How Reflecting Leads to Growth

Just like my car needs periodic inspections and my body needs annual exams, I notice my life works better when I give it routine “check-ins.”

Check-ins, or times of reflection, help me honestly assess where I am and where I need to be, showing me areas that need my attention and God’s intervention. Reflecting allows me to take thoughtful, meaningful action. 

The result? My life holds more joy and creates more impact! 

I invite you, friend, to find time & space for self-reflection. Take a walk on a quiet path or beside a lovely lake. Sit in a favorite spot. Use these questions as a guide. Reflect. Maybe even journal your thoughts. And live with more joy and purpose. 

QUESTIONS FOR SELF REFLECTION

🌿 Am I living in a way that’s leading me & those around me to flourish?

🌿 How is my soul?

🌿 How can my life better express what I truly care about?

🌿 What about myself am I proud of? What am I not proud of?

🌿 What areas am I growing in? What areas need my attention to grow?

🌿 Where is my character lacking? 

🌿 How is my connection to God right now? How can I move closer to him?

What it Means to Grow

As I kid I thought I’d stop growing once I turned 18, when I reached my full height and when my shoe size stopped changing. The further I get from that milestone birthday, however, the more I understand how important it is to keep growing—growing not in physical stature but in fully becoming who I am and fully living out the purpose designed for me. 

I like Merriam-Webster’s definition of growth: to spring up and develop to maturity. If only our minds, hearts and souls sprang up and developed to maturity as quickly as our bodies! Once we hit adulthood, the work of becoming holistically mature truly begins. 

We were meant to grow. Long after our legs and fingers stop getting longer, our ability to understand others, make sense of experiences and manage ourselves also grows. (Hopefully!) Growing is one of the seven features of a living organism. In other words, growth is a part of life; in order to live, we must grow!

I believe the true work of personal growth is becoming the best person we can be. That means we’re developing our character, perspective, gifts, passions and dreams so we can make the greatest difference in the lives of those around us. It’s a lifetime of work that’s as exhilarating as it is arduous. 

Growth is a demanding endeavor. It demands nothing less than time, energy, honesty, risk-taking, and responsibility. 

It takes time to chip away at what we falsely believe about ourselves and grasp who we really are. It takes time to hone new skills and develop new passions. It takes time to realize our dreams. 

It takes mental, physical and spiritual energy because growth is an intense journey. We need to care for our minds, bodies and souls so we keep going on our very personal growth journeys. 

It demands honesty with ourselves as we acknowledge where we’ve come from, where we are now and realistically, but with hope and vision, where we want to go. 

It takes a willingness to face our fear of failing and risk what others think of us in order to become the best version of ourselves. There are no guarantees. But whatever life throws our way, God means it to spring up character and develop maturity in us. He’s always working to grow us and uses every part of our story to help others grow, too. 

Lastly, growing takes a willingness to step up and be responsible for our lives. Making excuses and playing it safe are the opposite of responsibility-taking; no one else can make our dreams come true. No one else can do the work required to grow us. 

In the coming weeks we’ll access 1) how well we’re tapping into our growth-potential,  2) how growth leads to joy and 3) how collaborating with others helps us grow.

Why I Love-Hate Facebook

To me the saddest, most troubling facet of Covid-19 and our current racial unrest has been how we’re showing up as Christians on social media and Facebook, in particular. A tsunami of negativity, disunity, blame and distrust has swept over us—and that’s why I HATE IT. Yet Facebook can be a great place to find resources, process questions, share experiences, to grow and connect with those we care about. When Facebook offers these things I LOVE IT. 

With that said, I do believe we have the right to express our opinions; it’s a cornerstone of democracy. But we of all people, who’ve received the utmost grace in Jesus Christ should express ourselves with sensitivity, grace and humility, realizing that other people’s experiences are often vastly different than our own. If we show up with grace, sensitivity and humility, I believe God will use Facebook to share His message with the world. 

So why is it so difficult for us to take a posture of listening and to treat others’ viewpoints with kindness and respect? Why are we consistently NOT reflecting love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness and self-control but expressing anger, selfishness and blame instead?

I think we’re hurting more than we know. We’re stressed by the disruption and financial impact of Covid; we’re pained and uncomfortable by the ugly reality of racism. And the kicker is that we’re not aware how powerful our anxiety, fear and lack of control are. Since we don’t see how these negatives are compromising us and driving us, we’re not getting the support we need. 

