a strange and unexplainable symptom in your body so you ‘Google it’. Before you know it, you have diagnosed yourself with some of the worst diseases out there.

This happened to a lady in a bed near me when I was recently in hospital. She Googled her symptoms and found a shocking diagnosis. She asked the Doctor about it and unfortunately he didn’t really give a definitive reply. Somehow the lady took that to mean that this worst case scenario was a real possibility, or even probability, and before you knew it she was on the phone to friends and family, totally distressed, telling them how bad this illness could be and might get.

Unfortunately in hospital there is little privacy so you can hear everything that is going on.

This poor lady spent all day reading up on this condition, allowed her imagination to run wild with it and obviously ended up totally distraught for most of the day. At one point I heard her say to her husband, in floods of tears, ‘if it gets as bad as it says here (on the internet) I think I would just kill myself’.

It really did sound awful.

The next day it turned out her tests were normal and they couldn’t find anything wrong. She asked the Consultant if it could still be the diagnosis she had found on Google and they said none of the tests showed that or anything else out of the ordinary.

A lesson in being careful what you feed your imagination with.

Worry takes over our thoughts. Before we know it, our body and mind are filled with so much anxiety and fear that we can’t think straight and can start to feel physically ill.

However.

Most of the time we soon discover that worry was totally unnecessary. We put ourselves through torture and nothing came of it.

It all turned out to be OK in the end. 

That person walked through the door telling us that they only got stuck in heavy traffic or we discover that our self diagnosis was way off the mark. Our worry again wasted time, energy and head space.

BUT SOMETIMES THE WORST CASE SCENARIO DOES COME TRUE – WHAT THEN?

Yes, sometimes bad things do happen and in those moments we can think that our worries were justified. That they perhaps prepared us for what was to come. And yet;

Did the worry before hand actually make dealing with the crisis easier?

Often it doesn’t.

Instead it actually wears us out before the real crisis hits. When you let your imagination loose on that potential scenario before hand, you can fall apart just thinking about it. But when things actually do go very wrong you usually somehow find you do have the strength to deal with it.

That’s because when you do face the real crisis you have no choice but to get on with it. You have to find that strength to get through.

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Corrie ten Boom was a Dutch Christian who, with her family, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. In the end she was imprisoned for it.

 We only have today’s strength today!


Worry tries to get you to focus on yesterday, today and tomorrow all at the same time. Which is why we end up feeling so overwhelmed!

“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (‭Matthew‬ ‭6‬:‭34‬ – The Bible)

SO HOW IS WORRY A ‘MISUSE’ OF THE IMAGINATION?

That word ‘misuse’ can almost sounds a little harsh. Is not worrying a natural part of life? Some of us are just ‘born worriers’…

Aren’t we?

Yes I believe many of us do have a natural tendency to worry and negative thinking. I know that from my own life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change that. If I understand that my imagination plays a key role in how worried and anxious I get, I realise that to find more freedom I have to look at my thought processes and think through how I feed my imagination.

I have to change the way I think.

BUT HOW DO WE REALLY CHANGE HOW WE THINK?
HOW DO WE TAKE CONTROL OF OUR IMAGINATION?

The starting point is becoming more aware of our own thought processes. For instance, if I start to allow my imagination to focus on;
worry,
fear &
negativity,
it will lead me to a dark place and I will then find I do not have room to;
create,
envision &
conceive
new ideas or best case scenarios.


Worry hampers our perspective and creativity.


We all have the ability to create. Being creative isn’t just about being artistic or musical. It’s also about;
vision,
ideas,
making things happen,
thinking outside the box,
solving problems,
offering solutions,
connecting,
exploring.

Creativity is vital to our growth.

But.

If my imagination is full of worry and negative scenarios it takes up lots of my mental capacity and energy that can be used for positive creativity.


Worry robs us of our positive creative energy.


The only way to change this is;
Track our thoughts back to their root.
Look at what feeds our imaginations.
Then retrain our thinking processes.

We can ask ourselves; Do I feed my imagination with good things? With people, words and things that inspire and encourage me to explore, dream, discover, create and build?

Or do I allow my imagination to be fed by dark and negative things? Which causes it to run away from me into worst case scenarios, dark thoughts and hopeless mindsets?

It comes down to choice, and good choices are the pathway to freedom. Freedom in our imaginations doesn’t come instantly, it’s a process, but if we choose it, we can learn mental & spiritual disciplines to encourage it.

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I don’t know about you, but I want to use my imagination for good.

To create new things.
Find solutions to problems.
Dream dreams and see with vision.
Think differently and find new ways to do things.
Have faith and see with a healthy and optimistic perspective.
Creatively connect with those around me.
Encourage others and be part of changing lives.

That is what our imagination was built for and that’s what it needs room for. Our imaginations are a gift that need to be set free to see with new eyes, dream, create and spread great ideas.

How do you use your imagination? Could you use it more effectively?


Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. – Corrie Ten Boom


Let me know what you think, I very much welcome any comments below. This post is part of my .Breaking Free. series of blog posts. If you liked this post then maybe take a look at these which so far include:

Breaking Free! From Fear

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

Don’t you find the above quote both inspiring and liberating?

A few years ago, when I truly began to grasp this concept, it was such a revelation to me. I began to see that I did not have to wait for the feelings of fear to subside before doing something that I felt was right. I just had to muster up enough courage to do it despite feeling afraid.

It was so empowering!

I have found that the only way to conquer fear is to face it.
Avoiding it only ingrains it further.

Fear entraps you and lies to you that you can never get free from its claws. It takes control of your thoughts until your thinking becomes irrational. It feeds on worry, anxiety and negative thinking. It wraps around you, squeezing the life out of you, until you give in to its demands.

Fear stops you from being the person you really are and tries to lock you into a place you feel safe. And even within that safe place (or comfort zone) it can take hold of your thoughts, paralysing you and trapping you to that perceived place of safety.That safe place can then actually begin to choke the life out of you because you get stuck and feel trapped, longing to break free but not knowing how.

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I just put on my husband Matt’s album ‘Heart Bowed Down’ that he wrote, recorded and released two years ago. He wrote most of the songs and did most of the work, but there are two of my songs on there which I wrote and sing and I am also singing backing tracks on many.

Until we made and released the album I did not realise quite how many fears I had, and in fact still have to overcome, related to it.

It was a bold step to invest financially in the recording equipment, for Matt to spend the time learning how to use it and then going through the exciting, yet agonising process of recording them.

It’s a roller-coaster of emotions. One minute your emotions are up and you feel the adrenaline and anticipation of what you are doing. The next moment you are full of doubt, insecurity and fear, especially when things are not sounding how you want them to.

The biggest challenge though, definitely came in releasing the album. Selling the album and giving it to other people is when the fears really take hold.

‘What are they thinking?’
‘Will anyone like it?’

It goes round and round in your head as you wonder and analyse people’s reactions. You speculate about others opinions and it eats away at your thoughts.

I would say that even now as I put on the CD in the car or listen to it on the iPod and hear my songs, my first reaction is often fear!

What?

Why on earth do I feel fear when I hear my songs?

I feel a fear and awkwardness;
That others have listened to it.
Made up their own opinions about it;
love it,
like it,
hate it,
remain indifferent.
That we dared to put it out there.
That we gave and sold it to so many people.

What did they think?
What did they say?
How did they rate it? 
How did they rate me?

I also feel fear because I can, like many of us, be self critical. I hear all the mistakes, I am not sure I even like the sound of my voice most times I hear it. I compare our songs to professionally produced music and…

To be honest it often makes me want to cower under rock and throw the album in the bin.

You don’t know how much humility it can take to ‘put yourself out there’ until you do it. Often people can mistaken this courage for pride, but actually it can also take a lot of humility.

You have to fight through the fear that holds onto you with all its might. Tying you down, paralysing you, speaking doubts and insecurities into your mind, trying to stop you moving forward.