There are many helpful ways we can support each other. (Please see my recent blog “How We Get and Give Support.”) Instead of tending to our hearts and emotions, however, we vent publicly to let off steam. But isn’t enough; it doesn’t bring the deep peace we long for and it transmits our anxiety to others.

How to Grow the LOVE and Change the HATE

With this in mind, here are 5 ways to make social media a positive in our lives and a force for holy change in our world.

  1. See Facebook as a “buffet” of ideas, not a place to force-feed anyone our opinions. Trying to convert others to our thinking is exhausting and 99% fruitless. When I insist on doing this, we force people into being “for” or “against” when we can be both for and against. I can be for just police officers and against police brutality, for example. Insisting people take sides divides us at a time when we need to support each other more than ever. Ideas don’t have to be all or nothing. I can love people and still disagree with them. If they challenge me, my response is still to love. And I can disagree without reacting. In fact, I don’t need to post again and again as if repeating my point of view will convince others.
  1. Understand that we can find online evidence for any viewpoint we want to believe. There’s a tendency to seek out perspectives that support the views we already hold—that’s called bias; each one of us has a bias. When we want to support our opinions, it’s easy to find “evidence” that affirms our views whether we consider ourselves liberal or conservative. So how do we wade through infinite online content and discern what is true and valid rather than just embracing as fact articles that support what we already believe? This is a challenge that requires spending time in prayer and thoughtful consideration, choosing to respond rather than react. In addition, two nonpartisan resources to help you determine credibility in news are: americanpressinstitute.org, and factcheck.org.
  1. Dramatically limit what and how much we consume in order to care for our souls. We can’t control who, what or how often things are said but we can control what and how much we take in. If what we consume revs our anxiety or causes us to lose sleep then it’s our job to care for ourselves by limiting that source of anxiety. That means “snoozing” voices or getting off Facebook. (FYI, I’m taking a long break.) After we’ve listened with humility and discernment, we may need to eliminate excessive, unreliable or nonconstructive content.
  1. Don’t turn to social media for emotional support because it’s a cheap imitation of the real thing. With all that’s happening in our world right now, we need A LOT of support. Are we looking to Facebook to validate our opinions and feelings? Is uncertainly and lack of control driving our need to post? Why are we so defensive about perspectives we don’t agree with? Let’s honestly examine ourselves. If we’re turning to social media to vent or feel affirmed, we’ve striving for a cheap imitation of the real support we need. Our unseen and unprocessed emotions will likely escape our control and hurt others as we vent, complain, and blame. Turning to supportive people (and being them) is how we’ll genuinely get our needs met.
  1. Recognize that our Facebook presence is our Christian witness. Let’s express LOVE not HATE. Just as our faith needs to shape every aspect of our lives, it must guide how we use social media. It sends a message loud and clear about who leads our life. But what about truth you say? Truth is important, but grace is it’s equal like two balances on a scale. Truth without grace isn’t loving and the Bible makes it pretty clear that loving is our job. So with Jesus’ love in mind, are we using Facebook as a tool to bless, heal and lift others up? Are we reflecting the hope and peace we have in Christ online or, if we’re honest, are we putting our self-centeredness on display? Are we showing up as peacemakers and reconcilers?

So much is at stake, friends: our relationships with those we love, the strength of our communities and nation, the health of our souls, and most important of all, how we represent Jesus Christ as his people.

How We Get and Give Support

Who would have thought daily hikes would make all the difference in facing the challenges of Covid-19 and sheltering in place? In addition to the help of fresh air and exercise, for my husband and me this time together gave us the opportunity to connect and feel understood. In other words, it provided a chance for rich emotional, spiritual and physical support.

There are seven key ways humans need to get and give support, according to Linda Tonneson, founder of the ministry Women Revealed.  Some ways are obvious while others may surprise you. I doubt most us have been taught much about support-giving. Here’s how we’ve cared for ourselves and each other and how you can get and give the support you need—especially in life’s storms:

As we headed up our historic Main Street and onto wooded paths, the sights and sounds of nature invited us to pay attention to our inner lives. It’s a powerful thing when the Created are in Creation! Our walks helped us distract ourselves together in these difficult days. We felt connected as we’d hold hands or reach out to steady one another. Doing activities together for diversion and physical touch are two powerful ways we experience support. 

As David and I walked, we could vent to release our anger, fear, and sadness. When we vent to someone trustworthy like a dear friend or even God, we calm ourselves by releasing our turbulent, negative emotions much like a boiling teapot lets off steam. We feel connected and validated when we feel heard.