I am thankful that we had enough courage to release that album. I know it blessed and encouraged a lot of people. I also know it was a good test in facing and overcoming personal fears. It was an exercise in getting over what people think.

If we had waited until our fears subsided we never would have taken the plunge. Even in the midst of courage fear still knocked at our hearts and minds. But we knew we had to step out – despite our fears.

Fear can keep us bound up in mediocrity because mediocrity feels safe. It’s when you try it do something different, when you take that plunge, that fear becomes more pronounced.

And yet stepping out is also so liberating!

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If you know me personally, you may well think of me as very confident around other people, an extrovert perhaps. (Although in reality I don’t feel that either the extrovert or introvert labels fully define me – I am a mix of the two in different ways). This is because one of the things that most defines my life is building relationships with others.

This means that I tend to know a lot of people.

Some people might then assume that I find it easy to meet, talk to and get to know new and different people.

But I would say that is only a half truth.

In actual fact, over the years, and on a daily basis I have trained myself to overcome my fears, break out of my comfort zone and speak to lots of different people I don’t know.

It partly comes with the territory of being church leaders. You can’t effectively lead people unless you can build relationships. We welcome new people into our church and the various activities we run on a weekly basis. Day in, day out, over the years, I have trained myself to reach out a hand of friendship and relationship to as many people as I can, from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures – regardless of their response.

Regardless of my fears about what they might be thinking.
Regardless of the potential rejection or hurt.

So I have broken through my social paralysis year by year, day by day, person by person. Deliberately placing myself in uncomfortable situations to attempt to break the power fear has over me.

Some days it’s easier than others.

Sometimes I want to stay in the shadows and not place myself again in the path of rejection or other people’s opinions. Maybe if I stay in the shadows people won’t notice me. Perhaps I won’t draw attention to myself. Maybe that would be safer and more comfortable.

And yet,

I would miss out!

If I obeyed my fears I would not have met and built friendships with so many wonderful people. If I had let my insecurities and speculation about what others thought overcome me, I would not be so rich relationally. I would not have the privilege of knowing and learning from such a diverse set of people.

It doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with fear.

Far from it!

Fears connected to what other people are thinking about me daily try to get their claws into me. I actually wrote about this in my post on the insecurity of others opinions.

But I have decided not to let fear win. That fear will not control my actions. That I will choose to ‘do it afraid’ until I reach a point where I have conquered it and hold firm to that calm voice within me saying ‘do not be afraid.’

What fears bind you?
Do you really want to break free?

Fear will stop us breaking free if we let it. It pushes us into a self preservation cycle, desperate to protect ourselves from what might harm or hurt us. It can pull people into self destruction and all sorts of bad habits and addictions. It causes people to put up barriers, push others away and build a hard exterior where they look strong, yet underneath they are scared, vulnerable and angry.

The tragedy is that each day so many of us allow fear to control our actions, fill our thoughts, damage our relationships and steal our strength.

Fear is exhausting!

We miss so many opportunities because:
Fear told us we couldn’t do it.
We cared too much about what other people might think.
We rehearsed all the things that could go wrong, rather than getting excited about what might go right.

Each day I know I have to choose to break free from fear. Not allowing my fears to win and deciding that when fear tries to paralyse me:

I will refuse to obey it.

So let’s cheer one another on to – press on regardless! To break free from the if’s and but’s and instead listen to the gentle voice of wisdom and truth within us saying,

Go for it, step out, don’t be afraid!

But even if you still feel full of fear.

Don’t give up!

Dig deep for that courage.
Decide to press on regardless.

DO IT AFRAID!

It’s the only way to overcome, conquer and break free!

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela

    In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous so that he can lead the people.
In this verse from the Bible God encourages Joshua to be strong and courageous so that he can lead the people.

This post is part of the .Breaking Free. series of blog posts. Follow this link to read the series introduction.


Breaking Free!


Do you ever feel like you want to break free?

Break free from something … even though you cannot necessarily pinpoint what it is?
Do you feel like you want to break out and discover more freedom?
Do you desire change, even though you also fear it?

What does it mean to break free?
What does freedom really look like?

There are so many things that can trap us. That keep us bound up physically, emotionally, spiritually & mentally. Things that take control of our lives and stop us being the people we desire to be and doing what we desire to do.

What do you desire to break free from?
What is keeping you bound up?

Maybe it’s:
Fear
Worry
Sickness
Pain
Other people
A relationship
Others opinions
Comparison
Jealousy
A job
Family
Your thoughts
Depression
Anxiety
Addiction
Anger
Hate
Bitterness
Grief

The list goes on…..

Each of us know that there are things that trap and hold us back, but we can’t always see how to break free.

I believe the desire for freedom is something that is inbuilt within us.
To feel free & liberated is a deep human desire.

But what does freedom actually mean and why can we often feel trapped and bound?

At the start of 2015 the brain and neck injury I sustained was debilitating. My life became so restricted as I spent 22-23 hours a day lying down and could do very little for about 3 months (followed by another month of recovery). During that time I felt trapped physically within a body that would not function as it should. I desired my body and mind to work properly, but they wouldn’t and I felt trapped by it. I desired freedom from the injury and the damage it had caused, but each day things hardly got better and they actually began to get worse.

I couldn’t shake it off.
It wouldn’t go away.
If I fought it – it got worse.
I couldn’t break free.

However.

Even though I could not break free from the physical symptoms, I decided, from the start, that the injury couldn’t and shouldn’t control everything.

I decided that I could break free and choose freedom in other areas. I was adamant that the injury wouldn’t take my psychological health as well as my physical health.

Now this was a challenge because the brain injury affected my cognitive processing. At first I couldn’t really do anything. I couldn’t:
Read.
Listen to music.
Watch TV.
Look at or use screens.
Walk outside without support.
Sit up or stand for more than about 15 mins at a time.
Have long conversations.

However, I knew I had to take back what I could control and choose to stay positive, to stay thankful, to not let fear and worry control me.

Even when I could not break free from the physical symptoms I chose to fight for freedom spiritually, physiologically and mentally.

Breaking free copy

Some days that was easier than others.

Even when we face setbacks and discouragements, when things seem to be getting worse rather than better:

We can still fight for freedom.

We cannot control everything in our lives but we can choose to take control of our thoughts and attitudes.

The times I felt most trapped by my injury and illness were the times I allowed my mind to dwell for too long on the negatives.

On the ‘what ifs’.
On the frustrations.
On the horrible symptoms.
On the restrictions.
On how I felt.

It was then that the battle would set in, trying to drag me into an unhealthy mental state. To pull me down into negative thinking and attack my physiological stability.

In those moments I had to fight to break free. To remember all the things I could be thankful for. To choose to believe that things would get better. To focus on the positives and to push through to the inner peace that I knew was deep within my soul.

I can remember as my husband drove me to A&E for the first time, 7 days after my initial injury, I was in a bad way. I felt so dizzy & out of it. Disconnected from the world. Keeping my eyes closed because my brain couldn’t deal with the lights and movement of the car. I could hardly talk, I couldn’t walk without help or support. And on that journey I just kept saying to my husband Matt – “everything’s fine isn’t it. It’s all OK.” And he would just gently, yet confidently, say, “yes it will be fine, everything will be OK.”

I am so thankful that Matt and I share the same outlook on life. That even when things get tough we dig deep to find that inner peace. To hear the gentle calming voice within saying – ‘it will all be fine, you are OK, don’t be scared’.

Now that was day 7 after my injury. I wasn’t, of course, OK and was diagnosed with Post Concussion Syndrome, but it wasn’t life threatening and that’s what the being ‘OK’ was about. However, by week 7 things had got worse; we took our 3rd trip to A&E and I was finally admitted and we got some answers as I was diagnosed with a Cerebral Spinal Fluid (CFS) leak. I then had to again fight to stay positive, to be patient, to trust I would recover, to choose everyday to keep on believing, trusting & pushing through and taking hold of that peace & hope within.