Sharing difficult emotions can expose areas where we need to be affirmed. I could hear David’s uncertainty as he lead his chemical plant, caring for fearful employees and taking new measures to keep them safe. Seeing his need for affirmation as a leader in unprecedented times I could affirm he was doing everything he could to lead well. We’d ask each other for advice on how to care for ourselves and those near us. We’d share our thoughts about how to advise our son who faced coming home to finish college online and another son navigating job loss. 

Discussing what we had control of in the pandemic revealed how limited we are and how much we need an infinite God. We supported each other through prayer, asking Him to protect and guide us, our boys, our families and communities and those especially vulnerable or hurting. As we poured out our fears and faith to God, we felt His peaceful, loving presence. 

In prayer, He’d show us the needs around us and prompted us to do acts of service like delivering groceries to an elderly church couple or encouraging friends struggling in their businesses. Doing something for others reminded us we do have agency and gave perspective as we focused on someone else’s needs. 

We need support more than ever in desperate times. When we don’t get it, we’re driven by our emotions and oftentimes end up hurting others as these untended to feelings spew out “sideways.” Processing what we feel is hard, but always worth it. Both David and I can say, “it is well with my soul” because we’ve acknowledged our needs and addressed them.  

We can’t expect others to read our minds and know our needs; we’re responsible to know what support we need and to ask for it. When we use the tools of touch, distracting ourselves together, venting, affirmation, advice, prayer and acts of service, we’ll feel deeply supported and have much to offer others.

Six Mindsets That Keep You Stuck

Why is it so difficult to make healthy changes and grow personally in our vocations, our health, our relationships, etc? We easily get stuck in a range of mindsets that undermine our growth and hinder the impact we make.

Here are six common traps. Which ones keep you from moving forward? 

1. DISTRACTION
Our lives are more hectic than ever yet living at full speed is hardly the abundant life Jesus came to bring. (John 10:10) Our culture puts busyness on a pedestal. Case in point: the commercial enticing you to buy an SUV because it holds all the gear your kid needs for her six different sports. Truth is, busyness keeps us distracted from thoughtfully living for God’s purposes.  So how do we say no to all that’s extraneous and yes to what truly matters? It takes FOCUS. 

2. COMFORT
Even though we long to live with greater joy and purpose, our habits carve grooves into Lives one day at a time. Saying yes to life-giving things means saying no to what we find most comfortable, safe, reliable. But growth and transformation can’t happen while we’re camped out on the couch. The cure for comfort is finding what drives us into action, that is, our PASSION. 

3. INSECURITY
Webster defines insecurity as the “uncertainty or anxiety in oneself.” Insecurity hit me hard when God called me to attend seminary after a long season focused on raising my sons and volunteering at church. What if it was too difficult for me? What if I failed to take good care of my family? What if I hadn’t heard God’s voice calling me to ministry to begin with? I learned that the only way to conquer feelings of inadequacy was to face them head on. Confronting insecurity builds CONFIDENCE. 

4. CONFUSION
Many paths are possible but which is one is best? Fighting confusion means turning on the defrost so we see clearly through the windshield of our lives and envision the road ahead.  It means doing the work needed to understand how God uniquely wired us and why He put us here. Only then can we discern how to invest our time and gifts to build God’s kingdom and bring us joy. We desperately need CLARITY. 

5. FEAR
One-third of Americans now suffer from anxiety, which at is core, is deep, debilitating fear. It stops us dead in our tracks or sends us running in the wrong direction. But we as God’s beloved people need to know fear is not from God.  In fact, His love drives out fear. (1 John 4:18) We can have complete confidence in His goodness. His plan is always good–not easy or pain-free–but ultimately for our good and others’ good. Moving forward into the unknown despite our fear grows COURAGE. 

6. HOPELESSNESS
Life throws us all curveballs, dreams can be dashed, and hardship upon hardship easily lead to despair. Simplistic as it sounds, when we’ve run out of hope, let’s remember of the The Little Engine That Could’s mantra, “I think I can, I think I can.” That’s the voice of wisdom and hope. And hope never puts us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts. (Rom. 5:5) The seed of growth and transformation is HOPE. 

If you’re stuck in an unhealthy mindset, take heart. FOCUS, PASSION, CONFIDENCE, CLARITY, COURAGE & HOPE are all within reach. You CAN find a way forward and discover your God-given purpose, passion and potential. And once you do, the world will never be the same. 

— Melissa