Even when I felt at my weakest physically, emotionally and mentally, when it felt like I was getting battered from all sorts of directions, in all sorts of ways, I had to choose to stay hopeful. To find that strength amidst weakness and to hold on to the way forward.

Breaking free is a mindset.
It is birthed in the heart and received in the mind.
You have to be determined to take hold of it.
You have to choose it.
You have to believe it.

There have been many seasons in my life as well as many daily battles when I have to push to ‘break free’.

My last two blog posts about insecurity, due to comparison and others opinions, talk about some of these daily battles.

We all have them and some of our battles will be similar. And yet because we are all individuals, many of our battles will be unique to our circumstances and personalities.

So to explore this subject of ‘breaking free’ I am going to write a series of blog posts about this subject.

As with all of my posts I will try and make them as ‘real’ as possible. Sharing stories from my own life and things that have helped me.

I am certainly not there yet. I still often have to fight to break free from the things that come against me. I still have days and moments where I feel more trapped, than free, especially in my thoughts.

But I am on the journey.
I have not arrived.
But I have left.
I have seen freedom.
I have tasted of its liberation, peace and joy.
I have lived it.
I have experienced it.

But I know there is more.
I know I can push in further still.
To grasp hold of my freedom and not let go.

And I will not give up pursuing it until I have experienced it in every area of my life and thoughts. That is a life time goal. Unattainable; perhaps, but…

What a vision for life – total freedom! For you and for me.

It’s available. We just have to reach out and take hold of it. We are not built to feel trapped & bound.

We are built to be free! 

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” – Nelson Mandela

Breaking free quote copy

The Insecurity Of Others Opinions

“What are they thinking about me?

The question goes through your mind again and again, sometimes in the forefront and sometime as a nagging whisper in the back of your thoughts.

“What are they saying about me?”
“Do they like me?” …

The insecurity of others opinions returns to rock our security again.

This is my second blog post on the subject of insecurity and how many of our insecurities come from both comparing ourselves to others and listening to and speculating about others opinions of us.

I know in my own life these are the two main issues that can leave me feeling like I want to hide under a rock, shut myself away from the world and never come out.

It’s these two issues that can end up consuming our thoughts, feed our anxieties and stop us in our tracks.

Even people who act like and say “I don’t care what other people think about me,” whilst holding on to their mastered, controlled and perhaps hardened exterior, cannot deny that it does reach, touch & affect them at times.

The wondering,
The thinking,
The questioning,
The avoiding,

“What’s going on in their thoughts?”

There are a few ways in which we are affected by what others think and say about us:
Firstly, when people openly talk about us, either to our faces, or indirectly on forums like social media.
Secondly the usual gossipy ‘behind our backs’ opinions. (which women are of course very prone to).
Then finally, although sometimes less discernible; through our own speculation about what others might be thinking and saying about us.

I think it’s the final one that is more damaging than it first appears, because our speculation means that we try and read people by the way they act towards us. This actually opens us up to potential misunderstandings because we read actions as related to us, even though they may just be related to someone having a bad day, their mind being on on other things or even due to that persons own insecurities.

How many friendships and relationships have broken down due to these type of misunderstandings?

This speculation is one of the greatest challenges I have to overcome in my own thought life.
It constantly nags at me trying to pull me in to an insecure way of thinking.
It attacks my confidence.
It attempts to stop me being myself and doing what I am built to do.
It feeds my fears.
It paralyses my purpose.
It tries to shipwreck my relationships with others.
It questions my identity and challenges the core of who I am.

It whispers in my ear….
“What are they thinking about you?”
“Do they really like you?”
“Maybe they find you annoying.”
“Maybe they pretend to like you but then talk about you behind your back”
“Maybe they don’t like what you say and do.”
“Maybe you offended them (even though you might not know why).”
“Maybe, Maybe, Maybe….”

Tell me that those thoughts are not enough to make you want to hide away under a rock, out of sight and not face anyone.

from darkness

People can be nasty and we know it!

We have all experienced it and have all done it. Especially if we are having a bad day or two, and if we have had a bad week – oh dear!

It’s all around us;
criticism,
gossip,
negativity,
hate,
trolling,
bullying.

It’s enough to make anyone cynical & even fearful of others.

It’s not surprising that we feel insecure.

So how do we battle through the insecurity and find more freedom in our thoughts?

As I have already said I still don’t find this easy myself. I daily take on the challenge to reign in my insecure thoughts. Some days it’s easier than others. But I have found some keys to freedom and they really help.

The best way I have learnt to overcome my own insecurities about what others are thinking about me is by choosing to relate to other people with GRACE. Now grace is one of those words we often either relate to girls names, meal time prayers or religion. But grace is actually an amazing concept. Grace basically means something described as ‘unmerited favour’. In the context of relationships I would put it like this: it’s not relating to others in response to what they think, say, act or what you get back.

It’s choosing to treat people well regardless.

In the context of faith; it’s loving people whether or not they deserve it.

And yes…. it’s a radical concept!

How is that even possible you might ask?

Well I only find it possible because I know that’s how I am treated. I know that God loves me regardless of what I do. He does not love me because of how good I am (that wouldn’t get me very far anyway because I miss the mark all the time). He loves me by grace and to understand that is so freeing. I no longer have to try and get everything right to get God to love me. He just does and nothing can change that unconditional love.

So from the security of knowing I am loved unconditionally by someone unchanging, I have found I can choose to offer it out to others.

“When we know we are loved we find it easy to love other people”. – John Sentamu

I can build relationships with others from a secure place. I do not need the other person to like, love or think highly of me to feel secure in myself, because I know that my security ultimately comes from God.

When you have to try and work out whether or not someone deserves your love or friendship you start down a confusing and rocky path. The outlook is changeable because one day they do and the next they don’t, which is why so many people have turbulent relationships.

It’s a stressful process!

If you no longer have to go through that process and you choose to approach all your relationships and those around you with grace; you decide to love others regardless.

And it is so freeing!

The challenge is that it takes a lot of humility. Which is why we have the battle in our minds & thoughts. We get angry, hurt and offended and our anger can often be rooted in our pride. We shut people out because we fear them getting close and hurting us. We get offended because the other person said or did something that we didn’t like. So we retaliate with criticism and even hate.

Humility on the other hand says:
I am going to choose to love this person regardless of what I get back.
It puts the other person first.
It chooses to try and understand rather than misunderstand.
I gives people the benefit of the doubt.
It realises everyone makes mistakes
It knows that everyone is fighting their own battles.
It does not stereotype, but sees everyone as worthy of love.

It forgives.
It reaches out.
It is constant.
It is never fake.

“Behind all strife you find ego. Humility always promotes peace”. – Jarrod Cooper

This doesn’t mean I want to spend and invest my time with people who have taken a dislike to me or want to hurt me.

That wouldn’t be healthy.

But it does mean that I can reach out a hand of kindness and friendship to others, regardless of how they respond. And if they choose not to like me that is up to them – you can only build a relationship when two people both want to invest in it.

So if this is the case, I have to let it go, I do not need to hate them or get them back for their dislike of me. It does not need to eat away at me until bitterness takes hold of my heart and I end up taking my anger out on everyone else, including those who love me.

Instead, I can rest in the security that I am loved. With a perfect love from the author of love. A love that is consistent, unfailing, stable and unconditional.

That security always overrides the insecurity that come from others opinions.

from darkness

Yes I still may have to face and overcome the hurt, the pain and embrace my vulnerability and fragility.

But when those insecure thoughts knock at the door to my mind and attempt pull me in, I can retreat to that secure place:

A place that is constant.
Where I know who I am.
A place of safety.
A place of love.
Where I am again built up.
Where encouragement gives me the courage to get back up.
To face the world around me.
Not to be rocked back and forth by the opinions of others.

A place where I realise that others opinions are just that – opinions; that often say more about them than me. Where I can stop being tossed about by the waves of speculation and instead be secure and anchored in the fact that other peoples opinions should never define me or stop me from being the person I really am.

The person that is truly me.

“Lead the life that will make you kind & friendly to everyone about you and you will be surprised what a happy life you will live”. – Charles Schwab

The Insecurity Of Comparison

Comparison is the thief of Joy ~ Theodore Roosevelt

I don’t know about you but when I compare myself to others I often end up feeling miserable. As the above quote says, it steals away my contentment, happiness and peace and yet it’s so easy to do. Sometimes we don’t even realise that we are doing it.

I mentioned the quote in my last blog post about perspective and the importance of thankfulness. At the time I decided that I wanted to expand on this point about comparison and jealousy because I know from personal experience that it’s one of the biggest challenges that I and many people I know face.

If we are honest we all struggle with comparing ourselves to others in so many different ways.

We see photos of others and instead of just thinking – “wow they look great!” We can often think – “they look great …. how annoying”!! (Because it automatically reminds me that I’m feeling pretty ugly/ fat/ rubbish/ insecure today).

Or maybe we see someone else’s achievements at work, school or within our friendship or family groups. But rather than being able to authentically celebrate it with them – instead it reminds us of our own weaknesses and failures (which can even cause us to lash out at others instead – both directly or indirectly).

Parents do this all the time. Someone else seems to be the perfect parent with perfect children (not that there really is such a thing) and we just end up feeling rubbish about our parenting skills rather than seeing what we do well.

Leaders do it. We look at a similar company, organisation, community group or church and rather than seeing & celebrating their strengths we instead find that their strengths reveal our own weaknesses & feelings of inadequacy. (Although we can hide that by instead looking for all their weaknesses to justify our own!).

Why is it that others’ successes often remind us of our failures?

Most of us have an inward default that compares our weaknesses with another’s strengths.

For instance, I can remember in my early teens one of the boys in my class at school made a comment about my nose. His words were something like, “Ha ha, your nose looks like a beak” and kept calling me Pingu (his observational skills sound quite amusing as I write that down & I think I laughed along at the time – as you do.) But before that day I had never really thought much about my nose. It all changed that day. For a long while after that I was so conscious of my nose. I examined it’s shape in the mirror constantly, wondering how much better I would look with a nicer, smaller, better proportioned nose. Most significantly, from that point on I noticed everyone else’s noses. I compared my ‘beak’ with the girls with the perfectly shaped little noses.

I developed nose envy!

The initial comment from that boy about my ‘beak’ drew my attention to my nose. But it was then my comparison with others’ noses which solidified my insecurity.

We do this all the time and it causes so many problems in families, relationships, communities, schools and workplaces.

from darkness

Comparison is an epidemic which has markedly worsened by the rise of social media. I appreciate so many of the positives of social media, which is why I use it. But I don’t think anyone can deny it has made comparison and jealousy worse.

When I was at school, as many others can relate to, I would constantly compare myself to all the popular, pretty and super clever girls. I’d wonder which of my friends really were my friends, who did or didn’t like me (and who said what behind your back), which (if any) boys did, or more usually didn’t, fancy me and of course face all the daily challenges of school life…… but at least then I could get some sort of respite from that at home.

Now comparison comes right into the home. It is carried around in your pocket & draws you in when you scroll through your social media, websites and the abundant pictures and information on your smart phone about others.

Selfies,
beautiful people,
their families,
friends,
holidays,
parties,
homes,
possessions,
jobs,
talents,
wonderful lives,
outstanding people and organisations.

The smiles,
the hugs,
the happiness of others….

And of course…

The bullying,
The nastiness,
The hate,
The complaining,
And the negativity.

Taken directly from the playground, workplace, community and moved into peoples homes and lives through the internet.

No wonder depression, self harm, eating disorders & even suicide seem to be on the rise. Especially in young people.

We are bombarded with the successes, celebrations and good parts of people’s lives. (Who chooses to put that horrible picture of themselves on Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram? We obviously choose the best… and then add a few favourable filters…)

And we can come away feeling rubbish.
And subsequently we can end up despising those people.
Attempting to find cracks in their perceived ‘perfection’.
To fight back.
Competing in our minds and actions.
Whilst slipping further into insecurity.

Jealousy raises it’s ugly head but we don’t always see or perceive it for what it is.

from darkness

Jealousy and comparison are often so apparent with siblings. I see it all the time with my two girls (and remember it from growing up with my two sisters). It causes so many of the fights between them. A lot of their battles stem from competitiveness, comparison or jealousy.

But they often can’t see it themselves.

All they know is that they feel angry with the other person. They will find all sorts of ways to justify this anger…
She did this
She did that
She said this
She said that
It’s not fair
She had more
Why does she get to have or do that.
And it’s always the other ones fault!

They cannot see that often the problem is often not the other person.
It’s their jealousy,
It’s their comparison.
It’s those feelings that make them feel angry.
It’s those feelings that make them lash out.
That they themselves are a big part of their own problem.
That it takes two to have an argument.

You can’t change how people treat you or what they say about you. All you can do is change how you react to it. -Nicky Gumbel

The problem is often not really about the other person; it’s often really about us and how we feel. We blame other people for our own feelings and insecurities, often without justification.

Yes, other people can hurt us, attack us, be nasty, be difficult, treat us unfairly. But we can rarely change them by fighting back. Actually, fighting back often destroys us more than it does them. We cannot control others’ feelings but we can manage our own feelings and emotions and learn to not let what others do or think dictate how we feel.

I truly believe we can begin to get free from many of the negative effects of comparison and jealousy if we choose to.

But how?

We need to become more aware of ourselves and what drives our insecurities.

To begin to recognise that what we really feel is jealousy when comparison draws out our insecurities.

To realise that we cannot make other people change but that we can only change ourselves and our own attitudes.

It’s only as I become more self aware and recognise comparison and jealousy as the source of many of my insecurities that I can begin to get free from its entanglement. It’s only as I realise that when I feel insecure it’s not the other person that made me feel like that – but instead my own reactions to them – that I can move beyond my feelings.

The first step to personal freedom is always self awareness.

Rather than getting frustrated and lashing out at people that make us feel insecure, we must see that most of the problem lies within us. It lies within our own perception of who we really are.

It’s not easy to stop feelings & thoughts of comparison and jealousy. But it is one of the keys to true freedom. It’s a battle worth fighting.

So how do we fight this never ending battle?

By becoming secure in our own uniqueness.
By knowing that we are created as:
One of a kind,
With a unique mix of:
personality,
body,
looks,
talents,
gifts,
purpose.
Not to be constantly compared to others but to be discovered & developed as unique and valuable.

from darkness

There is only one me.
Only I can be me.
To try & be anyone else is far too exhausting.

It’s not an easy path to tread. I have chosen to walk this path but still find I have to daily overcome the temptation to compare who I am and what I do with others. But it’s a path worth taking because it’s the only way to true freedom, contentment and inner peace.

So in this moment I choose to remind myself that I am who I am, a one off, unique, not to be compared with others. Pressing on to become the best version of ME I can be, whilst allowing YOU to be the best version of you that you can be. That way we allow ourselves and one another to discover more freedom.

….. Because I don’t know about you but comparison and jealousy are just not worth it! They just always make me feel miserable!

Comparison is the thief of Joy ~ Theodore Roosevelt


I press on to become the best version of ME I can be, whilst allowing YOU to be the best version of you that you can be. That way we allow ourselves and one another to discover more freedom.


This is the first of two posts on Insecurity. The second post, which I published a week later is The Insecurity of Other Opinions.

Writing to explore what life is about. Amidst its captivating beauty and deepest pain. In the hope that we can learn, grow and be inspired together.